Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Heritage Home and Hotel

Two sketches of buildings from the same era in Johannesburg's history - the top one is of Northwards, an Arts and Crafts Movement home built for mining magnate and randlord John Dale Lace. His flamboyant wife, José took milk baths and had her coach pulled by four zebras to go shopping in town; was allegedly proposed to by Cecil John Rhodes, and was mistress to King Edward VII. More about this fascinating lady here if you're interested! Sadly they ended up in abject poverty - how does that happen!? 
Our sketching group went to draw in the gardens after a week of scorching heatwave, but this day was chilly and drizzly and we eventually had to go and find a café to warm up in. It's still cool - surely summer can't be over so suddenly and so soon?

The other sketch was done after visiting William Kentridge's enormous and wonderful tapestries at the Wits Art Museum, over coffee at a restaurant that had a good view of this little inn which dates back to the Boer War. It was used as a watering hole for British troops, and a stopover for postal riders, and where British High Commissioner Sir Alfred Milner met commander of the British forces General Lord Kitchener for talks in the bar, which gives the hotel its name. 

I have to say, I learn more history from sketching and having to look these things up than I ever did as a dozy student doodling at the back of the class in school!  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Storms (again) at Common Ground

When sketching last September at the Spring Day in Killarney Park, I met a funky young guy, Dokter Skruph, who had a stall there. I was interested in a little folding stool he was selling, and he was interested in my sketches - anyway, to cut a long story short, he emailed and invited me (and any Joburg Sketchers who would like to) to come and sketch on Saturday at the Seven Sounds concert. Now, this is not the kind of event I go to ordinarily... way too old, sedate and home-bound to go so far out of my comfort zone to listen to music that I felt sure I wouldn't appreciate... but, although none of the other sketchers could make it, one daughter was keen to go and promised to sketch too, so we ventured forth with our GPS into the network of highways and back-roads to find this new Common Ground venue in the Maboneng District.
Inside the park from the unfamiliar streets, we found a little patch of grass under an olive tree, shaded from baking sun and the glare of a cloudless blue sky. There were only a few people in so early to watch opening musician Matthew Mole. I needn't have worried - the music from here on was all wonderful and totally easy to love.

 I spotted Dokter Skruph sitting in the hatch of his shop chatting to friends and drew them - a thank you for the invitation as well as the first time I've had a chance to sketch an actual spaza shop, a ubiquitous and typical feature of the South African urban landscape. I hardly noticed it was clouding over...
...until I began on my next scene during the lovely sounds of Shotgun Tori - the smudges and spatters on this one were pitter-patter raindrops and just as The Muffinz, fresh from the Apollo in New York, started their set, the skies opened and Joburg threw down one of her famous, no holds barred thunderstorms which had everyone scuttling for shelter.

After a while the sun and a few determined people started emerging from their cover - here some of the musicians (Tidal Waves, I believe) on the roof with a huge mural of Nelson Mandela in his boxing days on a building behind them, waiting to see if they were going to be able to go on or not.
   And the audience trickled back with their hessian bag cushions, to wait in hope for the music to start again... which it did, with so cool Guy Buttery setting up a smaller, more movable stage in the middle of the arena to play his astonishing acoustic music on guitar, saw (the woodworking kind) and umm...something that I'm not sure of...a sitar? Before Eskom cut the power and the harassed but well prepared organisers dashed to start up a generator to finish the concert. At which point I had to go, to find my way home before any more storms or darkness fell - but I will be back to listen to more wonderful music (I missed out on a whole lot more - my daughter had found friends and stayed longer) and naturally, sketch.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Stormy Day in Fordsburg

I'm cutting and pasting this post from the Urban Sketchers website, catching up a bit on posting here on my once again neglected blog - only Feb and life is already too busy!:
For the 46th WorldWide Sketchcrawl on Saturday 31 Jan our group went to the historic suburb of Fordsburg on the outskirts of Johannesburg. We met outside this building on Mint Rd and discovered that there was a bustling market getting into gear behind us. Some self-designated car guards and a vendor selling clothes hangers - everyone trying to make a rand or two for the day...
 Before we could get going on the market, there were rumblings of thunder and some fat drops of rain, warning us to get under cover, so we took advantage of the kind offer of an artist, Hermann Niebuhr, who has a studio in the area to use his balcony to sketch from. We got there just in time before there was one of several deluges. (Sorry about the quality of the images, my scanner is was out of action.) Below are Marlene and John - with the luxury of chairs and a table - sketching the view.

And the sketchers huddling under the tin roof along the balcony - we still got pretty wet with some interesting droplet effects on some of the sketches.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Late, but Happy 2015!

