Water is not working and the water companies are entirely to blame – yet they pay out generously to executive and shareholders

Feargal Sharkey – guardian of UK Rivers (and all round cool guy, songster, musician, environmentalist and campaigner)

I guess you missed the ‘lively debate’ on Radio 4 Today this morning on the despicable state of our UK rivers. We learnt about the exploitative behaviour of privatised water companies, paying out £75bn in dividends rather than spending the £60bn required investment to fix leaks, provide adequate water treatments, plan for and build reservoices and even build then operate desalination plants.

There was a gripping six minute exchange in the debating ring that can be the BBC Radio 4 Today programme at its best. If you put Chris Packham, George Monbiot, Bob Geldoff and Ian Paisley in a blender with a pint of rain water from Northern Ireland and a splash of English Chalk River you get the 21st century Feargal Sharkey.

After several sharp rebuffs Sharkey had Mike Keil (Senior Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns at the Consumer Council for Water) agreeing that consumers could not “tolerate water companies that behaved unsustainably and damaged the environment”. Keil started out on a ridiculous PR spin learnt no doubt from nearly seven years working for Severn Trent Water. He selectively quoted ‘the good bits’ from research saying that the “Sector was not failing, customer survey, with basic water service, 91% satisfaction, but, some issues: charges, trust, 

This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve caught Feargal Sharkey at his best –  in full flow taking the UK water companies to task about their appalling treatment (or failure to treat) water they take from our rivers. As a teen I loved the ‘Undertones’, but not all musicians and singers keep at that task for the rest of their lives (Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones excepted). 

None of us should have to tolerate raw sewage in our rivers – but the water companies far from limiting emergency outflows to flood conditions repeatedly, you could see constantly, flout the rules and let raw sewage into rivers – which lines banks and spills out into the sea.

Feargal Sharkey accused the water companies of exploitative and unsustainable practices and called on George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to issue an enforcement order to water companies to comply with a series of exacting orders or face a fine of 10% of their annual turnover. 

Mike Kiel initially sounded like an apologist for the water companies, making a deliberate and frankly ludicrous spin with the line that “Sector was not failing, that customer surveys showed that customers were 91% satisfied with “basic water service” … this is based on research he/they commission and interpret for public consumption. He is hardly an impartial observer being the product of the water industry working for Severn Trent Water for nearly six years. 

Feargal Sharkey was impeccable in his response: extraordinarily reserved by saying that he took “a completely converse view” – a euphemism to me as I would have been rather more blunt and Anglo-Saxon in my response. Well versed in telling the truth to the PR spin, he explained that water companies had experienced “decades of underinvestment and profiteering by water companies”. It has been their “failure and mismanagement” which has brought this crisis upon us. Water companies, he explained, dumped sewage into our rivers for 6 million hours – that’s the sewerage issue, and now we are facing a water shortage. Water companies have given out £72bn extracted in dividends, yet they are saddled with £60bn of debt. To my ears this reads like asset stripping; running the water companies down, paying out maximum dividends, paying executives exorbitant sums and leaving far, far too little for investment in improvements – the very purpose of their existence. Feargal pointed out that between them just three senior water company executives got paid £10m between them.

It has been a catastrophe for rivers, lakes and trout streams, he explained. As a monopoly they can only be held to account by a regulator which is toothless (my words). 

George Eustace, Feragal explains, has been writing  letters to Sunday Papers asking the companies to behave nicely. Rather, he should  (grow some balls – my words) and hold them to account.

Feargal says what we consumers should be making clear, that water “bosses should not be rewarded for failure. That there should be a link between salaries and what they deliver for people and the environment”. This is missing.

The waterworks are “about as Victorian as our roads are Roman. Water companies have a statutory obligation to build, operate and maintain sewage systems capable of effectively dealing with all of the effluent in those systems”, said Sharkey. He went on to explain that OFWAT argues that the water companies have had all of the funding required over the last 30 years to make the funding possible for the improvements that are required. Rather water companies have reduced their spend by over 40% and that is leading to the catastrophe we are now facing both in terms of sewage and water supply. 

