Urban landscapes

I am fascinated by towns and cities and am especially drawn towards the kinds of modern urban environments that many people find less interesting or less attractive.  I like the simple or straight-edged forms in these places, the sense of scale, the humble unpretentiousness and the fact that so many people live or work in them.  I also see urban environments as places where the ever-present matters of order and disorder come visibly together: buildings are demolished while new ones are built; people and traffic move around in both orderly and disorderly patterns; strangers speak to each other, sometimes in formal and predictable ways but also in spontaneous and personal ways; tree branches take natural and unpredictable twists and turns even when growing among the straight lines and right angles of roads and buildings; irregular cracks form unpredictably on smooth paving slabs and tarmac; we stand on and among well ordered man-made concrete structures but look up to see and feel raw, disorderly nature in the form of weather systems passing through.  Many of my urban landscapes are based on photography that I've obtained online, especially using Google Street View in which you can explore places in considerable detail and compose your own photos.  Drawing pictures this way gives me some sense of connection with the wider world and with places I've never been to.  Of course I'd like to actually visit some of these places too, though I know can't just expect to because of the distances and costs involved.  So yes, I am still happy exploring them and drawing them from afar.
To make images larger on screen, hold down the 'Ctrl' key and press '+' as many times as required
('Ctrl' '-' makes them smaller again).


Detroit
This city is well known for its problems of urban depopulation and decay, and for this reason is a place that many people would probably not want to explore or draw pictures of.  I've been in my element exploring it online (and would probably be even more so exploring it for real).  I've done only four drawings of this city so far but am looking forward to doing more when I get time.


Detroit 1  (2016)  Pen  21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing)
Detroit 2  (2016)  Pen  21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing)
Detroit 3  (2016)  Pen  21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing)
Detroit 4  (2016)  Pen  21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing)
Jackson, Michigan  (2016)  Pen  21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing)
I took a (virtual) trip out of Detroit and found myself in Jackson.  It's not a very big place at all, but it has skyscrapers.  And these skyscrapers aren't actually all that tall but there's something about their proportions and design, and the wide spaces around them, that gives them a really towering appearance.  The one on the left dates from the 1920s.  I would like to go there.  Maybe one day.



New York City
My daughter Elen and I spent a week in New York City in summer 2014, and loved it. I took loads of photos but, surprisingly, have so far done only these two drawings from them. I definitely plan to do more, which I will add here.
Queens, from Manhattan, New York City  (2015)
Coloured pencil 21 x 30 cm; 
300 (incl. mount + postage/packing)
So far these are the only skyscrapers that feature in my (two) drawings of New York City, and they are actually in Queens, not Manhattan. Why is this, when there are so many more skyscrapers of all sorts of ahapes, sizes, ages, and styles in Manhattan? Well, that's actually the problem! The density of skyscrapers there often makes it hard or even impossible to get a view that shows well the shape, scale and setting of a particular chosen building. You can photograph or draw/paint it from closer quarters, but then the view is complicated or altered so much by changed perspectives and upwardly converging angles. That's why I liked this view looking across to a group of quite new skyscrapers over in Long Island City, Queens. With the visible space between and behind them they look like a kind of giant modern Stonehenge. In this particular view I feel a certain quietness, which may sound at odds with NYC: it has something to do with the spaced-out skyscrapers and the clouds and colours in the sky. It's a feeling as if there's something rather alien in there somewhere, despite the familiarity of modern buildings and skies like this (maybe because of knowing that this 'familiar' sky is actually way over on the other side of the Atlantic on a different continent in a place where the climate is quite different from ours in Britain) or that something is about to happen and we don't know what because on this other continent things probably work differently even though they may have a look of familiarity in some respect. I still don't really know, and maybe never will. Maybe you know! Or perhaps you get a different feeling from it?
Park Avenue/120th St, New York City  (2015)
Coloured pencil 21 x 30 cm; 200 (incl. mount + postage/packing)

It's Park Avenue, but 'not as we know it'.





