Exercise 36: 360˚studies
Choose an expansive landscape with an open view in all directions. Start one drawing looking north. Use your viewfinder to find a focal point, frame your view and complete a 15 minute drawing. Repeat the process for west, south and east.
I went to one of my favourite tors, on Dartmoor, where you can see for miles across the Dart Valley. All the sketches were done in graphite pencil, and all but one were done in 15 minutes (while ‘east’ took 20). I have to say it shows that they were done quickly, and it was hard to resist the urge to tear them out of my book and start again… but that’s not the point of the exercise. I want to learn to sketch more quickly, and that’s likely to involve some scrappy efforts, I know.
I started with the north view (see above). This was probably the furthest reaching view of all. I think the hills in the distant background were maybe just a tad too lightly shaded, but I was aiming for a sense of aerial perspective. The trees in the centre mid-ground were stated with a little more pressure, as was the tree-lined valley running at a diagonal down to the right-hand side of the mid-ground. Not entirely sure it’s evident that the hills sweep down the valley here. Maybe a few more directional pencil strokes would have helped that? The more heavily drawn lines were dry stone walls and ancient settlement boundaries. At the centre of the sketch is a wind-blown thorn tree. Obviously I didn’t attempt a wholly realistic interpretation of it, but rather tried to suggest the direction in which it was growing, thanks to its position on the hill. The foreground was supposed to feature wild rough grasses (as indicated by the somewhat erratic marks), with a few of the large rocks leading to the tor, right at the front. It was late afternoon, and the light was coming from the left hand side of this view.
Turning to the west view, I was faced with a wide expanse of grass, covered with small mounds which cast varying sizes of shadow. I noted that the shadows were smaller the further away the mounds were, and that they were slightly lighter as they receded, too. In the mid-ground stood another thorn tree, which had also been strongly shaped by the wind. The light was behind it (slightly to the right), and it cast a long shadow. There was more rough tall grass behind the tree, which then gave way to the dark hills in the background (they appeared so dark due to the light throwing them into some degree of silhouette). There were a few streaky clouds in the sky, but they were only barely visible.
The view to the south was not dissimilar – more grassy expanses, with sporadic tall clusters of long grass. Over a low bank of earth, in the mid-ground, were a few cows grazing. Quite some distance behind them were two more thorn trees. In the background, the dark hill extended down to the south. The light here was coming from the right hand side. The sky was the lightest area, whilst the cattle were the darkest.
The east view had me standing in front of part of the tor itself. The largest stone in the foreground was about hip height to me. The light was behind me (slightly to the left). It was very strong, and it was difficult to find a position where my shadow didn’t impinge on the view. The stones had very strong shadows, which were great fun to sketch. It felt almost abstract as I was drawing them. A few more tufts of grass in the mid-ground, with the trees in the valley indicted by the horizontal dark scribble just above the centre of the sketch. Beyond that, the receding hills seemed lighter. I think this captures how it felt to stand there, but one thing I would change is the pencil strokes of the grass at the centre of the picture – I should have directed them slanting downwards to the right, as I think (?) that would have given a clearer idea of the lie of the land (not entirely sure of that, though).
I think it’s going to take some getting used to, doing quicker sketches like these. Trying to move away from the idea that every drawing needs to be ‘finished’ or resolved. Practise, I know. Also, I’m happy enough drawing when there’s no one else around, but find it very hard when other people appear. It will be interesting to see how such sketches might change, once I’ve covered the section on perspective. I tried to put the little knowledge I have of it already to use, though. The main thing that really felt as though it was missing from these sketches was colour. It was a beautiful autumnal afternoon, and the colours across the valley were wonderful. The tall grasses were coppery, and the grass was incredibly green.