Down by the riverside

I have been reading Danny Gregory’s book ‘An illustrated life’ which presents samples from around 50 people who keep sketchbook journals. I read a couple of his previous books on this topic when I was studying in the animation and design studio at my local university. I find it almost impossible to sketch in public, even when I am using a tiny A6 pad which can almost be held in the palm of my hand. Some people write a commentary in their sketch books, often the equivalent to a stream of consciousness as they are drawing. I am not inclined to do that; I would rather scan from the sketchbook and embed the image within my blog, for example. One of the contributors to Danny’s book, Butch Belair (and what a name that is) explained that he felt most comfortable drawing in his car. He would park up some place and sketch away. I wondered whether that might be a good approach for me to adopt.

Inspired by Butch and Danny, I threw my pencil case and sketchbook into a bag to take with me when I went out to visit the bank and do one or two other chores around the city. I then drove around looking for possible subjects. I found this strategy very difficult in practice in the city centre area owing to traffic flow and the general lack of convenient places to park the car. I found myself on one of the approaches to the south side of the river at one point and parked the car near an isolated pub on the river bank. I got out of the car and walked down to the railings along the footpath. I was then faced with the decision as to what, exactly, to draw. This is by no means a trivial problem for a sketching artist. Indeed, why do you think Van Gough ended up drawing a pot of flowers, or Monet ended up with a bridge over a lily pond? The choice of subject matter for sketching could easily become a separate blog post in its own right.

Here is a small selection of views that I considered.

Small boats on the river

Muddy dingy

   The row of boats strung out seemed to provide a nice composition, I was more enchanted by mud spattered dingy. The question of scale and framing throws up yet another set of decisions. For example, the view across the river to the far bank provided a somewhat messy industrial image. I liked the strong lines of the columns holding up the cement quay. However, zooming in, I loved the geometric structure of a close up of the blue trailer with the circular wheels and tyres set against the heavy virtical bars of the timber supports to the quayside. 

Industry on the river bank

Trailer on the far bank

I know that some modern artists move out into the world to capture their images with the digital camera and then return to the comfort of their studio to do the bulk of the sketching and finished artwork. This seems to me to be a good strategy if you want to paint or use pastels. In my case, it is a way to get around my neurotic fear of sketching in public. 

The sketch, below, started on location with a drawing in pen on a small A6 pad. I drew the view sitting in my car, parked up conveniently, so I could look at the scened through the front windscreen. I finished it back home in the studio with some pastel work.  

Pen and pastel sketch across the Wear

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