Park Traces – drawing conclusions

During Winter and Spring I worked with a group of Staffordshire University Fine Art students on a project to explore and document Hanley Park in Stoke on Trent through drawing. We had various drawing activities, both on site in the park, and within the Fine Art studios. The project was funded through the Staffordshire University Vice Chancellor’s Teaching Innovation Fund

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We sat in silence on the bench just off our regular circuit, listening to the tennis players behind us, facing away so as not to make them self conscious. In a few minutes they built up a regular “womp” until one exclaimed “rally” in triumph – I got the impression these weren’t well practiced players.

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Documenting the weekly changes brought by the emergence of Spring, I suggested one student try to record sound, so a second walk-through began by approaching the lake with its noisy geese and quieter ducks. This rare fine day had brought many more people to the park, and the cricket and tennis courts were pretty busy. The splashing of the fountains and waterfalls to the “crack” of cricket bats would make a great soundtrack to the many photos taken of repeated points along the way. Previously, other than the geese, surrounding traffic and the wind, the park had been quiet.

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On the train to Stoke again, quite excited to be continuing this project despite it teaming with rain (again) at the moment. However, the forecast is good, and the clouds seem to be breaking. The first couple of Fridays on this project had been plagued by very bad weather, not fitting well with our timetable. But I can see blue skies up ahead – that looks promising.

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Back in late Autumn a big old chap wandered over to us with his dog, telling us how the park was in his youth, a well kempt destination for social promenades, the centre of things with music and games, and boating on the lake. After a while the dog was impatient to be off, and we needed to get back to work, so he ambled along to tell his stories to another group of students sat on benches drawing the ornate bandstand. I suppose people have other entertainments these days, other priorities to spend time on, but then more recently seeing a bit of Spring’s good weather bring out the cricketers and dog walkers proved that there is still life in the park – in the very idea of a park, even if it has been sadly neglected and abused.

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I’ve become quite fascinated by notions of ‘field studies’ and ‘documentary’ over the last few years, and its connection to my many years teaching observational life drawing. Perception and daily observation are at the core of visual arts, and though ideas tend to take precedence, looking and recording are how art education begins – even if the students don’t quite appreciate that yet, as they are often keen to run before they can walk.

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And in these recent years of going out drawing, I’ve occasionally surprised myself by finding something genuinely new – something I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, something that has taken my own practice into exciting new directions. Well, exciting for me, at any rate – even if my fingers have nearly frozen off! Hanley Park in early Spring is a good spot for that.

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Oh, and I can recommend the local chippy – very good.

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Though, I’m told I should have tried the pies!

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These drawings were created with an iPad2 and various drawing apps, and a Samsung Galaxy S3 mini mobile (cell) phone.

Copyright: Mik Godley 2013 – 2014

Thanks to Anna Francis and Sarah Key, Fine Art, Staffordshire University

There will be a free drawing workshop in Hanley Park on Friday 13th June 2014 – follow the link for information: –

http://blogs.staffs.ac.uk/fringe/2014/05/09/park-traces-drawing-event/

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