Feargal added that “London is now No.9 on a list of the 10 cities most likely to run out of water along with the likes of Cape Town, Jakarta, San Paolo and Mexico City”. We have indeed become a ‘third world country” (my words) – not thanks to the Tories, Thatcher and leaving the EU. 

Water companies have paid out over £72bn in dividends; perhaps they should have spent more of that money on fixing their leakey infrastructure. 

The answer according to Feargal Sharkey is that George Eustace, who has the power to issue an enforcement order, should do so – this is a clear legal instruction to the companies to do exactly what he wants and when he wants it done – any failure to comply with that instruction he then has the power to fine them up to 10% of their annual turnover.

Listen here >

Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown

I attend with trepidation. It’s not like singing. Imagine singing and finding for the first half-hour you are out of tune and that on a bad day there will be a lot of duff notes. Or is that just indicative of my lack of experience, that I should be drawing every day. That’s how the college student does it: all day, most days down at the studio. You have to train the connection between the brain and senses, the arm and the page.

Getting ready the night before would help; I don’t. Rather I’m making lunch, looking for paper and deciding how much clobber to take from first thing on the day of the class. I cannot transport my ‘studio’ to Charleston so some choices have to be made. I could turn up with a packed lunch and a smile and be able to enjoy the day: everything is provided, easels, materials, coffee and snacks. All I need is enthusiasm and a willingness to make mistakes, to listen to constructive criticism and to keep having a go.

We aim to start soon after 10.00am. The fifteen minutes before hand easels and boards and large wedges of paper are transported from Silvia’s car.

Setting up in the Charleston Hay Barn – the model’s point of view. (CC BY SA-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

Charleston is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesdays so we have the place to ourselves – though the office is open and someone comes over to help make sure we have all that we need and the chef comes into the restaurant to order and take deliveries and prepare food.

we used to meet in Charleston Farmhouse itself; not in the studio space used by the Bloomsbury group (that would have been cool), but in a small alcove. That could only take a handful of people. I have no idea at all how I heard about the session; this would be November 2016. I’d been attending sessions in Brighton at the Sussex County Arts Club a few times a week for several months. Did I hear about it from someone there? Did I learn about it on a visit to Charleston? Or pick something up online when I was searching for something in Lewes? I know I was getting fed up of going into Brighton but found the life classes in Lewes were booked up.

There were twelve or perhaps thirteen of us today. I got myself tucked over to one side as out of the way as I could be while still able to get a clear view of the model.

Set up. Blurred as I tried a panoramic image on my phone. That’s my whiteboard on the left hand side. (CC BY SA-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

The last couple of sessions I’ve taken a large whiteboard; I like the scale. I tape a section of wall paper lining to this with the intention of putting all the initial doodles and sketches together. As the model, it is Ruth today, will move slowly through a series of many short poses I like to try to fit them all onto the one page.

I use Crayola wax crayons; I don’t think wallpaper liner deserves pastels. I would try pastels if I had a large enough piece of cartridge paper – perhaps. Though I have found I can repeat the exercise, ‘copying’ from this sheet to further sheets once I get home.

Ruth Moves – wax crayon on wallpaper liner (CC BY SA-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

For half an hour it is like being in a library, or better still, like sitting a formal exam. You can sense the concentration. The model moves like Salome in front of Solomon – but in slow motion, a movement that from time to time pauses for a minute. We sketch feverishly; one artist attacks their page as if they are shoveling coal into a coal-hole, most pick away studiously with less vigour.

I make the first mark. I have three complementary crayons: bright green, dark green and black. I work from left to right across the page alternating colours. I then fill in the spaces with small doodles or larger sketches. Afterwards I reflect: next time I will think of the entire sheet as a composition with the model smaller on the back of the sheet creating a timelapse effect (I hope) where I have captured her around the room as she moves.

There is no stage, possibly for the first time to my knowledge. In the past the model has been on this platform under a large window. Once we brought the model into the centre of the barn. This brings the model onto the floor and closer to us. We can draw in the round, she can approach us. Our angle will change without us having to move.

There were then two short static poses: two ten minutes each I think. I should note it down at the time, but I don’t and by lunch time the order in which I have produced multiple sketches on different sheets of paper using different tools is lost to me.

