Sunday, April 29, 2007

aerial views of the canal and packhorse bridge

I have just discovered http://maps.live.com - it's amazing! the 3D views are much better than they look here in reality but I had to take photos of the screen as it isn't possible (as far as I can see) to save them or link to them.




They show the canal, the River Byam coming in to join it, the canal bridge, modern footbridge carrying the path that goes for miles alongside the river/canal and the old packhorse bridge stretching out across the fields.

This microsoft site is much better than the google version and if you live in an area (I do) where you can zoom in on your house - well Big Brother really is watching you! You can see garden tables and patios, the ivy up the end wall and wall in the front garden - the back of my house is rather hidden by trees - the detail is fantastic and you can look from the north, south, east and west.


I don't know it this will work but I found out where to link :)
this should link to the aerial view of frog island, where the charcoal sketches of the weir were done.
it works :) - I don't know how to make that link shorter! but it works and you can scoot about the area using the hand, change direction of view with the North/south/east/west arrows, close in - have fun! You don't need to register
you can clearly read the name on the factory I sketched and if you look west you can see the bench I sat on! it really is incredibly good.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Aylestone: The Old Packhorse Bridge (15C)

Yesterday I did a couple of really quick sketches of the old Packhorse Bridge at Aylestone. It dates from at least the 1400's, possibly earlier.



It's a long stone bridge, originally 200 metres but only 50 remain, with 11 arches, some slightly pointed and gothic looking and 'cutwaters' - buttresses that stand out like the prows of boats that presumable 'cut' the water and relieved the pressure on the stonework in floods. It's about one cart width with little refuges over the cutwaters to allow pedestrians to move out of the way of oncoming carts.

aside: look at this very funny blog to see an interesting story sort of related to this :>) http://idlethoughtsofanidlewoman.blogspot.com/2007/03/le-derriere-du-cheval.html


In the past, marshland was a bigger danger and obstacle to travel than rivers - rivers often have a place where they can be forded safely or bridges can be built. Marshland stretches over larger areas and is impassable.



50 metres of the bridge survives, the canal cut through and destroyed one end of it in Victorian times and an old hump back brick bridge with a higher arch crosses there - the meadows still flood and the pools vary with the rainfall and sunshine. The sketch below shows the Victorian canal bridge from the modern concrete bridge over the Byam. (watercolour and coloured pencil)

The river Byam - more a stream than a river - joins the river Soar /canal here, so with the flooded pools there is a lot of water and a complex range of bridges to cross the various elements - the old Victorian brick bridge over the canal, the ancient packhorse bridge, modern concrete bridges carrying the footpath that runs alongside the river for miles and further along, road and railway bridges.

This is on the edge of the city but is really peaceful and rural with ducks and moorhens and swans.



Once when I was sketching here a snake swam down the river and came out just beside me - we only have one poisonous snake, the adder, and this was just a large grass snake. It was the first time I'd ever seen a snake in the wild - I was so quiet sketching that it didn't worry about me and passed only inches away.

These swans are from Frog Island, though there are swans nests here as well.


I need to finish the big paintings but I'm enjoying being able to get out in the better weather so they are still on hold at the moment :>)

Friday, April 27, 2007

updating the website http://www.vivienblackburn.com/

I decided to update the website http://vivienblackburn.com and add a page with selections from my sketchbooks on the various subjects that interest me.

http://www.vivienblackburn.com/sketchbooks.html

I'd find it really helpful if you would look and comment on the website - how would you improve it? (remembering I can't go into the html and change things, I have to work within the templates given - though they are fairly flexible)

Katherine gave me some excellent advice, which I'm working my way through. One was not to have such a long list of pages on the left but to have fewer and then sub pages within them - what do you think? (I have to work out how to do that!) ... what else?

The purpose of the site is mainly to showcase my work to potential new galleries - so I can't put prices on.

Any feedback and advice would be gratefully received - even if I don't agree or can't do it! opinions and views are valuable.

