10×10 Artist Spotlight: Hartwig Braun

HARTWIG BRAUN: A VIEW FROM ABOVE FOR 10×10

Hartwig Braun is participating for the second time and has already started working on his piece. He is a talented artist specialising in design-led illustrative works, using his architectural background to create expansive, detailed and engaging cityscapes. We spent a day with Hartwig exploring his square in the City of London to catch up with its ever evolving landscape.

Visit hartwigbraun.com to find many more examples of Hartwig’s excellent work.

Hartwig Braun and I meet in front of the Royal Exchange – right outside Exit 4 at Bank station and at the heart of the City – the historic nucleus of modern London. He had only flown back from his native Germany the previous night but he was excited to start exploring the square assigned to him for this year’s 10×10 event in November. It is 10:30 am and the streets of the financial district of London look rather quiet. Equipped with pen and paper, Hartwig and I start walking around the magnificent buildings, a mixture of old and new, tall and short, trying to grasp the changes which have happened in recent years. “It’s difficult to keep up with the City”, Hartwig notes, and I agree.

He is still fascinated by London and marks with a smile on his face his soon to be 10th anniversary of living in the UK after initially moving here with his partner. Using the internet to research new architectural developments in the City is an essential tool for Hartwig to keep up to date and present an accurate version of the urban landscape. The artist’s purpose when drawing the City is to catch the essence of it and make people recognise a piece of their lives in his art – be it the place they live or work or just a famous building they love or are familiar with. “At the sketch level, I form my idea about the area I will be drawing, then I develop my own interpretation of it – I always aspire to get the spirit right”.

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“I want to give tribute to the new kids on the block”, says Hartwig about the new skyscrapers of the City

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One of the new buildings which Hartwig says will feature in his original hand drawing for Article 25’s auction this year is The Scalpel. Its distinctive angular design interests Hartwig of which he comments: “It is difficult to define the form from the ground – it is such a complex structure”. We start making a 360 degree tour of the building trying to sketch the different angles and stitch them together to achieve the complete projection on paper. “Imagine the triangular roof in the centre of the City as the start button for a YouTube video – if you could press start, you could see the entire City skyline as a video” – what a fascinating idea indeed. I mention to him I have noticed from looking at some of his previous pieces that he likes curving the horizon to create a fisheye effect. “Yes, I enjoy experimenting with the rules of perspective – bending them and sometimes breaking them. I like making fun illustrations with vibrant colours. However, in this part of the City you have these impressive glass and steel compositions which I want to keep in line with reality. I wish to be more accurate in my drawing and give it a more prominent architectural feel”, he responds.

Hartwig also received an amazing surprise present from his partner for their anniversary later during the week. He went on a helicopter tour of the City to find out about the technical infrastructure of a building, which adds to its unique character but usually remains hidden. Moreover, the artist notes, it is always fun to discover a roof top garden! I had a chance to interview him over a cup of coffee on the first floor of the Leadenhall Building. We talked about his transition from an architect to an artist, his style of drawing, the process of creating one of his pieces, and his continuing support for Article 25’s flagship art event.

The heights Hartwig goes to in preparation for his art piece!

Mirela Mihova (MM) : What is 10×10?

Hartwig Braun (HB): This is Article 25’s art auction to fundraise for the charity’s projects. I was flattered to be invited last year and submit my work for a good cause. The concept of the event is that a given area of London is divided into 100 squares of different sizes. Last year the theme was Stratford. Normally the artist would have had to do something connected with their square. In 2017 I donated a limited edition panoramic view of central London which was quite successful in the auction. I find the Elizabeth line a very interesting subject. I saw I was given a square right in the City, next to Liverpool Street, which features high rise buildings together with modern infrastructure and a newly build station so there is a lot of material to work with. I decided instead of doing something for the given square here, I can just jump a little bit across the surrounding areas which would of course be in vicinity of the Elizabeth line.

MM: You are one of our returning artists – what made you join in this year again and support 10×10?

HB: I was very happy and flattered to be invited again as I really enjoyed the event last year. Every year it is in partnership with a specific country, last year it featured artists from Myanmar. It’s a nice feeling when your work is appreciated. My work has an architectural component and having the stage of the RIBA is perfect for me to donate to a good cause.  This year, Article 25 mentioned their fascination with my signature style and said they would be happy for me to do something featuring the City and the changes of it. I thought it would be the ideal opportunity to do something I enjoy very much.

MM:What is the event hoping to achieve?

