Tag Archives: pencil drawing

Where is this place?

Bowland landscape plein air drawing in pencil, A5

plein air pencil sketch, A5, drawn somewhere in the Bowland landscape, perhaps around Whitewell?

A place I went for a walk in about 15 or so years ago has turned into a mystical landscape somewhere in the back of my brain. I can see it now in my mind’s eye; it’s very green, cloudy and peaceful with nothing but hills and trees and it’s very damp, because it has been raining for a long time. In spite of being wet it is a beautiful place with rounded hills sweeping up and away and revealing further rises behind, which could be reached if you were to walk on, through a valley opening and beyond. It’s a very secret, mysterious place shrouded in mist. I know I made sketches of the landscape when I was there and I think I know which ones they are in my tiny sketchbook, but I can’t be completely sure.

The drawing above is the one I’m most sure of. There is also another one, obviously sketched in no time at all (maybe we were getting cold) that seems to be of the same place.

pencil drawing created in the Bowland hills

quick plein air pencil sketch in unknown Bowland landscape, A5

A subsequent watercolour sketch went a bit strange.

watercolour on Arches paper of landscape in wild colours

wild colours watercolour, 8 inches square on Arches paper

So I tried again, trying to keep the colours and shapes a bit more true, but it lacks the spirit of the place.

small watercolour painting of a Bowland landscape

somewhere in Bowland … a small watercolour painting

Finally I made the first sketch into a huge charcoal drawing as preparation for a possible painting.

A1 charcoal drawing of a Bowland landscape

charcoal drawing created from small pencil sketch of Bowland, A1 paper

When I walked in the real place I was on a camping trip with Andi, who was ill. My planned route turned out to be 14 miles in all: seven there and seven back. We did stop at an inn in the middle of nowhere at the halfway point but Andi was extremely stoical to tramp all that way through wet fields. I seem to remember him collapsing with a grateful sigh when we got back to the tent and not really moving until the next day. It might be interesting to go back one day but maybe not – you can never really go back. It might be better to reimagine.

You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself

sink pencil drawing, A1

pencil drawing of sink area, on A1 paper

I’ve been looking through some old work from around the time I did my Foundation course, when I spent a year drawing and painting under the guidance of some fantastic tutors. I remember we started off using pencil and underwent a rigorous training in drawing, learning how to measure where we placed our marks (important marks that indicated where major lines intersected or the positions of vital points) and striving for accuracy in terms of proportion.

life drawing on paper

life drawing, pencil on A1 paper

Hours and hours of life drawing ensured that we eventually improved at the difficult art of ‘getting your eye in’ and, as we worked on huge sheets of A1 paper, it quickly became obvious if a leg was a bit withered or an arm was impossibly long. We learned to suggest how near or far things were using weight of line, sometimes using more than one line for added emphasis. Then there was tone, of course, and varying it not only to reveal where light fell but also to indicate how close or far away something was. Getting to grips with all of this would result in a drawing that was a convincing representation of visual reality (and I don’t mean ‘like a photograph’, as photographs distort hugely and veer crazily away from the experience of seeing with the naked eye, although we are all so used to them these days I’m not sure many people even notice any more) but it might be a bit ‘academic’ and lacking in expressiveness.

On top of all of these elements of drawing know how we were also taught to vary the marks that we made on the paper – adapting them in ways that would be more appropriate for the things we were drawing, rather than applying one kind of mark throughout a picture. This variety made works appear less ‘academic’ and more expressive and interesting. We were encouraged to use compressed charcoal (darker and more powerful than ordinary charcoal) and told not to worry if we had to erase what we had drawn and redraw it many times as this would add depth and richness to our work.

life drawing, charcoal on paper

life drawing of seated model, compressed charcoal on A1 paper

The most important element of any painting or drawing – composition – I seem to remember grappling with last of all, after we’d slaved away to master everything else, although it naturally comes first when creating a picture and, if you haven’t come up with a successful composition, there isn’t any point in continuing to labour away at a piece.

charcoal drawing of Holmisdale sunset

evening, Holmisdale, compressed charcoal on A1 paper

From time to time I like to remember all of the important aspects of drawing I learned during that valuable year and it certainly helps to write them down.

charcoal drawing of ruin, Glendale

ruined building, Glendale, Skye, compressed charcoal on A1 paper

When it came to painting I felt that we had really only just begun as the course came to an end and I would have preferred to carry on for at least another year, if not two, if that had been an option. As degree courses at the time seemed to offer little in the way of painting and drawing tuition this Foundation year offered something that was rare and precious and, although it wasn’t easy for me to attend, it was probably the best thing I ever did as far as training goes.

We ventured into painting gradually, adding white emulsion paint to our charcoal drawings on white paper and then on toned backgrounds. Finally we used acrylics to tackle a portrait before settling into several days of painting the figure from life using oils on huge pieces of hardboard several feet in length. I had no money for paint and remember hoping I would be able to cover the vast surface (sealed with white emulsion) using only a set of tiny, cheap Chinese oil tubes that looked as if they had come out of a cracker. Of course they ran out before the end but luckily I discovered a relatively affordable student oil set in the local art shop that got me through.

charcoal and paint, A1, Holmisdale House picture

Holmisdale House, Glendale, Skye, compressed charcoal and emulsion paint on A1 paper

As students it was marvellous gathering every day to work on our paintings together for hours, with breaks for 30p mugs of tea in the nearby caff (which seemed to have been made out of a local’s living room) and I still have the big life picture, which I am fond of even now, in spite of what my tutor dryly referred to as ‘a grey area’ in the background that doesn’t quite work (I think it is just a bit too warm and this makes it come forward rather than recede – but it was my first attempt!)

life painting, large, oil on board

large life painting measuring several feet in length, oil on hardboard