Drawing warm

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Its a simple sketch: winter trees seen on a bitingly cold day looking over the wall of a bridge over Cromford’s canal.  Below is the field sketch and several of the intermediate steps.   After many layers and scratching back, crayon and brushpen marker and white gouache and charcoal and knife and plastic scraper and watercolour, I’ve come to something that resembles how I felt when I first started the drawing.    It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to work for me as a sketch.

I had no photograph to work from but I realise the muted colours of that scene were captured in watercolours drawn direct on the scene, with no layers or revisions, by outsideauthority, who drew with me that day.

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Drawing cold

This week I went drawing with a friend, who posts under the enigmatic name outsideauthority.  We met in Cromford, a village in Derbyshire where the abundant running water became the driving force for the first powered factories at the start of the Industrial Revolution.  From the start I was fascinated by this construction which took the oily calm waters from outside the mills and dropped them into subterranean tunnels.

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The purpose of the first sketch of the day was to warm up, to open my vision and loosen my hands.   The weather was icy, so as I warmed up, I became progressively stiffer and colder, my legs lost feeling and my ungloved right hand became numb.  Interestingly, in the time it took me to draw this first sketch, in graphite stick,  OA had drawn about eight simpler, smaller, dynamic, expressive views around the mill yard.

For my second drawing, of the same structure, I set out to work faster and looser in fountain pen and water.  This version has been minimally revised with a knife to make clearer the shape of the falling water.

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A short way along the canal we found a stone bridge which lifted us above the canal and the families wandering along the towpath.  Beyond the gate, rough pasture led up to the bleak dark woods along the road interspersed with houses, under a creamy winter sky.  Here I roughed out two views in fountain pen with a light dusting of conte crayon.  The second version is dominated by the curve of the bridge wall in the foreground.

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When I got home, I set out to rebuild this second sketch from memory, trying to find the tones and textures of the light lichened coping, smoother dark building stones, the rough concrete gate post and vegetation beneath.

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Lastly, I looked along the canal.  What I saw was a glow of light catching the tree in the left mid ground and, at the back, a dark mass of wood spilling down from the hill, throwing black reflections in the flat grey water.  In the cold, conte crayons were hard and unyielding of pigment and brush pens made miserly marks.

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At home again, I drew into this, but in the revised version the bare winter branches are at odds with what seems to be the bright colours of early spring.   Where are the dark trees which threw the black reflection into the canal?  The cold bleak dusk is lost and this sketch has become a confection.

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Reflecting on our approaches to drawing, it seemed to me that OA made sketches, many very brief, full of life, replete with shape, line and feeling, which were complete in themselves, their purpose to carry information and ideas, perhaps for other times and new pictures painted in the studio.  I rarely now undertake new studio pieces. When I walked away from this last scene, the struggle with the sketch was not over.  I am on a journey with this particular piece that will not have reached a destination until I have taken charcoal and white gouache to it, and found again the feelings of that cold day in my marks.