Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Tuesday, 4 October 2016
|The tea room in the visitors centre. I thought this was a good visual metaphor for the grids and patterns that the code breakers were looking for|
Now Bletchley Park has its own website but it very nearly didn't survive plans in the early 1990s to be demolished and replaced with a housing estate, petrol station and supermarket. Thanks to the dedication of some well-connected enthusiasts and veterans who had worked there the site has been preserved and allows us, the visitors, to get a glimpse of what it was like slogging away on eight hour shifts breaking the Enigma codes that the German Army and Air force were sending day and night.
In hut 11 the display gives you some idea of the constant noise the WRNS (Women's Royal Naval Service) had to endure not to mention the discomfort of standing up for their whole shift. In huts 3 and 6 where the top secret code breaking took place you can see packets of cigarettes at every desk so the staff must have been working in a fug of fag smoke all day long not to mention worrying about getting the job done which reminds me of working in publishing in the early 1980s.
The results achieved at Bletchley Park due to the perseverance of scholars like Gordon Welchman a fellow at Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge who led the Enigma decryption team and mathematicians including Alan Turing, are credited with shortening WWII by two years which is remarkable. Once the war was over Bletchley Park was shut and all the staff returned to their civilians lives having been instructed never to mention to anyone what they did during the war.
Obviously a visit to this previously secret site feels a bit artificial. Civilians would never have been given access to stroll around the offices, loll about in the canteen or lounge around the gardens any more than we would be able to at MI6 or MI5 now but it does give the visitor some idea how complex the business of preserving a nation's security is which is not something I've ever given much thought to.
|Quick pencil sketch of the mansion|
Saturday, 9 July 2016
|Victoria Park West Lake|
Earlier today I braved the blustery wind and strolled into Victoria Park which is right next to where we live and set up my garden chair underneath a tree near the West Lake where they have boats for hire.
I was attempting to try and convey moving water with the boats bobbing around on the surface. I have tried to do this before in a different medium and was reasonably pleased with the results. I think the best approach is not to be too critical of the results and just accept whatever you come up with. I also wanted to include some of the ducks that were busy swimming around but you have to be careful to not make them too big otherwise they can end up looking like the Loch Ness monster.
This box of pastels are made by Sennelier and they are easy to hold and lovely and oily. I didn't realise until I read the information that they only exist because Pablo Picasso asked Henri Sennelier in 1949 if he could 'create a new medium that had qualities of oil paint and soft pastel in an easy to apply stick form.' So that's a high five to Picasso!
|This is part of my view from my chair under the tree|
Sunday, 3 July 2016
On Saturday we found ourselves unexpectedly wandering around Kensington Gardens. We had no set plans so we followed where our feet took us and they led us to the Serpentine Gallery's Pavillion. It is free to enter and wander around. The construction, which appears to be made from plastic containers but is actually cast in concrete, makes you look through it to the outside where you have just been.
Tuesday, 5 April 2016
|I am beginning to build a collection of used lino blocks|
I thought that to start with I would only do single colour prints because that would be easier than trying to register more than one colour on each print. But I quickly forgot about that when I got all excited at the prospect of developing a two-tone duck design based on a sketch I had previously made on an outing to Freightliners Farm in Islington.
|Duck near pond at Freightliners Farm|
|Lock gate on the Hertford Union canal|
I'm already planning my next print design which will be printed in black alone.
Thursday, 24 March 2016
|Calder's wire sculpture of Medusa was considerably more elegant than I have drawn here|
We approached this thing that dominates the skyline by way of the Millennium Bridge, which I very much enjoy walking over, with St Paul's Cathedral behind us. To my dismay I could see an equally hideous extension rearing it's ugly head behind the main museum building that is going to be open to the public from June 2016. I always feel lost as soon as I penetrate the Turbine Hall and can't imagine why anyone thought installing escalators that miss out the first floor was a great idea. It's a bit like inhabiting an Escher painting, once you have arrived at the second floor you have to search for the stairs to traipse back down one floor and inevitably you end up walking past a gift shop. Tate Modern is not so much an art museum but merely a shopping mall with endless corridors, gift shops, cafés, restaurants (and some galleries) all devoted to flogging art in one way, shape or form.
