Friday, 16 March 2018

'So, how are you with blood?' they asked...

I am bundled up in navy scrubs and an attractive hair cap. An operating team of 9 or 10 people move around the theatre, getting things ready. I have not been allowed to bring in my art kit bag, so the patch pockets of my scrubs are full of pencils. I have a mask over my nose and mouth which keeps fogging up my glasses and I am standing in a corner, trying to be less in the way, wrestling with my concertina and clips. One clip pings across the floor. I apologise, then scurry and bend to pick It up from under something which is beeping. My patch pockets empty pencils onto the floor with a clatter. It is all a bit more tricky than I had realised.

We are here to observe an afternoon of hand operations at Fremantle Hospital. I am sketching and the researcher from UWA is making notes and asking questions of the team when she can. As usual, we are interested in how people feel about their jobs, what they enjoy most, what gets them stressed.

I am surprised at the number of people in the team (I once had foot surgery, which I sketched by the way, but I could swear there were only 3 people in theatre). The surgeon has a relaxed manner which helps me feels less intrusive being there, but things suddenly get super-tricky when I am asked to put an x-ray tabard over my scrubs. It weighs a ton (lead??) but, most importantly, there are no pockets. I transfer my favourite three pencils into my mouth and try not to dribble.

The experience is fascinating, just watching the process. There are 3 short operations, one after the other. I scribble like crazy and catch what I can. Luckily, being hand surgery, I can't see the nitty-gritty, just the cluster of experts around the outstretched arm. I have no idea how I will react to the incision and the blood, so I wait until near the end of the afternoon before I inch close enough to get a decent view. I don't faint, thank goodness. How horribly embarrassing that would be.

When we are done, we get a few minutes to chat to the chief surgeon. He gives thoughtful answers. It's hard, he says, when you are operating and are unsure of what to do for the best. You're in charge and the team look to you to be the one who knows what your doing, but it takes courage to admit when you need to stop and take time out to think, or ask advice from a colleague.

When asked to rate his job, on a scale of 1 – 10, he says it depends: 'Some days it’s definitely a 10, others a 3. Some days you really help people, but on others it doesn't work out. When I'm stressed,' he says, 'I head for the biscuit bin'. He taps his belly. 'Can you tell?'

Friday, 9 March 2018

Sketching Competition - Big Cash prizes!

Announcing a brand new SKETCHING COMPETITION!! It is absolutely free to enter and open to sketchers in all countries. But the extra brilliant bit is that we have a 1st prize of $1500AUS to give away (yahoooo!) and $500 for the runner-up.

The competition is linked to my sketching-residency at the University of Western Australia. I have been sketching different people's jobs for a few weeks now, so the theme of the competition is also 'capturing work'. We would like you to choose a particular job to sketch. It could be your own job or a friend's. We want you to draw things which show what the work is like, using images and text to tell us what the person feels about the work they do.

I really hope everyone will have a go. It is relevant to all levels, as we are just as interested in how interesting and communicative the 'story' of your sketches is, as we are in the quality of the drawings themselves.

The deadline is April 23rd, so you have a bit of time, but take a look at the details now, so you can be thinking about what you want to draw.

If you need inspiration, take a look at the website for my Work Design residency at UWA, where you can see some of the workplace sketches I have been doing for the project.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what you sketch. Please do spread the word. We are really excited to see as many different interpretations from as many sketchers as possible.

Good luck!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Australian Residency: Sheep Shearing Champion!

About a week ago, I had the best day of my residency so far. We were picked up early, by Professor Parker herself, and driven out of the city. At 9am, we pulled up on scrubland, outside a hanger-sized, corrugated metal shed. As I hefted my heavy kit-bag out of the car, a friendly farm dog trotted up and began licking the sun-cream off my knees. 

The shed was open-ended. We climbed upstairs onto a wooden deck which stretched right across the inside of the huge building. The pungent, slightly sweet stink of sheep hit me. Despite the high roof, it was hot and muggy too. 'This is cool!' laughed one of the shearers. 'It gets up to 45 degrees in here sometimes.'

