Category Archives: drawing

Painting and drawing

Everyone is back where they should be after the Easter holidays and suddenly I find myself on on my own for a couple of days. Although I have things I should be getting on with, I decide to take a break and do some painting and drawing.

So, this is how a near perfect day on my own goes:

  1. Go to the art shop and buy a couple of sheets of lovely 300gsm watercolour paper.
  2. Stop off on the way home at Morston quay and buy a cup of coffee from the National Trust shop.
  3. Drink coffee and take in the view and general hustle and bustle (boats being put in the water for the first time this year, dog walkers, seal boats loading up to take people out to Blakeney Point). Enjoy the sunshine.
  4. Follow the path along the creek and across the marsh with sketchbook and pencil in hand.
  5. Stop every now and again and draw what catches the eye.

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  1. Lunch
  2. Get out painting equipment, put on music (Bach, Brandenburg Concerto’s) and spend the rest of the afternoon painting (keep half an eye on the morning’s drawings but paint mainly from memory).

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Walk 2 – Burnham Overy State

Winter. It is a grey, drizzly day that bodes only to get worse. However, I decide to go out for a walk anyway. As I pull onto the hard standing at Burnham Overy Staithe my first thought is, ‘I should have bought my camera!’. Although the wide grey sky is giving off a surprising amount of light, everything before me is drained of colour and blurred in the mist. It is a monochrome landscape. There is detail in the foreground, but horizontal lines of mud, water and sand dune fade into the haze.

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The raised dyke is slippery. Flints stick up out of the mud; slick and shiny, they add to the feeling of instability underfoot and I have to look at the ground to stop myself from slipping. A few yards on the path gets better and I can look up – there are birds everywhere. It’s low tide and they are dotted, like tiny ants, across the wet, silvery marsh. They are too far away to make out what they are, but with binoculars each one is revealed and there is a huge variety feeding on the mud: Dunlin, redshank, several curlews, and a couple of golden plovers. Suddenly a flock of lapwing rise up into the sky, their frilly wings flap as they twist and turn; dancing in the sky.

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I walk on and movements on all sides grab my attention. A great flock of Brent geese fly over in formation; as they pass over more come in from the west. They are looking for a place to land and graze. The formation breaks as they glide down towards the marsh and chaos breaks out as each bird tries to find a space to land. Their chattering calms to a contented honk as they begin to feed.

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The mud flats are slick and shiny, and in this misty, light they are devoid of colour. Deep channels are cut into the smooth, flat surface by the actions of the tides and here meandering black shadows echo the outline of dunes in the distance. Almost colourless tones of layered marsh and mud fade to the feint smudge of horizon.

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A tinkling, tinselly sound catches my ear: goldfinches. A flock of these small birds fly in from behind and land on a bush just ahead of me. As I get nearer, they rise up and I catch small flashes of yellow as they flit through the air before swooping down into a small bush just ahead. This game is repeated several times more as I follow them along the dyke. Finally, they rise up for a final time and dart off over the marsh to find a new feeding place.

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At the beach it’s really too cold to sit, but with a cup of coffee from the flask I note down the birds out on the sand. In the distance, by the sea edge are a flock of cormorants holding their wings out to dry. Closer in along a curving sea-river are more redshank, oystercatchers, dunlin and a ruff. Just in front of me two turnstones are pecking around in the tideline; there must be goodness amongst the dying sea debris.

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As I turn to walk back along the dyke I notice that the clouds have lifted. Maybe there is a hint of sun low on the horizon. Everything definitely seems brighter and more defined out here on the marsh.

Walk 1 – Cley

There is a ‘big’ high tide and I decide to go for a walk at Cley.  Driving past the quay at Wells I see the environment agency people out in full force and so decide to drive down to the quay at Blakeney on the way, just to have a look.

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A strong northerly wind is pushing the water higher than it is supposed to go, and the water is lapping over Blakeney quay. When the wind pushes the tide in like this it becomes obvious why tall, sturdy poles line its edge. The boats strain their moorings as they level with the top of the quay and are pushed up against the restraining posts by the wind and the water; without these poles the boats would be grounded, high and dry, as the water ebbs away.

