Burghof drawings

I had searched for a suitable building on which to focus a series of drawings.  After a couple of false starts, I remembered the Burghof.  The Burghof is a former hotel, long empty, halfway up the Drachenfels,  which is supposed to be Europe’s most climbed “mountain (a short but very steep 321 m).  I had long intended to visit it with my sketchbook and, with my deadline for the third assignment approaching, headed up there to spend two afternoons a couple of weeks ago, just drawing.  Although the building is not in a town, it does have a fair selection of outbuildings, and various interesting features so is not just a cube with a roof.   I had expected to have it to myself but a rockfall had closed the road above Schloss Drachenburg and walkers are currently rerouted around the Burghof, which has meant that a long disused footpath has been reopened.  I am quite attached to this disused building, which stands under Denkmalschutz – in other words, it cannot be torn down and the exterior must be preserved – with its overgrown terraces that look down over a long sweep of meadows towards the Rhine.

The weather on both these days was overcast, temperature in the mid twenties and a bit humid, with a fairly continuous threat of rain (there was a brief shower on the second day and I drew from under my umbrella for a time).   Very few people – even locals – are aware of the Burghof, it seems, and LOTS of people stopped to walk round and gaze up at it.  As a stationery sketcher, I was asked many times if I knew about its history.  I knew a little bit but overnight read up on it so that I could be well informed the next day when passers by stopped and asked me!

The first part of the exercise was to draw 10 cm x 10 cm drawings, one using outline and one using tone.  This view is from the Hof at the back, sitting with my back to the outhouses.  In particular, the gable on the right hand side was difficult to capture.  The angle was very steep.  The building is in a dreadful state but is interesting to draw because its walls are textured by peeling paint of various shades of grubby pale yellow, cream and ochre and also lichen growth.   This side of the building is not flush but “steps back” from the viewer in three stages.  Most of the windows are broken so there is a variety of reflection and different shades of blackness where the glass has gone.   This is clearer in the tonal drawing, below right.

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The light was mainly diffuse except for a short period towards the end of the initial sketches when the sun came out briefly. I used this time to add areas of tone very quickly.

I then crossed over the overgrown courtyard and sat with my back to the building as drawn above, to draw the outhouses.  I drew this fairly rapidly as the weather was very uncertain.

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Later, at home, I drew with Inktense pencils and wash, in order to try to capture something of the warmth of the buildings and a sense of the overgrowth (on the second day that I was there, the local council was out in force with the strimmers and these plants are no more, at least for this summer).  I used watercolour paper, the top edge of which has scanned oddly.  The angle of the roof on the left needs to be a bit sharper to get a better sense of looking into a corner.

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The next day, I approached the Burghof from a different side and drew it in its leafy context from further along the hillside.  From this viewpoint, I was more or less on the same level as the building as well as about 200 metres as the crow flies, from it.  I scaled the drawing to include the Drachenfels itself.  The very large tree behind the Burghof is a Mammutbaum, related to redwoods.

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The final drawing was made from the front of the Burghof.  I had to balance a decent view of the building with the need to stay off the footpath while drawing!  There are also quite a few overhanging branches not far away, which partially obstruct the view.  As a consequence, I ended up sitting quite close to the building when I drew the drawing below.  It took much longer than the other drawings to get the roofline correct and the gable correctly proportioned because I was so close.  I am quite pleased with the perspective overall but am still not sure – after redrawing several times, whether the wall on the left is correctly drawn at its base.  The walls ought to tilt inwards slightly towards the top due to vertical perspective, which probably should be evident from the angle from which it was drawn. In this drawing, the house appears slightly top-heavy, a bit of a witches house from a children’s book .Part of the Mammutbaum can be seen to the right.  Walkers stopped regularly to have their photos taken beside this tree.  It was an interesting afternoon, watching so many people interacting with a disused building and a huge tree, in between drawing.

