Sunday, 29 November 2015

Sketch Crawl # 5 : Ouseburn

Natalie Bell - Untitled (acrylic on board, 12 x 12 cm)

RAIN (and indoor entertainment) STOPPED PLAY

It was always going to be a questionable plan to arrange a Sketch Crawl to coincide with the Ouseburn Open Studios. The Ouseburn area is fascinating and in the right circumstances it would be great to draw the flying viaducts, old industrial buildings and even the urban farm animals. But on Saturday the weather wouldn't play ball. 

I think one or  two sketches were done and Liz managed to get a print in her sketchbook of a pig's snout, but mostly we all took advantage of looking round the artists' studios in The Biscuit Factory, 36 Lime Street and Jim Edwards's Studio Gallery.

In the end we all agreed it had been a very enjoyable afternoon, despite the lack of sketching, but decided that we should not try a Sketch Crawl in December. We'll arrange another in January in the no doubt foolish expectation that the weather will have improved by then.

And the painting illustrated? I couldn't resist buying this sweet little painting of a cup from Natalie Bell (no relation) at her open studio in 36 Lime Street.

Friday, 6 November 2015


Alfons Bytautas

I went to the opening of Alfons Bytautas's solo show at Newcastle Arts Centre last night and thoroughly enjoyed the work. I'm always interested to see paintings by Scottish artists and was intrigued to learn how he'd arrived in Newcastle. Turns out he's technician at Northumbria University, something I should have guessed by the majority of attendees standing in the middle of the room, backs turned to the paintings, chatting earnestly. Typical university liggers!

Bytautas is primarily an abstract painter and many are clearly based on grids. For the most part I liked them, although I found it difficult at times to shake off the idea that some of the newer work reminded me of hooky and proggy mats. Nowt wrong with proggy mats, of course.

The paintings I preferred were probably the earlier ones (why is that so often the case?): freer forms, more organic. And those where the colour was either partially contained by line or where the line tended to float free from the colour areas. They certainly gave me something to think about.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Sketch Crawl # 4 : Hancock Museum

Heads (Pitt marker in A4 sketchbook)

Greek Plate (Pitt marker in A4 sketchbook)

On Saturday, the fourth of the current season of Sketch Crawls was indoors as the weather deteriorates. The newly modernised Hancock Museum clearly does what it's meant to do - engage the attention of young children - but I was a little disappointed to find all the old gloomy galleries gone. 

As the galleries themselves had always been my interest in the museum, I now had to simply wander round the cases (with my Museum Sketchbook) drawing a selection of heads and a Greek plate. OK, but not as interesting as a building, either inside or out. I suppose one or two of them might make their way into a still life one day.

Some of our Sketch Crawlers did at least find a comfy bench to sit and draw, but my camera decided to autofocus on the furry thing in the foreground instead of the sketchers!

If I could have found a decent place to sit or even stand without fear of being trampled by running children, I'd have liked to do something with the T. Rex, but 'twas not to be. 

While I was drawing the Polynesian mask, a little Chinese girl looked up at me and asked. "Are you an artist?" She seemed to be quite overawed when I answered, "Yes."

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Washed up

Washing WIP (Acrylic on board, 12 x 10 in)

I'm starting to feel like it's time to really get working again, so off I went on Friday to Gateshead Art Society, a box of acrylics and a new board in my hot little hands.

I'd made every effort the previous night to ensure I'd have all the necessary items with me, but when I unpacked my gear at the club I realised I'd left behind a worked over and squared up inkjet print essential to the new project. What I'd brought instead was an earlier reference photo which was the wrong dimensions.

Never say die, I made the best of it and got the board covered as you can see, but it's not right. Later I had to square it up using the correct reference material and now I'm ready to start again when I get to the club next week. Who said acrylics allowed you to work faster|?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Sketch Crawl Time again

Old Hancock Museum: Relic Case
(Charcoal and compressed charcoal across two pages of A4 sketchbook)

For those who might tune in here to find out news of Sketch Crawls in the north east (Unlikely, I know, but I live in hope of making contact with this blog), we have another Sketch Crawl coming up for those tempted.

This time  we'll be drawing at The Hancock Museum, Newcastle on Saturday 24th October and those interested should turn up from 1.00-1.30pm. Draw inside or outside the building, as the fancy takes you.

This one is timed to coincide with World Wide SketchCrawl 49.

Hope to see some new sketchers there.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Plantlife Madeira

Black 0.8 marker in 21 x 20 cm sketchbook

always go on holiday with my sketchbook with the honest intention of filling it with drawings. Sadly I find that wandering about just looking at new things is an activity in itself that takes up most of my time. As a result, the opportunities for sitting and drawing are rarer than I'd like. Perhaps if I could develop a more rapid sketching style, I could get more done, but I'm afraid I'm a careful observer of fact and detail ...

