18 December 2014

Drawing with ... seaweed

The work is by Sue Corr, who is taping pens and charcoal to fronds of seaweek and letting the wind intervene to make drawings.

With this sort of result -
Gestural. Definitely, unavoidably, gestural.

Poetry Thursday - Cargoes by John Masefield

Quinquireme... 1/600th scale (via)


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield (via)

This poem is mentioned by Hugh Aldersey-Williams in "Periodic Tales: the curious lives of the elements": the elements "rise and fall on the tide of cultural whim. [The poem] lists eighteen commodities in its three short verses portraying three eras of global trade and plunder, eleven of them either elements in their pure state or materials which derive their value from the particular nature of one element ingredient".

John Masefield (1878-1967) was well known and respected in his day and much anthologised and taught in schools - "I must go down to the sea again" sticks in my mind. Many of his poems had the sea running through them. He went to sea at 14 but deserted ship in New York when "the urge to become a writer and the hopelessness of life as a sailor overtook him." Working in a factory there, he bought up to 20 books a week - essentially he was self-educated.

Many of his poems were set as art songs by British composers of the time, for instance John Ireland's "Sea Fever". He was poet laureate of the UK from 1930 till his death, and his ashes are in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Some of his works can be downloaded free as audiobooks from the LibriVox site.

17 December 2014

Ice blue amid the books

At Westminster Art Reference Library, a carefully-chosen exhibition of photos of Antarctica by Brian Rybolt
One corner of the show
Brian's photographic odyssey to the South Shetland islands earlier this year resulted in some 4000 photos - he's drawn to ice and snow, and will be heading to Iceland next.

"Glacial Renderings" is up till 20 December; see more of Brian's ice-blue photos on his website.

The library provides a sizeable exhibtion space, and when possible supplements it with book displays on the theme of the show. It also has vitrines to show smaller collections of art. With it's old-fashioned decor and "atmosphere", it's been used as a location in films.
Walls of books on the arts (via)
Libraries: use 'em or lose 'em....

16 December 2014

Tuesday is drawing day - armour at the Wallace Collection

Scoping out the Wallace Collection before last Tuesday's drawing day, I came across wonderful things -
the Bell of Saint Mura, Irish, 11th century; decoration, 14th-16th centuries

a 15th century Flemish tabernacle

chairs with worn upholstery, covered as they would be in unused rooms of a grand house
- H H stands for Hertford House
The rooms full of armour are fascinating, with wonderfully-crafted weapons of all shapes and sizes, and their unfamiliar names -
Two glaives and a halberd
Not to mention the good positions for drawing, right up close to the cases in some instances. In one of the rooms are two horses all kitted up in metal, and many suits of armour.

My first choice was this visored bascinet, from northern Italy around 1400. The pointed nose and skull made weapons slide off. The chain mail is made of several smaller pieces and was added centuries later.
My laborious drawing didn't quite capture him, so I went on to add several small quick vignettes from different angles.
Something different, now? how about a caseful of cinquedeas, ceremonial swords used in northern Italy between 1470 and 1520 - a bit of a passing fashion. "Typically quite broad at the quillons, the "five fingers" wide blade gives the cinquedea its name.... One of the appealing qualities of the cinquedea form is that the broad blade makes an excellent canvas for etching or engraving ... even the more plain examples usually bear attractive multiple fullers that could only be created on a blade of extreme width." (via)
 I set out to draw the whole caseful - a nice rhythmical pattern - but those fullers (the indented bits) nearly got the better of me (or maybe they actually did) - drawing several swords showed the similarities and differences -
Unfinished - in more ways than one!
On the way to Marylebone High St to get a coffee, we had to have a little look at the shop. Santa, please take note of my favourite thing there -
 We found a table at Natural Kitchen for the discussion of sketchbooks, and refreshment -
before lunch - lemonade in a jar
The prospect of coffee/lunch and discussion - and wanting to have something interesting to show - helps keep you focused, and helps you "finish" when really you'd rather move on to something else. 

