Creative Lettering Workshop

I have just completed a month’s kourse (sic) on Creative Lettering at Sketchbook Skool taught by Andrea Joseph.  It was enormous fun and I learned a lot of new skills, which I can now develop further through practice. Here is some of my work from the kourse. 

Fitting words into complex shapes. I used the nutrients found in apples and pears to create the form of the fruit. The words near the base of the pear need to follow a deeper curve to better indicate the contours of the fruit. 

Using stationary tools as stencils to create a word. Were I to repeat this exercise, I would  find a way to write a lower case “e” for better rhythm. 

Using different fonts to create a text.  I was surprised how quickly I got the “feel” of a font. The quotation is from an article by Jeannette Winterson entitled “Books, the Universe and Everything” published in a now defunct journal ” Books and Company” (Summer 2000).

Fitting a word / words into a template. This was an initial attempt at using a ballpoint for hatching. I intend to work on this…


Visual puns…



Lettering with highlighters and fluorescent pens.  I also used a metallic liner and black glitter.

We tried our hand at graffiti. There are probably hundreds of graffiti fonts out there.  I was not a fan of graffiti before the course but am much more appreciative of the skills involved now.  I just wish graffiti writers would confine their skills to legitimate surfaces…

We played around with letter stencils, which can be manipulated to create more individual lettering. I will look for some larger letter stencils to explore this further. 

We looked at some different ways to create outlines. Using a self-coloured outline creates a very clean line, as the black lettering below shows. 


We tried out some different ways to create embellishments on our lettering including twirls and lines. 

We used continuous writing to create an illustration.  Were I to draw this again, I would draw the spaghetti a little more fluidy / “loopily”.

And we used continuous / one line writing to create a text. 

I also had a page in my sketchbook on which I had used up some old paint and I used this for a ground for continuous writing.  This was my first attempt and the letters were not of a consistent size at first.  The quotations come from Eliot’s Four Quartets which I was re-reading at the time. 

Ruine Montfort

This old ruin is in the middle of nowhere.  The nearest public transport is a good 5 km away so I had to plan a hike between distant busstops that would take me past this old castle.  It was a gorgeous day – clear blue sky and around 25 degrees C – a perfect walking day with a sunhat.  On the way there, when just a few hundred metres away, the road was suddenly closed  for forestry work, I had to reroute through the forest and find another way.  I got lost in the forest which added another hour and 3-4 km to the walk. All the way there, more than two hours’ walking,  I did not meet another soul although I could hear the foresters at a distance.  I ate my sandwiches in the ruined castle and then looked around. It has been made safe for visitors and has marvellous views of the surrounding countryside. A new spiral staircase took me up to the ramparts from where I drew the first drawing, which gives an idea of the layout.  Near the top right hand corner of this drawing is where I sat to draw the next one. 

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The local stone is sandstone, red and grey types. Some of the stone is covered with the most brilliant yellow lichen – I saw this elsewhere in the area but cannot recall coming across such extensive yellow lichen anywhere else. In bright sunlight, it was a joyous sight. While I was drawing, I could smell smoke – someone nearby was having an illegal barbecue just below the walls out of sight…

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! 

Drawing Trees

Although “Drawing Trees” comes at the end of the unit rather than the beginning, I have chosen to start with it because it is spring and I want the chance to draw “naked” trees as well as foliage-clad ones. I have been trying to draw realistic trees for quite some time, practising on the ones outside my apartment.  I will include some of these older drawings in this post.

For this exercise, I have drawn a beech, umpteen sycamores, some sort of stunted pine tree, a silver birch and a Spanish chestnut.  

This beech tree was drawn last spring in a local Naturpark, the Kottenforst.  Beech trees are some of my favourite trees; their colour and muscular form remind me of elephants!

Muscular beech tree

 

 

This silver birch tree was growing out of a river bank over the Rhine and was just getting its first foliage for the year. The proportions in the drawing are not quite right – it was taller and slimmer than drawn – although I did try to capture it in a viewfinder.  This drawing and the next two were drawn on very thin paper.  The ink behaves differently from the way it does on the more expensive Hahnemühle paper which I tend to use for sketching (as with the beech tree, above). 

Silver birch

 

 

A bit further along the path, I came across a spanish chestnut.  I had to sit quite close to it in order to draw it and so have focused on the trunk and lower branches.  The tree must be quite old and has lost a number of branches over the years.  I liked the boles on its trunk and focused on these. The paper wrinkled after I added a wash to the next drawing but it does create an interesting background texture! The course material advised against selecting pollarded, pruned or damaged trees but these are the most interesting.

