Tuesday 30 November 2021

My London sketchbook: Out and about with Sue Lees

Global Day of Action for Climate Justice march - November 2021

= By Sue Lees =

I have been outdoor sketching, and urban sketching, for quite a few years now with the Islington Art Society, the Highgate Watercolour Group and Urban Sketchers London. The benefit of having others around also with their drawing books out in public places is huge, helps to get over assorted fears and stage-fright.

I sketch mostly in watercolour, but I do use pens and watercolour crayons if either the subject or the weather suggests watercolour will be difficult.

Vauxhall Bus Station 2017

These two pictures are from an Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl in 2017 around Vauxhall. It began to rain as I emerged from the Tube. I started the bus station pic on site, but it had to be dried off in the Underground, and I finished it at home. I went into the nearby Starbucks to dry myself off and warm up, and while I was there I sketched a girl with her phone. 

On the phone in Starbucks 2017 

Always the outdoor painting brings with it a memorable encounter. I got talking to two men in schoolboy uniforms, shorts and all. Never got to the bottom of why they were dressed like this!

The bronze horses of Goodman's Fields 2017

Another memorable outing in 2017 was with the Islington Art Society's 'Art in the Park' group, when we went to Goodman's Fields in Aldgate. Fantastic bronze horse sculptures by Hamish Mackie were the draw. Unfortunately the water feature the horses were meant to be rushing through was not working, and there was the most appalling noise from building works as the already vast development was being expanded. 

The churchyard at St Mary's church, Walthamstow 2018

In 2018 I joined Urban Sketchers London in Walthamstow where I drew St Mary's churchyard, looking very pretty in spring. 

Extinction Rebellion rally in Trafalgar Square 2019

This is a peaceful protest reportage drawing from Extinction Rebellion's rally in Trafalgar Square in 2019. I have turned out in support of climate action and pro-'Remain in the EU' marches many times. I find it very difficult to sketch marches, as everybody is moving and that presents difficulties with composition, etc. The Extinction Rebellion rally was relatively easy to do because everyone was listening to the speeches.

I see from my notes that I had very little drawing gear with me -- the police were banning protests under the UK's Public Order Act, and I had thought that there might be a roundup of all attendees. (A charming protester lent me the coloured markers.) I fear for liberal democracy as the Conservative government threatens crackdowns on peaceful protest.

I now make my own watercolour sketchbooks! 

In post-lockdown 2021 I'm using my bicycle instead of public transport for outdoor sketching. I can't carry as much watercolour gear as I used to, so I started making my own A5-sized sketchbooks with my favourite watercolour paper in them (Saunders Waterford High White Rough). 

I found a YouTube demo which seemed achievable, and am very grateful to Julia Bausenhardt for putting up this demo. Though YouTube itself has become more irritating with its adverts since it was bought by one of the internet giants.     

While these homemade books are less smart than professionally made sketchbooks, I know where I am with the paper -- and the paper matters hugely with watercolour. And they are much cheaper!

St Augustine's Tower, Hackney 2021

I took my new sketchbook along on a drawing day with the Islington Art Society's 'Art in the Park' group. St Augustine's Tower is all that remains of the original Tudor Church -- the oldest building in Hackney -- which was demolished when they built the huge St John's Church nearby.

Egyptian Avenue, Highgate West Cemetery 2021

On another day I was out with the Highgate Watercolour Group at Highgate West Cemetery. The day was wet in patches -- this has not been a good summer for plein air painting.

To my knowledge, this is the first season when visitors have been able to go round the amazing West Highgate Cemetery unescorted, and without the guided tour. So sketching has suddenly become possible!

The architecture of Highgate West Cemetery transports the visitor back into ancient Egypt (this part) and into other very old places of antiquity (slightly loosely interpreted). Definitely a place of atmosphere and deserving of many artistic visits.  

Global Day of Action for Climate Justice march 2021

On the 6th November I went on the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice march, and made this sketch at the Bank of England assembly point before the march moved off (I applied washes at home). Once again, the police were a static central feature of my drawing, and provide a handy splash of colour as well. Regrettably I did not see any other urban sketchers!

While the main street action was obviously at COP26 in Glasgow, it was great that the London march (and other marches around the country) took place to try to drive home to our government that people around the country want actual emissions reductions to stop the global climate changing any more, and not just promises for future action which can - and have been - broken.

Sue Lees is on Instagram as @suesymslees 


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