Ever since I first found out about it, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the Thames draw-off – an event that happens once a year when the weirs at Richmond are opened for a month or so to allow for maintenance of the lock, weirs and sluices and inspection of the river bed. At low tide this can lead to a very empty-looking river, and I have always intended to go down there to have a look.
When I mentioned the draw off to my artist friend Jill, she thought I meant a ‘pencils and sketchbooks at dawn’ competitive drawing event – and once the confusion had been cleared up, we agreed that a ‘draw off draw-off’ would be an excellent idea. And so it was that earlier today, having checked the tide tables, we went down to the river at Ham, wellies on and sketchbooks under arms, eagerly expecting to be able to walk across the dry riverbed.
Disappointingly the river was still rather full and the White Swan pub on the other side remained inaccessible – but with gloves on we settled down for some chilly outdoor sketching and enjoyed watching the subtle changes in the water surface as the tide changed. And the water was low enough to expose some interesting root patterns along the shore. Jill had the great idea of using some river mud and a stick to draw with, which created a lovely textured line. Rubbing dock leaves on the page gave a surprisingly intense green too. We finished with a pot of tea at the Hollyhock cafe on Richmond Hill, where the teapot needed gloves on to keep the tea warm.