Living by the Sea

 

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

The photo above shows (from left to right) my mother, me and my brother enjoying ice cream cones on the beach in September 1963.

I generally don’t give much thought to the fact that I’ve spent most of my life living in coastal areas, in homes which, even if some did not have a direct view of the sea, were only a few miles from it.

This wasn’t entirely a deliberate policy on my part, and things just seem to have worked out that way. Nonetheless, I’m very glad that things did work out that way!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my parents and my grandparents all came from Leeds, and they used to look forward to annual vacations in Scarborough and other coastal Yorkshire towns. (They usually seemed to choose Yorkshire destinations, although my grandparents did occasionally venture further afield, to such exotic locations as Grange-over-Sands!)

In those days, the air in coastal towns was much cleaner than in inland industrial cities, so there was a clear health benefit to living by the sea. The photo below of Scarborough Harbour, which was also taken by my father in 1963, shows smoke rising from buildings, a nuisance that was much worse in inland locations. The image also includes various other nostalgic features, such as a fleet of fishing boats and a commercial cargo ship in the Harbour!

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

In 1972, while still living in Scarborough, I bought my first copy of Railway Magazine. Given that the magazine has been published continuously since 1897, there was nothing momentous about that event, except for the cover of that edition, which didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Railway Magazine, September 1972

Railway Magazine, September 1972

As shown, the cover featured the famous locomotive Flying Scotsman, which I recognized, but I was completely oblivious as to the location. I knew that the locomotive was touring the USA, but that was all. In fact, it shows Flying Scotsman at a far-away seaside location, near Fisherman’s Wharf, in San Francisco. How prophetic for me!

(The astonishing subsequent story of how Flying Scotsman’s owner went bankrupt during its US tour, leaving the locomotive impounded at Fort Mason, can be read about here.)

The sea often featured in my childhood paintings, as in the image below, which I produced at school, at the age of 14. It purports to show a British flying boat over New York, although at that time I’d never seen New York except in pictures. (The cheap paint used in the picture has decomposed over the years. Originally, there was a calm moon shining over the sea, but now it seems to be exploding!)

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

A Very Significant Sea Change

In November 1987, I arrived for my new job in San Mateo, California, and found myself once again in a seaside location, albeit on the opposite coast of a different continent. I was initially quite confused, because I hadn’t been aware of the existence of San Francisco Bay, so, living on the Peninsula, I wasn’t sure whether I was looking west at the Pacific Ocean, or east at the Bay!

Nonetheless, I soon figured out the local geography, and settled down to live the remainder of my life by the sea! The 1996 photo below shows a view over San Francisco Bay from the kitchen of our house in San Mateo.

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

Monochrome Illustration Techniques

Young H G Wells (Incomplete)

Young H G Wells (Incomplete)

The image above was intended as a portrait of the young H G Wells. I started work on it while I was an undergraduate student, but, unfortunately in retrospect, I never finished it.

Even though the drawing is incomplete, I’ve scanned and posted it now because it is one of the few surviving examples of my artwork that uses a monochrome stippling technique.

Over on my professional blog, I just published a new post—The Age of Monochrome Illustration—reflecting on the significant changes in commercial illustration practices that have taken place during the past quarter century or so. On looking back at the work that inspired me in those days, I was astonished to realize just how much things have changed since then. It was a “given” back then that most illustration work would be printed in monochrome, and it had been that way since the dawn of mass printing.

Looking through my own remaining artwork to find images for the post, I had no difficulty finding examples of artwork that used cross-hatching, but an example of the stippling technique was less readily available.

I can think of only one area of electronic publishing where monochrome artwork may still be preferred, and that is for eBooks that are to be read on eInk devices such as the Kindle Paperwhite. However, that’s not necessarily much of a restriction, because the same publications can, in general, be read on compatible readers with full-color screens. I’m not aware of any cases where eBook artwork was deliberately created in monochrome for that reason.

Kirkham Priory Postscript

My Pencil Drawing of Kirkham Priory, 1974-75

My Pencil Drawing of Kirkham Priory Gatehouse, 1974-75

The image above is a pencil drawing that I executed at school in 1974-75, when I was about fourteen. It shows the gatehouse of Kirkham Priory, which was the topic of my previous post.

