Assignment 2: A sense of place

The purpose of the assignment was to reflect on the the different types of reportage drawing covered in the PART 2 exercises and build on the most successful learnings through answering the following brief.

Key words from the brief:

  • Your local tourist board has commissioned you to produce a series of reportage illustrations that celebrates aspects of local culture
  • Base your illustrations on real local events, locations and people
  • Produce between three and five pieces of work, at least one of which should be in colour
  • Vitality and life

Approach

I combined this assignment with a 4-day mini holiday to North Norfolk during the last week of August, one of the busiest tourist weeks of the year.

My parents live there so I know the area well. The weather was perfect. Brilliant blue skies, sun and a cooling breeze.

The type of reportgage I feel most empathy with is a combination of people, place, and architecture. Drawing groups of people interacting is an interesting way to bring narrative into play and throughout PART 2 Reportage I’ve been consciously developing this aspect of my work. So I decided to combine these elements when answering the brief.

I chose two North Norfolk tourist spots as my subjects; Hunstanton (beach and promenade) and Sandringham House and Gardens.

I was pretty sure that both would be packed with tourists that would provide numerous opportunities to combine people with place.

Choosing a method of working was tricky because I currently seem to be all over the place experimenting with different combinations of media, paper and formats. So I just went with what felt right and with the drawing materials I could carry with me.

My inspiration for this assignment was the work of Melanie Reim, who I met briefly on the Urban Sketchers boot camp in Prague. I love her fluid expressive reportage drawings of people. They are great observations usually incorporating humour. a combination I aspire to achieve in my own work. She also frequently uses people on a beach as a subject.

Pre-planning/research

An objective I had for the assignment was to timebox the work to 4-days to simulate the conditions of a real commission. This meant pre-planning and reccing the locations and sticking to a timetable – this constraint added pressure that meant I had to make some hard decisions about when to quit and move on to another location.

Before starting any drawing I spent 4-hours walking the length of the Hunstanton Promenade to identify potential places to draw. I carried a camera and sketchbook, did thumbnail sketches and took photographic reference on the way.

Given limited time and numerous potential locations I thought that using a camera was a quick shortcut to capturing ideas quickly and had the advantage of being reusable as reference if I failed to get the drawings I needed first time around.

 

Drawings

Location 1 – Hunstanton promenade & beach

Hunstanton featured earlier in Key steps in illustration, Assignment 1 – Say hello. I find something fascinating about seaside towns.

Martin Parr captured some of this in his exhibition Only human that I saw in the National Portrait Gallery earlier in the year. There something particularly English about seeing people in bikinis and swimming shorts huddled together for warmth pretending to enjoy themselves crouched behind a wind break sheltering from a cold northerly wind coming straight off the North Sea.

My objective was to try and capture something of that essence of British beach holiday.

Hunstanton is a seaside town overlooking The Wash on the North Norfolk Coast. It was purpose built by the Victorians and became popular when the Great Eastern Counties Railway opened up a new line between Kings Lynn and Hunstanton in 1862.

During my research I came across a number of railway posters that give an insight into how the location wanted to be perceived in the early part of the 20th Century; the key subjects haven’t changed and it was instructive to see how other illustrators had approached a similar brief.

Hunstanton railway poster 01
Fig 1 – Hunstanton’, LNER  Vintage Railway poster (1923-1947)

Hunstanton has a number of caravan parks and during the summer there is a constant flow of traffic into the town which means it gets very busy.

My sketches and more finished drawings were done over two days and were a combination of very rapid observational vignettes of people and longer more finished observational drawings.

I carried three different sized sketchbooks and used each interchangeably. All of the quick sketches were made in an A5 Moleskine sketchbook. The A3 and A4 sketchbooks were heavy duty mixed media paper in case I wanted to experiment with watercolour.

 

Hunstanton finished drawings

The first two more developed drawings were fairly quick. I like them because they capture something essential about the people

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Couple on a bench – Fountain pen, A5 sketchbook
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Coffee and the beach cafe – Fountain pen, A5 sketchbook

The third drawing captures the explosion of colour in the cliff top garden flower beds. I drew this first thing in the morning before there were many tourists around. My intention had been to draw the garden scene and then sketch in someone sitting on the bench in the foreground – but it didn’t happen. Lesson – wait until at least 11am. in the morning before starting.

Hunstanton cliff gardens
Hunstanton cliff garden flower beds – Fountain pen and coloured pencils, A4

The fourth is a view of the band stand in two colours. It’s interesting that the visual style of the character drawing changed when I constrain the drawing to using only two different coloured pencils.

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A view of the band stand – Coloured pencils, A3 sized

The final drawing is my favourite because it best captures the place, (a wide angle view of the promenade, fun fair and fish and chip vendor), and people (man, woman, ice cream and dog).

The use of a frame in the picture is a device I copied from several Urban Sketchers, notably Rajesh Dhawan who I met in Prague; I think his work is great.

