When I was in high school one of my favorite classes was art class. I loved everything, but ceramics was my big passion, mainly because I didn’t get caught up with the vision I had in my head. Painting and drawing were always a struggle for me because I would get this clear idea in my head of what it should look like and I could never manage to match reality to my preconceived vision. But I have to say, teaching lower school has renewed my interest in drawing, because there is nothing I love more than sitting at a very small table with a group of first graders and working on one of their worksheets with them. This spring after a particularly satisfying class drawing diagrams of birds, I decided to start sketching on my own at night as a way to decompress. I began with colored pencil sketches of birds since that is what I had been doing at school. Here are two of my favorites!
But this post isn’t about birds, as you can clearly see from the subject line, it’s about a cityscape! But I wanted to share the part about the birds because it was those little sketches that really renewed my passion in drawing as an art form, and made me open to trying out this next project. A couple of weeks ago I was scrolling through Craftgawker and I spotted this amazing cityscape from The Postman’s Knock. Lindsey Bugbee is an amazing artist and calligrapher who not only does this as a profession, but shares her amazing secrets as tutorials and helpful tips on her blog! Her tutorial featured a gorgeous cityscape of Atlanta, Georgia, that she made for a wedding client of hers. And with my background in architecture I was pretty hooked the instant I saw it! I couldn’t get it out of my head and just knew I had to attempt my own, though I didn’t buy it for a second when Lindsey kept encouraging her readers about how easy it was. And I was right, this is not a quick and easy project, but I am pretty pleased with the results.
First I had to chose a photo to copy. I think I struggled with this part most of all, and finally chose two photographs that I took a few years ago in graduate school during an architectural photography class. One was from the daytime part of the class while the second one was from the night photography portion of the class. (Night photography totally captured my heart, but that’s a story for a different post…) Here are the two images I chose to work from. Why two? Because the first one I chose (with the Brooklyn Bridge) was a bit too difficult for my first attempt.)
Lindsey talks about free handing her piece, and recommends having a strong understanding of how to draw things in perspective, using a technique that she doesn’t name specifically but which I learned in school as Two Point Perspective. Basically you have two points on a horizon line, and all of your lines start from the vertical and then trace back to those two points. (She links to a YouTube video in her post, I didn’t watch it but I’m sure it explains it better than I just tried to.) It’s actually pretty simple and a really fun drawing technique, and as I said, one that I understand very well. But even with that knowledge and my masters degree in architecture, I still really really struggled trying to freehand my drawing. (Would anyone else have known in the end that I felt I had struggled? Probably not. But given my perfectionist tendencies, plus the fact that architecture is my field, and I’d taken the original photo I was copying, close just wasn’t going to cut it.) So I gave up on the freehand and decided to move on to tracing. I opened the photo on my computer in iPhoto and made it as large as possible. Why iPhoto? Because that way I could edit the photo as I went making the exposure very bright to capture detail in the darker sections, and things like that. Once I had the photo up on my screen I opened my big drawing notebook (about the size of a letter or A4 piece of paper) on top of my computer and taped the outer edge of one sheet on top of the monitor section of my laptop. In retrospect since I was going to eventually tear the sheet out of my notebook anyway I probably should have just torn the sheet out at that point, it might have been easier than using my whole notebook. Oops… The paper that I happened to have was from a sketch pad of 60 lb paper so it was relatively thin and you could pretty easily see the image from the screen through the paper. So I forged ahead with my tracing. I got pretty far with my first drawing before I gave up (for the moment, I may keep working on it in the future) and moved onto my second photo. Here’s where I got with the first one.
I then moved onto my second photo which I found much easier because it didn’t have all the finicky little lines of the Brooklyn Bridge to worry about. This view is of one of the piers of the Manhattan Bridge, in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn. (For non-New Yorkers, Dumbo stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This is one of the piers of that overpass.) It is definitely up there as one of probably my top three night photographs I took, so being an image I was really invested in probably helped. First you need to sketch the entire image in pencil. I wasn’t sure what to do about the cobblestone street so I vaguely sketched in a few of the stones and figured I’d come back to it later. Playing with the contrast of the photo in iPhoto was what really helped fill in the underside of the bridge which pretty much just looks black in my original photo but actually had a lot of interesting metalwork. I decided to basically draw my entire scene in pencil before starting in with the ink, though if you read Lindsey’s tutorial it looks like she started with ink when she was mostly done with her scene, but would switch back to pencil to work on small details like all the little windows. I forgot to document my drawing with just the pencil, but as you’ll see from this series of photos I did take a few process shots as I started adding in the ink lines so you could get a sense of how it came together.
