At York Minster

This week I had a short but sweet visit to the beautiful city of York. Staying with a good friend who works at the university, I was met off the train and whisked to cosy medieval cottage and strong G&T, and in the morning whilst she set off to work teaching history of art I took myself around town. I’m so used to London’s sprawl that I forget how nice it is to just potter around a city with barely any cars. It also never fails to surprise me how friendly everyone outside the capital is, from greetings in the street to chatty shop staff, to all the minster staff. I’d only planned to spend half a day at the Minster as the last week I’ve not been in the mood for drawing. But its clearly been too long since I had a decent architectural interiors session, and I underestimated just how staggeringly beautiful York Minster would be on a cold, crisp, November day. So here is a bumper post celebrating my re-union with a long-standing love: Gothic architecture.

Spending two long afternoons in the minster was incredible, and the friendly Verger even let me stay in the choir whilst the nave was used for a graduation ceremony, so for few hours I had the entire east end of the church to myself. I don’t think I’ve drawn so intently for a long time, and alone in the choir, with classic music trickling through my mp3 player, mesmerised by springing vaults and diffuse light pouring across ancient stones, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed and rather emotional. I often find Gothic architecture more natural to draw than Neo-Classical. The vaulted arches are easier on the wrist, and I delight in vertical lines, so every column and shaft is a decisive stroke. Pinnacles and naturally inspired ornamental motifs are a treat, a swift change in wiggles and wobbles, that feel much like caligraphic marks. The best thing about drawing old cathedrals is picking up on their different styles and historic periods, my art history training kicks in and for a while I become an archaeologist, unpicking awkward meetings between stones a century or two apart, and being caught off-guard by asymmetries.

Its also incredibly difficult to determine tones. Though so much of the building is built of stone, the variety of light from different directions, multiplied across different forms, is confusing, especially as it changes in late afternoon. This is most tricky, and therefore more absorbing, at moments where openings occur, and further vaults, arches and windows can be seen, or ceilings stretch into the distance.

When (if) I win the lottery or find a rich patron, I think I’ll have to get myself a campervan and spend a year touring the country, and draw every cathedral and minster, and then there’s the ruined abbeys, and churches… Anyone care to put me up?!


Looking west down the Nave

Looking from the side aisle of the nave eastwards, through the north transept

North transept looking south, under the crossing

South of the choir, looking west behind the choir screens

The crossing

The west front, done at speed in the cold!

In the choir facing south

North aisle off the choir, monuments in changing light

The chapter house at night, enjoying the uplighting against dark winter skies