Final drawing: size A2 using gesso, charcoal, graphite and wax crayon
(I made notes here as I was developing this drawing, which is why there are some elements that seem unrelated to the drawing above, but I’ve left it as is because it’s useful to me, I think.)
A while back I knew I wanted to draw this scene and it’s stayed in my head. It’s a view I always turn to look at when passing by in the car. I’ve been drawn to industrial buildings and wasteland since as long as I can remember. When I moved to this postcard-pretty part of France some 11 years ago, this nearby area of rust and barbed wire and thoughtless concrete was my saviour, connecting me to some other reality.
A tiny fragment of view is framed by hulking buildings, just like a postcard. The scrubby bushes and straggly trees are dusted with the fine white powder of a nearby cement factory that gives them the ghostly wash of death. But the real magic lies in a strip of corrugated plastic; a rudimentary window. When the sun hits this plastic, we have a spaceship.
During the ‘tree’ section of this part I took rubbings of a birch tree. Thinking about these trees rendered ghostly pale – I want to add them in to my scene – as ghosts imprinted on the walls.
The walls of the buildings are not particularly textured but they have a rough finish and are stained by constant dripping pipes and speckled by damp.
The thought of using frottage of the tree bark for these walls interests me. That the walls of this factory can bear the imprint of ghostly trees.
I don’t see this as an environmental ‘statement’. I think it’s more matter of fact. Trees were here, now there is building. Trees still grow around the
building, covered in fine white dust.
Perhaps this is more a reflection of how tough nature is. A tree will carry on growing unless you drill into its base and poison it. This is small scale industry, and nature muddles on.
Initial sketches. the buildings lean in towards each other – a new perspective from being up close I’ve realised. Not sure if I should go with this or not.
A4 sketchbook, charcoal, conte crayon, water-soluble crayon
I like the drama of it this but I was after something more delicate, more dream-like. Not sure if that’s possible – the dramatic shadows are such a part of this scene, pulling the eye through to the mini postcard view of the mountains.
This is the point at which I sense things starting to unravel. Trying to be more delicate I end up with something insipid. I take the brush to it – seeing what partly obscuring it might do. And will I be able to draw over the top?
This is a familiar place for me. Having a fairly clear idea of what I want to get across, knowing I’m capable of the ‘drawing’ itself, but not knowing how to manipulate the media available to me to get that across. I’m tempted just to draw – pencil on paper – but it’ll be too flat.
I keep thinking about my trees too. I want to question what is here and what is ghost – trees or factory? I need layers. Or do I? Thinking now about the line drawing (shoes) I did in part one. I liked the ambiguity of that – there were layers, but you couldn’t be sure what was where. An overlapping.
My intention had been to draw ghosts of trees imprinted on the walls. I still like this idea. I very much like the frottage but on a practical level the paper needs to be really thin – not sure it would then support water – though I could use just crayon? I also can’t get back to these trees for another few days and I need to keep progressing this…
Also aware that like a stubborn tanker, this is slowly and surely turning the way of assignment two: touches of colour, architecture, shadow, ambiguity. Is that a good thing? Shouldn’t I be trying for something different? I’m not sure – Assignment 2 was the first time I had ever made something so complete, architectural, and used colour. It felt like a natural progression from charcoal, which had been a natural progression from pencil. Perhaps I need to wear in this new combination and let the next progression come in its own time.
A4 graph paper, gesso, white acrylic, pencil, crayon
I’d been thinking about how delicate architectural plans are – they make a ghost of a building – and happily found some graph paper in my boys’ schoolbag. Though I’ve painted over it the pinkness still comes through – it suits the slight ochre tinge of concrete. I like the use of graph paper, it reminds one that once these buildings had no presence, once they were just an idea in someone’s head.
Above sketch with tracing paper on top, trees penciled in and painted (on right) with gesso
Still thinking about layers, ghosts, powdery white trees. Adding tracing paper gives a lovely misty softness – dreamy. Sketching and painting the trees on the tracing paper works well.
I’m wondering though if this creates a barrier though. And is it a bit gimmicky, irritating. Can’t I get this effect without the paper?
I’m planning on A2, so I can get in some detail on the trees and describe the framed picture postcard a little better. Important that the mountain can be seen. Could this treatment work? Can I get large tracing and graph paper? Will tracing paper glue successfully on to the graph paper? How dark should I go on the bottom layer?
The last few sketches have lost the drama of the light – especially the shape under the bridge – it will be a shame to lose this.
Final drawing in development – before adding gates. At this point I’m no longer sure about adding the trees in foreground or to building facade. Im also not sure about adding gates.
The frame of the gate which I like as it is – just a rectangle – but if I don’t add the gate I’ll never know. The gate is an important part of this scene – the peering over to the landscape beyond.
This is always the problem at this stage – I don’t have time to have another go, I have to make this particular drawing work, and so everything becomes slightly risky, less experimental.
The gate goes in, this is the final version for now. I used graph paper (though it doesn’t really show in a photograph), painted over with gesso. Charcoal, graphite and pierre noire. Water-soluble wax crayon for yellows. Coloured pencil blue and green for distant mountain and trees.
Things that have worked:
- I’m very happy with the texture on the buildings. These walls face north, they are always in shade, damp and stained.
- The window – this wasn’t in my initial plan – I didn’t think it would add much to the wall. Now it’s in I think it adds a great deal – it’s probably the window that is stopping me from adding the trees. There’s a sense of a past life within the building.
- The pale winter light hitting the back of the building – the overall feeling of shadow and dankness in the foreground- brightness behind.
Things I’m not so happy with:
- The drawing has become something different than I had planned. Perhaps I should stop planning. I had thought of something delicate and architectural, layers of trees and building, the graph paper adding an ambiguity – are the buildings real or just plans?
- It’s all gone a bit sinister.
- Despite doing a lot of tests with the crayon and charcoal there are areas that I had problems with – charcoal sliding and not sticking – especially with the gate, and consequently it doesn’t look as solid or even as I had hoped. I had wanted my gate almost silhouetted, without form. I wish now I hadn’t added the gates. I wish I had left the rectangular frame of the gate. I think this would have been far more interesting, and allowed the viewer to move under the bridge and peer around the corner.
- the bridge doesn’t seem quite attached to the left hand building
- I’m aware that the Assignment asks for something natural – foliage, trees etc alongside perspective – and I don’t think my distant trees and mountain are really enough.
- I should declare now that the trees on tracing paper over the top simply didn’t work. There was no connection between the two – trees and buildings – it didn’t make any sense. The paper was too much of a divide.
(The trees on tracing paper have taken me off somewhere else though – which I’m filing helpfully in the ‘Trees’ section of this Part Three.)
Link to the Research Point in which I cover Rachel Whiteread’s drawings – I became aware of them just after finishing this Assignment – I wonder if I would have approached this differently had I seen them beforehand? Either way they have inspired me!