Wells Cathedral

Here is Wells Cathedral, sketched from a stone step in the cloisters.

Wells Cathedral, central tower and South transept. In sketchbook on Arches paper, 10″ x 8″.

The cathedral was started in 1175 and dedicated in 1239. This central tower was heightened in 1326, and is supported by a marvellous system of scissor arches, installed across the nave and transepts in 1338 by a mason called William Joy. He must have been courageous, as the design of the internal bracing arches is radical, and evidently he was talented, as the tower still stands.

The pinnacles I have drawn were installed in the 15th century after a fire destroyed the original lead roof and spire.

Here is work in progress on the drawing, and a map to show the viewpoint. As you see, I made a preliminary sketch to try to get my head around the perspective lines.

I made a second sketch, based on the first:

Wells Cathedral, drawing 2, on watercolour paper, 11 inches by 8 inches.

This is one of a series of drawings of English Cathedrals. Here are some of the others in the series:

St Bartholomew the Great: Cloth Fair

Cloth Fair is a small street near Smithfield, EC1.

Just South of Cloth Fair is the ancient church of St Bartholomew the Great. I sketched this church from Bartholomew Passage, shown on the map above. Later in the week, I sketched it from the South West side.

St Bartholomew the Great is an ancient church, founded 1123, along with the nearby hospital of St Bartholomew, now called Barts Health NHS Trust.

There is a labyrinth of alleys in this area. As I was sketching in Bartholomew Alley, a woman reached the North end of the Alley, staring at her phone. She rotated through 36o degrees, still looking at the phone. Anxious and frustrated, she rushed along Bartholomew Alley, passed me and stopped. Her plight was so desperate that she was going to abandon the instructions of the phone, and ask a stranger for directions. She asked me if this was the right way for the hospital. I said that it was, but it was complicated that way. “If you are in a hurry,” I said, “you’d best go back the way you came…”. She was in a hurry. She uttered an expletive, and set off in the direction I’d indicated.

Then she remembered her manners and paused, turned to face me, and said “Thank you for the information”.

Here are some maps of the new “Barts Square” development, showing the location of the second sketch.

I have sketched often in this area, which is changing rapidly. I am still learning my way around. Here are some of my sketches round here.

Barts Square, West side

Today I went to try out “Halfcup”, a new coffee place which has opened on Bartholomew Close. It’s part of the new “Barts Square” development. These are new buildings in an area that was previously St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Some of the external features of the original hospital buildings have kept, as you see in the…

Barts Square, Butchers’ Hall

Continuing my exploration of Barts Square, EC1, today I drew Butchers’ Hall. Butchers’ Hall is the building with the arched windows, in the centre left of the picture. It is the headquarters of The Worshipful Company of Butchers. This livery company is very old, the Arms were granted in 1540 and the charter by James…

A concert at St Bartholomew the Great

Here is a post-card sized sketch of people listening to the concert. It felt as though the stones were listening too. Pen and ink in small Seawhite journal, about 20 mins.

St Paul’s Cathedral from Wren Coffee

Wren Coffee has re-opened! This is a marvellous coffee shop in the Church of St Nicholas Cole Abbey, on Queen Victoria St.

I went there and sat on the raised terrace, sketching the view Northwards towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul’s, from Wren Coffee

The grey building in the foreground is a nightclub. It has dark windows, and a barred loading bay.

Raised voices from the table behind me grabbed my attention as I sketched. High drama was in progress. One of them defended himself in a loud voice, “The money is real money, and it’s still there. Trust me on this!”.

When someone declares “Trust me on this!” all sorts of red and amber alert lights come on in my head. Was the money still there? Did I trust him on this? I thought not. The other two men were not convinced either.

I kept my gaze firmly forwards, towards the view I was sketching. I did not observe the participants in this conversation, I did not join the debate. I cannot even be sure there were three men rather than two. Certainly at least three points of view were expressed. It was hard to follow the conversation, especially for someone trying to concentrate on tone differences, perspective lines and the symmetry of domes. And not all of the conversation was conducted in the strident tones of the accused party.

Here are some photos of work-in-progress on the sketch, and a picture of the beautifully crafted capaccino made by the server at Wren Coffee.

