A wider picture

OCA Drawing 1, Part 3, Project 2 & 3

Exercise 2: Sketchbook walk

'Make four sketches during your walk... drawing rapidly... don't rub anything out... think of your sketching as taking notes...'

So these four images are 15 minute sketches made around Brill, Buckinghamshire. The first was a short drive away, I love silhouette farmhouse, trees and the steep hillside. I still like working in biro for quick sketches and you can achieve reasonable degree of variety in mark and tone for such a fixed medium. Also because it's 'just a biro pen' somewhere in my brain it frees me to relax and not worry about making a good drawing.

Moving onto soft pastels on brown paper. These are a minute walk from the house, on the hottest day of the year.

I then moved to portrait format, to capture the expanse of sky with a few vapour trails crisscrossing the blue. I should have made the written notes in the bottom corner to leave room for an unbroken sky.

I find it refreshing doing quick sketches, it helps me to avoid procrastinating: just look, stop, focus, use the view-finder, sketch, move on. I like it. It's a great way to capture visual information quickly, not get caught up in too much detail but at the same time make notes on things that hold my attention; I can return again for more detailed work, take photos, and generally explore visually. I'm less afraid of 'making mistakes' than I used to be... I can make a correction, re-draw if I want to.

Exercise 3: 360 degree view

'Start one drawing looking north. Use your viewfinder to find a focal point, frame your view and complete a 15-minute drawing... turn on the same spot to face west, south, and east...'

Once again, quick sketches, these in 6b graphite stick on brown paper.

Project 3: Exercise 1 Developing your studies

'Review your preparatory drawings... select those that have the most elements you would like to include in a larger drawing... try to be adventurous in your subject and in your composition.'

So for this, I returned to an earlier photo of stunted hawthorn trees on the hill-top above my home. I love the way the trunks turn 90 degrees where, perhaps hundreds of years ago, they were cut to make a hedge.

I wanted to work on crumpled brown paper for it's mid-tone and physical texture and added an extra strip at the top to enlarge the sky above the trees... having worked on clouds and expansive views I've begun to really appreciate the drama that the sky brings to an artwork. I created lose outlines of the clouds, trees and hillside in charcoal.

I then created a first layer of colour in soft pastels. I've found they work best for me if I leave quite a lot of the paper showing through: too heavy with the pastels and you lose the texture of the paper which is part of the charm for me. Also too thick a layer of pastels and I find them unworkable. So just enough and then a spray of fixative to hold it in place before the next layer of pastel.

et voilà: the finished thing. I missed out a photo in between the second layer of pastel where I built up the forms, tones and colour and finally returned with the edges of the pastel sticks, working in lines to reinforce shape, deep shadow and highlights. Plenty of the paper is still showing through which I like and provides a good mid-tone as well as the characteristic lines of the brown paper.

Project 3: Exercise 2 Foreground, middle ground, background

'Choose one of your sketches or photographs... the aim is to establish a foreground, middle ground and background in your drawing.'

So for this I used a sketch from Exercise 2 (and some photos); it's a seemingly mundane view of distant woods & hills with a rusting tank on the side of the farm track. But I liked the contrast of light and shadow, of the colours of the tank against the green and blue of the close trees.

I'm enjoying soft pastels on brown paper, but wanted smooth not crumpled paper to allow me to distinguish the three elements of the brief: creased paper gives the impression of detail everywhere and I needed to create detail at the front and limit it for the background.

This is my second initial sketch in charcoal: in the first I didn't leave enough space to the left, so binned it and started again.

Once the basic shapes are in place, I applied the first layer of colour, still quite lightly, allowing the paper to show through. Then spray with fixative an allow it to dry.

A second layer of colour, building more detail as I work to the front of the image. Layering dark green and dark blue for the darker shadows of the tree on the left, which also helps the tank to stand out. Using the sides of the pastels to apply layers of colour and the edges of the pastels for detail.

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