This might have been where we are invited to do a couple of exercises: drawing with the non-dominant hand (in my case my left hand) and drawing from memory – simply not looking at the model (though later in the day she was rather elegantly covered in a translucent piece of chiffon).

We break to give the model a breather, to admire each other’s work, talk about it and share notes and practices. Silvia was keen for us to take a look at ‘I Live Here Now’ by Liza Dimbleby.

It reminds me of how I used to sketch in my teens and twenties, on the beach in France, in the bars in Val d’Isere and even on the chairlifts. And then it died away until recently. Certainly in my teens my mother had encouraged me to have a pad of paper with me all the time and I did.

Chairlift from La Daille, Val d’Isere, January 1991

We drink tea or coffee and eat biscuits. We get some air or disappear into the barn for a bathroom break (an experience in itself as The Charleston Trust invested into new gallery and restaurant space some years ago – all swish with oak and glass around a small courtyard – like the corner of an Oxford college, a small one, like St.Edmund’s.

Round three: more poses, of course, always getting longer and with length a chair. I think it was 30 minutes or so to begin with, followed by an exercise where we draw from memory – only looking at the page. What I find I do is I recall all the problem solving moments, the insights I gained, and the techniques I used at the time to position things, to use negative space, to use the window from and chair … I lack natural insight from knowing my anatomy and underlying skeleton. But I give it a shot – whatever I am invited to try I give it a go and learn something from it, from what works and what does not.

I’m aware of Silvia doing the rounds, commenting, suggesting and helping correct other students/artists. As my mother would do when she was around she appears at my shoulder but I’m unaware of her presence until she speaks. It is like a voice through an earpiece, almost as if your own subconscious is pointing out something you are failing to see: her head is too large and the neck couldn’t support it.

I don’t question this nor fret about the marks I have already on the page, I simply add more, drawing over what was there even if it risks my having what could look like a model with two heads, or a model who had moved her head and I’d caught both positions. I am not here to produce a finished piece, mistakes are necessary and they tell their own story on the page.

Then lunch. I had mixed up various vegetable/plant based casseroles from the fridge with rice – this is ample. I could vanish off to Middle Farm Shop, we have an hour. The cafe at Charleston is closed. Several of us gather around a large round table in the restaurant. Today I get to know Ruth, our model. I have drawn Ruth three or four times now over 8 years; you’d have thought I would have drawn her more often – once or twice a year. I rather think that if we have twelves sessions a year then we generally have as many models, maybe eight with some duplication.

The truth is when you draw you see shapes, negatives space, limbs, tendons, patches of light and dark – not the person. Is this my mistake? There isn’t time to get a likeness of the model. I can do that, but it is an entirely different skill and requires a long pose, or the same pose repeated in order to spend 3 or more hours at it. (Note to self, a regular Saturday or Sunday slot at Sussex County Arts Club would give me this).

Ruth, Coloured charcoal on paper. (CC SA BY-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

Onwards to a long pose so Ruth lies down. A bench/platform is created from tables with blankets and cushions. We draw on. And once again, as it produced some interesting results and a lot of positive comment we are invited to have a go at drawing this from memory – after Ruth had got up and gone.

Ruth ‘from memory’ in a minute or so. Black drawing pen.

Tea. More looking at what others have done and talking approaches. I asked a lot of questions about adding colour and the problems I’ve been having with watercolour and pastels. Keep it simple. Just two or three colours was the tip I took and will apply once I am home.

And then a warm down of shorter poses to end the day.

I scribbled these onto A4 or A3 sheets in quick succession. There wasn’t the ‘flow’ we had with movement first thing. I kept at it hoping to get the essence of something but wasn’t overly happy with the outcome. I keep everything regardless and will file it away once I get home. Sometimes I see a shape, or a get a feeling for a pose later and have ideas of doing something with it.

Once again we compare drawings, talk tools and technique and eventually depart, a few staying behind to chat and help load the back of Silvia’s car with the easels, drawing boards, materials and paper.

Should disposable BBQs be banned?

Disposable BBQ

It’s been in the back of my mind having found local park benches burnt where I BBQ was placed, as well as ashes tipped against a fence and the sharp grill and foil ineptly stuffed into a litter bin.