Thank you :>)
























I thought I'd add an image so this isn't just text :>)


This is a sketch done at the zoo one February - it was bitterly cold, I was outside and they were watching me from a couple of inches away, the other side of thick plate glass. They were in a heated room - I was out in a cold windy covered viewing tunnel.


The mother was fascinated by what I was doing and the baby was racing about playing - I had to sketch him each time he returned to his mother. They had some sheets and she had wrapped one around her and looked like a little old washer woman.


She was so intelligent that I felt it was only good manners to talk to her and show her what I was doing :>) - she seemed interested and leaned forward for a better look.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Frog island in watercolour and coloured pencil - mixed media


A sketch of Frog island, a grotty inner city industrial area, in watercolour and coloured pencil in the 11 inch square sketchbook.


I really like to mix media, it gives me different marks and possibilities to draw on to push darks or emphasise lights.


The tree is enhanced with a Lyra flourescent yellow pencil - the leaves were that incredibly bright and fresh spring green against the murky darkness of the old brick wall behind it.


Behind the weir the water was inky dark and appeared still, although of course it wasn't. In front there was bright light reflecting and a jumble of ever changing (as the light changed) reflections. English weather isn't the easiest for sketching in! sometimes the light on the water reflected the bricks of the buildings clearly and at other it went dark with only hints of a reflection as clouds went over the sun.


At one point the friend I was sketching with stood helpfully in front of the scene :>) I was drawing


Monday, April 23, 2007

a couple of close ups of the sketch of Frog Island

a couple of close ups of yesterdays sketch - as it's a larger drawing it's hard to see the details.



Sunday, April 22, 2007

Frog island - river and canal in charcoal

photograph of sketchbook:




I spent the afternoon sketching along the canal in an area called Frog Island with a friend.

The other side of the weir is the canal and boats passed occasionally, this side is the River Soar and to the left is one end of Frog Island. With all the industry I somehow doubt that there are any frogs now - though there were 2 swans nests just below and moorhens scuttling about on the water and amorous pigeons strutting and cooing near my feet, so still plenty of wildlife.

It's an old industrial area of Victorian factories and in the distance are cranes, they are extending one of the shopping malls in the town centre.

This sketch has christened my nice big A3 landscape book ~:>) - it's about 3 feet across a double page spread so is nice to use with charcoal.

I hadn't sketched out in charcoal for a long time and I really enjoyed it, I'll definitely be doing more. I really do like charcoal - it's such a painterly medium. In this I used willow charcoal and a charcoal pencil to emphasise the darkest darks. It took about just over 2 hours. I don't normally 'do' architecture so it was a challenge! My little battery operated eraser was very useful for drawing back into the darks

scans of details



Friday, April 20, 2007

The old packhorse bridge



(slide show - if you subscribe you'll probably just see a little icon that says get your own!)

I didn't have time to sketch today but I did manage to get out with my camera to a nice spot on the edge of the city at Aylestone.

You go under an old bridge carryng a disused railway line to a little car park overlooking ancient willows. A Victorian bridge takes you to the other side of the canal and looks onto the water meadows surrounding the River Biam, a tiny river, crossed by a 15th Century packhorse bridge. It's popular with walkers because you can walk for miles along the canal towpath with occasional side trips like this and you can walk or cycle into the country to the south or through the city and out the other side to the north alongside the river or canal.

Marsh land was the biggest barrier to travel and trade in ancient times - rivers could be navigated or forded or crossed by bridge, but marshes were treacherous and changeable and a major problem. The website says:

The bridge is probably 15th century, with later additions and alterations. It comprises a primitive type, long narrow pack-horse bridge and causeway across a stream and swampy ground. It was originally about 200 metres long, but is now about 50 metres long. Built of stone (including granite), but repaired with brick in a number of places. Eleven arches, all small, three belonging to the causeway, and eight to the bridge proper. One or two arches slightly pointed. Some projecting cutwaters, some square, some pointed, three with refuges over. There is a parapet, but this is missing for about 20 metres, and replaced by a fence.