I have sketched St Paul’s before:

St Pauls and Bastion House

I am sketching the views out of the window. Just visible over the top of Bastion House is the top of “OneBlackfriars”. In the foreground: Mountjoy House, Barbican, on the right. Along the bottom is the Barbican Highwalk which joins Mountjoy House and Wallside. I have drawn Bastion House before: This drawing took rather a…

St Paul’s from Old Fish Street Hill EC4

I was keen to draw this view of St Paul’s before it vanished behind the new building on 2-4 Cannon Street. “PLP’s scheme, for global property firm Pembroke Real Estate, will replace a 1959 modernist office building by Theo Birks called Scandinavian House. The north facade, facing the cathedral, is the most orthogonally formal, with red…

St Pauls and Bastion House

I am sketching the views out of the window.

Left to right: St Pauls, an office block on London Wall, Bastion House, tower in Vauxhall, South Bank Tower.

Just visible over the top of Bastion House is the top of “OneBlackfriars”. In the foreground: Mountjoy House, Barbican, on the right. Along the bottom is the Barbican Highwalk which joins Mountjoy House and Wallside.

I have drawn Bastion House before:

Bastion House, London Wall, from Andrewes House

I hastened to draw the magnificent Bastion House, on London Wall. It is due for demolition. In the foreground you see the balcony and privacy screen of the flat in Andrewes, whose leaseholder had kindly hosted me. The line of red brick, and what looks like chimneys, in the foreground are the rooftops of a…

Bastion House from Podium Level

Bastion House aka 140 London Wall is a huge modernist monolith, reminiscent of the monolith in “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. I couldn’t find a site to draw the monolith part today, so here is a view at Podium Level, looking West towards the Museum of London. You see the dark undercroft, walkways and a…

St Giles and Bastion House

Today Urban Sketchers London held a “sketch crawl” in the Barbican. So I joined them. An astonishing number and diversity of people assembled inside the entrance of the Barbican Centre at the appointed time of 11am. I counted about 35 and then another dozen or so joined. All shapes and sizes of people, tall, short,…

This drawing took rather a long time as I stopped a couple of times. As a result, by the time I finished, the lights were coming on in the office buildings, and the sky was dark.

Click here to see my drawing of St Paul’s last year

Gloucester Cathedral

This is Gloucester Cathedral Tower from the cloisters.

It’s an amazing place. Inside there are huge Norman pillars from 1089. They seem so solid and magnificent that you’d think no-one would ever want to change them. But someone did. At the East End, there are a few pairs of pillars in a totally different style: the “perpendicular” style, which means they are fluted, like vertical clusters of pipes. This remodelling project was started in around 1330, but didn’t get far. Our guide, Rebecca, offered several explanations for why this project was stopped. There was a war with France, the start of the “Hundred Years War”. France invaded Dover and Folkestone in 1339 . And on the north border, English armies were attempting to stop Scotland from going independent. So there was a lot going on, and remodelling a cathedral might have gone down the list of economic priorities. Then, to cap it all, there was the Plague in 1347-51 which must have depleted the workforce and caused economic disruption. So best leave the Norman pillars as they are.

Here are some sketches as we toured the cathedral. Thank you to Rebecca, who was a brilliant guide: patient with our questions and interruptions, and extremely knowledgeable.

It’s 1hr45mins from Paddington to Gloucester. Here are some drawings done on the train.

The drawing of the Tower was a quick pen and ink sketch, coloured later. The pen and ink took about 45 minutes. The colours are: Phthalo Turquoise (W&N), Mars Yellow (DS) and Perinone Orange (DS). Here is work in progress, including some of the drawing on the train.

Map of Gloucester Cathedral (1900):

Footnote: Concerning things that were going on in the 1330s: the Butchers Guild was granted the right to regulate the meat trade in London in 1331. See this post for a picture of the Butchers Hall:

Barts Square, Butchers’ Hall

Continuing my exploration of Barts Square, EC1, today I drew Butchers’ Hall. Butchers’ Hall is the building with the arched windows, in the centre left of the picture. It is the headquarters of The Worshipful Company of Butchers. This livery company is very old, the Arms were granted in 1540 and the charter by James…

Basel, February 2020

In the streets of Basel, you can hear your own footsteps.

There are fountains.

Gemsberg, Basel Old Town, 7″ x 10 ” on Fabriano Artistico paper, [sketchbook 6]

In the hour and half that it took me to draw this picture, people made use of the fountain. Someone came out of one of the adjacent houses and filled a watering can. A woman helped a child to stand on the white marble edge and then to walk cautiously on the iron bars across the water. The child dipped her hands in the flowing water and drank. She played with the water that came from the spouts. Then the woman and the child returned to their bicycles, and continued their ascent of the hill. Elderly people, climbing the hill, paused here to rest. A runner lent over the water and sluiced his face, before pacing on up the slope towards me.

