Category Archives: Part 3: Project 5: Exercise 1: Sketchbook of townscape drawings

Part 3: Project 5: Exercise 1: Sketchbook of townscape drawings

I am always reminded that you learn by your mistakes… but as an adult there’s always an element of wanting to be the best, so it’s quite hard to exhibit your failings. The temptation is to show the product not the process.

So, in the spirit of learning and process, this exercise started with a failure – an abandonment – a resolution – and a ‘new’ start!!!


I pre-planned and made two nice 10 cm square in my sketchbook… so far, so good.

But I was worried about sitting in a public place drawing a building (it’s a townscape there are going to be people!!!!!) so I tried to find a place where nobody would see my sketch.


So, to avoid the problem I set off round the village.

Here there would be no prying eyes… or at worst friendly ones I could chat to!

The first, and unexpected, issue was I felt uncomfortable sketching people’s private houses (a bit like a spy!) without asking permission. It seemed odd. And for the pub I would have had to sit in full view of all the drinkers.

Walking through the village I started seeing the buildings as cuboids with perspective lines, rather than as ‘houses’ with gardens, trees, windows and patterned bricks… which was really weird.

After a while I walked to the end of the village, into a field looking onto the edge of a newish housing estate with a big hedge round it and nestled myself into a hedge. At worst I would have the odd walker stroll past (and they couldn’t come up from behind because of the hedge)… but it was late and overcast so that was unlikely. And nobody in the garden would see me because of the high fence.

I set to work.

Why it failed and what I learnt:

The instruction was to draw a section… I thought I’d just get the shape of the whole building first – a habit. That’s what you do when you draw a building.

That was  a mistake: I didn’t follow the instruction: to draw a section, to get a feel for texture, material and patterns etc. This would inform my drawing of the whole building and make it ‘physical’.

No, I had to try to do a quick sketch of the whole building first!!!

But I couldn’t see the bottom of the house as a high hedge came about a third of the way up and this meant the lines of the roof and walls were ‘floating’ in space.

So, faced with a real building (rather than books on a table) I couldn’t get the perspective right by eye. I drew what I saw but when I looked at it on the page it was wrong, and the perspective lines didn’t look right.

After a few attempts I gave up and resorted to imagining where my eyes would come on the hedge… half way up… how much of the building was below my eye line and how much above. I drew an imaginary eye line (as it went off the paper I couldn’t draw a real one) and then found the vanishing points.

Which wasn’t entirely straightforward as having got the one on the left it was a bit of trial and error to get the right angle for the one on the right… but by slowly ‘constructing’ the building and playing with the lines, trying to match the angles I saw, and by using a horizontal pencil in the picture plane to judge the angles, I managed to get the overall shape in the next box.

It was very pleasing!

And then I added a few general details to the building.

But that was not the exercise.

At this point, I realised why we’d been asked to use a 3B pencil – it’s the first creamy softness where you can get a really black line (great for shadows on buildings which give it a 3D quality; soft enough to use for shading but also hard enough to use for line).

I learnt…

I’ve learnt that real buildings are much trickier than books… you’re nearer and the scale messes up your judgement of perspective. Parts of the building may be hidden (with books you can see the whole book so it’s much easier to work out perspective, when the whole object is in your central field of vision). Also real buildings may not be perfectly true.


I’m going to bite the bullet, vault the psychological hurdle, and go into Cambridge.

Once I’ve done it it won’t be so bad.

I’ll have a much bigger range of buildings, nobody will worry if I’m drawing a street… and if somebody has a peep so be it. It doesn’t matter, and if they ask what I’m doing I can have a conversation and tell them about the OCA!

Here goes!!!!!!








Town was great!!!!

And you can get coffee!

I sat on the wall on King’s Parade facing King’s College with my back to the throng of multi language tourists and sketched away…

The only interruption was a Chinese woman asking me to sign a petition against organ harvesting in China and a nice young woman who asked if she could have a look. I enjoyed talking to them so that’s a big hurdle over. Weird, all that worry and when it came to it I enjoyed it!

King’s College is horrendous to draw… it’s so complicated and my sketches looked awful – to my eye. I struggled to find the vanishing points of a multi faceted building and imagined 3D models. But I persevered and found a view that I thought would be interesting.

And I could draw up at home.

To be honest I’d no idea how I was going to turn my preparatory sketches into a finished drawing.

The only two irritations on the day were when my tin can of pencils blew off the wall. And when a tourist sat too closes and knocked everything flying!!!

At home:

A miraculous thing happened… I found I’d got enough information… to start making a drawing.

Slowly, like assembling a really complicated jigsaw it started to make sence – I could find my eye line and vanishing points and it started coming together.

And the notes REALLY helped, they put me back emotionally on the wall. A bit like acting, putting yourself in another time and place.

I had to simplify what I saw and used aerial perspective as in the distance the detail receded and everything got smaller.

When I added colour the chapel suddenly emerged.

The biggest surprise:

Is that I can’t trust my eye for anything that’s outside my central field of vision.

Inside my field of vision my perspective lines are quite accurate.

But outside they are invariably wrong – I know it’s because I’ve moved my head and eyes, effectively am drawing a new picture from a different point of view with different vanishing points! The perspective lines for my new picture will probably be right… but they’ll be wrong for my original picture.

In everyday life we just accept our view of the world and it doesn’t bother us as we stitch together a 3D view of the world all around us constantly flicking our eyes and moving our head… but for a painting to look ‘right’ it can only have one point of view.

In this sense a camera with a wide-angle lens – like an iPhone – is useful as it can be an aid in constructing a single point of view.

And it’s also useful for checking detail.

But notes and sketches give you so much more than a camera! They can give you humanity and life – a photograph is dead.

(And the danger is a photograph captures you in its spell and you slavishly copy it!)… when – as I’m learning – a lot of art is about simplification and composition. But using a camera as a drawing aid is, I think, okay.


Although I can see numerous faults I’m really proud I went out, made sketches, and produced something that is recognizably King’s College!!!!