Friday, June 04, 2010

Storm clouds over Westminster

Earlier this week I revisited an old haunt of mine where I worked for 4 years and drew the view out the window.  It's normally used as a committee room and many is the meeting I've chaired there.  It felt very odd to be back and drawing!

It was however a view I'd wanted to do for a long time.  Partly because of memories and partly because it's only a little distance (ie the other side of The Adelphi) from where both Whistler and Monet drew the Thames from their rooms in the Savoy Hotel.

 Storm Clouds over Westminster
16.5" x 23.5" coloured pencils on cartridge paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is the view from Committee Room 4 on the top floor of 3 Robert Street, inbetween Charing Cross Station and the Savoy Hotel.

It's a sketch - in the sense that it's a study.  I'm finding my way around the view with this particular drawing.  I'd hoped to have better weather but it rained all day on Tuesday and was an interminably grey day!  I'd hung on for ages hoping the weather would get better but in the end decided to go in to London and draw anyway on the principle that I'd have to get to grips with a composition and I didn't need nice weather for that.

As it happened I learned a few things

First was that trying to plan a view this big is next to impossible.  You just keep wishing you had a bigger piece of paper.  I started off trying to plan it out in terms of measuring distances but realised I could spend all afternoon doing that and still not get very far.

In the end I decided to just start on the right hand side with Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster and just draw across the page, measuring as I went and just see how much I could get in.

This is an A2 piece of paper (16.5" x 23.5") so it turned out that I could get a quite a lot in including most of the bridges over the River Thames, what used to be County Hall and the London Eye.

I'd taken good drawing paper with me - but didn't use it.  Faced with the scene decided that I needed to start off on my pad of heavy cartridge paper and try and get a feel of the view.  Cartridge is NOT the best paper to draw on with coloured pencils.  It's next to impossible to get a good dark as the colour sinks in.  However I decided since I wasn't producing a 'finished piece' of work this wasn't a problem and that I could use more graphite underneath to help get  contrast.

Not being on my 'best' paper freed me up for a lot more expressive mark-making which isn't apparent in the picture you can see but is more so on the drawing.  Basically there was lots of scribbling!

Sitting drawing a big view takes time during which the weather can change quite radically.  I'm well used to having to deal with the sun moving, the light (and colours) changing but usually on days with better weather.  That's because I don't tend to sit and draw outside on grey rainy days.  Having a room in which I could sit and draw the bad weather as well as the scene was a novelty for me.

On Tuesday afternoon I learned a lot about drawing in grey rainy days and where and how you can find colour.  I did a lot of 'knitting' with this pic to insert colours in and around and about to try and produce a better sense of unity and to also create greys from colours and to work out which ones worked best.

Again the 'not being on best paper' meant that I was quick to erase when colours weren't working.

Although the sky was incredibly grey for most of the afternoon, it did change towards the end of the afternoon when very dark clouds gathered right above the Houses of Parliament and completely reversed out

I'm going to do a post over on The Art of the Landscape about the theory I developed while sat watching the weather - about Monet and the assumption that he only liked painting the Thames in fog.  Having seen how the weather changes I'm now convinced that some of his paintings may well have been done during heavy rain.

I'm going to try more studies and do another large work of this view - maybe in pastels.

and finally......

The big surprise for me, given I knew the room very well, was the fact that there were some new pictures on the wall about one of its previous occupants

I've always known that the house at 3 Robert Street was one of the last remaining parts of the original Adelphi Terrace development on the banks of the Thames which the Adam Brothers, led by Robert Adam, designed and built between 1768 & 1774 - before they ran out of money.  This explains why the streets are named after them (Robert Street and John Adam Street).  Of course the Embankment bteween the Terrace and the Thames came later - hence all the trees in my drawing.

The Adam Brothers' Adelphi (1768-72) was London's first neo-classical building.
3 Robert Street is the one of the left.
Source Wikipedia

I also knew it had previously had some famous occupants.
No.3 Robert Street was built as a private house where John Adam himself resided from 1778-1785. This building can boast of other famous inhabitants: JM Barrie, best known as the author of Peter Pan, the poet Thomas Hood, Sir John Galsworthy novelist and playwright, along with other eminent artists and writers.

It turns out that JM Barrie had lived on the 3rd floor while married (and is presumably where he write Peter Pan published in 1905).  He then moved to live on the 4th floor of 3 Robert Street after his divorce in 1909 and Committee Room 4 was his study/drawing room. Here he entertained politicians Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay McDonald as well as Charlie Chaplin!

So I was sat where the man who wrote Peter Pan used to sit and watch the Thames go by..............


  1. To get a panoramic top view is not an easy joke,( I am struggling to do one just now:-)) you have done a great job with the perspective. The details you tried to attend to are also amazingly well done!

  2. Very nice sketch and wonderful of you to share the memories.

  3. I think the colours are lovely against the grey sky. I found the same difficulty trying to draw from a hotel I stayed in in London with spectacular views - there was so much to take in and sort out, I found it impossible. This is wonderful for saying so much but not being strangled by details! I'm very fond of cartridge paper so I'm curious to know what paper you would have chosen instead to draw this?

  4. I'd taken two sheets of Arches HP with me which is hard sized and the colours sit on top and don't sink in

    However I had one of those - "the paper is too good for the mess I'm going to make of this" moments!

    I'll go back having drawn marks in advance for where most of the landmarks are to give myself a fighting chance!

    I just had no idea where this was going to start and finish - but it didn't matter because it was only a study and only on cartridge paper!

  5. I've just been to the Chris Beetles Summer Exhibition with you again, Katherine. It was unforgettable seeing it with you that year IRL but the on-line catalogue is stunning. How wonderful it will be when more galleries discover how this enhances their profile and marketing.

    I'm so ignorant. I didn't know Edward Lear was a painter as well as the poet my daughter and I shared with such pleasure.

    And that's an extremely impressive BIG sketch, Katherine. How nice to know that even you get the jitters and draw on 'less than your best' paper :)

  6. I meant to say you've also hit your stride again with this post - so much to enjoy. Thank you.

  7. Many thanks Don. Padmaja and Jeanne

  8. I knew you'd love the Chris Beetles exhibition Robyn!

  9. Hi Katherine - I love this sketch, the colors are so vibrant in contrast with the sky. I've never been to London, but if you had not titled this, I think I could have identified it from pictures I have seen.

    I came across your site quite by accident. I was looking for information on Monet's series paintings. I have just looked around a little, but am quite taken with your sketches. Thank you so much for sharing.


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