Its always great to sketch in a new place, especially one with history and character, so when one of the Manchester Urban Sketching Group organized a trip to her home town-Kendal in Cumbria yesterday, I was keen to make the trip. It’s always great to see what you can capture of the place and to see a place with your own eyes after seeing it through other local sketchers eyes.Like a true urban sketcher, I love to travel and visit other places to draw so we set off early to get there in good time for our meet up at the Brewery Arts Centre. Continue reading
I thought I’d write this Q and A piece to fully explain what my #ThisPlace Series of sketches is all about before its launch later this month.
What is it?
Those of you that know my work will know that I am a keen urban sketcher and reportage illustrator. As a trained landscape designer, depiction of a ‘Sense of Place’, capturing in my drawings, what it is that makes that place like it is, is very important to me. Therefore, I wanted to create a series of drawings throughout the year, of the Places around the Northwest that I love, visit and connect with. Hence the name ‘This Place’ Of course I may include the odd drawing in the series that is not the North West of England, but for the main part, they will be of the North West, including Manchester. These pen, ink and watercolour wash/coloured pencil drawings created on very high quality watercolour paper (or paper suited to the medium) and framed will be available for purchase. They will be either A4 or square (8” format) (excluding the Frame so a little bit larger with the frame and mount).
Last weekend whilst out sketching , one of my fellow sketchers asked: how do you go about choosing your view to sketch? It’s an interesting question and it got me thinking beyond the theory of composition, at how exactly I choose my view to sketch . Here in a short summary; mainly illustrated with recent sketches of my local area are some of the things I take into account when deciding which view to draw and what to include. Note that with most of them, there is more than one reason the composition was chosen. Continue reading
As 2016 draws (get it!) to a close, I thought I’d capture my year in sketches ( some but not all of them!), partly as an aide memoire (those of you that read my blog know how I like to document my drawing adventures!) and partly to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. Its been quite a year in many respects and those of you that have followed my #scribblescompilations on social media in my 12 days of Christmas countdown, will be familiar with most of the combinations below. However, this blog puts a narrative to the visuals and I have tried to group things so that you can see more of the approaches and types of things that I am interested in recording and the approaches I’ve taken to drawing. Continue reading
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to have been one of the artists who took part in a Mehndi festival, in a house in Levenshulme, Manchester. This blog is about my involvement, the approaches I took to develop my henna tattoos and the results…I did say this one was a little different! Continue reading
This blog is not really a review of the course as much as a brief summary of my results and key learnings, so it’s something for me that I can return to as an aide memoire. I try to do this for all the drawing courses I take as a way of making the most from them. The course was, as usual for Liz Steel’s courses, packed full of useful examples and tips about drawing architecture not to mention some excellent demos and incredible handouts so its well worth checking it out when she runs it again. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about the process of creating my artworks including prints and my 2017 Calendar for my stall at Sale Arts Trail Christmas Bazaar on Sunday 27th November 2016. You can read it here. We are now only days away from the festivities so I thought I would give you an update with some snippets of what I’ve got in store for you at the Bazaar. As I mentioned in my previous blog, although I have been a frequent visitor and sketcher at the previous events, I have not exhibited before so its a super exciting time for me (with a little bit of nervousness thrown in for good measure!). Continue reading
I am thrilled to have been invited to exhibit and sell my drawings at the Sale Arts Trail Christmas Bazaar to be held on Sunday 27th November at the Claremont Centre in Sale. I have attended both the summer and Christmas events as a visitor and also as an Urban sketcher in recent years, so it is particularly thrilling for me to be able to exhibit for the first time. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Autumn has always been my favourite season. For two main reasons: firstly the quality of light ; lower in the sky but with a warm glowing quality: in the UK it has often been a sunny and bright season. Predictably, the second reason is for the stunning colours; burnt reds; rich oranges and simmering golds; magentas and the like. Continue reading
For the final leg of the trip, between Christmas and New Year, it was back to Perth to stay at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Subiaco . Arguably, because it was a more city-based experience, it was the time of the most concentrated urban sketching and I sketched to capture some key places within Subiaco as well as further afield, as a way of embedding the place in my mind. My mum also had her birthday on 27th so I was able to capture in a sketch,her tea party at my sister’s house.
The beach and the cinema-but not as we know it!
Two of the things that I loved the most were the fact that you go to the beach to take a dip as simply as you would put your umbrella up in the UK! and the arts cinema is an outside venue, surrounded by huge pine trees and everyone has a picnic!! How fab is that! Both these instances were not so easy to take part in and sketch at the same time: there was no way I could stand and do a sketch breakfast on the beach on Christmas morning for example! The Cottesloe Beach sketch is therefore a drawing of the most famous building on the beach done at 7 am one morning, sitting on rocks amongst local fishermen and the cinema sketch shows the scale of the trees relative to the theatre itself done as I sat in my seat and just before the light faded and the film: Blind Date started!
