III. Project townscapes – a sketchbook of townscape drawings (III)

… make a series of sketchbook drawings to find the best composition. Then make the sketchbook drawing in pencil or charcoal first, then add colour. Be selective – what do you want to leave out?

View from Jay’s studio. 2 composition sketches

Composition sketch #1 (left) crops the left hand side slightly, and leaves out the right background building but is otherwise pretty close to the initial sketch below, which I had published before. The building on the left in that first sketch seems quite important as it leads the eye into the picture. So I’d prefer the first composition below.

The composition sketch #2 above (right) is a portrait format and therefore follows the green building shape. I think since this is all about the wee building compared to the big city a panoramic view (landscape) is more suitable.

I am just a bit torn about how much I should slant the sides of the houses towards the courtyard to convey the feeling of height. Probably the houses on the lower right are a ta d too slanted in the first sketch (below). Theoretically, if I go for this slanting of the verticals I should hold the middle vertical straight and slant equally to both sides.

Sketchbook drawing of townscape 1: View from Jay’s studio, Prince Edward, A5

So I decided to make a bigger drawing of this view (see below) I started with pastel but the paper texture didn’t work with the pastel very well (I could try the smoother side of this paper next time), so I worked over it with gouache.

View from Jay’s studio, Hong Kong (Prince Edward MTR). (stage I)

I still like the composition but the small quick biro + watercolour A5 sketch is actually better than the dry pastel/gouache. If I have time I will try that on a bigger scale.
I think I might have to put more detail into the yellow house (2nd from left) so that there is gradually more detail towards the centre. Right now there is a bit too big a jump between that house and the orange one.

OK this bothered me now so I changed it. The new version is below.

View from Jay’s studio, Hong Kong (Prince Edward MTR). Between A3 and A2. Pastel and gouache on grey watercolor (final)

This is better. I also changed the colour of the yellowish left building a bit to distinguish it from the one on the left edge. (Though in reality this was the same building and colour). Then I added a darker tone to the bottom of the right whitish building to make the perspective and dark courtyard more convincing.

But looking on it again I definitely think this should be a delicate drawing in biro or nib pen and some colour washes. A bit careful with colouring like Cezanne’s watercolours.

One day later: I pinned the picture on the wall to look at it last night. There are a couple of things wrong with it.

  • the building on the right are slanted too much (vertical lines towards a vanishing point are too exaggerated compared to the left side)
  • I prefer the greenish hue of the sketch to the blue of the house
  • The background right (purplish house) doesn’t look like it’s supporting the composition. If I hold my hand so that I cover that side the picture gets better. So I should change it. Experiment.
  • On the roof of the orange house is a structure to the left of the little “shed-like” exit to the roof… it looks unfinished compared to the rest. But generally – is it necessary? If so – is it the right position in the composition? Experiment.
  • In the quick sketch I shortened the height of the orange building towards the bottom where no windows are. I think that works better. Could space out the windows more evenly to work better. In reality there is a big windowless space there.
  • Technique: working with gouache over pastel needs a bit of force, as gouache seems to be repelled by the pastel. This produces a “dry” patchy effect.

III. Project townscapes – a sketchbook of townscape drawings (II)

Townscape drawings: 10cm square detail (biro(/10cm square tonal drawing of building (pencil)

Make a detailed study in 3B pencil – 10cm square, showing a section of the building. Make another 10cm square tonal study to see the light falling across the building.

I wasn’t in position anymore at this point – so I relied on a fuzzy picture taken with my phone. A bit pathetic, but it worked. On the left the sketch shows the houses and their overall order but internal mess with pipes and wires dangling everywhere and paint having peeled off the house.

I was a bit sceptical about what I could add to the first detail drawing but the right sketch was a revelation in terms of fundamental shapes and the way the light falls. The green building is a fair bit lighter than the others, but towards the courtyard bottom the lights become increasingly scarce. So the building must show this.

