Disposable Drawings

Early in my Journey, when I started learning to draw, I reached a place where I had created a ritual around drawing. Each sketch was unique and supposed to be an improvement on the last, like the beginner runner who expects to get faster and becomes despondent when a plateau is reached or gets slower. I had reached a place in drawing where the ‘should’ had become so great that it precluded me from picking up the pencils, and when I did pick them up and draw the self-pressure was intense. I stopped drawing around that time.

Recently I had an urge to draw trees, but not from life as all my previous work had been. I wanted to draw from imagination. So I looked up some tips on drawing trees and started drawing trees.

There’s a line in the Patrick Costello banjo tutorial book, The How and The Tao of Old Time Banjo, that sticks with me as it changed the way that I look at the arts now. I’ve always been an apologist for my lack of art and musical ability. It’s been real easy for me to just pass it off as not having received the gift of drawing and the gift of music. I wasted a lot of years in that belief until I discovered that both art and music can be taught. I should have realised sooner when I took up running and found that I had to learn how to do it. At school I bunked off cross-country but in my early 30’s, following the Couch To 5k program of its time, I went from fat and unfit to running a marathon in a short few years. The education system hadn’t taught me how to run, is it any surprise that it didn’t teach children to draw and to play and understand music?

Patrick’s advice was there right after the first few songs:

“Play this one a couple of hundred times and when you’re ready…” – Patrick Costello

‘Play this one a couple of hundred times’, man that floored me the first time I read it. I was so used to skipping on to the next thing without really grasping or practicing the previous thing. Play a song once, move on. Draw a sketch of something once and then move on. Here was the key to improvisation, practice!

So I decided to apply this advice to drawing and drew some more trees and then moved on to hares and rabbits.

All of the time using pencils I’d appropriated from hotels and drawing in my ‘music’ book, which I use for writing songs and writing out folk tunes in my own notation for banjo.

Next I treated myself to a sketch book and a set of pencils and that’s where things started to go downhill again. I had created a new ritual, the special book and the special pencils. Now each drawing had to be special and they just weren’t. They seemed to be getting worse.

So, to the moral of the story, i decided to make my art disposable. It’s not special, so don’t treat it like it’s special. And once I’ve sketched a couple of hundred rabbits and hares and trees, well, I might just be getting warmed up.

This one’s on a piece of paper out of the printer, I was going to wrap a book in it to post it, just to prove how disposable art is.

Maybe tomorrow.

For now it’s back to the banjo…

 

 


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Go well!

James

 

Cufflinks

Clearing out a drawer the other day, my Mum came across a small box containing a pair of cufflinks and shirt pins and a piece of paper inscribed ‘these were my Bruce’s studs – with love from Aileen’.

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Aileen or Auntie Aileen as we knew her was my Grandfather’s sister, my Dad’s aunt. My Grandfather Cecil William Farrar Laurie and his sister Marie Aileen Lorna Laurie had been born in Barbados where the family once owned a sugar plantation.

The Bruce in the inscription was Bruce Hamilton, he and Aileen had married at the end of 1934 and it’s possible my dad, born in 1939, had been named for Bruce. He also received Farrar for his middle name, as I did later, a surname from Aileen’s branch of the family descended from Colonel Thomas Austin, another Barbados plantation owner, albeit it a much earlier one having been born there in 1728. This branch of the family included Austin Farrar who had been taught to write by Enid Blyton but was better known for inventing the ‘pulpit’, a guard rail that fits around the bow of a sailing yacht as a safety handhold and also for designing anti-torpedo nets during the Second World War. These two inventions have been credited with saving innumerable lives at sea.

Bruce and his younger brother Patrick Hamilton were both authors, Patrick being the more critically acclaimed author of ‘Hangover Square’, ‘Rope’ and with one of his plays, ‘Gaslight’, turned into the 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman. ‘Gaslighting’ has entered the colloquial English language as the term commonly used for a form of physiological manipulation as experienced by the Bergman character in the film. Bruce’s most renowned works were the cricket based novel ‘Pro: An English Tragedy’, a poignant portrayal of the life of an English County cricketer around the time of the First World War. Patrick died in 1962 and Bruce in 1974, shortly after completing his brother’s biography ‘The Light Went Out: The Life of Patrick Hamilton’.

Aileen, an artist in her own right, was an infrequent visitor in the 1970’s to the quiet Northamptonshire village where her brother and his large extended family lived. I don’t remember much of these times as I was quite young, but I do remember she always seemed to be drawing. She would often make pencil sketches of the children and I’m sure many members of the family have these tucked away in old family photo albums.

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My last memory of Aileen was from when I was perhaps 14 or 15, which would have been around 1986 when my Mum and Dad and I travelled to Brighton to visit her. Aileen died in 1987, my Dad in 2015 and now thirty years after first being given, these small mementos of both Bruce’s lives have come out into the open again.

C.W.F. Or Cecil William Farrar to give him his full name is my paternal grandfather, Aileen’s brother.

Drawing (Two Glasses In)

I see you drawing. You’re sitting on a rock, on a beach looking out to sea. You don’t know I’m there, maybe you feel me in your mind but when you turn there’s just rock and the wind. I see you drawing, sketching the sea, a groyne, some rocks, a seagull, maybe a dolphin. I can’t draw, I have to write what I see. Write what you see. How would you describe what you sketch, would it match what I write? How can you express feelings in art? I can draw you in, explain the detail, you can only show the big picture; hope the viewer can see your intention. Can you make me feel the wind, smell the seaweed, the salt? Can you feel the rock you are sitting on? Is it cold, do you draw your coat tight around you? Do you feel me now holding you tight, one arm across your chest? We stare into the distance, the North Sea, the wind blowing in our faces. The moment lasts forever then it is gone, a gull cries, there’s no-one there. You sketch.