Being down the road from the most wonderful diverse park is another advantage of the Subiaco location. Kings Park affords wonderful views down across Perth from a vantage point lined with gum trees (what else!). Kings park is one of the largest inner city parks in the world and at 4 km2 it is larger than New York’s Central park and is the most popular destination in Western Australia. Come to think of it, I could have spent the whole of my time recording aspects and views of this park-there’s a thought! The park is a mixture of grassed parkland, botanical gardens and natural bushland with two-thirds of the grounds conserved as native bushland.
We walked a couple of miles or so over to this interesting little place (reminded me of Camden, UK) for a drink or two and some Tapas one evening. I loved this place! This is the view from the window of the bar.
No set of sketches from this place would be complete without mentioning the accent and language! Everything here seems to be shortened! So seeing the port of Fremantle shortened by all the locals to Freo was an ideal opportunity to get that one into the story! The streets have that nautical feel and there is a fantastic little brewery and eatery on the shore, not to mention fishing boats….
Flying out of Perth on New Year’s day, it is hard to leave this much blue, to return to grey. At the airport I was able to draw the plane from the gate. On the aircraft I added watercolour and received much interest from the cabin staff, who kindly got the sketch signed by the pilot.. A nice way to end an eventful and inspiring trip.
With thanks especially to my sister and brother in law for all they did to make this a special family trip as well as to my niece and her partner and nephew and his new wife-Hey look, thanks guys! xx
I hope that you have enjoyed my 4 part Aussie Adventures and I look forward to sharing more sketching adventures soon!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Prioritising Edges: Tone (changes in colour)
The final week focused on prioritizing edges via changes in tone.
- 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!
- 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).
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!
As a landscape architect as well as urban sketcher, the idea of a Sense of Place, providing designs and drawings that connect with a place and what it is about are critical. In my urban sketching, I am always looking to create A sense of the Place in my drawings, whether it is through line, form, colour or detail (and usually a mixture), this is what I set out to achieve: an interpretation of the place in a way that resonates with the viewer that is familiar and provides a reference point.
I post my drawings on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. It is through these routes that I am able to connect with a variety of other sketchers, artists and other creatives, whether it is to learn from others approaches, have a conversation about artworks or to learn about the overlap and potential collaborative opportunities, these are important connections. Of particular importance to me in my sketching is the reportage angle of urban sketching. Recently, I was contacted by an independent playwright and director, Vanessa Brooks, because the images I was posting, resonated particularly with the locations that she was incorporating into the writing of her new play: I love you baby.
Initially, the images that caught Vanessa’s attention were drawings in and around Salford in the North of England, UK: Samantha, one of the lead characters in the play lives in a hi-rise luxury apartment in Salford Quays and Vanessa has used my images initially to help route her internal view of the location. The two images below set the scene here with the views of the immediate apartment surroundings and the famous Lowry theatre on the Quays:
As well as the views of the quays, Samantha has views of the deprived and undeveloped Salford, the place from which young man Tyler comes from:
Sister Sadie, travels through Manchester Piccadilly station with its queues of people and across Manchester to Samantha’s apartment for their mothers funeral and wake:
This is what Vanessa calls ‘dipping into my visual world’ and now that she is moving from writing the first draft, to the process of developing the play on stage, my drawings appear large in her contextualization of the onstage activity
Having established a connection and resonance with these initial images, Vanessa then took a trip through my Flickr drawings and realized that many more would be of use in the establishment of places/things associated with other characters in the play. These include the following:
A character called Clarence who lived with his elderly mother in a cottage in Yorkshire. This drawing took the playwright into Clarence’s past and the context he grieves for:
A sister called Grace who is a nurturer and professional carer of dogs. Here, my drawings of my own greyhound Tanzi have provided inspiration:
Another sister Sadie comes to Salford from London where she has a night-life existence. My drawings of Camden in London, provided some resonance here:
Vanessa makes the comment that ‘the drawings help root her internal view into a reality but not a photographic one as this is too stark, but an interpretation of a place, which fits in well with the landscape, she imagines’. I am thrilled that my sketches have helped to inspire the contextual detail surrounding the characters of this new play and excited about the collaborative opportunities that urban sketching appears to enable. In Vanessa’s words, ‘ the context I’ve drawn from Liz’s work has been invaluable and demonstrates one of the principals of playwriting in particular and theatre-making in general: It’s a collaborative medium’
Over the next few months the play will be developed with three project partners including The Lowry in Salford and I am looking forward to attending the Scratch performance of the play there in November! You can read Vanessa’s blog about the use of my drawings to inform the play here.