Anyway, in an attempt to set aside some time purely for drawing, on Wednesday Pat and I went off to the Botanical Gardens on the hill above Funchal; she with her Kindle, I with my sketchbook. The result: three carefully observed pages of drawings of alien trees.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Course Project 3

Project 3 WIP (Acrylic on canvas)

I'm really enjoying this online course run by Este Macleod, because it has certainly thrown me out of my comfort zone and I find myself producing pictures which I couldn't predict before I started. 

This latest is being developed from a canvas prepared with several layers of mark-marking, following Este's guidelines:

Friday, 18 September 2015

Still on Course

Project 1 has moved along and changed over the week. The fruit have disappeared and been replaced by a key and the flowers have become better defined. Not too much more to do on this one.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Course Project

Project 1 Day 1 
(Acrylic on canvas) 

The day began with panic at having to abandon all control and simply follow the instructions. My initial reaction was, this is never going to work. But fairly soon after, things began to pull together and reached a point where I was rather pleased with the look of the thing. 

Of course, I've gone beyond that now and am at the point of wondering how it will ever really come together.

Under advice from Este (who insists she would never finish a painting in a day), I'm putting it to one side until tomorrow.

Friday, 11 September 2015

On Course

I think I mentioned when beginning work on my wooden heart, that I'd signed up for an online painting course. It's with Este MacLeod and it started this week. Este's paintings are nothing like mine; her background is in textiles, she paints in an abstract manner and she uses acrylics, on this course Golden Fluid Acrylics. All of which I thought would throw me out of my comfort zone and maybe give me a push in a different direction.

It already feels like it's working. There's that old feeling of finding water unpredictable and uncontrollable and relief to find that she uses mostly acrylic medium to thin her paint. But not knowing, and finding out how paint and colour will behave is a getting-back-to-basics strategy and is truly fascinating.

At the top of this post is one of the colour exercises and here's a couple of pages of fanciful flowers put together, quite quickly, from deconstructed fruit and veg.

More as things unfold.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Sketch Crawl #3 : Tynemouth

Collingwood Cannon, Tynemouth
(Pitt markers, Japanese brush pens in A4 sketchbook)

It looked grey and cold on Saturday morning and even though the forecast showed some sunshine at the Coast I decided on wearing a fleece. Boy, was I glad I did when I got to Tynemouth for my third sketch crawl. It was one of those sunny days where the constant wind makes it bitterly cold.

I'd made some error in my travelling calculations and got to Tynemouth Metro Station about half an hour later than I'd planned, so everyone was busy with their sketching and I had to hunt them out. Not an easy job, because I'd completely forgotten that on Saturday there's a market held in the station and the place was heaving:

It was somewhat overwhelming and rather than try to sort out something to draw, I made a quick tour of the station, photographing my fellow sketch crawlers for posterity:

Allan                                    Barbara




With something like fifteen minutes to spare before we moved off, I took out my A5 sketchbook and stood on the pedestrian bridge, having a go at capturing some of the people milling about below. No one - even the man who'd been standing stock still at his stall and who'd therefore encouraged me to try this - remained in one place or position for more than thirty seconds. I'd look up and the person I'd started to draw had morphed into someone else, so the old woman with the anorak exchanged her trousers for a long skirt. No men suffered this indignity, but another woman found the dog she'd been leading on a bit of string had turned into a rabbit.

Tynemouth Market people
(Pitt medium marker in A5 sketchbook)

After that it was off into town to find somewhere to draw that didn't involve being blown away. Pretty impossible, as I discovered when I tried to find shelter in a valley near the Collingwood Monument. Finally accepting that the wind would blow wherever I stood, I took up position on the steps of the Monument and drew part of one of the cannons (see above).

Although there was about half an hour left of the allotted drawing time, I headed back up the hill to Front Street and hung about outside Mr Woods coffee shop, waiting for the others to turn up. After a while I was joined by Barbara and we talked for a while in the partial shelter of a lamp post. After a further while, Michael came out of the coffee shop and apologised for having gone in soon along with the others. We joined them for a muffin and a coffee.

As well as passing round the day's accomplishments, we talked about how the summer (ha!) seemed to be coming to an end and we might have to find indoor locations for our sketch crawls. As it has previously, the possibility of sketching in Newcastle's Hancock Museum came up. We'll see ...