The memory is still so strong, years later I can remember the phone call, of how you told of running into the sea into those November waves and experiencing the thrill of the power of the waves and the overwhelming coldness of the North Sea for perhaps just a short minute or two before retreating to your brother’s house overlooking the seafront. And now you were talking to me, drinking wine and wearing that jumper, warming up and buzzing ecstatically with excitement. And though my heart ached for you, and I wished I was there to share it with you, I also knew you would never be mine. Your spirit was too free or perhaps you just didn’t love me enough, in the right way, to make it work.

DIY Wrapping Paper 2

Well after the success of the scan and print wrapping paper, it was time to step it up a notch or perhaps two. I have another friend who saw the Crow wrapping paper and, with a birthday coming up in June, wanted to know if she might get some special paper too. Coincidentally I had recently bought a lino printing kit as I wanted to experiment with some of the woodcut style drawings I have been drawing recently. So a plan started to form. My friend is a fire horse in Chinese Astrology so I started sketching out some friendly horses with fiery manes and tails. These we based on a photo I’d taken a couple of years ago of a children’s book that had been discarded and found its way into the gutter near where I used to live.

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Draft 1 actually turned out to be one of the better ones.

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But 5 more drafts later I had the final image in my sketch pad which I then scanned and printed to create my template for the lino. Lino prints are always in reverse of the original drawn design due to the way the outline is transferred from original to lino, using the scan and print method I could have reversed the image in a graphics app and then it would have transferred to the lino the ‘right way’ round. I didn’t, and that’s not an issue for this print, just an observation for next time if it’s needed.

Having printed out the design, the next step is to transfer it to the lino. To do this I went over the lines on the print out with a soft 6B pencil building up a thick layer of lead.

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With the lines I wanted to transfer now highlighted, I lay the design face down on the lino. I used the back of a wooden spoon to rub the back of the paper attempting to transfer as much of the pencil line onto the lino as possible. That done, I removed the paper and traced over the barely visible lines on the lino with a HB pencil to mark where I needed to cut. I tried out each of the selection of cutting blades supplied with the kit and a happy while later, with all fingers still intact, I had cut out the body of the horse and marked out the other edges and border.

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Time for a test print! My lino kit included an ink board, ink and a roller – the process is to roll out the ink on the ink board, working it until it is ready to roll onto the lino.

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Fully ‘inked up’ the horse design took on a life of its own and I was ready to print. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of information ‘out there’ on how to successfully create a print. There are cheap presses with bad reviews and expensive presses with good reviews, there’s talk of rollers and wooden spoons. And no-one is ever sure whether it’s lino or paper on top. I opted for paper on top and a good rub with the back to the wooden spoon – top left print.

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So, not enough ink and a very patchy rub with the spoon. More ink and a more consistent rub with the spoon gave me print two – the top right one. The spoon rubbing was still patchy but the ink was better than the first press.

Press three, bottom left, I tried it all the other way up – paper on the bottom and lino on the top – and just pressed really hard with my hand and pressing all over with my fingers. It seemed to be a good solution. Press four, bottom right, was lacking in ink but still better than the first two.

Prints five to eight suffered from a lack of ink and at some point I converted from pressing with my hands to using the back of the spoon again.

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Prints nine to twelve are another mixed bag – this lino printing is trickier than it looks!

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So, that should be plenty of wrapping paper, thank you Horse!

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What to do with the left over ink? Customise my notebook!

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And finally I created a ‘print’, ready for signing, dating and framing.

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If you’d like a copy of the Lino print wrapping paper then you can download an A4 sized image file here, just print it out to create the wrapping paper. There’s also a version of the wrapping paper with one of the prototype horse designs which you can download here. If you enjoyed the article and love the paper then please consider sending me 99p in thanks here. Enjoy!

DIY Wrapping Paper

Yesterday was a friend’s birthday and I wanted to make it a little more special by creating some personalised wrapping paper for their birthday gift. Now, the first thing you need to know is that Crows feature heavily in this particular friend’s world (see Roving Crows to get an idea how much) and so I wanted to bring that theme into the mix.

Step 1 was to produce the ‘source image’ – the basis for the design and after a couple of attempts I had what I thought would be a good image.

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Body shape and wing design prototypes.

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The final image, pencil on A4 printer paper. Next step was to scan the picture and create an image file that could be used to create the design.

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With the image digitised I loaded it up into SupremePaint Lite, a handy graphics app I downloaded from the Apple Store, and set to creating my design. I did consider having different sizes of crow and also reversing and rotating some of them, but in the end simplicity won the day and my final design was created and printed.

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I printed out a handful of pages and sellotaped some together to create bigger sheets to wrap the bottles of wine and then cut out some spare crows to create the gift tags.

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And here’s the finished articles ready for the birthday party.

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If you’d like a copy of the wrapping paper then you can download an A4 sized image file here, just print it out to create the wrapping paper. If you enjoyed the article and love the paper then please consider sending me 99p in thanks here. Enjoy!