Thursday, 22 June 2017

People Dropping on our Heads!

I am still working on a couple of smaller residencies which, instead of a block of time, involve me doing odd days here and there. One of these is the Symbiochem research project, on synthesising menthol. I did my final bit of sketching for them recently.

It was a similar set-up to previous occasions, with people being interviewed about the issues associated with the idea of creating menthol by manipulating E-Coli bacteria. This time though, we met in a rather unusual venue - a climbing wall. It turns out they have meeting rooms.

The climbing wall was housed in a huge, ex-steelworking space in the post-industrial area of north-east Sheffield. The experience of entering was a bit tardis-like: the incredible height on the inside didn't seem to match the outside of the building. To get to our room, we had to walk up a gantry in the middle of the space, with climbers attached to the walls at various heights all around us. 

Our meeting room was suspended high in the climbing space, looking out on the people scaling the walls. It was a shame I didn't have time to draw them, but I made a mental note, thinking about a future sketchcrawl...

We soon got down to business, a group of about 8 of us sitting casually around a table loaded with menthol products, and I did my best to capture what people said.

I would forget where we were until, every now and then, there would be a huge CRASH: a booming kind of noise that shook the whole room, like an explosion. the first time it happened, it really made me jump. We worked out that there must be climbers above us and, every so often, one would fall off and land on the ceiling of our little room!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Debates, Prisons and Free Wine!

So, as promised, here's what I got up to on my fab weekend as Artist-in-Residence at the UCU Congress in Brighton. I worked like the clappers for two days solid. I absolutely thrive on this kind of mad challenge.

I spent part of my time in the big hall, listening to the speakers and trying to capture as many of them as I could. It was so fast though: someone would get up and put a motion for a few minutes, then other people would say a few words for or against the motion, then everyone would vote by holding their voting cards in the air. Then we would immediately be on to the next motion.

There were a couple of occasions when I had a bit longer to spend on people. This was the Chairman, giving his opening address, which was a lovely, very personal talk about the reasons he got into the union:

Another thing which was slightly different, was a break-away seminar during the lunch break on the Saturday, all about what it's like to work in prisons. I quickly got the message that it is VERY challenging and extremely stressful to teach in a prison environment:

The following lunchtime, I went downstairs a little early and drew the lunch-bags being put out. They had a mix of various sandwiches, fruit, salad and a cake in - a great idea for making the lunch process quick, so people don't have to waste time queueing.

Then I hung around, sketching delegates eating their lunch. Basically, I was trying to draw all the different aspects of the weekend, to give an overall feel of what went on and to help make the artwork as varied and interesting as possible. I just love sitting quietly in a corner, earwigging conversation and cherry-picking little quotes to pop into the drawing:

It was important to spend a little while capturing the staff on reception too, the vital people who hold it all together. The red-head you can see bottom left, is Sue, who commissioned me and organised the residency. She told me that it was the work I had done during last year's strike which had attracted the attention of the UCU and got me the job:

On both the Friday and Saturday evening, there was a short drinks event. Free wine - yahoo! I reckoned I had earned a couple. I didn't draw on Friday night, as my work didn't officially start until Saturday morning, but I tried to capture a little on Saturday, as they were also taking the opportunity to launch a 'pack': a little book of personal stories from students of Further Education:

The conference was slightly different on Sunday, as the two halves of the union split into separate events, with Higher Education in one hall and Further Education in another. Having taught in both sectors myself in the past, I found it particularly interesting to catch up on the current issues.  

Having personal experience meant that I understood a lot of the problems. It seems that people are still working way too hard and are under even crazier amounts of pressure since I last taught within the system. Listening to all the issues made me realise how incredibly lucky I am now, to be able to do my teaching independently.

I've sketched a few conferences now, but with this one, we did something new, something absolutely brilliant. The conference centre was full of big LED screens. As I finished each concertina sketchbook, I rushed it to a tech-man, who quickly scanned it, then added it to a scrolling showcase of everything I was creating, displayed on all the screens. They even showed my sketches on the HUGE main conference screen during break times.

It was great to see it all 'writ large', but it also meant that every single person there knew what I was doing and got the chance to see the work (and sometimes see themselves!). It made things really sociable for me, because people kept coming up and saying hello.

