In Haunt

Negotiations are underway to put a huge birds-eye-view sketch of Manchester back on display in the city – originally created in 2017 by artist Carl Lavia and photographer Lorna Le Bredonchel as part of their 69 Cities project.

This unique aerial view of Manchester was originally displayed in Central Library following its creation, and now offers a fascinating time capsule of what the city looked like three years ago. The amount of change that has occurred over that period of time is a fascinating point to consider… especially as living during the pandemic has caused many to question their views on urban space and usage.

Photography by Lorna Le Bredonchel

In turn, Carl and Lorna believe that the time is ripe to put the sketch on public display again, and are currently negotiating a venue. The sketch’s precise ink-work brings into definition hidden aspects of the city we may pass everyday without realising, and was informed by weeks of the pair walking Manchester, becoming closely acquainted with its streets and structures.

Their decision to sketch Manchester in 2017, followed on from their already-completed sketches of Edinburgh and Birmingham, with the 69 Cities project started in 2016. It was driven by the ambitious aim of creating a large-scale sketch of every city in the UK, before displaying it for the public in that location.

How do they do it? Roaming and researching each urban centre is a key part of the process, allowing the pair to get a sense of place before the artistry begins. Then Lorna goes on to create a sort of ‘scaffold’ of buildings using pencil on paper, before Carl builds ‘sketchy’ forms on top, also in pencil. This structuring continues through a blend of further sketching, erasing and layering, before the buildings and places gain a sense of ‘body’ – and then are finalised in ink.

This is an impressive angle on the city, offering a sort of suspended map whilst also retaining a vibrancy in the impressionistic style … highlighting how cities are prone to movement, shifting and change over time. The viewer can marvel at the intricate network of roads, streets, landmarks, monuments, bridges and structures, whilst also seeing the unique dynamic of the city expressed on the page.

Photography by Lorna Le Bredonchel

An awareness of ongoing change and a passion for life is evident in their work, and is significantly down to Carl and Lorna’s determination and drive. Carl (aka ‘Sketch’) started sketching when he was five years old, with architecture and maps amongst his early interests. He created artistic depictions of cities for a number of years, imaginative futuristic cityscapes in particular, but a difficult time during his early 20s cemented his passion to expand his creative work. At this young age, Carl was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré disorder, a condition affecting the nervous system and causing paralysis. He fortunately went on to recover… and in turn decided to embrace the ambitious 69 Cities idea that he and Lorna had developed. Their progress is visible on the 'sketch 'n' the city' website. 

Whilst Carl creates the distinct, immediate-feeling sketches, Lorna assists with work on the sketch as well as handling creative output, recording the process as it develops, research, securing an exhibition space in each city and recording it through video and still photography; the latter being the subject she studied at LCC.

Carl and Lorna have completed sketches of six cities so far; two in England – Birmingham and Manchester, and four in Scotland – Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling and Perth. Details of all the sketches, as well as work in progress (currently Aberdeen), can be found via their website, along with links to buy sketches and posters.

As they prepare to bring their Manchester sketch back to the city, Haunt Manchester decided to speak to Carl and Lorna to find out more…

Hello Lorna and Carl. How did the '69 Cities' concept come about – and when did you start on Manchester?

Lorna: “In 2016 we were in NYC, every few feet on the sidewalk you will find yourself standing at the foot of skyscrapers, sheer cliff faces - it does something to the mind, makes you want to cower, and also to climb. We were energised by the city (and coffee) and were joshing around about sketching the entire city of New York as a dare of sorts - the chat ended but the idea stuck.

“Carl has been sketching cityscapes (fictional) since he was a little kid, and as an adult, it remained a passionate pastime - but, the two of us felt it was the time for a big challenge that we could get stuck into together. We both felt the pull of this grand city idea… to sketch a UK city in its entirety and to document the process. We began this UK project during Brexit, so, to be documenting the UK amongst this period of self-reflection feels poignant.

“Birmingham was chosen first because it was a city Carl knew well, it was while sketching Brum that the idea evolved to attempting all 69 cities. All 69 UK cities have never been sketched on a large scale in a series like this before - Stephen Wiltshire comes to mind, a fantastic artist, he sketches large scale city works, though in his case they are cities from across the globe and they are not birds-eye views. He incorporates the skyline, but we aim for a flight across the city, where you can walk your eyes down all the streets.

