WIP – “The Bridge House, Ambleside”

I’ve decided to put all of my photos of this painting together in one place – given that I’ve been working on it sporadically for over 18 months before completing it!

(NB. To look at any image in more detail, just click on it to open it up in a new window.)

The Bridge House, Ambleside – detail

“The Bridge House, Ambleside” is a follow up to “Ashness Bridge” and part of an eventual set of 5 or 6 interesting Cumbrian foot bridges.  Because it has been worked on sporadically – mostly when called on to demonstrate, I think I have worked this picture up to a higher level of detail than I’d originally planned.  Maybe, this will mean re-visiting “Ashness Bridge” again – no bad thing given that I no longer have the original.

I am using Derwent Artist Coloured Pencils on Canson Bristol Board.  These are hard, non water soluble, wax based coloured pencils and the paper also has a hard, smooth surface.  I am really doing what I would do on a larger prepared wooden surface – but in a smaller way.  I am scribbling and hatching and layering several colours over each other.  The random nature of the marks means that, at a viewing distance, the colour mixing is being done in the eye of the viewer.  Because of the hard nature of the pencils and the lack of “tooth” on the paper, there is a definite limit to the depth of tone that I can achieve using my “scribbling” approach to the mark-making.

These “bridge” pictures are of specific places that are well known to visitors to Cumbria.  I’d like them to sell (as originals and as prints!).  Therefore I feel that the depictions have to be pretty accurate.  I may well be taking “artistic” liberties with the colours I use and some of the less important aspects of the environment around the actual bridge.  But – the bridges themselves need to be right.  That’s why I take quite a bit of time to square up the chosen (cropped) photo that gives me the most appealing composition.  I transfer the essential shapes to the paper as accurately as I can.  However, although it might feel like a silly thing, I don’t just blow up the original photo until it is the right size and carbon copy it to the paper.  The A4 photo I working from is 4/5ths the size of the finished work.  I’d much rather work from life – but can’t on these pieces – and so I want my brain to be working at the under drawing as if I were doing so.  I use a 0.5mm clutch 2B graphite pencil for this process as it is easily to correct.  But I try not to make the marks too heavy as most of this graphite will be erased as I start to render the colour.

B/W tonal reference and colour photo squared up (4cm squares)
Essential bits of composition transfered to the paper (5cm squares)

I have not slavishly copied every stone and brick.  But – I have taken care to note the location of the largest stones and the approximate distribution of stone sizes and courses. I’ve also been careful with other architectural details such as window frames and the location of major stones in the arch.

I’ve started to get a feel for the size and distribution of the stones on the face of the building.

Starting with Burnt Umber and Ultramarine or Prussian Blue, I’ve started work on the tonal representation of the stones on the face of the building.  The most extreme tonal contrast in the whole work is the view through the upper window.  The lightest light and darkest dark in the whole piece will be here and that should lead the viewer’s eye straight into the building.  After a good start in Spring 2010, other work (and a house move across the country) took over and there was no further progress until demonstrating for a few days on the UKCPS stand at the Art/Materials Show at the NEC in early November 2010!

The face of the building is virtually complete.

I suppose I’m now combining what I can see in the photo together with what I know about what happens to light when it falls on solid objects.  For example, I have used my electric eraser to gently lighten the top edges of most of the stones (and indicated some lighter, reflected lights on some of the bottom edges) and selectively darkened some other stones to show that they are slightly deeper in the overall surface than those that surround them.  Making a stone a degree lighter overall gives the impression that it is slightly proud of the surface – especially if the shadow underneath it is a little darker.  On the larger stones, I indicate differences in the surface with different shades or shapes of colour.  Noting (or inventing!) the odd blemish is also useful in giving the impression that the stones are individual.

Close up of layers.

This close up illustrates the several layers that are involved in rendering the stonework.  I start with defining the shadows between the stones (most of which are from my imagination – but based on the overall feel of the photo).  I nearly always start with Burnt Umber followed by Ultramarine.  I add further blues, lighter browns and greens (to hint at lichens and mould) and terracotta, violet and purples (for a sense of the Cumbrian stone).  Where I want to have a specific patch of moss, weed or lichen, I erase the area required and then redraw the detail with slightly more saturated colours (introducing stronger yellows and greens) while paying attention to the darker, negative shadow shape that will ensure the feature sits on the surface of the stones.  And that’s about as far as I got in 2010.

Definition of the background.

After a long lay off of almost a year, I brought this picture out again as a rolling demonstration at the recent 10th UKCPS Annual Open Exhibition in late September 2011.  The building and bridge needed little further work and it was time to address things I’d been avoiding!  For example: how much detail in the background?  Include figures or not?   How much foliage in the foreground?  Etc.  So – I completed the bare trees in the right hand side background by erasing the area where branches would be and redrawing them with a variety of ochres, reds and browns.  Then I started work on the evergreen trees in the left hand background.  Here I mostly used a range of greens and blues and paid a good deal of attention to the dark, negative shapes that indicated the trunk, branches and shadows deep within the tree.  I also decided that a lone figure would be appropriate!

Beginning to block in the watercourse.

I’m now moving on to the lower stone work and starting to block in some of the layers in the watercourse.  I have still to decide how much of the foliage in the photo to include in the finished piece.  However, I can still put it off for a while as I’ll be drawing in the background and erasing where I want foliage to go.

Further work on the watercourse.

I am studying the photo a lot at this stage to get the tonal relationships correct so that I can show the banks, the surface of the water and hint at what lies beneath.  I am doing quite a lot of adjusting throughout.  I make marks and modify them with hand and electric erasers and Blue Tac (which was a new discovery for me!).  While I’m working, many spectators comment on all the lovely colours in the work.  I am always so much more concerned with getting my tonal values right (by building up several combinations of “colour greys”) that I am always surprised at how much colour there is!  However, for me, the overall impression I get when I stand back from the work is that it is a richly monochrome tonal study.

Watercourse largely completed.

This is as far I got while I was in London.  The watercourse is largely done, I’ve also completed some outstanding background details and made a start on the capping stones that run down the right hand side of the composition.

Back home, and with a local exhibition looming, I carry on and complete the painting by “biting the bullet” and making a decision about how much foliage to include in the foreground.  Basically, I decide where it is going to go and then draw it in with my electric eraser before re-drawing specific branches and tufts of grass with new marks. These are, again, often defined by the darker negative shapes representing the shadows and depths that are formed by the foliage.

The finished piece.

I’m pleased with the painting – which I feel is a step up from “Ashness Bridge” in terms of technique and detail.  For display, it has been put in a double mount of blue/grey and under glass in a fairly narrow wooden frame (beech effect).

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