The light was lovely with great reflections and a couple of families of ducks were paddling amongst the growth at the edge of the water.

This is one of the places I want to sketch.



here is a link to a really great photo by Ben Ravilious
http://www.benravilious.com/photos/20040507_CRW_1757.jpg

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

back to the marina

Today I went back to Union Wharf to look again at the tangle of boats, shining water and expensive loft apartments.



This is a photograph of the sketchbook - the scanner (image below) didn't pick up quite all of the image but shows the colour, composition and marks better.


The book was too small (11 inches square) to fit in the whole of the tangle of boats - there were lots just below that lamp that I couldn't fit in. I need to go back with more time and a larger sketchbook.


There was a colder wind blowing today but I was sheltered from it and it was positively hot in the sun.


I had thought it would be a nice place to live but after sitting there on a weekday with a car alarm going off, another car parking with a loud radio playing and children passing on a walk with their parents from time to time and shouting to each other ..... maybe not. At weekends I bet it can be pretty noisy. I like peace.


I'd like to get out into the countryside now and look at the river with the friends who are doing the project with me but we're all a bit busy at the moment so synchronising a time isn't easy.









,

Monday, April 16, 2007

ooops it decided to post this one twice

revisited tree and old sketches

I sketched the tree again, that I'd sketched at the very beginning of spring - Link:
Then it was very cold and the sun was setting, the tree only had tiny leaves beginning to show. Now it is in full leaf, fresh bright fierce spring greens and behind it - at midday - the fields of rapeseed glowed bright golden yellow with bluey muted hedgerows crossing in the distance. It was warm :>)

I may well look at this tree again from time to time as the seasons and weather change.

I'm not totally happy with the lights and darks in the branches that were waving in the breeze. It got a bit overworked :>(









Next is a page from an old sketchbook from 1993 shortly after I first started painting and sketching again in 1992.

I was really pleased with the sketch of our cat and disguised another disastrous attempt by covering it with the doodle on the left! - always disguise the mistakes! :>)

I really should get that ink out, I can't remember when I last used it.


Then these last 3 were done on a family holiday, with cheap coloured pencils - looking at them again after a long gap I can see the same issues in them as in my current work. I'm simply not interested in creating a photorealist image - I want to catch the wind in the hair/trees and the mood of the day, attitude and mood of the people or cat, I may or may not succeed but that's what I want. I wanted to catch moving figures. The frisbee players are my husband and one of my daughters running about in the sun, while I sat trying to draw them and the other people around us, the man with the paunch passing by and the gulls.

The man on the stool came over to look as his wife had noticed me drawing him - it doesn't worry me now but I found it much tougher then .............. 'it isn't very good' blush, mumble. blush ..........


To anyone hesitating about sketching plein air, especially drawing people, I'd say go out there and do it! There are things you see when working from life that no photograph can give you and the fact that you have to work so fast makes you refine an image down to its essentials, which really helps when doing more finished work.
A photograph often gives you too much information and you can lose the sense of movement in too much detail.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

an old pen and ink sketch along the canal













I looked this out in an old sketchbook as it fits with the current series. It was done in 1995 with a Rotring pen.


I don't use pen and ink very often as I find it too scratchy for me - I like pencil or charcoal better as I can get areas of tone down in a way I like better, I usually used water with these Rotring pen sketches to create washes, but only used a very little on this one. I really like other peoples pen sketches but just don't enjoy doing them myself as much as other media.


I want to go back here and sketch again. It's on the canal in the city. The old factory buildings and higgledy piggledy roofs and building shapes probably won't be there much longer as the area is being redeveloped. Such a shame - I expect it will be more ticky tacky boxes, looking as though they were made from lego :( ...... and all the same.