As part of the deal this time, I included ownership of the original artwork, so this week it was all packaged up and sent by courier down to the union's head offices in London, where it is all going to be framed and put on the wall. They have promised to send me a photo!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Handouts for my Symposium Workshops in Chicago

First of all, a big SORRY for being so lazy with my blog posts recently. It's a combination of having a lot on and of recent bursts of good weather. Well, aren't you the same? How hard is it to lock yourself inside with the computer when it's lovely sunshine outside? My suntanned face is a bit of a give-away!

So, excuses over, I though I'd show you what I have been up to over the last couple of days. Yes, I know I promised to show you more of my sketches from the job in Brighton, but that can wait for next time.

My trip to Chicago is getting closer and closer - the Urban Sketchers Symposium is at the end of July, but I fly on the 20th. I suddenly realised this week that I needed to get my workshop fine-tuned. I am teaching a 3-hour workshop called Rhythm & Blues: the relationship between colour and line. I teach the same workshop 3 times over the 4 day symposium. All the workshop instructors create some sort of hand-out for participants. In past years, I have actually had them printed to take with me but, apart from the expense, that's potentially 57 students, so a lot of weight in my case.

So this time, I have taken a leaf out of one or two other instructor's books and created my handout as a PDF, which I will email to all my students in advance, so they can print it out at home. Much easier all round. Plus, it means that, if students lose their handout in all the excitement of Chicago, they can print a fresh one when they get back home. It also means I can make it as long as I want, with lots of sketch examples to illustrate what I'm asking people to do. This year it has run to 4 pages of A4. I'm really pleased with how it's turned out!

Actually, I hadn't a clue how to create a PDF 2 days ago, but I put a post on Facebook, asking for help, and loads of my lovely e-friends came out of the woodwork to help. Turns out it's easy, once you know what to do.

Having got that out of the way, I immediately feel better prepared and far less panicky when I think of the trip, so it's possible to look forward to it properly, as I sneak back downstairs into the garden...

Monday, 29 May 2017

Fish and Chips, Fluffy Dogs and Union Reps

I have just got back from spending two days over the Bank Holiday weekend as Artist in Residence for the big UCU (University and College Union) Congress, in Brighton. It's by pure chance the very trade union that John used to belong to, when he was a lecturer at the art college where we met, when I first came to Sheffield.

I worked my socks off and filled 8 concertina sketchbook strips, which I will show you more of in a few days, as soon as John has scanned them in for me. In the meantime, here are a few bits and bobs, snapped on a phone during the weekend.

This cute dog was doing a grand job, attracting punters to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign stall in the foyer area. Nobody could resist ruffling those fluffy ears, including me:

The timing of the event was not so great: on Friday, John and I had to spend 5 hours of the hottest, sunniest day of the year in the car, driving down to Brighton but, since most people with real jobs were probably also stuck in their offices, shops, factories etc, I can't really complain, especially since I got to see the sea at the end of the journey, then walk on the pier and eat fish and chips on the beach.

The work itself was really good fun - I just love the crazy challenge of the impossible speed required. The maximum each speaker had to put their motion forward was five minutes, some had just two to say their bit in support, or against, so I had no time to think, I just had to go for it.

I love how this kind of work takes me into all sorts of different places I know little about and, as usual, I learnt all sorts of new, interesting things.

Anyway, I'll tell you more in a few days. Thank you to everyone at the UCU for making me so welcome and saying such kind things about the sketches. Hope nobody minds too much about how I made them look!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Everything is a Drawing Opportunity...

Yesterday, John and I had to drive out into Derbyshire, to the village of Rowsley, to visit a lovely art gallery called Gallery Top. We were looking for a 50th birthday present for a friend. We weren't after a painting, but a piece of nice and unusual jewellery. The gallery in Rowsley has both paintings and jewellery, as well as glassware and ceramics. It was a feast for the eyes and we got what we needed (which I would show you, except I can't be 100% certain that my friend won't be looking in!).

Anyway, I took a sketchbook with me, because I felt in the mood for a bit of drawing. It was such a lovely drive, I decided to rise to the challenge of sketching out of the car window as we were going along. I've done this many times before. It is always quite hard-going and fairly frustrating, because the roads twist and turn. Which means that, as well as everything rushing past the windows at a crazy rate, the perspective of the road in front is constantly changing.

I did my best though. These are the most successful of the half a dozen I ended up with. The trick is to keep building up the image with bits stolen from the new views which enter the windscreen. And of course to draw like the clappers! One things for certain - the concentration it takes makes the journey disappear, so you are home in the blink of an eye.