Archives for posts with tag: illustrator

San Sebastian: Pintxos heaven!

A five-hour drive from the Dordogne brings you via Biarritz (not stopping there) to San Sebastian, a seaside city with a fantastic bay. And many bars! The bars compete with each other in their displays of pintxos (the Basque version of tapas). They are crowded with locals and tourists, queueing in an almost orderly way to buy these delights. Described as a ‘small snack’, they are each rather a large and elaborate snack: on a piece of toast, for instance, you might find a construction of salt cod and prawns on aubergine, or deep-fried artichoke with cheese and ham, squid pieces in garlic…

Eaten (carefully), standing up, with a glass of chilled red rioja, this is a gourmand’s delight. Amazingly, I find a seat – and start drawing…



I have the feeling that I’m at his fur-covered shoulder: him, Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII’s right-hand, and best executive officer. For the last two weeks I have been living in the pages of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winners, and the characters are real people to the reader. I’ve found a book of drawings by Hans Holbein – Drawings from Windsor Castle. Cromwell isn’t in here, but Thomas More is, and his father, son, daughter-in-law; Jane Seymour; Thomas Wyatt, Cromwell’s friend; William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, and Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, who likes to be called ‘Monseigneur’. And ‘A Lady, Unknown’, above whose head is lettered, ‘Anna Bollein Queen’. They’re exquisite drawings, beautifully rendered, intended for transferring onto board for commissioned portraits – you can see the pin-holes in the outlines where dust or chalk would have been pressed through. But the faces are alive: real people.

I go to the National Portrait Gallery, in search of Thomas Cromwell – and here he is, in a painting by Holbein, looking suspicious. Henry, too, massive, small eyes in a slab of face. Anne Boleyn, and a beautiful painting of Mary – ‘Bloody’ Mary. But the drawings in my book – (‘Awarded to Michael Munday for Good Work, June 1958’) – are more alive than the formal paintings, exquisite shading and modelling of faces, and rough but lively marks for the clothes.

There’s a drawing session at 6.30: artist Marc Woodhead and his assistants pass round paper and boards, now in the Stuart galleries, to about 40 of us – all ages, varying abilities, but all keen. The task: draw the people around you, in the context of the gallery. People drawing each other, watched by the dead from their frames. The more you look, the more alive they become…


Illustration of Cromwell after Holbein, and drawing in the NPG


It was the new i-phone that did for me. Sorting out my contacts list for twenty minutes with my head at an angle. And then: CRUNCHKKK! Sort of whiplash without the car accident, and precious little sympathy (“What, an i-phone? Hah!”) So, some pain, admittedly diminishing, over several months, until it’s all jammed up again around the cervical vertebrae – the muscles all tensed up and squeezing the nerves, and not exactly helped by my typing this account. In fact, probably caused by sitting here at this computer, head at wrong angle (on top of a lifetime of slumping and slouching).

Lin, the osteopath, spends an hour massaging, heating, ultrasounding, and gently pulling my head away from my body, and asking “Is that tender?” (Tender, in medical language, usually translates as ‘beastly painful’), but this is that positive pain, a hopeful pain, almost pleasurable, and I come out optimistic, with a small repertoire of small exercises. Later that evening, Gill applies a huge charity-shop vibrator to my neck, held together with peeling gaffer tape. The vibrator thing, that is.

Sunday morning 11am: instead of staring contentedly at my bedroom ceiling, I’m on my back in Kingston Village Hall, doing Pilates exercises to gentle classical music. I used to go to a class with loads of other people within easy reach of each other’s mats, faces, arms, legs, but here there are just a few of us, moving to Tabitha’s quiet instructions, and no jungle panpipes muzak. This borders on pleasure…

Curse you, modern technology!


A rosy dusk outside the De La Warr Pavilion’s stairwell. The camera swings in slow-motion side to side across the curved banister, and outside on the balcony, elderly couples waltz gracefully to Schubert’s Nocturne in E Major. It’s a beautiful and moving experience. I’m in a large dark gallery, at the De La Warr, and in the middle is a large double-sided screen on which the film is projected. Outside the room is the actual stairwell. And outside that, outside the curved glass, the waves are crashing onto the beach.