Disposable BBQ’s lasting scorching to a park bench (Juggs Lane, Jubilee Gardens, Lewes)

This morning on BBC Radio 4 Broadcasting House there was a short item on banning disposable BBQs ASAP.

Helen Bingham from Keep Britain Today explained that as they reach 400 degrees they cannot be get rid of safely as you cannot pick them up or put them in a bin – ‘An environmental catastrophe”.

National Trust Scotland are calling to have them banned.

Craig Carter, London Fire Brigade said that sales of disposable BBQs should be banned. He is joining a petition set up by Toby Tyler whose 11 year old son Will stepped on the remains of a disposable bbq and was severely burned – so badly that Will needed skin grafts. 

The petition can be found here https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/618664.

The call in the past had been to “enjoy the summer responsibly” is this good enough; it only takes one or two careless or irresponsible users of these BBQs to result in considerable damage – even danger to people, wildlife and infrastructure.

Playing devil’s advocate I thought. Paddy O’Connell wondered if we were being killjoys, that common sense is enough.

From my experience (and occasional use of them down on the pebble beach at Seaford), responsible users douse their disposable BBQ with water before bagging it up to take home. 

Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown

Life Drawing at Charleston – Model ‘Dave’ (C) Silvia MacRea Brown (2022)

I look forward to the first Tuesday of each month with trepidation; I’ve been attending a life drawing class at Charleston (in the Hay Barn conversion for the last few years). The models are always very well chosen: good at their job! able to hold an interesting pose and ready to try all the things that Silvia suggests, which includes continual movement, as well as movement into a short poses, and then of course the class short pose (one to five minutes), the longer pose (ten to 20 minutes) and about as long as we go (45 minutes).

I was brought up on the 3 hour pose. The single, carefully executed effort to reproduce exactly what the eye can see. This is not Silvia’s approach; this is art from the heart and soul, on the fly, capturing the sense of the movement, the essence of the model. I’ve come to prefer sketches completed in a few minutes, while last time I ran off more than 30 ‘doodles’ onto a lengthy sheet of wall liner paper using wax crayons – the movement continual, each sketch possible a few seconds each.

This has been invaluable on my recent efforts to capture the ‘essence’ of club swimmers slogging it up and down the pool. Capturing the feeling, sense and movement of limbs and water, with the added complication of reflections is proving one heck of a challenge! Going out to sketch trees is proving easier – though fraught with its own problems. Does a tree keep still? How do you fit it onto the page? How do you different between tree species without going into the detail of a leaf or the bark?

The cost is still £55 for the day – which is excellent value for 6 hours at Charleston. We start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm. It isn’t all drawing. There are a few coffee/tea breaks (coffee/tea, milk and biscuits provided). And we break for an hour for our picnic lunch. We can sit in the Charleston Café (they are closed on Tuesdays) or find a spot in the yard. Or make a dash for Middle Farm along the A27.

I go away mentally and even physically exhausted. I like to ‘knock ’em out’. I also keep everything – religiously. This was my later mother’s mantra. I still have drawings I did with her in my early teens, and a few self-portraits done even younger, and the odd girlfriend from my mid to late teens (clothed I must add!). I never attempted a nude until my early twenties (and the drawing wasn’t what either of us had in mind). Then one class in Primrose Hill in the 1990s and nothing until we moved to Brighton in 2000 – and the first classes with Sussex County Arts in Brighton from 2014 or so, with Silvia at Charleston since November 2016.

With the unusually fine and dry weather the back ‘yard’ here in Lewes is a temporary studio. Feeling like San Diego I feel confident to leave boards, easel and all the accruitments of my ‘practice’ out – currently just watercolour onto cold-pressed cartridge paper.

Liz, the model, while she moved continually (Crayola Wax Crayon on wall paper liner) CC SA-BY 3.0 J F Vernon 2022

No budget sees me being resourceful. I have come to love wall paper lining and wax crayon. The very materials my mother started us kids off on when we were little: I cannot remember when I started to draw as it would have been age 3 or 4, as soon as I could hold something in my hand and not be inclined to eat it or shove it up my nose or into my ear.

