Friday, 23 December 2011

Thinking of Warmer Climes

As the gales blow outside and the rain, sleet, and hail come bouncing down I am staying indoors and thinking about warmer times and places.  This was started by tidying the study and finding a copy of a photo taken in June 2009 that I printed off but never actual used for drawing or painting. So I decided now was the time for a picture with a bit of warmth in it; not something I'd find on Orkney at this time of year unless I was drawing the fire in the lounge.

 It's not my usual pen and ink (ie drafting pen) but you try and get warmth into a pen sketch (now there's a challenge!).  Scanning has washed the colours out a bit.

In 2009 I attended a (sort of) training course in Archaeological Geophysics at CNR (National Research Council) just outside Rome.  I stayed in a very nice hilltop town just outside Rome and a few miles short of CNR called Monterotondo. I enjoyed the course and met some really wonderful Italian students and academics; and ate some fantastic food!

 At the end of the course, about 10 days, I was able to get a couple of days in Rome.  I spent much of my time just wandering around with only the vaguest idea of where I was or what it was I was seeing, though this was intentional.  As a result I have no idea where the stepped passageway was or what it might be called.  The wandering and being on my own meant that I had time to sketch anything that caught my fancy.

I did of course visit the more famous sites, including my absolute favourite the Pantheon where I had a play with my, then, new camera...

 However, I digress,  The painting is to wish everyone a warm and happy Christmas, no matter what the weather is doing, and the same for the new year!

Sunday, 18 December 2011


Quiet a few days a week I drive the dogs down to one of several beaches or coastal paths that are within a 5 or 10 minute drive of home. It's not environmentally friendly I'll admit but I prefer it to the fields round our village, and the dogs seem to do so as well. So every few days or so we go to the "Brough of Birsay", a promontory with a small tidal island at its tip. Between the village of Birsay and the promontory are a few cottages and one lone building that sits precariously between the road and the cliff.
This little wooden building has its rather exotic name painted on its door -ZANZIBAR.
It appears to sit mere feet from the cliff edge (20 feet down the the beach and rocks and surf); is constructed of wooden planks, wrigley tin, and a leaning brick chimney; and consist of little more than two rooms. All of this surrounded by a plain wooden picket fence. It faces everything nature has so far thrown at it - cold, wind, rain, sleet, snow, hail, ice and sea! - including last week the equivalent of a Class II hurricane (I'm no expert but we seem to get at least one every winter). Most of the weather has crossed the Atlantic unimpeded from either North America or the Arctic.
With all of this in mind its owners or builders had the courage and imagination to call it "Zanzibar". Personally I know nothing of Zanzibar other than an unread sci-fi book title, "Standing on Zanzibar", but it speaks to me of far-off ports with heat, humidity and the smell of spices, an encroaching jungle and a myriad of peoples and voices.
I feel very pleased to see it still standing every time I drive past with the dogs.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

"**** the Pratt"

As I return to my blog I have decided to do so with baby steps. Therefore instead of a proper sketch, drawing, painting, what-have-you, I am posting a thumbnail sketch in the theme of 'Collective Nouns of Archaeology'. A theme previously posted on in June and July of 2010.
Whilst most people think of an archaeologist as someone with a trowel and small brush* beavering away in a small hole in the ground, probably working on a dinosaur bone*. Also wearing a Fairisle sweater and sporting a beard, regardless of gender. The truth is somewhat different. There is a greater variety of types of archaeologists than any reasonably minded person could ever hope to think of; and if I could draw people that would be a whole new project. Today I give you the Theoretical Archaeologist, not the bearded jumper wearing brush waving individual but the archaeologist who goes beyond facts and data to theorise and hypothesis. Not what was but what might have been if you like. Of course many differently classified archaeologists can have one foot in the Theorist's camp
*small paint brushes are hardly ever used and dinosaur bones are the property of the paleontologists and nothing to do with archaeologists!
An Armchair of Theorists
Many years ago as a 1st year undergraduate on my first university dig I had the pleasure of digging with some wonderful staff and great fellow students, some of whom are my good friends to this day 20 years on. One student however did not ingratiate himself. Later to become known to one-and-all as "**** the Pratt", and by one-and-all I mean staff as well as students. The Pratt ate more than his fair share of the food, did less than his fair share of the work, was loud and opinionated (especially about how little he ate and how hard he worked), and was suspected of taking food from his fellow students personal foot lockers. What I consider to be his near high point though was when, over breakfast, he chose to tell the academic staff that once qualified he was going to be a Theoretical Archaeologist so that he could "lounge in an armchair in front of the fire smoking a pipe and just think about things and make them up"! The academic staff made no reply but did I feel file this remark away for future consideration and action.
Pratt's true high point was when he asked to be allowed to leave the dig several days early, thus missing the strenuous task of back filling the trenches, so that he could cat sit for his parents who were going on holiday. This he was allowed to do - for his own protection as several fellow students by this point were plotting serious physical harm.
At the other extreme to armchair padding Theorists is the broad spectrum of archaeological specialists. They produce data, facts and reports; but nothing in this world comes free, therefore...
A Cheque of Specialists
On a final note, without thumbnail sketch, is the designation of
A Crystal of Phenomenologists
I could not explain this collective noun without risking the removal of my blog by the authorities. However archaeologists may get some way to an understanding with their specialist knowledge. Suffice to say that archaeological phenomenologists attempt to "see" landscapes as ancient people did? In my experience this seems to mostly involve wandering around in the sunshine.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Been awhile.... but 'least said, soonest mended'. So onwards and upwards.

