Aussie Adventures 2: Down South: Margaret River and a Wedding in a Winery

After the stopover it was a mere 7 hour flight from Singapore to Perth in Western Australia and a daytime flight, leaving at 9,30 am and arriving in the afternoon. Then, after a family reunion and  a single night in Perth, we  travelled, in several cars, armed with everything imaginable, drink, food, clothes, wedding dresses, Oh, you name it…….’down south’. Now this is difficult for us Northern Hemisphere habitants to get our heads around: In this part of the world it is cooler down south (mid 20’s so no worries on that score!) and warmer and drier up north (if only this were true in the UK!!). We were to stay for a week: Wednesday to Wednesday with the wedding on the Saturday. 2016-01-05_0002

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The Margaret River region is awash with many wineries and in the summer many people travel there to get married on one of the vineyard estates. My nephew and his bride to be were to be married on Aravina Estate in Yallingup , 266 km from Perth. Yallingup is named after an Australian Aboriginal word that means ‘Place of Love’. It is a popular tourist destination because of its beaches and limestone caves, as well as its proximity to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.   We stayed in a large rented house 10 minutes drive from the venue that could accommodate the numerous people staying! It was like an episode from the Waltons (but with Australian accents!). In the couple of days before the wedding, I managed several sketches, I even managed to get over to Aravina to draw the actual venue (I knew there would be little time for this on the day!):

http://deirdreverne.com/blog/page/5/ Places visited before the wedding2016-01-06_0001  http://hassadityhair.com/product/texture-samples/ Our accommodation in Yallingup2016-01-05_0005 The Weddding Venue:  Aravina Estate

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The wedding

Of course most of you know that I had been ‘building up’ in sketching terms, for several months, for the wedding because I was going to be sketching it! This was scary, but once you are into the day, you have no chance to think about it, just to draw.   So that is just what I did!

Because my nephew and all the Grooms Men and Grooms maid (? Who has ever heard of this: it was my niece so pretty much everything got organized by her!), were at our accommodation on the morning of the wedding, I was able to start sketching (and thinking about just what materials I would use) then. I had an idea I would use watercolour pencil and ink later but the first sketches showed that this wasn’t a great idea-the pencil blunted quickly and the relative permanence meant that I may as well go straight to ink if I was going that route! I therefore did most of the drawings in pencil (a 0.7 mm rotring 2B lead, propelling pencil) and or ink (lamy fountain pen and a carbon platinum pen_ and added colour later. All of the sketches were done in situ, at the venue. None were done from photographs and the work done afterwards was just watercolour and some line (going over existing marks). I found the pencil easier, especially for the larger crowd scenes as it was quicker, enabling me to put figures into the scheme quicker. At the same time, it was not so blunt as to prevent the drawing of facial features. All of the drawings were done in a Moleskine watercolour album (13 x 21 cm) and the completed book was handed over to the happy couple when we left Margaret River.

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2016-01-05_0010Having experienced the process, I think in future I would seek to do all the line work in pen, on the day and then add watercolour pencil and colour later if necessary. I would also seek to jot down key phrases and thoughts rather than try and remember them!   As for the book, I like the idea of giving a book but perhaps a bigger book or loose pages may work better, especially if prints are to be made, since several of my sketches were drawn over the double page.

Lastly….

With family altogether and plenty going on, it was hard to do more than a sketch or two each day (apart from the wedding day!). After the wedding, we did have a formal lunch at one of the more formal wineries and visited local towns along the coast.

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Next up, for something completely different. Having returned to Perth, the next day was a long trip ‘Up North’ for a week. The next blog documents that trip, this time, in a concertina sketchbook.

You have been invited…….Reportage of an event about Human trafficking

You will probably already know by now if you look at my blog regularly or follow me on any of my social media platforms that Reportage, storytelling through drawing, is my thing!  My sketchbook is full of annotated drawings and stories.   I seek out projects that enable me to produce reportage work, be it a festival like the Dig The City, a single event or a longer term project such as the development of a building.  This week was an exciting ‘first’ for me because I was invited by Greater Manchester Police and Manchester Cathedral to attend a public meeting at the Cathedral On The Street to mark a week of activity associated with Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery and to produce a piece of artwork that reflected the event.  The meeting brought together senior officers from Greater Manchester Police, including Sir Peter Fahy (on his last week on office as Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable) and the Dean of the cathedral, as well as Manchester-based  Rhema Theatre Group,  Stop The Traffick, International Justice Mission and members of the public.  It was a well-attended meeting and made for interesting debate and discussion about how as citizens of the city, we can all do our bit to help Stop Human Trafficking.   This blog documents my process for producing the finished reportage piece and what I learnt along the way.

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Getting Started

I arrived at the event early so that I could work out where best to draw from and set myself up.  It was a relatively large room, with rows of chairs and a stage in front of glass panels, making for an interesting and light space.  I soon realised that there was no optimum location!  drawing from the back I was unlikely to see the stage and front action, whereas drawing from the front would mean that not only was I conspicuous, I didn’t have good views of the audience either!  In the end I chose to sit to the side of the rows, halfway down.  That way, I was relatively out of the way and wasn’t going to nudge and annoy people!  Standing up wasn’t really going to be a viable option for the whole session, although it was useful at certain points, so that I could see more.

I was made very welcome by the cathedral staff and was told I could sit where I wanted and move around as I needed to which made me feel a little less awkward although I was vary aware that I didn’t want to appear to obvious or make a commotion!  That said, I was introduced by the Dean at the beginning of the meeting and towards the end was invited to share what I had drawn and what I was going to produce!  This was a little nerve wracking but because I didn’t know I was going to be asked, there was no time to think about it too much!

My media of choice was a Moleskine A4 watercolour sketchbook, landscape format which I perched on my knee.  In hindsight, I would probably not choose to work like this in this type of setting again.  A board with paper taped on may well be a lot more manageable.  As it was, I ended up with a series of disjointed pages which I then needed to put together afterwards.   I used a combination of 0.7 mm 2B pencil and fountain ink (Pelikan M200, fine nib with black desatramentis documents ink and a Carbon platinum pen).