It’s part of Breakwell’s exhibition Keep Things As They Are. (The title is taken from his anti-Conservative leafleting campaign Vote Conservative and keep things as they are). It’s also ironic, as his work was experimental and groundbreaking, and he was one of the key members of the British art avant-garde. He was, but died in 2005, shortly before the re-opening of the Pavilion and its first exhibition, which he’d curated. He is mostly known for his Diary, which he started in 1965 and kept for forty years. It takes different forms: collages, photographs, drawings, text and calligraphy, and video.

I am in a small room now, and on each of the four walls is a life-size charcoal drawing of Thelonious Monk in profile, walking in a circle. I put on the headphones and walk in the same direction, round and round, hearing 12 bars of Monk’s Misterioso played over and over, seeing my reflection in the glass of the drawings. I can make the 12 bars last one circuit if I walk slowly.

Finally, I see a text on a wall: 50 Reasons For Getting Out Of Bed – and they are beautiful reasons: …’Lionel Hampton solo on Stardust. Freshly poured pint of Guinness settling on the bar. White butterfly on purple buddleia…’ (It’s shocking that when he finally gets up it is with pain and nausea from his chemotherapy). Inside the dark room is what appears to be a huge photograph of his face, while his rasping voice reflects on his life. After a while you realise that his face is slowly changing. It has changed from baby to its final sunken state.

It’s deeply moving, and you leave the De La Warr with a New Year’s resolution: make every day count. See it if you can: it closes 13 January.

Black, crumbly, scratchy, smeary… charcoal: I love it. Standing up at a precarious easel, I’m concentrating on the hip of the naked woman in front of me and trying to relate it to the elbow of another, and get it in the right elbow/hip proportion.

Under a black-and-white check canopy with a disembowelled chair hanging over my head, I’m at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (in New England House, Brighton). That’s the theme of this life class: I expected people dressed in Alice in Wonderland costumes sitting around a table – maybe a stuffed dormouse hanging out of a teapot. I wasn’t really expecting four beautiful young women, wearing, respectively, a top-hat, striped stockings, rabbit ears, and a cigarette-holder, in a surreal grotto of giant playing cards, a huge key, flowers and checks everywhere… it’s years since I went to a life-drawing class, but things have clearly changed! You might say it’s a bit, well, burlesque, but it’s not: it’s a life-class, imaginatively-staged.

The models start with quick poses, five minutes – in fact, they change positions when the song finishes. The songs all relate to the Alice theme, but don’t include the song from the old Disney film (aaah), and do include a disappointing cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (oh well). But that’s not why I’m here. I plunge into a few brush drawings, all bad – I should have been practicing. It takes a while to get your eye back in, but I switch to soft pencil, then lovely charcoal. Everyone’s concentrating hard, and the models are striking really taxing poses, and I’m getting a bit better, and then it’s all over. Time flies in Wonderland.

Sun slotting in through venetian blinds: I get up and shower. Aching from a day’s humping of gravel bags, digging, planting, easing Arthur into his hole (see previous post), we’re going to spend this last golden day cycling. At the station we can just get the three bikes between standing passengers in a 2-car train: the woman in a wheelchair could squeeze between us to the toilet, if it was working.

It’s a relief to burst out at Polegate, and finally we find the Cuckoo Trail: an 11-mile cycle and walking path that once was the Polegate to Eridge railway line, torn up in 1968. It’s a lovely ride between the big oaks, still with their leaves on. And it’s not strenuous, I’m glad to find! We come to junctions with other paths and roads, gateways that are really unusual: bullet-nosed bollards with a simple cast iron shape on top, or a big serrated steel arch, imaginatively-wrought – it’s a sculpture path as well. It’s a beautiful day, warm too: we eat our Co-op sandwiches sitting on a bank, looking at the gradated layers of landscape stretching back towards Firle Beacon.

We’re aiming for the 4.02 back to Lewes, but we’re a bit tired now and miss it, so have a pint of Old in the pub (also tired). Cycling the 100 yards to the station, we’re separated by the crossing barriers rattling down between us: I wait obediently till I realise that it’s our train. Pedal furiously towards the footbridge, hoist my bike onto my shoulder, and leap up the steps into the crowd coming down. At which point my perfect day becomes, well, less-than. My ankle turns over and I go sprawling across the steps, bike clattering, and the crowd parts around me, avoiding eye-contact. Battered and wincing, I lurch across the bridge dragging the Ridgeback, but it’s too late – our train pulls out. I curse that pub’s dreary embrace. Apart from that, though…