Part 4, project 1, exercise 2 – hard or soft landscape.

I think the previous exercise gave rise to a soft enough landscape for now, so I’ve gone for the hard version. More architectural and structural but also involving a lot of horizontals and verticals that need, even if they’re hand drawn as opposed to drafted onto the page with ruled precision, need to do the job of giving the viewer decent enough clues as to perspective. As a learner, there is also a requirement to demonstrate that I can do this with reasonable conviction.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, actually sitting in front of a landscape and sketching there is impossible, and so I have resorted to photos. I like to use my own because I was there, I framed it, chose the angles and, after a fashion, the compositional quality. I take snaps, not Photographs, so this is basic. Nevertheless, I know the places and they’re meaningful to me, which gives me context that goes beyond the image in my camera.

I had three contenders; two of Brighton (a stitched photo of the 360 degree tower under construction at the West Pier, and one of a typical Brighton street which I’d run through the Enlight app and changed the colours), and one of my old school which many of us had visited a few years ago on a reunion and which has since been demolished despite its history and the very many objections.

I very quickly rejected the tower even though it has potential, being stark and so centrally positioned. Then I pulled out the school building which again has potential and which I might have represented as it used to look when I was there – the sandstone black with the soot in the air. I am a colour magpie, drawn to what I had already made in an app from an image that in itself was bright and colourful.

First, I needed to map out the verticals because there are many. I did this using a black sharpie on a print of the photo. What emerged from that was an image that attracted me immediately for its graphical quality. That tied bin bag in the centre at the bottom with its emptiness as an image contradicting its bursting fullness in reality; and the white-out bins further up. It’s as though Enlight was keen to eradicate the muck on this street which was in fact littered with debris barely contained enough for the refuse collectors to pick up.

 

Thinking back to a conversation with my tutor about investigating the effects of different base colour washes I went for an orange mix to sit underneath the blues and purples and hopefully pop them out. But first I had to get those lines transferred and oh my goodness was that a struggle! The support is A2 cartridge prepped with white gesso for substance.

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The perspective is very tight and angular, and to complicate matters, the windows are bay-shaped on some of the houses but not on others. I made rough estimates of the largest blocks then assigned numbers to them so that I would know which strip belonged to which sliver of the photo. A three metre rule is an essential for this kind of thing even if my mathematical competence lets it down from time to time. This is the first pass blocking in some of the colours and tracking the accuracy of the perspective. I am actually quite surprised to find it seems pretty much on target.

After some more blocking in, I can see a terrace emerging. I use black (or white) conte to make guide lines but I’m not aiming for a ‘clean’ graphic image, more one that is impressionistic. As long as I get the perspective right, I’m going to feel free to use colours that say Brighton rather than take a more naturalistic approach.  I’ve become a fan of the ‘dirty brush’, one that will streak another colour along with the main one. This seems to be turning into a quilt.

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Today, I added some depth of colour to some of the blocks, completed the window in the foreground, added definition to some other elements, and used wash to give the street furniture some volume. I am deliberately trying not to over-work this, or to resort to my blocky brush technique because this is definitely a graphical type of painting, albeit a type I had not set out with in mind. Probably it was driven by the photo I had both taken and modified originally.

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The colours are unrealistic – at least in the sense that they are not the original ones but not in the sense that they would be out of place in a Brighton street. I think the perspective (just about) works, and I’m quite pleased I managed to avoid adding detail to the distant objects. I’ve been asked by my tutor to think about stopping sometimes a little earlier than I do to avoid over-working and I think I’ve done that here with reasonable effect. I could have fiddled all day tomorrow with it, but I’m not sure it would have added anything but irrelevant marks.

Interestingly, I can see the guide lines I drew before starting which I think adds to the graphical tenor of the piece.

 

Time taken: 10 hours

Learning outcomes: LO1 – the key component of this piece is perspective and the fact that this is one of my major challenges. I knew when I chose this photo how complex it would be and I was determined to make this convincing. LO2 – on this occasion I am including compositional decisions which amounted to leaving some details out and changing entirely the colours found in both the original and the Enlight adjusted image. LO3 – on reflection, this has a very graphical feel reminiscent of prints and, latterly, Brian Alfred’s very smooth, flat paintings and animations. LO4 – I use contemporaneous narrative as my record, guide, reflection, and learning environment.

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