Recent drawings from along the Nahe river

I have just spent two weeks in Bad Münster am Stein beside the Nahe river in Rheinland Pfalz. This was my first trip to the region but definitely not the last.  Bad Münster has been a spa resort for just over a century and has mostly grown up since then as a modern but still small town with relatively few older buildings.  However, its character stems from its setting in a narrow gorge between dramatic and beautiful sandstone rocks, which limit the town’s size.  Most recent development has occurred in Ebernburg, the town that lies just across the river. The Nahe is at its wildest here with a series of bends providing a range of vistas, small weirs and rapids, interpersed with calmer sections of water. Herons and cormorants fish here and electric blue and turquoise dragonflies flit through the orchids that grow wild on the river banks.  The high rocks gradually become rolling hills in the surrounding area, on which lie vineyards.  The Nahe valley is a major producer of white wine, especially Riesling, in Germany.  

My drawings focused mainly on the many wonderful old ruins to be found in the area.  They were drawn with a fineliner and coloured using stubs of Derwent’s Aquatone watercolour sticks. This has been my go-to travel watercolour set for some time and is a really lightweight and compact paint set (it fits in a piece of polystyrene in a cough sweet tin) but I intend to switch to half-pans in order to change my colour range and make it easier to lather up the paint.

Burg Rheingrafenstein lies above the Nahe above the town of Bad Münster am Stein.  It can be reached by taking a ferry and then walking up a fairly steep path through forest.  The path becomes a winding set of steps – hard work but worth it for the glorious view from the top.  This drawing was made looking up from across the river, while a cormorant fished nearby.  There is also a very good icecream kiosk just there. 

From the balcony of my apartment, I could see the rocks further along the river.  The highest point is called the Bastei (ancient artillery fortification) and it is possible to walk along quite a long section of the cliffs, with marvellous views of the two towns and river below and the hills way beyond.  I drew the rock face at different times of day.  This one drawn mid-morning had the best value contrasts and best represents the magnitude and drama of the rocks.

This is a view from the balcony in the other direction.  Apart from the road and rail bridge, a second pedestrian bridge includes a sheltered seating area  (the odd “mushroom” in the drawing) from where one of the wilder sections of the river can be admired.  At this point, a second river, the Alsenz, enters the Nahe.  On warm days, it is a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the view and a cool breeze.  

An information board explains that JMW Turner painted here.  Here is a first and second link to Turner’s paintings of this area, both of which are in the Tate Gallery in London.  I feel slightly embarrassed placing my own work alongside Turner’s …..

One day, I began a walk from a village called Odernheim-am-Glan.  The Glan river is another tributary of the Nahe. As I got off the bus, I saw this wonderful old mill beside a weir and sat down to draw it. 

Another drawing from the balcony…this time looking straight ahead across the river to the the small town of Ebernburg.  In order to practise continuous drawing, I tried to draw the rooftops without lifting my pen from the paper too often. Hence, a somewhat wonky drawing…

In the centre of the neighbouring spa town of Bad Kreuznach is this splendid old bridge, complete with a house in the middle of it!  The bridge is currently being renovated – the entire structure beneath the house must be renewed bit by bit! 

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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. 

Transforming old drawings using mixed media (2)

I am so into this process that I tried again on a larger scale. A couple of days ago I found a life drawing in an A3 sketchbook that I had drawn a few months ago. I didn’t much like it – in particular, the head seemed too small and I am never too happy with the way I draw feet!  I have really liked some of the blue images painted and drawn by some other students on my course that I decided to paint the figure with cobalt blue acrylic paint. I was not sure where I wanted to go next with it and so left it for the time being. This morning, while on an internet diversion, I came across the poetry of Mary Szybist and read a poem of hers called Happy Ideas.  The poem contains wonderful imagery including a reference to a “blue soul” so I knew immediately the direction that I wanted to take with my blue figure. I began by writing out the poem in full and then added excerpts from the poem that rang true for me and some of the imagery, too. It is not a finished image – I may add some text in dark blue, or stamping, to the orange space at bottom left, which seems a bit empty. 