Other places in the US




Memphis, Tennessee  (2017)  Pen  21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing)





Junction City, Arkansas/Louisiana  (2017)
Pen  21 x 30 cm; 
150 (including mount + postage & packing)





Venice, Rome, Athens, Edinburgh and Bath: cities of history and culture
Venice  (2014)  Pen 21 x 30 cm (original not for sale)
For Christmas and birthday presents these days I draw my wife Alison a picture.  Well, if I go in the shops and look and look and try to think . . . you know what it's like.  So I draw her a picture.  I often leave it pretty late, too.  For her birthday in 2014 the day was nearly upon us and I was thinking along the lines of mountains or other wild places (as these had been subjects of most earlier drawing presents) but then thought: "Ah - I'll draw her a picture of Venice!"  This was because she had at that time a plan to visit Venice with a friend (though their trip didn't actually materialize in the end).  So I looked online - at lots of old buildings and canals, as you'd expect - but somehow felt these scenes didn't lend themselves well to my ways of drawing.  I could have just abandoned Venice, but then had what seemed like a crazy thought: "I wonder if there's any modern stuff there, with roads and cars and things?" and, looking around at the edge of the city, I found this scene.  Alison gave me a funny look when she opened it (didn't recognize it as Venice until she read the small writing at the left edge) and fortunately liked it and appreciated the humour.  I was now set on a bit of a mission.  Next stop - Rome!
Rome  (2014); pen; 21 x 30 cm; original not for sale.
I believe Rome is famous for some big round-shaped building.
Athens  (2016); pen;21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
 . . . and Athens for something more angular.  Round Rome.  Angular Athens.
Edinburgh (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).

You can see why they call Edinburgh the Athens of the North.
Edinburgh: St James Shopping Centre (2015)
P
en; 21 x 30 cm; 
270 (including mount + postage & packing).

They're knocking this down just now.  I like this example of brutalist architecture, but a lot of people don't.
Edinburgh: Bank Street + High Court (2016)
Pen; 21 x 30 cm; 
270 (including mount + postage & packing).

I was called up for jury service at Edinburgh High Court.  I hadn't much noticed the High Court building before then.  It's pretty impressive.  I was surprised to find that it was built in the 1930s; I had expected it to be older than that.
Bath (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
The city of Bath is famous for its architecture.




Some local towns in East Lothian, Scotland

These are drawings of local places, but I actually did them from Google Street View. The locations were chosen quite randomly, just landing myself in places I didn't know.

Haddington, East Lothian  (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
Wallyford, East Lothian  (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
For this drawing I could have adjusted the view to put that lamppost a bit more comfortably within the picture, but then I thought I'd just keep with this view and see what to make of it. After all, as we go about from day to day the view in front of our eyes at any randomly selected moment will probably not be 'nicely composed', and yet we don't complain about this; we don't see people always turning their heads in awkward positions in an attempt to be seeing a good visual composition at all times.

Tranent, East Lothian  (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
As with the Wallyford drawing I could have adjusted the view (in this case to look up or down the street) but decided not to. Actually I find there's a particular quality - lonely or sculpture-like, perhaps - to that lone lamppost sticking up into the sky. The housing estate skyine, just like a lot of other housing estate skylines, has all sorts of ups and downs and in this way could even be considered to be no less interesting than the skyline of a medieval castle or the city of Bath or an old traditional village in the Cotswolds or the Mediterranean.

Musselburgh, East Lothian  (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).

I don't know what the building on the left is, or the other building for that matter. The second one might be an old people's home? It has something of that look about it. Whatever they are or aren't, I soon became aware that a lot of this view is taken up by road and sky. As in many other urban drawings I've done I come to regard the flat, smooth surfaces of tarmac roads as more of an opportunity for interest than a problem of dull featurelessness unworthy of our attention. Likewise the sky.
Dunbar, East Lothian  (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).





Glasgow
I'm always excited to go to Glasgow. It is so unlike Edinburgh in the feel of the place. While Edinburgh is undeniably a wonderful city, Glasgow has for me a particular kind of vibrancy that comes from its larger size and different social make-up. I know Edinburgh much better than Glasgow but like them both equally. It is so good to have two such different and magnificent cities less than 50 miles apart.
 