The men had been working since 7am. They stopped for their break just as we arrived. Half a dozen well-built, deeply tanned men in vests and, unexpectedly, two women, were sitting around a table, eating what looked more like a dinner than a breakfast. I grabbed a chair, got out my concertina and began. To my dismay, almost all the men immediately went back to work - they are paid per sheep and time is obviously money!

I followed the men through a door in a wooden fence, which sectioned the deck off from the shearing area. I found myself in a wide corridor running the width of the shed. Pop music blared out above the noise of the electric shearers. Each man had his own station, with a number. He would pull a startled sheep through a saloon-door behind him, grip it between his legs and begin. Zip, zip, zip - the sheep was twisted, re-positioned, held this way and that as he worked. The wool piled up. It was clear that the skill was as much about manipulating and holding the constantly struggling sheep, as about the shearing. 

Within 30 - 40 seconds, the sheep was released into another little hatch, which sent him sliding away into the space under the deck. All the while, one of the women would be walking up and down, using a broom-like tool to drag the wool into piles, then gather it up and feed it into a big compressor, to flatten it down. The whole thing felt wonderfully efficient.

I sat on a plastic chair, painting at a similarly crazy pace to the shearers, occasionally bopping around to the music as I worked, occasionally batting away flies. I finished off the concertina by sneaking through one of the saloon doors, to where hundreds of sheep were penned in the bulk of the shed, ready to be grabbed.

While I was sketching, Professor Parker was finding spare moments to interview various people, to find out what they thought about their work. One of these turned out to be the reigning sheep-shearing champion, from New Zealand, sharpening his clippers at a grindstone on the deck. Where the average is 200 sheep a day (doesn't sound that average to me...), he and his brother once shore a staggering 924 merinos in an 8 hour shift. And merinos, I'm told, are much, much bigger.

We got a longer interview with Bill: at 67, the oldest shearer there. I did a sketch-portrait of him on a larger sheet, while he was being interviewed. he told us that they tried a new invention in this very shed a few years back - a fully mechanised shearing machine. 'What happened to it?' asked Professor Parker. 'It couldn't keep up with the blokes,' said Bill. 'They had to throw it away.'  

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Speed-Sketching Workshop in Perth

The good news is, we are now ready to go with the 2nd full-day sketching workshop I'm running here in Perth, WA. This one will happen on Saturday March 24th and you can sign up for this, or my Sunday 18th workshop, any time from now on. Both are capped at 16 participants, so don't leave it too late if you don't want to be disappointed -  I'm guessing I probably won't be back in WA for quite a while!

This workshop is called Quick on the Draw and is aimed at helping people learn techniques which will make their sketching speedier.

That's always one of the trickiest challenges, isn't it? And really important, especially when you haven't got all day to fiddle.

I always try to work as fast as I can anyway, as I find that the more fluid, instinctive sketches are almost always my favourites and definitely the most fun to do.

You can find out more details and sign up for your place here on Eventbrite. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Urban Sketching Workshop in Perth: 'Getting the Best from your Concertina'

If you are reading this from Australia, especially Western Australia, and you are a fellow sketcher, or someone who would like to learn more about how to be a sketcher, this is the post for you! 

As part of my residency at UWA, I am doing two full-day workshops in Perth, on different aspects of urban sketching. They will be on Sunday March 18th and Saturday March 24th. I will cover different things each time, so you can book one or both - they work independently of each other.

Both workshops will be suitable for anyone, from beginners through to more experienced sketchers. They will start and finish on the UWA's beautiful Perth campus and will include a picnic lunch. The first workshop is now ready for booking. You can find out more details and get your place secured here 

I will be sharing lots and lots of tips to help you feel more confident with sketching in a concertina, as well as loads of ideas for different ways to use them. I have also hand made a watercolour concertina sketchbook for each person who takes part in the March 18th workshop.

Details of workshop no 2 (which will look at different techniques for sketching quickly) will follow very soon. Watch this space!