The gatehouse of the Priory is probably the most famous and recognizable portion of the remains, and has been drawn, painted and photographed many times over the centuries. My own effort wasn’t entirely original, being heavily based on a lithograph produced by William Richardson in 1848.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Kirkham was and is a major tourist attraction, and the same portion of the ruins even featured in railway posters during the twentieth century.

Edit 7/23/17: I obtained the press photograph below via eBay some time ago. The print is dated October 24th, 1927.  It shows the remains of Kirkham Priory just before the Office of Works began excavations.

Kirkham Priory before Excavation, 1927

Kirkham Priory before Excavation, 1927 (Copyright the Times)

The caption on the back of the photo says:

A view of part of the ruins of Kirkham Abbey, in the valley of the Derwent, Yorkshire, which have recently been handed over to the Office of Works by Sir Edward Allen Brotherton. The Abbey was founded by Walter L’Espee [sic], the founder of another Yorkshire abbey, that of Rievaulx, in the North Riding. The work of preservation, which the Office of Works is carrying out, will probably take two years to complete.

St. Martins School of Art: A Life-Changing Experience

Life Drawing Sketch, St Martins School of Art, 1982

Life Drawing Sketch, St Martins School of Art, 1982

The illustration above shows one of my very earliest “from life” pencil sketches. It was done during an Illustration class at St. Martins School of Art, London, during 1982. Strangely, prior to that, I had never participated in a formal “life drawing” art class anywhere.

My tutor at that class was an artist called Ian Ribbons. I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing about Mr. Ribbons at the time, and it was only many years later that I discovered that he was in fact a successful and famous illustrator in his own right.

Developing a Technique

In earlier posts, I’ve exhibited a few later examples of my figure drawings from live models. Those examples were drawn when I’d already gained some experience of life drawing, and some confidence with my preferred technique. However, that knowledge was hard-won, and, as I’ve previously indicated, I seriously lacked confidence in my figure drawing skills until I reached my early twenties.

My lack of competence wasn’t entirely due to my own shortcomings. The inadequacy of what was offered to me as “Art education” at school did nothing to reinforce my confidence or help me to improve. We were not given any classes in drawing the human figure, ever, even as part of the so-called “Advanced Level” course, which seems appalling in retrospect. Occasionally we were given a homework assignment to “do a self-portrait” or “draw some people”, but with no accompanying guidance or help, so inevitably the results were disappointing and demotivating.

(I’m aware that I wasn’t the only one to suffer from this “teachers shouldn’t try to teach” approach to education. There seemed to be a weird but common attitude that trying to inculcate drawing or aesthetic expertise was somehow tyrannizing innocent students, who should instead be left to wallow in ignorance. The result was that we now encounter many “artists” who seem unable to summon much actual artistic skill, which must surely be frustrating for those who are aware of it.)

It was only when I got to Imperial College, and volunteered to be the Publicity Officer of the H G Wells Society, that it dawned on me that I might have “bitten off more than I could chew”. I realized that I was probably going to have to draw people, for public display, and make it look good! It somehow occurred to me that some professional instruction might help, so I sought out the course at St Martins.

Ian Ribbons

As I mentioned above, my tutor at St. Martins was Ian Ribbons. Years after taking the Illustration class there, I stumbled across a copy of a 1963 book called Illustrators at Work, at a secondhand book shop. The book’s dustcover is shown below.

Illustrators at Work, 1963

Illustrators at Work, 1963

As the cover shows, the book was compiled by the famous British illustrator Robin Jacques (who was the brother of the actress Hattie Jacques), but it includes biographies and samples of the work of many other British artists. There, on page 45, was a section about Ian Ribbons, complete with the following biography:

Ian Ribbons Biography from "Illustrators at Work"

Ian Ribbons Biography from “Illustrators at Work”

Incidentally, the same book also includes a section on Ronald Searle, another well-known British artist, who happened to be a bunkmate of my mother’s first husband in the Japanese POW camp at Changi, Singapore, during World War II. I’ll have more to say about him in a future post!