Drawing the Action

I was able to sketch out the backdrop ahead of the meeting starting so that I could focus on people drawing during the actual session itself.  This was very handy as I was keen to provide quite a bit of detail of the backdrop given the uniqueness and interest of the setting.  What I didn’t do however was decide on the exact layout of the piece.  In hindsight I could have spent time thinking about this but as it was, the layout of the sketchbook didn’t really enable me to do that effectively.

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When drawing the audience and the individual speakers, this was reasonably achievable given the timings.  Each speaker was talking for about 10 minutes or more, so enough time to do an outline sketch and to write notes as an aide memoire.  What was more difficult however was the recording of the 3 theatre pieces.  This was because of the rapid changes in movement and angles etc.  Because the pieces were shortened forms of a longer play, the amount of changes of pose and action was considerable necessitating a much more shorthand form of recording than usual.  I need to get so much better at this!  -lots of practice is needed!  This type of drawing is not for the feint hearted!  As it was I think it would have been better to use ink rather than pencil-the pencil is great for initial gesture but not more.

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After the event

I could clearly picture what the finished piece needed to look like by the end of the afternoon but realised I didn’t have it in that format!  In addition, given the need for text and images, the A4 size really didn’t give me enough scope so I used an A3 piece of Bockingford, 300 g/m2 and transferred some, but not all of the artwork to it.  I just need to get to grips with doing all these steps in process, perhaps using quick thumbnails and then working on the actual piece in situ!  This is quite a tall order for me at the moment but hope that with practice the assimilation will come.  I also think it depends on the outcome you are trying to produce.  Because there were separate elements, it made layout more complicated than if say I was just trying to depict a single image with text.   Images were created with fountain pen (as above) and Daniel Smith watercolour applied.

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Here is the finished piece.  I hope you area able to see how it relates to the original drawings.

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In the future I intend to have the finished piece at the end of the session, perhaps with the need to add text or some additional colour, but nothing more.  This is all work in progress for me so very much a steep learning curve.  This opportunity has taught me a lot and I am thrilled that the clients are delighted with the finished piece.  Watch this space for much more reportage work from me!

The world isn’t flat: Creating Depth in a Drawing through layering

I have been trying to create a greater depth in my drawings and sketches through a variety of approaches. In my mind, it’s all about layering. In a typical scene you have the distant view (the background), the middle view and then the near foreground, which is the closest.  Especially for very complex views, I am trying to depict that depth in my drawings and I find that its not always as easy as it sounds!  Layering is found in a street scene, café scene or individual buildings or objects-anything really. How then is it best to create that depth? This week I have approached 3 different scenarios in different ways. Whilst a lot of this maybe obvious, unless you think about it as you are drawing, I find that it is easy to forget simple ways of creating depth and so miss the opportunity to create a 3D effect.

Distant views

This week I was able to sketch two scenes that you might describe as the typical layered views with notable near ground (foreground), middle ground and background.  The first of these was the Runway Park, Manchester airport with Manchester Urban Sketchers. I sketched the distant airport terminal with planes ready to take off in the background; the middle ground was runway/holding areas, grass, tarmac etc whilst the foreground was planting and a dividing fence.

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The second was a typical industrial hinterland scene here in Manchester. I sat in a car park with railings (the foreround) and planting; beyond was more planting and industrial manufacturing plants.

CCI10102015_6 (1)In both scenes, I used a combination of line weight, (thicker and solid closer; thinner and broken, in the distance ) detail (depicting detail in the foreground and fading out) and colour (intensity fading), to try to show the layering and depth of the scene.

An individual building

I also spent a couple of separate sessions sketching an interesting historic grade II listed building in Manchester: Ancoats Dispensary. I was close up to the building as it was the focus of my drawing. In all these sketches, my intention was to shows depth and layering of elements of the scene with the building essentially representing the background whilst the scaffolding and boarding represented the foreground/middleground.

Because of the scaffolding and the fact that these metal poles and wooden planks were essentially on top of the building from a layering point of view, this meant that I had to build the drawing up in layers on top of each other. The building needed to be more distant so it didn’t seem right to outline it in ink first. I used watercolour pencil to form a softer edge and then added watercolour paint directly. I then added more watercolour pencil as well as working in with ink pen. This is almost impossible to do with damp paper as the ink won’t flow!   Once dry, I then added the scaffolding poles using a mix of gel pen and fountain pen (Lamy Safari, Desatramentis documents ink in Fog grey).   (Note the planks and wood were done with the building). I found this approach a little difficult as I am quite impatient! Just using gel pen I found wasn’t enough to show it as the top layer so the outlining with a harder ink edge worked better.

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Café scenes

Inevitably when drawing a busy scene of people there is overlapping and layering: The interior walls, and café detail are quite likely form the background, with layers of people forming the middle and foreground. In my scene here, I created the distance using mainly selective colour (as well as size and detail in the figures). Oddly enough, I also did something a little counter intuitive: the foreground colour is mainly blue and grey (which recedes) whereas I have added some red (which advances) to the background. However, the light application in the background vs the much stronger application in the foreground seems to have helped!

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Although these sketches varied in their success, thinking about the depth I was created as I was progressing these drawings and trying to apply techniques accordingly, certainly helped me to start develop more depth in my drawings.

Edges: An online course : My take away messages

This month (September 2015) I have taken part in a 4 week on-line course called Edges, with Liz Steel, a well known urban sketcher, architect and artist. Sometimes it is hard to articulate what it is you needed to learn until you are learning it and this is certainly the case with this course! What can sound like a rather conceptual course from the outside, has actually turned out to be a bit of a revelation to me! –full of hidden gems and ah haa moments. So rather than give a weekly account, which I felt would make it a little disjointed, I have decided to wait and do this post now, as a summary of my key learnings, sharing my somewhat ‘work in progress’ homework for the course at the same time which is also available on my flickr acccount. Each week covered a different aspect of Edges (the junction between different entities in a sketch/drawing/painting) and I shall attempt to divide my points into 4 key areas, titled as per the course.

As ever with this type of approach, the subject matter is necessarily unpicked, artificially, into these elements, which, in reality, exist together, in a sketch. Hopefully, you will see this in my last sketches within the post.

The first thing to note is that by thinking more about the edges on a sketch , we are focusing upon trying to create a greater sense of depth and focus in our work. Although I had in my mind that I was already doing this, a quick flick through some recent sketches told me that this was a little ‘hit and miss’! ie I had been so busy trying to get my lines accurate, my proportions and perspective right, that other aspects of the drawing were suffering!