HB:  The auction is organised to raise money for a good cause and it is also a great platform to see lots of different interpretations of a given theme. Last year Stratford was subdivided into squares and it was interesting to see what so many people come up with as their vision of the area. I managed to spot a wide range of art work – abstract ones, some very creative and loosely based on the given square. In some of the pieces you could definitely see the architect behind it. You could sense the difference between an architect and a fine artist. Some paintings gave the idea of an inspiration on the spot which produces something impulsive and raw – as if you could see what came to the art creator’s mind when they got to the square. You could also see very elaborate artwork. I am looking forward to working on my drawing for the next three weeks and donating an original!

One of Hartwig’s  creations in vivid colours and capturing the beauty of London

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MM: Tell me about your background – how did you decide to become an artist and what previous experiences do you have with architecture and art?

HB: I’ve always enjoyed sketching, doodling, it is something that comes naturally to me. From an early age on, I enjoyed doing 3D sketches, perspective drawings and working with vanishing points.  I’ve always been fascinated with cities and buildings hence why later I decided to study architecture as I deemed this combination suitable to my interests.

The change of career from architecture to art was actually inspired by my partner. He discovered a little sketch I did years ago when I was living and working as an architect in Amsterdam. I wanted to do a little greeting card for friends and family so I did a distorted image of the city using a bird’s eye view technique. It had some key elements of this city’s landscape like canals, boats and churches. Years later my partner saw this card that I had sent and saw the potential of it. He thought this was a very particular style. My partner is more entrepreneurial, he has the knowledge about approaching people and opening doors. He proposed that I do something bigger and bolder. I did my first drawing of central London – it was a completely novel challenge for me, I hadn’t spent much time and effort into one single drawing before. I did it over a couple of months, after work and on weekends when I sat down to create a panoramic view. When it was finished, it was quite an eye opener – I released that if I spend enough time and put a lot of effort, love and energy into it, this is what can come out.

Initially we came up with a few products and tried to market them ourselves. We found Greenwich market which had an artistic feel, less commercial than other London markets. We started with a market stall at weekends which became appreciated by locals and visitors alike. The opportunity to see that my work was appreciated by other people and could even make me a living was an inspiring result. Shortly afterwards we moved into our first shop. Our product range grew and we needed more space to display the artworks. Eventually I had to decide – do I keep drawing as a sideline, as a hobby or do I give it my full attention and explore its full potential? After analyzing my desires for the future, I could see myself doing something with my drawings as opposed to opening my own architectural practice. I decided to go for my artwork – it is what comes naturally to me, what excites me, what I would do anyway; even if nobody else were interested, I would still doodle and sketch!

MM: What are the best things about your job and are there any disadvantages?

HB: It’s nice to be your own boss – you have the freedom of organising your time. This, however, comes with a price – you depend on your business and you don’t have a set paycheck at the end of the month, so you need to work hard and be sure you will be rewarded for your efforts. You can have good times and bad times. I often do commissioned artwork – recently I was approached by the New York Times. They asked me to do an illustration for an article in the business section where I had to adhere to a specific brief and deadline. I believe this is why I still have the connection with the real world – I cannot on all occasions do what I want and when I want. For 10×10, I will also have my deadline and I will be aiming to finish before the 1stOctober – it will be a tight schedule. Our gallery shop in Greenwich – the retail aspect of my art – has certain constraints. Overall, it is a good balance in life between having enough artistic freedom and space and on the other hand being connected to the commercial world. I’m lucky to have my partner who is the business person – he has helped me get acquainted with the sphere of business over time and has also sheltered me a little bit from the hardest part of the venture!

The artist in his studio in Greenwich

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MM: Do you think art should be understood or simply admired?

HB: I think it depends. Art is something very personal so it’s only logical that you have art work which is individual that someone else would not automatically connect to. There will always be artwork which has a deep meaning to the artist himself or herself. You may need time to read the biography of an artist. Therefore, a bystander may look at it and not be able to interpret it. Otherwise, we would start defining the limits of arts and the perimeter in which art can develop or exist which is undesirable.
Art needs to be free of boundaries and individual, it is then up to the audience to decide whether they like something or not. It is indeed possible to have something very beautiful yet abstract and personal which may require time to understand the message behind it. I think because what I do is not abstract but is representational I’ve got the advantage that people can more easily connect to it – they can admire the intricacy, the colour, the technical aspects of drawing, the fact that they see a part of a City they know and instantly make a connection with the atmosphere.

MM: How did you find your unique style of drawing and how would you describe it?