We returned last week from a frosty but lovely Christmas and New Year in England where we spent a relaxed holiday with family. I didn't even try sitting outside in that cold (though everyone said what a mild winter it was) to draw, but I did this sketch from a warm living room window. Those wintry tree skeletons could provide years of inspiration with the varying veils of mist and colour, this is a very rough and inadequate quickie rendition. I only managed a few other even rougher sketches when I found myself twiddling my thumbs in a warm spot...

...and now here we are back in warm if not quite sunny South Africa and our jungly green garden that needs some serious taming.
Wishing everyone who looks in, a wonderful, productive and creative new year!

Monday, December 8, 2014


We went sketching on Saturday in the Maboneng Precinct, an area on the East side of town that was once a no-go but which has been mostly reclaimed from crime and urban decay by private developers who've built galleries, shops, studios and restaurants . It was a nightmare getting there and back, as much of Johannesburg was experiencing one of our now frequent power cutting programmes, trying to save us from total blackout in the near future - so all the robots (traffic lights to you in the rest of the world :)) were out. A few of us managed to make it all the way there, and once our jangled nerves were calmed, we found a lot to draw - the most interesting being the street life and characters.

 Uncle Merv's serves coffee and smoothies and hires out bicycles if you're brave enough to take on the taxis, jaywalking pedestrians and other surprises.

A different kind of Food Truck - an old Chevvie with a container on the back serving customers on the pavement. I had two little boys accompanying me for this one, first gleefully setting off firecrackers all around me till I complained, then sharing the tyre I was sitting on (lost my little sketching stool) one very helpfully holding my palette for me.

And a last few squiggly sketches of passersby - there were so many interesting characters wandering past, and a beautiful old building in a bit of a sad state that I wanted to sketch but couldn't spend the hours that it would take me. The squiggle on the left was a recycling collector surfing expertly past on his home-made trolley with his huge sack of plastic behind him - SO fast downhill on his tiny wheels - one of the surprises you wouldn't want to collide with on a bike!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Following the Steel Wings

Last weekend we drove to the little town of Clarens in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, known as an 'artist's haven' as so many artists live there, or visit regularly. Apparently it is also a Biker's haven, as both times we have been we've had these growling, throbbing machines follow and overtake us all the way there. Once in the village, they're parked outside the pubs and restaurants while the leather-clad, be-studded, tassled and tattooed riders mill around on the pavement and occupy tables not too far away from their metal beasts. 

I started sketching the approaching road, but found it a bit stressful and decided to relax and enjoy the scenery - but grabbed a quick scribble at a 'pitstop' in Harrismith. It must be one of the prettiest places to fill up and get coffee and a snack - rose bushes and flowers everywhere with sandstone mountains as a backdrop - bikers had stopped here too so in they went.

Late afternoon and over a beer at the Clarens Brewery, I started sketching some wire sculptures outside the window, when more bikers arrived and I had a view of them through the doorway. I discovered that it was, in fact, Harley-Davidson weekend in Clarens, and that the Steel Wings raise funds for Aids orphans and other charities. They did seem perfectly nice and normal once you got chatting (my husband chatted while I sketched) in spite of the intimidating outfits.
On Saturday I sketched at a wedding - a commission and the main purpose of our trip - scary... a whole lot more pressure than choosing your subject and it either working, or not and nobody cares. I'm still fiddling around with those!

With the annual Cherry Festival on this weekend in nearby Ficksburg - we were delighted to find bucketloads of the beautiful fruit being sold along the edge of the town square, and the cherry sellers happy to be drawn if I bought their wares, which I did in abundance.

Thumping exhausts alerted me to another group of bikers having breakfast across the square, so I found a spot behind the row of bikes and did another sketch while my husband watched cricket inside before they roared off, and we drove more sedately, back to the city,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Sheds

After a long dry spell from any drawing or painting while admin and emails and a short trip to the Cape occupied my time, I finally got out for a bit of sketching time. First over lunch with my husband at a pub called the Jolly Roger, where I sketched a scene across the street, until a flamboyant woman and her young date/friend/son? sat down at a nearby table. I couldn't resist furtively getting her down on paper, hoping very much that she wouldn't spot me and ask to see the results - not sure if she would have appreciated them...
Then I made a last minute sketch date for our group to go to a new market at some renovated old mining warehouses on the outskirts of the city called The Sheds@1 Fox on Saturday. Only four of us turned up with such late notice, but with interesting industrial spaces, delicious food and drinks stalls spread around, nice music and a relaxed vibe, we'll have to go back and explore it some more. The Happy Me in the bottom sketch is not, incidentally, referring to the wine in the foreground (though it could!) - it's a 'bubble tea, gourmet coffee, smoothies and mixology' shop in the background, which I did indulge in at that time of day!