Summer Sketching – Craster

The beautiful harbour cottages at Craster

I have had a few much-needed sketching days around and about my local area despite the unpredictability of our ‘summer’ weather. Craster is always a favourite place to go and even though I have sketched there many times I will never get bored with this beautiful harbour that is set back in time.

Simple, abstract shapes formed by the walls and shadows

One of the joys of sketching the landscape is that when out and about I immediately find myself editing – even before I settle down to put pencil to paper. When you have a scene before you it can be all too easy to think that you have to portray everything – every shape, colour and all the details. That is where you end up with picture postcard sketches and drawings – nothing wrong with that of course but there is more to see, I feel, if you take the time to narrow your focus.

 

Layers of mark making and textures with just a simple pencil

A very quick blind sketch with a rare (for me) boat!

In observing and sketching these harbour scenes there is always so much going on. The harbour structures, the boats, the ropes and ladders, boat launches, steps and piers and lobster pots. The sea and sky – ever-changing in mood and colour.  There are buildings, harbour houses, boat sheds, gardens and gates. There are people – walkers, fishermen, people sight-seeing or walking their dogs or taking photos. Then there are the cars and vans coming to and fro to pick up the catch of the day. Even on a quiet day there can be so much to observe and capture if you choose.

Creating deep contrast by building up layers and marks

I love building up layers of details but leaving other areas sparse and unfinished

The things that most inspire me are the simple shapes made by the structure of the harbour walls, the textures created by the stone, the abstract shapes created by the marks of the tide, the way the harbour walls reflect in the sea and the details of the ropes and ladders as they criss-cross back and forth. I see everything else, of course, but I choose to  focus and edit down what I see before me whilst sketching so that much of the work is done before i even get to the studio. It is not that the other elements do not interest me – I love all of the above things about these places that I visit as often as I can. It is more that I am free to choose what interests and inspires me the most in this given moment. A condensed view of these beautiful harbour scenes.

All that inspires me

Some sketches are worked more quickly than others

I love those days where I can just sit quietly – spending as much time looking and taking it all in as I do putting pencil to paper. These sketches were all created at my favourite harbour Craster – just a ten minute drive from my studio. June was the perfect time to spend there – if i got there early enough. Now there are many walkers and tourists and it is much busier and a challenge to even get into the village unless I take a bus as the car park fills up so fast.

Despite bringing all the colours of the rainbow I always find myself absorbed in creating with one or two pencils

People are lovely of course, stopping to chat and to look at what I am doing but I do prefer the quieter days where I can sit for hours undisturbed. For some of these sketches I sat down on the beach on the rocks and looked up at the harbour walls. An entirely different feeling from when I sit looking down at the walls and one where I felt very much sheltered and enclosed and very, very small. Surrounded by these beautiful walls that have been here for centuries I could reach out and touch them and feel the worn surfaces that have seen many changes over the years and yet they remain much the same despite the weather and constant battering of the sea.

Big shapes and tiny details

Perhaps someday I will draw and paint the boats or the people but for now I have an endless fascination with the harbour walls themselves and the way they represent the passing of time. The beautiful abstract shapes they create against the sea and sky, the worn textures and wonderful array of dark muted browns, greys, greens and ochres.

Lines and ladders

These sketches are the starting point for each day I am in the studio but they are incredibly valuable to me in and of themselves. Some are just a brief moment in time and a shape or element captured quickly. Others are when time has stood still and I have spent an hour or more working on one sketch meticulously building the shapes and textures up with slow, rhythmic marks that change in weight as they represent the variations in shape and shadow. My mind wanders and I am completely caught up in my observations and the page before me.

This is my final sketch from that day and is one of my favourites – meticulously build up over the course of more than an hour

I will never get bored of this place and I am looking forward to seeing the ongoing impact these harbours have on my artwork over a long period of time.

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I am so excited to be welcoming Kathie of Bellissima Art Escapes, my fellow teacher Judy Wise and the most amazing group of artists to Northumberland next Spring where we will be working on expressive and intuitive landscapes. I am also in the very earliest stages of putting together ideas for a future online course which will be based on the landscape so stay tuned for that. No date as yet but I will keep you posted.

Comments 6

  1. Jodi

    Truly inspiring Gillian. I’m so happy that you are happy. I wish we didn’t live so far away from each other. Your sketches are amazing and your insight & thought process just reaffirm to me that you are a kindred spirit. Enjoy every minute! xx

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  2. Michele Unger

    Such beauty in simple pencil marks. You inspire me, Gillian, and lead, too, with a reminder that editing is good. I can hardly wait to see these places with my own eyes next May.
    XO

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Michele thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Editing is hard but I have definitely seen a deeper connection and found a clearer voice the more I focus in and edit. I can’t wait to have you here!

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