For me the frame device has a number of benefits:

  1. It breaks the ice and immediately helps me get over being too precious with a image – it’s the first thing I draw and is a pretty bold statement made in less than 10-seconds
  2. It frames the composition and is particularly helpful when a scaling up a thumbnail
  3. It frames some of the action but can also be easily broken, in the example below by the two dog walkers in the foreground. This emphasises foreground, midground and background relationship and gives the image a stronger visual hierarchy

The background drawing took about 60-minutes to complete and the foreground characters were composited in later from a different sketch using Photoshop.

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Strolling along Hunstanton promenade – Fountain pen, A4

Location 2 – Sandringham House & Gardens

By contrast, Sandringham House is the private home of the Queen that sits in a 20,000 acre estate. The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens and both are open to the public during periods when the Queen is not in residence.

From a logistical point of view this location was much easier to manage. There are a limited number of locations where there are large numbers of tourists, the Visitor Centre and Ticket Office being obvious spots. Plenty of benches and an excellent cafe provided comfortable seating.

The house and gardens have a number of great view points, and given the brief I went straight for the most iconic which is the house itself. I had planned on drawing a view from the formal gardens that are on the west side of the house but the whole of the west end of the house was covered in scaffolding, so I had to adjust my plans.

 

Sandringham finished drawings

The Sandringham drawings were made over one and a half days. The first three were made on the first day and are of scenes from around the Visitor Centre.

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Afternoon tea at the Sandringham Visitors Centre – Fountain pen, A5 sketchbook
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Families sitting on a bench outside the Sandringham Visitors Centre ticket office – Fountain pen, A5 sketchbook

I was conscious that the brief specified that at least one of the drawings should be in colour, so I spent a hour and half at the end of the first day just as everything was closing drawing the scene in front of the entrance to the house and gardens. My original intention had been to use watercolour, but time was running out and I instead used watercolour pencils that I feel more confident with.

Sandringham entrance
The entrance to Sandringham House & Gardens – Watercolour pencils, A3

The final drawing is of the drive leading to the front entrance of Sandringham House. This drawing took four and a half hours to complete because it includes a lot of fiddley texture and detail that describe the building.

The two figures in the foreground were composited into the image from another sketch later using Photoshop.

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Tourists in front of Sandringham House – Fountain pen and liquid watercolour, A3 sized

Reflections

What went well

  • I achieved all the drawing within my 4-days timebox.
  • Having two locations was a sensible approach and gave me a variety of challenges and more likelihood of ending up with usable images. For example, I was conscious that if the weather changed to rain all my beach subjects would have disappeared indoors and without a suitable alternative, my trip would have been wasted.
  • Digitally compositing figures into the two more finished drawings worked well. In the fullness of time I really don’t want to use this technique, but given my current skill level and ability to be sure of capturing people walking believably every time, this is a safe option that ensures I don’t ruin a image.

What I would do differently/better

  • I was frustrated that I didn’t get more drawings of people from the Hunstanton promenade. I think this was mostly due to the fact that I don’t yet have the visual vocabulary or experience to very rapidly draw groups of people when they’re moving. This is an area I am continually developing through practice.
  • I will come back to this subject at some point because there are many angles to explore.

Assessment Criteria – self assessment of PART 2 – Reportage

Assessment criteria How my work meets the assessment criteria
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills My involvement and subsequent learning from two Urban Sketching workshops (Prague and London) have made a big difference to my reportage drawing in the following areas:

  • I’ve become much more confident in my ability to draw groups of people in different postures to create narrative
  • I’m more confident in drawing in crowds and out on location
  • I now have a set of tools and techniques to help test the design and composition of images and to very rapidly explore different options
  • I’ve expanded my repertoire of materials and media through experimentation to include watercolour and watercolour pencils, different pens (specifically a Pelikan fountain pen which is currently my favourite), using dip pens and liquid watercolour in the field and working on location up to A3 size for reportage drawing
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas I continue to spend time and effort to make my Learning Log as usable as possible through clear writing, simple layout and logical structure.
Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice The exciting thing about reportage is that it challenges me to put myself out-on-the-wire and to use my skills and ability to best capture a situation or moment.

I think for all of the practical exercises (apart from the 2.8 A rose by any other name), I’ve put myself in uncomfortable situations out on location in front of people to try and get an interesting result. Some of these have failed and for me this demonstrates I’m in a good place; succeeding every time indicates a safe approach with limited challenge or experimentation.

I would say that my personal voice as applied to drawing people is becoming distinct and I have have a good feeling for what that is – even though I  don’t quite trust it yet.

Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, for second and third level courses, critical reviews and essays). I’m excited to have chosen a subject for my critical review that I can work with and develop throughout the remainder of the course.

With the significant increase in research in PART 2, and noticing that, based on my Illustration Sketchbooks assessment feedback,  this aspect of my work is an area that needs to improve, I’ve become more disciplined in structuring my written research and have started using the Harvard Referencing System to reference third party materials.

References

Illustrations obtained online

Figure 1 – Gawthorn, Henry George Hunstanton’, LNER  Vintage Railway poster (1923-1947) At: https://www.travelpostersonline.com/hunstanton-norfolk–vintage-lner-travel-poster-by-hg-gawthorn-1133-p.asp (Accessed on 01.09.19)