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  • Writer's pictureKaren Ruffles

Whitby abbey snow day - a recipe for a happy goth!

Abbey drawing in progress - and my specs :)

Two years ago I stood in St Mary's churchyard here in Whitby with the biggest grin on my face - it had snowed overnight and unusually for the coast, it had drifted and stuck. I've never got my boots on so fast, not even for a pint and so I managed to beat all but the hardiest photographers up the steps (unlike artists, they get up early).

Original charcoal drawing of Whitby abbey and churchyard

From St Mary's you can see the ruins of Whitby abbey silhouetted against the sky - being up on the headland it's invariably windy and on this day, the wind was blowing the powdery snow up from the boundary wall, creating a dancing, ghostly veil between the two.

I spend a lot of time sharpening pencils....

There are many reasons it's taken me this long to get on with committing this one to paper - not least the fact I knew it was going to be blimmin' fiddly. It took me two attempts to get this far because the first pencil I chose was that bit too soft and didn't hold a point well enough.

Close up of the gravestones

Although I use the smoothest watercolour paper I can find, there is always some texture at this scale and I use that to help replicate things like the texture of the gravestones. After outlining and blending the base tones, I go back over detail areas with a harder pencil and use the grain to leave highlights - filling in is always easier than picking out though it's easy to go over a spot this small.

One of my original photos and the finished drawing side by side.

I thought it might be interesting to show how the finished image varied from the source material. I'm not much cop with a camera to be honest and have very little experience shooting in the snow so my photographs were either blown out on lighter areas or too dark on the shadows. I did 3 edits of the one I wanted to work from - the one shown above on the left is the darkest which gave me the best representation of the abbey. I lightened two versions to get a softer, more subtle sky and the detail on the gravestones, which with all that light bouncing about were actually well lit on the day. Flipping between them and making adjustments from memory of the day, we end up with the drawing on the right.

Whitby abbey drawing framed.

It's been wonderful to be back at my drawing desk and especially nice to revisit that day in my mind. Of course now I am watching the sky for signs of snow again. If you're missing snow days, may I take this opportunity to unsubtly point out that Whitby Abbey in the Snow is available.

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