46 strangers

Urban sketching turns the busy city centre into a giant, free (clothed) life-drawing class. It’s great practise for gesture drawing, and you’ve got to be fast to catch the pedestrians, but some are sitting ducks… Here are members of the public around Bath over the past few months; shoppers checking phones and waiting for friends, lots of bench-sitters, and a queue of tourists for the Roman Baths. The head-down-hands-up phone checking pose is a recent phenomenon and very familiar; 8 of these 46 people are doing it, with only one doing the twentieth century equivalent (reading a newspaper).   (Too many inks/pens etc to list, but mostly Lexington grey and watercolour, A6/A7 and all done fast)

people 11peoples4peoplesss1peoples2peopless1

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Several attempts to sketch highly fragrant Honeysuckle from the last two years. I enjoyed working out the refractive effects of water and glass as much as drawing the very fiddly flowers…honeysuckle31 honeysuckle11honeysuckle21honeysuckle12Brown/blue/green Pigma pens, fountain pens with Carbon and Lexington grey ink, water brush with Lexington grey, watercolour, A6 or A7 – About 30 minutes each for the top three, 10 minutes the last one

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Bath streets

streets1streets3streets2Lexington grey in fountain pen and water-brush, watercolour, white Gelly Roll pen, A7 – 10 minutes drawing and ink wash on site, 10 minutes at home for colour

My recent sketching’s been more domestic than urban so here are a few from town, trying to catch familiar views as fast as possible with a fountain pen and ink brush, adding the colour when I get home; Marlborough Buildings seen from the Crescent lawn, Upper Church Street and Burlington Street. The lines are a bit wobbly as they were done standing up, and I’m slowly getting used to the challenge of drawing cars at odd angles…

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Birds flying, pigs not

Swifts and seagulls flying over our house at dusk. I wanted to work out the seagulls’ odd wing angles (forward and up, and back and down?) as they’re ubiquitous in Bath at the moment, and very hard to get right; so I did these sketches from photos, all taken in about half-an-hour. While the seagulls drift and soar, the swifts swoop and dive, making incredibly tight turns to catch flying insects.


Lexington grey ink in fountain pen and water-brush, A6 – 30 minutes

These are piglets and their mother sow at Stowford Manor where we camped last night. The piglets moved fast, their eyes usually hidden by huge ears, and I hadn’t realised how large their heads, and especially their jaws, are.

pigs2               Pencil, Lexington grey water-brush, and watercolour, A6 – 20 minutes

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Late night snacks

Some late night table-top sketches, keeping up the daily drawing commitment; a square glass mug of oolong, a bunch of bananas, and almond butter and jam on oatcakes with a glass of milk…yum. I was very tired by the time I did these and I think they benefit (!) from my reduced ability to think, particularly the faster/looser one with the wobbly plate; drawing on the knackered side of the brain?


Pencil, Lexington grey water-brush, white gelly Roll pen, watercolour, A7 – 25 minutes


 Lexington grey ink in fountain pen and water-brush, watercolour, A7 – 20 minutes

snacks4Lexington grey ink in fountain pen and water-brush, watercolour, A7 – 20 minutes

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‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’

Syed_0001Dilute Lexington grey in fountain pen and water-brush, water-colour, A6 – 20 minutes

Here’s Matthew Syed presenting at a conference I went to recently. He’s a journalist, former UK table-tennis champion, and the author of ‘Bounce’ where he explains the importance of ‘purposeful practice’, and how the myths of ‘innate talent’ and ‘genius’ do us all a disservice.

Although many of his examples are taken from sport, his ideas have a lot of relevance to art and perfectly parallel Danny Gregory’s enthusiasm for daily sketching. He explains a tennis player’s skill at returning a fast serve, and a Grand Master’s ability to play 20 simultaneous games of chess blindfolded as the learnt ability to “encode complex information in higher order chunks”. And I think this is what sketching is; the ‘complex information’ is the chosen subject, the ‘higher order chunks’ are the expressive lines we make on the paper, and the ‘encoding’ is the way we arrange these lines.

Every time I draw a person I’m learning new and simpler ways to represent, or encode, human figures; the particular curve of the fore-arm, the ways that cloth drapes over shoulders. You can see the process at work in the four figures above; I improved the proportions of the legs and torso (but then lost the scale of the head), and although the arms got better the last hand was a complete mess. As I continue to practise I become better at doing more of these complex ‘encodings’ at the same time, the lines become more expressive, and I become a more fluent sketcher.

Syed says that “in the construction of complex skills the evidence is overwhelming that the importance of ‘talent’ is very, very minimal and far less relevant than hard work.” This is highly encouraging for sketchers as our ‘hard work’ is the pleasure of regular sketching! Daily drawing with new challenges helps to build the necessary hours of ‘purposeful practice’, familiarity with occasional ‘failures’, and the satisfaction of a good sketch feeds the vital ‘internal motivation’. The only part of Syed’s recipe for excellence that is missing for most sketchers is the presence of a coach, and perhaps that’s why so many of us blog, to get the feedback we need to improve?

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Here are two of the many Bath buskers. The first is Ben Powell, an impeccable finger-style guitar player who I’ve sketched a few times before (see below). The weather’s been fine so he’s barefoot this time. I showed him the sketch and got chatting; his love of guitar started when he heard John Williams as a child.buskers1White Gelly Roll pen, Lexington grey in fountain pen and water-brush, watercolour, A6 - 20 minutes

And here’s Steve Robinson mid-song; apologies to him for the mess I’ve made of his face. I spent most of the time concentrating on the tricky hand angles; then I tried to correct the mouth and the problems escalated… Beware of over-working any part of a sketch, but especially the face!


Lexington grey in fountain pen and water-brush, watercolour, A6 – 20 minutes

1hands_0014 copy

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