Benefits of the St Martins Class

There’s no doubt that Ian Ribbons’ guidance was excellent, and it helped me gain some vital artistic confidence, in a way that I had not remotely anticipated. Without that inspiration, I probably would not have produced much of the publicized artwork that I subsequently created while I was a student in London.

For the first time ever, I felt that I had the ability to produce work that could credibly be displayed in a public setting without inducing (unintended) laughter. In retrospect, not all of what I produced in those days was good, but at least I wasn’t paralyzed by perfectionist concerns.

I must add that another major benefit of the Illustration class at St. Martins was simply the opportunity to work alongside other not-so-famous, but very competent, professional artists. There wasn’t really any program of formal instruction, but each of us was working on our own drawings and developing our own techniques.

If I saw another artist using a technique that interested me, I could simply lean across and ask, “How did you do that?”

That was, in fact, how I learned the ballpoint pen technique that I used for the portrait of Pallab Ghosh. Another artist at the class had already used that technique (for a portrait of actor Roger Moore, as I recall), so I simply asked him about it, then tried it myself. I doubt that I would ever have thought of such a technique without his example to look at!

Pallab Ghosh as "Super-Ed" (Superman)

Pallab Ghosh as “Super-Ed” (Superman)

I don’t think that I have ever before or since found myself working among such a concentrated group of talented artists. Presumably that was due to the location: we were in Central London.

Jeopardizing My Degree?

When my tutor at Imperial College learned that I was taking a part-time class at St. Martins, he expressed concern that it could detract from my engineering studies, and possibly even jeopardize my prospects of obtaining a degree! (I was working at Selfridges on Saturdays too, which was also deemed inadvisable.) Fortunately, all those concerns turned out to be nonsense, and I’m really glad now that I took that opportunity to “broaden my horizons”.

Moggies Cartoon: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

This was the first “Moggies” cartoon that I created for display at the Sonoma County Fair. It seems like an appropriate time of year to post this episode!

I already posted the other two Moggies cartoons (Pure Water and Royal Blood). As you’ll have noticed, this first example was not in color. When I began producing comic illustrations about 30 years ago (long before this cartoon, of course), monochrome artwork was still very common, due to limitations of the printing processes. Now, however, there’s rarely a need to print only in monochrome, even in newspapers.

 

Fishbourne Palace: Roman Mosaics & Matrices

Fishbourne Palace Floors, Sussex, UK

Fishbourne Palace Mosaic Floors, Sussex, UK

Since ceasing to live in the UK in 1987, I have returned many times for visits. On one occasion in 1997, I visited the amazing Roman remains at Fishbourne Palace, near Chichester. This is the largest known Roman residence north of the Alps.

There’s nothing left of this vast palace above ground, and in fact, until work began on a planned housing estate in 1960, nobody knew that it was there at all. Under the surface, however, excavations revealed large numbers of mosaic floors in various states of preservation. The photo above shows some of the mosaics and remaining foundations, which are now housed within a museum that was built over them. Outside the museum, part of the palace’s Roman garden has been recreated.

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

The photo above shows the famous “Cupid on a Dolphin” mosaic at Fishbourne Palace. By an incredible stroke of luck, the mosaic is perfectly preserved, except for some subsidence of the ground underneath, as is visible above.

Much later, in 2012, I visited another Roman site, Verulamium, near the modern city of St. Albans. This site also features impressive mosaics, and even some surviving decorated plaster walls.

For various reasons, Britain has relatively few surviving Roman structures above ground, but the Verulamium Museum, shown below, is an impressive modern building based on Roman designs.

Verulamium Museum

Verulamium Museum

Inside the Verulamium Museum are a wide variety of artefacts discovered during the excavation of the city, including several building tiles that contain paw prints from cats and other animals that walked across them around 2000 years ago.

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

A cat paw print was also found on a Roman roof tile in Gloucestershire a couple of years ago, as described here.

During my visit to Verulamium, I bought a small but interesting book called Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics.

I’ve referred to this little book from time to time since then, whenever I’ve needed some explanation of the construction of Roman mosaics. It only struck me recently, however, that (as described in the book) most Roman mosaics are laid out in a rectangular matrix.

