Friday 31 December 2021

‘Sticks in the Smoke’ - Nick Andrew’s sketchbook project exploring London’s public green spaces

Nick's blog 'Sticks in the Smoke' 

Drawing has always been an important part of my life: a passion, a need, a means of getting to know the world around me, of working out ideas and of trying things out, of playing. But always with an eye on how I may progress beyond drawing.

However, over the past few years I’ve started to see drawing as an act that I can enjoy for its own sake. This began in 2016 with a sketchbook-based project entitled ‘Sticks in the Smoke’, drawing in London’s public green spaces and writing about them in my blog.
‘Sticks in the Smoke’ refers to a rural artist from ‘the Sticks’ visiting London - ‘The Smoke’.

I started working in gardens and parks chosen at random from the three central London boroughs: City of London, City of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. My first was on a cold, misty January day at St Paul’s Cathedral Garden, standing amongst a growth of dogwood and enjoying the contrast between the straggly winter garden and the busy rush of city life. 

St Paul's Cathedral Garden
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 21 January 2016

In that first year I drew in over 50 gardens, exploring parts of the city that I had never visited before and realising that they all have important tales to tell about the history and development of our capital. And, while standing drawing for several hours, I was meeting local people who go there on a regular basis and have stories about how the spaces are used today.

Ropers Garden, for example, next to the Chelsea Embankment, is on the site of riverside orchards that belonged to Sir Thomas More in the 16th century. They were a wedding gift to his daughter Margaret on her marriage in 1521 to William Roper, a lawyer and member of parliament.

Ropers Gardens, Chelsea
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 19 October 2016

I made two drawings here in October 2016 -- one of them includes ‘The Awakening’, a beautiful bronze by Gilbert Ledward RA, and in the other is a stone sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, ‘Woman Taking off Her Dress’. (Epstein's first studio was in a warehouse on this site before the First World War.) A taxi driver who had parked his cab nearby wandered over to look at my drawing, and we talked about art for a minute or two. Scrutinising the Epstein, he narrowed his eyes: “Not really my cup of tea, mate. Reckon the best bit is the plinth!” 

St Mary's Staining
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 18 August 2016

On a hot day in August 2016 I drew three gardens -- St Mary’s Aldermanbury, St Mary’s Staining and St Olave’s Silver Street -- within a stone's throw of one another just south of London Wall. All of these green spaces are in the footprints of churches which were destroyed in the Great Fire of London, which had happened exactly 350 years before. In each garden I found patches of tree shade where I could draw, and as my wax pastels melted in the heat, I tried to imagine the filthy, narrow and waste-ridden streets of this part of London during the heatwave of August 1666 when, less than a mile away, a small fire that began in a bakery fanned into a thundering inferno.

St Olave's, Silver Street
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 18 August 2016

The following year I started to explore green spaces further afield in London and south of the river. In late March 2017 I made two drawings exploring the north part of Battersea Park -- the first time I’d set foot here since overlooking it from my student hall of residence, a long time ago! It was a beautiful, warm spring day. The park was teeming with runners, dog walkers, cyclists, tourists, families and parents with buggies. Groups of schoolkids on Easter holiday were playing football, their jackets and scooters in a heap. The Peace Pagoda rose through still-bare tree branches with a hazy glimpse of the cityscape beyond, and river breezes softened traffic noise to a gentle hum.

Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 30 March 2017

The last Sticks in the Smoke sketchbook drawing I did was in September 2019. By then 
I had made well over 100 drawings in 99 green spaces. Pressure of commissions and exhibitions made it more difficult for me to get up to London. And then, of course, within a few months came the pandemic and lockdowns.

When I can't get up to London, I work on other drawing projects closer to my home in rural Wiltshire. My most recent project is ’A Gap in the Market’, a year-long series of drawings in Salisbury’s historic Charter Market, which I started in September 2020. The drawings were exhibited at Fisherton Mill, Salisbury in August and September 2021. 

Winter Planes, Salisbury Market Place
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 2 February 2021

Drawing at Salisbury Charter Market 21 August 2021

As a result of my Sticks in the Smoke project I was asked to provide the illustrations for a book, ’Bloomsbury's Squares and Gardens’, which was published in 2020 by the Association of Bloomsbury’s Squares and Gardens. To help promote this, I was invited up to London to draw during the Bloomsbury Festival in October 2021. It was wonderful to be working in London again. I made a drawing in a different Bloomsbury garden square each day, meeting a lot of people and getting an insight into Bloomsbury as almost a village community. 

St George's Garden, Bloomsbury
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 20 October 2021

Over two afternoons I made the panoramic drawing of Bedford Square below. I liked the shadows streaking across the paving, underlying the rounded shape of the garden. Each day I was working almost until dusk, busy city life happening all around. On the second evening I was packing my things when I heard a child shouting “Look, LOOK!!”. As I watched, a ragged russet form ripped across the street through a gap in the traffic: a fox! It stood for a moment by the park railings, sniffing the evening air, then slipped into the dark sanctuary of the garden undergrowth!

Bedford Square, Bloomsbury
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 21 October 2021

In June 2022 the pieces produced during the Bloomsbury Festival will be exhibited in one of the garden squares during London Open Gardens weekend. Fingers crossed!

Also in 2022 I look forward to picking up my Sticks in the Smoke project again. I feel I’ve hardly scratched the surface of London’s green spaces!

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Nick Andrew on mixed media drawing
I like the variation, contrast and freedom offered by mixed media drawing. I generally use Faber-Castell's Pitt oil base pencils, black Uni-ball Air pens, black drawing ink applied with a stick (Costa coffee stirrers are the best, or a piece of twig picked up from the ground!), waterproof wax pastels (Caran D’Ache Neocolour I), watercolours, and a Pentel correction fluid pen (my secret weapon!). I work in Saunders-Waterford HP sketchbooks.

My drawings over the past two years or so are larger-scale pieces -- not sketchbook drawings --  on Saunders Waterford HP watercolour paper, measuring 76 x 56cm. For the larger panoramic pieces (152 x 76cm), I fix two sheets together using Filmoplast acid-free document repair tape on the back. 

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1 comment:

  1. Brilliant Nick. So glad to see you going stronger than ever. Have a great 2022.


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