Thursday, November 26, 2009

From sketchbook to studio

Mont-Saint-Michel from the Rue De Rivage
coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

When I get home from a trip I start beginning to work up sketches - however I use them in different ways.

Today I'm posting about my visit to Mont-Saint-Michel on the Normandy coast on my Travels with a Sketchbook blog - see Le Mont St Michel. So I thought I'd show you where I've got to in terms of drawings done since I got home

My sketch - done while sat in the car park!
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Using a photo and the sketch

Quite often I try to work up a drawing based in realism which is informed by both a photo taken and a sketch.

This might happen because the photo includes more of the view whereas my sketch focuses on the primary subject. Such drawings can often be about seeing what works and what doesn't.

This particular drawing - which I don't like at all - convinced me that the trick with drawing Mont-Saint-Michel was getting the values right in relative terms. It's most impressive as a silhouette - but this drawing hasn't 'got it' as a silhouette of a masse with a very interesting shape.

Mont-Saint-Michel #1
9" x 12"
coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Sketching from a photo

Which led me to my next drawing.

Sometimes I take a photo I particularly like and try to sketch it using the information I derived from the sketch I completed. This generally relates to matters like the extent to which I should try and lose detail even if it's obvious in the photo.

Sometimes I'm sketching from a photo because it's a view which I would have chosen to sketch except there was no time to stop or it's very difficult to stop in that place. Views from the side of a road with no verge are an obvious example.

This drawing at the top came about because I wanted to get back to the silhouette which was what appealed to me in the first place. To me it looked more impressive from a distance. So having learned the lesson about values I had another go - this time sketching from a photo I took from the passenger seat of the car while being driven past on our way to our visit.

Reworking the sketch

The other thing I am stumped by at the moment is what colour palette to use. We were there when it was both sunny and cloudy. With my first drawing I'd come to the conclusion that one of the other reasons I didn't like it was that it looked too "touristy".

So I tried again - with a cloudy sky - and this time my study used coloured pencils with an abrasive support - thinking it might work better as a pastel. This is not a final composition (I'd never have the spire in the centre!) - it's more of a colour study

Mont-Saint-Michel #3
9" x 12"
coloured pencils on pastelcard
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'm still not convinced I like the trees when doing a view up close. They seem like a bit of a distraction to me

I'm still inclined to think I like it best at more of a distance and as a silhouette - like the top one. Maybe leaning towards something which could have colour field influences with lots of colours glazed one over the other

The other thing I'm convinced of is that it works better if flat colour is broken up in some way - hence the clouds in the first and third ones and the banding in the fields in the top one.

I'm not sure as yet where it goes next. However I thought you might like to see the thinking process so far - and how many drawings I can produce before I get to the one I'm happy with. Which incidentally hasn't been produced as yet!


  1. I had the same realization near the top of Mont St Michel -- it's the silhouette that's the most appealing feature -- and being in the middle of a great view is not the best way to capture it! But then I noticed something -- if you happen to be lucky enough to be there late in the afternoon on a sunny fall day, the shadow of the Mont to the east is a perfect silhouette projected spectacularly on the tide 'advancing with the speed of a galloping horse.' Great photograph, but impossible (for me, anyway) to draw.

  2. I love the top one The others are lovely but the top one appeals to me so much more. And I would never have realised how stripping out so much of the detail could make it work so well, unless you'd shown us.

  3. I agree with Julie, the first sketch is very special and my favorite too. The reduction of details is a strenght in seems the unspoken can be very eloquent.

  4. I really like all of these. Each one has a completely different feel to it. The one with the water is lovely. It really shows the isolation of Mont St Michel. It will be interesting to see where you go next with this.

  5. I'd love to see you do one in pastels, Katherine - I think you've nailed the image in the first drawing but there is more of a hint of richness of colour in the last on the pastel support.

    Fascinating to watch your progress.

  6. Thank you for this.... I've been struggling with coming up with something from photographs this week. I'm reminded how important sketches are. Your sketches are all charming... what a beautiful place.


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