Tag Archives: churches

go west, young man

westminster abbey sm
I got on the tube on my second morning in London and went to work – another day of sketching my old city – but without a real plan as to where I would sketch. When I am at a restaurant sometimes I spend ages looking at a menu just to whittle it down to three or four items that I will ultimately decide upon only when asked, on a whim usually (yet I always end up eating the same thing, it’s weird), well sometimes I am like that with the sketching. I had no idea what I wanted to sketch. So I just went where the wind took me. I ended up outside Westminster Abbey, that great spiritual epicentre, the Royal Peculiar, both crowning and final resting place of kings and queens for a millennium. I’ve never ever sketched it, but some recent Spanish sketching visitors to London (that would be Inma Serrano and Miguel Herranz) had sketched it from this very angle and so I was inspired. I love to sketch a cathedral (of course it’s not technically a cathedral, nor is it an abbey, but as I’ve mentioned it’s a Royal Peculiar, direct responsibility of the monarch). I haven’t actually been inside since I was a kid, going to see Poet’s Corner and all that, but I sat across the street amid a crowd of Japanese tourists snapping away with their massive cameras and sketched upwards. It’s a spectacular building. It actually brings me a lot of joy to look at it, knowing its place in English history. This was Edward the Confessor’s church. Admittedly not this particular heap of architecture but it’s been going since his day. Or before, if legends are to be believed, for it was here on what was the Island of Thorney that a simple fisherman had a vision of St. Peter near here, and so in the seventh century an abbey was founded, and apparently the tradition of salmon being given to the Abbey years later was a reference to this incident where a local angler claims he saw a long-dead Pope splashing about in the Thames. William the Conqueror was crowned here, the Norman upstart who fancied himself a king and bloody well became one. And most recently, our latest royal William married Kate Middleton here, at an ungodly hour that meant certain American family members getting up ridiculously early to watch it all on TV. Ah, it’s all spectacle and nonsense, really, but it’s all good fun. This was the last page of my landscape Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook and what a book it has been. It’s a little larger than my usual size but the paper and the format have been superior, really nice quality, smooth but not too smooth, and takes watercolour very nicely, but really allows for detailed penwork without feeling like I’m chipping away at granite. Of course that is also the uni-ball signo pen I’m using, the old micron pigma was a bit harder work but that’s because I’m tired of nibs that wear down in general. I did originally plan to colour this in, but I liked the pen version so much when I’d finished that I decided against it.

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I moved onto the first page of my new sketchbook for the next building. After a year off, I went back to the old favourite, the watercolour Moleskine. This was to be #14 in that particular series. However, as has been pointed out in reviews by fellow urban sketcher and watercolour-Moley fan Liz Steel, the paper in these newer “Art-Plus” Moleys is…different. It isn’t quite the same. Grainier, yes a little, but also different sides of the paper have different textures, like a front and a back, a common feature in lots of watercolour paper but not in the older watercolour Moleskines. Still, I haven’t had too many problems with them and I still love the format and pocket at the back…but somehow it’s not quite the same. By the end of the book I’m sure I’ll be totally used to it and ready for Moley 15…we’ll see!
westminster central hall sm
Anyway what I sketched next was the big domed building across the street from Westminster Abbey, known as Methodist Central Hall (or Central Hall Westminster). This took under an hour, paint included, stood in the shade of a tree while local workers lunched. For my next sketch, I jumped on a tube and went down to Sloane Square… to be continued…
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when you find that things are getting wild don’t ya need days like these?

(the former) newman chapel, davis
This is the Newman Center on C and 5th Streets, Davis. I have sketched it before, when it still had a sign outside calling it ‘Newman Chapel’. I guess they don’t hold mass there any more, having moved that sort of thing to the nearby St.James’s. I’m told it’s still used as a meeting center, and it’s still part of the Catholic community in Davis. I just like the brickwork, though in this sketch it was the last thing I did on site and I rushed it a bit, as my tummy was rumbling. What a gorgeous sunny Saturday afternoon though! Mid-70s weather, perfect for cycling about outside and then sitting down on the street with a sketchbook, listening to some music. Life is busy, so it’s nice to stop, and breathe, and create.

the incredible sagrada família

Sagrada Familia
Another one checked off the life-long wish-list! This is the famous and magnificent Sagrada Família, the ongoing masterpiece of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. I love to sketch a cathedral. Of course this isn’t technically a cathedral, it is a “Basilica and Expiatory Church” – there’s no bishop, you see. It’s also only really half a church, because as you probably know it is not quite finished yet, stunning and unbelievably detailed though it is. It is over a century and a quarter in the making, entirely funded by donations, and naturally is a huge draw for tourists. It is expected to be finished by 2026, with a massive central spire still to be added. I quite prefer it like this. It is quite something to think that this will look really different the next time I go to sketch it. Finally however I have sketched it, this building I have always wanted to see and draw.

This was done on my last day in Barcelona, when my wife and I took the metro out on a bright Sunday morning. We found that lovely spot across from the pond looking up at the Sagrada Família, and as I sketched there were other urban sketchers from southern Spain also there capturing the view. Always nice to meet the Spanish sketchers, I’m a big follower of the various groups around the country, and learn from them a lot. Once they were gone, I was joined by a group of elderly Catalans; the old woman sat next to me chatted away to me in Catalan, tried to teahc me a few words, and they kept me in good company while my wife went off to take photos. This is the Nativity Façade, which pre-dates the Spanish Civil War, sketched in the Stillman & Birn ‘beta’ sketchbook.