Seeing Edges: Plane vs Colour

Most edges we see when we look at a subject are one of two major types of edge: those created by a change in plane and those created by a change in colour.

  1. Thinking about changes in plane Edges is a useful way of getting us to think about how shapes overlap and therefore how to create a sense of depth in our work. If a shape overlaps another then it reads as sitting in front whereas if it aligned then it’s in the same plan. Therefore, we need to take special note of alignments to create a sense of depth in our drawing.
  1. Another way of creating a sense of depth is by focusing upon changes in colour in a scene.   By starting a sketch with colour shapes before adding line enables you to be more selective with line as the edges of the coloured shapes are already doing the work.

Note that Colour can be Hue = position on the colour wheel: red, blue etc; Value = tone, the lightness or darkness of a colour or Intensity = the brightness or saturation of a colour.

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The line drawings show changes in plane (LHS) vs Changes in colour (RHS)

 Seeing Edges: Hard vs. Soft

Because all edges are not equal, some are more distinct, crisper and cleaner and easy to represent with a single ink line, whilst others are softer and more diffuse, drawing the same black line around all edges can make less important edges more dominant and so flatten our drawings (this is something I was kind of aware of, but wasn’t addressing!).   With that in mind, this week of the course focused on getting priority into our Edges by varying the hardness and softness to create greater depth in our drawings.

A hard edge is sharp and crisp ( e.g. edge of a modern building), whereas a soft one (e.g distant mountains) is more blurred and graded. A strong edge on the other hand is one where there is a large contrast in value; whereas a weak one has a lesser contrast in value. It’s the way that these can be combined that gives us many options in creating our sketches.

  1. Hard and soft edges enable you to create depth in a drawing through a combination of understanding and manipulation!  If you have two shapes with strong contrast but you don’t want to focus on it in the drawing, then soften the edge to reduce its strength: good to consider for backgrounds. Conversely, if you have two edges with a hard line but limited contrast then you can change this value contrast if you want it to be the focus of your drawing. The closer an object is, the more detail we see and the harder the edges eg the leaves of trees, the folds of metal, the texture of surfaces; in contrast, we only see simple shapes in the background so we need to represent these with a softer edge. In addition to the softness, e.g. distant hills are also bluer and paler as they recede and we can use this in our urban scenes
  1. The use of different materials, in different ways, needs to be explored to create the soft and hard effects required in a sketch.   In my case, these materials include pens (different types, different nib thickness e.g. Lamy Safari, Pelikan M200, Sailor, Pentel, Carbon Platinum), watercolour pencil and watercolour paints.   Techniques include varying pressure on the nib; back of the pen nip, dash vs. solid line, water colour pencil either over or under water, wet or dry watercolour paint etc.-the subject of separate blog in the future!

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Prioritising Edges: Line

The final two sessions looked at a more interpretive approach on the edges we see and prioritizing those we put on the page when drawing.   We first looked at prioritizing edges with line. Here are my take away messages.

  1. When sketching, it is useful to interpret our scene as a series of interlocking shapes. If we can then abstract these as a handful of lines and transfer these to our page: first focusing on the major changes in planes and on the strong hard edges then it makes a complex scene more manageable. There are many different ways of doing this, perhaps starting with a vertical edge, positioning horizontal lines from that, also looking for major intersections in the area of focus and working out. As part of this approach, we also need to consider line weights of our lines to enable us to create depth in our drawing (things further away are lighter and less detailed as already mentioned). I am achieving this either by using different pens e.g. fine nib Lamy for middle ground, Pentel brush pen for foreground and Platinum carbon pen for background or perhaps by using different ways of using the same pen such as a Fude green Sailor pen to get varying thickness of line. Its useful to note that we don’t always have to conform to this gradation of line weight meaning that we could perhaps emphasise the focus of a sketch through line weight.
  1. In order to create a looser, more spontaneous sketch (that doesn’t take hours!) , reducing the number of lines at the same time as being bold, is key. Whilst ink line drawings have a certain magical quality, they are also hard and permanent and so can tighten our work (definitely applies to me!) . A number of approaches were discussed and the one that is a particular revelation for me is the use of water-soluble tools, namely, watercolour pencil, (with fewer ink lines) and watercolour. Other approaches include expressive pen, using fewer, bolder strokes, drawing the most important edges first.

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 Prioritising Edges: Tone (changes in colour)

            The final week focused on prioritizing edges via changes in tone. 

  1. When sketching a complex subject, it’s good to first identify a focus and then use hard and strong edges to draw the views eye to that focus. Soft and weak edges are then used to create depth in the supporting elements without causing distraction.  In this way we are very much interpreting and manipulating what we see in creating our sketch. It is not a literal representation. This is good for me to hear as I think for too long, I have not been interpreting and simplifying enough!
  1. As a final approach, which sounds to be a huge subject in its own right, the creation of dynamic and more impressionistic sketches can be developed in addition to using some of the approaches already mentioned, through creating lost edges (light edges (in bright light) stay white/invisible whilst shadow areas merge)and combining these with existing edges. You can see how I have started to try this in the two sketches below (the Salford Lads Club and the Ordsall church).

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As I mentioned, I have only just completed this course (you can enroll on it here) (actually, as I post this we are still in the final week!) so I have a lot of work to do now to start to assimilate some of this learning into my everyday work.   It was a hugely beneficial course and the thorough teaching and feedback from Liz Steel has been invaluable!

Leading you up the garden path

Those of you that read my blog here regularly are probably aware that one of my big loves of sketching is so-called reportage drawing, that is the process of reporting news or events or activities of general interest through drawing.  I was therefore thrilled to be able to visit the Imperial War museum towards the end of August, with the Manchester Urban Sketchers group, to draw at Salford Quays (the sun shone!) and to attend a talk by the talented George Butler, war reportage illustrator and journalist.

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The basis of his talk and exhibition was the time he spent out in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of British troops at the end of 2014, recording, through exquisite ink and watercolour drawings, the everyday lives of the Iraq people.  Through his drawings, he offers a unique and extraordinary insight into the lives of those living with conflict.  Actually, I was doubly lucky as I was able to go one week to hear the talk and see George’s drawings (as slides) and then, the following week, to attend again and see the images themselves, displayed in frames, at the entrance to the cafe.  I was glad to get two ‘helpings’ of this experience.  It is powerful stuff.