I would love to be in a class or group using a particular poem as a starting point. The poem would have to speak to everyone, of course. It would be fascinating to see how others might interpret a single poem through imagery. 
The process:

The initial life drawing – the neck is too long, the head too small – overall odd!

Cobalt blue paint over the  figure, adjusting the head size. Next, text was added (see above).  The poem refers to a pair of blue velvet shoes and these were added spontaneously – not sure I like them – might re-draw them because they are a rather odd shape or might look for an interesting pair to add as a collage element.  The poem is the starting point for the image but it can diverge and become something else.  The poem has one life, the image another. 

I selected particular lines from the poem that touched a chord and wrote these out on the surface of the blue figure (and later around the figure, too.

As a next step I used emulsion base (gesso-like) and brushed and rubbed this over the surface around the figure. The text still shows through in places. After it was dry,  I added some “blue globes”, direct imagery from the poem and placed dots of acrylic paint in cadmium yellow pale, cadmium orange and deep yellow in the space around the figure and blended them thickly using the emulsion base.  While the paint was still wet, I stamped into it and applied the wet stamp elsewhere in the image to create some texture around the figure without detracting from it. I repainted the head and tried to find a way to convey the sense of a face using the title of the poem. I may work further on this image but for now…

Transforming old drawings using mixed media (1)

I have long admired mixed media pages but I have never really been happy with my own efforts.  In the last week of the Polishing Kourse (Sketchbook Skool), our tutor was Juliana Coles. Our homework was to take a drawing that we didn’t like and to transform it through layering.  The essential stages were …

  • writing – responding to a prompt
  • emphasising / selecting words from our text 
  • painting in acrylic or gouache 
  • adding collage
  • mark-making (e.g. writing, stenciling, drawing, stamping…)
  • reconciliation (finding ways to connect layers, finding personal meaning in a piece)

This was so much fun and once I had begun, it was just intuitive  – try this, try that. I began with a pencil “portrait” drawn a few weeks ago, which I didn’t like. 

As a first step, I outlined the figure in black acrylic ink, painted the hair with blue ink, painted the face and wrote a text on the left hand page that responded to the question “why do I draw?”. I then gessoed (see note on gesso below) over the text and carved lines through it. I added some lines to the opposite page with a broad spatula with a toothed edge, as well as a few gold stars.

I wanted to “lose” the text as well as some of the intensitivity of the colour and so masked the lines….

…. and then added more gesso which I rubbed into the surface with a paper towel to allow some of the colour through but more subdued. I did not like the face and hair so used more gold stars, this time as stencils and gessoed over them, removing them quickly before the paint dried.

Finally I stamped over the image with a homemade stamp and  added a few stencilled words from my original text and stamped a few circles of different sizes. This left me with the problem of the head which the process had emphasized more than concealed.  I looked through my collage collection and found a face from a magazine, which I had already separated into its features.  This seemed to work with the other elements of the image and eliminated the dominance of blue hair. A little warm yellow paint was added to brighten and balance the red.

The red is more dominant than I would usually choose but when we become absorbed in process we make decisions more intuitively and we may never have imagined the outcome!  This exercise has taught me something about working in layers and enabled flow such I could let go of the end result.  I am pleased with the final image.  

That’s it…. for now!  But maybe the process never ends…

Regarding gesso: I have taken to using paint used to create a base for household emulsion paint rather than gesso, it is a type of acrylic paint and so brushes can be cleaned in water. It is thicker (can be thinned with water) and also cheaper than gesso.

Sketchbook Skool – Polishing Kourse

For the past six weeks, I have been participating in the Sketchbook Skool Kourse (sic) Polishing. Sketchbook Skool was begun by illustrator / artist Danny Gregory.  It has been a great way to get back into drawing for fun – each week a different tutor, skill set and homework task.  A couple of weeks back we worked with Dutch illustrator / artist Nelleke Verhoeff.  We combined collage and drawing to create a series of images of faces or whatever we wished.  I used a painting from a recent workshop that I did not like as a painting but which had interesting textures to create a series of birds.  (Hahnemühle A5 sketchbook, fineliner, acrylic paint collage).

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