Why I love these sculptures and why I draw them

This is not that easy to explain. Part of it is a love of patterns. I think repeating patterns tap into something in my head in a very soothing way. Perhaps I have a logical turn of mind. But I rather think that it's more I am a creature whose ancestors evolved to be good at pattern recognition. It's a useful thing for spotting tigers amongst the vegetation. Or spotting hazelnuts against the leaves. It's probably quite good for spotting more abstract patterns, like patterns in people's behaviour, so you can judge whether they're nice or nasty.

So, patterns. And I like them to be repetitive, but not in a totally accurate predictable way. I like them better with a bit of randomness. There's a lot of that about in the Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque art of Britain. Which is especially obvious if you start observing it closely.

 It's the close observation thing that is very important from a meditative, mental health sort of angle. I find it has a very good effect on my brain to focus very particularly on something in the process of drawing it. This could indeed apply to any observational drawing. It's a process that stops the mental chatter, the monkey mind. You can feel the everyday bit of your brain struggling, kicking against the effort. "Why are you bothering? Just take a photo! Just draw what you think it looks like, why are you bothering to look closely! Come on!!!" - it's like a pesky impatient child tugging at your sleeve. But you have to resist it. And if you do, you get some mental peace. That's another important aspect of this for me.

Another aspect is actually seeking out and visiting the places where the sculptures lurk. They can be in pretty out-of-the-way places, which you'd probably never get to under normal circumstances. So it's definitely eye-opening about my local environment (and beyond). We often come across other interesting things by chance. It's always good to get Out. And it's been very nice to share experiences (and picnics) with co-drawer B.

These carvings are hugely old, and that interests me as well. In making a deliberate effort to visit them, and in drawing them, I feel a kind of connection and respect back to the anonymous carvers. I like to think they'd feel chuffed that their craftsmanship is still attracting attention 800, 900, 1000 years plus into the future. By observing their work so carefully, perhaps you get an inkling of their choices in making it. I think often you don't - sometimes it seems as alien and inpenetrable as when you arrived. But at least you have looked properly and closely, at least you've got a better chance of appreciating what you're looking at, appreciating those artists, and possibly being able to make meaningful comparisons and remarks about those carvings. It beats some of the bizarre interpretations B and I have read on our travels (c.f. "otters" at Codford St Peter).

 The carvings are to me, the epitome of British art. Perhaps that's a silly statement, because they come from a time when Britain wasn't really the Britain of today. But they reflect a sort of primitiveness, a raw response to both things of the natural world (we see animals and plants, often stylised), mythical fantastical creatures (wyverns, dragons, things we don't have names for), and also spiritual ideas and scenes from the Bible. At its most sophisticated (such as the Herefordshire School) it's breathtakingly technically brilliant. But still it retains this element of immediacy and honesty and straightforwardness, if that makes any sense. And it's that, that I really love about it.

Another thing that motivates me is that lots of these places are virtually undocumented on the internet. Often there are indeed lots of photos available. But I kind of think that by drawing the carvings, my sister and I are putting our own perfectly legitimate interpretation forward. In some cases (such as at Stratton ) the carvings are faint and do not make for a good snap (no doubt a good photographer could do them justice) and our drawings are a record of what exists.

I most enjoy drawing on site, but it can be quite draining, and at some of the places we've been (like Elkstone) there's so much to choose from that it's almost overwhelming. So I do tinker with the sketches when I get home, most often by splashing on some colour. I also tweak them a bit with photoshop. What I probably could be doing more of, is making completely new bits of art based on my sketches - I'm not very good at getting on with this. The photos above are evidence that it does occasionally happen (the result in that case was an A1 size piece that I'm very happy with). 

And don't worry, the irony of a couple of atheists going round drawing these things and getting mental solace from it, is not wholly lost on me :) I expect (in fact I know) that we've been in a church many many more times this year than half the people who proclaim themselves christian on the census! But even if we don't Believe, we're learning a lot about the belief system that's had on so big an effect on this country's art and literature, and especially about the symbolism that the carvers and stained glass artists have used.

 Images © Rhiannon 2014 


  1. I was delighted to discover your blog. I am also a pattern person and also find myself drawn to British romanesque or Norman church details.. Unlike you , I have not pursed this obsession as widely, but I do live in Wiltshire and recognise many of the churches you have visited. Your account of. The drawing process is very incitelful, spot on. It is not always the end result that matters ; the act of drawing can familiarise one with a subject in a way that taking a photograph or simply looking never can. I look forward to exporting you site further.

    1. It was so nice to get your message. I feel like I'm not talking to myself! and it's nice to hear that other people understand the same motivations. It's been really interesting to record things in the blog as it's helped encourage new visits, and with the number of locations it makes everything easier to remember! And it's interesting how sticking at something for so long develops it. I think my sister and I have a good feel for the Genuine Article now (perhaps), and we can see similarities or otherwise across the county. Sadly it seems too dark and cold to do much at the moment - but perhaps we'll see you out there one day! Thank you, Rhiannon