Check and log: Townscapes



How did you use a limited colour palette to create a sense of depth?

Mostly by use of aerial perspective: more detail and clearer mark-making in foreground, lessening in the mid-ground and background; greater use of warmer colours in foreground; using scale and proportion to indicate distance. Varying pressure of application (this was especially important given that I only had three colours to use). I had to get the broadest range of tones out of each colour that I could. I found that each colour was at its most intense when used by itself – blending created interesting effects, though (for example, on the telegraph pole). Given a limited palette, pinning down tone was crucial. I looked at the scene in question for a long time, studying where the darkest and lightest tones were, and how different tones sat next to one another. When I’d completed the study, I looked back at the reference photos I’d taken, converting one to black and white in order to see how close I’d come to achieving the right tones – pretty close, at it turned out.

Did your preliminary sketches give you enough information for your final pieces of work?

For the most part, yes. It occurred to me, though, that the amount of information one would need would depend on the style in which one was intending to work – for example, a highly realistic approach would require a great deal more information than a looser, more expressive study. As it was my intention to work in a slightly freer way, I concentrated on what I saw as the main focal points in my sketches, using notes and reference photos for additional information. Refining the selection process is something I suspect comes with practise. It can be hard, at this early stage, to know exactly which elements might be vital when working on the finished picture. Regular sketching seems to be the key to fine-tuning this process.

Would you approach this task differently another time?

I would include more sketches focusing on tone and texture, perhaps with close-up thumbnails of elements I want to highlight. Also, I’d make a note of how various points relate to one another in terms of scale and proximity. Depending on the subject, I might use colour thumbnails too, although I think tonal information is what matters most here. The right kind of notation, be it visual or written, takes time to evolve. Having relished the opportunities for more expressive drawing that soft landscape offered, I would like to see if I could apply this to hard landscapes/townscapes, in order to avoid the ‘tightening up’ that sometimes comes when attempting to depict buildings.

Have you got the scale of the buildings right? Make notes on what worked and what didn’t.

In the ‘townscape in line’ and ‘limited palette’ studies, I think so. In my preliminary sketches, not always! However, seeing what’s wrong in the earlier sketches enables one to make adjustments in the more detailed studies. Using what I’d learnt in the perspective section helped a lot – even though it still feels like I’m only just beginning to grasp it, I was able to apply it in general terms. So even if it’s not perfect, hopefully it’s believable. Rooftops were particularly tricky – it seems that diagonals can trip one up far more readily than straight lines, be they vertical or horizontal. I used comparative measurements a good deal for this (for all of  it, in fact) – looking at how this angle related to that one, and noting where visual markers were in relation to one another.

Have you captured the colour and atmosphere in your studies? How did you do this?

I tended to use black and white more than colour through this section, but where colour did play a part it was clear that it has an immediate effect on atmosphere. I noticed this in the little pen and wash sketch I did in the ‘sketchbook of townscape drawings’ exercise. Until then, I’d focused on line sketches and tonal drawings of the location in question, but the watercolour sketch gave an injection of life to the whole scene. I think medium affects atmosphere as much as colour does, though – and, of course, the two are closely related. Preliminary sketches and notes on colour were essential to my choices for the limited palette study, changing my preconceived ideas on which ones I would use. The last minute substitution of purple instead of black had a major effect on the atmosphere, creating a more vibrant mood. Blending the limited colours available was helpful, in effect creating a number of other colours, while the white of the paper was used for highlights. Mark-making was an important method of conveying texture and atmosphere – for example in the stone walls and the trees.