Project Five: Townscapes

Research Point: John Virtue

Please click here for my findings from this research.

Exercise One: Sketchbook of Townscape Drawings

Sketchbook page of 10cm x 10cm close-up squares

For the first part of this exercise, I created three squares which held close-up quick line sketches of points which interested me and then another three squares which held close-ups of tonal sketches.

Having learned what I have learned so far, it is very apparent to me that my perspective skills when used without assistance still need a lot of work. However, I have found I am looking for ‘clues’ now which I wasn’t before. Bearing this in mind, I am happy with the outcome of these as quick sketches, as I think they do show some improvement.

For the next part of the exercise, I created two quick sketches in biro of two interesting points of view.

Sketches of townscape

As with the previous part of this exercise, I have found again that my perception is not completely accurate. I was aware there were errors during the creation of these sketches, however, I tried to work through these errors and correct them during the process. I really tried to imagine the vanishing points again when creating this, but do think this is going to take some time and practice to be able to see naturally, however, I am happy with the results and how I am progressing in this way. It will take some time to perfect, but I think I am getting there slowly!

Exercise Two: Study of a Townscape using Line

Preparatory Sketch

Preparatory drawing in sketchbook

For this exercise, I began by creating a sketch in my sketchbook over two pages, as instructed to do, of a townscape scene I thought appealing. After the previous exercise, I decided to continue the study of my own house in an attempt to ‘work in series’, showing my continued development of my understanding and appreciation of the details of the exterior of my home. I have actually found this rather enjoyable as, not only is it very sentimental to me and I enjoy working with sentimental things, I feel I have looked more closely at things I have merely taken for granted and walked by obliviously when coming and going from my home, day in, day out.

Composition for Final Piece

I then decided to use a piece of tracing paper as a view finder as the view finder I had made for myself was only roughly A4 in size. I placed the tracing paper at different angles on my preliminary sketch (as can be seen in the pics below – if you squint hard enough!) before choosing my favourite.

In all honesty, I actually really liked Viewpoint 3 and thought it rather abstract and interesting, but decided to play it a little safe and go with Viewpoint 4 as it held a lot of visual information and different parts of the preliminary sketch.

Final Piece

I decided I was rather intrigued as to what the piece would look like if completed on the tracing paper and – although a bit of a cheat on my behalf – traced my preliminary sketch with my finer drawing pen before adding in the extra bits of detail with thicker pens, using the thickest to show the darkest (and actually black) areas of the composition as well as the shadows and darker parts of the clouds.

Final piece

Whilst I think I have been rather successful with this piece in respect of the depth and perspective, I did struggle somewhat with my really straight lines as my tremor was rather strong when I created the piece, so i was a little disappointed with that. I actually wanted to keep the slightly wobbly lines more for the brick walls, but my arm had other ideas! Also, I think I have definitely overdone it with the clouds as it was a beautiful sunny day and I think the markings used would represent a more dense and rain-filled cloud as opposed to the light and wispy clouds which were actually visible. Again, this is a little disappointing, but definitely something I can consider for future pieces. I also think they try to jostle for the foreground focus too much too – another reason to keep them thin and dainty. I don’t think I have been all that successful in separating the grounds in this piece, but I do think it rather difficult when working with line. This is something I will have to try and work on.

Exercise Three: A Limited Palette Study

For this exercise, I chose again to continue studying my home and to recreate the same piece again, but this time using as close to the traditional colouring as possible. Again, due to my increased tremor and a little weakness in my hand, I chose to work with wax crayons. I made this decision as I thought the finer grip / motor skills needed would cause much more cramp in my hand, so I chose to avoid these. I then considered soft pastels, but did not have a good enough match to the colours (I had black, but no brown, only yellow and orange). Then I considered oil pastels but decided they were too loose and expressive for the piece as I did want to keep it delicate, bearing in mind the weather of the day (I waited -a little too long! – for the sunshine to come back and for the conditions to be roughly the same as the day I had created my preliminary sketch in my earlier exercise.

Limited palette final piece

Whilst I think there are still a few issues with my work which I need to address (the bricks I drew in quickly do not fully sit at the right angle, so this spoils the effect somewhat, the door is too narrow and the garage roof was difficult to recreate due to its strange angles, to name just a few), I used this exercise to practice my lighter touches in the clouds and in the shadow on the white sections of the piece. Again, I think my angles still need a lot of practice and I did struggle to see things clearly, but I think I have definitely improved dramatically since beginning the course and, hopefully, this will continue.

Exercise Four: Statues

When I first thought of this exercise, there was only one statue which came to mind that I wanted to study due to its place in my memory; having grown up driving past this statue on numerous occasions, I had always been fascinated by the ‘magic’ it held as it seemed to reach up to the sky at an angle, as though anchoring the giants’ world from the ancient fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, to ours!

I went to visit the statue and noticed things I had never noticed about it before, having always been solely focused on the ‘magic’. The shadows were fantastic for working on my tutor’s comments regarding patches of tone and the contrast between the two. Also, the fact it disappeared into the distance and everything became smaller as it became further away was also really good the help me practice my foreshortening skills. I tried to move around the statue for different viewpoints, but also zoomed in on key points of interest to try recreating.

