It was like the start of a movie.
Establishing shot: Night. An almost-empty car park, the river behind it; a huge pale ship docked not far away. On the other side, a small cafe placed incongruously half under a bridge. It is open, even at this hour. Through the door you can see bright light and the silhouette of a big man hunched over a small cup. Outside, three skinny kids grind, jump and flip their skate boards along the kerb.
Sound: Their occasional yells and laughter; a passing car; the distant honk of a ship,
Scene 1: A small, dark car pulls in to the car park. The driver's door opens and a short woman steps out. She carries a red bag slung across her body. Locking the car behind her she walks towards the river and stands, looking. Turns and walks towards the ship, stopping, looking, moving from one vantage point to the another. She is uncertain. She walks towards the street, looking inland at three tiny houses that are lit up like shop fronts. Near them are two tall buildings that stand out from the indistinct scene around them. Seeming to have reached a decision, the woman goes back to her car, takes out a folding stool and a wide black book, parks the stool, unslings her bag, takes out a pen, opens the book and begins to draw.
I have long had an itch to draw at night. I love the way darkness transforms and simplifies, the way lights glow on water, the lit reflections of bridges and boats. I put it off mainly because of the inconvenience of sitting in the cold and the ridiculousness of trying to draw when it's too dark to see what I'm doing.
There, in that car park, under street lights, I first experienced the sheer delight of night drawing.
For a start, it is like being in a different country. Things look completely different. Added to that - there is so much I can't see (duh - obviously) - and this forces me to make a choice. Do I draw what is in front of my eyes - which sometimes makes no logical sense? Pieces of buildings don't fit together logically. I can't see where this bit joins that bit...
Or, for the sake of a drawing that looks like it knows what's what, do I make assumptions about the way things are. If I can't see it, there's a huge temptation to make it up. It's fascinating to go with the scarier option of drawing what does not make sense.
As so often happens when drawing in public, I had visitors. A couple of young guys stopped and said hi. One of them had a little white dog on his arm. We chatted for a while and then they went on and it was quiet again.
I worked with a big chunky sharpie. By the time I'd done all the lines it was getting cold and uncomfortable. I took a mental snapshot of the colours and packed up my things. At home I used gouache to paint the colours in. I wanted something solid, and gouache was it.