Tag Archives: Tower of London

Othello the Moor

Othello the Moor, mixed media by Kerry McFall

One of the drawing schools in London (called London Drawing aptly enough) specializes in life drawing using actors and actresses in costume, live and in the theatre.  This was the group who orchestrated the Tower Lock-In at the Tower of London, which I absolutely loved.  I thought it would be fun to try that approach with the production of Othello that my daughter Corey Jay costumed at Pomona College.  I saw the play last week and met the actors, now working from photos courtesy of Corey and the other cast members, my plan is to sketch the main characters.  I wish I could have sketched “live” during rehearsal, I’ll have to figure out how to make that happen someday…

So here is Othello the Moor, as portrayed by Marshall Anderson.  A bit of self-critique now, thinking out loud so to speak.  Portraits… tricky.  He is angry, hurt, frustrated, sad, confused.  But he is inescapablly so very Large and In Charge that he leaves himself no options… nothing like some simple body language to catch in a few angles, but I’m liking it.  Skin tones… pretty good, although amazing how many individual colors went into producing something akin to brown skin.  Face… aargh.  The actor is far more classically handsome than I was able to convey here – obviously, I opted for a deep shadow to make up for not being able to really puzzle out how to get the left side of his face properly, especially his eye.  Plenty of room for progress here.  Fur collar… really fun to see that silvery gray (presumably fox?) fur can be drawn effectively using pink and lavender.  And the icing on the proverbial cake: talons on the epaulettes.  If all else fails, simply squeeze the life out of your prey.  The essence of a tragic character conveyed right there on his massive shoulders.  Way to go, Corey Jay, Costume Designer!  Up next: Desdemona

Ghostly Presence

costumed man

"Tower Ghost", by Kerry McFall

Finally finished a piece from the Tower of London “Locked In” session… it’s really all about the outfit, obviously, but I was trying for a ghostly effect!  If being in the Tower of London at night doesn’t confirm your belief in ghosts,  seeing a fox glide around an ancient churchyard on a moonlit night will…

sketch of fox moving

"Churchyard Ghost", colored pencil by Kerry McFall

We are now staying in “The Watch House” in the Bethnal Green/ Shoreditch area of London.  The Watchhouse on the corner of St Matthew’s Churchyard was built in 1754.  With the growing trade in human corpses for dissection, in 1792 it was necessary to appoint a watchman who was paid ten shillings and sixpence a week to be on permanent guard against resurrectionists. A reward of two guineas was granted for the apprehension of any body-snatchers and the watchman was provided with a blunderbuss and permission to fire from an upper window, once a rattle had been sounded three times.  The churchwardens still hold this right.   Our understanding is that by being residents of that room, we hold the rights, and we take our responsibility seriously.  Which is why I was looking out the upstairs window last night, secretly hoping to spot some kind of spiritual goings-on… when something actually floated between me and one of the park benches.  I caught my breath, thinking, “Careful what you wish for, dearie!”.

Never mind that there are no longer any graves here.  As our host Sebastion told us, “Hitler cleaned out the church and the graveyard with two direct bomb hits.  The former residents were scattered to Kingdom Come…”  Ironic, given the lengths to which the good people of the church had gone to keep them here.  The church yard is now essentially a city park, with just one surviving grave marker, all pinkish-grey at night because of the nearby street lamps.  But graves or not, something was out there.  I leaned closer to the window, which of course fogged up because of my heavy breathing.  I rubbed a circle in the fog with my sleeve, and there it was again.  I called Griff to come see, but by the time he got up the winding, creaky, narrow stairs (it comes with the 250-year-old territory) it had vanished.  No, wait!  There!  By the foundation of the church, a fox crept along in the shadow, its impossibly fluffy tail floating behind it.  So graceful, so quick…then it vanished again.

This morning I checked on Google to be sure I hadn’t dreamed it.  Nope – there are evidently as many foxes in London as there are coyotes in California urban areas.  Sebastian confirmed that there are plenty in this neighborhood, he’s even found evidence that they have followed the cat through the open back window into the house!  They are not a healthy population, lots of mange and other diseases, so they are considered pests, but you’ve got to admire their chutzpah.  And my theory is that the foxes are probably one reason we haven’t seen a single rat here in London.

Locked In at the Tower of London

Most prisoners tried to bribe their way out, but we tried to bribe our way in…  Friday night was the “Great Tower Lock-In”, an event associated with the worldwide “Big Draw” that is happening this month.  A local art group had arranged with Her Majesty to allow 40 – 50 artists to come in to the Tower after it was closed to the public and spend the evening drawing.  We registered online while in Germany, thinking we could pick up tickets at “will call”… long story short, that didn’t work as planned but we got in via the irresistible combination of guile and old age.   And it was SO worth it!

The Tower is actually a vast fortress, some of the walls and arches built more than 1000 years ago.  Talk about a cool place to play Robin Hood!  Of course, there is a tower – well, no, there are a bunch of towers – but there are also vistas along the river, against the castles, down into the moat – all of which were illuminated first by a gorgeous soft golden sunset then a clear cold moon.  The cold was the reason why you will see no sketches of any of that – brr – until I get a chance to hopefully work from a few photos.    

Griff the Navigator came along just to experience the Tower environment, and we were so glad he did.  We were able to go into the chapel, sit next to the crypt where Ann Boleyn and her Beheaded Companions were laid to rest, listen to eerie monastic medieval chants, and sketch a man dressed a la King Henry. Or to climb to the King’s Bedchamber (oh, my aching knees) and sketch him in his nightshirt (the actor looked very much like Winston Churchill).  All in all there were five different rooms available to us.  The combination of being in The Real Tower of London, with the costumed actors and actresses,  in the eerie quiet, and in the “true castle light” (i.e. not much of it) was so overwhelming that my sketches are really in need of further work.  Some of the artists did amazing ‘drawrings’ though, in spite of it all.  I told the organizers that now we just need to go back tonight and do it all again, since we are now mentally prepared for the impact of being there… they gave me one of those eye-brow-up British looks and smiled wanly.  Oh, well, I tried.

When the sketching was over, the Captain of the Yeoman Guard allowed us to watch the Ceremony of the Keys.  Locking up the crown jewels at night has been done exactly this way for centuries, although without the automatic rifles I imagine.  It involved a good deal of clicking heels and manly shouts of “Who comes there?!”  by young soldiers in bearskin headdresses and red uniforms, and a trumpet solo at the end, all illuminated by a single candle in a single lantern… but even anti-military anti-Imperialism me couldn’t help being slightly awed.  Then as he led us to the “wicket gate” to let us out of the now-locked tower, the Captain told us ghost stories and love stories about the Tower. .. sigh.

We stepped outside of the tiny gate, and the bubble burst.  Suddenly we were up against finding a bus home in the windy reality of being near the Thames late at night.  But wow, what a night.