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I carry on to Cley and driving down the road to the beach I can see enormous waves topping the shingle bank – it is going to be a dramatic sight. The car park just behind the beach is full of water; the sea seems to be seeping through the shingle and filling the lower ground. Out of the car I’m hit by the full force of the wind and quickly realise that a walk along the beach would be potentially dangerous as huge waves are crashing high up the beach, higher than I have ever seen them go before. In places they top the bank and surge down the other side onto the marsh.

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As I stand and watch, other people appear, and also stand mesmerised by the boiling sea. They have cameras and take photos but I have nothing to record the scene with. Instead I just look.

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Spray is blown high into the sky by the wind as the waves peak and then crash down. The sound is deafening: a loud, thundering roar that resonates deep inside you and the rasping, scrape of stones as they are pulled by the back draft. Seagulls are swooping low, flying just above the waves. They seem to be playing dare, as every now and then one flies below a breaking crest into the seething belly of the wave, before rising up again to glide, unconcerned, above the foaming water.

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It’s hard to describe the power and insistence of the sea, but when I get home I do some drawings to try and capture its movement …. I think they are rather too tame!

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A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 7

Day 7: The Lizard Point and Kynance Cove

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I write one word in capital letters in my sketchbook – GEOLOGY?

I don’t know enough about this subject, but all week I have been looking at, climbing over and collecting rock and stones and I need to find out more.

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Rock formations – Lizard Point

The one thing I know about the Lizard Peninsula is that it is made up of serpentine rock. My grandmother had a serpentine lighthouse on the windowsill and similar can still be bought today from a man who carves and polishes the stone in a beautifully painted, white, wooden hut at the southerly most tip of England. The stone has a greenish or red mottled hue and my book The Pebbles on the Beach by Clarence Ellis tells me that the pebbles are ‘usually ovoids and they possess a wax-like lustre. To touch them after the removal of their coating is to become aware of a sensation that can best be described as caressing.’   Of course I know this for myself because at Kynance Cove I couldn’t resist picking up a beautifully striped green ovoid pebble of my own to take home.

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Rocks at Kynanace Cove  (waves, roar, hot sun)      

A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 6

Day 6: Zennor

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Not many words today – just a small painting done on the headland at Zennor with Gurnard’s Head and Pendeen Watch in the background. We had just walked for 3 hours towards St Ives and back the same way – I say walk, but it was more of a scramble and hard work – I was, frankly, exhausted!

All along this coast from St. Ives to St. Just are signs of Cornwall’s industrial past: There are many disused buildings and edifices and terraces and holes that indicate the man-made ways and exits of tin and copper mining. I know nothing about the past of this place and I know that I can never understand this landscape without knowledge of its history. For the time being I can only look and appreciate its surface.

A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 5

Day 5: The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

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In searingly bright sunshine the enclosed sub-tropical garden of Barbara Hepworth’s Trewyn Studio feels more like the Mediterranean than Cornwall. With such strong light the shadows seem deep and dark and the reflections on the shiny metal are heightened to a sharp, dazzling white. My gaze is continuously drawn through openings and gaps that frame the view beyond. Sculpture frames sculpture, sculptural plants frame hard, metal sculpture and branches frame glimpses of the sea and sky beyond the perimeter of the garden walls.

I take lots of photos but after that I just sit on a stone bench in the middle of the garden and take it all in. This was a working space and by placing her sculpture outside in the garden Barbara Hepworth would have been able to see them change in all lights and weathers – it must have been a great source of inspiration.

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A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 4

Day 4: Logan’s Rock and Porthcurno

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I clamber over rocks to the promontory on which the Logan Rock perches, precariously balanced, high above the cliffs. Squeezing through tight spaces and heaving myself up boulders that are difficult for my legs to reach, the crystalline granite scrapes at my fingers. Panting, I reach the end of the headland, catch my breath, and look around. Tiny, olive green, lichen grows closely to the rock. It has dried to a hard crust. Tufts of drying grass manage to find a crevice to grow and sprout out like a hairy chest. Looking out there is so much blue.

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At Porthcurno,  a bit further along the coast, we wander along the beach. The sand is made up of very large grains of shell. If I put my hand down it comes up covered. The grains stick to my skin and are really hard to brush off. Small white shells are scattered across the beach. They are shiny and smooth; their edges and surfaces sanded by their coarse environment I’ve looked them up and I think they are the Surf Clam, Spisula Solida.

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