III. Project townscapes – a sketchbook of townscape drawings (I)

Task: Draw a street, focus on a particular building and make other buildings support this main focus. Make notes (mood, light, colour, colour in the shadows, movement of people…). Take note of the eye level. Make a detailed study in 3B pencil – 10cm square, showing a section of the building. Make another 10cm square tonal study to see the light falling across the building. Next make a series of sketchbook drawings to find the best composition. Then make the sketchbook drawing in pencil or charcoal first, then add colour. Be selective – what do you want to leave out?

Sketchbook drawing of townscape 1: View from Jay’s studio, Prince Edward, A5

  • October, about 3pm afternoon, very bright sunlight from front, all houses below seem lit by reflected light from other buildings. very delicate colours
  • Beautiful textures. Variety. a certain order in the mess. love it
  • leave out a couple of marks on left framing building, but not all
  • maybe leave out building in background right?
  • distorted the building verticals, as they appear to recede towards the ground… I know in theory if I stood far enough they should be straight… maybe I should slightly lessen this on the right hand building

Sketchbook drawing of townscape 2: Tung Chung

  • early morning, sunny
  • great conifer trees on left, rather squint shapes, a bit frivolous – like dancers (mine are not bent enough), their shadow on pavement is quite important for picture to work
  • variety of greens

Sketchbook drawing of townscape 3: Tung Chung waterfront walkway

  • 10am, sunny
  • impression of barren urban landscape with tower block and metro line
  • the texture/surface of the path is beautiful
  • note the variety of the greyed out colours on the mountains in the back

Sketchbook drawing of townscape 4: Wanchai near HKAS, view from footbridge onto highway

  • about 2pm, sunny
  • capricious golden glow of the middle skyscraper compared to the blue-grey-greens of the other towers
  • find a way to enhance effect of the 2 highways overlapping each other

III. Project townscapes – study of a townscape using line (cheating a bit)

Study of a townscape using line (an a bit of wash). Black ink. Cropped A3.

Task: Overall in this project concentrate on clearly defined shapes of forms and buildings if possible from a high position. Absorb the atmosphere, translate the textures/colours, focus on what interests you. Use two sketchbook pages to make a preliminary drawing of this study. Establish the primary focus/any other necessary objects. Make notes about weather/mood/…. Decide on suitable marks. Use the sketch as a reference and complete the study in pen and ink or a black drawing pen.

I drew again the view from the walkway near the Hong Kong Baptist library at dusk. I loved the order and mess of this view and the older smaller houses among the tower blocks. I also thought my drawing was not quite right and the 2 houses lacked volume. After another sketchbook sketch in which I just seemed to replicate the problem of the previous drawing I started a faint pencil sketch as guidelines under the ink drawing. But I realised I was just enlarging the problem on a bigger piece of paper.

In the end I resorted to the good old squaring up method to make sure my house proportions were right. My two small houses on the left of the street always turned out too small.

Overall it’s not a great piece. I am not great with pen and inks. I always feel you gotta be neat, and I struggle with that.I first used a Chinese bamboo pen which creates thicker lines and is capable of rather dry marks. Some minor details are drawn with a normal pen with a metal nib. The line drawing is quite heavy-handed. Then I made a wash with an oval and a small brush.

Also I realised that I loved this view for the lights at dusk. So at first I attempted to do this in line only and I failed. In hindsight that’s probably one of the hardest things to achieve in a pen an ink line drawing. Then I added wash, partially because I had made the background wood/tree marks to noisy and that was drowning out the middle ground. Since I liked the wash, I couldn’t help but continue, trying to give an impression of night. I think that part worked ok. However the picture is rather mediocre but I feel I am not quite done with this motif. It seems like Hong Kong at it’s truest to me.

III. Project perspective – Angular perspective

Task: Make a line drawing of buildings corner on. Again add your eye level line with a ruler and later (at home) superimpose a perspective drawing.