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George Butlers Talk at the Imperial War Museum North

Since I started urban sketching I have been interested in the curiosity and fascination that people have with those of us drawing out on the streets.  People will engage freely in conversation about what you are drawing and how you are going about it.  In his talk, George talks about the value of illustration, as a viable and powerful alternative to photography and film in recording today’s news.  He describes how the openness  and non-threatening nature of drawing, standing with a board and pen and drawing onto paper, where anyone can look over his shoulder, enables a unique insight and an opportunity to capture emotional subject matters.

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George Butler images

In his talk,  and though study of his drawings, it is clear that there are a number of fundamentals that drive him in his reportage work and I am going to try to consider these in my own work too.  He mentions firstly that often what you leave out of a drawing is as important as what you leave in and he does seem to be a real expert at paring the scene down to the most important elements.  I need to get better at this and think more and draw less!  I probably need to be more disciplined perhaps using the idea of time constraint to force selection.  Here’s an image I did recently with only a short time frame.  You can see the focus and the selection, with windows just outlined and the lines of the buildings drifting away.  Similarly on the left hand side there is white space.  George seems to be a master at white space in his work too!

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Another key comment related to the need to tell the story and to have something to say (and say it!).  I think this is quite critical for reportage work and its something that takes some exploration and development. It’s not just about recording what you see, its about an interpretation, an angle, a visual statement.  It is this, I believe, that holds people’s attention. Linked to this is the way in which the drawing is created.

It is fascinating to look at a number of his stunning drawings because they all seem to have this special way of leading you through and ‘up the garden path’!.  The line work together with the sensitive and selective painting are clearly very well thought through.  The eye is led through the drawing, either across or up or however the drawing is laid out.  Colours and the addition of colour is a very deliberate and carefully considered, albeit subtle and often muted and there are places to rest the eye before moving on through the scene.  I think I am going to have to study these types of painting much more to gain more insight and understanding of this approach.   Here is an image that I produced recently.  If we ignore the perhaps overly detailed nature of the scene and rather messy colour application, I have tried to use colour to pull you into the market place and through into the central area.2015-09-14_0004

Overall, this was an inspiring insight into the processes and approach of this Reportage illustrator whose images have given me much food for thought.

A drawing a day…..

Throughout August I have been getting involved in the #DrawingAugust activity on Social Media (twitter) as another means of encouraging me to draw daily. I post my drawings regularly on social media and have to confess that I have been a little confused by the comments about being ‘prolific’. This is because my understanding is that to get good at anything you need to practice regularly and in order to get anywhere with drawing, you need to do this daily (not a few times a week or when you feel like it, but daily). Now that is not to say I am critical of anyone else that doesn’t do this, its just for me, in order to stand any chance of improvement, I need to do it daily. I need to focus on regularity and in the past, where I haven’t done this, I have slipped back to irregular practice. In summary, I wouldn’t say that I am prolific, (actually, I take too much time and I do not do it for hours and hours daily), it is more about trying to improve by regular practice. I would advise anyone who is getting into drawing and wants to improve to do this, because I think without the regular practice, it becomes just too hard and not second nature enough to weather the inevitably bumpy rides.

Now to drawing August. There have been a variety of themes in my month so I thought I would share my month’s worth of sketching in these themes. That way you can get to see the ways that I have tackled them. On some days, especially those where I have been doing some reportage sketching, I have done more than one drawing, so I have selected 31 sketches to share here. You can see my sketching practice on Flickr here and on Instagram here.

Reportage Sketching

I am particularly interested in reportage sketching of events and activities and so it makes sense to start with that aspect of my drawing first. The beginning of the month started with reportage sketching at the Manchester Dig the City gardening event. You can read the full blog about this here .

Another activity attended was the Saturday market in my home town of Bury St Edmunds Suffolk, a market town with a fruit and vegetable market every Saturday and Wednesday. Then most recently I attended a new vintage fair at Manchester cathedral and a boat show in Redhill. Well they say that variety is the spice of life!

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here are the most recent sketches a little larger for easier viewing:

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Café Sketching of people

I have been trying to improve my people sketching and therefore have frequented several cafes and shopping centres to capture people.   People in cafes are usually moving to a lesser extent than those in crowds and it is often possible to capture a little more detail because they are often in one position for a period of time! These sketches are usually done as a gesture in pencil to which the detail is then added in pen or a contour. I am trying to improve my cleanness of line.

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Allotment and plant sketching

It’s a great time of the year to be sketching my boutique allotment and some of the fruits (and flowers of our labours), so here are a few of such images, some in situ on the plot and others already picked!   Oh and Mum and Dad’s apple tree in their garden is included too!  You can see more of my sketching on my boutique allotment here.

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Location sketching

This month I have also been out and about sketching with the Manchester Urban sketchers: earlier in the month at Piccadilly train station and then more recently at Salford Quays. Other location sketches include a visit to Pomona, a wonderful wild landscape on the edge of the city and the start of a series of sketches around the streets of residential Salford.  Oh and almost all the sketches throughout this blog are in a moleskin watercolour sketchbook using watercolour paint.  The 4 on the right below (and the dill picture left above) are different: done in a strathmore tinted paper sketchbook and using coloured pencil.

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This is somewhat of an eclectic mix of subject matters and I am thrilled to have taken part in this useful sharing activity throughout August. Now that September is nearly here, I have plenty more drawing activities to occupy me! Thank you for joining me on my sketching journey and I hope that you will continue to follow my sketching adventures!

Dig The City: A great story to tell

Dig the City is a garden event extraordinaire, with gardens galore, street food and fashion; a weeklong extravaganza of pop-up stalls, music, Show gardens and activities for all the family: Manchester’s summer garden festival. It’s a time when the city feels greener, fresher and generally a more vibrant place to be!   It takes place each year at around this time (31st July-6th August) and some of the cities main streets including Kings street, St Ann’s square and New Cathedral Street play centre stage.

With my interest in telling stories of urban life through drawing, (reportage) coupled with my landscape design background, this event is right up my street! So, armed with pens paint and sketchbooks I chose just a couple of days (3rd and 5th August) to get out there and record some of the happenings. Prior to getting out there to draw, I had been around the key streets, checking out my favourite vantage points and angles, places to perch and overhead shelters available should it rain (well, this is Manchester!) so that I could be more organized and productive; I even had a few plan B’s!

