Liz Steel’s Buildings Course: My takeaway messages

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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

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!