Sketching Historic Buildings

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I have so many hobbies. I seriously can't seem to sit still for a minute. In my spare time I'm  reading, cooking, photographing, researching local history, travelling, visiting museums,  gardening (hello hydrangeas) and writing. And then there's sketching. 

I decided to join my local sketching group, Reading Urban Sketchers, to get to know like-minded people that, just like me, loved to put pen and a watercolour brush to paper and draw stuff. And more than anything, I especially love to sketch historic buildings. 

When my group meet up and do Urban Sketching, it's always out on location and we simply draw and record what we see. Telephone wires, a crack in a building, people eating. We add it all in. No airbrushing going on here. 

Sometimes we're asked to record certain events in the local area, such as panto rehearsals or the annual Santa Run. Other times we meet up, say a quick hello and then find somewhere to plonk ourselves for a couple of hours while we draw and paint. At the end, we put our work out and chat and learn from each other. And I love it. 

But most of my work isn't completed out on location, although I wish it was. At home, when I can't get out and about, I use photos from my phone, gathered on numerous days out, to practice. Here I don't have the weather or temperature to worry about, I have all my equipment with me and in most cases, I've already done some of the work myself by arranging the composition of the photograph. 

I have been influenced by the work of an artist called Ian Fennelly. He's a UK based Urban Sketcher, and he's done sketches of Warwick. York, London and around his local area, near Liverpool. I recently attended an online webinar with him, and we sketched a bridge in Prague all together, where I learned so much in the way of technique and became totally inspired to complete a sketch every day, to get my practice in. 

I love the way he uses splashes from a wet paintbrush to add a kind of energy and movement to the sketch, and he really enjoys playing with colour. The timbers on this pub are a dark silver grey - but I think that especially with historic sketches, the colours add an energy and convey some of the vibes of the place. The Duke of Wellington pub in Southampton has been standing for at least 800 years. It's seen a fire, a two-day raid by pirates and the building of the monumental defensive town walls in the fourteenth century. 

Imagine all the conversations from all the locals over its centuries-old history. 

Some vibes there, for sure. 

Another place I love - especially for the vibes - is Hampton Court Palace, and this was sketched at home using one of the photos taken on my visit in November 2019. It took me around an hour to finish. 

I also sketched my local church - parts of which date to the 1300s - St Michael's church in Tilehurst. I love the crooked old gravestones that point all ways, and the spire, as well as the odd fairy-tale splodge of colour that isn't there - like the purples and pinks - that betray the history that's gone on there over hundreds of years. 

I love to sketch practically anything, but with historic buildings and scenes it's somehow different. I think if you're out on location, you're kind of immersed in the scene - as part of the landscape. Nothing beats it. You're there, with all the historic vibes and totally feeling it and then trying to convey that on a piece of paper. I also find them so much fun to paint and draw - the wonky lines, the criss-crossing timbers and the cobbly grey stones. You can even exaggerate the wonkiness of an old building, or the perspective, to make it look taller and more overbearing in the landscape. You can just have a play with colours, and form like you can't do in a photograph.

You don't even need much in the way of equipment, if you want to start. I use an A4 sketchbook (get one that can withstand a bit of water and won't go too crinkly), a basic watercolour palette,  a couple of brushes, a pencil and some fineliner pens to add in the lines. I also have some Tombow brush pens which I use to add shadows, the darkness of windows or the nobbly darker stones or gaps you get on a cobblestoned path. 

If you're thinking about getting involved in sketching, just do it. You can join a local club like I did - look for your local Urban Sketching group online (I found mine on Facebook) and request to join. 

If you'd like to follow me and my future sketching adventures, come and follow me on Instagram @lovebritishhistorypics where I post a historical sketch almost daily on my feed or on my stories. 

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