15 December 2014

Sun and stars

The lunchtime astronomy lectures at the Museum of London fill the room; people arrive early to get a seat, me among them. The lectures are fascinating ... astronomy is a bit mind-boggling, all those big numbers!

The lectures are on video, at gresham.ac.uk/astronomy-lectures-by-carolin-crawford. The latest in the series started by comparing the size of the Sun and Earth - you need well over a million Earths to fit inside the sun -

watch the whole thing here. It has a good explanation of electromagnetic fields, and of the formation of helium from hydrogen. And lots of big numbers.

Garden landscaping

Work on the front garden is at last underway. Treated railway sleepers and paving stones have been ordered, and sat in situ for a couple of weeks, along with extra earth from leveling the site, neatly bagged -
Those bags (and parts of the previous boiler were joined by yet more bags of rubbish from the flat under renovation - to a total weight of 1015kg - a ton of rubbish.

Rather than pay £200 to have it removed, the lads decided to do it themselves. It needed several trips in the hired van, but even before the removal was complete the garden was looking so much better -
Paving is needed for access to the bike shed, and the rest of the area will have spring bulbs (not this year) and ground cover. The ivy will be cut back and the hole in the hedge filled in, I hope with something fragrant.

When I moved here the privet was flourishing ... it died back to one lonely survivor .. and  the box hedge, near the bin, was about 8" tall. That was 20 years ago!

Here's the most recent shot - with the wall in place. Obviously more paving stones are needed - not quite filling the garden, leaving room for areas of planting -

14 December 2014

Easy-peasy nibbley things

Ingredients - puff pastry, tomatoes, black olives, feta, herbs (eg basil) -- and olive oil

Heat oven to 200C

Cut the ends off 12 tomatoes and cut in half; chop 9 olives very fine, and chop 9 thin slices feta very fine.

Lay the tomatoes on the rolled pastry (this is half a packet) and cut into squares

Transfer to baking tray 

Adorn the tomatoes with olives and feta, separately or as a mixture
(the feta has a mind of its own - press it firmly onto the tomato)
Bake 15 mins or until golden; sprinkle with finely-chopped herbs

They are very nice  served still warm, with the pastry all crispy and the tomato so juicy

13 December 2014

Rusty fence

As we move towards the shortest day, a memory of moving towards the longest day - June, St Ives/

Xmas prep

You, too, may be despairing about the approach yet again of the "annual consumerfest"; does your heart sink when the Christmas decorations go up on streets before the end of November - and will you leave any shop that is playing xmas carols?  Despite the "bah, humbug!"of it all, if you can get away from the glitz and financial outlay, does your childlike heart yearn for the Christmases of yesteryear, a simpler time of fewer presents and more "specialness"?

My childhood Christmases involved the arrival of the parcel from the aunties in Germany - wrapped in fabric (an old sheet?), stitched carefully shut with big black stitches. The parcel arrived round about the end of November, and my brother and I were allowed to cut open one stitch each every evening. Would they all be cut, before Xmas Eve ... would we see the wrapped presents before they appeared under the tree? Somehow this never happened, but the anticipation was intense. 

Those parcels must have been sent off in September - which is about the time we got busy on our side of the Atlantic ... or rather, the shores of the Pacific ... with Making Presents For The Aunties. My mother's ideas for the early ones included gingham teatowels (bought) with cross-stitched borders; egg cosies made of felt; heart-shaped pincushions, held together with blanket stitch; tray cloths and/or tablecloths with drawn-thread borders [she did those] and chain-stitch daisies with french knot centres. 

With that background, what spells "Christmas" to me is ... making presents. Maybe jam or chutney, or cookies, but mostly something stitched in some way. This year it's door-stops. Surely everyone needs a doorstop at some time or place, and what better than these? -
Corn-fed chickens
They have four main pieces, and velvet combs  - and are stuffed with the least expensive thing I could find at the cash&carry, which turned out to be hominy grits. (Years ago I used barley to stuff floppy frogs.) They could be stuffed with sand and would be even heavier; filled with grain (unpopped popcorn might be good!), they must be protected from the wet ... but they're for use indoors so that shouldn't be a problem.

