Thursday, 16 August 2018

Dennis Severs House drawings

Here's a big post of new drawings. In the last month or so I've been making a series of illustrations on the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields, London. It's an amazing place, part installation and part time capsule. It's stuffed with detail and atmosphere, and is based in the late 17th-18th century. For added interest there is a theme running through- it's the house of a fictional Huguenot weaving family, the Jervis's (originally Gervais), and their lives as successful traders, which deteriorate to living in poverty in a small room on the top floor.

The website is and a documentary can be found here:

As a history and architecture fan (and loving unusual projects) I had to create something about this place. So far 3 rooms are drawn and I hope to do the other 7 in the next few months. Each drawing is roughly 50 x 30cm.

The first drawing is the reception room on the ground floor. The sketch is from my actual sketchbook made with actual pencil 😆. It was time to use my sketchbook, using a Wacom Cintiq most of the time I started to miss instant smudgy drawing.

Transferring it to the drawing tablet I started making sense of the sketch. 

The next stage is a neater version of the lines, and a messy watercolour background to help pull out the right colours and lighting. I chose the messy watercolour to keep it more organic.

The final drawing is really dark; the room is set at some point in 1720's at Christmas, so there's still a Jacobean quality to the furniture and dark painted walls. Tackling the candlelight was my favourite bit, I love chiaroscuro and all the shadows it creates. 

Mrs Jervis's Bedroom. 
This is such a pretty and light room, a total change from the reception room. I wanted it to look like a lovely bright saturday morning with the light falling on the floor. The chimney breast decoration is made of all sorts of random Dutch style pots, a lot of it is tourist stuff from Schipol airport, but giving the impression of being from the 18th century. It was intense to draw,  along with all the other little pots and bowls. Elipses are still a bit of a struggle to get right, but after this I'm getting better.😆

This is the first drawing, it's a more relaxed sketchbook drawing, just to get the room roughly set down in my head.

This is the rough line stage when I transferred to Photoshop. The sketch had to be moved to the right as the window was nowhere as interesting as the dressing table. Also the image was being cut in half- windows one side and room on the other. What was more interesting, the room or the window frames? 

The neater line stage. The line is drawn in a rough pencil tool, to stop it looking plastic, and also gives it a lot of charm. A lot of time was spent making sure the perspective was right, but it was still fun to draw, there's a part of me that loves being particular about detail, it's very relaxing.

The background tones are on now, so I can tell what to push back or bring forward. Again, it's in a rough watercolour as a good starting point for other colours.

The main part of the drawing is on this layer. I wanted to use a delicate neutral blue to set off the other lovely gold, green and pink areas. I used the Conte 2 brush which has a lovely toothy texture like drawing on Ingres paper. It also keeps the drawing fresh and there's no chance of making it super neat, you just have to work within the constraints of the roughness. Drawing the dress was so complex because there are some lovely subtle soft colours, and then the woven silk pattern to work with too. The little pink bow is so cute and sets the fabric off beautifully.

The last stage is some extra lighting- darkening the ceiling and the hallway and adding the sunlight on the floor, which stops the rugs from being so dominant. It also helps your eye to run in a curve from the doorway to the bed, across the floor and back up to the chimney breast, dress and window. It gives it a bit of punch too, bringing the outside world into the room.

The cellar kitchen.
It was so much fun drawing this first rough sketch. Back in the sketchbook and trying to carve out some details on two A5 pages is a bit tricky, but it's the most comfortable size for me, especially for carrying around. Sometimes it does feel like 'carving'- especially when you're rubbing out and redrawing, smoothing and solving problem bits that stick out like a sore thumb. Also the amount of pencil shavings and rubber strands make you feel like you're removing something from the page. 
For this stage I wanted to get the tones and general atmosphere down, and also show how full of objects it is. 

Transferring the sketch to photoshop, and drawing everything out more accurately. The kitchen is quite a rough functional room, in contrast to the refinement of the other parts of the house. To get this feeling across I decided not to refine the lines too much like the bedroom drawing, but let it be kind of half tidied. I still wanted to show where everything was and let the colours underneath be rougher too. 

Roughing in the tones using watercolour and some dull browns and blues. It's quite a dingy room so I was relying on the lighting from the fire and candles to show the way. There's also a weak blue light from outside, adding a second light source and colour, which can make things more interesting.

More darkness...

The finished drawing. This was really enjoyable, holding back on being very neat and showing the roughness like the ceiling plaster and floorboards. It's a triangular composition, starting at the fire to table to window and candle to the sink, and back to fireplace. 
The fireplace was an interesting challenge, getting the fading reflected fire colours and shadows right, and making the gingerbread men lit from below with fine yellow strokes. 
Drawing the fruit dishes and other things on the table was fun; I've always loved Dutch interiors from the 17-18th century, they seem to be very gentle and personal.
I used a rough conte pastel for most of this drawing, apart from the lines which were in the same pencil as the bedroom drawing. Some of the edges had to be sharp so were done in a slightly less toothy pastel e.g. the lamp by the mantlepiece.

Each drawing features Madge the Cat. She's important.