Spanish chestnut tree

 

 

The next tree might be some kind of mediterranean pine tree.  It grows in the park next to Haus Carstanjan, which still houses part of the UN here in Bonn – an attractive park that has been carved up because the UN needed to upgrade its security – a double sadness. I pass it on the way to work and have long admired it  It used to have another branch that swung out to the left; now, only a stump remains.  I suspect that the branch was removed because it looked untidy and took up a lot of ground space.  It was gorgeous! For the sketch below, I observed the light on the branches in order to get a 3D “feel” to the tree.  The upper central branch swings out towards the viewer so that its lower surface catches more shade than the other branches.  I used a wash to capture some of the shadows in the pine needles. These trees could benefit from some context! 

Mediterranean pine

 

 

I also drew a stand of sycamore trees outside my second-floor window in an A4 pad.  I drew these in pencil after reading Ferdinand Petrie’s book “Drawing Landscapes in Pencil”.  I was quite pleased with the result, although it could benefit from more contrast.  Because it was drawn from the second floor, the trunks are foreshortened.  

 Stand of sycamore trees

 

One of the exercises focused on making preliminary drawings of a single tree in different media.  I used an A3 sketch pad. Because I had to do this on a cold, wet day, I used a sycamore outside my window as the subject, with the result that the proportions are strange due to the foreshortened trunk.  The media used are (clockwise from top left), H pencil and coffee wash, charcoal and carbon pencils, iron blue Inktense pencil with hibiscus tea, and sanguine conte pencil. Repeating the drawing made me more aware of the structure; the four drawings do resemble each other but there are minor differences in branch angles.  I realised afterwards, that in each drawing the tree appears a little closer to the viewer perhaps reflecting familiarity with the subject and a wish to go deeper into the subject or maybe this is just a bit too analytical…In the third drawing (sanguine, bottom left), the rain stopped and the sun came out for a moment, creating more obvious shadows on the trunk and some branches. 

The last one drawn was the blue Inktense drawing, which cuts the trunk off and is a more fluid drawing.  The hibiscus tea wash was absorbed very quickly by the paper and there is a slightly sinister sense of movement in the tree as if it were walking toward the viewer!

Four tree portraits

 

I then redrew the upper trunk area in Inktense pencils in order to get a sense of what was happening to the branches as they developed from the trunk and also to focus on the bark.  This was tricky, partly because three of the trees grow close together and it was not always obvious which branch belonged to which tree!  The branches should spread a little wider than drawn here.  I simplified the background.  The blue washed Inktense is a bit too intense and provides too much contrast – shading should be more gradual. 

Sycamore trunk detail

 

Here is close-up detail of trunk markings:

Trunk detail

 

 

Here is a drawing of a group of sycamores drawn with pastel pencils made on a sunny day in winter.  Because it is drawn at eye level, through a second-floor window, the focus is on the upper trunk and lower branches.  Behind the trees is a small chapel; these trees stand slightly to the left (as viewed) from the one above.  The light on these trees in winter can be quite dramatic and is much more interesting than in the summer, when their foliage excludes a lot of natural light.  The trunks are covered in lichen and appear bright yellow-green, providing much needed winter colour when the sun shines. The sketchbook is made from brown craft paper which I bought to try out for the background colour and the ridged surface; it is relatively thin and not always ideal as a drawing surface but helps here to provide the brick texture in the chapel wall.

Sycamores  chapel in winter

 

Here are some older drawings of the sycamores in different seasons, all on the same A4 brown craft paper.  Firstly autumn: a single sycamore tree.  Sycamores are the main – but not only – tree growing outside my apartment! This one was drawn in soft pastels, against a background of a darker tree, clothed in coppery-brown foliage.  I tried to capture the structure of the tree, which had become visible as the leaves were falling, and also the bright yellows and golds of the foliage.

Sycamore in autumn colours.jpg

 

Here is a group of sycamores at the same time of year.  I enjoy drawing these trees because many of them have odd, spindly trunks, growing at unusual angles, a consequence of overcrowding.

Autumn trees

 

In winter, the sycamores throw long shadows and there are glimpses of hills through the tree tops. The effect is especially intense at sunrise.  Here is a charcoal sketch of the early morning light filtering through the tree trunks and casting long shadows on the grass.  This was a fast impression; an attempt to catch fleeting light conditions.  The angle of one of the trunks off-centre is a bit odd but there is a sense of light in the sketch.

