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  • Writer's pictureMary Parker

Urban Sketching

I recently managed to join the Stoke Urban Sketchers in Longton town centre. Longton has the highest concentration of surviving bottle ovens in the Potteries, and has some great Georgian architecture. I very rarely make it to the sketch meets due to my home responsibilities, but it was bliss to be out in the rain with my sketchbook, all of my worries about people thinking I was weird just vanished as I got into the groove of drawing again. First of all, I headed to the other end of town, passing a couple of fellow artists already set up by the town hall, as I had an electrical substation to draw.

 I have found quite a number of surviving c.1930's substations around and about Stoke, some of which are quite grand. I hope to make visual records of them before someone decides to decommission them and replace them all with metal boxes. This one isn't particularly unusual, but it's a classic, straightforward and functional building, and having found that it was next to the police station in town, I wanted to make it my first to be recorded. The drawing is is rain-assisted, and coloured with my Derwent pencils which sadly aren't water-soluble.

I then returned to the town hall to take a bit of shelter from the rain, as I wanted to have a go at capturing the historic railway bridge which spans the central road junction. I am so glad of my landscape format sketchbook, which is A6, perfect for me as I like to work quickly.

 It was still a bit tricky even at that size as the breeze kept catching the left-hand page as I was trying to catch the traffic, so it became a little spidery over there. I'm annoyed at failing to finish the front of the hotel, behind the bridge, but I was cold and damp and had to seek shelter in Strand Records for a bit (and came away with some vinyl that I'd been looking for!).

Having popped to the car to park my record out of the rain, I made my way up to platform 2 on Longton station. It was deserted due to industrial action, although I later found out that there had been a large number of sketchers in the platform shelter at one point! There is a very convenient gap in the cover of the shelter for drawing the Phoenix Works bottle kilns and chimney, which I suspect is actually so that the CCTV can monitor what is going on in there. Handy though, particularly in wet or very sunny weather. I was finally able to use my watercolours as I had a seat here, and could use my knee as a table. Not my best, but happy nevertheless.

I haven't managed three more or less complete sketches on one of these trips before, it was such a wonderful therapy being able to be outside, engrossed in my work for a couple of hours with only the weather as a bit of an interruption. I'm looking forward to joining them again at some point in the not-too-far-distant future, and also to being able to record some other substations. I'm hoping that I'll have the confidence to draw nearer to home, where I'm more likely to be seen by people who only know me as one of the local dog walking community. We'll see!

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