So I was thoroughly grumpy by the time we arrived at floor three and finally entered the exhibition: Alexander Calder, performing sculpture. It occupies 11 rooms in total and my mood improved almost immediately once we were looking at the work we had gone there to see. While photography is banned (the room guards are serious about enforcing this rule) sketching is allowed and I and several other artists were happily engaged making visual notes of different pieces of work and here are some of mine.
|It was difficult to draw this accurately because the piece kept changing position in the air current|
|The background on this piece had a number of holes in it that didn't seem to serve any purpose|
Calder (1898-1976) used wire to make his sculptures at a time when it was more normal to carve from stone, bronze or wood. He had the advantage of having being raised in a family of artists with his father and grandfather both being sculptors and his mother a painter. He initially trained as a mechanical engineer and only began his art training in 1923 when he began to study at the Art Students League in New York.
His wire figures were like line drawings and his subjects included mythical figures and portraits of his friends including the tennis player Helen Wills, the cabaret star, Josephine Baker and his friends the artist Joan Miró and the composer Edgard Varèse. In 1926 Calder began to build his own miniature circus performers using wire and fabric and then he used these figures to stage live shows in front of small invited audiences who came to see the Cirque Calder.
Calder experimented with controlling the movements of his sculptures by using a small motor. These motors are too fragile to be used now so we have to admire these works as static pieces but there are a few films dotted around the exhibition of some of the works in motion. Since the motors were always at risk of breaking down Calder stopped using them and let his sculptures move on their own as they responded to air currents.
Marchel Duchamp coined the term 'mobiles' in 1931 to describe Calder's moving sculptures and it is a term we still use today to describe the toys that hang from babies' cots. I found the experience of watching these moving sculptures fascinating as they constantly changed position and perhaps that is a subtle legacy that Calder has left our babies while they stare upwards from their cots.
Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture - on until 3 April 2016
Thursday, 25 February 2016
|Design based on a photo I took on a visit to Freightliners farm|
I had taken some photos of the animals on a sketching outing to Freightliners farm last year with the idea that I would develop them into something later on. I discarded the photos of the ducks, fun though they were. I also considered and rejected the cattle, hens and sheep. I settled on the goats. I love goats and I've tried to draw them in the past but they won't stop still and they're either butting each other or sticking their noses in my bag to see what's in there for them.
I chose to concentrate on just one goat and hoped there would be enough to keep the eye interested with the grass in the foreground and the fence posts in the background. I made the print above using a blend of two colours (blue and yellow making green) and I hadn't realised that such an easy technique could be so effective.
So, for Week 3 I was all fired up to develop this design further by printing it in two colours. We'd all been encouraged to cut a second piece of lino (the same size as the first one) and print a ghost print of the design on it as a guide for cutting. I happily cut away at the second piece of lino at home and assumed that I had cut enough away only to find that I needed to remove more lino when I got back to the class.
|You can see there is too much black ink on this print|
I have two books on printmaking that I can recommend. They are: Colour Linocut Printing by Laura Boswell and Relief Printmaking: a manual of techniques by Colin Walklin.
Thursday, 28 January 2016
|The Albion Press we used to print our work|
I've joined a beginners lino printing course at East London Printmakers which is an artists run cooperative near London Fields and,even better, is walking distance from home. Our teacher had us printing our first colour, a yellow block, very quickly having introduced us to the mysteries of registering one colour over another with the use of masking tape.
|Yellow printed, now to start cutting the lino|
Eight of us students managed to produce seven, three colour prints in the course of our first day which we were all quite impressed with. Next Wednesday we'll be working on a single colour design that we will have designed and cut at home during the week.
|Trying to register the second colour over the first was not easy|
|The finished print drying on the rack|
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
|Here's my warm-up drawing|
It always takes me a while to settle into drawing so I began with a pencil view of the bar. Then I turned my attention to the outside and the skaters circling the rink. I admired their collective courage - their expertise ranged from terrified novice to fearlessly competent. I quite envied them and briefly considered joining in but decided I was just avoiding trying to sketch the skaters.
|First attempt at skaters|
|Second attempt - thought it was getting a bit repetitive|
|My fellow artists|
Then I thought it might be fun to try drawing without looking at the paper so I tried this with my fellow artists and liked the result. I found it difficult to only look at the subject so compromised by looking at the paper as little as possible. I really liked the way this was going so did one last drawing of a table and chairs using the same approach.
I was happy with the way this drawing turned out and if felt good to take a chance and risk losing control of the final product so while I may not have ventured onto the ice I did step out of my usual drawing 'comfort zone' and reaped some rewards in the process.