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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Exercise 3.3

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Illustrative Drawings

I have struggled so much with part 3 of the course. It has been the most challenging to stay involved with the whole exercises. I keep needing to go back out to draw but never return with what I need to fulfil the exercise. It all feels too specific, and an expectation is set that I just can't obtain. Something hasn't worked for me during this and it has majorly hit me hard. Perhaps the lockdowns have been to blame, then the weather, and then the mental struggle to motivate trips that involve doing such work that I'm really out of touch doing.

Each time I set up to draw, I then look around feeling overwhelmed on how to tackle the sketching. People moving around me, I stare longer than I draw, and then I'm too late to start. I feel a lack of control, I feel there is no form to the composition, and overall it just feels messy. I have researched the artists mentioned throughout this part, and I just feel as though I'm supposed to do what they do but I can't. I dislike the feeling of not being good at something, or feeling untrained to do it. I haven't been able to enjoy, to learn and grow during this, I feel as though I've gone backwards which is hard to comprehend. Do I need an objective when I set out to draw on location? Do I need one small goal for the duration, and to stick with this? I think I am already overwhelmed by trying to do all the exercises at once, which is of course an immediate negative and a burden to carry. I tried breaking it down and just going out with the book to capture the simple things, and yet I've come back empty handed.

How do they draw motion, and still catch details? Do they draw from memory so they can spend more time on the piece? A lot of the works are drawn on location, rarely from photos - as it seems, so how? Memory seems likely to me but is that the way? when I'm sitting in position to draw, I hardly want to look down at the paper, but drawing blind doesn't give the results I want - so this is where I hate what I do and lack the understanding of the process.

For this exercise, I at least had the chance to use photos to help. I had time on my side to think about the composition. But the places I've been and the photos and drawings I have collected, are super uninspiring, and with time as the essence for this course I haven't been able to really be amongst a crowd. I feel frustrated.

I decided to use the route towards the local station. I found the bridge across the tracks to be the most interesting "landmark" of the journey. I liked the colours, the graffiti scribbled across parts of it and the heavy metal look. It was still, steady and purposeful. It was rarely busy, which meant I had time to draw without the feeling of being overwhelmed. This route relaxed me and is the one place in this entire section where I was able to squeeze a few drawings out. I decided it was going to be the place of my focus.

The Bridge

Words I had noted were Rusty, Old, Symmetrical, Painted, Strong, Iron and Moss. The graffiti gave it an urban feel, where the metal made it industrial. The paint is thick, faded and weathered, having grown a mossy green glow with rust breaking through. The symmetry in the bridge is appealing, and both ends hints the greenery of the surrounding landscape. When looking out of the bridge sides you could see the tracks and the scenery surrounding the bridge, when stood at one end of the bridge and looking to the other side, it becomes similar to being in a tunnel, the scenery would disappear and the graffiti on the metal sides would now be visible.

The bridge, if not above the train tracks, looks out of place, and in some cases abandoned/neglected, although used daily by the commuters and others that make this part of their route. I always like to look at this bridge, and always thought it would look good in photos, but have yet to take a photo I think does it the justice that I see when standing on it. In a way it's clean, baring no trash or other unsightly mess when on the bridge. The location of the bridge, however, I find disappointing, but perhaps that's why I like the bridge.


To begin, I felt I wanted to go bigger. Being tied to a relatively small sketchbook this entire time had me feeling as though I needed to step out of this limiting space. I turned to my A3 book and started preparing some of the pages.

Using the content gathered

What was my intention going to be?

I had made 3 sketches on location that featured this bridge. A view from a distance, a view approaching the stairs leading up, and a view whilst on the bridge looking at the opposite side. My first intention was to capture the colours and the tunnel whilst stood on the bridge. Although it is a cage like structure that surrounds you, whilst on it and looking directly to the opposite side, you can barely see out of it. It's like a little illusion, and graffiti becomes visible from this view, as mentioned before. This is something I wanted to include in this piece.