Trees in December sunrise

 

 

The drawing below was made using a Rotring sketch pen and sepia ink.  It was made on a sunny Saturday morning in spring recently. I was drinking tea and suddenly became aware of the sunlight on the roof of the old cottage across the green and rushed off to get my sketchbook.  Just over a week later, I could not have made this drawing because the sycamores were almost fully in leaf and the roof was barely visible!  I have tried to make the spring foliage on the trees in the foreground more obvious by adding darks to the trees in the background.  This was more successful in some parts of the drawing than in others.  I have left the paper untouched where light hits the roof and the sides of the trunks, and have tried to create more light higher up towards the crowns. 

Spring sunlight on roof

 

As a contrast, here is another drawing made from the balcony last September.  I am fortunate in living on a corner and have views to the north and east, both full of trees.  I thought at the time that it might be the last day of summer as a storm was coming in fast. The drawing was made fairly rapidly.  The tree to the right is a mature beech, which underwent “Baumarbeit” two summers before the drawing was made and is gradually recovering from its severe pruning.  I am not sure of the identity of the other trees although there is bound to be a sycamore or two in there somewhere. Black water-soluble fine liner was used with a pale violet wash applied with a water brush. 

View from balcony September 

 

In preparation for the A3 tree portrait – which I have yet to draw – I have been working on foliage techniques.  I observed the growth on an unidentified tree while waiting for a train.  After getting on the train, I took out a notebook and made rapid notes:

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Later that evening, I expanded on this in a sketchbook and tried to apply the earlier observations to a larger image and applied colour.

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I am not happy with the ways in which I represent foliage, which I have been trying for a couple of years to master but am not there yet!  During the last couple of evenings, now that there is more light later in the day, I have been sketching foliage from the window while listening to the radio.  I thought that it might be easier to see the tonal contrast without glasses, so tried this….  I can recommend it as a technique as long as you don’t mind not seeing what you are drawing! The page below includes various attempts to do this using pencil and water-soluble fine liner.  Some of this is imagined / drawn from memory, rather than from life, at least partly because I couldn’t see it properly…

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The next two pages were primed in tea and hibiscus tea to eliminate the white background.  The first portrays various, mainly imagined, foliage.  These sketches were done to try out my latest acquisition, a Noodler’s Ahab flex pen, which can provide lines of different widths and which I am enjoying enormously.  

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The second is an attempt to portray a sense of foliage through random scribbles.  The chapel in the background has been coloured to make it clearer.  The green squiggles in the foreground don’t really fit the colour scheme.  Img067

 

 

The last drawing in this post was made about eighteen months ago in October, 2010 at the Hardtburg, which is a ruined castle beside a lake in a forest clearing, near Euskirchen in NRW. I attempted to catch the variety of trees with different types of mark, with the result that some look a bit exotic!  The drawing was made across a double-page spread of an A5 sketchbook (so is A4 size).  I applied a coffee wash later on, to help distinguish the stonework of the castle and surrounding walls from the trees that now encroach upon it. The wash has blended with the water-soluble pen that was used, helping to create more of a feel of ancient stone. This is a favourite spot: from the top of the tower, you look down on forest in all directions, which is glorious in autumn. 

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Three Sketchwalks

I have been looking forward to sketching outdoors now that spring is here, for the third part of the Drawing Skills course. The first sketchwalk was done on a mild Saturday afternoon at the end of March in the Kurpark in Bad Godesberg. I chose this park for its variety of mature trees and large pond as well as its many vistas, existing as it does on the side of a hill, with views across to the Siebengebirge.

Before the walk, I drew a grid to fill with thumbnail sketches. The aim was to spend 5-10 minutes on each one and focus on the main spatial relationships. The outcome of this exercise is here:

First Sketchwalk: 15 thumbnails

This exercise was a modification of one in Chip Sullivan’s “Drawing the Landscape”. The original exercise focused on producing a “gestural vocabulary” but my drawings are not as “gestural” as I intended and this is something that I still need to work on.

Particular challenges of this exercise were the angles of the ground on the hillside, and that it was difficult to get much distance from the trees, such that a number of the views contain a lot of tree trunks and not much else… Selecting what to draw and then simplifying it recognisably was difficult at first but became easier after doing it a few times.

