Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Exercise: A Sketchbook Walk

The aim of this exercise was to go for a walk in a familiar environment and to draw four rapid sketches during the walk.  A viewfinder was recommended to help to focus in on a point of interest. Written observations were to be made along with the sketches.

I chose to do may favourite local walk which is down to Hannibal's bridge. This is restored Roman bridge very near our house. (Local legend has it that this is the point at which Hannibal turned back towards Carthage). I love this place and any visitors that come to stay all get dragged down here for a walk whether they like it or not!

The bridge is in an isolated position and the path down to the river can be a bit treacherous so my husband and son came along for company. This had an advantage as it meant that I couldn't cheat on the 15 minute time limit I set for each sketch. However it also backfired in a couple of other ways: The first was that they kept asking me questions or talking to me and I found it extremely difficult (in fact impossible) to talk and concentrate on drawing at the same time. The second disadvantage was that although it was only my close family, I still  felt scrutinised while drawing. This meant that I wasn't relaxed and my approach to the drawings got a bit panicky and therefore somewhat scribbly and incoherent. 

This was only my second ever attempt at drawing outdoors and I immediately encountered some practical difficulties. I took a camping chair with me but the terrain was so rough that I ended up either perched precariously on a rock or standing up for each sketch. I found I couldn't perch/stand, hold the viewfinder and draw at the same time. Using the Neocolour soluble crayons with the bottle of water and paintbrush I'd brought with me was challenging. I drew most of the detail with drawing pen.

I started the drawings from the bottom or furthest part of the walk as it was evening (it was too hot in the middle of the day to go out drawing) and I didn't want to risk it getting dark on my way up the winding and overgrown path back to the road. The first drawing, therefore is from the edge of the river looking back towards the bridge. 

It was about 7.30 pm. The scene wasn't strongly illuminated because the sun had already gone behind the mountains and the bridge lies in a deep gorge. What light there was came from behind the bridge and the deepest shadows were therefore my side of the bridge in the foreground. The focal point I'd chosen was the bridge itself. The bridge framed illuminated rocks and foliage behind it. There were interesting angular planes to the rocks in the foreground with deep crevices between them. I really struggled with the tree in the foreground as the foliage was quite spindly and a really didn't know how to approach it.

The next drawing was looking downstream from the top of the bridge. I had to stand up for this one as sitting down caused the railings to interfere with my view. The bridge is narrow and leaning with the sketchbook on  the railing made me a bit nervous that I might drop the book in the water. 

The focal point was meant to be the boulders in the river which were smooth and almost white like enormous beach pebbles. they were only darkened underneath here they were wet and shadows were cast. The tree in the foreground was supposed to lead the eye towards the boulders but this is the same tree as caused problems in the first picture . The bark was very dark and that made it very dominant in the foreground. I also think I haven't positioned it correctly as it looks disconnected and about to fall into the river - probably because I seem to have missed out any shadow at he tree's base. The foliage on the tree was sparse spindly and lighter in colour than the trees in the background and again I struggled to try to represent it. The water was clean and clear but had a dark green hue in the light but I could still see the impressions of other boulders under the surface of the water.

 The third drawing was looking upstream from the same position at the top of the bridge. The character of the river bank is very different on this side with deep craggy rocks with crevices between them. The river curves and bends. My focal point was the ripples on the river and the rocky outcrop on the left hand side in the foreground. There were very deep shadows under the rocks to the right hand side. The ripples in the foreground were very difficult to try to capture. The foliage in the background was much darker than it appears here. My pen stopped working in the middle of this drawing so I reverted to pencil. The setting sun caused the reflected light on the water to have more of an ochre rather than an orangey hue.

The final drawing was very rushed because it was rapidly getting dark so it was drawn in less than 10 minutes on the last stretch of path back up to the road. I had originally intended the focal point to be the pine trees which were burnt down one side in a forest fire which are up in the top left corner. However, the road , fence and stone wall all conspire to draw the eye away from here towards the telegraph pole in on the other side.

 This exercise was a bit of a milestone in terms of overcoming my fear of drawing in public. Although I was disappointed with the results I felt that I had learned from the experience. The main lesson was not to panic. In this situation I had started drawing immediately as soon as I set the timer without taking time to really contemplate the scene. For the next exercise my plan is to really look before starting to draw and to try to simplify and get down more the essence of the scene rather than scribbling away in a panic trying to get every detail (an impossible task in a rapid sketch).

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