Assignment 3 – ‘Down the Hill’

The Aim

  • Draw an outdoor scene of your choice. Include natural objects as well objects with straight-lines. Chose a view that will demonstrate your understanding of aerial or linear perspective.
  • Do some preliminary drawings including broad sketches in charcoal or diluted ink.
  • Draw your final piece on A2 or A1 paper, spending up to 2 hours on this final image.

The exercise

I decided that I wanted to draw a townscape scene so I could show my continuing development in my ability to draw vertical lines (!) as well as my understanding of linear perspective. I happened upon a scene of terrace houses on a hill that I really liked. It was a bright day and what caught my eye in the first place was rows of chimney pots gleaming in the sun against a couple of quite dark, tall trees. The houses descending down the hill provided an interesting sky line too.  This scene, quite an ordinary suburban scene, had all the elements required for the assignment so I decided to make this my subject. The problem was that it was 20 miles from home, so once my initial sketches were done I had to rely on photographs for any further reference.

The Process

Preliminary sketches

Sketch 1
Sketches 1 and 2

I started with a couple of quick sketches to try to locate the best composition. I was standing at the top of the hill with my eye level to the chimney pots of those houses at the bottom. Initially this made the relevant houses seem very far away. The trees in the background were quite majestic but my view straight ahead was quite boring. I decided very quickly that the two lamp posts had to go, they added nothing to the scene.

The road had a bend in it as it neared the bottom row of terraces. This produces two different sets of receding lines for the buildings. I drew a second sketch emphasising these to get the feel of the change in direction. I also ignored the bottom row of parked cars which allowed for a solid ‘ground’ line which i think helps anchor the scene.

Sketch 3 - Portrait
Sketch 3 – Portrait

Worried that the whole scene was too complicated I tried sketching just one row of buildings (sketch 3), thereby concentrating on just one set of receding lines. This also enabled me to have a think about landscape or portrait as the most suitable format. The problem with this was that the trees were mostly pushed out of view and I lost the lovely contrast of sunny chimney pots against the dark foliage. I also didn’t quite get the height of the buildings right in this sketch, but I did realise that I was drawn to the great skyline the chimney stacks produced. In carrying out research of landscape/townscape artists I have been drawn to those that portray a ‘bird’s eye’ view (see below).

This got me thinking to how I could get nearer to the chimneys! I was a little constrained to getting very much higher but I did manage to get a bit of extra height by standing on the car door.

Sketch 4 Landscape
Sketch 4 Landscape

By standing on the car and looking down the hill at houses whose roofs I was almost level with, I managed to get sketch 4 done. I have reverted to landscape format to try to get the bend of the road and a tree in. I have exaggerated the height at which I am viewing this scene which was a little hard to do and get the perspective right but it made the row of chimneys the focal point and had the advantage of being above the level of most of the cars down the hill. I didn’t manage to get the mid-ground roof and chimneys right here but I felt this composition was coming together. I liked the way that the nearest chimneys run off the top of the page. It adds a sense of intimacy to the scene.

Sketch 5 - tonal values
Sketch 5 – tonal values

I hadn’t really considered any tonal values in these sketches. It was the contrast of the pots in the sun against the dark trees that first drew me to the scene. Further observation revealed that the sun was shining in such a way that the roof tops had bright flashes of light amongst the dark shadows caused by the chimneys and that the front of the buildings were progressively more in shadow as they receded down the street. The row at the bottom was completely in shadow. I was running out of time so I made a quick study of the tonal values of the scene (sketch 5). I was worried that this dark row of houses at the bottom would make the composition unbalanced (here I haven’t added any detail of these houses). I realised that in this tonal sketch I have lost many of my mid-tones in the roof, confusing darker colours with light tones . More was in sunshine than this sketch would suggest.

Sketch 6 - Tonal values of the rooves
Sketch 6 – Tonal values of the roof tops

As such I made final sketch (sketch 6) of the pattern of light and dark on the roof tops, trying to work out which chimney belonged to which house at the same time. I also deliberately left out a couple of the mid-ground houses to try to simplify the composition a little.

