Lassco Vice Sketch

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Lovely to meet up with another artist friend on Saturday and do some drawing in the Lassco warehouse of reclaimed treasures in Rope Walk, Bermondsey.

The friendly Lassco team made us really welcome, there were chairs and a table for us to work at and a huge number of beautiful and quirky old things to draw.

I chose this vice…it did actually have red paint splattered on it but my interpretation looks quite sinisterly bloody, which I like. As the Lassco manager said ‘this one tells a story’!

We’ll definitely be returning there to draw again.

Portrait of Haylen

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I made a few portraits of a Dutch friend of mine over the past few months and when I met his family his nephew asked if I’d make a portrait of his daughter Haylen in a similar style.

Haylen’s a really animated and sweet little girl who laughs a lot and has fantastic teeth; we were all keen that she should show them off in the portrait. Her mum and dad sent me a few recent photos (none with the teeth, however) and one of her laughing when she was two. 

I drew the portrait as an amalgamation of several of the photos and checked with the family that I’d caught Haylen’s ‘essence’ once the linework (below) was finished.

Finally I painted Haylen with watercolours.

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Portrait of Mike and His Friend

illustration, double portrait, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, portrait, cartoon, man, pinkpop, festival, drawing, painting

I was commissioned to make this double portrait while I was staying in Holland. I worked from a photo and made a linework likeness in pencil, drew over it in waterproof pen and then coloured it in with watercolour paints.

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This was a time consuming lesson in getting the brief clear from the get go.

Initially I understood that Mike only wanted a portrait of his buddy, not a double portrait and I went ahead and finished it (below) without double checking. We were both disappointed at the mix up but very happy with the final outcome.

 

Campground Map and Sign

I was staying at Camping Schoonenberg, a beautiful campgound set in woodland in North Holland when one of the staff members saw me painting a portrait. He showed a photo of my painting to the manager who asked me to make a new combined sign and map for the campground. Delighted!

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I started by making a rough map of the campground as I walked around it, using an aerial view from google earth as a template for the outline. The manager then helped me number the camping places and mark which ones had electricity.

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I then drew the full size map out on paper and added all the details and text (above). 

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Once the draft had been approved I traced it onto a piece of primed marine plywood which had been cut to allow a narrow unpainted border.

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Since the sign will be hung in a place which is sheltered from direct sunlight and rain and will be stored inside during the winter months when the campground is closed I chose to use acrylic paints which are water based. That makes the whole process much cleaner and odour free.

handpainted sign, signwriting, map, map making, campground, forest, woodland, camping schoonenberg, driehuis, north holland, holland, acrylic paint, wood, illustration, leaves, brambles, sign, painting, art

 

Amsterdam Sketch

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I recently went on a day trip to Amsterdam with the intention of sketching the classic townhouse, canal, boat and bike combo.

Job done!

It was a showery day so it took me a little to find a dry place to sit with the right view.

Lovely to wander around this beautiful city, even in the rain.

Retro Caravan Sketch

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This delightful, tiny 1987 model Eriba Touring caravan was parked up for a few days on the same campground as us.

The van’s been in the proud possession of the same woman for thirty years and her father painted the floral designs on the sides.

Cute as a button!

Merman – Do Not Resuscitate

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Here’s a photo collage of a recent pen and watercolour portrait I made of Rob (who likes to think of himself as my muse…he might be right!)

I worked from a photo I took of him lounging, the perspective was such that his enormous feet on the end of his crossed long legs reminded me of a fish tail so I drew him as a merman.

I took the liberty of editing his tattoos, which in reality cover his whole torso, because I wanted the focus to fall on the “Do Not Resuscitate” text on his chest. That’s my favourite.

Apple Blossom – Essex

apple blossom, flowers, springtime, essex, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, illustration, leaves

Back on home turf, quite literally, I was moved to try and capture the springtime beauty of the apple blossom on the tree in my mum and dad’s back garden.

apple blossom, flowers, springtime, essex, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, illustration, leaves

apple blossom, flowers, springtime, essex, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, illustration, leaves

Artwork in India (12) – Himachal Pradesh

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Himachal Pradesh was on my wishlist from February but the weather was just too cold to make the trip pleasurable until spring finally arrived halfway through April. 

I kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram and eventually booked two sets of accommodation in the Tirthan Valley. It was still damp and rainy when we arrived but we had a wood burner and electric blankets in our room to turn the chill into cosy.

To reach Himachal Pradesh from West Bengal we took a taxi from Siliguri to Bagdogra, flew to Delhi then on to Chandigarh (both steaming hot), then hired a car and driver to drop us in the Tirthan Valley.

Flights from Delhi to Kullu Manali (Himachal Pradesh’s airport)  are extremely expensive and unreliable due to the weather conditions, and while night buses from Delhi to Kullu are cheap, they take about 10 hours and don’t have proper sleeper berths (just reclining seats).

So that’s why we opted for the car and driver; door to door convenience, comfort and a reasonable price. Salman the driver loved the trip too, it was his first visit to Tirthan and he was mightily impressed by the phenomenal landscape.

A landscape which I found impossible to capture well in watercolour. I made one attempt which ended in frustration so I covered the mess with a collage and did a simple sketch on top. Life is too short to labour over landscapes when you can simply admire them.

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Still with an eye on the weather in desirable destinations like Manali and Mcleodganj (the Dalai Lama’s base in India) at higher altitudes we decided to stay put in the Banjar region until we had to return to Delhi and then to London. Comfort won out over curiosity; a sign of age perhaps.

Himachal Pradesh is a fantastic place to finish my trip. The weather is gentle as are our generous hosts here in the Tirthan Valley. 