Friday, April 13, 2007

marina update


The boat looked a bit chopped off so I added a bit more to the length - as I go along I may do some long thin horizontal images, this marina cries out for that treatment.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

sketching at the marina (on the canal)











After teaching this morning I decided to make a start on my project and do some sketching at this marina on the canal. It's only a couple of miles from where I teach.

These were done in an 11 inch square sketchbook, the first with the Lyra skintones set of coloured pencils and the second started off to be a pen and ink sketch with a Rotring pen - but I wanted colour, so I finished it with coloured pencils.

I was there for a couple of hours and it was lovely to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the warmth. A lovely friendly lady brought me a leaflet on the history of the marina.

It was a originally a wharf of warehouses for goods brought in by the narrowboats, then a woodyard, then a marina for a boat hire firm and finally they've revamped the warehouse and made them into these des res apartments.

The marina was buzzing with owners working on their boats - a few chatted to me, others left me alone.




















The nearby Grand Union Canal goes all the way to London and this canal was built to connect with it - it's a dead end, finishing here. To get here, boats have to go up a flight of 14 locks at Foxton, to raise them up the hill to the wharf.

They aren't fantastic sketches but it's got the project underway :) I couldn't take oil paints as I was in work clothes - and I'm a very messy worker :(

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

sketchbooks and old drawings



An early sketch done in 1994 when on holiday with the family - pencil in a landscape bound A4 sketchbook (computer paper size).
I've been looking to see what sketchbooks I've got for the rivers/canals project. I thought I might buy a new A3 hardbacked book - but I've found 2 new ones just waiting to be used :>)

One is the traditional portrait binding and the other is bound in a landscape format - so an incredibly lovely wide spread for long long sketches over both pages - nearly 3 feet across :>) I do like landscape bound sketchbooks.

A3 paper is double the size of the paper you use in the computer - so a double page spread is a really nice size to work on.

It made me look again at some very old sketchbooks (I've got booksheleves full of them) This sketch was done before I started the degree. Looking back it was interesting to see how the 'good' pieces of work were sprinkled through pages of dreadful stuff! - it was all a learning curve but there was a lot of backsliding between successful images!

I remember at the time reading an article where there was a question about the difference between amateur and professional - a professional the artist said, knew that he would be able to produce a decent piece of work when he started (it might be a struggle, not necessarily easy, but he was confident that he could do it and make it work) - an amateur he said couldn't be certain, sometimes they'd produce lovely work and other times disasters. My early sketchbooks certainly contain some disasters!

It was a real trip down memory lane - reminding me of lovely places, good times, sketching with friends, family holidays, degree projects .... so, not much actual painting has been done today! though I did work on a seascape.

WHYOHWHYOHWHY OH WHY DOES BLOGGER THROW A WOBBLY TANTRUM OVER PARAGRAPHS SOMETIMES?????

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Oh to be in England, now that April's here ....















The weather has been gorgeous over Easter - unfortunately I've been pretty busy with paperwork and stuff that meant I didn't get out sketching.

I have to put mirror plates on some paintings tomorrow for a group exhibition at the local museum and deliver them on Friday.

There is a pastel exhibiton coming up soon with another group but I've had authorisation that coloured pencils are allowed so that means I can show some of the flowers I did in cp. That takes the pressure off a little and means I can get on with the big canvasses, series of seascapes and hopefully start the rivers and canals project :>)

I think I might treat myself to a nice big new A3 sketchbook for the rivers/canals project - I really do prefer to work a bit bigger. Buying art materials is fun :>) , I like to keep project research stuff together so I'll probably have a one small sketchbook and a large one - apart from any canvasses I do plein air.

The image above is digital - scanned watercolour doodles combined with fragments of poetry. For some reason I never did one for summer but did for winter and autumn, with appropriate fragments of words.