At this point I took some reference photographs and went home.

 

Research Influences

Way before I got to this part of the course I came across a drawing of a London skyline “Evening in the City of London’ by David Bomberg which I fell in love with (http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/233). It’s a charcoal drawing but the original is much better then this slightly washed out digital image would suggest. I was really drawn to the juxtaposition of light against dark and loved the aerial view. I made a small sketch of part of this drawing (previous published with my sketchbook images almost a year ago) http://wp.me/p5Tzmx-4W

Sketch of detail from: David Bomberg Evening in the City of London, 1944
Sketch of detail from:
David Bomberg
Evening in the City of London, 1944

In the process of doing research for landscapes in general I came across more of his work in charcoal, again lots of aerial views with a play between light and dark contrasts such as https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/419819996487784541/ andhttps://uk.pinterest.com/pin/419819996487784530/

I have also been very drawn to the black and white townscape drawings of John Virtue, introduced to me though the course material. The link to my previous post about some of his works is https://annapike99.wordpress.com/page/2/

With these two artists in mind I set about using my reference sketches and photographic material to create some studies.

More detailed studies

Study in charcoal
Study in charcoal

Using my sketches, and with help of photographs to check the perspective, I completed this more detailed charcoal sketch of the view that I wanted to depict. I did use a ruler to help me get my lines straight and I have concentrated really hard in getting my vertical lines vertical! It doesn’t have the drama of a Bomberg drawing but I really like the outcome as a drawing in its own right and quite like the movement that the view of the descending roof tops, all at slightly different angles, gives the image – like a line of steps.

Study in oil pastel
Study in oil pastel

Next I completed a study in oil-pastel. I find oil-pastel quite hard to work with and struggle to get it to work in ways I would like (for instance smudging and erasing). This study ended up being quite a stark image but I quite like that as it was the bright areas against dark backgrounds that drew me to the scene in the first place. I was trying to add more drama to the image but I haven’t got the tones in the windows right here. They should be a little more graded as they go own the hill. I have made the nearest just as dark as those further down. The bend in the road is lost in this study, the drama of the study in charcoal that the change in road angle gives is lost.

I wanted to challenge myself with a different media and also try to loosen my style up a bit. Given the final piece is to be quite large, using a drawing pen doesn’t appeal. I would struggle with a fine lines over A1 size. So I tried a different approach. I had some broad graphite and coloured charcoal sticks. Using wall-paper lining paper (it holds water well) sprayed with water I quickly drew into the wet surface with lines and broad sweeps from these chunky sticks. I kept added more water to areas of similar tone and let the pigment run down the paper. I did a series of these drawings, really enjoying myself. Each one only took between 10 and 15 minutes and were very fun and spontaneous. I loved the results and if I hadn’t got a deadline to complete this assignment I would have done more!

Study in graphite and water 1
Study in graphite and water 1
Study in graphite and water 2
Study in graphite and water 2
Study in graphite and water 3
Study in graphite and water 3
Study in graphite, coloured charcoal and water
Study in graphite, coloured charcoal and water

I didn’t really stick to my sketches for these, the buildings have become simplified in various ways throughout this series, and the chimneys more and more exaggerated. This doesn’t matter however there is drama in the representation of the houses.  My favourite is study 3. It really shows the part of the scene that drew me to find it interesting in the first place and I love the texture the water creates with the graphite. This effect adds atmosphere to the whole series. I feel these studies have some of the drama that I like in David Bomberg’s work. I’m enthused by the coloured study. I like the texture of the house brick work and I think that I have got the gradation of window tones about right. The tree however doesn’t seem to work in colour – it’s too bright. The texture and colour of the slate roofs and brick chimneys work better, but they are not such a good compositional group as the study above it. They are too spread out and seem a little more disconnected. The sense of light on the roof tops is possibly stronger in the coloured study however.