Friday, 28 August 2015


Sometimes I think I have no idea of exactly when in the month I am. Where does the time go? I had to take time out yesterday to get some ultramarine acrylic (I had to settle for Galeria rather than my preferred Liquitex) and then really had to crack on with the wooden heart to try to get it in the post today.

Nevertheless, against all odds I finished painting the heart and sent it off in its prepaid envelope to St Claire's Hospice. With luck it should get there by 1st September. 

If only I could post a picture of it now. I'm actually rather pleased with it, although I still find the peculiar, almost chalky surface of acrylics a little difficult to take.

Monday, 24 August 2015

I Heart Acrylics?

Some blocking in done on my wooden heart. It's already starting to look like it might work out, but I'm struggling a little with acrylics after something like 20 years without using them. 

Instead of painting in oils, I decided  to use up some tubes of Liquitex and Galeria acrylics from 20 years ago and while I'm getting on OK with them I'm sure I'd find the more modern acrylic paints more to my liking. 

In the days when I used acrylics I preferred Liquitex and only bought Galeria at university,but many of my painting friends recommend Golden. I recently bought some Golden High Flow acrylics, but they're for an online course I've signed up for. Still, I've run out of ultramarine, so I may have to raid them for that.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Slow Heart Rate

Two coats of gesso on my wooden heart today. Progress is slow. I'm going to have to step up the pace.

Friday, 14 August 2015

I do have a wooden heart …

There's nothing like a deadline for getting the creative juices flowing. And I have a deadline. This wooden heart is to be decorated in any way I fancy and returned to St Clare's Hospice, Jarrow by the 1st September in time for a charity event.

The Hospice will be holding an exhibition of these decorated hearts (one of them has been decorated by "Call me Dave" Cameron - be still my beating heart!) in November. There'll be a catalogue and a website and I'll be sure to post details of those in due course.

Meanwhile, I'm afraid I'll be unable to share progress of my heart's painting with you. The work will all be displayed anonymously, although a list of contributors will be available. Later, after the exhibition has closed and the work has been sold, I'll let you see what I came up with.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

From Dillons' First Floor Window

From Dillons' First Floor Window
(Oil on board) Private Collection.

We went out to a Private View last night at a gallery new to me - the Bewicks Gallery Space in Gateshead Civic Centre. We'd been invited to a preview of work by Tom Bromly OBEDean of Newcastle Polytechnic (the forerunner of Northumbria University) Faculty of Art and Design until his retirement in 1992.

I liked the show very much, although I preferred his more designed/abstracted compositions to the straightforward studies and paintings of trees. I chatted to an old friend for a while and then, as we were taking a second glass of wine for a second turn around the gallery, someone came up to me and said:

"You're Harry Bell, aren't you? I bought a painting of yours a long time ago and I still love it!" We were joined by his wife who said "You're Harry Bell! You painted my favourite painting!"

The oil painting was From Dillons' First Floor Window and it was sold in 1995 from my first solo show. It was always a favourite of mine and here was the man who bought it twenty years ago, still enthusing about it now. 

Don't you just love it when that happens?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Food for Thought

Food Station 
(Digitally coloured)

While it may have been the least accomplished of the sketches I did on Saturday's sketch crawl, the Market Square drawing is the most likely to prove useful. Today I ran it through Photoshop to see if it might work as a painting. And I think it might.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Sketch Crawl #2: Durham

Market Square, Durham
(Pitt Medium marker with black Pentel Brush Pen, 
grey and blue brushpens in A4 sketchbook)

Despite all my good intentions, I did no more drawing following last month's Sketch Crawl, so it was with some relief that I headed off yesterday to Durham for my second Crawl. I had two possible buses to catch: the 21 and the X12. It seemed sensible to take the X12, it being an express to Durham, although I was puzzled to see from the timetable that it arrived in Durham Bus Station only five minutes sooner than the normal service 21.

Once I was on the bus, of course, I realised why the time difference was so small. We crawled along behind and only very slowly passed three 21s travelling in convoy, there being no opportunity to overtake them until more than half way to Durham.

We'd had a week of indifferent to poor weather before Sketch Crawl Day, so it was a real pleasure, if a mixed one, to find the sun out and shining on the milling throngs of people in Market Square. Michael and one or two others were already there, Michael beavering away at his first sketch; once we were all collected together and an itinerary agreed, we split up to look for subject matter.

The milling throngs proved difficult for me to deal with. Every time I saw something I wanted to draw, crowds would gather in front of it. So I was well into my allotted time before I'd found a convenient doorway from which to draw this food stall. Even then, I had people walking past me and thoughtlessly buying food from the stall (see the man with the transparent trousers in the drawing), so that with every line I was having to pause and say to myself "Where does that line go?"