I remember studying Home Thoughts from Abroad, 'oh to be in England, now that April's there, when the lowest boughs on the brushwood sheaf, round the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf - in England now' - written by a homesick poet, Robert Browning in Italy, and deliberately saved to study in April by our teacher. I was living in Malta and of course it was already hot there - it meant a lot more reading it whilst living abroad, with slight twinges of homesickness :>)

Friday, April 06, 2007

long thin seascapes in coloured pencil

I need to do some more of the long thin seascapes in the Time and Tide series for a couple of galleries so I decided to have a play in coloured pencil from sketches and paintings done at the coast and the last one simply playing with colour and shapes and taking a different viewpoint - looking back at the land instead of out to sea or along the beach.
The majority of my seascapes look out at the sea as that's the view we commonly get - but looking back at the land from the water gives an interestingly different perspective. I must do more of these.

These are only small, about 7.5 ins tall, coloured pencil in the moleskine.
I wasn't planning on them being anything other than sketches but it occurs to me that a row of them in coloured pencil might be worth framing.
I have to write a press release now and update a group website but I keep getting distracted by the amorous squirrels in the garden - it looks like we could have babies before long by this behaviour! and noisy sparrows disputing their territory - my garden - and a cat who wants attention between her bouts of ornithology through the glass door of the patio, so to work :(.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

trees and rocks progress april




















I did some more work on the trees and rocks today.

I decided that the sky needed quite a lot of white in it to tie it in with the land and to act as a foil for the tracery of branches. I also wanted to lose the edges at little where the sky meets the snow at the sides of the canvas. I feel it has taken a step forward, though it still has a way to go.

I'll bring a bit of blue sky down from the top in a loose V shape, echoing but to the right of, the gap. That will create a deeper tone around the top of the tree trunk, reducing contrast, so that it doesn't shoot the gaze straight out of the top of the painting.

There are sludgy olive colours in the bark of the foreground tree now, along with the blue greys and purples. I still have more work to do on this though.

There are more variations in colour than show in the photograph as I had to use flash.

Size 40x40ins oil on canvas

details:








Tuesday, April 03, 2007

sketching cats


















Cats really are extremely uncooperative models - and all that chicken I feed her - you'd think she'd be more grateful. She doesn't like cat food except for the dry cat biscuits and insists on chicken.




These first 2 are of the little madame indulging in her favourite hobby - ornithology, it's accompanied by a lot of little yattering noises and twitching whiskers :>)










These are very very fast sketches of a moving model who wouldn't keep still at all. The glare on the top left of the second page of images is her telling me to stop staring at her and leave her to wash in peace - not that she'll necessarily return the compliment. It's a lousy drawing because she of course ... moved.

This is the dictatorial little madame that the sweet, if sharp fanged kitten. of a few posts back, grew up to be.

She's a tortoiseshell tabby and beautifully marked (well I thinks so :>) ) with a beautiful cream and apricot tummy, deep beige socks and dark tabby stripes on her back and rosettes on her sides. She's the original scaredy cat and very rarely goes beyond our small garden.


She has a very endearing way of snuggling into me, tucking her nose under my chin and wrapping a paw round my neck

..... and a very unendearing habit of biting the hand that feeds her in warning when she doesn't want to be bothered! (not hard I hasten to add, just a warning - she gets a warning back - a stern 'don't you dare!')

I used biro for some, charcoal pencil for others and pencil and a bit of coloured pencil in there as well, in the moleskine sketchbook.



These are some old watercolour sketches - the same problems of a moving model. I was just trying to get down a quick impression of her. This is an 11 inch square sketchbook. There is no drawing - I just had the colours roughly mixed and drew with the paint.




















Using photographs may be easier in one way - they don't move - but sketches from life catch something more, that hopefully then feeds into work from photographs later.

I often sketch the cats sleeping but even then they move and twitch and roll over.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Leicestershire: Rivers and canals and woods as well


Swithland Woods, oil on paper, plein air painting, one of the woods and trees series.


