HB: The main thing that comes to mind when you look at my artwork is lots of detail. I just recently I finished a 2 meter wide panoramic work for Berlin. I have done something similar for Sydney as well as Paris, New York, and Edinburgh. My style is very rich in detail – I’m a passionate flaneur, I like walking around like we did today. The purpose is to absorb all the detail into my memory so when I sit down to do a new drawing, I can show things that are important to me and make a building special.

I like including the little things of infrastructure. The drawing can become very intricate in detail. I build it layer by layer at a time, I would start with a rough layout sketch in the beginning to show and define the area so that I know where to start and where to end. Then I scan this layout which will be in proportion with the finished artwork – I would enlarge it and print it big as an underlayer which is the basis for the 3D work. Then I start with rough sketches to get a feel for the composition, scale, shapes. This is where the legacy of the work as an architect comes to play – I use transparent paper, put it on top and redraw or redraft my initial sketch. Layer by layer I develop each building.

In the end, I put all the bits and pieces together so I can make sure I am happy with every single dot and only that final drawing is the one I scan. I do hand drawing in black and white but everything with colour is done digitally. I can execute different colour versions based on the same hand drawing which can make it kind of cartoonist. At the same time, the image can be more graphical or monochromatic: it’s the beauty of modern technology that offers the possibility to give the artwork completely different characters!

A graphic illustration of London’s financial district Canary Wharf in East London and the O2 Arena in North Greenwich

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MM:  Who are some of your favourite artists or the ones that have been the most influential on you?

HB:  Two names come to mind – these artists are very different in terms of style, background and period they have been active in. I like Canaletto very much. He did something similar to what I enjoy doing a few centuries ago in Venice. I loved the architectural art he presented – his very meticulous, very detailed, almost photographic portraits of cities. I also love Keith Haring – he works with lines and a linear style of modeling. There is an element of a cartoonish, pop art style which is a very characteristic way of drawing. I think I have taken a bit of both styles but that is for my viewers to decide. I am always drawn by detailed sketches. When I go to an exhibition I always appreciate a display of sketchbooks of artists. I went to an exhibition about Canaletto in the National Gallery in London not long ago where they did not only show the big paintings but also his sketches which was amazing to see!

MM:  How important is the harmony between the urban and the natural in your drawings and is it possible that sometimes the former becomes an obstacle for the latter?

HB:  I think it is important to have both. The urban and the nature are opposites by definition but I am drawn by both. I love nature and unspoiled landscapes or sceneries. I love going to Scotland and seeing the highlands. Nevertheless, I love the city, the urban environment of architecture and the man made landscape. Today we need to reconcile both – we need to make the urban environment more eco-friendly, more sustainable. Open spaces are a very important part of cities. Traditionally, in British cities and in particular London, green spaces and parks have always been within a few minutes’ walk.

In other cities one would find more concrete or stone structures or a built up environment. I lived in Paris for a while during an internship which I enjoyed very much but it had a different feel. In London, it is much easier without leaving the city to experience nature –  Greenwich Park, the sky, the open views. I can see from the top of the hill, the grass, the trees, the wildlife. You have the feeling you can breathe again. Whilst living in Paris I left to visit the Palace of Versailles and I noticed for the first time in two months that there is a sky on eye level and not just above me. In London you have the harmonious mixture of nature and urban fabric which we all wish to have.

In Hartwig’s colourful drawings you can see the interaction between nature and its products, wildlife and architectural compositions

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MM:  Can you describe to me the process of creating one of your drawings: what do you do first and how does the design evolve?

HB:  Every time I start with a completely empty sheet of paper. Nothing is drawn or traced from a photograph. I look at photographs and analyse them, either ones I’ve taken myself or have found online, but I never use it as an underlayer of a drawing. I need a nice soft pen, even a marker pen which is thick and flows smoothly, as at that stage I feel like a painter with a brush. I decide about the big lines, where do I have the horizon or a river. I want to get the most dynamic shape of the street layout. During the process of drawing buildings I change to a finer, felt pen to be able to draw more detail.

At the very end, when I have the penultimate preliminary drawing I need to do my final drawing for the scan. At this stage I really need to use very fine ink pens to accomplish a precise, architectural result. That reminds me of the time when I was a student and had my final technical drawing with real ink pens! Back then we used rulers and triangles to do these particular drawings – that is the major difference of being on the artist side now – I never use a ruler anymore. Even if it is a long straight line I would never use a ruler because it would just not look right in my art projections. Everything I depict would be precise and as accurate as possible but it needs to be done free hand. If you look closely, those perfect imperfections typical of a hand drawing as opposed to a technical or computer one make it more special.

The beginning of the journey – Hartwig has already started working on his piece for 10×10

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