Sketches from varied viewpoints

I think I was a little tame with my first two sketches (top left and top right) as I stood in a position where there was not much shadow (I was here for some time, so the light changed position too). I think I have made the mistake again though on the top two of giving them too defined an outline. I just cannot seem to get away from this!

The bottom two are much more interesting I feel and are less outlined than the previous two; I think the lack of tone in the top two compared to the bottom two really seems to affect me. It is as though I just cannot get my mind around the fact the very solid outline does not have to be there for it to look realistic. I think I should have blended it a little better so it was not so solid a line. I am, however, very pleased with the links in the bottom right piece. I used the lifting method with a rubber to lift to the lightest value and I think it has genuinely paid off! I tried to draw the links roughly in place so I knew where I was going, but then just followed the tonal changes and worked my way downwards. I think this has really helped make the sketch look convincing.

Final piece

After doing the four quick sketches, I decided to draw the whole statue on a page in my sketchbook, trying to take note of what I had gathered in the quick sketches I had made. As a whole, there was not masses of shadow and tonal contrast from the view I had now chosen (and with the sun’s placement changing etc), so I decided to work quite lightly in tone and use very deep tonal areas for the shadows, as well as lifting areas (such as the scratching to the lower half of the hook) and the reflected light on the links.

I was actually quite impressed with the finished result and, again, think it has helped my understanding of foreshortening massively, which I think will help me no end in the next Part of the course.

Project Four: Perspective

Exercise One: Parallel Perspective – An Interior View

For this exercise, I decided to revisit my kitchen, as I had created a piece in a similar position in an earlier exercise and, thinking back on my tutor’s comments regarding this piece, thought it would be a good idea to rework a similar piece for this exercise to try and understand the comments through actual practice. Reading the first part of the exercise, I decided to draw a freehand sketch of the kitchen as I saw it through my doorway, but trying to bear my tutor’s comments in mind and trying to consider the perspective and geometry issues discussed.

When I had finished, I grabbed a ruler and started trying to find any and all vanishing points within the piece. I hoped there would be one main vanishing point but, this being my first attempt knowing what I did now from the feedback, I wasn’t pinning all of my hopes on it! I had marked on the piece where I felt my eye level fell and tried to aim for the vanishing points to hit there. I tried to keep all flat pieces flat and then build on the angles within the piece to create the depth held within the kitchen.

When I had finished connecting all of the lines, I was actually rather impressed with myself as, although they didn’t all line up perfectly as they should, I think I had managed to get it quite good for a first attempt. I realised once I had finished that I had drawn the cupboards first but had drawn them slightly at an angle – perhaps this was the way I had been stood? – but this had had an impact on the rest of the piece, so the rest was all slightly crooked. Whilst there wasn’t one single vanishing point, I was pleased to see they all fell rather in the same area and where I think my eye level was roughly.

For the second part of the exercise, I decided to create another version of the same piece, but with using a ruler this time and remembering where I had gone wrong with my first freehand attempt. This time, I chose a specific view point (marked with a dot on the piece, just below the centre cupboard) and drew the cupboards from that. At first, I had a bit of an issue with ensuring the cupboard doors fell correctly, but then realised what my set square was actually for! Once I had figured this out, I realised that these things should all be at 90 degrees from the bottom of the page.

Once I had completed these pieces, I decided to create a comparison list to point out the similarities and differences between them when seen side by side:

  • I was much heavier-handed in the freehand piece than in the controlled one.
  • In the freehand piece, my angles are tilted too much to the left as opposed to being drawn straight on.
  • Due to the time needed to create the controlled piece, I found I took much more notice of finer details than I did in the quick freehand sketch.
  • There is much more accuracy within the second piece, perhaps also as a result of the time and effort applied.
  • The top cupboards within the freehand piece have been drawn on a much smaller scale than those in the second piece, showing a lack of accuracy within my freehand skills.
  • Overall, the angles within my freehand piece are generally slightly off, whereas those in the second piece appear to be much more accurate, if not perfect.

Exercise Two: Angular Perspective

For this exercise, I decided to initially take and build the structures of my piece from a photograph of my porch due to the request to draw a building side-on. I wanted to practice creating a similar result to my controlled piece in the previous exercise as I think I have found a brilliant way to assist me with my accuracy issues.

Firstly, I drew a grid on the photograph and then inserted all of the vanishing points. Once I had plotted the basics, starting with the straight line of the corner and ensuring others were accurate too (i.e. the door frame and porch), I then began to draw in the detail, using the grid lines and perspectives to assist me.

Having used a 2H pencil to draw in the structure, I then took my piece outside and completed the finer details and tone in real life. I figured that whilst the structures would never change, the colours and shadows would, even though I was only creating this piece as a line drawing. I added only a little tone to help differentiate between numerous lines all clustered together.