Govan, Glasgow  (2013); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
This view has the kind of barren quality that I like in many urban scenes.  In a way this barrenness is like a kind of wildness.  Since I drew this picture I found that the low buildings in the background have been demolished and are not on the updated version of Google Street View.
St George's Road, Glasgow  (2015); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 270 (including mount + postage & packing).
On one visit to Glasgow I saw and photographed these buildings from a very different viewpoint, but I preferred this view that I found online.  Like the last picture those three big, well-spaced tower blocks have quite an impact, like big sculptures.  To me, big modern buildings like these really are like sculptures in the way they communicate a sense of space, scale and form.
Craighall Road, Glasgow  (2016); pen; 21 x 30 cm; 150 (including mount + postage & packing).
This is just along the road from an office where I went for a meeting.





Some other places in the Central Belt of Scotland

These are mainly housing estates that I have visited or come across online.
 
Hallglen, Falkirk (1)  (2014)
Coloured pencil 42 x 59 cm; 
500 (unmounted + including postage & packing)
This and the next two pictures are large coloured pencil drawings of a housing scheme adjacent to a wood which I visited to do some vegetation survey work for the Forestry Commission. After finishing the vegetation survey I wandered around this urban landscape and took photographs with drawings in mind. In this first view I was struck by that blank end wall: to me the simplicity and blankness of that wall has a daring boldness about it. The edge of the wood is on the left; the brick wall there is much older than the housing estate.
Hallglen, Falkirk (2)  (2014)
Coloured pencil 42 x 59 cm; 
500 (unmounted + including postage & packing)

Another view with two generations of building work: the new houses and the old brick wall. At first I wasn't sure about drawing that white painted target on the old brick wall, in case I made too much of a mess of it, but I went for it and am glad I did. I like the different textures of grassland here too: different grass species, with short (mown) swards of perennial rye-grass Lolium perenne in the middle distance and taller tussocks of cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata closer by and under the ash tree.

Hallglen, Falkirk (3)  (2014)  Coloured pencil 42 x 59 cm      ● SOLD

This building might be seen by some people as dull and depressing, but to me it has something of a commanding magnificence in its scale, shape, simplicity and spacious setting.

Tower block in Paisley, Renfrewshire  (2013)
P
en; 21 x 30 cm; 
150 (including mount + postage & packing).

After drawing everything but the sky, it was with some trepidation that I set about doing that vertical hatching behind the top of the tower block, aware that even some minor mishap with the pen could, in this context, lead to an irreversible problem. I think I just about got away with it, but actually if there had been such a mishap (pen gone the wrong way somewhere, splodges with too much ink, etc) there might well have been some way of working that into a slightly different sky that would have looked OK anyway - sometimes this process changes things for the better.

Airdrie, Lanarkshire  (2012)  Coloured pencil 21 x 30 cm; 300 (including mount + postage & packing)

This drawing is based on a photo found online (taken by 'majdanm', on www.panoramio.com). The size and proportions of the buildings with their regular rows of windows and adjacent open grassland has for me a comfortable and rather splendid feel. These qualities are appreciated by many when the place is a mansion set in parkland, but similar qualities exist in other places too.

Chapelhall, Lanarkshire  (2012)
Coloured pencil 21 x 30 cm; 
300 (including mount + postage & packing)

I photographed this scene while in a roadside layby, waiting to meet someone from the Forestry Commission. I happened to be driving by some weeks later and noticed that the van at the right was still there.

Douglas, Lanarkshire  (2012)
Coloured pencil 21 x 30 cm; 
300 (including mount + postage & packing)

On my way home from surveying an area of bog in the Lanarkshire hills, I took a short detour around part of the town of Douglas, just to check the place out.

Housing scheme in Paisley, Renfrewshire  (2012)
Coloured pencil 21x30 cm; 
300 (incl. mount + postage/packing)

When I told a friend, who originates from Paisley, that I had drawn a picture of a housing scheme in his home town, he couldn't understand why anyone would want to draw such a thing, but I was pleased that after seeing the drawing and some of my other urban drawings he agreed that such places are indeed worthy of being subjects for art.
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