Manchester panorama

This begins at the end. The last sketch completed in Manchester before I start my journey back to Montreal. It was my intention to blog more along the way, all through Ireland and Manchester, but time constraints and wifi problems made it harder than expected. All I managed were a few quick photos of sketches here and there. The upside of this is that by scanning them upon my return, the image quality will be better.

The beauty of the city of Manchester took me by surprise. I’m usually a prepared traveller, researching neighbourhoods, history and culture in advance, but for this visit I’m embarrassed to say that the only reading I did was to choose locations for my workshops at the Urban Sketchers symposium, and the only expectation I had was to see an “industrial” city, whatever that means.

Upon arrival a week ago the first real view I had of Manchester, not counting the grimy exit of Oxford Road Station, was from my 10th floor hotel room. It took me all week but finally, on my very last morning, with the (rare) sun shining through the window, I found some time to sketch the view before hopping into a cab for the airport. Manchester is a city of ornate brick buildings contrasted with modern glass towers and, judging by the dozens of cranes, more modern to come. The view from my room showcased a bit of everything, including the iconic clock tower of The Palace Hotel.

With complex views like this one, I always waffle between portraying the scene in line (starting with fine pen line and drawing the contour as well as details of the buildings) or painting it with watercolour shapes. These contrasting techniques require different ways of looking at a scene and are also dependent on the time I have to complete the sketch. With an imminent plane departure in mind, I chose the faster option: big shapes in watercolour.

Building up the panorama with brush shapes is fairly simple. I usually start by drawing the line between city and sky in pencil, and then adding in the contours of the key buildings in the foreground. Next, with my biggest brush I paint the sky, and when that is dry, I work on the buildings. I begin with the largest ones (the apartment blocks, the Palace Hotel clock tower, the lower buildings in the foreground) and move towards the smaller shapes (chimneys, rows of windows, dark spaces between buildings). It’s not necessary to paint every window as long as you get a variety of large and small shapes, alternating light and dark ones as you go. In this I also used a pattern of warm reds (old, brick, industrial) with cool blues (modern, glass, steel) to create contrast. Details were added on my plane ride home. Manchester was a delight to sketch, the symposium was a crazy, chaotic, exhausting, joyful few days and I’ll be posting more sketches soon.

News travels fast in sketching circles, but if you haven’t heard yet the 2017 Urban Sketchers Symposium will take place in another stunning architectural city: Chicago! Great news for so many North American sketchers who have been waiting to attend a symposium that’s a little closer to home.


16 Comments on “Manchester panorama”

  1. Janice Kelly says:

    Hi Shari. Really enjoyed your post from Manchester and your explanation of the route you follow to complete an urban sketch. Looking forward to seeing more of your travels on your return to belle Montréal.


  2. Great to hear your process – drawing that first time is a good thing to do to distinguish the horizon. I must remember that!


  3. monique says:

    I can’t even imagine putting all this to paper:) But then again..that’s why I follow what you paint:)
    Do you find people w/ graphic design in their backgrounds have more of a flair for this type of painting?
    I have no background and am finding it hard to find my flair.


    • I think you’re right about the graphic design training Monique. We are used to division of space on a page, and we are always thinking about composition, so this would apply to a sketch or a painting as well. As for finding your own flair, just keep at it!


  4. TonyU says:

    Glad you got to see some of Manchester’s grand old buildings , some of which are stunning. But guessing that yellow in the sky must be artistic licence! Caught a couple of glimpses of you in Parka’s daily video posts. Next best thing to being there. Best, Tony


    • We missed you Tony. Hopefully next year you will be Chicago. There was some yellow in the sky at sunrise but I dipped my brush into a little too much Naples Yellow and that was the result! Glad you liked Parka’s videos. So many people get to appreciate the symposium because of those clips.


  5. Louise says:

    With all the demands on your time and energy, I think managing to post at all is remarkable.

    Chicago might be my chance. Watching Parka’s videos makes me think I should begin serious physical training for this event now. After watching Singapore, then Manchester, the key word seems to be ‘stamina’.

    Looking forward to seeing your sketches of Manchester when you can scan them.
    Welcome Home!


    • Stamina is right, especially for Manchester. Some of the locations (including mine) were quite far from the art school where we met each day. With my handy Fitbit on my wrist I clocked close to 7 miles of walking each day. Good for my physical fitness but quite exhausting!! Start training now.


  6. timdada says:

    Reminds me of that old Kinks song, “Waterloo Sunset”




  7. rosjenke says:

    A beautiful simplified impression of the sunrise over the city. Thanks for taking the time to share your posts and photos. I really love all of them even if I don’t always comment.


  8. Louise says:

    Another comment prompted by your observation about the contrasting architecture in Manchester … ornate traditional buildings, which display dignity character and expert craftsmanship, trying to maintain their foothold among an increasing number of glass towers. It reminded me of Roger Scruton’s BBC presentation “Why Beauty Matters”. Here is a link to one of the many sites which offer this program. With Manchester fresh in our mind’s eye and with allowing for different individual reactions to his message, it might be worthwhile to consider his point of view even for those of us who saw Manchester via Symposium videos.

    (I’m not sure if this will post as a live link, but it is the only one I could find without subtitles)


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