First up, I was keen to get a large drawing that showed some of the whole of Kings street but focused in on a particular stand: This one:50 Shades of Green really captured the fun and quirkiness of the festival but with a strong message to tell; this one all about food growing in Wythenshawe. I stood on the side of the street in a doorway to draw. The ladies managing the stand were fascinated by my activities and came to check on progress at regular intervals, I was offered a seat (although I preferred to stand for this one) and even provided with some fruit and vegetable smoothie-It was delicious! The stand was cleverly conceived as a handbag and shoe shop, with food growing in shoes (Jimmy Chews!) and handbags (all obtained from local charity shops). A bar provided somewhere to perch whilst your smoothie was prepared and there were some interesting fruit and vegetables to feast your eyes on, including a beautiful purpled leafed Peruvian Chili plant. This drawing was completed in an A4 moleskin landscape format sketchbook using brown waterproof ink and watercolour paint.

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Another stand that caught my eye was this one (left) encouraging people to green their neighbourhoods. This green roof on a bin-store is right up my street!   Walking further along towards St Ann’s square, this bright and quirky little space (right) was a contribution by the kitchen garden team, a group of volunteers at Turton Tower, near Bolton. The volunteers have restored the kitchen garden in this Grade I listed building. The idea of this Simply Scavenged Dig the City piece has come from working in the kitchen garden with little or no income and seeing what can be achieved for little cost. As I stood drawing the garden (trying a quicker and looser approach than the previous drawings), one of the volunteers came up and told me the story and whilst painting using a waterbrush, the young girl helping on the adjacent flower stall came up to see what I was doing, proceeding to tell me about her interest in drawing animals and making her own personalized greeting cards!

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I then moved onto St Ann’s square, a hive of activity with music and stalls as well as several Green groups including The National Trust and Friends of the Earth. This time I had the luxury of a stone bench to sit on and I took my chances by producing several drawings in this space. Interestingly, throughout the day, a had seen a man who had asked me how I was getting on and he hoped I was doing a good job.! He sat next to me on the stone bench so I was able to incorporate him into one of my drawings!

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The second day of my sketching, I was able to move onto New Cathedral street and, given rain was forecast, I decided to move to a smaller sketchbook (A5 landscape) and shelter under an overhead canopy of the shops. I needn’t have worried but it did provide a good view of the buildings and stalls.   Interestingly, The Landscape Institute North West created the performance garden in collaboration with The Bridgewater Hall who held a series of music recitals throughout the festival.

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And the other end of the street was home to the Bee Garden, a bee-friendly created by Andy Walker for the NSPCC and previously exhibited at RHS Tatton Park 2015, placed in front of Harvey Nichols, adjacent to the rather funny Apid Attack installation by Reeaseheath College!

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Finally, I headed back to St Ann’s square to record some of the activities of the National trust who were engaging with children to create mud pies and wild art . The National Trust also have s garden at the front of the Manchester Art Gallery celebrating the Lost Gardens of Manchester (right), which I was lucky enough to visit last week.

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It was a great couple of days sketching and I hope that my scribbles go some way to capturing the sense of activity and energy of the Dig The City festival. In the coming months I will be focusing more on this reportage angle of urban drawing and I do hope you can join me in these adventures.   Apart from a few spots, it didn’t even rain!

Let me tell you a story…

It has been just under two weeks since I last posted a blog on here and I have to say that I have been thinking about several different aspects of drawing, going off in all directions and getting myself in a bit of a spin!  I have been starting to incorporate more people drawing into my sketchbook drawings, but at the same time, have started Sketchbook skool Storytelling and have additionally been exploring some different approaches to my watercolour work.  Further to all this, I read a very thought proving blog by Fred Lynch entitled : Pictures of Pictures on the Urban Sketchers site.  It got me really thinking about the purpose of my sketch book scribbles and how I wanted to be able to tell stories through my drawings, not just produce pictures of well known landmarks and buildings!  In the words of Fred Lynch in his blog:  ‘We can’t just show things, we have to say things’.  I have always maintained that my interest in urban sketching is related to reportage and being able to tell stories of Urban Life, however, until recently, I think I have been a little caught up with the mechanics of drawing as opposed to using the drawing to describe and illustrate: something that I have an enthusiasm for and a unique angle upon.  I am starting to think quite differently about my drawings now, although it is probably true to say that I need much more practice in exploring how I communicate most effectively in my sketches.  Here is a somewhat eclectic mix of some of my drawings from the week.

A visit to Stockport Vintage Fair

Last weekend I attended the Fair alongside other Manchester Urban Sketchers.  What a fabulous building to sketch and what an extraordinary and electic mix of stalls, from clothes to pictures, to household items: a real step  back in time.  A central stall caught my eye with its flurry of activity and I just managed to catch a little girl buying an old wooden dolls house.  The building itself is stunning too, inside and out but I found it lovely to capture the look of the building, having already documented activities going on inside.

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A theatre trip in Cheshire

Another trip back in time with a small local production of ‘An Ideal Husband’ by Oscar Wilde.  Fortunately, I have an ideal husband who doesn’t mind me sitting drawing whilst we watched the production!  I found it hard to capture all the changing costumes and scenery but feel that what was captured does give a flavour of the play although it would have been better to include captions and narrative.

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Our boutique allotment

This is a great time of year on the allotment site with everything growing well and much in the way of structures : bean canes, pea sticks, wigwams.  I am aware that telling the story of the allotment can be a challenging one: a sea of green!  I wanted to create a narrative with the canes and with simple, bold colour and strong contrast.

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A quick trip to the Trafford Centre

An eclectic mix of elements!  This is the entranceway into the restaurant area and China Town.  The car adds another slightly surreal prop in a somewhat ostentatious space that is this well known shopping centre!  Of course there were plenty of people moving through the space at a steady rate!

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Dilapidated garages

I have wanted to capture these garages and their surroundings for a while!  They are rather attractive in their dishevelled state and it is fascinating that they are almost invisible, on the edge of activities which you might think would ensure their repair/change.  The wood, pipes and barbed wire make for an interesting image!

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I look forward to sharing more of my storytelling adventures in future blogs.

