Friday, 25 June 2010

Future Potential?

This is a drawing of an abandoned croft a couple of miles down the road from where we live. There are many such scattered across the Orcadian landscape, generally Orcadians prefer to build anew rather than do up (more room and facilities presumably). So often you can see a new house next to a ruinous stone building (for storage) next to a complete ruin or pile of stones, as every few generations a new building is constructed. Occasionally the old crofts are being done up or as is happening not far from this croft an old building is being incorporated into the new build - which is nice to see. This practise dates back to at least Viking times, I worked on a site on Westray where 3 Viking farms had each been built next to the proceeding one (mere feet apart) leading perpendicularly inland from the beach, over time.

This drawing was done this week as part of some design work for a business project that Sue (my wife) and I have, but proved unsuitable so I present it for you here...

Staedler 0.3 and 0.1 disposable pens in A4 sketch pad, original scan approx 8"x5"

Sunday, 20 June 2010

An Annoyance of Visitors

Picture this, if you will, ...

You're knelt or squatting at the bottom of your trench about a metre below ground surface. The trench is miles from civilisation and not even visible from the nearest track. You are working hard when you become aware of a presence above your muddy, intriguing, and challenging environment. You look up above the edge of your trench to see a pair of legs attached to inappropriate footwear, all of which have seen better days and that have suffered from crossing the fields to your location. Before looking further you hear the, predictable, words "Found any dead bodies yet?", a remark followed by the self-appreciating laughter of the one delivering them...... The visitors/public has arrived!

OK I'm being unfair. The vast majority of visitors to site are polite, interested, intelligent, and enquiring. Even if they arrive ill-informed and have little knowledge, they want to know more of what's going on, they want to "understand". The vast majority that is, unfortunately, it's the other ones that you tend to remember - the idiots and fortunatly the odd bright star...

I remember explaining geophysics to a tourist (an old lady about 80 y.o) visiting our site on Shetland. Trying to explain in very simple terms she stopped me to explain that she was probably the first women to have attended her University and subsequently received a Doctorate in Physics, she understood the principles better than I did, and was exceedingly nice about it.

But my predominant memory of site visitors is of digging in North Yorkshire, in the Vale of Pickering. Standing at the side of the trench with some spare time on my hands I was emptying the buckets of spoil of those working hard below me (as it should be in the natural order of things!). I was explaining to the diggers in the trench that I wanted a dog, preferably a German Shepard, that would be trained to attack on hearing a certain phrase. If you uttered the ubiquitous, oft heard, phrase"Found any gold yet?" the dog would have your throat out before you could start laughing at your own joke! At this point I looked out across the field of beet, muddy wet and green, to see a couple approaching, no mean feat as we had not advertised our location and nor were we visible from the road. I told the diggers, who could not see them, that we had visitors. The most unpopular member of our disparate group, known to one and all as the "mad axe murderer" (you had to meet him and be there) said "it'll be mi purunts". I replied enquiring if his mother often wore a denim mini skirt, white high heels, and sported a bee-hive hair-do? ( this was the mid 1990's and predated Amy Winehouse's re-introduction of the bee-hive to the fashion conscious). Axe murderer replied that it was, indeed his "purunts".

Upon reaching the trench the mother looked down and asked (you guessed it..) "Found any gold yet?", before she could laugh at her own joke the trench erupted into gales of laughter. All we were missing was a German Shepard....