I also found this epic book in our guesthouse and was immediately hooked.

India had been a profoundly wonderful and confusing experience, there were many points when I felt like I’d had enough but then something amazing would happen and I’d bounce back. 

Arundhati Roy, perhaps as only an Indian woman can, weaves a beautiful tale entwining the tragic, seemingly eternal (and universally human) threads of sexism, racism, classism, religion, corruption, exploitation and violence in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. The book is mostly set in Kashmir and Delhi but encompasses the whole of India.

“They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then who is? … What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”

A sad but funny and fascinating read and a great Indian history lesson.

Europe will undoubtedly seem pale after India but I will be happy to dress and express myself as I wish again without worrying that I’m offending anyone.

That’s a huge luxury, as is white privilege – being born in a relatively rich, secular and democratic country.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayan foothills, kullu, india, springtime, countryside, flowers, mountains, cactus, slate roof

Himachal Pradesh is so beautiful in the springtime and the people of the Tirthan Valley are so warm, kind and hospitable. We climbed up a really big hill today; up a dirt track, stone steps, through flowery meadows full of butterflies, we passed a waterfall, a few slate roofed cottages and a tiny school. Near the top a dog started barking at us quite enthusiastically; his lovely family gave us a glass of cold cordial and invited us in to see the temple in their new wooden house. We had very few words in common but they worked.

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Little sketchbook homage to the humble bidi (or beedi) a cheap but tasty Indian smoke. Basically it’s a leaf rolled around a tiny bit of tobacco, secured with a string. There was a bidi factory in Bundi, a beautiful town in Rajasthan that I visited in January. The bidies in the image above are painted, the rest is a collage of beautiful bidi packaging.

Artwork in India (11) – Sikkim

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The inspiration for this watercolour portrait / food illustration actually originated in Kalimpong, West Bengal but since I completed the painting in Sikkim here it sits.

Of course our travel plans for Sikkim originated in Kalimpong too. While we were waiting for the unusually long winter to turn to spring we’d both finished reading PG Tenzing’s very entertaining account of his Royal Enfield motorcycle trip around India ‘Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke For Directions’. Rob wanted to go and see Gurudongmar Lake, the highest in the world – a sight which had moved Mr Tenzing to tears.

A bit of research into the permits required by foreigners wishing to explore Sikkim revealed that that would not be possible; the farthest north we were allowed, even with a restricted area permit, would be Zero Point – some 15km south of Gurudongmar.

Armed with warm coats, half a dozen passport photos each and the same number of passport and visa photocopies we left Kalimpong in a shared jeep (having purchased two seats apiece for the sake of comfort). We disembarked an hour or so later in Rangpo, the closest Sikkimese border town.

 It took about half an hour to swap some photos and photocopies for an inner line permit which granted us permission to stay in Sikkim for two weeks.

Sikkim was an independent kingdom until 1975 when it became part of India. It is bordered by Nepal to the west and by Tibet to the North and East. China’s invasion of Tibet has made those borders extremely sensitive so access is carefully monitored.

We continued our journey from Rangpo to Gangtok, the Sikkimese capital, in another shared jeep; the vehicles were lined up and waiting for passengers in the market square, a short walk from the foreigner’s permit office.

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No smoking, no spitting, no cows, no dogs, no littering. Such are the rules in Gangtok and the benefits are palpable. It’s the cleanest and calmest city we visited and seemed very well off too. Of course we disregarded the no smoking rule but only in secluded places.

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We took the advice of the guesthouse owner and booked three tours; handing over all the remaining photos and photocopies to get the required permits. We explored the area around Gangtok on our first day, visiting the beautiful Rumtek and Chorten Buddhist monasteries, and the Banjhakri waterfall, which is touristy but lovely nevertheless.

tsomgo lake, frozen lake, west sikkim, sikkim, india, ice, yaks, prayer flags

The following day we took a six hour round trip with a driver and a guide to the frozen lake at Tsomgo. Complete with yaks, snow fall, stunning mountain views, a trip in a cable car and stops for steaming tea and momos – it was a glorious day out. 

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Our third tour was only three days and two nights long but it felt like an epic adventure. Again we had a driver and a guide (above centre) who made the six hour journey up to Lachung very comfortable. We made several stops to admire waterfalls, drink chai and make use of roadside toilet facilities – 5 rupees for a pee, 10 for a poo!

We passed through a couple of military checkpoints, each beside big army camps, where our permits were inspected and our details noted. 

The Lanchung Valley is absolutely stunning; with little farm cottages nestled on plateaus between huge mountains above and cliff drop waterfalls down to the Teester River bellow…billowing clouds gave it a timeless, mystical air. Enchanting.

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We stayed in a little wooden cabin with a balcony overlooking the valley (view above) and were provided with a very efficient heater and plentiful, simple food.

It was dusk and raining when we arrived (a delightful sound on a cabin roof) so the snow capped mountain view that greeted us at dawn was hugely exciting if not totally unexpected.

We were a bit surprised that we had to be supervised if we wanted to leave the property grounds, even for a stroll around the tiny village.

The following morning we took a trip as far up north as the recent avalanche allowed. Nature trumped our Yumthang Valley permit, the road was well and truly blocked and the clearance effort would take several days to open it again. 

A friend looked up our location on Google Earth and sent it by WhatsApp…we may have been way out in the sticks but the telecommunications were 21st century!

We returned to Gangtok elated by the mountain views and took a few days rest before leaving Sikkim by jeep; handing in our permit at the Rangpo office before we re-entered West Bengal.