Posted in Coursework, Part 5

Cycle 5: Elbigenalp cross

Note 12/06/2019: Some text has been added after Assignment 5 feedback has been received. This has been dated and highlighted to provide context.


On the top of a mountain near Elbigenalp there stands a cross which is clearly visible from the valley. I first saw thew cross back when I visited the valley for the first time, and wanted to get up to it. I finally managed to get to the top, and the scale of the cross and its presence is hard to put into words. I decided to see what I could do with a drawing.


Within the overall intent of the assignment, the intention of this cycle was to:

  • Represent the mountains of the alps in a way that conveys the feeling of being among them; and
  • To represent the site of the Elbigenalp cross in a way that coneys the scale of the work.

This is very much a “stretch target” for the assignment, as the sheer scale and beauty of the site is impressive. The overall scene is “tall and wide”, in that the cross is very tall and points into the sky but the panorama of the alps is a 360 degree view. From the viewpoint of being on a level with the cross, however, the top of the alps is relatively low.

Other artist’s work

The first challenge is drawing and painting mountains, which isn’t trivial in itself. The following is a good example:

“Panoramic View” is an original mixed-media painting by Barak Rozenvain from

This is a physically large tryptic painting of a small section of the alps. I can believe that if you were in front of this you really would get a feeling of the majesty of the alps. It doesn’t, however, fit the style I’m looking for – or come close to solving the challenges I’m intent on approaching.

In terms of style the following is a better fit:

Morning Light , Mont Blanc
Painted in watercolours by Jane Ward

The mountain has been significantly simplified, and there is a good feel to the painting. There are a wide range of images of the alps which can inform approaching drawing and painting in the alps, as this Pinterest board illustrates.

The next challenge I’ll have to address in the drawing is the use of atmospheric perspective when representing the distant mountains. The following illustrates this point:

In this image the distant mountains are getting gradually less detailed and paler. This is caused by the significant levels of moisture in the atmosphere. On the day I visited there was a lot of moisture in the air, and there was some significant weather coming in. (It snowed as I started to descend.) Thus, atmospheric perspective is a significant element of the scene.

The challenge of representing the “tall and thin” nature of the scene is somewhat rarer. I tried various google searches for artists that represent something similar, but was only partially successful. The following was an interesting approach:

Panoramic view from

In effect, the artist if using a novel projection approach that produces a somewhat distorted image to represent a very wide angle view. This is similar to the use of curvilinear perspective. I’m not too keen on the “fish eye” viewing effect for this work, but the approach is definitively interesting.

There is also information on technology-lead approaches. I found this article interesting: 4 Steps to create a 360 VR illustration / painting in Photoshop (with pictures) The approach, however, depends on the use of a technical viewer to see the image – which is inconsistent with what I’m trying to achieve.

An approach that might have value is that of the cubists. Their technique approached drawing the image from several angles at the same time. Brandon Allebach has approach landscape work from a cubist aspect. His work can be seen here: The approach might have some value to experiment with, though would be difficult to blend with the style I was trying to achieve.

Added 12/06/2019: During my tutorial for Assignment 5 my tutor suggested that I should examine Caspar David Friedrich’s Cross in the Mountains. Although the focus of that work and what I have been trying to achieve are very different I can see why he suggested it it. In this work the cross stands out clearly in a way that is much less clear in my own experiments so far. The light-dark contrast within this work serves to help emphasise both the cross and the rays of light from behind the mountain. This was introduced by my tutor in the context of making the cross stand out more in the composition. Using his comments and this practical example it would be worthwhile experimenting further with the colour and contrast in the image as a hole.

This consideration has also, however, made me consider whether I should be using the cultural context of the cross in some way in the work. The cross itself is clearly a powerful Christian symbol in a Catholic country and in a wider tradition of the summit cross. Looking up from the valley the cross itself seems to glow white, and I have no doubt that this was intended by the designer. Further, on the day I visited there were “light beams” similar to the ones shown in this work – though coming from the gaps in the cloud and striking the valley below. It would be worth experimenting with this idea as a way forwards.

Previous work

I’ve considered this idea previously, and thought about approaching it using curvilinear perspective:


This would take quite a lot of development to look right and would need toi be physically quite large to work well. Finally, the nature of the approach would mean that a large proportion of the final image would be ground and sky – which wouldn’t be that interesting.


My first thought in this direction was to create a quadriptych:

My thought was that the panels would each be A1 in size, and overall a curvilinear perspective approach would be used. The challenge is that it would be massive, and would be impossible to display in the majority of locations. I also started to experiment with what would be involved in a drawing of this sort on a tonal basis:

This experiment was to help in understanding of how the whole could work in terms of drawing mountains.

Reducing to a single sheet

At this point I realised that starting by simply drawing the cross from an appropriate perspective might be a better start point:

Elbigenalp cross, A4, Watercolour sketch

I’ve used a colour scheme to separate the mountain ranges, which is somewhat artificial but comes of fairly well. There isn’t enough atmospheric perspective, that works better in the grey scale image above. Linear perspective on the cross provides some sense of depth, but there is insufficient. With care in colour value and tone it should be possible to use the approach to provide a good sense of depth and scale at A2 or A1 size.

On reflection I decided it would help the composition to move the cross off centre and use a landscape format:

Elbigenalp cross, A4 (Landscape) in soft pastel

In some ways this makes for a more interesting composition overall. The “Rule of Thirds” has been used for the cross and the vanishing point of the cross. This should create an implied line which pulls the viewer’s attention to the mountains, which flow roughly out from this vanishing point. The top of the image then has clouds to keep the viewer’s attention and imply scale. The clouds need more work to make them reflect the conditions of the day though.

This is starting to work in terms of the atmospheric perspective, but there are a lot of areas where the idea could do with more work and consideration. The mountains and grass in the foreground don’t give a strong enough impression of the scene. In many ways the previous image (with water colour) worked better in terms of giving an impression of the scene.

Cubism influence

I also tried to consider how cubism might play into the idea. Here I am considering the aspect of cubism that splits and image so that multiple angles are represented in the same image. The following sketch was created to help me think the idea through:

Cubism and the Elbigenalp cross sketch

Later I tried to elaborate on the idea with a watercolour sketch:

Cubism and the Elbigenalp cross, A4 Watercolour

Its an interesting idea, but I struggled with the transitions between the images, which makes it quite hard to read. This is possibly because I was trying to blend some of the transitions, rather than having strict solid lines between them.

A bigger try (27/07/2019)

From the start I wanted to do a version of this image as more of a finished drawing than I managed before submitting for Assignment 5. I decided to complete the piece in charcoal, and to try to build up the sky and stormy weather than was coming in on the day. This, in turn, allowed me to brighten the cross relative to its background – which has definitely helped its composition.

Elbigenalp summit cross, A1, Charcoal on paper

It is still far from perfect, but I feel this is a much better drawing than my previous attempts.

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