Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.
The World's First Public Park!
Sketching in Birkenhead Park
I started sketching purely for fun. It occured to me that while I was walking my dogs in my local park I could also do a few sketches.
For sheer convenience I used a small sketchpad and a fine-line ink pen which could both be carried in one pocket. This ensured tools were light and easy to transport, and kept my hands free for holding my dogs' leads - simple logic.
Once I really started looking, I found the park offered a lot. I had moved to this area not long before this project began, and so there was much that was new to me. For the artist, the park offers open spaces, old trees and wooded copses, water scenes, wildlife, bridges, buildings and, of course, the activities of people whether they're taking a stroll or playing sports
My sketches were usually done rapidly, partly as wildlife rarely stands still and so quick, decisive observation is a must. Precise detail doesn't particularly interest me; if I wanted that I'd use a camera. Having said that, I have also taken numerous photographs of the park but I actually prefer my sketches as a basis for the paintings which I'm now creating as this project progresses naturally into its next phase.
Having created a large collection of rapidly-done sketches, I then made a video slide-show from them, which you can view further down this page.
Where is Birkenhead Park?
A Little About the Park
Birkenhead Park's origins go back to 1841. Designed by Joseph Paxton, who also created Princes Park in nearby Liverpool, Birkenhead Park opened to the public in 1847 and is credited as being the first public park in the world.
In 1995, the park was designated as a Grade 1 listed landscape by English Heritage. The Romanesque Grand Entrance is a Grade 2 listed building.
The colourful 23-foot long Swiss Bridge, which arches over one of the two lakes within the park, is notable for being the only roofed bridge constructed in wood by traditional methods in Britain.
The park has two lakes and one pond, a rockery, open spaces, copses, a wildflower meadow and a road around its circumference.
It is home for numerous birds, grey squirrels, water voles, field mice, bats and urban foxes. The so-called 'hidden' pond is preserved as a habitat for amphibians.
Video of Rapid Sketches
Have A Go!
To go sketching, all you need is a location, a sketch pad and something to sketch with.
Locations can be near or far - that's entirely up to you. Being a tourist in your own town can readily unearth interesting sketching opportunities which might otherwise be ignored.
Sketchpads come in many different sizes. For sheer convenience, try pocket-sized pads or pads which can easily fit into an ordinary bag. You can also sketch on loose sheets of paper if you prefer. Some people like to create their own hand-made booklets for sketching in.
Sketchpads also offer different paper surfaces, some being smooth while others are more textured. Smooth surfaces are better for ink drawing, but textured paper can offer pencil and watercolour sketches an interesting additional dimension.
Mediums for Sketching
Pencil and ink are probably the most commonly used mediums for sketching. Try 6B, 8B and 10B pencils to discover which you prefer. You could also try charcoal pencils. Fine line and medium nib ink pens are easy to use, and give a clear, bold line.
Avoid using an eraser. Smudgy marks left behind can spoil your work, and erasers can damage the surface of paper. Those 'mistakes' can also form an integral part of the finished drawing and show your process of observation.
Sketching can also be done with watercolour paints and chalk or oil pastels. These are more messy than using pen or ink, and take up more space to transport - especially with watercolours, as you'll also need room for water, a water container and brushes.
Look to the Trees!
I love sketching trees. So many people walk past trees without hardly even glancing at them, but the endless variations in structure, bark and leaf patterns, shades of colour, the sheer size or the trunk and the tangle of exposed roots all offer great sketching opportunities.
A collection of tree sketches can help to ensure that when you're painting trees, you include plenty of variety of shapes, preventing dull-looking uniformity which is not found in nature.
Since my teens, I've looked at ink paintings by traditional Japanese landscape artists and this influence can be seen in my drawing technique, I think.
Grooming in the Sunshine
The one thing to be kept in mind when sketching birds is that they rarely stand still. Even when they're sitting, sleeping with one eye open as they tend to do, they can suddenly stand and waddle off, leaving the artist with a fragment of a sketch.
The trick is to observe them as carefully as possible while getting the sketch done at a rapid speed. Yes, you could photograph them and the results would no doubt be more exact and detailed, but photographs tend to flatten the image. I find I prefer the spontaneity and fluidity of a sketch, even when that sketch may be unfinished.
The park's permanent ducks and geese are so used to people feeding them that they will let you get quite close. Offers of bird seed - which is much better for their health than bread - can help to quickly attract a good-sized avian crowd.
At weekends, the park is full of people doing a wide variety of activies from sports to family picnics, walking pet dogs or just taking the air.
I sometimes include them in sketches, but not often. When I do draw people, they tend to be walking in the distance, sitting on a distant bench or fishing. Again, I'm not interested in details but in movement and impression, and I'm more interested in the wider context - the surroundings, the landscape - than in the person themselves.
A List of Drawing Opportunities in Birkenhead Park
- Two lakes and a pond;
- Birds and waterfowl;
- Trees and shrubbery;
- Open grassy areas;
- Wildfower meadow;
- Exercise circuit with gym equipment;
- Tennis courts;
- Bowling club;
- Two cricket clubs;
- Rugby pitch;
- Football pitches (used by weekend league teams);
- Annual Festival of Transport;
- Exhibitions and events at the Visitor Centre throughout the year.
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© 2017 Adele Cosgrove-Bray