Yesterday, Sunday 14th May 2017 I was privileged and honored to be able to view and sketch at the first public swimming event in 24 years at Manchester’s Victoria Baths. This was a one-off fundraising event for the restoration of the baths.
Victoria Baths opened in 1906 and was described by the Lord Mayor as ‘A water palace of which every citizen of Manchester is proud’ and I can see why. I was fortunate to be shown around the baths including the 3 swimming pools, The Turkish Baths, Slipper Baths and Aeratone last summer. I had no idea that the outwardly striking building was even more stunning inside! The wonderful stained glass in golds, greens, purples and blues shimmering with the morning sun shining through; the earthy terracotta and the wonderful rich green tiles on the walls and stunning mosaics on the floors serve as a visual and textural extravaganza. To experience the place again yesterday, with water in one of the pools and to see it being used by the public for swimming, was an even greater delight. There is something special about swimming pools: the smell of them, the atmosphere of them, the look of them and all those special feelings seem to be amplified at Victoria Baths. With the sunlight streaming through, shadows and light on the water and the surroundings, the smells and the muffled, echo noises all added to a special feeling. It was a day filled with nostalgia for the past and optimism for the future and I loved it!
Everyone seemed to have their story to tell. I could hear some of these stories as I drew, I read and heard some of these stories from the many news programmes leading up to yesterday including Radio4, The Manchester Evening News and the Guardian.
I was told still others when I posted my sketches on social media!: ‘Brings back fond school days galas there !’
‘They take me back to my uni days when I used to swim and take a Turkish bath there. I can smell the air!’
I too have my ‘memories’ of this place; my father leant to swim at Victoria baths (Dad is from Manchester although I grew up in the South). Swimming was always important to my dad and he was keen for me to learn at a young age! I have memories of him saying (and miming) swimmmmmmmm and early morning swimming lessons! To be back in a place (unknown to me as a child) where all that started, was special and to record it and tell yesterday’s story through drawing was magical.
Yesterday was a lovely sunny day and we arrived early so that I could immerse myself in the place and get settled. This is always important when capturing events and places, to get a sense of it, to feel it and breath it, live it before putting pen to paper. The photographers for the day were also arriving, getting set up. We were welcomed and allowed to wander for a while. I started a colour-first sketch near the entrance. The intention was to get started, get immersed, and loosen up, not to finish this one. I could do that later. Then, when we were allowed to enter the viewing balcony for the pool we went in, checking out angles and views before the first swimmers arrived. My main drawings of the day were colour first. This is because it has a sense of freedom and prevents an overly fiddly and measured sketch developing! I wanted to capture the energy of the day, the sense of occasion in my drawings. I was also keen to capture the Sense of Place: something of the colours, the shapes, the key elements that make it Victoria Baths e.g. the wonderful changing rooms and railings, the arches and the roof metals. I worked linework then coloured pencil and gel pen and finally markers over the original watercolour to create the effects. Of course not many of us are used to drawing people swimming and splashing about in a pool so to get the scale and gestures right takes some practice. I did some sheets of contour and gesture doodles first, using a fine nibed pen.
Here are my main sketches from the day:
Yesterday’s event was about fundraising to restore the Turkish Baths. I will be donating the original of one of the drawings for auction. Monies raised will be put towards the restoration project. Congratulations to the Victoria Baths Restoration team for a truly inspiring day and for their progress to date.