The photo on the bridge helped tremendously. I was able to revisit the location and catch the little details of colours that I wasn't able to catch on location. The photo was a simple image that was purposefully taken as if it was my own eyes on the bridge, I didn't want to be bend the reality in any way and so bringing the phone slightly at head hight I was as close to catching my eyes as possible. I also took a few close up photos of the cage like sides to make not of the pattern it would make. I thought that beside making an almost realistic view of the bridge, I would try and mix the photos together, making it more like a collage indicating the patterns, the colours and the crumbling texture.

More tests

Final Illustration

I think the word I had in mind when working on this was symmetry. I really wanted to consider the colours, the texture and the perspective with the symmetrical structure. I washed the entire metal area in a blue to give a sense of the solid structure when looking straight down it. The white pen highlights indicate the gaps where light would break through the fine netted cage.

Something I really enjoy doing with paint nowadays, is creating texture through flicking the paint at the paper, or overlapping the wet paint to leave rings, edges and layers.I decided to clean the stick from a paint brush that I use to mix colours on one side so it was a thick texture. I then layered more black watercolour over to give more depth in the grunginess of the cage.

Having the photos allowed me to step back and create more texture in the painting. Although I used the photo only as a reference to get some details. I wanted the overall painting to still feel as though it might have been drawn on location.

The Metal in Nature

Isn't it just annoying when you see something dumped in nature? From small trash like bottles, most recently the collection of medical masks, to the bigger items one would typically find in a home, and when disposed of properly, a real household dump! Yet, people are forever fools, and will always do the dirty on nature. On this route, I found an old corrugated metal panel tucked in an overgrown leafy bush. Not only was there the sheet of metal, but beside it in an equally rusted condition was a pipe bend connected to another pipe. I mistook this as a radiator to begin with, I'm actually still not sure what this was and how much was hidden in the bush.

I sketched this on location and it's one of my favourites. I wanted to progress it further and so decided to make this my second focus for this exercise. The sketch felt like a nice composition. I had left a lot of blank space to emphasis the overgrown bush that buried the metal panel. To progress this, I wanted to work with the space some more by using colour, perhaps some texture. Again moving to the A3 pad, I began the preparation.


For this piece, I want to focus on the word "overgrown". Another word that I would use to some this piece is "opposites" given the contrast of the rusted corrugated metal panel and the pipe amongst the overgrown green leafy bush. I wanted to start this with a light wash of watercolour paint and then build it up to give depth in an overgrown scene.

Final Illustration

Overall Thoughts

Despite the endless struggle I seem to be facing with this course, I have had moments of pulling it together and getting an outcome I'm happy with. Not every attempt has been success in the build up to this exercise, but I'm pleased with the choices I made for this. I'm glad to have focused on an area that didn't involve people, and for once felt inspired by the location.

This whole section has really taken me out of my comforts and I have most definitely felt the discomfort of pursuing the exercises. I don't feel as though I have found my mojo yet, or what subject matter interests me when on location. Buildings are easier for them being static, however the challenge or proportions still stands in the way sometimes.

I know this won't be the end of drawing on location for me, I think practise is needed beyond the time limits of the course. I also don't want the pressure of needing to achieve something when on location, I would like the freedom without direction. Feeling like I needed to put something in a blog for the purpose of this course, made the experience overwhelming and difficult to work with.



Tutor FeedbacK:

This exercise asked you to travel your route again and interpret landmarks in your studio. It’s been such a difficult time for everyone, and motivation is a fragile emotion. Coupled with the challenge of drawing figures in crowds it easy to feel overwhelmed. You should however be really pleased with the images you’ve created despite this. They have a sense of you about them which is something to cherish, and it will grow the more you create. I hope that despite your struggles you’re pleased with the images you created for this exercise. In particular the illustration of the bridge. It has lots of atmosphere and feels free and confident, and it was good to see you acknowledge the value of your reference photos in creating it. The second image also captures the feeling you were aiming for. It was good to see that despite your misgivings you pushed through and great that the images you made worked so well.

I was pleased with what I had created above but when returning to the Learning Log, I felt I could push it further. To begin, I returned to the piece on the bridge and added black ink to 'rough it up' a little. Given that the nature of the bridge, based on my notes and words expressed, was run down and dirty. My piece had elements of it being 'dirty' but I don't feel I went far enough on this. I've since become quite a fan of spray paint, ink and nib, and so began with making a mess. I cared less about achieving something perfect, and enjoyed the process in applying more layers to an older illustration.

