The question of materials is one you yourself have to decide. If you like hard pencils, use them; if you like hot-pressed fashion boards, use them. In these days of shortage it is sheer hypocrisy to say that you cannot work unless you can get the materials you were accustomed to before the war. For instance, if you have no pencil softer than 2B, get hold of a draper’s or carpenter’s pencil, and see what lovely results you can get. Use cartridge paper, or David Cox, or Whatman, or the backs of engravings torn from old Victorian books (these have a lovely grain), or Van Gelder, or what you will.
If you must try to draw out of doors with a pen, use a fountain pen and ordinary writing-ink. You will find that a bottle of Indian ink and a box of nibs is not worth the candle. Better to do your pen drawing in the quiet of your own home, for it is a most exacting medium, and not advisable for a beginner in outdoor sketching.
Interesting studies can be made with pencil and a wash of sepia or ordinary writing-ink. Indeed, it is much quicker to lay a wash over a shadowed portion than conscientiously to cover the area with pencil. Conté goes fairly well with wash, though there is a tendency to unpleasant granulation. Water colours will, of course, be needed, and the question of paper will have to be decided by yourself.
Size is another factor. It will be found to be difficult at first to reduce the length of a street or the height of a tower to the proportion of your paper. Indeed, it may well be found an impossibility. The eye absorbs so much detail that the masses tend to get lost. Ten years ago I could only potter about with small buildings, not having the courage or the ability to tackle the big stuff. But it all comes in time, and by gradually gained confidence. Draw what size you like, according to your temperament.
As soon as you have grasped the fundamental rules of perspective, it is time to begin some serious work. I do not mean that your subjects should be tackled in a spirit of opposition - all your sketching should be a light-hearted affair, with ‘punch’ in it – I mean rather that you should be not careless or slipshod. It is perfectly easy to concentrate and yet remain happy.
Bishop Hooper’s Lodging: Pen and ink drawing
A suitable drawing for a beginner is easy enough to find. It must be simple, with strong lines and little extraneous ornament, so I have chosen the famous house in Gloucester knows as ‘Bishop Hooper’s Lodging.’ The first thing to do is to have a good look at the building from every angle until you are satisfied that you have achieved a pleasant aspect. Nothing is more disheartening or disappointing than to begin working at white-hot heat and find that after you have got halfway through you do not like the view after all.
Having decided the angle, sit down on your stool, make yourself comfortable, and just sit and think. And think hard, using your eyes to sum up measurements and distances and angles and areas. I came across some schoolchildren at Malmesbury recently, and, of all things, their art master had told them to draw the façade of the abbey. This was obviously an impossible task for a youngster (difficult enough for an adult) and it did not surprise me to find that not a single child had been able to centralise the building on the paper. They had all started with the doorways and the windows (of which I think there are about eight), consequently the average was one doorway and two windows and no sky and no foreground: you must go for the main masses first, and think about the details later when these have been settled once and for all.
Skeleton drawing in pencil for ‘Bishop Hooper’s Lodging’
Now that you have had a good look at ‘Bishop Hooper’s Lodging’, indicate very lightly the extreme height of the building from the roof tip to the nearest part of the structure on the ground level. In the accompanying skeleton plan I have called this AB. At the same time you should estimate the relative position that this imaginary line will occupy on the drawing – in this case well over to the left-hand side. Having put these points in, compute visually the proportion of the extreme length of the building to the height (ending at D). Not that you have these guide lines, there should be no reason for you to overlap them – that is, if you have calculated with any degree of accuracy.
Now you can put in your eye-level, which is to be found about a quarter of the way up from the extreme outside frame of the picture. If you look closely, you will find that there are six clearly defined sets of lines which run to the centre of vision, and you should concentrate on them first. They are (in order, starting from the top): the tips of the roof-ridges; the line of the timber edge of the top of the façade; the similar line of the timber overhang; the lower overhang beneath the windows; the ground line running up to meet the eye-level; and finally the line of the pavement. You can see all these in the skeleton drawing, numbered 1 to 6.
Those, then, are your essential constructional lines, upon which you can erect your building. Now you can erect your uprights: first, the end of the upper story on left and right (EF), then those of the next story (GH), and the small portion of building on the left which is next door to the main object (IJ). Draw these as uprights first – you can start looking for the irregularities later. Now you estimate the breadth of the timber overhangs, and put them in, noting the profile of the mouldings, and how they come into the building, giving the correct impression of overhanging. The timber framework should now receive attention, and you should note where the horizontals bisect the uprights, and that about a third of the frontage on the right-hand side is free of timbering. Now draw in your uprights, noting where the windows occur, and in what proportion they are to the wall-space – smaller at the top, and larger as they proceed downwards. The two oriel windows demand care in drawing. They are in the form of a projecting box, and come forward from the wall to occupy the whole of the over-hang above them. This should be clearly indicated, otherwise they will have no quality of recession.
If you look now at the roofs, you will notice that there are two, and if you saw them on an architect’s plan you would find that they each occupied half of the complete roof area. But you are seeing them in perspective, so that the nearest one actually appears larger than the other. When these are in, you can add the chimney-stacks.
To finish off the skeleton, tackle the ground floor. Here you have three doorways, one larger than the others, and four large windows of slightly varying widths. The first doorway and window are under shallow arches rising from strong wooden uprights, the others under less strong ones. Care should be taken in drawing the uprights and transoms of the windows. Draw the pavement line, and the structure is complete.
Now compare this with the finished drawing, where you will see that the structural lines have been used as an essential basis for the freer rendering. Where the uprights have tilted, they have been drawn that way, and care has been used to indicate the quality of tone of the timber-work and the plaster, brick and tile. Note also the use of cast shadows and the introduction of figures in the foreground. But do not start doing anything like this yet – there is a long way to go before you can think of tones and materials and shadows and technique, so just concentrate on getting the structural lines right and the details in their proper places. Later on these essentials tend to become easier in placing, and one can indicate them very sketchily; but it is fatal at this stage to start elaboration without a firm structural basis.
Now that you have grasped the idea, go and look for a small group of buildings on which to practise, and when you have found them study them from all angles. The colour plate shows a little water colour study of barns and sheds. Remember to watch your perspective. When you have more than one building to contend with, the main thing to observe is the relative size of each block or box to the other, and see that you have these firmly in mind before you start any drawing whatsoever.
Farm at Northleach, watercolour 12½in x 9½in
Build up the drawing as before: first the greatest height, then the overall length, next the eye-level and centre of vision. With groups you have to study carefully the proportions of roofs to walls, the slope of roof lines in their different directions, and the relative heights of uprights to transverses. In a drawing of this kind the older buildings do not always strictly conform to the accepted rules of perspective, owing to sagging joists and beams, and you will find that they shoot out in all directions.
Always try to place the subject well on your paper, so that is neither too large nor too small, but just right according to the amount of detail you wish to give it.