Angular perspective: sketchbook entry with superimposed perspective drawing in blue

Angular perspective: sketchbook entry with extended eye level

Overall this was a good exercise. It looks so easy but to really make a correct drawing it takes some skills (seeing and executing). Last night was a wonderful evening as you can see from the gorgeous smog tainted sky at dusk in Hong Kong. The only problem with this is that it lasts about 20 minutes and things change so fast with the fading light. So in case I wanted to do an oil painting I’d really have to do some preparation or just do an oil sketch quickly with the colours.

Angular perspective: several pictures “stitched together” in photoshop to extend the picture with an attempt to straighten the verticals (which were quite distorted due to my camera lens)

I also just noticed the street should be wider in my drawing, extending to the right. I love the effect of the many different light types on the colours. Look at the lower left white light shining out of the door of the building, the street lights, the sky, but also the taxi front lights illuminating the road and giving the tree foliage more contrast. This is a lovely view.

Check and log

Problems in executing perspective drawings:

  • In the outdoors angular perspective exercise I can see from the semi-straightened photo I took that some of the receding lines are off. For example, the superimposed blue lines going off to some vanishing point on the left of the small house seen from above (left) should be less slanted, therefore meeting even further outside my paper at my eye level vanishing point. The way I superimposed it, it looks as if the house had its bottom on a slight hill. Also the smaller blocks in the upper right corner recede too much into the background. Again the vanishing point should be much further out, so the house is just at a light angle towards the road.
  • Especially in angular perspective drawings there is a real confusion of receding lines. Sometimes even the straights seemed to have an angle but this might come about because I stood too close to the things I drew.
  • Parallel perspective by comparison is straightforward.

Merits of using rulers:

  • There seems nothing wrong with it if it helps, like now when I start to focus on and think about perspective.
  • However I believe it should be a crutch for just as long as I can’t “walk” without one. If you are out and about doing an oil painting I don’t think it’s necessary to use rulers. It also depends on the intention. If I am purely after a technically correct drawing of whatever I see then using the ruler would help in any case. But if I want to convey a mood or feeling, then frankly I don’t even think it matters if the lines are slightly off as long as the picture still works. And that has to be tested.

III. Project perspective – Parallel perspective (an interior view)

Parallel perspective

I was procrastinating this perspective exercise a bit because a) I had wanted to just focus on Painting 1 but b) I had a bit too much of perspective stuff from my Painting 1 course which incidentally is occupied with the same issues at the moment and I was procrastinating Painting 1 even more than Drawing 1 as I had a bad time with my acrylics lately. I did people drawings instead to catch my breath.

Anyway I am back to my living room and I realised after mucking around with a red pen superimposing wrong perspective lines that all the lines are parallel and in a parallel perspective they should meet in a single point at the eye level. So ignore the red lines and focus on the BLUE lines instead. Blue happened after the eureka moment.

with “technical drawing” on top. ignore red lines, focus on corrections in blue. lines should meet in a single vanishing point in a parallel perspective like mine

This was a good exercise. Not only for getting the proportions of the distant objects right (I couldn’t believe how small couch and window were compared to the stairs). My perspective lines had completely underestimated the angle of the outer lines (the tile lines on floor), though I wasn’t too badly off in the middle on the stairs.

5: Extending the view – Adolph Menzel

Adolph Menzel (1815–1905). Treppenflur bei Nachtbeleuchtung. 1848. Öl auf Papier montiert auf Karton. 36 × 21,5 cm. Museum Folkwang, Essen, Deutschland

I have been putting off some of the tasks in favour of the people drawing section of the OCA Drawing I course as I needed a break from “non-peopled” visual worlds, hence the silence.

In the meantime I have found a picture which reminded me of the problem I was facing with my last Painting I attempt to render a dark interior space in acrylics, in which I failed miserably to come up with a convincing picture.

My staircase picture from earlier post.

Menzel’s staircase picture – although I assume his staircase lit with an oil lamp in 1848 must have been as dark or darker than my entrance area – seems to glow. There is no black, no sudden colour shifts like in my picture from purple to blue and yellow. However there are some subtle greens, reds and browns in the lit part on the left.

He treated the topic with a lot of tenderness. Mine is like a misplaced sledgehammer. I must try something similar again.

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