Photography by Lorna Le Bredonchel

“Manchester was the next city, again because it is known to Carl, he lived in Manchester for some time. The challenges in sketching the city were as you would imagine: keeping up with the change that was happening (it's a city that has quite a pace!), staying as accurate as we could to the layout and doing our best to incorporate all the buildings that speak of Manchester's character. We couldn't do any of this without Google images, street view, walking amongst the streets, and info from books and blogs. The Manchester sketch contains both stadiums, Salford Quays, Media City (the location of focus in the image above), the Northern Quarter, Strangeways. All three stations have been included: Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Victoria, and also Manchester Deansgate – the connection hubs in and out of the city, as well as the entire canal route.

“There are some things we now always include in each sketch – cranes – and there were plenty in Manchester! We see cranes as a motif of evolution, punctuating the idea that this city isn't done growing.”

You are hoping to have the Manchester sketch back on display. Do you think this unique aerial view of the city may be appreciated differently now we are living in the time of a pandemic? Do you think the pandemic may have had an effect on how we view urban space?

Lorna: “The sketch is a time-capsule of 2017, it is a window into recent history and viewing it from the position of this strange new 'now' is interesting. A phrase we have long loved: ‘A city is past and future happening at once’. The Manchester portrait is a powerful companion for all those who are asking questions about what our urban spaces could be.

Carl: “Cities look different without people, over the last 6 months it’s only recently that the streets are populated. The absence of people has made me appreciate my own connection with the city around me, by viewing it in a new way, by simply being able to see the intricacy and details of buildings, I’m noticing buildings I’ve never seen before. The slow pace has made me be able to appreciate things more clearly because the distraction of people is gone! We are having to stay in one place, we are having to experience our own doorstep, which is interesting. One of the things the pandemic has highlighted is the relationship we have with our own country/city.

Photography by Lorna Le Bredonchel“The sketch is a timepiece of Manchester in 2017. Since then the city has changed so much; for instance, all across the skyline high-rises are shooting skyward! We referenced the preliminary stages of lots of construction through the form of cranes. The city definitely looks different now, and the sketch is viewed differently I think, because people have had a different relationship with their home urban space, for the better and for worse. People will perhaps be more curious and perhaps more demanding, of what their urban spaces could look like, be like. It will make us question the space we live in, travel, relax, all the things we do/see. One of the most important factors that changed during lockdown too, was the shift in traffic, enabling an appreciation of wider open space, and eating/drinking outdoors has flourished. This arguably gave our social spaces a more European flavour, these are the things we go abroad for, and in a sense we are bringing the things we miss onto our own doorsteps… it is a good evolution!”

When sketching Manchester, what in particular surprised you? Did you discover some perhaps more ‘hidden’ aspects of the city?

Carl: “Interestingly, the city is compact! Manchester isn’t a large city (compared to international examples) but the compact layout makes for a sense of scale and grandeur. There are cities within cities here: the Northern Quarter has a really different feel to the high rise living of Deansgate, Spinningfields has a corporate feel in contrast to the more laid back older Manchester, the Gay Village and China Town. The Northern Quarter is fascinating... fortunately it has survived the onslaught of the high-rise developments and much of its structure, it reflects the Manchester the of the 1800s era. 

“A thing that I really noticed is there isn’t enough green space in the city… the sketch itself is an intense view, because the only respite for the sake of the concrete jungle is the sweeping canal! This is unique in all our city sketches – so time for more green space Manchester, we humans need it!”

Photography by Lorna Le Bredonchel

What was the most challenging aspect of sketching this city? And what about the most rewarding?

Carl: The biggest challenge was keeping up with the development of the city itself, I would have loved to have been able to include what is currently the city skyline: there were several huge developments that were happening, of which I’ve included them at their burgeoning crane stage. I really love how the old Manchester space has been transformed into high-rise cutting edge futuristic space.

“Sketching a city is itself a massive commitment, we have to make a promise to get to know the space, we have to go to places we normally wouldn't if we were just visiting. It’s a bit of a spiritual journey, exploration of exterior and interior (head) space – and that’s such a rewarding thing too.”

By Emily Oldfield 

Photography by Lorna Le Bredonchel




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