Looking out over a city, it's difficult to absorb every detail. Streets, lights, buildings, shapes and architecture work together in creating complex scenery that is difficult to capture, even when possessing the best camera on the market. However, artist Stefan Bleekrode has the power to depict such detail through his skilfully created sketches.
Combining traditional drawing techniques such as pencil, pen and water colour, with his deep passion for travel, Bleekrode not only depicts, but adds a unique magic to, the cities and architecture he draws.
Giulia Catani: Stefan, your works are extremely detailed and linear. Where did you learn this drawing technique? And how did you begin to refine it?
Stefan Bleekrode: Although I briefly attended two art schools, one in Holland and one in London, I developed my own style and subjects fairly independently over the course of about 10 years, between 1996 and 2006. My initial interest in cities, as a subject, came at the age of 10, after a visit to Paris. Since then, I continued to work on cityscape drawings, refining style, architecture and subject one drawing at a time. During trips abroad, I initially memorised as much as possible. Now, I often sketch in water-colour so that I can use these initial impressions in new works.
GC: Your drawings are, for the most part, reproductions of what you have seen. What do you feel when you first see a place that you want to capture?
SB: Excitement and a sense of possibility – wondering how I can incorporate the atmosphere, sensation and style of a particular city in a new drawing.
GC: Do you research a place before starting to draw or produce at first sight?
SB: More and more often I do so. Initially, I relied on memory entirely, but two years ago my work became a bit stagnant, so I decided to do more sketching and on the spot research before starting a new drawing. The first two results of this approach were a drawing of Naples and one of Rome.
GC: How long does it take to draw an urban view?
SB: It ranges greatly, from two weeks to half a year. In hours, it can be from 25 up to 800 or so.
GC: You use different techniques: painting in watercolours and tempera, and drawing in pencil. Which of these techniques do you prefer and why?
SB: The technique I prefer depends solely on what I draw or paint. For cityscapes, I use pen and ink and ivory black water-colour, because of the strong contrasts it provides, and the hues match very well together. For images with strong light and architectural shapes, I prefer water-colour, and more painterly subjects; sometimes I work in oil.
GC: Your works are so different from each other: some are like static pictures that capture an exact moment in time, and others are more open to interpretation. Which type do you find give you more pleasure in producing?
SB: Most of the things I paint and draw are, in fact, quick impressions, a fleeting moment of stilled movement - as if there is some kind of invisible onlooker watching over a big city from above as in the drawings or just a quick view from a passing train. But again, it depends on the subject, whether I opt for a more open image or an exact translation of a certain place. Quite often an image can be the result of several ideas, merged together to produce one stronger image instead of several, rather weak ones.
GC: What message are you hoping to transmit through your work?
SB: Any message that can possibly be associated or attached to my work is left for the viewer to fill in. I've never really concerned myself with any meaning, or message simply because, I only draw and paint the things I find beautiful, interesting or exciting. But most of all, I hope viewers can be temporarily transported to the places I found fascinating, and that it encourages them to look more closely at places.
GC: What places do you hope to represent next?
SB: I've just finished a rather sizeable drawing of an imaginary metropolis at night, and I’m finishing another drawing of a big southern Italian city. I'm also busy with lithography and I'm going to do a misty view of London. After that, Italy is on my mind again (in pen and ink): I need to go see and see Venice.
Words: Giulia Catani
Illustration: Stefan Bleekrode