Joan Eardley lived in the moment.

The warp and weft of her immediate world fascinated her to the point she had to record it there and then, using whatever medium she had to hand. If she didn't have enough paper to sketch a group of street kids in Townhead cooried over a game, she simply stuck another bit of paper on; if a force ten gale threatened to blow her easel off the shoreline at Catterline on Scotland's rugged north-east coast, she anchored it down.

As a new exhibition of drawings, prints and paintings in Clydebank Town Hall reveals, Eardley was always in a hurry when it came to drawing and painting her world.

Time and Tide, offers a snapshot of Eardley in more ways than one. As well as securing key loans from five separate locations, including The National Galleries of Scotland, Paisley Museum and the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie, curators with West Dunbartonshire Council have had the pick of an archive of photographs taken by Eardley's close friend, Audrey Walker.

Several photographs from Dumfries and Galloway's Gracefield Collection reveal Eardley at work and at her happiest. Never still. Always looking.

The sheer immediacy of Eardley's work draws people to it like moths to a flame. Born in a Sussex farmhouse on 18 May, 10921, at the age of 18, May Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley, moved to Bearsden, outside Glasgow, with her widowed Scots-born mother and younger sister. For the next 24 years, until her death from cancer in 1963, she worked like there was no tomorrow.

The irony is that for Joan Eardley, there was a tomorrow of sorts after her death at the age of 42. Every time it is shown, her work continues to win new fans and astound long-standing admirers.

This new exhibition in Clydebank presents an excellent opportunity for fans, old and new, to get an Eardley fix. Laid out over four small galleries, it takes in all the different periods of her work, from the years immediately following on from an extended period of study from 1940 until 1946 at Glasgow School of Art, until the months leading up to her death in August 1963.

Eardley is probably best-known for her unsentimental portrayals of gallus, squinty-eyed street kids from the Townhead area of Glasgow, where she kept a studio from 1952 until her death. Although she may not have fully appreciated it at the time, she was chronicling an era of Glasgow life on the cusp of disappearing altogether.

There are several fine examples of her work on show here which highlight the way in which she could capture not only the frenetic energy and occasional boredom of the children, but the lifeblood of the place. As you move from Gallery 1 into Gallery 2, one tiny oil painting, painted just a couple of years before her death, catches your eye. Sweet Shop, Rotten Row depicts a long-demolished sweet shop which acted like a magnet to the kids Eardley drew and painted, notably the Samsons, a large local family she befriended. On loan from The Hunterian in Glasgow, it was presented to Glasgow University in 2004 by the late Edwin Morgan, as part of a bequest by the poet.

The frequently painted-over 'Confectioner' sign fascinated Eardley, who recognised a similar approach in her own late work as she attempted to layer and collage elements into the paint, using old scraps of newspaper and shiny sweetie papers. Inspired by the painting, Morgan wrote his poem To Joan Eardley, which includes the lines:

Pale yellow letters

humbly straggling across

the once brilliant red

of a broken shop-face


and a blur of children

at their games, passing...

Drawing is at the heart of all Eardley's work, even in her late works; some of which veer off into almost total abstraction. This is writ large in works such as The Wave, an oil painting on loan from the Gracefield Collection, which swirls and crashes around as Eardley attempted to pin down the very air she breathed.

Throughout it all, her drawing skill is evident at every turn. In 1948, Eardley was awarded a travelling scholarship to Italy and France and as she went around on her own, she drew constantly; again depicting a vanishing way-of-life in the highways and byways of post-war Europe. She tackled peasants working in the field and ramshackle buildings with equal deftness. An enforced change of pace is evident though in a couple of small woodcut prints made around 1945. Man Smoking Pipe, another loan from The Hunterian, is a superb example of a white-line woodcut in which Eardley carves with jaw-dropping precision into a wooden block to create a serene image of an old man in repose.

A pastel work from 1947, Ploughing in Lincolnshire, on loan from the Lillie Art Gallery, dates to a period when Eardley spent time working on a commission for a mural in a Lincoln school. With its sweeping expanse of field and sky, it hints at the freedom she would find later painting in and around the cliff-top village of Catterline, where she lived on and off from the early 1950s until her death.

The Hunterian Art Gallery has catalogued Edwin Morgan's collection and in it, he is quoted as saying about Eardley, 'There is something about her ... I could not describe exactly what it was but she was one of my favourites.'

If putting Eardley's pictures into words is beyond the ken of one of Scotland's finest poets, then what hope do the rest of us scribes have?

Go see these pictures. They are indescribably good.

Joan Eardley: Time and Tide, Clydebank Museum & Art Gallery, Clydebank Town Hall, 5 Hall Street, Clydebank, G81 1UB 0141 562 2400. Until 24 October