H charcoal squares and shapes (17 sketches, a journey)

I have been using a pen and Indian ink, drawing texture from inside shapes as in the next two pictures. However, I want to simplify my field sketches.

I have approached these next drawings differently. I start by mapping the image mentally onto a square and then apply simple blocky shapes to build the sketch.

The instrument I chanced upon is an old charcoal pencil. It is an unsubtle H grade, unyielding when mark making. Even sharpened it quickly reverts to a chisel.  The squared-off edge imposes jerky movements and irregular polygonal shapes.

Even so, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to try for shading tones and building textures, as in the evening fields below (I was out looking for owls and observing Jupiter and Saturn rise). But the tool is too crude for this purpose.

Below are two attempts at the same woodland, looking through the leaf-clad trunks rising from dense fern undergrowth.  Light filters through from the sky and there is dense shade in a hollow made by an A of two leaning trees and a bush.  The hard charcoal cannot offer the contrasts of shading I wanted.

Further along the same woodland (I was cycling the Tarka trail between Great Torrington and Bideford in Devon) I tried again.  This time I licked the drawing point (and a little grossed out, dipped it in water) to deepen the tones.

In the next pair of drawings, now from a cliff top, I started with a charcoal sketch overdrawn with a soft graphite stick.  I then redrew this, reverting to heavy lines and crude shapes, splodging it with watercolour from a fat squirrel hair brush.  Interestingly the H grade charcoal seems pretty water-fast.

In another clifftop view, the charcoal and watercolour is overlaid with a black marker for depth of tone and conte crayon for texture.

At the estuary at Bideford, a boat drawn up onto the bank gave the foreground, with the Torridge bridge behind.  On a baking afternoon, the sun behind me, there were few variations in tone. I found myself simply colouring in my shapes, making this a naive (= childish?) painting.

Further up river, from the Landcross bridge I drew a crenellated building on the river bank, set against trees.  A search on the internet reveals this to be ruined lime kilns, shaped according to the landowners whim. This simple fast drawing is closer to my purpose: the paint should not simply follow the lines.

I lost the charcoal pencil  from my drawing kit.  So I reverted to the pen, but now keeping the lines to a minimum.  I could not use the bite of this smooth paper to capture the reflected sky sparkling from the water.  Instead I used a white conte crayon as a resist before dragging wet colour across. I also used crayon to adjust the intensity of tone on the distant hills and overlay the near grasses.

A shout to Outside Authority whose enigmatic drawings always influence me.

Block, pit and tower

The most west and southern tip of the British mainland is littered with industrial buildings with a history and pre-history of mining and trade.  Here I looked across the moor to the Ding Dong mine.  Each ruin seems to comprise a block building like a castle keep, a chimney and a pit.

Here is a glimpse of Dong Dong close up, the side of the building and the opening to the mine shaft.  Covered by a grate, it drops maybe a hundred feet, perhaps more.  Men were lowered down that pit once.

Here is another, by the roadside, the map did not even give it a name.  I drew the stack, I guess that opening beneath was a hearth of sorts.  Behind the scrub is the distant sea.  These sketches were drawn in Indian ink (or graphite for the middle sketch), then conte crayon, then watercolour, then another layer of crayon.  I love the use together of translucent and opaque media, and the crayon as a resist for the overlying wet paint.

 

 

 

 

The magic of stones

I found a shady corner on a hot day in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden (part of the Tate in St Ives).  I had walked through Hepworth’s bronze installation “Conversation with magic Stones“: comprising three standing figures and three low-lying irregular polyhedrals.  The notes tell me that though this was a late piece, it was a large-scale realisation of ideas developed through multiple earlier works across several decades.  For her, the figures depict something of human relationships: totemic persons in tension with each other, the mythical landscape and magic stones.  From my standpoint, I saw the hard-edged uprights alongside the less regular lines of the bamboo setting: the distressed flat metallic surfaces against the smooth natural cylinders.

When I looked at my sketches made over several days in Cornwall, I started to recognise something that Hepworth had been conscious of in developing her work.  Here are three of the ten or eleven remaining stones that comprise the Nine Maidens of Boskednan sited in the midst of moorland.   These placed stones speak of now unfathomable relationships among the early Bronze Age inhabitants and between them and their surroundings.  How did these stones relate to matters of kinship and exclusion, exploitation of resource, search for meaning, and hierarchy of power?

On the coast west of St Ives, I chanced across another stone circle set deeply in the ferns.  This was not marked on the map: I cannot say whether this is the work of ancients or a contemporary folly.