Some thoughts on focusing

This may sound like an odd title for a blog about my scribbles but there are a couple of things that I often think about with urban sketching and both of them are related to focusing.  The first is related to the fact that I do a lot of my urban sketching in and around a particular city where I live: Manchester, UK.  Within the city there key areas, as with most places, but I tend to  dot around with my sketching, depending upon where I am going and where I am when I have time to sketch.  I often don’t do a series of sketches in one area (or at least not consecutively), even though that is really what I want to do: to focus in and capture the essence of a place by a series of drawings over a few days (rather than weeks or months!).  The second aspect of focus I am interested in improving in my sketching  is related to a composition itself: using tools and approaches to draw the observer into the drawing  to the place that is the focus within the image.  One way I am interested in exploring focus is by using selective colour.  Now I used to do this but for some reason, have got out of the habit.

With these two things in mind, this week, in the evenings, I have chosen to go just to one area: Chapel Street on the outskirts of Manchester.  A regeneration area where buildings and public realm are changing rapidly.  This route has some of the most spectacular and beautiful, albeit often decaying, buildings.  I have used colour selectively to try to provide a focus and draw for each image:

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In this sketch of the old pub, it was a terrible evening and I sat in the car (as I did for all of the sketches here, looking out the front window)with the rain pouring down.  I really wanted to make sure that I captured that rain and the look and feel of the place.  I added colour afterwards so was able to practice with splatters and splurges using the flick of the brush and adding water and holding the paper vertically.  I often make copies of sketches and practice with colour so that I can see the effect before ruining my sketchbook!

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In this last sketch, which was a somewhat complicated scene at a traffic junction, I have tried to make the old cinema the main focus but have added some colour to the left hand side of the sketch to ensure that it connects in with the focus and can be read as one drawing.

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I am quite enjoying this focused exploration work and will be progressing with more of this.  I also plan to return to Chapel street as there are many more buildings and scenes to capture.   I will keep you posted!

Snapshot views

I have been urban sketching for just under a year now and during that time I have mostly worked on sketches that have taken in excess of an hour.  Last summer when I had only just started, I tried an exercise on a workshop where we were given 10-20 minutes to create thumbnails.  I was not impressed with the results, feeling them to be over simplistic and naive and so left them alone altogether.  But overtime, I have been drawn once more to the idea of quick captures of people and places.  There are a number of reasons for this resurgence of interest:

  • I often go to visit areas of the city, either on my own or with other sketchers as part of the urban sketchers groups.  To identify just one or two views and capture them in a drawing does provide a detailed study but doesn’t necessarily convey the full character and vibe of a place.  A multitude of views may perhaps do that better or at least, more quickly.
  • I can often over labour a drawing or get too involved in the detail so that the spontaneity is lost.  By giving myself a time limit for a quick drawing, I produce a capture that forces me to simplify and try and capture the essence of a place rather than every detail.
  • Its quantity not quality!  Now I don’t really believe this notion, but there is something about needing to practice drawing constantly and to be able to produce drawings such that the hand eye coordination becomes second nature.  In turn, this means that the more drawings I produce the better!  Interestingly enough, the first page of my sketchbooks are now used for a relevant quote and my current sketchbook’s quote is from James Richards, landscape architect, urban designer, artist and urban sketcher:

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Here are a series of quick sketch drawings using the thumbnail approach; the first is from the Coventry Sketch workshop; the others are from the last few days sketching: IMG_0348 IMG_0371 IMG_0372 IMG_0370 Perhaps in the future, the value of these will be firstly in capturing aspects of a place in thumb nail form and then selecting one or more of the thumbnails as the basis for a more detailed sketch.  The thumbnails can also be used as a way of testing out different ideas, e.g. colour, or perhaps looking at different angles of the same building or series of buildings.  The opportunity for tailoring these thumbnails to suit different purposes is endless!

The language of lines

Currently, my preferred sketching tools include waterproof ink and watercolour paints. Specifically, until earlier this week I used a Lamy extra fine nibbed Safari pen and black De atramentis document ink which I find to be waterproof; the ink doesn’t clog the pen and the pen doesn’t get dried out.  I also use Daniel Smith watercolours as described in another of my blogs here.  In future blogs I will talk  more about watercolour but this blog is about the ink, the lines and the process.

The Ink

Recently, my eyes had been opened to using other ink colours and I got to thinking that I could use them in all manner of ways to suit my own process.  I couldn’t imagine using them like paint, mixing them or having lots of colours, but what I could imagine, is having a handful of key colours that would lend themselves to more interesting or subtle effects when creating line and wash drawings.  Perhaps using a single colour in a drawing or a combination of colours with one main emphasising colour like red.  So earlier this week I ordered 3 additional colours of the same document ink:  Brown (I reckoned that this would be handy for some of the heady buildings I draw in the urban environment), Red (I love to use this as an accent and pick out key elements suited to the red treatment!) and green (handy for vegetation).  There is a particularly nice grey called Fog grey that I would also like to get hold of but the supplier I use in the UK doesn’t seem to have it at the moment.  It doesn’t seem practical to be constantly changing inks so I invested in additional Safari pens.  I also have another new Lamy pen: the Lamy studio (bottom pen on the image) with an extra fine nib, I use this now with black ink for drawing and writing.

All the colours are rich and smooth, so far, they write well, don’t appear to clog and appear reasonably waterproof.  I am using Moleskine and Handbook Watercolour sketchbooks.

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The lines

Until recently I had been drawing with the Lamy black ink straight onto the paper with no pencil.  This was then followed by watercolour.  However, this often created very wonky and wiggly lines which I found make the sketch lack clarity and confidence.  In addition, if there were inaccuracies in for example the perspective, it was hard to rework them without it looking very messy.  Finally, I think there are many times when black is just too harsh or not quite the right line to use.  It creates too much of an outline.  The reason I worked like this was that I didn’t want to rub out pencil endlessly or get overly obsessed with accuracy.  Most recently, I have now started to use watercolour pencil to create the initial lines using a muted colour (I have 3 at the moment:  Derwent Copper beach, raw umber and gunmetal); I chose a colour that works with the sketch, these can then be dissolved with water when the watercolour is added.

The process

To show how I build up my drawings, I have taken progress pictures of a couple of the sketches completed this week, the first is a street scene with trees as a focus, the other is my favoured, complex city buildings image!   They show the outline with pencil followed by the building up with pen and then finally watercolour (second sketch only, the first was done just with pen and the document inks).