I was rather pleased with this result as I think I may have found my way with using grids and vanishing points to assist my work. Whilst I won’t be able to use these for every piece I make, I will use them as and when I am able and it suits. For instance, I am aware I won’t be able to use them when working with the figure or during such things as sketchbook walks etc as these pieces will require my immediate and quick attention. In fact, I believe these situations would actually work in reverse; I would have to work quickly and potentially only use photographs to assist should the weather change or the sun move its location or the model need to change their pose.

I think I definitely need to work on my observational skills to improve in this area, but I think I have come such a long way in a very short space of time as I can ‘see’ the issues I have fallen victim to in the past much clearer now and know how best to attempt to rectify them.

Exercise Three: Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective

For this exercise, I firstly carried out four experiments in my sketchbook of a set of hills I came across locally. I created atmospheric studies of these hills in charcoal, oil pastel, ink and soft pastels.

I really liked the outcome of all four pieces as I feel they all offer something different. The charcoal allows for greater shadowing and tonal changes I feel, whereas the oil pastel allows for greater vibrancy of the colours. The ink works best for showing the lightening of colours and hues.

For the final piece for this Project, I decided to once again draw a grid, but tried to work freehand with the grid as opposed to from a picture – ripping the plaster off, so to speak!

I went to a local park and chose this spot as I could visualise the bridge disappearing in the distance. I tried to imagine the grid lines and vanishing points in the distance and to see the parallel lines in my chosen setting.

I built the piece up with a set of white, grey and black soft pastels, working from the back, forwards. Whilst I created this piece in the summertime, from my earlier exercises with trees, I found I much prefer working with the ‘skeleton’ of the tree, as opposed to dealing with the excess of foliage. Instead, I tried to represent foliage through blended areas with a touch of dabbing in places to create the texture of the leaves, mud and moss throughout the three grounds, having minimal in the background.

I was rather pleased with the end result of this piece and the atmosphere created within it. I tried to really draw upon Atkinson-Grimshaw‘s works to create this piece and think I have been somewhat successful in doing so. Whilst it holds none of the precision of Atkinson-Grimshaw’s pieces, I think I have been rather successful in creating the depth within the piece, with the bridge leading the viewer’s eye backwards towards the background of the piece. I think I have been rather successful with the perspective of the bridge considering it was practically freehand! A vast improvement I think (I hope!). Once again though, I think by adding in the outline of the bridge, I have made it look somewhat like a cartoon. I just cannot seem to break away from needing that outline! Maybe that is just my style? I’m not too sure!

Research Point: Project 5: John Virtue

John Virtue is an English artist who focuses solely on creating black and white landscapes in a semi-abstract way. Whilst his work has great influence by such other English artists as Turner and Constable, he also allows for an influence from the American abstract expressionism and an enjoyment in oriental brush-painting. In his earlier years, Virtue’s pieces were largely recreations of the Oswaldtwistle, which was close to where he was raised, and were created in paint and later in pen and ink, white acrylic paint and shellac on canvas.

Later, Virtue gave up his career as a postman and relocated to Devon, creating pieces of the landscapes of the Exe estuary from his studio in Exeter.

Virtue was then offered the amazing opportunity to become the sixth Associate Artist at The National Gallery in 2003, where he created numerous paintings of London to compliment the works of the Old Masters held within the gallery and to become a piece of its history.

When looking at Virtue’s work, I cannot help but be drawn in by the strong tonal contrasts and the different intensities of the black / grey. Some parts of his pieces are very much abstract, whilst others are rather defined, for example, in Fig. 4., the clouds and detailing to the right appears rather blurred, whereas to the left, the piece appears rather defined. It is clear that Virtue defines those areas of the painting he wishes to be the focal points, whilst the rest is simply there to draw your eye around the piece from one focal point to the other.

The softness to the edges in the majority of the pieces gives a warmth to the atmosphere, whereas the stark black and white seems to give the piece a sense of cold and foreboding. It is also not immediately apparent what the pieces are or what they represent, which I think draws the viewer’s intrigue and a desire to know more. That moment of clarity when you look closer and see a landmark you are familiar with hidden amongst the mass of black and white is phenomenal to me!

I love the use of black and white and I can definitely see some of my own style of working within these pieces, so I think I will try to bear this in mind when creating my own work.

List of Illustrations

Fig.1. Virtue, J (Unknown) John Virtue at work in his studio [Photograph] At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/associate-artist-scheme/john-virtue (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Fig.2. Virtue, J (Unknown) Monochrome Painting At: https://www.widewalls.ch/artist-search/?arist_name=virtue&nationality=&style=&gender=&age=10%2C100 (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Fig.3. Virtue, J (2004) Landscape No.739 [acrylic & shellac on canvas] At: Bridgeman Education (Accessed on 24 June 2019)

Fig.4. Virtue, J (2005) [Unknown] At: https://www.kanopy.com/product/john-virtue-london (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Bibliography

Artnet (Unknown) ‘John Virtue’ [Online] At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/john-virtue/ (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

The National Gallery (Unknown) ‘John Virtue: Associate Artist 2003-5’ [Online] At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/associate-artist-scheme/john-virtue (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)

Yale University Press (2005) ‘John Virtue: London Paintings’ [Online] At: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9781857093858/john-virtue-london-paintings (Accessed on: 24 June 2019)