Rock faces

I have never studied geology formally but I have been prompted to learn by living on the edge of a former volcanic region in which there are so many interesting rock formations. While quarrying in the local area has indisputably changed the landscape, it has also exposed rocks that otherwise would not have been visible and which have provided information about our geological history. I love the heft of rocks, their sense of power, that they diminish everything else; that despite their size, they move and continue to move at an imperceptible rate. This helps to emphasise our human insignificance in the overall scale of things and creates a sense of perspective.

Their strong three-dimensional structures ought to make them relatively easy subjects to draw and yet they are far from easy to represent convincingly on the page – at least, that it my experience. This becomes easier in low light when strong shadows appear on sections of rock but in the middle of a summer’s day when the sun is almost overhead, or on an overcast day when shadows are lost in diffuse light, they can be very challenging subjects.

Rock faces lend themselves to abstraction but I would also like to capture their strong lines in a more representational way. During the summer, I visited three quarries in the area with my sketchbook.

The Stenzelberg in the Siebengebirge is latite and quarz; feldspar and hornblende crystals can be found embedded in the rock. This quarry was in use until the 1930s. It is a particularly interesting structure on account of the „Umläufer“, large stacks of inferior quality and very hard rock, which the quarry workers worked around. This has left an unusual rock structure to wander up and around. There are good views from the top. In the sketch, I wanted to capture the colour and textural differences in the rock face. This was the first time I had attempted to capture a rock face up close and I found it tricky to follow one crack or slab as it joined multiple others. This is not an accurate sketch but when I look back at it it does convey my feelings about sitting in front of this structure that has been standing for millions of years although this rock face has been exposed much more recently.

This sketch focuses on the relationships between fault lines in a small section of the rock.

One of my favourite quarries lies over a hill east of Bad Münstereifel, south west of Bonn, just below the village of Eschweiler. I like this quarry because of the way in which, as one walks over the brow of the hill, the red rock of this quarry suddenly appears directly ahead and slightly below eye level. As one wanders down the hill, and approaches the quarry, it looms larger and next at eye level until one is standing below it looking up, every crevice clearly visible. I love this experience of approaching this rock from different distances, levels and angles. Here it is when first seen – a wide gash in the landscape.

Here is a section from closer to:

It is difficult to capture a sense of three-dimensional structure in diffuse light. I tried squinting to identify the areas out of direct light and then drew these as areas of tone, leaving everything else around as white space.

Finally, for now, I visited the Rockeskyller Kopf near Gerolstein. This is the best preserved former volcano in the Eifel. It is a wonderful structure. The rock strata are a joy – beautiful, clearly defined layers, which I have yet to clearly depict. I will be going back. This first sketch is in a quarry around the west side of the hill. The tree lies strewn across the entrance.

The second sketch was made from above the main quarry area – this is the section that would have been inside the volcano. This was a quick sketch – I intend to go back and make some more careful studies.


Developing a „forest shorthand“

Drawing a German landscape – at least inland – almost always includes trees, often lots of them together. For some time, I have been trying to develop a way to do this in a semi-abstract style to depict trees recognisably and in a more interesting way, while integrating them into my own style. During a recent holiday with more than its fair share of rainy days, I used a cheap A5 pad of watercolour paper and some old Cotman‘s watercolours to explore this idea. Here are some of the results of this exercise. I scanned the work in and the spring green, in particular, has not come out well. However, this was an exercise and not intended as finished work. As such, it conveys an idea. There are several here that I could develop further and integrate into on-site sketches which include stands of trees.

I was inspired to begin this process by a painting that I had seen somewhere – the information about it I no longer recall but the image remains. Because I am not sure how original my own work is in relation to this painting – visual plagiarism also exists as a concept! – I will not publish this. Suffice it to say that it provided a starting point for my own work, which I imagine is what a lot of art does for perhaps everyone who ever picks up a pencil or paintbrush.

This is original and rather abstract – indian ink was used on a wet ground. I am fond at the moment of Rohring and Klingner’s Antiktusche in payne’s grey. However, this was sepia. Lines were then etched into the surface using a wooden skewer.

This looks like a lot of elongated pitchforks. It was inspired by the branch structure of poplar trees, which emerge hook-like from the trunk.

I like to combine watercolour with line work and some empty space. I want to create a skeletal foreground while taking the eye back onto the density of the forest.

This reminds me of a path through bamboos. It would benefit from more colour contrast. The original includes ochre and has more variety than shows up here.