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I’m looking forward to going out with the Manchester urban sketchers and Yorkshire urban sketchers this coming weekend, for a sketch crawl in Manchester, to get more practice with these tools and techniques!

 

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 6: Make it you (not literally, this is not a selfie week!)

Wow, what a great time this last week on Sketchbook Skool Seeing has been with Liz Steel, an urban sketcher and tea cup addict!   Liz has a robust structure to the way that she works and teaches and offered some great advice on how to progress and think about our own drawing work, both in terms of the ways we make the marks on the page, as well as the philosophy behind our work. Rather than just summarise her own approaches, what I am going to do here is summarise what I took away from the sessions and the approaches that I want to take forward from the week. These are not necessarily the same as the specifics that Liz mentioned, but they are derived from them : One of Liz’s sound pieces of advice was: ‘Make it You’.   So here goes!

A strategic approach to sketching: Preparation through thumbnails and analysis

Liz took us through a thumbnail approach to observing patterns and shapes before working on the main sketch. This can work for any object, especially those with complex patterns like buildings (or cups of tea!). I don’t currently do this and it reminded me to be a little bit more strategic about my work and to spend time looking and assessing before launching forth on the drawing! (I think I have mentioned this before once or twice)!  I think I may well do more of what I call a simplified framework approach. Maybe it could even be combined with the main sketch. Food for thought! It’s a good idea to use a watercolour pencil for this, so it dissolves when you add water. The more definitive confident lines can then be put in later.

 Never mind the tea cups!

As delightful as tea cups and saucers are, I don’t have any at home so it is not something that I am particularly drawn to draw! That said, we were not asked to draw tea cups per se, but objects with patterns that were a particular interest of ours with some emotional attachments. I chose glasswork as it is something I have a particular interest in. I am not talking ornate traditional glasswork but more contemporary pieces and I have had several commissioned over the years, including our own front door panels. I chose these 4 coasters (amongst the first ‘home’ pieces that my husband and I bought together) because they forced me to think about a variety of aspects of the form and the pattern and to compare and contrast as I sketched, since each are similar but different! I am sure that I will share other pieces of my glasswork in future blogs.

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Why buildings? A sense of place

Whilst the tea cups aren’t necessarily my thing, buildings and urban sketching certainly is, hence the name: ScribbleMyStreet! (I am a member of Manchester Urban Sketchers in the UK). That said, it takes a lot of work and practice to create meaningful urban sketches that combine aspects of linework, perspective and colour, to illustrate that sense of place! As a landscape architect I am drawn to the urban environment and the elements that create that sense of place and my interest is in striving to create that in my sketches. At the moment, this is not necessarily achieved, but it is what I strive towards! Here I have chosen a fascinating regeneration area in Manchester called Ancoats , that is steeped in history: it is often known as the world’s first industrial suburb. I purposely chose relatively complex buildings to try to practice patterns and angles as well as those that formed a good composition.

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And here is one from the other side of Manchester, again, the complexity of pattern is clear:

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Process and Product

I get the fact that it is all about seeing the subject and trying to record that on a page, I get the fact that we need to not beat ourselves up and constantly strive to learn and improve our eye-hand coordination but I don’t get it when people say (or I think they say) that the actual sketch on the page is not important. To me, the look of the sketchbook IS important; it’s our shop window for the world, the things that others see, the outcomes of our process. For me, if it weren’t important, I wouldn’t want to improve the layout and composition of my page, the text in-between the images etc. I guess for me its about getting that balance right and not overly focusing upon the sketch and page itself, whilst at the same time recognizing that there is a value to the product as well as the process. I am sure that I will be coming back to this topic in future blogs!

The tools of the trade

Liz is a skilled watercolourist and ink user who is constantly assessing and evaluating materials. Her words of wisdom in the videos were incredibly helpful for me. She mentions needing to know and work with (as opposed to against) your materials. How do they mix best? What are their redeeming properties? What are their limits?. It sounds obvious but I have a tendency to forget this and then wonder why things aren’t working! A while ago I decided to stick to waterproof ink (although I didn’t restrict the colour!) and watercolour as my main media of choice (although you may have to add Biro to that list now, thanks to Andrea Joseph!). I now have a lot of exploration to do. Here are some of the questions/areas of exploration that will help me get to know the media better.

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  • Colour mixing and learning what works well with what; the best greens and other selective colours not easily derived by mixing, to include in my palette (my main palette at present is shown in the image). I have made a concertina sketchbook for this exploration but not got any further yet!
  • How to leave the whites and have it look right!
  • Colours to use for shade and shadow
  • Use of De Atramentis coloured document inks
  • Selective use of colour-I am not aspiring to be a traditional watercolour artist, but to use colour selectively to bring my works alive and to create a sense of place and identity.
  • Applying colour: wet on wet vs. glazes

Thanks to Liz Steel for a thought provoking and powerful last week on Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’. Please do keep reading my blog here each week, I will be posting regularly about my progress, processes and all manner of other aspects of my scribble-making!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 4: Being drawn to what you draw

The last week’s Sketchbook Skool tutor was the legendary Cathy Johnson and what great advice and input we were given with demonstration videos not to mention useful give-away documents on how to create nature documentation.  To be honest, as a predominantly urban sketcher, nature drawing isn’t necessarily my thing but I was up for a challenge and thinking outside of my usual comfort zone.  That said, it was a challenging week!

Drawing Birds

This was a challenge for me because I didn’t have easy access to birds in close proximity. I went out on several mornings, armed with my camera and managed to capture some birds in the local neighbourhood, including pigeons, a robin and blackbirds; perched in trees, on chimney pots and in grass.  Holding my phone up into the air, and running around looking up into the air got me some pretty weird looks I can tell you!  Never the less I did manage to draw some of them and study aspects of posture and movement.