The prepared grid was landscape rather than portrait which was not well thought-out given that I intended to focus on trees! In the event, I chose to fill out the grid as it was and complete the exercise that I had set out to do, especially when the sun went behind the hill and the afternoon became much cooler. Although the grid was too small for detail, which was frustrating at times, it did enforce focus on the main features – the sketches had to be simple!
Sketchwalk Number 2 followed the guidelines in the course material. I drew four slightly larger sketches using pencil, a fine pen and then applied Inktense pencil and a wash later. I drew on a page that had been previously washed with coffee… this did not scan well and I photographed each sketch separately to make them clearer. The originals are each only about 5 by 7 cm.

Miniature Pine in Japanese Garden
Ducks beside the lake

I don’t like the vertical “layered” structure of the composition of the second sketch (ducks beside the lake); it lacks interest and reflects my impatience at trying to find different compositions quickly on a cold day!

Steps in the Rheinaue
Stepping stones

The stepping stones in the first drawing are actually paving stones and they should be flatter than drawn here!

I redrew three of these sketches later in an A4 format to get a better sense of spatial relationships, as well as shadows and relative values. In redrawing, I changed the format of the stepping stones sketch to portrait to emphasise the path which extends on the other side of the stones. The stones have been placed further to the left margin, omitting some and using them to lead the eye into the composition. If this sketch were to be used as the basis of a drawing, the stepping stones would need to be more irregular in shape, form and spacing. The curve of the stones would also need to be exaggerated, and not all of them need be included.

Stepping stones redrawn
Miniature pine redrawn
Steps in Rheinaue redrawn

In the redrawn sketch of the miniature pine, the rocks in the water have been spaced apart a bit more, which leads the eye more gently towards the tree. I intend to go back to the Japanese garden to sketch some more when the weather becomes warmer because there is a lot that draws the eye in a relatively small space with simple, pleasing design.

In the sketch of the steps, the values still need attention – there is not enough contrast.

The weather was cold – colder than for the first walk – and with almost no sun and a constant threat of rain. Because of the dull light, there were seldom any notable shadows beyond dark edges at the base of objects.

Sketchwalk number 3… This was for the 360 degrees studies. I chose a hilltop for this exercise because the views were familiar and there is some kind of view in all directions and relatively few people. These drawings were done on a mostly sunny Friday late afternoon / early evening on the Rodderberg, a dormant volcano just to the south of Bonn. The drawings were done at the highest point, the rim of the former crater, now a nature park with fenced paths and grassland which is the habitat of many rare wild plants. The fences appear in three of the four drawings, one – to the north – prominently in the foreground.

360 degree Studies

These drawings were done in pencil initially with later detail added in fine pen. The page did not scan clearly and I have photographed each one separately for better reproduction.

The view west was taken up by a still bare tree. I used a viewfinder to position it off-centre so that I could include some of the distant layers of hills behind it and to the left.

Rodderberg - facing west

Deciding what to include and what to omit was difficult for the view of the city to the north because there was very little foreground detail. The sun was reflecting off a number of west-facing windows in the middle ground and I drew these as white blocks with darker blocks facing south to hint at a town / city. I included the main tower blocks and an industrial chimney, with the Godesburg on its hill to the left and the Deutsche Post tower unmistakeably dominating the Bonn skyline. Mostly, I hinted at the built environment in the middle and background. In the suburbs beneath the hill more trees were visible than buildings. The foreground was a fence and a path leading down the hill.

Rodderberg - facing north

The view facing east was tricky because I could not locate a reference point at the eye level, with the result that the Schloss, on the left of the sketch, is lower down the hillside than was the case. It should be above eye level but I have drawn it more or less at eye level. One way to deal with this problem in future might be to place a pencil horizontally at the bridge of the nose – everything above the pencil would be above eye level!

Rodderberg - facing east

The most successful sketch was the one to the south, partly because I devoted more time to it and partly because it had a more clearly divided fore, middle and background. The sun was behind my right shoulder. Getting the various stands of trees in their correct proportions was a challenge, especially as trees at the same level on the hillside varied so much in their structure and height. For, example, a small tree in blossom in the foreground can appear similar in height to a poplar further up the hill.

Rodderberg - facing south

Each drawing was supposed to take around 15 minutes. I spent much longer than this on the view south and then 15-20 minutes on each of the others and it shows!

Source: Sullivan, Chip (2004) Drawing the Landscape. Wiley. (p.137)