The Lost Art of Knackling

Sunday, 28th August 2005, page 1 of 2

We arrive early for the family get-together at Barbara's mum's and, as it's such a pleasant afternoon - warm but fresh; sunny but with enough cloud to stop it becoming oppressive - I head down the garden, settle in my canvas chair by the old ash stump and decide that this corner is just the subject that I will enjoy drawing; simple repeated shapes, but with sufficient complexity to make them satisfying to draw.

Barbara's dad, Bill, was an improvisational kind of do-it-yourself man. He called it 'knackling', a verb that doesn't appear in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary but which I guess derives from 'knack' in the sense of; 'the ability to deal with or do something in the best way'.

So the broken paving slabs, recycled pallets and floorboards, that these days you would normally see thrown into a skip to end up in some landfill site, are here used to line the drainage ditch and construct a garden fence.

It's not as posh as larch-lap fencing panels or concrete patio blocks but it certainly is a whole lot more interesting to draw.

The improvisational nature of the project gives a subtle modulation within the repeated shapes. The patina of use gives each plank an individual character. There's a relaxed, friendly feel; acknowledging that gardens are sometimes touched by human hand and don't have to be immaculate designer concoctions. Next Page


Janis GoodmanJanis Goodman, a printmaker based in Leeds, 'is as fascinated by the repetitive patterns formed by roofs, walls and chimney pots as by plants, birds and trees. An interest in texture and mark making gives her work its strength, beyond the simply illustrative.'

Like me she bemoans the demise of the Rapidoliner (with which I drew the fence, above) but she describes the nearest alternative, the Mars Staedtler pen as 'dreadful – faint and fibrous'.

Well, it's not too bad, but I am finding that I like the defunct inky black Rapidoliner more and more.

garden in Chapeltown
Detail from Garden in Chapeltown
Etching, 31 x 21 cm, available via the artist's website

Richard Bell,