I didn’t go inside this time. The queues are fairly enormous, and our time was limited. I’d love to in the future. There will always be another trip to Barcelona.

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the head that wears the crown

st james church, davis

I just realized that when I posted the drawing of the Antiques Plus building on D St the other day I went on about it being Presidents Day, when in fact it was just Sunday. Presidents Day was on the 18th, and on that day I cycled over to the other side of the park near where I live and drew St.James’s Parish Church. This modern building has been on my “oh yeah I forgot about that place, I should draw it some time” list for quite a while. Well, not without good reason, it’s interesting enough but a lot wider than I expected.  I sat in the sun and scowled at the wind but now I have marked it off. There are a few more churches and religious buildings to draw in Davis, though not of particular architectural significance. This one, while not exactly the Sagrada Familia, at least has an unusual spire, almost like a modernized chess piece. It almost looks like Burnt Oak Library has been given a new crown (admittedly that will only really make sense if you are from Burnt Oak, which while some of you are, most of you are not, but as Alan Partridge might say, you get the general idea). This was sketched in brown uni-ball signo um-151 pen with Cotman watercolours in a watercolour Moleskine, one which is very nearly finished.

cathedral steps

Last year I illustrated the cover of the program for the 2011 Christmas Concert at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco’s Nob Hill. This year I had the honour to be asked once again, for the 2012 shows. This time I was asked to provide an illustration of the magnificent building from a different angle, that of the impressive choir on the western side. Last weekend, my wife and I went to see the Christmas Concert, a beautiful show, and I will show you the panoramic sketch I made in the next post. For now though I thought you might like to see a step-by-step of how I drew the cathedral, along with some detailed and highly useful lecture notes. Cathedrals are fantastic to draw. If I could spend my life just drawing cathedrals I would be one happy little (well, medium-sized) Scully.

grace cathedral steps 1-4
Step One: draw some of the cathedral.
grace cathedral steps 5-8
Step two: draw the rest of the cathedral
Grace Cathedral
Here it is before adding the colour. It’s a good idea to scan it before you add the colour, because you might want to use it for a colouring-in-book, and you may get the colour completely wrong and accidentally paint it green or something.
Grace Cathedral (part colour)
Step Three: add some colour. Colour a little bit at a time. Then colour some other bits. Always paint the sky last, for no reason whatsoever. Scan it halfway through so you can say, I like it like that.
Grace Cathedral at Christmas
And…voilà! You have your cathedral. I am very pleased with it, and I think they were too. I was asked to make it evening time so you can see some of the colourful stained glass. I gave the evening sky a purple tint, to reflect the colours worn by the both the priests and the Men and Boys Choir. I must say, they are a really nice bunch of people at Grace, it’s one of my favourite spots in the city. Please visit them at http://www.gracecathedral.org/. In the next post, I’ll show you what I sketched there at the weekend…

but i need a friend and i choose you

26th & K, Sacramento

We happened to be in Midtown Sacramento today, buying art supplies and stocking stuffers at the University Art Store on J Street. I decided to stick around and sketch a building I last sketched back in early 2007, the Parish Church of St.Francis of Assisi. It was a cool day in Midtown, and I had a long walk to the bus afterwards, but it was a good walk. I always forget how much I do enjoy Midtown Sac, how many great sketching opportunities and interesting little stores there are. I remember when I first discovered the area, my wife had dropped me off to check out that record shop The Beat one day and I was hooked, it became my favourite place to escape to from Davis (other than the Bay Area of course). I was amazed I had never been there before; I generally avoided Sacramento in those early days, having only seen its rougher edges, but Midtown was cool. On those long Sundays when my wife wanted me out of the apartment, I’d be there somewhere between J or K or L, sketching. This building was in fact the first thing I ever drew in Midtown, so when I stopped there today it felt like I was sketching an old, old friend. I don’t go to this area very often now, maybe a couple of times a year, but it’s an interesting area, and has well-stocked art stores, comic shops, record shops and a British pub – what more do you need?

Incidentally, here is the version I drew nearly six years ago… different angle, different light, different pens, very different days.

st francis church & friary, midtown sacramento

goodness gracious

grace cathedral from the choir

San Francisco: after climbing the excruciatingly steep Nob Hill, leaving the shuffling Tenderloiners behind, I sketched Grace Cathedral. Regular listeners will recall that I drew the cover for their Christmas brochure last year, and was fortunate enough to go and sketch at their Christmas show itself. It is an amazing cathedral, and with my current desire to draw cathedrals (I have been trying to practice by drawing from books) I was eager to return. It was windy up on that hill. I stood behind a newspaper stand and drew the choir end. I drew in my Moleskine and coloured with watercolour, except for the sky which was done in a new blue Pitt marker I just bought – I was trying it out for colour. Darker than expected! It’s a magnificent building from the outside, but epic inside. I don’t get many opportunities to sketch cathedral interiors from life, and believe me it is a completely different animal from drawing from a photo. It’s all about trying to show the magnificence which is all around you. I drew on larger paper than usual, my Canson Urban Sketchers 7″x10″ sketchbook. After the craziness of Market Street, it was so peaceful sketching inside Grace Cathedral. There was a piano playing, and after a while a powerful baritone tested his tonsils, while to my right silent folk strolled around in circles following the lines of Grace’s famous labyrinth, as I stood sketching by a large stone pillar. I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but I’ve always loved cathedrals, the immense old stone and bright stained glass and beautiful acoustics.

inside grace cathedral, san francisco