Saturday, 19 June 2010

An Embarrassment of Post Holes

Often on sites with a large number of post holes the supervisor or Site Director will have the diggers (should be referred to as Excavators or Site Assistants really) stand in the excavated post holes and a photo is taken. This isn't as difficult as it sounds as many ancient post holes of large structures can be up to a metre across. The idea is to effectively show the pattern and thereby illustrate the outline of the "lost" structure. The problem is in the life of a site with later structures being built or alterations and additions to a structure, not to mention sites being re-used, you end up with more post holes than you can shake a stick at! Discerning any underlying pattern can send you quietly mad., with no certainty that what you think you have found is really there - to give you an idea, I'm still hoping to find the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, not necessarily in the Middle East.
Post holes are first 'sectioned' - half the hole excavated with the remaining half presenting a face one which can (hopefully) be seen tip lines, and sediments etc. Whilst still a student (c.1992) I returned to a dig in Yorkshire (yet again) from a dig in Shetland with what I think is described as a frozen shoulder (locked and agony to move). The trench supervisor left me in a corner on my own to dig , very slowly, a large medieval post hole, roughly rectangular, about0.75m a side and eventually nearly 1 m deep. Kneeling over the hole with one arm tucked in my shirt (in pain) precariously reaching down to trowel with one arm meant for very slow progress indeed! After 2 days (!) I found myself kneeling head into hole crying -but had to work as I needed the money.
Which brings me to the 'constant' of archaeology -beer! That night on the advice of a friend (?) I was drinking Thunderbird and stout mixed. After 2 pints and 4 cans of lager I was reduced to crawling on all fours and mumbling, and in those days I could hold my beer! The following morning I was as they say "right as rain", no shoulder problems and no pain, and even no hangover! The remaining half of the post hole, including drawing the section took me half a day to finish and life restarted.

Personally I've never worked on a site with a clear pattern of post holes, but have always found beer readily available (outside of working hours I might add) and usually in large quantities. Could perhaps the lack of ability to recognise a discernible pattern be related to beer I wonder. And please no lectures, I am today virtually tee total (well except for when 'digging').

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Fish Flying Tonight!

During an already eventful afternoon last week,
(see, walking the dogs on the beach at the Point beyond Stomness I was distracted by the loud anguished cries of a gull just above our heads. On looking up we saw a Large Black Backed Gull being 'mugged' by a Bonxie (Orcadian for an Arctic/Great Skua). And although the gull was bigger, it was, as expected, losing the fight. Almost immediately upon our seeing the combatants the gull 'threw up' a mackerel (about 10" in length!) which landed just a few feet away. So a quick 'snap' and on with the dog walk, they of course had noticed nothing; oddly enough the bonxie also seemed to have missed the mackerel as well. I left it for the gulls or for the bonxie to return.

With a busy afternoon I forgot about the photo at the time and so finally got round to trying my watercolours (again) this afternoon instead of falling asleep in front of a boring World Cup football match on the TV. This was in my larger moleskine journal along with an journal entry, but invariably the entries always look somewhat formal and structured - guess its my technical background.

I get my watercolours out and give then a try once every few months or so, though the results are never as fluid and light/translucent as I would like.

Monday, 14 June 2010

A Change of Direction?

Not much of a sketch, but covering for a colleague means 42+ hours this week. So that's either no time or no energy, take your pick. Meanwhile I have an application in for a "proper" job as a Road Services Technician, and no that's not laying down tarmac but surveying and mapping the roads and their associated "furniture", mostly road traffic signs. It's not archaeology but it is, however, surveying, one of my favorite occupations. So whilst I wait to hear about the short listing and call to interview it could be "Smiley Face" or "Not".
Oddly enough on Orkney they call this process "short leating". In my experience a "leat" is like a mill race where the water runs from the damn towards the mill wheel. Therefore at the moment I'm either treading water in the damn or shooting down the 'race' towards the mill wheel -interesting, I wait to hear.....

Oh yeah, the highlighter didn't show very well so the image had colour added on the computer.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A Troglodyte of Survey Equipment

Some years ago (more than I care to work out) I was working as a trench supervisor on a training dig excavating a medieval moated manor. The Site Director "rented" my trench to a TV crew to film a children's maths programme; the premise being what was the probability of finding a) a human femur or b) a red telephone whilst excavating the trench?

Initially I refused to allow the actors and crew into what I considered a very important trench (gatehouse and bridge across the moat). However the Site Director pointed out that the dig was broke, the TV people were paying well (very unusual for a TV company), and most importantly that I was replaceable (a matter of opinion) and that the money was not! The outcome being that they were allowed to bury both phone and femur in my trench and film their recovery,etc.

As part of an opening shot the Director asked if I could do anything to "make the background more interesting?", my reply to the effect that wasn't "Yorkshire interesting enough for him?" was not received well! After a period of non-communication and several harrumphs (not mine) it was agreed by all that this particular part of Yorkshire was flat and possibly not particularly photogenic. The Director said he needed a bit of height and interest, and that he'd seen a "Troglodyte" in the stores and could that not be sorted out for inclusion in the shot? I endeavored to keep a straight face whilst examining my nails, my shoes, the ground, the sky, and finally the horizon and the request was repeated "a Troglodyte, you know?". Suddenly it dawned on me that he meant the Theodolite! It was duely set up in the background to make Yorkshire more interesting. Since when I've always thought of survey equipment in association with troglodytes!