I’m wasting time. I have two drawings marked up to paint and want to press on. Both are someone in water – both are of one of Silvia’s models ‘Dave’ in this instance (my wife has said she is fed up of seeing naked women all over the house so I’ve been working up sketches I have of ‘Dave’ and ‘Tim’).

Come to think of it, that is ‘Tim’ falling into the water (clothed as a swimming coach who someone has pushed into the pool, while the swimmer is ‘Dave’ – as Dave is bald which makes it easier to turn the top of his head into a swimming cap. Neither actually look like they are swimming, which is the problem.

I have been drawing swimmers in action – a challenging task! All swirls, shapes and somewhat reminiscent of a series of too short time-lapse photographs in which everything is blurred.

Students at one of Silvia’s recent classes in the Hay Barn, Charleston (C) Silvia MacRea Brown 2022)

I digress. There is a class coming up, this Tuesday 2nd August, at Charleston – in the fancy new Hay Barn rather than in the infamous Farmhouse. If are planning to attend or have questions get in touch with Silvia by email: silviamacreabrown@btinternet.com. If you want a lift from Lewes email me: joanthanferugsonvernon@gmail.com

Kenneth More appearing in “Reach for the Sky” got me thinking

My late mum, Sheila Vernon and me as a ‘King’s Guard Special’ on the set of ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle.

In 1978, though suffering from Parkinson’s, Kenneth More was working on one of his last films ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle. Separated from his wife of 10 years he asked my mother out to dinner. My dear late mum, then 47 years old, had a ‘steady boyfriend’ and had dubious thoughts about what might be expected if she dined with the elderly Kenneth. I think they would have enjoyed each others company. Kenneth went back to his wife (or she had him back). He died a few years later.  I’m just reflecting. I was 16: it was not the start of any film career (though one assistant producer I became friends with did try to persuade me to run off to London to work on another film. I had A’ Levels and Oxbridge in my sights) Other aging actors on set included Ron Moody and John Le Mesurier.

I’m only dwelling on any of this because for the upteenth time (it would seem) I caught ‘Reach for the Sky’ on Channel 4 Films, or BBC Two, or Four, or somewhere, the other day. It’s dated, stilted and of its time. Badder has a closer relationship with his batman than his girlfriend. It is gosh and coy. Anyway, I like the few flying shots because it gives me an impression of what my grandfather must have experienced.

Flight Cadet John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM, RAF Crail December 1918

In 1918 my grandfather, then 22, was learning to fly with the RAF. He flew Avros and Bristol Fighters. My interest in Kenneth More’s film “Reach for the Sky” is that it features flying sequences using these planes (mostly from the Shuttleworth Collection), as well as planes of #WW2. So that’s what it was like? Just as I thought, a 2-stroke lawnmower with wings attached (and a Vicker’s machine gun).

So there you go. My daily drivel.

Goings on

I promise to ditch this URL in favour of a .blog to reflect what it is – my ramblings. Why I even make it public is another matter. Ever since I started blogging in 1999 all I ever wanted was a ‘mind dump’, somewhere to gather thoughts, express ideas and set down in one place stuff that I would then be able to readily find at a later date. Thus the tags and categories. Thus the eclectic nature of it. But remember, I am ADHD. Or was. Or still am. Depending on if I pay for a diagnosis or turn to the NHS! Or whether I am seeking medical advice in the UK or the US.

I thrive on it – most of the time. For the rest there is CBD.

I have promised a friend to make a start blogging about my activity on social media – on Twitter in particular. I used to be very content dependent – as if I could be a one-man publishing industry with Tweets at the ready, several a day, ready to fly, retweet and regurgitate every year. Now that I am reaching out to a global community of Greens I find I am more likely to be seeking out the content produced by others, identifying themes, sharing, liking, commenting … and retweeting with comments.

The outcomes are in the stats: not simply followers/following all the rest of it from Twitter Analytics: shares, likes, links and so on.