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I selected the first viewpoint to use as the basis of an A3 drawing using coloured pencils.  I chose a fairly limited palette of cool colours.  I drew on site for about an hour and then finished off at home.  My first attempt looked like this (next drawing below).  This drawing was photographed.  The colour was not strongly applied and the drawing no longer exists in this form so I cannot reproduce it again.  The part of the building that I really disliked in the drawing was the grey-tiled extension on the upper left of the building: in the drawing it is much too prominent and out of proportion.  I compared this with my initial sketches, and also with a photograph and could see that the proportions were wrong.  However, when I tried to adjust them, this caused an avalanche of problems – every line that I altered affected its neighbour in a visual domino effect.  Finally, I saw how the gable at the other end of the drawing has also been incorrectly drawn.  I was determined to improve the drawing (final version near bottom of post) and, because the colours had not been too intensely applied, this proved possible.  I tried to represent the different ways in which the light reflected off the roof tiles….

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I then decided to used the outline drawing that I had made at the start of this project to look at colour options. I printed out a couple of copies and used different palettes with these to see what effect a warmer versus a cooler palette would have on the character of the Burghof.  In the first one, I included colours towards the blue end of the spectrum and used Inktense pencils and wash on a textured paper.  The inclusion of reddish tones in the wall, warms up the building without making it too Mediterranean…  However, this is a bit bright for the subject and isn’t the Burghof I know…

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I then tried a cooler palette – shown below.  This has not scanned too well, largely because the colours were not very strongly applied.  However, I decided that this palette was better suited to the subject, and was closer to the original one chosen and I decided in the end not to introduce new colours or start again but to remedy the existing drawing.

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Before adding the trees, I experimented with trying to suggest the background evergreens, rather than go for an accurate representation.  I had initially decided against including the trees because I had not used greens in my palette.  However, I realised that I could still draw trees using the colours I had already used.  I am quite pleased with the suggestion of greenness in the trees in the drawing below even though none was used. This has produced better colour balance throughout the picture, which reflects the current sadly dilapidated state of the Burghof.

Here is my initial sketchbook drawing of an evergreen.  I actually like this better than the ones I drew subsequently in the final Burghof drawing (see below), particularly the shagginess of the lower branches.

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Here is the new, improved and final A3 drawing of the Burghof.  In order to improve the colour reproduction, I scanned the drawing in in two halves on my A4 scanner and then attempted to splice them very basically.  You definitely can see the join!

The finished drawing has greatly improved perspective as well as a greater range of marks and textures.  In particular, I like the large “blank” wall which has been made more of a focal point by the addition of surface texture added using squiggles as well as rough cross-hatching in browns, ochre, yellow and others.  The roof tiles were drawn using more squiggles. The colours capture my feelings about this lovely old building: this drawing does feel like the Burghof to me and when I look at it I can recover a sense of being there.

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One final exercise required a limited palette study.  For this, I used conte crayons in sepia, sanguine and a dark green.  I used the drawing of the front of the building as a basis and made the surroundings more open than before, bringing in more sky. This entailed taking a viewpoint further back than the one that I had actually drawn previously and so I had to judge perspective mentally because I had no real reference point.  I can see now that the perspective is off on the upper windows in the facing wall.  Colourwise, I inadvertently picked up a blue crayon – hence the top of the tree is bright blue!  As I could not change this without making a mess and actually rather liked it, I added a little more blue to the foreground foliage for balance.  There is a sense of remoteness in the drawing, enhanced by the atmospheric perspective, which fits the mood of the place.  There is quite a strong diagonal running from the tree on the right, through the roof line to the distant hills, which serves to carry the viewer’s eye from the foreground through into the background.  The angle sof the clouds and the path counterbalance this but I do need to practise drawing clouds rather more…

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I have a hunch that the Burghof will be restored to use of some sort, after the completion of the new restaurant up at the summit, but we shall see. It would be a great place for a cafe but, being in the middle of a Naturpark, I guess that they don’t want to encourage a lot of road traffic because of the potential damage to wildlife and the peacefulness of the forest – although this is already quite the busiest, noisiest forest I know just with people on foot!  Would walkers alone be sufficient to sustain a cafe / restaurant here?  My experience while drawing suggested that, certainly in the summer, they would.

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