Tag Archives: churches

sketching wrens’ city…part two

St Mary Le Bow sm

The Wren sketchcrawl continued… we had a lot of sketchers from all over on this sketchcrawl, and after finishing St. Stephen Walbrook I bumped into international-travelling urban sketcher Sue Pownall, and we walked over to St. Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. The approach to this old church up the narrow Bow Lane is lovely, although the buildings are now modern you can just use a bit of imagination to fly back through the centuries and picture the narrow timber-framed houses leaning into each other over dirty streets, the sound of the Bow Bells echoing through the dark, bustling lanes. Yes, this is the church of the Bow Bells; the tradition is that a Cockney, a true Cockney, was born within the sound of the Bow Bells (and not Bow in East London as many wrongly believe), that is, within London. Cockney is synonymous with all Londoners now, London being much bigger than in Dick Whittington’s day, though of course he famously heard them from up on Highgate Hill, calling him back to his destiny as London’s Lord Mayor. You know the story. There’s a statue of his cat on Highgate Hill, near Whittington Hospital, but that’s far from here. The Bow Bells were important to London not because of fanciful stories and cockney categorization, but because in the middle ages these were the bells that rung to sound the curfew, and the closing of the city gates. If they rang and you were outside the city, you spent a night sleeping in the filthy gutters of Southwark or Finsbury. These days you can just get a Night Bus, and it’s a similar experience.

Those bells and the old church of St.Mary-le-Bow were burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666, so Sir Christopher of course got to work building a new church, this one above. Well, kind of – it was destroyed again by the Nazis in the Blitz, but rebuilt after the War. I just drew the spire, time being of the essence, but it was a nice little courtyard to be sat in.

St Vedast sm

Before going to sketch St.Paul’s (I had this huge panorama in mind…didn’t quite make it) I wandered about to find a less well-known Wren church. I headed to St.Vedast-alias-Foster, up in Foster Lane, mostly because I liked its unusual name. when I got there, the staff were bustling about, preparing for a wedding. Though it looks like Just Another Wren Church (™) from the outside, the inside is quite spectacular, with a beautiful ceiling and a polished hall filled with light. The friendly suited man at the door welcomed me in to look around, and I asked him a bout the history of the church and its unusual name. Apparently in the middle ages this part of London was popular with Flemish immigrants from Arras in northern France, whose patron saint was St. Vedast (from the Latin name Vedastus; in Norman French and Flemish he was St. Vaast). This was corrupted into English as ‘Foster’, hence Foster Lane, and so the church is called ‘alias-Foster’ as a result. He showed me around the lovely courtyard, and said that a sketcher would love to sketch in there, and showed me the history of the parish churches associated with this one, many now combined (the ‘United Parishes’), including one church called St. Mary Aldermanbury which was badly damaged in World War II, and then closed down, with its remains being shipping across the Atlantic for rebuilding in Fulton, Missouri, significantly the place where Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946. All historied-up, I went out into the street and found a spot to sketch the tower. I kept it brief, because my next building was so much bigger than all of the others (probably put together).

St Pauls sm

The plan was for a panorama, but I couldn’t decide on a good view, at least not from up close. Besides, the day was pressing on and I wanted to be done before our final meet-up at 4pm. So I stood across the front entrance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, as traffic and tourists rumbled by, and sketched in traditional London grey. It was actually a very sunny day, one of the more pleasant London afternoons. I remember those sorts of afternoons from when I was a teenager, wandering central London’s streets on a late Saturday afternoon, falling in love with the city. In those days St. Paul’s was much greyer, dirtied with decades of pollution and urban grime, but in recent years the grand old cathedral has been cleaned up significantly, and now sparkles white as if new-born. This is Wren’s masterpiece, but its significance to London is much older. For many, St. Paul’s is London. There has been a cathedral dedicated to St. Paul’s on this site, the top of Ludgate Hill (King Lud being an old figure of pre-Roman British legend who may or may not be related to the name of London itself), since St. Augustine brought Christianity to the Angles and Saxons. Not much is known about the early cathedrals, until the fourth incarnation, a huge Gothic cathedral, was built in the twelfth century. That was one of the largest buildings in Europe, but alas, along came the Great Fire of 1666 and in a matter of days it was gone. Along came Wren. As I’ve mentioned before, he had plans to rebuild London including St. Paul’s on his drawing board  for several years before the convenient fire, and for London’s landmark cathedral he wanted not another towering spire but a large Romanesque dome, technologically advanced and rivaling the greatest buildings in Christendom. The wooden model of his first design is still on display, but it looks rather different from the final buiding. This was late seventeenth-century England, not a time to make your premier church look, well, too Catholic. It was shaped like a Greek cross, and the nave was not long enough; it just didn’t look English. Wren went back to the drawing board, and in the end built the Cathedral we have today. It’s hard to think of more ‘London’ building than this. During the darkest days of World War II, when bombs flattened everything around it, the dome of St. Paul’s stood untouched, a symbol of hope for a city devastated. The ‘people’s church’ this was, and probably because of that, it was here that Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981 rather than at the traditional Westminster Abbey.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

So it was here that we finished out sketchcrawl, and our journey through Wren’s City. Those of us who were left gathered by the steps of St. Paul’s to look at each others’ sketchbooks. I met some great sketchers for the first time, and reconnected with sketchers I have met with before. I can’t tell for certain (because I didn’t take photos of everyone’s books) but I’m pretty certain that as a group we covered most of the Wren churches from my map on this day. Here are some photos from the end meeting; you can see some more on my Flickr set Sketching Wren’s City.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

And here is the final group shot…spot the sketchers you know!

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

Everyone that came and made it to the end got a little sticker that said “I Sketched Wren’s City”. I like making stickers. If you’re interested in following our steps and sketching Sir Christopher’s City, click here to download the little guide and map I handed out on the day: Wren’s London booklet (pdf)

After this, we reconvened at a pub on Fleet Street called The Old Bell, which, by the way, was built by Christopher Wren. Who else! To those of you who came along, it was brilliant to meet you and see all of your lovely work. See you next year! (For…”Dickens’s London”? “Coren’s Cricklewood”? “Pete’s Burnt Oak?”)

Urban Sketchers London

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 #13 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 14…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