Over on my professional blog, I’ve written several articles about Bitmap Graphics, which are themselves based on rectangular matrices.

It really is an astonishing connection between ancient art and modern technology!

Sketching the Great Comedian

The Great Comedian, 1986

The Great Comedian, 1986

Back in the days when I used public transport to get to work, I found myself with a substantial amount of “down time”, spent waiting for transport or traveling on transport. I wanted to do something useful with that time, so, one summer, I decided to try to teach myself Classical Greek.

I had learned French (which was mandatory) and German (optional) at high school, but Greek wasn’t even offered at my school. I was inspired to try to learn the language by having read some of the surviving works of classical authors (in English). Unfortunately, many people seem to assume that all those works are heavy tomes of philosophy, or else harrowing tragedies, because that is frequently the false impression given in pop culture. In fact the range of surviving work is much greater.

They Really Are Old Jokes

I was most impressed by the surviving comedies of Aristophanes, who wrote his plays at around the time of the fall of Athens. Naturally, the theme of many of his plays involves the Peloponnesian War, and possible ways to bring it to an honorable end. Nonetheless, many aspects of his plays seem astonishingly modern, and even include the first recorded instances of what would now elicit groans as “old jokes”.

Isn’t it a Whimsical Francis?

Living in Britain in those days, the plays of Aristophanes naturally reminded me of the recent bawdy television comedy series, Up Pompeii, starring Frankie Howerd.

The basic premise of Up Pompeii, that of a cheeky Roman slave who managed the intrigues of his masters, had been inspired by an earlier stage play (which was later made into a movie), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That play in its turn was derived from the Roman plays of Plautus.

My knowledge of Classical Greek never quite rose to the level of being able to read Aristophanes in the original, but it did inspire me to draw a sketch that was intended for eventual reworking as a painting. The sketch was titled “The Great Comedian”, and was supposed to depict an author whose appearance was inspired by (but deliberately not the same as) Frankie Howerd. I’m also aware that my drawing does not accurately depict an Ancient Greek man, since, for example, all adult males wore beards. A man who did not have a beard would have been thought of as very effeminate.

Learning Sketches

When trying to draw someone with a particular appearance, I find it helpful to do some initial sketches to “get a feel” for the anatomical structure of the person. This is a motor skill, and as such is an intuitive process, which I cannot explain in process terms, any more than you can explain the steps to learning how to catch a ball.

For “The Great Comedian”, I drew some sketches of Frankie Howerd. The drawing below shows him performing in the stage version of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”.

Frankie Howerd in a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Frankie Howerd in a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

On Show at the IEE

The pencil sketch of the Great Comedian, and his female partner, was as far as my project ever got. Nonetheless, my drawings were exhibited at an Art Show at a very unusual location: the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), Savoy Place, London, in 1986. I was a member of the IEE at the time, but, having viewed the exhibits at the show, I was left with the feeling that they expected that the exhibits would be created by the spouses of their engineers. The notion that an engineer might himself be capable of producing competent artwork seemed never to have been considered a possibility.

Legacy of Greek

A hundred years ago or more, most British schoolboys were forced to learn Latin and Ancient Greek. (Most British girls at that time simply didn’t get any education beyond the age of twelve!) The “classics”, as they were called, were later pushed aside for subjects that were considered more modern and with more practical applications.

Personally, I felt that, even though I never became fluent in Classical Greek, learning it was a worthwhile endeavor. I learned the Greek alphabet, and came to appreciate not only the complexities of that ancient language, but also the amount that it has contributed to modern Western culture.

No Religion Please

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d had a “bellyful” of religious fairy tales from a Church of England school during my childhood, so the fact that the New Testament is written in a demotic form of Greek called koine was not a motivation for me to learn the language. Nonetheless, my knowledge of the language came in unexpectedly handy later on, when a Christian proselytizer falsely tried to claim that something in the Bible had been “mistranslated”. To his dismay, I was able to bring out a copy of the book in the original Greek, and demonstrate to him that he was either ignorant or lying!