Europe17: A day in Glasgow

June 21, 2017 | 4 Comments

The final day of my trip was spent in Glasgow. It was basically a 24 hour buffer period before my long haul flight home in case there were any delays getting off the island. Apart from meeting a friend for dinner at 5.30pm, I didn’t have any plans. Having an unstructured day was exactly what I needed!

Strangely enough, when I take the pressure off I often end up producing a lot of sketches, and this brief stay in Glasgow was a perfect example of that. Believe it or not, it was only the second solo day I had for the full trip – the other day being my very first day in Vicenza! As much as I love being with people, there is a special way in which I am energised by a day focusing on my own work. So it turned out to be the perfect way to end my trip.

Architecturally, Glasgow is best known as the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh but it is also a museum of grand Victorian architecture. The City Chambers facing George Square is a great example of this. I was trying something different in this sketch, but it didn’t quite turn out as I had hoped, but I still enjoyed painting it!

Since I had gotten up early for a flight from Stornoway, after the above warmup sketch, I was in need of a coffee. Doing a quick “Best cafes in Glasgow” google search led me to Gordon St Coffee. As soon as I arrived, I knew this was a good choice as it was directly opposite a significant building designed by Alexander “Greek” Thomson. Although Charles Rennie Mackintosh is very well known these days, at the time (end of 1800s) Greek Thomson was more famous and influentially locally. I really love his work, his use of volumes, design of the wall surface and use of Greek decorations. So it was wonderful to be able to sit at a cafe table and sketch this building. The only drawback was that I was sitting in a smoking zone.

I was hanging out until 2pm when I could check into my hotel, so after a visit to Cass Art, I found a nice comfortable bench at the Royal Exchange Square and did this sketch of GOMA. I didn’t use any linear or curved perspective but simply drew one edge after the other – feeling edges – and allowing distortion to occur as I moved my head from left to right.

After a late lunch and chill-out session in my lovely studio apartment (yes, I do have a little down time occasionally!) I headed out again on a mission to sketch one of Thomson’s masterpieces. But on the way I stopped and sketched this wonderfully elaborate Victorian building – The Trading House.

One of the fun things about urban sketching is that people look at what you are doing then look up at the building. I love the fact that I am helping the locals notice things about their own city.

Then I made it to my destination: St Vincent St Church by Greek Thomson. Wow wow wow – look at those volumes!

My first sketch was all about trying to capture the whole, and record how the various elements had been placed together and how the building sits in the city. I chose to start with paint and halfway through the sketch decided to stick with paint only (ie. not add any lines).

In the second version I wanted to explore the design at a bigger scale and enjoy sketching the details. I knew I wouldn’t fit the whole building on the page, so I simply started at the top and worked my way down alternating between line and colour. This sketch was one of those special occasions when the work was just flowing out of me as I responded instinctively to the wonderful building in front of me.

The next morning I took it easy as I had only 2 hours to fill in before heading for my flight. I decided to find a nice cafe to have a ‘full Scottish breakfast’ – well an ‘almost full scottish’. I was rather pleased with myself that I correctly picked that the black pudding was Macleod and Macleod not Charlie Barley!

I also did a simple line drawing of the cafe interior – once again relying on the relationships between edges rather than starting with a perspective setup.

I had 30 minutes till I needed to leave for the airport: Could I do a sketch (or two) of the wonderful intersection that my apartment building fronted? Yes, lets go for it! So I started a rapid line drawing. However when I started sketching the Fraser Suites buildings I was not quite in the mood for drawing all the rows of windows. (Aside: this was a good warmup for my Chicago workshop where I plan to address this issue – stay tuned for more about that soon).

My final sketch was a 40 second drawing looking toward the Tollbooth Steeple. I want to share a little bit more later about these extremely rapid thumbnails as this type of sketch was a new feature from this trip.

Anyway, there you have it – a crazy last 24 hours!

How would you spend a solo 24 hours in a city? Are you more motivated or less motivated to sketch when you are alone? I would love to hear your thoughts!


  • Kate Powell says:

    I am more motivated to make marks when I am alone — though Mitchell is very patient, there is still that someone there.

    Thanks for Greek Thomson — I never heard of him. Of course, the comfy chairs in lecture hall at 7:30am with the worlds most boring Princeton architectural historian did not help!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Kate – I never heard about THomson at uni- only Mackintosh. A friend told me about him during my first visit there in 2000 otherwise I am not sure I would ever have come across him. (well, maybe reading a history of British Architecture) Certainly he did some amazing work!

  • Great sketches. Sometimes it is nice to have time to yourself and no real distractions. I love how much you were able to accomplish before going to the airport. I tend to do the same thing…why waste a minute? LOL Looking forward to seeing you in Chicago.

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