I tend to work in series. I like to look at places through the seasons, seeing the changing light and weather; the gorgeous dark skies of autumn with flashes of golden light, the cool fresh bright light of spring or the cool grey light of winter with its skeletal trees - summer isn't always as interesting somehow. When the sky is blue and the trees are dense with foliage the landscape isn't quite as interesting, very green green green, though working at the coast when it's warm is a very pleasant thing to do!

Ongoing series are about the coast from Old Hunstanton to Wells next the Sea in Norfolk, local woods and landscape and Flowers-up-close-and-personal.

I've decided to start another project as well, also on the local area, and asked 3 friends, Ros, Glen and Maggie, to join with me. We'll work plein air - sometimes all 4 of us - other times alone or whoever can make it that day. It will be a long term project as I've got a lot of other things on the go as well.

I want to look at our local river, the River Soar. It isn't a long river. It pretty much rises in the county or just outside and joins another river on the edge of the county. So, unlike Kurt Jackson I can't follow it to the sea, sadly. We have a canal that crosses the county, the Grand Union Canal, which has an interesting history and criss crosses the Soar, sometimes the boats travel along the Soar for a while before the canal splits away again. So, it isn't really possible to separate them. I intend to include the canal - it also means being able to incorporate some other interesting areas to paint. The Grand Union Canal goes to London eventually and has history worth researching further.

The plein air work will lead on to studio paintings where I can play with images and media, working larger. We hope eventually to have a joint exhibition - but as I said, it's going to be a long term project as we all have other committments.

The river and canal travel through such a wide variety of landscape - the canal has locks - a huge flight of locks at Foxton - flat flood plain, under old bridges, through industrial landscapes and tumbledown Victorian factories and parks. The river the same again but with ancient packhorse bridges with parts build in 12C, through meadows and pretty villages - the variety will be fascinating. Then there are reflections and the light on water to play with :>)

I've done a lot of research and found fascinating stuff about the history, traditions, myths, geology and wildlife of our river and canal. Some of this I hope to weave into the final canvasses.
King Richard III was thrown into the river here after losing the Battle of Bosworth - or was he? legend has it that the Greyfriars rescued the body and buried it in their grounds (near the river). There is a field with ley lines, where the hay was carried in a straight line following the ley line in an ancient ritual, there are standing stones and megaliths (I hadn't know there were so many here, associating them more with Celtic areas), there are Roman remains, Viking words in the origin of village names, medieval bridges, tales of disaster - all sorts!

Ros, Glen and I have all done some sketching by the river and canal before but never as part of a bigger scheme, or together, or involving any research. Though we've painted elsewhere often - these woods were a day out together and we've also painted at the coast together.

Even my father got in on the act - sorting out and donating some large scale, quite old, ordnance survey maps for me, to help me know exactly where we can get down to the river, where there are footpaths and help to find the exact position of its 4 sources ..... I just love maps anyway!!! :>)

Ros and her husband have a narrowboat so I'm sure she'll have canal maps that we can study as well.

I'm really looking forward to it :>) - I've got a lot on though so it may be a few weeks before I can make a start - it's the time of year for several local shows, the Neptune Gallery at the coast reopens for the season (she has a break from Christmas to Easter), a group show at a local gallery with friends (including Glen and Ros) and a gallery in Derbyshire contacted me wanting some of the Time and Tide series for July.

Working with friends will be good - there will be feedback and crit, sharing of ideas, venues and knowledge and we'll gee each other on - and a joint exhibition would be great. Once the project is well on its way we can contact our galleries to inform them and possibly arrange a future date - that would also give us a target to work to. One local organisation I contacted for information asked if we would let them put our work on their website - which would be nice and a bit of extra advertising as well :>)

My membership is due for renewal at the Print Workshop but I think painting is a priority at the moment so I shan't renew until I feel I can get in and use it. I'm still wanting a small printing press of my own when I can afford one. It would be so good to have one here just when I want. Any rich sponsor out there???? :>)



















Swithland Woods oil on paper, plein air, the edge of the woods looking out into the light