two cities, two views from the bridge

Westminster skyline
I love Hungerford Bridge. I can’t express this enough. Not so much to draw, but to draw from. The old Hungerford Bridge was a nightmare, rattling and rusty, a walkway tacked onto the side of the real bridge itself (a railway bridge, stretching south from Charing Cross station). My memory recalls it as like an urban version of one of those rope bridges from Indiana Jones or something, with the deadly brown Thames rolling beneath the cracks. The most annoying thing was that it was on the wrong side of Hungerford Bridge, for those who want a nice view of Parliament and the City of Westminster. While the railway bridge is still there, a decade ago they finally built two modern and spectacular new pedestrian bridges on either side of it, thereby giving us access to the amazing view above. I am still in awe that this bridge exists (technically it is now a trilogy of bridges, the two pedestrian ones being more properly called the Golden Jubilee Bridges, nice shiny name but a bit of a mouthful). One day I may draw it, but the novelty of drawing from it has not gone away just yet. I had promised my son I would include the London Eye in one of my sketches – I do like the wheel, but really don’t like drawing it! The bridge is Westminster Bridge, and the clocktower, commonly called Big Ben after the large bell inside, is siply called the Clock Tower – for now. The powers that be decided recently that they would like to rename it Elizabeth Tower, in honour of the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee (the tower on the other side of parliament is called Victoria Tower, renamed from the previous King’s Tower for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The Thames will always be the Thames, however (unless Britain gets totally broke and sells the naming rights, the JP Morgan River or something; I am surprised they haven’t considered such things already).

After completing the first sketch, I then decided that I needed to do a full two-spread panorama from the eastern span, looking out towards the City of London. It was an incredibly windy, sunny day, and lots of people passed by as I sketched. It took me nearly two hours to draw the view below, the skyline of London, ever evolving. In the right hand side, the tall glass 1984-ish Shard building pokes into view. St.Paul’s of course is in the middle, the dome being the symbol of London, and on the right is Cleopatra’s Needle, which of course pre-dates Cleopatra by centuries. Spanning the Thames is Waterloo Bridge, designed by the same fellow that gave us the classic red phone box and the old Bankside power station (now Tate Modern). Click on the sketch below for a larger image.
Waterloo panorama

an afternoon at the allotments

dawn's shed

One Monday afternoon while back in London I went to the East Finchley Allotments. My cousins have an impressive allotment there, and invited me along to do some sketching with them, and catch up after so many years. It’s been a while sincedawn's birdhouse I was in East Finchley – I used to pass through on my way to work every day, a million years ago it seems – but I found the place, a large and historic allotment site behind a primary school, surrounded by woods and residences. For those who don’t know, an allotment is kind of like a garden space that you rent and maintain for non-commercial use, a bit like the community gardens you get here in the US. My cousin Dawn (check out her lovely site London Clay Birds), who I had sketchcrawled with a couple of days earlier, met me and showed me around, and we did some more drawing. She built the shed above, in fact, and my other cousin Lester constructed the roof. It was a sketcher’s paradise, and very peaceful too. I drew one of several birdhouses (also Dawn’s creations), in that brown pen I go on about so much. My cousin Claire came along a little later, with their Mum Sue, and we had some lovely catching up. Claire brought her incredible sketchbooks too (check out her site The Quiet Revolution), and then we explored the site a bit more, doing some more drawing.

Some of the allotments really are rambling patches of loveliness, with a lot of hard work and devotion involved. I’m always impressed at the dedication people have to gardening; being essentially living things, gardens are not something you can just ignore. Dawn writes the newsletter for the East Finchley Allotments, and showed me the impressive map she is working on, hand-drawn of course. I like drawing old things like sheds, so we got some more sketching in. The one below drew me in largely because of the French signs in the window.

east finchley shed
It was a hot day, and after stopping to sketch the quick scene below (the sloping grounds of the allotments leading up to a primary school which looks a lot like the one I went to, but isn’t), we all sat in the shade of the allotment and caught up. Dawn gave me a bag of wonderful hand-made goodies, including some of the beautiful London Clay Birds (check them out on her Folksy and Etsy stores). It was a very nice afternoon, I hope to have more of them.
east finchley allotments