My Final Piece

I decided that I was going to use charcoal for my final piece. I like its fugitive nature and the way you can smudge it and move it around with your fingers and erase bits with a putty rubber. I also felt that charcoal would allow me to keep a certain freshness about my drawing my being able to rework areas in a more loose manner if I felt it was becoming too ‘tight’ and less fluid. As my aim was to show the contrast of light and dark having been influenced by the drawings of David Bomberg and John Virtue. Both the charcoal study and the oil-pastel study show this.The graphite studies had more drama about them but I don’t think I can do a drawing lasting 2 hours with that technique.  I have decided not to use colour here, rather keep the monochromatic theme going again to emphasis the contrast between light and dark.

I used an A1 piece of heavyweight cartridge paper in landscape format. I needed to use a ruler to check my perspective lines as working at that scale caused me some problems (i couldn’t step back from my easel far enough to judge the lines by eye). I aimed to spend 2 hours on it, in reality it took 4 hours to complete.

'Down the Hill'. Charcoal on heavyweight cartridge paper, A1
‘Down the Hill’. Charcoal on heavyweight cartridge paper, A1

Reflections

I think my graphite and water series show a spontaneity and a freshness that my final piece doesn’t have. My best work to date has been work that has been quick and spontaneous. I have (quite rightly) been criticised for producing longer, more thought out drawings that are, to be quite frank, boring. The problem I have is that I have no idea how you maintain this spontaneity in a two-hour drawing.

This was not a kind of drawing I would have ever considered attempting before embarking on this course and never considered that I would choose to depict buildings for an assignment. I realise that if nothing else I have at least grown in confidence and willingness to try new things. I have mixed feelings about this as an assignment piece. On one hand I don’t think its the best of the pieces I have done for this assignment (I definitely prefer the graphite and water Study 3 as a finished piece of work, but it doesn’t fit the assignment brief) but on the other hand I have demonstrated an understanding of linear perspective from quite an interesting angle. I have been criticised for my previous assignment pieces work being too ‘tight’ and overworked (probably over-thought too) so to have to do a 2 hour drawing presented a significant problem for me: I do not know how to maintain freshness and spontaneity on a drawing that takes so long to do. I tried to limit this problem with my choice of medium. Charcoal allows a lot of reworking, so provided you don’t get too bogged down in detail you can make fresh marks throughout your time period. I struggled to maintain this in some areas of the final image: for instance the windows of the houses in shadow. I went in too heavy too early and even with a putty rubber had trouble removing some of the marks to lighten them.

I embarked on the graphite and water series to see what I could do quickly and spontaneously without really thinking of what I was doing (beyond the idea). At the time I just got lost in doing these studies and sort of churned them out, but on reflection I realise that not only was I enjoying myself but I was exploring the relationship between the roof tops and the light, as well as trying to capture the pattern of the almost-marching chimney pots. In my final piece I think I have managed to keep the chimney pots as the main focus of the drawing and I wonder if this would have been the case without these quick free drawings.

Overall compositionally I am quite happy with this drawing. There is certainly a sense of the houses going down the hill and the elevated position of the viewer adds a feeling of intimacy or belonging to the scene. There is also a slight air of mystery: I want to actually look in the upstairs windows of the first house – what is in there, who might by looking out?? I have made the ground floor window line a little too high in the mid-ground houses though.

I deliberately avoided the use of colour in the final drawing (and recognise the fact that it didn’t play much of a part in my preliminary studies). The reason behind this was that it was stark contrasts that drew me to the scene, that and the regimented feel of the buildings. Colour wasn’t important but the white and black was. I have tried to add a bit of texture to the houses and their roofs without adding too much detail. On the large scale of A1 this was quite difficult to do. I didn’t want the slate patterns (which were in fact quite hard to make out in reality) detract from the light. I do wonder, however, if I have introduced a slight comic air to the drawing by keeping to this monochrome palette.

Summary

Without a doubt my graphite and water studies are far better drawings than my final assignment piece. They have atmosphere, tension, a sense of journey and a sense of place about them. By contrast my final piece may fit the assignment brief but it is quite mechanical, without the same expressiveness of the studies!

 

 

Assignment 3 – ‘Down the Hill’

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