This part of town is very old. Basel has the fine custom of telling you a little about each street, on the street sign. The one for Gemsberg says:

“Zum Gemsberg, 1661 erstmals erwähnter Hausname”

So this street was named after a house which stood here in 1661. [German speakers reading this: please correct me if I got that wrong!]

The house on the right has an inscription in magnificent script. My German-speaking consultant enables me to state with some confidence that this reads as “In 1563 [this house was created] by joining together two houses: “To the Fridberg” and “To the Slifstein”, both mentioned in 1300-1322″

“Fridberg” might mean “Tranquil mountain” and “Slifstein” might mean polishing stone, or polished stone. Perhaps these were people’s names. I learned at the Basel Paper Mill that in those times smooth stones were used to polish paper, so may be Herr or Frau Slifstein was a paper polisher. But that’s just surmise.

Caption beneath a reproduction of a glazing hammer, Basel Paper Mill.

Here’s work in progress on the drawing.

Later I tackled a tough assignment: Basel Cathedral, “Basler Münster”.

Basler Münster, West Front, 7″ x 10 ” on Fabriano Artistico paper, [sketchbook 6]

This is a magnificent medieval construction, the present building dates from about 1500. It is a real challenge for the Urban Sketcher. Each edge is decorated. Each corner hosts a saint, or often two. Every planar surface has decoration, low relief, a statue. Not content with simply a sundial, they added also a clock. And on top of all this, the two towers are by no means identical. They each support a forest of spires, some octagonal. The main spire on the right seems to have curving edges, unless that was a cunning optical illusion. Even the roof is decorated with a pleasing coloured diamond pattern in tiles. I did my best, but those medieval stonemasons got the better of me.

To the left of the door is St George and the Dragon, a very realistic statue which I had to put in. St George’s horse prances on a firm plinth. St George himself wields a real metal lance, copper or some copper-containing alloy, since it is green. The dragon, some distance away, is made to balance on a precarious shelf, endangered by the thrust of the lance. It’s a dynamic and three dimensional scene.

Here is work in progress on the drawing.

I made more sketches around the city:

On the long journey home, I sketched the people, and my luggage.

France: Paris and the South, Jan 2020

Here is a corner of St Eustache, near Les Halles in central Paris.

St Eustache was built between 1532 and 1632. I drew it standing in the pedestrian area near Les Halles, as people flowed by. I enjoyed the fact that there were huge chimneys on the church, shown high up on the left edge of the picture.

The sky was overcast. It was a Monday. A group of lively young people were hanging about, calling to each other.

Meeting point for Public Calm

This pedestrian area was one of those liminal zones: between public and private, not quite a pavement, not quite a plaza, partly a thoroughfare, partly a resting zone. As a result, the social rules were ambiguous. People were hanging around, people were passing through. Evidently there have been incidents. A large poster said: “City of Paris, Meeting Point, Public Calm. The operatives of the City of Paris in charge of Public Calm welcome your feedback and comments between 6pm and 6:30pm, Monday to Friday. To report an incident (“incivilité”) call 3975 or go to Paris.fr/incivilité”.

I was intrigued by the idea of City operatives charged with “public calm” (“tranquillité publique”), and wonder how and whether it works.

Here’s another sketch in the same area. This the “Bourse de Commerce”, the Commodities Exchange. It’s now the former Commodities Exchange, with massive building work going on to convert it into a contemporary art space. The architect for the conversion is Tadao Ando.

Bourse de Commerce, with crane and hoardings.

This was a sketch as I was waiting for the swimming pool to open.

I did some people-sketching in a café and in waiting areas on the trip. I am on a mission to get more people into my drawings, so I practice.

I walked across to the Left Bank, searching for “Maison Charbonnel”, the home of the maker of the etching ink that I favour. The place was there, on the Quai Montebello, just across the river from Notre Dame. However, because of the Métro strikes, or because of the weather or for some other reason or no reason atall, the shop was closed “until the 3rd of February”.

I drew a picture of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, West front, from St Michel.

This took about one hour 35 minutes. The temperature was 7 degrees C.

Then I took sanctuary in a marvellous art shop I found: “Magasin Sennelier”, 3 Quai Voltaire. I was served by a gentleman who might have been there since the 1950s. He was pleased to tell me he knew L. Cornelissen & Son of London, and Green and Stone, and he knew Mr Rowney, of Daler Rowney paints, personally. Or had done. Sennelier paints were superior, I was authoritatively, if not entirely objectively, informed.