I have very much enjoyed working in mixed media during this course, and allowing each mark / media to have space to breathe has given me confidence in baring all. Creating marks and texture has become something I've loved embracing, and this exercise has been a highlight in allowing such practise. It's just the collision of marks layered above one another that gives a sense of play within the process. It's energetic and adds so much to a piece, it's like the cherry on top.

After warming up with adding a little extra to the original bridge illustration, I took another look at the brief with fresh eyes. It had been a while since I first finished this exercise, 5 months to be exact, and since receiving positive feedback, and completing the entire course, I wondered what new inspiration would come now that I feel as though I am in a completely different mindset mentally, feeling positive and motivated.

Something in the brief inspired an idea that meant combining different view points in one. This was something I hadn't done before, and the idea stuck so much that I wanted to immediately jot down very rough composition ideas on how I could achieve it. Overgrown was a reoccurring word for this walk, trees bushes and weeds framed the footpath and the metal, and so wanted to include this as the glue for each element.

Working in my A3 sketchbook, I began with treating the paper with a wash of colour. Not only did I want to try creating a collage piece through painting and mixed media, but I also wanted to try working from a warm colour as a base rather than the white of the paper, I thought this might help with darkening the painting compared to the first bridge painting.

My intention was to build the layers to create texture. Inspired by the graffiti that can be found on the way to the bridge, part of the media used was going to be spray paint. The effect you can achieve with only slightly pressing down the can button gives a very cool sprinkle of paint. It trickles out of the nozzle and leaves a speckled spray of colour. Really great for getting a splat effect with a little more control. Ink also had a nice splat effect when flicked on to the page, however I feel less in control doing this and worry I'll end up wearing the ink rather than getting it on the paper. The fun part to using ink is scratching into the drips of paint after, which adds to the roughness I am hoping to achieve through this piece.

Beside the spray paint and ink, I also used acrylic paint, marker, and oil pastels.

I have never done something in this style before, not traditionally anyway, so it was really nice to create something out of my experience and comfort. I didn't feel an expectation for this piece, but instead let the process be the driver. Filling a page in this way works really nice, and perhaps could be something to consider when working on location. Take elements around you and piece them together to create a full spread.

For an added element based on memory and not from reference, I decided to add a person interacting in the scene.

I hope that the audience would begin at the darkest point, being the stairs on the bottom right. It's the heaviest part of the piece which I think naturally draws the eye in. Perhaps it's the contrast that makes it easier to follow? They would follow the person up the stairs and then meet them at the top as they walk forward.

After completing this piece, I now feel relaxed. The idea of using reference with studies on location and a little bit of memory, works really well for creating artwork, and when finding a good balance can indeed inspire a new outlook. I believe the long break from returning to this exercise helped, and without thinking too deeply into trying to achieve an illustration in the style of someone else, the results feel like mine. I made this a playground to explore the textures of mixed media, and I'm very pleased the appearance of this piece - as a sketchbook spread!


Sometimes things don't go as you hoped, or imagined. This course came to me at a time where life literally stopped. What I didn't realise at the time is how I could work around such incidents that are out of our control. It came later, but having the opportunity to return to the works has helped to realise the potential in developing my personal approach to creating illustrations through the exercises. This felt loose, natural and fun. I'm getting to a stage where I no longer feel too heavily self critical on works created.

Don't get me wrong, the work created here are not my favourite, but the point is... I don't care. I enjoyed it, which means I enjoy looking at the result. A question that was left in my tutor feedback as something to consider:

Having worked on an illustration using sketchbook drawings with photos as reference, do you think this will influence your gathering of reference material going forward?

Yes. I think if I continue to practise using reference in this way it could result in some interesting work. To remember that images I have taken are reference, adding imagination can make it art. It means I would be more thoughtful on the images I collect, consider the subject and what I would find useful later on. In fact, after assignment 3 taking a similar direction, I learned that video had also become highly valuable as reference. More can be gained in a video, and the ability to pause it is incredibly useful. In all, I am pleased to have been on this journey, learning that value of reference in a way that best suits my needs. I have often thought that taking my own images would then become the painting, there would be nothing added or nothing changed. Now I will consider ways of making it more than a copy of photo.


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