Quick on the Draw

Tuesday, 15th March 2005
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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Just that bit warmer and, as I walk alongside Westgate Beck, rubbish-strewn as it is, I have a feeling that I want to get out and draw some natural forms again: stream, hill, trees, wild flowers, moss-covered stones . . .

Caffe Nero

. . . but this morning I'm meeting with my Tuesday Drawing in the City group at the Caffè Nero again. I drew in Normanton a year ago, Horbury during the autumn and York, London and Amsterdam in between. I feel that these workshops should be my last city sketching sessions for a while and that I'm ready to immerse myself in the natural world this spring and summer.



Meet the Group

One of my aims in these workshops was to help my students feel at ease drawing in public. No problems with that this morning: we sit around the table drawing each other. It's like the stand off at the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: who's going to draw next and who will be the victim?!

Alyson is intending to take a course in ceramics and I can see an analytical approach to three-dimensional forms in her drawings of cathedral arches and structures on the precinct. I look forward to seeing the way she takes these drawings on into paintings and ceramics.

Liz Salter (right) is a painter and 'in a previous existence' she worked as a set designer. I see drama and a painterly fluency in her drawings.

Sally's café people have wiry edges, crackling as if they're statically charged; an intensity that reminds me of Giacometti figures.

Pam draws me in a pointillist style: free calligraphy for my wayward hair and stippling for my stubbly beard.


Liz Salter

Stina's (right) jazzy gel pen lines bring a sense of celebration to her drawing of our group. She improvises Fauvist colour using chunky Caran d'Ache crayons. My self-portrait yesterday was rigidly monochromatic so I'm glad that she interprets me as a colourful character.

EleanorDusky Eleanor (left), everyone's favourite model, has arrived late and doesn't get the chance to draw. As soon as she tries to move, someone asks her 'could you put that leg back where it was . . . no, not like that! . . . '

The Caffè Nero definitely seems to be the place that attracts artists (and a whole load of other people): one of the barristas is an art student who makes sculpture from latex foam but is hoping she can experiment with fibre glass constructions.

'Sculptors still need to draw,' I insist, 'how else are you going explore the world around you?'

She says she went with a group of students to draw at a city ice rink but they were thrown out and told that drawing wasn't allowed.


One of my group had a drawing teacher at art school who took her to one side when the class were doing a 2-day drawing of a skeleton and told her: 'You can't draw and you will probably never be able to draw.'

She says that his words still well up in her from time to time.

Putting things in Perspective

I take four members of the group to the balcony of the indoor market and we all draw the same perspective view from the window, looking down on Brook Street and over roofs and chimneys towards the Cathedral.

I try to describe my thought process to them as I go along:

  1. I start, top left, with an 'anchor point'; in this case the vertical of the wall of the shop across the road. I can relate the rest of the complex scene to this simple framework.

  2. I don't attempt to include the top of the spire: I saw one of my students try to fit it in when there wasn't quite enough space at the top of the page and it ended up looking stumpy. Better to let it run off the page.

  3. I try to interlock shapes as I go, to see if it all fits together. For instance, the long, tall wedge-shaped triangle between the shop wall and the spire was very useful in establishing the proportions.

  4. Inevitably, because I'm talking as I draw, things go wrong: you can see where I went wrong with the tops of the gothic windows on the tower. I felt that drawing the tower was very much like drawing a face and it is just as important to get the proportions right in order to show the character of the building. But, as usual, I leave in the wrong version as part of the drawing; a record of my progress.

  5. I include the jackdaws: these give animation to the drawing, a sense of scale, and indication of airspace around the tower and - here's the naturalist in me coming out again - they give a hint of the ecology of the city.

Cathedral tower
tree, Flanshaw

Natural Break

kingfisherWalking back from town alongside the rubbish-strewn watercourse that is Westgate Beck I'm pleased to see two mallards - as usual - and then astonished when a kingfisher flies towards me, a flash of sapphire blue above the muddy-bottomed beck. As it gets to the low Plumpton Road bridge it flies up, over a single decker bus, then resumes its course downstream, yards away from the afternoon traffic.

How do I wind down after a day drawing in the city? - by drawing small part of the natural world; a tree, I think it's a sycamore, as I wait for Barbara to finish work. Next Page


Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk

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