A Troglodyte sans Survey Equipment

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A Ritual of Archaeologists

A Ritual of Archaeologists (in a crew bus)
Some time ago I started planning (planning as usual not doing!) a project sort of called "(COLLECTIVE) NOUNS FOR ARCHAEOLOGY". This involved coming up with a relevant noun (collective noun I'm told by my daughter), then the quick little sketch/box. Returning to the project a year further on, now as a resting/retired archaeologist, I find I like the little thumb nail sketches. Therefore I think I'm going to "run" with them and post one a week for a little while at least. A "ritual of archaeologists" I first thought of about 20 years ago as an undergraduate, that's some long time in the planning stage!
"Ritual" in archaeology applies to religion and belief systems. Therefore whenever an archaeologist has something inexplicable or that they do not understand they term it "ritual". So you can have ritual practices, objects, spaces, landscapes, etc. It's a very serious concept that in "the field" can also be used very flippantly. Ergo "a ritual of archaeologists"; in a crew bus as I'm pretty crap at sketching people ( so that's another area to add to my list of 'requires work/practise')

Saturday, 5 June 2010

"Eric the Red"?
I sketched this today whilst taking shelter from the the gardening and the sun (the heat and the light were a bit of a shock after the poor year we've had so far here in Orkney). Couldn't just hide in the chair so undertook this after all I've been planning it for quite some while, its always easier to plan and execute in your head than actually commit to paper. It was done with a Bic Biro in a small Moleskine sketch book (approx 6"x4") and the scanner has darkened the bright red to nearly burgundy, but I like it even if the end effect is not as planned (best laid plans of mice and men...). It's taken from a photo that I took in Shetland in January at "Up Helly Aa", a cultural festival on Shetland where they celebrate their Norse/Viking roots. Pictured is the Jarl Squad lighting their torches for the procession and the red colour comes from using a flare to ignite the torches (I think?). It was a cold dark snowy night that contrasted wonderfully with the "viking's" outfits, the torches, and the bonfire of the "longship"! But by then much of the snow descending into the light was ash and hot sparks (decent moden waterproofs were not "the order of the day"). The snow became so heavy that we nearly didn't get off the island two days later.
I'd been trying to see Up Helly Aa for nearly 20 years, finally made it and it was great fun! Though now I know that many independent communities or islands have their own Up Helly Aa's through Jan and Feb, so it's not just Lerwick (the capital of the Shetland Isles).
The original photo, probably IMO one of the best I've ever taken, titled "Hot Torches, Cold Snow" can be seen at

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Villedieu les Poêles

The church at Villedieu les Poeles. It was originally started from a post card drawn whilst bouncing around on the back seat of my fathers 4x4 (never a steady/comfy ride), checked on a later visit, all approximately about 8 years ago. Finally colour added about 3 years ago. I post it now in an effort to help get my blog started and as my mother has recently sold her house in France; something all the family regrets but it was getting little to no use since my fathers passing two years ago. However some of the profits helped to buy my "new" dinghy, so hopefully the good times in France will continue in good times afloat.
When originally drawn in just pen I gave it to my parents, after a little while they gave it back asking could I add some more background and colour -so I did. Nowadays I think I'd just refuse (possibly politely) and although I'm happy with the final results "what a cheek, all the worlds a critic".

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Let There Be Light!

I give you one of my most recent sketchs, they're coming through a little slow at the moment, perhaps hopefully, this blog will encourage me more. I nearly always work in a moleskine notebook (large or small) and most often in pen and ink. I sometimes try watercolours and washes but they usually come out looking like solid block poster paints.... work needed then.
Regards the picture, I have on the windowsill opposite my chair a group of glass candlesticks and an oil lamp that are at their best with the long summer nights that we get up here on Orkney. I had been planning to sketch them for ages and the summer light finally got me "moving" and the result and the title seemed appropriate for a first posting....