Some have gone, unstuffed, into envelopes for posting abroad. Others wait to be filled -
My pattern was taken from the doorstop I bought at a craft event a while back, and if you look on the internet you'll find many versions, some more quick to make than others. 

Continuing on the "home made Christmas" theme, another festive touch is the recycled wreath - two years ago it was green and silver, last year it was enlivened with fresh rosemary sprigs, and this year it holds the little bundles of colour we put together at Annie Sherburne's rug-hooking workshop in January.
It's high time to do some Christmas baking, again harking back to childhood and the many tins of cookies my mother baked every year - Scharzweiβ Gebäck, Pfeffernusse, Lebkuchen (baked in trays, filled with jam, topped with melted chocolate, cut into diamond shapes, left a while to mellow), Zimtsterne, Hasselnuss Makaronen, Anisplätzchen, Kokosmakronen ... and of course Stollen, many loaves of Stollen - sometimes we'd still be eating it in February, heavily buttered.
The cookie that says Christmas to me is what we knew as Vanillahoernchen but are also called Vanillekipferl - shortbread with almonds, shaped into crescents.

12 December 2014

Now that's what I call a book sale!

"Biggest ever library sale" said a sign. Good prices - 30p for non-fiction, and with that you get a fiction book free -
I brought home a few, wouldn't you? -
All this for less than £2. "Read and recycle" is my new motto.

Page layout

In recent days - getting on for weeks! - I've been distracted from art pursuits (and serious blogging) by the need to put together a newsletter. I'm using InDesign, as it's the program I know best, and putting articles on the page hasn't been too much of a problem. Getting the articles into a cogent sequence has provided a few headaches, as it's good to have them as page spreads where possible, and starting at the top of a page if possible. This means printouts, and physical shuffling of pages, on my knees on the floor - after which, moving pages on screen is a doddle.
Although InDesign is the program I know best, there is much about it I've not yet figured out - lining up columns of text, for instance, and ohdearohdear, hyperlinks. There will be a print version, without hyperlinks obviously, and also an online version: a pdf with clickable links (how luxurious is that!). Belatedly I've realised that the URLs in the print version, which import themselves as hyperlinks, contain tedious http:// and www. - which are no longer necessary when you type a URL, and on the page are just extra characters getting in the way. So out they will come, even at this late point, even though they may change the page layout slightly here or there... Before that - something I should have thought about sooner - the links all need checking. There seem to be 84 in the issue, two a page, can that be?

As quickly as the morning has gone, the afternoon will fly past as The Hyperlink Issue gets sorted.

11 December 2014

Poetry Thursday - Upon a Claude Glass by Michael Donaghy

Claude glass, aka "black mirror" (via)

Upon a Claude Glass

A lady might pretend to fix her face,
but scan the room inside her compact mirror –

so gentlemen would scrutinize this glass
to gaze on Windermere or Rydal Water

and pick their way along the clifftop tracks
intent upon the romance in the box,

keeping untamed nature at their backs,
and some would come to grief upon the rocks.

Don't look so smug. Don't think you're any safer
as you blunder forward through your years

straining to recall some aching pleasure,
or blinded by some private scrim of tears

I know. My world's encircled by this prop,
though all my life I've tried to force it shut.

- Michael Donaghy (via)

In 2002 the V&A and the Poetry Book Society commissioned five poets to create new works inspired by the British Galleries 1500-1900 - this is one of the poems. (Other poems about the museum are here - I'm excited to discover these!)

