Above, a watercolour I have done today, a corner of Kew Gardens in London, of the small garden behind Kew Palace. This is based on the last sketch I did out of doors in London, in mid-February this year. A picture of the sketch taken at the location is below:
Yesterday and today I have painted two new versions at home, altering the scene to imagine the changing season, leaving out the archway on the left of the small building. I have been working in watercolour, with a loose wet-on-wet start, followed by some more detailed brushwork. Yesterday’s version is below. I think today’s version is better on the whole, but, as seems inevitable, there are bits of each I would like to see combined in one. I think today’s version has too much fiddly detail in painting the plants and I quite like the areas in the picture below where I have outlined some of the plants with the brush, leaving quite a bit of white paper. The building below is too bright in colour, and should be more muted. Never mind, I am keeping in practice and one day I will be back painting on location again.
Most people’s ideas about the Elephant and Castle area of south London are, I think, that it is modern, and frankly a bit gritty. But did you know it features in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night? Twelfth Night was first performed on 6 January 1601 as part of Queen Elizabeth I’s Christmas celebrations and then had its first public performance at the Middle Temple.
Act III, Scene III:
A street. A conversation between Antonio, a sea Captain, and Sebastian, who has been shipwrecked.
Do not, then, walk too open.
It doth not fit me. Hold, sir, here’s my purse.
In the south suburbs, at the Elephant
Is best to lodge; I will bespeak our diet,
Whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge
With viewing of the town; there shall you have me.
Why I your purse?
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
You have desire to purchase; and your store,
I think is not for idle markets, sir.
I’ll be your purse-bearer, and leave you for
I do remember.
The circumstances under which I was drawing the ‘idle markets’ of Elephant and Castle on Saturday 14 March 2020, were unexpected. Urban Sketchers London had scheduled a sketchcrawl there. Suddenly, London was hit by anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. We decided to cancel the meet-up with 24 hours’ notice. I was sketching alone at the meeting point in case people had not got the cancellation message – my sketch is above. No-one turned up but me.
Last Saturday, Urban Sketchers London met at the Wallace Collection. I chose to draw in the Arms and Armoury Galleries, and drew a series of helmets (above). I was particularly interested in the helmets which provided full cover for the head, and had a strange and dramatic relationship with the human face.
Continuing the theme of heads and faces, here are two drawings done in the Africa Galleries of the British Museum. The one on the left is a grave marker from Sudan, and the other a bronze head from Benin.
I drew yesterday from a roof garden at 120 Fenchurch Street in the City of London. The garden is open to the public and is fairly new; the plants will become more established. The roof garden is at the fifteenth floor and has spectacular views over London. My fellow sketchers, Lis and Gafung, tackled the views, whilst I looked more at the structure of the new garden.
My drawings here are based on drawings by Honore Daumier of French judges (drawn about 1850). Today I have been drawing in the study room of the Victoria and Albert Museum works on paper collection, which own the Daumier drawings, and many others. These collections, which also exist at the British Museum, Tate Britain and the Courtauld, are an extraordinary and little known resource. Members of the public can make appointments to see, and if wished, draw from drawings by world famous artists, free of charge. So much can be learned from the close observation which comes with copying drawings in different styles.
I did the drawing above this week at the Museum of the Order of St John, in Clerkenwell. The museum tells the history of the Order of St John, established in eleventh century Jerusalem to provide medical care for sick pilgrims, and then acquiring a military role in the crusades. After a complex history, it is now the St John Ambulance Brigade. A second drawing, below, shows the process I am using quite a bit at the moment, drawing in coloured pencil onto a pre-prepared background of water colour.
The two drawings below were done at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The first is a display related to the battle of Waterloo, the second, a display of historic army uniforms.
Some more drawings from my sketchbook, in coloured pencil on watercolour backgrounds. The locations share a theme: a historic building set in gardens. The first two drawings here – each pair of drawings is actually one continuous image in a concertina sketchbook – were done recently at Newnham College, Cambridge. The ones below that were done at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, West London. This was the country house of architect Sir John Soane, and I tried to capture some of the characteristics of his architecture, such as the use of coloured glass, and the rounded brick arches.
This weekend I have been sketching in London. Above is a drawing I did on Saturday of the ever-changing City skyline, drawn from near Tower Bridge. It amazes, and sometimes worries me how quickly major developments take place in key areas of London. A couple of years ago, Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ building on St Mary Ax dominated the view of the ‘new’ City. Now new buildings have shot up which dwarf it.
On Sunday, I was helping run a sketch crawl with Urban Sketchers London at Trinity Buoy Wharf. This is further east, across the Thames from the O2 in North Greenwich (originally the Millennium Dome). Trinity Buoy Wharf has the only lighthouse in London, surrounded by other older industrial/nautical buildings. It is now a centre for cultural activities and related businesses, surrounded by very new high-rise housing and offices, with great views of the river. My sketches take different elements of this and put them together. All sketches are done with coloured pencil on prepared but random backgrounds in watercolour, on a concertina sketchbook. Below are the drawings from Trinity Buoy Wharf:
Last weekend I joined a workshop run by Pushing Your Sketching Boundaries, taught by Isabel Carmona and Celia Burgos. We worked out of doors in Hampstead and Highgate in north London. Our sketches were focussed on two main themes: contrasting the city and nature, using watercolour, and using colour to show tone and depth, using coloured pencils. Here are some pictures I created.
Day 1: Working on Parliament Hill, one of the highest parts of London, I did several studies which showed a panoramic view of the city through trees, and individual houses framed by trees.
This was quite a challenge, but I learned a lot. The second and third pictures above had colour washes added later at home – I think the apricot sky helps, and the added blue is overdone. The warm, apricot sky is not realistic; I added the colour I though the picture needed. I am not sure why it has taken me such a long time to realise I can do this. It helps, particularly when a subject is green and more green.
The painting above I think is better, and benefitted from the experience of doing the others.
Day 2: This looked at using colour, and coloured pencils, to represent tone (light/dark), texture, and depth, in particular the principal that warm colours (reds, oranges, reddish browns) appear to come forward in a painting, and cool colours (blues, bluish greens) to recede. Here are some quick experiments.
Here are two simple tonal drawings drawn with a single colour. For each one, I painted a simple watercolour afterwards, to remind myself of the principles.
The garden in question was Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park, London, since I don’t have space for 12,000 rose bushes at home. Urban Sketchers London visited on Saturday 20 July 2019. I had hoped to work in watercolour, but painting an English garden requires account to be taken of English weather, and what was forecast was ‘sunshine and showers’. So I returned to my concertina sketchbook and prepared some pages in advance with abstract watercolour washes. I could then draw on location with coloured pencils – more compatible with the stop-start weather which was forecast. The weather was better than expected. In the drawings, I incorporated different views of the gardens, with an emphasis on variety of mark-making in the drawings.