This is hazy – only a suggestion of tree outlines. This would work when the trees are intended to be in the background.

This was an attempt to increase the abstraction. The background consists of random brush marks in dilute, transparent paint. I used the edge of a piece of plastic to create the suggestion of branches in the wet paint. The indian red watercolour is opaque which brings the trunks further forward – the wood remains translucent and relatively airy. Quite like this effect – not sure about the indian red, though. Will explore this further.

This time, I stayed with the semi-abstract approach and drew tree and trunk outlines onto a transparent ground of greens and lemon yellow. I used a darker blue-green mix with a dry brush to create a sense of contrast.

To escape the greens, I used a pale, translucent ochre wash and created elongated shapes from it using a darker wash. As an idea it could be developed and integrated into a larger image. It does not really work on its own. Creating more obvious shapes through utilizing negative space more deliberately could be tried.

This was created using a printing technique with acrylic paint. This technique is essentially decalcomanie. The paint was left over from something else. I applied paint roughly to some torn paper shapes and then printed the shapes onto the watercolour paper. Applying light pressure to the paper shapes for a few seconds and then lifting the paper off carefully produced random colour and texture. I then drew around them with a fineliner to create tree shapes and added an outline for some contrast. Not sure that I would integrate this technique into a drawing, certainly not while drawing en plein air. However, the technique is fun to use and the outcome always unpredictable – which is part of the fun. .

Lastly, After deciding to invest in some grown-up watercolours (Daniel Smith), finally, I understand what all the fuss is about. The paint is wonderful – the colours flow into each each to create the most marvellous colours – it seems to be very difficult to make mud! – and some of them granulate beautifully. I am sold! The tree trunks here were painted with indanthrene blue and dilute quinacridone gold. The marks on the tree trunks were created variously with salt and clingfilm (saranwrap). Am exploring further…

Charcoal and conte drawings

I am continuing to work through old life drawings.  I worked on four charcoal and conte drawings today. I used charcoal and  sanguine powder applied with kitchen paper and a Q-tip to provide a darker / warmer ground to these drawings which I drew  about a year ago in a day-long workshop.  In places, I tried dissolving edges to help project other parts of a figure towards the viewer, or to create more focus elsewhere.  The drawings were made with charcoal pencil and I had later applied fixative so I could do little to change the drawings themselves. 

More birds…

I find illustration very enjoyable, perhaps because there are no rules, in fact a complete disregard for proportion and perspective can often lead to a whole new narrative… I like birds but enjoy creating bird-like images more than drawing the real thing because I can take all the time in the world within my imagination but a real bird only stays still for an instant.  I had some of the collage paper left over after using it on a life drawing last week (in the previous post) and used it to create this odd collection of birds in an A5 sketchbook.  I painted the page with a dilute acrylic wash of the colours used in the collage paper (green and copper metallics, and ultramarine).   The birds were cut out mainly without drawing and being guided as far as possible by marks in the paint that suggested feathers perhaps, or a beak. 

Revisiting old drawings

I have so many sketch books now including two fairly recent A3 sketch books that I have been taking to life drawing classes. I am in the process of reviewing these with a view to retaining only the drawings that I like or wish to develop further.   I can then recycle pages for further drawing. I cannot keep everything and, as my skills develop, I do not really see the point of keeping older drawings that I do not like and don’t look at. It also provides the opportunity to play around with paint and collage.  In the first image below, I painted around the two figures using different textures but essentially a monochrome palette.

 The basis of the second image was a pencil drawing in which the proportions were essentially OK but the lines in the drawing were very light and needed reinforcement to work as a drawing.  I decided to use some metallic paints that I have had a while and not used. I masked areas of the background and loosely applied green and copper metallic acrylic paint around the drawing.  This abstract approach only emphasized the inadequacy of the drawing.  Reinforcing lines didn’t work because original lines have their own life and drawing over them with more controlled lines can deaden them.  

I decided to create a collage paper using the green and copper metallics again, adding ultramarine and prussian blue acrylics. I used waxed paper which is very thin and can be used to create a layer which is mainly paint and does not protrude from the surface like, say, card or even most papers would.  I used various tools, including a piece of a comb, to create marks  in the surface of the wet paint. I then traced the outlines of different parts of the body and cut these out of the  painted paper.  I like the technique and the colours worked well as a palette.  I stored the tracing paper template for possible future use.  This is one way to breathe life into a drawing that is not working.