Ultimately, with Greens it has to be about influencing change, increasing membership, developing activities, nudging policy and … raising funds. Not surprising that big business and those in it are least likely to push funds our way, so I rather think we need to be attracting the wealthy philanthropist with a hankering for nature conservation and saving the planet and all the things in it: plants, animals and people. I am ready to be corrected. I would hope renewables as they take over from fossil fuels, if not an offshoot of the oil/gas industry, would wish to back us.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my trees, shrubs, life drawing and swim lesson plans. Trees are shedding leaves early to save water I have notices, shrubs are doing the same. My fern is dead, along with a 15 year old beech I replanted early this year and failed to water thoroughly these last few months – and the mint has died. The succulents are thriving, as is the ivy and brambles. I encourage both.

Life Drawing is on next week. I should ‘get my hand in’ a bit over the next few days reworking previous drawings and drawing anyone who will sit for me.

As for swimming? The club has a handful of elite performance swimmers at the Nationals. We’ve had several in finals, a gold and a few bronze medals too. Did I teach them seven or eight years ago when they first joined the club? Most likely. I have coached them the odd session while covering for the Head Coach. The amount of work they have to put in is quite extraordinary, truly superhuman (and the time parents need to dedicate to their elite athlete too getting them to training and galas).

Onwards. The day is young.

Companion Trees of Markstakes Common

I can’t find much written about so called ‘companion trees’ in the world. We marvel at some of the contorted shapes trunks create as they appear to bounce off each other and imagine the relationship is symbiotic: I’ve come to believe that this is not the case. Whilst horticulturalists and gardeners may speak of ‘companion’ planting, this is not the same as two or more trees or shrubs competing in the wild for light, water, nutrients and a footing.

Oak and Birch ‘companions’ Markstakes Common July 2022

Visiting Markstakes Common often over the last few months I have come to know the area reasonably well and with the aid of a map created by the Friends of Markstakes Common in 2011 I can pick up some, though certainly not all of the 34 ancient trees one or two of which have notable companions.

It would appear that dominant tree survives, more often birch over everything else, with oak and hornbeam in a close second place, followed by birch while holly, though often abundant, becomes leggy or where there is little light simply dies away. To my eyes birch trumps all others, though it depends clearly on which tree gets a 10 or 25 year head start. It is also clear that where both trees are able to survive their ‘companionship’ my last many decades. Of course in depends very much on the context as to which tree may weaken and fail.

For example, this birch and oak, both of which continue to thrive – although the holly tree identified in 2011 has clearly died back and since tried to reestablish itself with little success: it is barely a bush.

Around the wood, on closer examination as many as 1/5th of every mature tree shows some element of companion growth at some time. The overwhelming pattern however is that the companions eventually fail … leaving a hollowing, rotting trunk, or breaking off and falling to the ground.

These ‘messy’ companions and the amount of dead wood littering the woodland floor is a feature of a natural deciduous wood. It is litter that in a warming climate must be distinctly vulnerable to fire especially where a visitor is careless or thoughtless.

End Investment in Fossil Fuels

Organised by Divest East Sussex, Eco Action Families Brighton, Lewes Climate Hub, Lewes Green Party, Seaford Environmental Alliance, Transition Town Hastings, Transition Town Lewes, XR Brighton, XR Eastbourne, XR Lewes a large group gathered outside Lewes Station on Tuesday morning. On a Lewes scale this was a modest enterprise of eager activists who were armed with drums, whistles, placards and flags. For a larger turn out we’d need to do this outside working hours (and probably at night with burning torches and fireworks).

A good humoured group, I was amongst their number. I looked around for familiar faces: Green Party Candidates for the 2023 District Elections, three current District Councillors and a fellow Town Councillor.

I took along my poolside whistle from the swimming club. I had had ideas of creating a large paper drum to wear, or a top hot in the style of an oil drum but decided to give these a miss. Being, aptly, the first day of a heatwave, like everyone, I kept to shorts and a T-shirt. Stripes were there thing to wear; whistles the simplest thing to take along. Though I admired the ingenious drums some had made from pots and pans. We were out noised by a band of drummers and the occasional blast from a portable speaker system; could we have faced arrest? Hasn’t noisy protest been banned?

Thinking I’d be on a short amble from the Station, up Station Street and onto the High Street to East Sussex County Hall I was surprised when we turned right at the Lansdowne and headed towards Friar’s Walk. I went along with it. Outside the Bus Station, itself a subject that is generating a lot of noisy protest, we met up with the Lightship Greta.