The notes to the poem succinctly explain what a Claude glass is, and how it's used: "Michael's poem was inspired by a Claude glass, which is a small, treated mirror contained in a box used as a portable drawing and painting aid in the late 18th century by amateur artists. The reflections in it of surrounding scenery were supposed to resemble some of the characteristics of Italian landscapes by the famous 17th-century painter and sketcher Claude Lorrain. The 'glass' consists of a slightly convex blackened mirror, which was carried in the hand and held up to the eye. The mirror's convexity reduced extensive views to the dimensions of a small drawing. The use of a blackened mirror resulted in a somewhat weakened reflection, which stressed the prominent features in the landscape at the expense of detail. It also lowered the colour key."

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004) grew up in the Bronx and moved to London in 1985. He published three collections in the UK, and was a legendary performer of his work; hear him do so here. He died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage.

Claude glasses in art -
"Like a Claude Glass 2" by Malou Busser (via)
Nova Zembla filmed through a Claude glass by Sian Bowen (see it on vimeo)

10 December 2014

Bodies in motion

These signs are just round the corner from each other, in Bond St tube station -
Uneven? ... or ... slippery?

Slip, trip, stumble, fall -- what happens to the body, does it fall backward or forward in each instance?

Things found in books

Although "personal indexes" are very nice things to find in books (and although the typeface promises to be easy on the eyes) I left  Mann on the library sale trolley ... and picked up an Elmore Leonard instead ... 3 books for £1, better prices than at the charity shops around here!

Sketchbook walk - two galleries

Meeting at Bethnal Green station, we hopped on a bus to get to Chisenhale Gallery - the Caragh Thuring exhibition was highly recommended - she is "a painter's painter", much given to depicting windows, especially the large picture windows in suburban Dutch homes, presenting them as portraits of their owners. Other works "emphasise the canvas as an area to be mapped". (A 2013 interview is here, a 2014 video here - "the painting is resolved in the process of actually doing it, and you never know what the result is going to be so that's the pleasure of making it".)

Interesting that the paintings were hung back to back in the middle of the room. Trying to read the red writing, there was an "aha" moment on realising the words were a list of the churches in the City of London - on the canvas behind the visible one, the writing is unbroken by any sort of "window". The words sit as solid and immovable as the churches themselves, says the exhibition blurb.

The bricks proved frustrating to reproduce - do you start with the mass and divide it up, or build it up, brick by brick? 

The exhibition is on till 1 February.

Then to Campoli Presti, which is showing Nick Mauss (till 10 January). He "draws in space" with metal and gesso, and also uses plaster on a support of metal mesh as a base for his drawings.
2D and 3D drawing

Colour copy

Mine has a bit of the skylight too
In this 2012 interview, Mauss says: " fragments read as intensities of attention. Whatever is depicted in partial form is assumed to be more important than any other part of the undepicted whole. Perhaps this is a reason I keep returning to drawings, because the distribution of attention is so uneven. In my own drawings the fragment is only sometimes a representation or study. It's a kind of fixation, a pause from which one can spin out. An arrangement of fragments on a page collapses various attentions into one simultaneous reading, resonating like an emblem."

Coffee was at the Museum of Childhood, at a time when most of the children had been taken home already -
 There was time for some colourful play, based on the floor pattern -
After which I wandered round till I found this "doll with a voice" which I'd drawn oh-so-faintly some time ago, and worked on that drawing a bit -
until they rang the bell that heralded closing time. Maybe this is one of those drawings that never gets finished -
And the same might be true for one started, again so-faintly, in the Crypt of St Martins in the Fields, way back in May -
As Caragh Thuring said in the video mentioned above, "you just get to the point where you can't do any more and the painting tells you whether it's finished, or unfinished." Hmm, have to think about that....

The remaining "empty" page had been prepared with bits of collage but was never used for drawing; it got further collage from the cut-outs of the "grid structure"-

I consider that spread finished - and the sketchbook is now full. The finishing date has been added to the cover. Another A4 hardback sketchbook is waiting, both for museum drawing and for sketchbook walking - the former is ongoing, the latter resumes in the new year.