Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Sketchbooks, Barra, And The Smell Of Death

For the last decade or two I've been using sketchbooks that are A5-size, or smaller - mostly because I only tend to use them as notebooks for scribbling down ideas (and thumbnail sketches) for sculptures, and because they're a convenient size for slipping into a back pocket or shoulder bag. 

'Skeletal Wings', 2021, charcoal, ink & acrylic paint sketch on paper, by Wayne Chisnall

But I'd recently been thinking of upsizing to A3-sized sketchbooks so that I can get back into sketching just for the joy of sketching, with the larger pages allowing me more room to be creative. So when I stumbled upon a couple of new A3 hardback sketchbooks at my local second-hand book stall I took it as a sign, and bought them.

Curious-looking weather-worn wooden post in Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

With the first sketch in my new sketchbook I initially wanted to attack the page with a smorgasbord of materials but ultimately reined it in and just used charcoal, ink and acrylic paint. For the subject matter I chose one of the many finds that I brought back from my recent trip to Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. It's the partial remains of a sea bird - the wings and bits of connecting skeleton.

Kisimul Castle, a medieval castle located on a small island off CastlebayBarra

Last month I spend ten days on this amazing island in the Western Isles - staying with a good friend, Ian Armstrong, at his family's cottage. The landscape was stunning - reminding me a little of Iceland (if on a somewhat smaller scale), and we spent most of our time exploring the beaches. As an artist that utilises a lot of found materials in his sculptures, I'm a big enthusiast of beach combing, and not surprisingly I ended up returning to Shropshire with a rather large quantity of beach finds. A lot of these finds consisted of skulls and other body parts (sheep, birds, sea otters, crustaceans etc - I didn't bring back the dolphin). And considering their various states of decomposition, and the smell inside the car on our 8 hour journey home (after the 5 hour ferry journey), I must say that Ian showed a saint-like tolerance. Once I got home, it took me weeks to properly clean up the specimens (many of which I already have ideas for how they might be used), and some of them, even now, are still a little bit stinky. Although, a few weeks of mummification/desiccation in the baking heat of my conservatory, coupled with a good coating of resin should sort that problem out.

Dolphin carcass, washed up on the shore at Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

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