The two groups, approaching the size of a small bonfire society now, or some Year 11 students from a village school doing their ‘Moving On’ parade, made their way up School Hill. I had my white Green Party umbrella to deploy – as a parasol. Its message is ‘Down Blame me for the Weather; I voted Green’.

Onwards past the War Memorial and a wave from the steps of the Town Hall from the Town Clerk and two of her staff. Along the way people hung out of windows to watch and wave, or said supportive words and took a leaflet. We passed one grim looking gentleman in a Porsche SUV; caught in the march like a giant turtle in a fishing net I was surprised he had his window down. In Edinburgh there was a spate of letting the air out of these monsters of the road.

March Steward at the top of Station Street, Lewes

It was both a colourful and a noisy march. Lewes does this kind of thing with aplomb. There were stewards everywhere monitoring and managing us, and also managing the traffic with Stop/Go signs. Stuck for 5-10 minutes most occupants of cars/vans etc: appeared good humoured. I don’t suppose they could protest.

On the High Street I made sure I got plenty a photos that included the elms planted by Lewes Urban Arboretum which I would like to feature in a painting that imagines the street 50 and 150 years hence. I’m still conjuring up the story I can tell, beyond a dull set of before and after pictures showing trees that have grown a bit bigger (or died, fallen over, been replaced …)

Finally on to the ground of East Sussex County Hall, a ghastly edifice of concrete and glass declaring boldy its 1960s origins. We ‘made a lot of noise’, stopped at the entrance for TV and photo ops, then circled the building with the intention, clearly picked up, of rattling the councillors then in session voting on investment by East Sussex County Council in oil giants Shell and BP.

Does it have an impact? Would it make councillors more stubborn than compliant? Are marches, however noisy and colourful effective? They attract interest and build their numbers. I wonder if it changes the minds of those who matter though. Rather, local and regional elections needs to see progressive and Green councillors elected.

Life Drawings Reworked in Colour

My first Tuesday of the month life drawing class doesn’t come around quick enough, so, for the first time in nearly eight years of doing this, I’m making time to take pieces created during the class to rework. For the first time since an A’ level in art 50 years ago I am using colour; it’s taking time to figure it out!  This is Liz from Life Drawing 7 June 2022: redrawn onto cartridge paper with a fineliner pen then a watercolour wash added.

Above: Liz, from June 2022. From Qi-Dong movember drawings where only her arms were moving. Various attempts at adding colour.

There are new skills to learn (and costs to meet). I prefer to work on A2 sheets or, ideally larger … which requires a lot of paint: good watercolour can cost £15 for a 15ml tube. I am still trying different approaches: from a small set of watercolours to a few tubes of primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and mix everything up. This is what my late mother did with us as children: only primary colours, no such thing as black, that sort of thing. 

Having started with some of the individual and sets of drawings I did of Liz at the June session I then went digging around in my archive. I remember the session drawing Dave back in November 2016; it was only my first or second session at Charleston with Silvia MacRae Brown.

Above: Dave from 2016, from the original charcoal drawing reworked and painted up in various ways

In due course, so long as it doesn’t bring too much additional expense, I will finally use boxes of acrylics, even a set of oil paints, gifts I believe from as long ago as my 18th, 21st and 50th birthdays bought for me either by my motheror a girlfriend. I’ll need to get some tips before I start.

My mother will come into this often. From as young as I can remember we were learning how to create an observational drawing: each other watching TV, a bowl of fruit, other still life: shoes, toothpaste, flowers in a vase – that sort of thing. Each of my siblings and I developed our own styles and interests: for older sister Jane it was female fashion, for my older brother Nick it was racing cars, for me it was portraits and for younger sister Joanna it was animals; in particular horses and dogs.  We were told never to throw anything out: I still have some of my efforts kicking about, self-portraits age 12 or 13, old girlfriends from my teens, a pair of cowboy boots … Over the last 7 or 8 years of life drawing (I started out going to Brighton to attend sessions at Sussex County Arts Club) I have kept every sketch, the good, the bad, the half-finished, the overworked, the misshapen, the clumsy … It is to these piles extracted from folders behind or under the sofa that I am now seeking inspiration.

