Category Archives: townscapes

part three: expanse project five: townscapes

exercise four: statues

I went in search of angels. Our tiny village has three cemetaries: current, old and really old. I wept in the first, for dear children lost to friends, but in the second I spotted her, the only angel, indeed the only statue among the crosses. Crosses dominate, in stone and iron.

She was backed up against a wall, behind a large obelisk, only two viewpoints to draw her from, and no way to get up close without trampling another’s grave. I can’t tell how old she is, but lichen is taking over and the weather has all but worn away the features from her face.

I’ve made a couple of visits to the cemetery, the light has been different each time so I’ve used a photo to help me finish the final drawing. Over this time it has of course dawned on me that my angel is lacking wings, she is more likely Mary, holding a book and I think flowers, though so much definition has been lost.


I did go on to finish this sketch but  rather like this half-way point, so I think I might start sketching in reverse – subtracting to see where I get to.

I’m away and I’ve badly packed: a dark green and white pastel pencil, a grey black and red conte crayon and my tiny box of watercolours and a pad of tinted paper. That’s it! I forgot charcoal, black or soft pencils, which has slightly thrown me.

Here I’ve used black watercolour to get some depth of shadow, the green and white pastel pencils.

Size:  A4


Above I used the conte crayon, which is ok in photograph but doesn’t really work next to the pastel – it’s greasy next to the soft pastel. There are some russet leaves behind the wall – the added red is interesting – just asking to be interpreted as a red glow. Size: A5



I think I prefer the slightly more developed drawing, but I feel a bit stuck with just my green and white pastels. To be put on hold until I get home.










On A4 black paper, still with my limited white pastel, green pastel and black crayon. Covered most  of the page with white pastel and erased out to the black paper underneath, adding a little black crayon for deepest shadows. I think the tree branches have worked out ok but I prefer the composition without.

With the tree the angel is enclosed within this small and crowded cemetery. Without the tree she is closer to the sky, she may just fly.




(Continuation of first sketch in this post, above) Using black watercolour for my missing charcoal or black pastel. The black watercolour is so strong next to the pastel, and the paper doesn’t really take water, so that both on this photograph and in real life it looks like paper damage – as if the paper has been burnt.

Paper moves when it is burning. I quite like this idea. The shadows creeping up towards the plinth and the wall are made to seem alive by comparison to the stone around them.

Cemeteries are all about life and death. What is stone, what is flesh. They can be peaceful places, but also charged, emotional, downright creepy.

I have a tiny slot of time on Sunday when I could get back to this cemetery. I would love to work on site some more, have another go at this. But I also have one more exercise to do before my already once-shifted deadline….


A revelation – I can brush water over pastels! Just messing about here, but I think this is how I will get my darker colours for ground and shadow.



Using pastels to block in basic areas of colours, washing over with a damp (decorator’s) brush.

Colours: dark and light mossy green, peachy yellow for stone, white.

Once dry going over with charcoal (and smudging), more white pastel

I like the sense of movement that the pastel makes – wind in the branches or something more ethereal…

Size: 24 x 32cm





I want to get back to the ‘unfinished’ version I did before I finished it. I’m interested in this subject, the composition, so am having a go on A2.

I’m after a contrast between the dank mossy darkness of the ground and the stone statue standing guard over the cemetery – merging with an ethereal sky! Sounds a bit grand, but I suppose I am intrigued by the contrast that cemeteries present: the living and the dead. Bodies may lie here, the living visit, spirits linger, ghosts?  These are dreadful places, but also peaceful, full of love and tears. Such a concentration of emotion in one small walled garden.

And in this ancient cemetery, Mary. Who knows what she gets up to after nightfall. Does she go visiting with words of comfort? I have no religion, but that doesn’t stop me feeling her gentle presence.


