Wednesday, 12 June 2013

My urban sketch kit experiment ( and a bit of El Anatsui)

Dear Diane,

Let me start with the El Anatsui. I am typing this on a train departing London after a very brief stay overnight. But I refuse to be in London without taking time to appreciate that I am passing through one of the best cities in the world. So after my arrival at seven-thirty pm ( on a first class train carriage shared only with the Bishop of Liverpool!) I set off on an urban sketching experiment and I thought that would have to suffice as my art experience for this trip. More on that in a second. But then, indulging in my favoured hotel pastime of watching TV from the bath, I stumbled on a TV programme at ten pm about the Royal Academy summer show that mentioned that the great, the wonderful, the fantabuloso El Anatsui had a piece, not inside the show but outside covering the whole wall of the entrance.

WaaaH! Thats really close. I would have got out of the bath there and then but the Royal Academy closes its courtyard with gates so no point. And they don't open them until after my training course, which was near Westminster Abbey, started. And I'd booked a train straight home. What to do? Come down for another weekend? Tempting but expensive. No. I took the cheap option. I ran.

I ran with a heavy handbag( of which again more later) and a suitcase on wheels in work shoes, right through St.James Park, past Clarence House and St. James Palace up past the elegant shops of Pall Mall and Burlington Arcade and arrived, hot, sweaty,wheezing and with blistered feet at the courtyard before forking out for a cab to the station. Worth it? Oh yeah. Look!

All the others works of his I have seen have been indoors but this one was moving with the wind. Have you ever seen his work in person? I know one of the San Fransisco museums/ galleries have one in their collection.

His stuff is A-mazing. And such an inspiration to keep on creating because of you look back at his life time work, you will see that he started out carving on trays. OK stuff but far from amazing. Then he started sculpting and his pots and wood worked with a chain saw were interesting but not amazing. And then he started to work with disgarded items such as graters and Peak milk can lids and he started for me to get really interesting and exciting. And then one day he found bottletops and - wham! Instant amazingness. Well, actually no. He worked with those for years before he showed them and then... Yes, instant amazingness in his seventies after a lifetime of art making :) So there is time for me yet don't you think?!

Anyway, as part of my preparing to wake up amazing on my sevetieth birthday, I worked last week in putting together some kind of sketch kit and decided to test it out on this trip, even if briefly. I have not yet bought a specific bag like you because at first I was happy to carry everything in my handbag, but then the stuff sort of increased and I decided it needed to be coralled but in some kind of pouch that would still fit in my handbag as I didn't want to be carrying two bags. So I looked on line and found this fold out cognac calf leather bag

Grgeous, n'est ce pas? But also £175. So I dont't own that and never will. Instead I dug out this bag which was actually one of the two dirt cheap bags I bought for holding the money from the Twelve by Twelve book sales at Festival of Quilts. Which makes it appropriate because of course you have used it too! My reading glasses are there for scale. Sorry about the quality of all these photos taken with Iphone on the train.

Inside it has:

Front pocket: small natual sponge, replacement leads for my mecahnical pencil, pencil sharpner I dodnt need because the pencil is mechanical but you never know what I might use in the future, eraser, small pair of scissors and 14ml tube of white gouache.

Front zip pocket. A selection of pens and mechanical pencils. I mostly am using the Pitt Artist Pen at the moment but I want to try out some others. In particular I have a Lamy fountain pen I bought for sketching but I cant get the Noodlers waterproof ink for it until I come and visit you.

First main pocket: two of these Lakeland food containers with water ( one for dirty brushes one to keep clean) two wristbands which I wear to wipe the brushes on ( Thanks to Ed from for that tip), some kitchen roll and two waterbrushes just in case.

Second main pocket, wallet of sepia artists pens, wallet if sanguine artist pens and a wallet of Pro Arte Travel brushes ( round,filbert and flat all No10).

So thats the bag. Successful in that it holds everything and this whole bag goes in my capacious handbag. It also held my phone, hotel key card and cash and credit card when I went out sketching last night so I could just take the one bag and the strap allows it to hang across my body. Not successful in that you may note it is missing two key things:


The watercolour pallette! In fact there is a little hidden pouch between the two main compartments so I was able to carry it like this. Not ideal! However, inside the pallete there is room for a synthetic brush but also my two new sable travel Escoda brushes which are fabulous. A 4 and a 6 round. It looks like the big one will prevent the pallette shutting but it shuts just fine. Also, you will see that after you SKYPED me I did manage to bend down the little metal prongs to keep the pans in place. Sort of. They still sliping and I have the odd escaping colour but its much better, thanks. So usually the bag and the pallette go in a handbag seperately. There is room in the bag for a smaller travel pallette though.

Which leaves the other missing sketch item, the skethcbook: after much debate I ordered this one from where it is just described as watercolour sketchbook with no brand, although I think it is in fact Canson. I love it. Its A4. The paper is great, ( it has some tooth but takes pen easily) the cover is elegant, the whole thing feels sturdy and capacious and it has actually encouraged me to paint journal pages like this one.

And this one.

However, it is not good for travel, it is just too thick. ( it has 60 sheets of 230gsm watercolour paper) so it travelled not in my sketchbag and not in my handbag but in my suitcase for goodness sake. And in my two try out sketch locations ( cafe table and sitting on a street kerbstone) it was very hard to use the left hand page because the weight was so unevenly distributed. And the landscape orientation plus its weight means supporting it across my forearm is unwieldy. And as for whipping it out to sketch people on the Tube? Forget it. But I really like having an A4 landscape sheet to work on. And I did manage this sketch ( and another couple as yet to have colour added before I show them).

So now I have a dilemma. Do I

(A) get the smaller version of this book (lovely book but less space and might still have the uneven weight distribution issues)

(B) go for an A5 portrait to get the A4 spread even though I dislike that format. Somehow its too accademic a format and makes my creative brain switch off

(C) go for an A4 spiral so I get the space to draw but can bend it back to avoid the weight distribution issues - but then it still won't fit in my bag!

(D) unwed myself from the A4 space and try a different size. I might be aided in this by the fact that the guys at Stilman and Birn tell me that Jacksons Art are to stock their books in the UK from the middle of the month... But such ugly covers!! I need you to try out that square Hand•book watercolour book you bought and tell me what you think.

(E) all of the above/ none of the above.

(G) stop trying the impossible and simply pack all my kit in a suitcase everyday and only use the right hand page of the book.

Help! Tell me exactly what you and every sketcher you know are using please :)


PS I just got home to find a packet of Stilman and Birn paper samples.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Helen

You may have thought of this before and dismissed it - but have you considered using the right hand pages of your sketch pad - and then turning it over so that the left hand pages then become the right hand side and starting again. They will obviously be 'upside down' - but it will keep everything in chronological order - should that be important. Of course that does not solve your size/carrying issue...

Kind regards

Maria (from Wellington)