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Drawing and painting scenes in nature

The intention here was to capture value differences and create depth in a watercolour sketch.  The other suggestion by Cathy was to look at creating the variety of greens in nature or other colours we may find particularly challenging.  Unfortunately, it is winter in the UK at the moment, so the variety of greens in the environment is very much restricted.  However, near to me is a small copse with a variety of woodland trees, grass and twiggy shrubs.  I was interested in capturing the muted hues of twigs, branches and vegetation, as well as the light.  These two pictures capture: a sunny afternoon  and early morning when just getting light.  I used a mix of pencil and waterproof ink to create value sketches and then overlaid with Daniel Smith watercolour.   The greens were created using Daniel Smith Hense yellow medium with cerulean blue chromium or ultramarine blue; browns using burnt sienna and ultramarine blue whilst purples were created using  mixes including quinacridone red.  I think I may well do more scenes of nature, but it did make me realise how much we are drawn to what we draw and whilst being out of your comfort zone has its benefits, I do believe there are subjects that just have more appeal and interest for us than others.  Because we are more interested in capturing those images we are drawn to, it is likely that we will explore more and perhaps even see more, with those subjects.

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Only two weeks left of Sketchbook Skool Seeing and I do hope you will join me to hear more about those new adventures!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 3: Seeing is believing

I cannot believe that I am halfway through the Sketchbook Skool Seeing Course!  This third week has seen Barbara Swenson guide us through the technique of Continuous Line contour drawing as well as some watercolour painting tips but more of that in a minute!  As ever with this course, the Tutors are doing an amazing job of the reversal process that started over 30 years ago for me!  That is, the delight of being told by a ‘teacher’ that you are not one of the chosen ones, that your artwork is poor and that you better stick to something less creative!   Sketchbook skool takes a very different approach (phew!).  Tutors take a much more pragmatic stance; they tackle the issues we all have of self-belief head on.  They don’t pretend sketching  is a magic gift, they guide you through processes and approaches to develop personal and meaningful art and they are honest.  Like most things in life, it takes practice (lots of practice!), understanding,  hard work and determination to develop skills!  The other thing they do so well and this is where I can bring this back to Brenda’s piece specifically is to be firm but kind in their guidance and give you a window into their creative lives and processes.  Brenda mentions her response when people say they wish they had her talent for painting (she knows that this ‘talent’ has taken over 20 years of hard work and practice with many stumbles along the way!).  Here are some snippets from the week and some attempts from me at the tasks.

Continuous Contour Line Drawing

This is such a simple but challenging technique and made me realise how much I draw what I think I see and forget to look properly.  This is not unusual and Barbara mentions that people can generally be sloppy observers!  This technique forces you to slow down and look!  It is done with a pen (no rubbing out!) and involves  you assessing the overall shape with your eyes before starting at the top and drawing in a continual line, the perimeter of the object or group of objects taking note of proportions, edges, angles, lines.  I have a long way to go and hope to use this as a warm up when out sketching as a way of getting me into the right mindset.  Its harder than it looks!  Here I used De Atramentis waterproof Ink and my Lamy Safari pen.

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Watercolour and continuous line

The approach above was then taken a step further, after drawing 3 objects with a water soluble pen (I used various colours of Tombow) we then used watercolour paint (I used a mix of Daniel Smith and Windsor and Newton tubes) to add colour to the drawings.  Here are the hints and tips which I will use as an aide memoire and which I learnt from Barbara along the way (applied with varying success to the images below!).

  • Keep the colours fresh, bright and juicy!  The recommendation here is to keep mixing to a minimum and that which is done, achieved on the paper itself.  Try working with pure transparent colours.
  • Start light and build up the darks-it is the contrast of light and darks that makes the colours sing.  The build up can be done in two ways: through glazes i.e. layering of colour, allowing the paint to dry in-between to give darker colours of the same hue. In addition, brighter, deeper colours can be used; don’t be afraid of doing this with watercolour.
  • White/light is best achieved through using uncoloured flecks on the surface-ie it is the white of the paper so leave these from the beginning.
  • The water and looseness of watercolour is its biggest asset; the water will do the work for you so try to let it!
  • Reserve any colour mixing until the end, where you can tone down using mixed colours that have more of a muddiness.

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Looking forward to sharing more about my Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’ adventures next week.  In the mean time, happy sketching!


‘Then don’t use brown!’

I had been having a conversation with a sketching buddy of mine about colour; in fact this is turning into an ongoing dialogue about all things colour!  I have recently acquired 6 new Daniel Smith watercolour tubes and she has several other browns, oranges and the like from various suppliers (Windsor and Newton and Schmincke).  I mentioned to her that I was a bit confused and overwhelmed with all these browns and my mixing often resulted in a muddy mess!  Her response, of course: ‘Then don’t use brown!’.  A perfectly sensible suggestion.   The idea that you don’t have to be true to a subject got me thinking about my own approaches and I thought I would explain my current approach to colour in my scribbles, using 3 illustrations from the past week.

I prefer not to paint the whole scene because I find that this can look overworked and flat.  Rather, I select several key elements to paint to enable me to pull the sketch together.   Leaving white space, especially with the detail of the black line, works well.   Here in this sketch of the old Grade II listed cooperative in Pendleton, Manchester, the aim is for the colour to pull you to the centre of the drawing and focus you on the main building with the street scene of this 2-point perspective in black and white for subsequent exploration.

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I often use colour to enable the eye to wander around the image and to connect areas of the scribble to form a cohesive whole.  Here in the sketch of the Metropolitan in Didsbury, Manchester, the rusty red of the bricks aims to connect buildings on both sides of the road.  The more muted tone of the end street suggests a more shady position.

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I use colours that are present in the actual scene and I pick out what I consider to be the highlights.  Yes, I could go wild and use completely different colours but I prefer not to.  It maybe that I use a brighter, more vivid colour than the original for example a brighter red or a more vivid green, but I am in the main, using the colours to give a closer identity and connection to the place.  Here in this image of Central Library and adjacent buildings in Manchester, the browns, and beiges of the sandstone and the blues and yellows of signage create a sense of the colour palette of the actual scene.  The Daniel Smith paints I have used for all 3 sketches are shown on the left of the image and are as follows: monte amiate (natural sienna), ultramarine blue, cerulean blue chromium, burnt sienna, pains grey (this one is actually Windsor and Newton) and hense yellow medium .  No doubt I will be adding to these in the near future!

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Finally, prior to adding colour, I use black: whether its the windows, doorways or other street elements, these help bring dimension and pull the scene together and you can see its use in all 3 scribbles above.

The masters of several of the techniques mentioned above related to selective colour in urban sketching are: James Richards and Felix Scheinberger.  Check out their work if you don’t already know it!