Most people’s ideas about the Elephant and Castle area of south London are, I think, that it is modern, and frankly a bit gritty. But did you know it features in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night? Twelfth Night was first performed on 6 January 1601 as part of Queen Elizabeth I’s Christmas celebrations and then had its first public performance at the Middle Temple.
Act III, Scene III:
A street. A conversation between Antonio, a sea Captain, and Sebastian, who has been shipwrecked.
Do not, then, walk too open.
It doth not fit me. Hold, sir, here’s my purse.
In the south suburbs, at the Elephant
Is best to lodge; I will bespeak our diet,
Whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge
With viewing of the town; there shall you have me.
Why I your purse?
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
You have desire to purchase; and your store,
I think is not for idle markets, sir.
I’ll be your purse-bearer, and leave you for
I do remember.
The circumstances under which I was drawing the ‘idle markets’ of Elephant and Castle on Saturday 14 March 2020, were unexpected. Urban Sketchers London had scheduled a sketchcrawl there. Suddenly, London was hit by anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. We decided to cancel the meet-up with 24 hours’ notice. I was sketching alone at the meeting point in case people had not got the cancellation message – my sketch is above. No-one turned up but me.
Last Saturday, Urban Sketchers London met at the Wallace Collection. I chose to draw in the Arms and Armoury Galleries, and drew a series of helmets (above). I was particularly interested in the helmets which provided full cover for the head, and had a strange and dramatic relationship with the human face.
Continuing the theme of heads and faces, here are two drawings done in the Africa Galleries of the British Museum. The one on the left is a grave marker from Sudan, and the other a bronze head from Benin.
I drew yesterday from a roof garden at 120 Fenchurch Street in the City of London. The garden is open to the public and is fairly new; the plants will become more established. The roof garden is at the fifteenth floor and has spectacular views over London. My fellow sketchers, Lis and Gafung, tackled the views, whilst I looked more at the structure of the new garden.
My drawings here are based on drawings by Honore Daumier of French judges (drawn about 1850). Today I have been drawing in the study room of the Victoria and Albert Museum works on paper collection, which own the Daumier drawings, and many others. These collections, which also exist at the British Museum, Tate Britain and the Courtauld, are an extraordinary and little known resource. Members of the public can make appointments to see, and if wished, draw from drawings by world famous artists, free of charge. So much can be learned from the close observation which comes with copying drawings in different styles.
I did the drawing above this week at the Museum of the Order of St John, in Clerkenwell. The museum tells the history of the Order of St John, established in eleventh century Jerusalem to provide medical care for sick pilgrims, and then acquiring a military role in the crusades. After a complex history, it is now the St John Ambulance Brigade. A second drawing, below, shows the process I am using quite a bit at the moment, drawing in coloured pencil onto a pre-prepared background of water colour.
The two drawings below were done at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The first is a display related to the battle of Waterloo, the second, a display of historic army uniforms.
Some more drawings from my sketchbook, in coloured pencil on watercolour backgrounds. The locations share a theme: a historic building set in gardens. The first two drawings here – each pair of drawings is actually one continuous image in a concertina sketchbook – were done recently at Newnham College, Cambridge. The ones below that were done at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, West London. This was the country house of architect Sir John Soane, and I tried to capture some of the characteristics of his architecture, such as the use of coloured glass, and the rounded brick arches.
This weekend I have been sketching in London. Above is a drawing I did on Saturday of the ever-changing City skyline, drawn from near Tower Bridge. It amazes, and sometimes worries me how quickly major developments take place in key areas of London. A couple of years ago, Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ building on St Mary Ax dominated the view of the ‘new’ City. Now new buildings have shot up which dwarf it.
On Sunday, I was helping run a sketch crawl with Urban Sketchers London at Trinity Buoy Wharf. This is further east, across the Thames from the O2 in North Greenwich (originally the Millennium Dome). Trinity Buoy Wharf has the only lighthouse in London, surrounded by other older industrial/nautical buildings. It is now a centre for cultural activities and related businesses, surrounded by very new high-rise housing and offices, with great views of the river. My sketches take different elements of this and put them together. All sketches are done with coloured pencil on prepared but random backgrounds in watercolour, on a concertina sketchbook. Below are the drawings from Trinity Buoy Wharf: