A Lesson Learned

Last Wednesday, I departed Seattle for Chennai, India, for a presentation and two days of drawing workshops. Upon arriving in Chennai, to my chagrin, I was denied entry due to an expired visa. Clearly a mistake had been made by the processing agency that had handled my visa application, but just as clearly, I had made a critical error in not checking the visa upon receipt. The immigration authority officially declared me to be a deportee and booked me on a flight back to Seattle.

By the numbers:

  • 20 hours travel time from Seattle to Dubai to Chennai.
  • 5 hours of frustration, anger, and embarrassment waiting in the Chennai airport, hoping that I might be able to enter the country.
  • 12 hours detained in a locked room in the Chennai airport.
  • 2 hours waiting for departure from Chennai.
  • 28 hours travel time from Chennai to Dubai to Seattle.
  • 67 hours total from the moment my flight left Seattle on Wednesday to the return flight landed on Saturday. During this time, I was either on a plane or in the Dubai and Chennai airports.

I must apologize to all those who were inconvenienced by my failure to check the dates on my visa before departing Seattle—my host, the AARDE foundation; the architects who were planning to attend my talk; and especially the students who had made the effort to travel to Chennai to attend my workshops.

During all of this, I was not in a mood to sketch. However, I did document the events as they occurred and managed a quick sketch of the Chennai departure terminal where I awaited deportation from India. One doesn’t appreciate the freedom of movement we enjoy until it is taken away, even if only for 12 hours being detained in a locked room in the Chennai airport.

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I am not giving up. I plan to return to Chennai soon to fulfill my obligations. This is assuming, of course, that the immigration authority there allows me to enter India after my last failed attempt.

Iconic Images

If we think of the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, or the Chrysler Building in New York City, we can see the image in our head, even if we have never seen the real thing. It appears as though the stream of images we have seen in photographs and movies have been seared into our memory banks. And we might even be able to sketch reasonable facsimiles if asked to.

After we have visited a place several times, or lived near to, driven by, or walked past a place for a number of years, we might also form an iconic image of that place. A personal example is the Fremont Baptist Church, established in 1892 with the current brick building being constructed in 1924, perched on a hill above downtown Fremont in Seattle.

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For me, this iconic image of Fremont has materialized over the years. Yet the image I hold in my mind’s eye does not correspond to what you can actually see from any position on the street. What seems to occur is that our mind is able to recombine the fragmented, partial views we’ve experienced into a single iconic, memorable image.

The First Starbucks Store

Tucked in amongst a row of buildings on Pike Place in Seattle is the “first” Starbucks store, which is one of the main tourist attractions in the historic Pike Place Market district. You still see this store being photographed at all hours of the day and throughout the year. Even though a plaque inside proclaims this to be the first Starbucks store, from 1971 through 1976 there was an earlier Starbucks at 2000 Western Avenue, which sold only whole coffee beans while serving free samples of brewed coffee.

As with my drawing of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, the drawing of the first Starbucks store involved three phases: a quick compositional study, a rough pencil layout submitted for approval, and finally, the finished ink-line drawing.

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Happy New Year!

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Before looking forward to new and rewarding sketching prospects in 2015, I want to take a look back with appreciation for the opportunities to conduct workshops during the past year. I will always be grateful for these chances to connect with others who share the same passion for drawing.

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A sketch of the campus clock tower at the ending session of the workshop at Washington State University with Gail Wong and Gabi Campanario.

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Enjoying a cool Itaipava on the Praia do Jabaquara during the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Paraty, Brazil.

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A view from inside Tully’s coffee shop during the Line to Color workshop with Gail Wong in Tacoma, Washington.

Seattle Winterfest

Here are three scenes from Seattle Center I drew during the monthly meeting of the Seattle Urban Sketchers group. The first is a quick study of the east entry to the former Armory, which is now known as the Center House.

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The second is the interior of the Center House, which houses a large food court, entertainment stage, and a super-sized model train layout for the holidays.

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The last is of Key Arena, former home of the Seattle Supersonics but still a successful venue for many sporting and cultural events.

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Evolution of a Drawing

Few drawings are executed in a single pass. When drawing on location, my process usually involves first blocking out the overall structure of a scene before refining the forms, making adjustments, and filling in the details. And for studio work, the process becomes a little more involved. For example, for a drawing of the interior of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, there were three phases in the process. The first is a very quick study of the possible viewpoint. The second is a rough pencil layout of the final view submitted for approval. And finally, the finished ink-line drawing.

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Two Views of Red Square

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Back in 2010, a number of videos were shot of me drawing scenes on the UW campus. Here is the sketch I did of Red Square with Suzzallo Library in the left background, Gerberding Hall to the right, and a table setting and Barnett Newman’s sculpture, Broken Obelisk, in the foreground. During a break in the rainy weather we’ve been having the last few days, I again went to draw Red Square, this time drawing a slightly different view with my iPad Mini and the Brushes app.

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Drawing with my forefinger on a glass surface that is only 6.25 x 4.75 inches in area fosters the use of more gestural strokes and inhibits the drawing of fine details. Even though the strokes are only one pixel wide, I found myself suggesting rather than describing because I wasn’t willing to constantly zoom in and out and painstakingly work pixel by pixel. I’ve tried a number of styli but haven’t found one that is a reasonable substitute for the nib of a fountain pen due to the nature of the capacitive touchscreen display.

Still, the overall process of establishing perspective structure first before adding tones and details remains the same as when drawing with a pen on paper. I hope to show this when I export the data and convert the actions into a Quicktime movie.

About Copying

Back in 1963, an art history course at the University of Notre Dame required me to copy a number of art works. The idea was to supplement the reading about and viewing of art with the act of reproducing art. Here are three examples from my course notebook that I happened upon recently.

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Veronese’s Head of St. Mennas (detail)

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Frans Hals’ Young Flute Player

It had long been a tradition in the studio arts to copy masterworks as a way to gain proficiency, the thinking being that one could learn by imitating the compositional strategies, the strokes and blending of colors, and other techniques used by artists more skilled than ourselves. There are art teachers, however, who consider this type of copying to be a crutch and an obstacle to developing one’s own creative mind. Whether the practice of copying is good or bad depends ultimately on the reasons for doing so. The motivation for copying should not be merely the reproduction of a work. Rather, it should be seen as an attempt to explore the process of the original artist and just a single step in the learning process.

I should point out that drawing on location neatly sidesteps the question of copying. But note that even here, we are in a sense copying what our visual system takes in and interprets.

Main Street Dallas

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During a brief visit to Dallas recently, I woke up early one morning and sketched this view of the city’s Main Street. To capture the feeling of a city in transition, this panorama takes in the high-rises of a typical downtown, including the Bank One Center by Philip Johnson and John Burgee (now the Comerica Bank Tower) on the right; one of the many older structures being torn down to make way for new projects in the middle; and the Laumeier Sculpture Park featuring the Eye, a 38-foot diameter sculpture by Tony Tasset. What surprised me was how roughly the sketch developed until I realized that the ink in my pen was not flowing as freely as it normally does because of the 43° weather.