4.1 Description & depiction

The purpose of this exercise was to experiment with and think about how words and pictures work together and how this understanding can lead from an observational to a more interpretive approach to image making.

Key words from the brief:

  • You will be considering description as a means of teasing out the simple narrative of the scene.
  • Using words when sketching can be both a useful shorthand to ‘capture more’ of what you see and feel.
  • Draw out four equally sized oblong or square outlines.
  • In box 1 – In a letter format, write down descriptions of everything.
  • In box 2 – use words in place of drawings so that the location of these words is where you would have drawn a picture.
  • In box 3 – draw the scene simply and as it is using only pictures.
  • In box 4 – create a balance between describing the scene creatively with words and pictures.

How I answered the brief

I selected a location that I visited as research during Printmaking 1, 3.1 Reduction method linocutting. During that exercise I’d carried out photographic research in and around St Nicholas Church in Thames Ditton and thumbnailed ideas for a reduction linocut. The idea didn’t get developed any further.

The location is quite evocative for me and I thought it would be a good starting point for me to write descriptive prose, something I haven’t done for as long as I can remember. Although I write reports and describe business systems in my day job, this felt slightly challenging and I wasn’t sure how the exercise would turn out.

St Nicholas Church graveyard

I drove to the church, parked the car and cut through a hedge into the graveyard. My intention had been to draw the church which is located about 150m from the graveyard, but I was instantly taken by what I saw, and after walking around the site chose a place close to the entrance from which to draw.

The graveyard of St Nicholas Church, Thames Ditton

Writing the descriptions and completing the drawings took just over an hour. I used an A5 sketchbook with ink pen and a limited range of liquid watercolour brush pens.

On reflection I would have benefited from taking a wider selection of brush pens with me ro add a bit more sprint colour to the pictures.

Cigarette Island Park

Buoyed on by the experience of the first drawing I decided to try a second. This time the location was Cigarette Island Park which is a strange triangular park directly behind Hampton Court Station with the River Thames running down one side and River Mole running down the other. I thought I’d get an interesting view of Hampton Court Palace and a seat on a park bench.

When I got there I felt the more interesting view was in the park itself, looking up a path towards park benches. The signs of spring were everywhere and the occasional bursts of sunshine amongst the rain showers cast interesting shadows along a row of horse chestnut trees.

Cigarette Island Park, Hampton Court

I like the smudged inky blotches where I got caught in a rain shower.


Which approaches did you enjoy, and which will you take forward from this task?

I was really surprised by how easy the written description of the scenes were to produce. I didn’t have to think, the information just flowed.

This is a big lesson for me. I’ve been shy of expressing myself through written word but I’ve also known that I’d have to deal with it at some point. This is the prompt!

I enjoyed all parts of the exercise although probably a combination of pure written description and combining this with imagery is what I’ll take forward into future sketching. It definitely allowed me to capture more of what I could feel and see in my sketchbook.

What happened when words and images interacted; did they reinforce or play off against each other?

There was a bit of both.

The written description of the graveyard provided broader context to the viewer/reader of what they were looking at. The hum of traffic and birds twittering in the spring sunshine are not something discernible from the picture.

The description of ramshackled and lopsided rows of headstones being reclaimed by nature reinforces what is in the image.

Did describing the scene using words first affect the way you drew afterwards?

To a certain extent. I found I edited the visual elements of the pictures to give the text room to breath. I think the written descriptions are valuable prompts for me and were I to redraw the scenes again with more time and consideration, they would influence my visual interpretation.

Did what you described using words help you to decide the emphasis or your image?

Yes. I found I was referring to the written descriptions to provide prompts for what I should edit. For example the ‘granite cross, cold and stern’ was the strongest solid shape in the foreground of the graveyard picture that needed emphasis, and the little clump of daffodils were moved into a more central position in the image to give them visual importance.

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