Each sketch was started in pen and indelible ink – really an exercise in mark making.  However, I then applied conte crayon to give texture and act as a resist for simple watercolour washes.

 

Ceaseless back and forth

There is a broken train up the line, so I am sitting in a pub, eating quinoa wraps with avacado and rice and spicy beef and a second pint of beer and the sea washes back and forth, endlessly back and forth, in the centre of London, people come in and blather, drink up and say goodbyes, back and forth, back and forth.

Under 12 parsecs?

This is another Saturday sketch from St Paul’s Square in Birmingham again using ink marks to build texture and tone without wash or water.  It is clear there is more work needed to use just the varied marks themselves to narrate the scene.

I have switched inks to a permanent black carbon which may permit watercolour over it once dry.  I also want to use less colour, adding a few simple strokes in key areas, not colouring in the whole picture.  Less is more.

chasing memories

For some time, my mother lived in Tideswell, a stone-built village in the Peak District, grown up round a large parish church (“the cathedral of the peaks”), where buying a loaf of bread would take all morning as people circulated their news and thoughts.  This was when she was principal of a college in Sheffield, owned Mushie the mushroom-coloured Weimaraner trout-poacher, was in a relationship with a former tank commander who lived by selling lingerie and wine; and before, redundant, single-again and bored, she escaped grandmothership to work in Malawi and Macedonia.

This weekend, I returned to Tideswell, chasing memories of the dales where we walked the dog.  But I could not match the images in my head to the places I found.  This one place I do remember: parking in Millers Dale, traversing the viaduct which once carried quarry stone on rail tracks, dropping down steps to the river Wye.

Whereas before we would follow the course of the river beneath the trees, now I deviated up a path across open fields.

 

tinted paper II

I continued my attempt to use tinted paper to provide mid tones, using just one other hue, plus white and black, to build an image.  In order to work outdoors, I bought a smaller Strathmore Toned Tan pad which would fit in my cycle bag.  The paper is less robust and textured than the Daler Rowney Ingres pastel paper I used previously.

2017-03-05-18-32-36-1

I had cycled to what passes for a nature reserve, rough land and flooded gravel pits trapped between a business park and motorway.  Traffic was thundering behind me, but I looked across a pool, rushes and a line of trees to a darkening rain filled sky.  The idea was to use a grey to build the cloud and reflections in the water, leaving negative shapes of the trees.  I would then draw darker brown into the trunks and branches, so they are outlined by the light tone of the paper.  As it turned out, I did not have the dexterity to do as I planned.  Then it started to rain, quickly dampening the paper and solidifying the crayon strokes.  As the paper became really wet, colour sluiced off the sticks as an opaque wash but the earlier strokes drawn dry acted as a resist, keeping their integrity.  Though unintended, I am pleased with the effects: the virgin paper in the midground represents a line of rushes glowing in the evening light.

2017-03-05-18-33-06

When I started the second sketch I was both wet and covered with mud all down my right side, having slid down a steep bank I was trying to climb.  This image illustrates that if I want to draw in three tones, I must leave my colours at home.  The paper’s tint was supposed to represent the foreground, but I had to keep adding to it, until no paper was left.

This post was written to the haunting, beautiful Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, a musical discovery thanks to Spotify’s weekly selection for me.

 

Three sketches when out walking

2016-03-30 Siden Hill woods and adjacent fields

Here are three sketches done when out and about this week.  The first was done in watercolour over pencil.  I sat in the upper story of a bird hide and looked down to where the woods on my left threw long shadows on the meadow, otherwise lit golden by the evening sun.

2016-03-31 Aquaduct across railway Wootton Wawen

The second was also watercolour over pencil, with texture and highlights added using cote crayon and knife.  This was a remarkable viewpoint, on the footpath sunken nearly four feet behind the canal, itself contained within iron cladding on the aqueduct crossing the railway.  The odd perspective comes about because I was looking vertically down on the cleft in the near canal side but horizontally at the one on the far side as well as the railway, woods and hills beyond.  I have resisted the temptation to score it out in an attempt to correct it.

2016-04-01 Woods and fields Wootton Wawen

Earlier in the day I crossed low rolling farmland and patchy woods.  This sketch was done in watercolour and then I worked over it in conte crayon.  It became too laboured. Later, I erased much of the crayon on the fields and woods and re-applied it with a lighter touch, while retaining the dense chalky opacity in the layers of cloud above.  The part that appeals to me is the mid ground trees on the right. I had taken these right back to white with sandpaper and worked more sparingly into the heavily textured surface, aiming to re-create the sense of light filtering from behind through the branches and early buds.