3.0 Observation

The purpose of the exercise was to develop ‘looking skills, and learning to become comfortable when working within a sketchbook in everyday situations, in public spaces’.

Key words from the brief:

  • …work in sequence and there may be more than 20 sketches in all
  • Choose two locations – a start and an end point
  • Walk or travel the route using as many of your senses as possible
  • Make visual notes and sketches of, or about, key buildings, visual landmarks and aspects of the route
  • You don’t need to think about making resolved or very detailed drawings
  • Do some quick drawings in the sequence
  • Do some more sustained sketches – maybe these will have more detail, be more complicated, or be closely observed

My approach

My route is the walk every day from Bank tube station to Chiswell Street. It takes about 15-minutes and takes a winding route along the side of the Bank of England, through a medieval passageway to the Guildhall, up onto the Barbican Highwalk above the London Wall, through the Barbican Centre and out the other side to Chiswell Street.

The architecture is very varied with medieval stone walls, the Bank of England rebuilt in the 1920s, the 1970s brutalist architecture of the Barbican Centre and the steel and glass skyscrapers of the square mile that continue to grow upwards and outwards.

I know the route very well but for some reason I felt a bit reticent about making a start. I think because up to this point I’d shied away from tackling lots of big architecture and wasn’t sure how it would go. I’d also not worked in a A5 landscape format sketchbook.

The first eight drawings were done in a single 3½ hour session on a Sunday morning when the whole area is pretty much empty of people.

All the sketches were made in the same A5 sized sketchbook using various ink pens and watercolour brush pens.

EPSON MFP image
Sketch 03 – Detail of a distinctive wrought iron railing
EPSON MFP image
Sketch 04 – Short cut through Masons Avenue
EPSON MFP image
Sketch 05 – View along Basinghall Street

I drew sketches 09 to sketch 17 over a four day period on my way to work, during my lunch break or on my way home.

As well as being very productive, it also meant that I was drawing the same subject in very different light conditions. In January my commute to work is during sunrise and my journey home is shortly after sunset.

The use of colour becomes bolder and I felt like I was starting to get to grips with the watercolour brush pens.

EPSON MFP image
Sketch 14 – View from the Barbican Centre lakeside early evening on a cold January evening

At this point in the sketchbook I reviewed my drawings and realised that I was approaching them all in a very similar manner. I decided to experiment with different techniques to give some variation and to experiment.

Brutalist architecture uses a lot of raw concrete and this is one of the distinctive features of the Barbican Centre. For sketch 15 I switched  to just drawing with an ink pen in an attempt to try and reproduce some of the raw concrete texture.

Sketches 16 was a rapid sketch that took about 5-minutes.

I took this more rapid carefree approach into Sketch 17, although this ended up being medium speed because I took a bit more care over adding the watercolour.

EPSON MFP image
Sketch 17 – Lunchtime in the Barbican Centre

The final three sketches were made on a Saturday morning. The picture of the corner of the Bank of England is out of sequence but I was drawn back by the pomp of the architecture.

Reflections

What went well

  • I became increasingly more confident with describing what was in front of me using the new watercolour brush pens.
  • The format of the sketchbook worked well with the subject
  • The better drawings are the ones where I was less respectful and more instinctive in my approach

What I would do differently/better

  • Towards the end of the sequence I wanted to start working at a larger scale. I liked the upended letterbox format but started to want to break free and be more expansive towards the end
  • I didn’t find a way to adequately describe the rough hewn concrete which is a key feature of the Barbican Centre’s Brutalist architecture. I’ll need to resolve this through some experimentation when I come to exercise 3.3 Illustrative Drawings.
  • I would really like to draw with a dip pen and ink on location. I’ve seen photographs of George Butler in the middle of a war zone with his pen and ink. I’ll experiment with this – as long as I can get the the ink to dry quickly enough!