I rather prefer my technique of November/December 2016 when I first visited Charleston. We sat, six together in a small room in the farmhouse. I couldn’t use my learned technique of carefully and very slowly marking up and measuring out proportions, limbs and muscles – there isn’t time. But at least I combined the two: take a moment, take a careful look, figure out where the drawing will sit on the page, get a few ‘landmarks’ in place: bellybutton, head, hands and feet, the external genitalia … 

Above: Dave as Tim in the style of Egon Schiele. Tim as Tim – in the style of Egon Schiele.

Over the last few weeks I have ‘had a go’ with watercolour, watersoluble pencils and charcoal. I am yet to break out the acrylics or oils though I have a few canvasses that have been kicking around for years. 

Frankie; Charcoal on paper. June 2021 (CC BY SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2021

If I’ve learnt anything in the last month, for me, at the moment at least, it is very much a case of ‘less is more’ – a wash on a sketch yes, but adding layers of colour is not yet something I can do with any accomplishment. For a start, I need a colour reference – the model in front of me ideally, if not a photograph to work from. This is colour added to a Frankie image:

Frankie, Watercolour on paper. From life drawing 5 july 2022 (CC BY SA-3.0) J F Vernon 2022

Life Drawing, Charleston

The Barn at Charleston, East Sussex

5 July 2022

Life Drawing with Silvia MacRea Brown

Charleston

I attend life-drawing sessions with Silvia MacRea Brown on the first Tuesday of every month at Charleston. (I don’t think we have a session in January). Last year we had some extra classes in a barn (and outdoors in a closed garden) at Friston Manor.

We arrive before 10.00am and aim to start around then.

Unusually this time round we were convened in a semi-circle against one of the barn walls rather than the model on the podium at the end of the barn with its huge window and the potential problem of silhouetting and the distance from the model. 

There is always a warm up session. Historically this has been a series of short poses of around three or five minutes. The last two sessions, in an interesting change, we had a 10 minute session of continual movement. After this we have a series of slightly longer poses, sometimes coming from a threaded movement, but held for three minutes or so. And then, I think poses held for 10, 15 or more minutes.

Wax Crayon on backing wallpaper. Model: Frankie. (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022

I’m still learning what I enjoy and where I feel I am playing to my strengths. Today I took in a large whiteboard on which I taped lengths of backing wallpaper. This would give me a large landscape sheet on which to draw. I also used, for the first time, a box of children’s wax crayons. Working from left to right I then put down a series of rapid sketches, each taking around 10 seconds, or at most 30 seconds before I moved onto the next pose. The model was moving continually, albeit slowly. I’d give up on a doodle or sketch once the move had shifted too far for me to continue with it. 

I worked on three sheets. The second two didn’t go as well, upright didn’t work. And I feel I’d lost the rhythm of it by sheet 3.

Frankie, wax crayon on backing wallpaper (CC BY SA-3.0) J F Vernon 2022

I had another go doodling across the page at elbow height.

Frankie ‘movement’. wax crayon on wallpaper lining paper (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022

Over the day I tried a number of different things: pencil in a sketchbook, fine-liner in a sketchbook and returning to an apparent strength, wax crayon on backing wallpaper. 

Frankie, 35 minite pose, wax crayhon on wallpaper lining paper. Charleston (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022
Frankie, 35 minute pose, wax crayon on wallpaper lining paper (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022

In past sessions I have used an inkpen – exclusively. Or charcoal. I have moved away from soft pencils simply because they favour the long pose – at least 45 minutes, but in my experience, 2 or even 3 hours.

Above: Sketches (10/20 minutes) Fine liner on cartridge paper. Model: Frankie. Charleston (CC BY-SA 3.) J F Vernon 2022

Unusually, enabled by a spell of dry weather, and using  the space at the back of the house as a pop-up studio, I took some of the day’s work and transferred it to sheets of paper. I then, helped with some YouTube videos, looked at how to add colour. I’m happy adding a simple wash of colour to a fairly complete drawing, but I am yet to figure out the methods required to get paint onto the page without making a reasonable sketch worse. This will come.

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