By the time I'd finished all the other Crawlers had moved on to the Cathedral, outside of which 146 Harley Davidson motorbikes were parked. The bikers' long and thunderous drive through the Market Square hadn't helped in my search for subject matter, but now at least they were quiet.

Some of the Harleys outside the Cathedral.

Drawing cathedrals isn't really my thing and standing in the middle of the road drawing a Harley didn't much appeal (although both Michael and Gary had a go), so I turned to a house on the corner of Owengate, with part of the castle behind it.

Nr the Cathedral
(Pitt Medium marker with green and red brushpens in A4 sketchbook)

I confess I wasn't terribly happy with this drawing at the time (maybe it's my antipathy to red/green), but now it's on the blog, I'm warming to it.

With a little time in hand, I took a short walk inside the Cathedral looking for the Magna Carta display, but found instead a lovely painting of St Margaret by Paula Rego which I didn't know existed.

Margaret and David by Paula Rego (2003)

St Margaret by Paula Rego

Our final sketching area was down by the River Wear, which winds through Durham. Standing on Prebends Bridge we looked down the river and each of us saw something different to draw. I decided to go down to the riverside and draw what turned out to be a piece of sculpture by an uncredited artist. On the back was this collection of gurning faces ...

... but I chose to sit in the sun on a nearby bench and draw the other side. After a while, the inevitable happened and three people sat down on the carved wooden benches. I quite liked the idea of having them in the drawing so, expecting they'd soon be up and gone, I put them in quickly, sacrificing the correct scale for speed. They, of course, were still sitting there when I packed up and left.

Riverside, Durham
(Pitt Medium marker with black Pentel Brush Pen, 
grey brushpen in A4 sketchbook)

I mentioned last time that one hazard of drawing in public can be the curious passer-by. Luckily, I was untroubled this time, although it's possible some of the people on this cruise boat were looking at me.

It had been a thoroughly enjoyable and productive day as we all agreed over coffee and cakes in the Cafe on the Green. There was a bit of "show-and-tell" with sketchbooks passed around and helpful comments made.

Sketch Crawlers 
(L-R:Liz, Gary, Laura, Andrew and Allan. Barbara had to forego the delights of spiced apple cake; and I'm the photographer)

So, all in all, a Very Good Day Out and a decision made for another very soon - probably in Tynemouth.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Sketch Crawl #1: Sunderland

Sunderland University 
(Pitt medium fibretip and Pentel Brush Pen in A4 sketchbook)

My very first sketch crawl! And it was fun. I met Michael Lee, who'd organised the day (he might quibble at the use of the word "organised") at Sunderland University on a bright sunny day and after some brief introductions we set to drawing. While I decided on this rather minimalist building (best not to be over-ambitious at the beginning, I thought), Michael opted for something else. Whatever it was, here he is drawing it.

Having limbered up, we moved on to something much more taxing - the Empire Theatre.

Empire Theatre, Sunderland
(Pitt medium fibretip, coloured pencil 
and grey brush pen in A4 sketchbook)

Talk about complicated and fiddly! I got totally lost with that columned thingy at the top and the swags round the lion's head (for that is what it is) went far too wide. But hey! it's only a sketch. 

By the time we moved on, the band rehearsing in the pub over the road had still not mastered the song they'd been hammering away at.

And so to Keel Square, a new development in Sunderland. Or rather, a new open space, we found, with wind whistling in from all directions and a crazy BMX biker determined to whizz across anything we chose to sit on, so we retraced our steps to find a more sheltered view of the Londonderry:

The Londonderry, Sunderland
(Pitt medium fibretip, grey and blue brush pens in A4 sketchbook)

One of the hazards of drawing in the street is that you may attract the attention of interested but sometimes opinionated passers by. I attracted two today: one who seemed to be the cook in the Londonderry who just wanted know what we were doing; the second who I suspect was a patron of the Londonderry ventured the opinion that what I was doing was "not bad, not bad".

He may have been right. I added the blue wash after I got home and think it may have been a mistake, but too late now ...

Michael, who I think had produced two sketches for my every one, kindly pointed me in the direction of the Metro station. When I got there, the Metro was broken. I dunno, the good folk of Sunderland moaned for years that the Tyne & Wear Metro didn't go as far as Sunderland, so they built them an extension. What did they do? They broke it and made me get the bus home.

Transport snags aside, it was interesting to see Sunderland again after so many years and all in all, it was a Great Day Out. Thank you, Michael!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Urban Sketch Crawl

I'm filled with trepidation. My Regular Reader will know that I am not a stranger to drawing outside. I'm not even a stranger to drawing outside in towns. But I've always been somewhat averse to drawing outside in towns in the UK. 