Final drawing: A2 in pastels

My beginner’s mistakes:

  • Asking at the shop for tinted paper that would be good for pastels, but not realising there were two sides to the paper – using the smooth side with the embossed paper name on it and finding pastel slides around on it.
  • Doing my ‘wetting the pastel’ practices on a different type of paper altogether
  • Buying just one sheet of paper from a shop a two hour drive away so now being terrified to messing up.

Online I discover that alcohol can be used with pastels – thinking that this would dry so fast that my paper wouldn’t have a chance to buckle I head to the chemist to have a difficult conversation. A small bottle is handed over to clean my wounds. I’m not sure we’ve fully understood each other but though I have to work very quickly and with little control the paper stays absolutely flat.

Other problems:

  • I had wanted the statue to merge with the sky, so there was a point where I had to swap the dark green of the shadows for the naked paper – I had to reverse my process of adding material to create shadow to taking it away. I don’t think that has been entirely successful. It simply looks unfinished. Looking at it on screen now, I think perhaps some added white rising up the body may help.
  • The walls around the statue. I had to invent these to some extent. They were there, but there was a lot of clutter everywhere – broken stones, marble plaques, stone crosses.  The far wall isn’t very convincing, and nor is the pillar on the corner. The perspective on the main wall to the left looks odd too.


part three: expanse project five: townscapes

Version 2

Part three has been challenging logistically and it looks set to stay that way with ‘townscapes’. I spend half my week in the small city of Aix, and the rest in the teeny village of Oppede-le-vieux. Though Aix would present the perfect townscape I can’t always choose where I get time to draw. So Oppede: A medieval village, abandoned in the C19th and now mainly ruins, some gentle restoration. Everything about this village is harsh: it perches on the edge of a deathly ravine and with the mountain looming over it gets but a glimpse of sun in winter. Its history is harshest of all: witness to endless battles and spilt blood in times when Provence was lawless.


watercolour (black and payne’s grey, pencil and ink with pen)

This viewpoint doesn’t really get across the situation of this village – which is its essence really – so I have to abandon this composition.


water-soluble crayons, charcoal and ink

The bottom two capture this village best. I continue to struggle with using colour. I invariably find the black and white has more atmosphere, and I don’t know what’s driving that; if it’s just what I like, if I’m programmed that way, or if it’s simply my lack of experience in using colour.

I’ve finally invested in something other than my kids’ school colour pencils – Caran d’Ache Neocolour crayons – that go down like a wax crayon but are water-soluble.


A4, sepia and black ink, green and blue watercolour

I’ve been writing about Peter Lanyon for the Research Point of this section. Through his work I get such a sense of connection to the history of the land – he doesn’t just paint the landscape, he digs down in to it.

This land is ancient. Movements of the earth are seen through great rocky folds across the land, fossils are abundant, the village is full of ghosts.

In the above I like the way the dark ink obliterates certain areas. The village is mainly ruin, with gaping holes where even the ruined is ruined. I continued the line of certain buildings down, I wanted the sense of their foundation running through the rock, the scar of former walls.


A4, sepia, black and Payne’s grey ink

In messing about on a spare sheet I dropped too much ink and mopped it up with kitchen roll – this left quite a useful feeling of texture so I’ve used it here to fill in the blanks of what is a more open sketch. I’m quite interested in leaving the pencil marks that show across the mountain and trees to the left (a bit hard to see on this photo).


Same as above but a little more landscape filled in and the page tidied by cropping.

Version 2

A further crop of the above.

I’ve learnt a huge amount in this one exercise:

  • when I feel the essence of something I need to keep tight hold of it and persist until it starts to show.
  • I mustn’t be afraid to keep working over a piece. I kept going back in to this with another wash of diluted ink, more ink and pen, more pencil, another wash – it’s starting to build up layers. I think if I did a hundred more of these I could really get across the feeling of cracks in the land, buildings missing, buildings rebuilt.
  • mopping up wet ink with kitchen roll works a treat!
  • Payne’s Grey ink diluted can go pink


I would love to carry on investigating this but as ever I am wary of keeping on track. Stopping here for now.