Thursday, December 19, 2013

What to do with a View: Sketches, Photos and Ideas

One reason I rent a studio space rather than painting in my kitchen, quite apart from the health and hygiene considerations, is to force myself to show up and paint. At home there are always distractions and excuses, whereas if I pay rent each month I have to justify the expense and use the place. Now I'm feeling much the same way about the panoramic views from my apartment: while I certainly enjoy just looking at them, it's not quite enough. If I call myself an artist I should be able to use the raw material outside.

My former home had "peekaboo views" between the houses. In 2011 I set myself the task of taking a photograph every morning through the same gap, where on clear days Mt. Baker's volcanic peak poked up.The sunrise pictures, such as this one from late January, were the most dramatic . . . but more often than not the mountain's face was veiled, so I called the series "Mt. Baker or Not." I kept it up for a whole year, except when I was away from home.
Last winter I moved to an eighth floor apartment with unobstructed views not just of Mt. Baker, the highest and most distant peak, but, working from east to west, the Golden Ears,  Seymour, Grouse, the Lions, and Hollyburn, along with many others that I can't name. And on days when I the weather obscures them all, six immense cranes dominate the scene.

Looking directly north I see the eastern side of Grouse, with its ski slopes at present waiting for more snow. I can just about distinguish the line of chair lift supports--easier at night, when they are lit up. Moving down, I see forested hillsides and the buildings of North Vancouver. Then in the middle distance the view gets really complicated, with docks on both sides of the inlet. Massive structures and loading machinery overlap each other and present weird perspectives. It's hard to tell what's on land and what's on the water. Activity continues day and night, and things change shape and position. Freighters, tugs and barges come and go, stacks of containers form and re-form, and the orange cranes regroup themselves and raise and lower their necks, more like giraffes than their avian namesakes. Closer to home the view becomes less picturesque. The neighbourhood is mixed, with a coastal strip of concrete jungle giving way to residential streets higher up.There's an expanse of unattractive flat roofs, and then finally, if I direct my gaze straight down, a discarded armchair or broken table in the alley--right beside a conspicuous "NO DUMPING" sign.

I considered doing a photographic project similar to "Mt. Baker or Not", but didn't want to restrict myself to one spot. And I didn't want to accumulate thousands more photos, either. Instead I resolved to do a daily drawing, selecting whatever section of view appealed to me at the time, and setting a timer so I didn't spend all day on it. I provided myself with a variety of non-dusty drawing materials (mess stays at the studio) and decided to put on a different CD each day as a change from working in silence.

This all sounded fine . . . until I actually sat down to do it. Faced with something like this:
how on earth was I to draw it? And that's just if I look straight north. There are also the views to west and east . . .

Cheerful in felt pen.

Anyway, I made a start, and have been at it a month, though I haven't come close to the daily drawing I intended. I quickly discovered that e
ven a small chunk of the view is overwhelming if I try to draw all the details. I have to remind myself that I'm not preparing engineering drawings, and that, as I wrote myself (this blog, August 2012) a sketch is just a sketch and doesn't have to be a masterpiece.

Best effort so far

Cranes and Lions
Looking NNW

The most interesting aspects of my view are also too far away for me to make much sense of them, so accurate rendering is impossible. Squiggly marks to suggest what's going on are one way to deal with this problem and can be surprisingly effective. Another approach would be to study areas of interest through binoculars, but it's an extremely laborious way to draw, and physically exhausting too. I certainly wouldn't have the stamina to do a whole painting that way!
All of this seems to be leading me back to painting from photographs. That way I can zoom in bits of the view that interest me (I could do with a better camera) and enlarge the detail enough to paint it convincingly. Then I could do something like this crane in process of being lowered, or the group of four with their heads in the clouds:

My researches through my living-room window have given me plenty of ideas for 2014. This blog will continue, probably erratically, so I'll be reporting on my progress. In the meantime, merry Christmas to all my readers, and thanks again for your interest.