For some reason, I'm prepared to stand in the street in a town in Crete or Croatia, get out my pen and sketchbook and spend an hour or so drawing what's in front of me. But I've always hated the prospect of doing it in British towns and cities.

Having said that, in the early days of my artistic endeavours I drew this building in Newcastle, standing in the street:

Northern Goldsmiths, 4th November 1990 
(Fine point marker and sepia ArtPen in A4 sketchbook)

I didn't enjoy the experience; it was terribly cold and once my feet had thawed out, they ached. I did no more drawings of this sort until I began my BA Fine Art course at Newcastle University in 1997, when we were required to go out every day for a week, drawing the urban environment. Here's a couple of the sketchbook drawings I did then:

 High Street Fire Escape (A4 sketchbook)

Concrete Walkways (A4 sketchbook)

Looking at the drawings I do every year on holiday you'll see that I often draw houses. I don't draw houses in the UK, but choose instead (if I'm put in the position of having to draw in a UK town) big chunks of urban concrete. There's a reason: Mediterranean buildings are often quite simple in design and are not cluttered up with neoclassical columns and bloody windows! Since the repeal of the Window Tax in 1851, we've stuck windows in every available wall and not just ordinary openings-with-shutters like Greek houses have, but complicated, fanciful structures with ornate lintels and ... oh, you get the picture, I'm sure.

But really, this is just another excuse for not getting down to drawing my world. Windows and architectural fol-de-rols may be awkward but they will no longer stand in my way. I will act! And hence my trepidation: tomorrow I'm off on my first Urban Sketch Crawl. I tried to link up with SketchCrawlers a few years ago, but no one in this area seemed up for it. Just last week, however, I discovered Sketch Crawl North East on Facebook : a group of occasional sketch crawlers in and around the cities of the North East. And by chance someone proposed a crawl tomorrow.

Now all I have to worry about, apart from what I might find myself having to draw, is what I'm going to draw it with and in which sketchbook. Life is full of difficult decisions ...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Gateshead Art Society Exhibition

Gateshead Art Society is my other Art Club. I have three paintings in this show and there will be a small selection of my greetings cards for sale (other greetings cards are also available).

Unison Pastels

St Peter's, Falstone, 1 July 2015
(0.8 marker and Pentel Brush Pen in 21 x 26 cm sketchbook)

The North of England Art Club organised a good day out yesterday to the Unison Pastels Factory at Thorneyburn.  I've been twice before, but I still find it rather amazing that a world-wide business is run from a such a tiny place in the middle of absolutely nowhere. 

It's always interesting to see how the pastels are made, but I resisted the temptation to add to my untouched supply of pastels from those previous trips. I was keen to press on to Falstone where we were to have lunch and do some sketching.

A tiny village in Northumberland, Falstone boasts two churches, but only one pub. The pub was closed until the evening, but St Peter's, the Anglican church, was open, so I wandered around there for a while. It was refreshing to be in the cool air, after what had become a scorching hot day outside.

I'd just about given up finding something to draw and was on the point of ambling off to Rose Cottage where Ian and Judy were promising tea and biscuits at 2.30, when these gravestones set against the big cypress caught my eye. I managed to finish it just as the ink in my Brush Pen ran out and the need for tea and biscuits became overwhelming.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Willow Burn

I had a very pleasant afternoon tea with Lady Elsie Robson today, while looking round the lovely new Willow Burn Hospice at Lanchester. The Painters' Group has been invited to put on an exhibition of paintings there later in the year.

More of this in due course.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


(0.8 Marker in A5 sketchbook)

No sooner had I got back from Askrigg and dried off than I was packing again for a week in Bologna, in Italy, with Pat. The forecast looked no more impressive than that for Askrigg, with thunderstorms threatening every day, but the actuality was just the opposite.

Had it been raining we knew that there was plenty of shelter in Bologna because of its famous porticos (note to self: post photographs), but eventually we were grateful for the shade afforded by the porticos as the heat increased throughout the week.

It was a lovely trip and the city was wonderful. It's very much a student town (the oldest university in Europe, in fact) and benefits from their vibrancy. There were fire jugglers at night, an excellent Dizzy Gillespie-style quartet, and an absolutely astonishing juggler-cum-magician. I'm not usually terribly impressed with street magicians, but this guy's control was remarkable. There was one point at which I was certain that the glass ball he was manipulating was indeed floating in mid-air, though common sense told me he had to be keeping control with his thumbs. How though, I can't imagine.

My good intentions of getting more drawing done went out the window yet again, but I made sure that I did do this one drawing from the same window of our hotel, the Cavour Hotel (highly recommended).