Thought it about time I tried sketching some of all this snow that we are getting. We took the dogs out for a walk, but without our thermals, and quickly realized the magnitude of our mistake!

Living here on Orkney we do not seem to get extremes of temp (well certainly not highs anyway). At 59 degrees North we're only about 50 miles further South than Greenland is, but due to the sea and the 'gulf stream' its not as cold as it really should be otherwise. In winter we often do get freezing temp's but the last couple of days at -4 or -5 C daytime temp, without windchill, and nearly a foot of snow have been a bit testing.

So I went on Flickr and found a nice picture to use from the comfort of my home. Near where we live are two large lochs seperated at one point by a thin finger of land called the "Ness of Brodgar". At the end of the Ness is a short causeway seperating the two lochs. All shown here with salt water Stennes Loch on the left and the fresh water Harray Loch on the right.

The whole area shown is part of a World Heritage Site, all of which is stuffed full of Neolithic (stone age farmers) archaeology. The standing stone shown here (the Watchstone, 5.6 m high) stands between two stone circles. As ever undertaken in my constant favorite the drafting pen.

The original can be seen on Flickr, from a very active Orkney photographer, Orquil (cannot seem to be able to post the address -sorry)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Bobby the Seal

Deciding to walk the dogs in really abysmal weather this afternoon (some wind, lots of rain, and very low very dark grey threatening clouds). I took them down to the sea at Birsay and walked along to Skiba Geo - a grassy path alongside low cliffs but with little access to beach or sea (trying to limit how messy the dogs could get).

On arriving at the small bay at Skiba Geo I noticed several seals behaving oddly, IMO. With a very deep and long swell several of the seals had their heads out of the water looking straight up at the clouds. This was about 4 out of 9. Obviously living on Orkney I've often noticed seals just off the beach, but generally looking around or watching my dogs. Star gazing or rather cloud gazing seemed somewhat unusual. By the way - what do you call a group of seals?

By far the largest very nearly had its shoulders out of the water. Bobbing around in a regular motion in the swell it suddenly reminded me of a "Roly Poly Clown" a younger cousin had one when I a very young kid myself. No matter how often you knocked it over it always rocked back upright with a ringing bell inside. It was very worn and had much of its paint either faded or rubbed off. I couldn't draw nor photograph the seals due to the weather conditions so I give you the "Roly Poly Clown" I have drawn upon my return to the warmth of home (image found on Internet, my memory isn't quite that good!)

So what were they up to?

a) Rocking about in the swell fully or half asleep?

b) Some normal seal behaviour I've not noticed before (I'm no expert)?

c) Just messing with my head? - my favorite option.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Please (don't) "Mind the Gap"

The idea was that the blog would keep me drawing -OPPS, Sorry. Work, health, employment tribunals, travel off the island, and helping Sue set her geophysical consultancy up and running all got in the way. Lets just call it "Life".
So time to start again. Having just been off the island for a couple of weeks doing survey work in Aberdeenshire (looking for a couple of 17th Century formal gardens) I give you a small corner of Castle Fraser, the first of two sites we worked on.

It was very nice, but equipment failures and poor results took the shine off a little bit. Unfortunately this was Sue's first contract as a self employed consultant. However, when the site was excavated the following week the poor results where explained - the gardens had been largely removed in the 1800's as part of landscaping for a "natural" parkland as was then the fashion. The actual castle can be seen below with Sue taking her turn at surveying, less a castle and more a fortified home, very like a French Chateau (turrets and conical tiling). All Scottish Baronial Gothic.

The following week was Fyvie Castle, much much grander and very nice and good results. They start digging there in about a weeks time, so "fingers crossed" that the results really have shown the gardens (and other features). Both properties belong to the National Trust for Scotland.
Regards the sketch in my small moleskine I cannot remember if it was my original intention but it's come out all "Grimm's Fairy Tales" looking - I like it! Don't often say that about my own stuff!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A Harness of Gradiometers

A gradiometer is an instrument that senses, or rather records tiny changes in the earth's magnetic field. As such they are able to "see" ditches, pits, walls, hearths, and furness'. Well sometimes - they are a quick efficient means of archaeologically surveying an area (and that means cheap! always a bonus!) however " an absence of results does not mean an absence of archaeology". Sometimes the archaeology just isn't magnetically different enough, or can be 'masked' by modern detritus/development. Iron overloads the instrument and you wouldn't believe how much iron based rubbish is scattered around, even in rural situations. Until recently Sue and I were using a bartington, see below surveying on Iona. They require a harness over your shoulders to hang the instrument in front of you.

The one we preferred was the original, a hard alloy frame looking like roman armour over your shoulders -otherwise referred to as the "Xena" harness (detail below).

Their are several others, popular amongst our colleagues is a home made soft harness. It's like a sideways figure 8 that clips to the instrument and is called the "Soft" Harness. Although it acts more like a cross your heart wonder bra, but that name would be politically incorrect, too long and probably not popular with female staff (which is why you're not getting a close up photo of that one!)
There is now a new one supplied by Bartington that is like a day sack. The instrument attaches at the front and a water pouch on the back acts as a counter balance, but at something like £600 just for the harness I doubt many are up grading!