Over the last two weekends, I have visited two different Manchester locations to draw: The Etihad Stadium in East Manchester, the Manchester City Football Club grounds and ChinaTown in Central Manchester. Each of these drawings were created over a several hour period: pencil, ink then watercolour (paint and pencil). In terms of identifying the best main view and composition, I did this by walking around the site and observing different aspects: the angles, the depth of view, the light and shadow etc. The other thing I do is to write down (or at least have in my mind) key words that reflect what I feel for the place and what I want to convey in the main sketch. I can then refer to this as I draw. The China Town image was drawn and painted completely on site whilst the stadium image was drawn on site with colour added later. It is probably fair to say they took much longer than I would have liked, especially in the chilly autumn air but on each occasion, there were some clear advantages of taking longer. By being in these places over a longer period of time, I was able to observe and experience the comings and goings, the activities and atmosphere. I felt able to start to understand the nuances of the place, that sense of place and its dimensions.
Whilst some of these aspects may have undoubtedly become part of my sketches, I also feel that there is more to capture; snapshots and aspects that I gleaned from standing in those places, that did not make it into my sketches. For example, in china town, there were the comings and goings of people chatting on the benches, across the road and out of the sketch view there were endless deliveries to the Chinese supermarket, people were frequently getting their pictures taken in front of the arches etc. Whilst some of these elements could have been incorporated into the main sketch, there was probably enough already going on in the main drawing and a series of quick captures, thumbnails or simpler drawings in addition to the main scene could have captured these elements to give a stronger flavour of the place and its inhabitants.
I think traditionally, thumbnails are done early on, as a way of identifying the main scene to sketch but I’m not thinking of these additional sketches as precursors to the main sketch. I think perhaps that doing them alongside and maybe even during or after the main sketch may work better. This is because from the experience of the last couple of weeks, it maybe hard to identify what these key additional captures are, until you have been sketching and absorbing the atmosphere for a while. Then these sketches become part of the story of the place, part of the narrative. The main sketch becomes the lead role, whereas the supporting elements have important additional messages to convey about the place and its people. All food for thought as I develop my approaches to telling the stories of the places that I sketch.