In the South I made a pen sketch of a vast canyon:

Blanc-Martel hiking trail, start point.

And here’s a quick sketch in the library, before dinner:

Corner of the library

St Paul’s Cathedral from the East

St Paul’s Cathedral and the restored tower of St Augustine Watling Street.

St Paul’s Cathedral and the tower of St Augustine Watling Street

To the East of St Paul’s is another church tower, on the right of my drawing. It is what remains of a medieval church, St Augustine Watling Street. Reconstructed after the 1666 Fire of London, St Augustine was then destroyed again by bombing in 1941. The Tower was reconstructed in 1954, and made part of St Paul’s Choir School which occupies this area. The Choir School was completed in 1967, in good modernist style, but is rarely noticed, even though it is right next to St Paul’s Cathedral. The school is currently being extended, which is amazing since it occupies such a constricted site. There is scaffolding off to the right of the drawing.

I drew this sitting on a bench in “Festival Gardens” which is the lawn south of St Paul’s. It turns out that this is right on a tourist route, and groups of people passed by. A woman approached and respectfully asked if she could look at the drawing. She was interested in my picture, and said her daughter painted also. Then her companion approached and showed me a detailed picture of an alligator on his mobile phone. He said this picture was drawn by their daughter. The alligator was his pet. In the six years he had it, it had only bitten him once. But that time he needed 32 stitches.

I was just finishing the pen when a young man stopped and looked. He smiled, and went away. Then he came back and, like the woman, showed me his mobile phone. This time there was a message on it. In neat and polite English, the message told me that he was a visitor from Korea. He thought my drawing was very good and would I mind if he took a picture of it?

I said that would be fine, and held up the book so he could photograph it. Then I had a thought. I dug out one of my cards and pointed to the @janenorthcote written in clear letters at the bottom. “Instagram” I said, hoping that brand names would communicate between cultures. He nodded and smiled, and went back to join his group. Sure enough, when I’d finished the sketch, a ping on my phone announced that an Instagram message had arrived. @si_hyeonv had posted his photos, and written to say thank you.

Here are other photos of work-in-progress, taken by me.

Drawing took one hour, including colour. Three colours used: Mars Yellow, and the grey is Phthalo Green (BS) and Perylene Maroon, all Daniel Smith watercolours.

Cathedrals in the Shires: Hereford and Worcester, with Kilpeck and Tewksbury

Here is Worcester Cathedral.


I sketched this view from the cloisters, which were glazed and enclosed. I did, however, find a chair, and a convenient inverted dustbin on which to place my tools.

The other Cathedral we visited this trip was Hereford:


Here I had an unrestricted view from the Chapter House garden, which was very peaceful and lovely.

We also visited a small church, Kilpeck, which is very ancient:

In this church there were viking carvings.

If you are in the area I recommend also Tewkesbury Abbey, which though not a cathedral is an inspiring and welcoming place. I had a terrible cold, and lacked the energy to make anything except a small indoor picture.


I must mention the excellent deli in Tewksbury High Street, Miss Muffet. We just had a sandwich, but suddenly I remembered what sandwiches are supposed to taste like. And for all its quality control and high-class ingredients, Pret in London cannot hope to match the Tewksbury offer: fresh home-made bread, pastrami just cut, and cracking piccalilli. Here’s the view from the window. Good food takes time.




Canterbury Cathedral Cloisters

There’s a lot of restoration work going on at Canterbury Cathedral at the moment. The ceiling of the main nave was covered up, and one of the towers was wrapped in scaffolding. Also, it being Sunday, a part of the nave was occupied, reasonably enough, with a service. There was much to see, notably the quiet and dimly lit crypt, where there are huge strong pillars, marvellous mathematical curves and stone carvings which delighted the medievalist amongst us.


I drew a picture from the cloisters.


It was perhaps unwise to start drawing those ogee* arches with their crocketing**, but I accepted the challenge. The building in the background is The Old Palace, which is the main residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was built between 1193 and 1228, and has been modified and restored since, most recently in 2006.

I drew this picture sitting on the stone surrounds of the cloisters.


Here are some maps to show where I was drawing.


Here is work in progress. The drawing took an hour, pen and ink and watercolour on location.


*ogee arches are arches with those fine points

**crocketing is the series of knobs which are often seen on spires and arches of gothic style buildings

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