I used a set of Micron pens for all the ink work. I really like how these pens draw, and I also happened to already have a set left over from school. (Plus I don’t know how to use an ink pen and nibs.) It actually brought back a lot of memories because the pens are in a box with the rest of my drafting stuff and seeing the pencil leads and lead holders really brought me back to four years ago! Learning to hand draw architectural drawings is no joke, let me tell you. For instance, did you know you have to spin the lead holder as you draw a line so that you don’t flatten one side of your lead (these leads are about 1/16″ thick, not like mechanical pencil leads). If you spin as you draw then you are always wearing out the point evenly and you never end up with a line that goes from thin to thick. Crazy, right?! But I digress…
As I said, I used a set of Micron pens for the drawing part. I really loved the thin points, the 01 and 005 pens, for getting all the thin little details. I didn’t get along as well with the thicker pointed 05 and 08 pens, because I just felt they didn’t get a thick enough line. In the future I might choose to do the thicker black lines afterwards with a different pen. Here is my drawing when it was finished. You’ll notice I left the street in pencil because I still wasn’t sure how I was going to shade it in. I also wasn’t sure what I was going to do about the buildings in the distance so I left those in pencil too.
Now it was time to shade it in! I followed Lindsey’s instructions and used india ink for most of it. I also purchased a set of the Manga pens she mentioned from Faber-Castell. They have a set of 8 gray and black pens that I found on Amazon.com which were perfect. When they arrived I discovered that instead of nicely going from black to gray they actually had two sets of gray, a warm and cold gray. Personally I would have chosen the cold gray (which has more blue in it) because I greatly prefer that color of gray, but I realized the warm gray (more brown) matched the india ink better so I used the Warm Gray IV 273 and Black only. This is where I might have chosen to do the thick lines using the Manga Black instead of the Micron, the soft felt tip might have made a nicer/easier thick line than the stiff Micron. Who knows. I ended up only using the pens on the metal bridge portion (top left corner) and on the black city buildings in the distance, because I realized that if I tried to shade in large sections of space I would get a very streaky color which I absolutely HATE, plus it would be hard to get the nice shading that I could get with the india ink. So after a bit of careful marker work I really only used ink for the rest of it. You can see in these process shots how the ink got layered on. I mixed a few different strengths of ink and did a lot of painting multiple layers to get darker colors. (One of the downsides of picking a night photo as my inspiration, it was very dark and mysterious looking, something that is harder to capture in a drawing!) You’ll also see a blue border, that is the painters tape I used to tape my paper down onto a sturdy board for painting. I was worried that my thin paper would curl and warp a lot with the wet ink and it did, but miraculously it flattened back out as soon as it dried. It’s curling slightly now that I took it off the board but I might just leave it overnight under a book to really flatten it out again.
Overall I’m pretty happy with the final results, and even though the bridge stonework is a lot lighter in color in my drawing than in the original photo I figured I’d just think of this as a daytime rendering instead of a nighttime one.
One of my favorite parts is the bit of actual bridge that you can see in the corner, the part I colored in with the Manga markers, so it makes me think that for my next drawing I should focus on smaller details, maybe choosing a cityscape with lots of smaller buildings like Lindsey’s instead of one large focus object. We’ll see. (I was on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other night and thought that the view of midtown Manhattan from there would be a great focus of a long panorama drawing. Maybe that will be my next attempt…) You’ll also notice I abandoned the cobblestones on the street. I tried drawing them in after a dark wash of ink, so it was a subtle pattern, but it just wasn’t looking right so I went back over it with a darker wash and now its basically just solid black.
I also remembered to grab a photo of the supplies I used, the india ink was whatever brand my little stationary store had, but everything else was what Lindsey recommended. I also only had one small brush that’s a little angled wedge, but it worked pretty well and the edge was perfect for thin lines. I did pull out a bigger brush for the big sections of the street, very important if you don’t want streaky areas. I augmented the streakiness for the stones, to capture the natural variety, but for the street I wanted a more uniform look.
I hope you have enjoyed this less orthodox post, and if you haven’t done so already I definitely recommend you check out Lindsey’s blog, it is really fabulous! I can’t wait to try her Faux-Calligraphy tutorial!
P.S. Come back later this week for a fun and very colorful update to a past project.