As part of the conference this week at the Medellin campus of the National University of Colombia, I was able to offer a couple of workshops for the students, something I always enjoy doing. Last Wednesday morning, we met at Botero Square in downtown Medellin, a hub of activity and urban life named after Fernando Botero, whose large, voluminous works are scattered throughout the park.
Here are examples of the sketches that I use to demonstrate capturing the essential structure of a scene.
In a recent issue of The New Yorker, John McPhee wrote an article entitled Omission: Choosing what to leave out. In the essay McPhee references Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of Omission, which encourages writers to let the reader do the creating by leaving white spaces between chapters or segments of chapters, the unwritten thoughts to be articulated by the reader. McPhee advocates letting the reader have the experience and leaving judgment in the eye of the beholder.
This idea of omission can also be applied to drawing as well. Just as writing is a matter of selecting and stringing words together to create a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter, sketching is a matter of drawing a line, then another, and another, until one creates shapes and compositions that recall to the seeing eye the scene set before us. And what we omit from a drawing is just as important as what we include.
Heading down to Orange County, California, for a workshop this weekend.
During my workshops, when working one-on-one with a participant, I often do a demonstration of a concept in my sketchbook, such as this one describing the layers of depth that I saw at Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, India. 1 is the foreground porch structure; 2 is the porch structure in the middle ground; 3 is the top of a structure just beyond 2; and finally, 4 is the gopuram in the distance.
This second image is a follow-up sketch demonstrating how to convey the layers of depth described in the first diagram. Describing layers of depth on a two-dimensional page relies on a discernible contrast of detail or tonal values between each layer and the next. In this case, it was a matter of suggesting detail and tonal values in selected portions of the drawing and omitting them in others.
I took advantage of an ad hoc meeting of the Seattle Urban Sketchers at Fremont Coffee to sketch my favorite coffee shop, where I get my daily Americano. Above is an exterior view that I had done a couple of years ago. So today, I sketched two additional views, one of the interior and the other of the outside deck. I had a little trouble conveying the scale of the two spaces. Scale—in particular, human scale—is a difficult aspect to capture well but it is so important in describing the intimacy or expansiveness of a space.
On display at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the UW campus is this Allosaurus Fragilis, a fleet-footed predator from the late Jurassic period.
The second image below shows how I attempted to keep the allosaurus in proper proportion. I first estimated that the height of the hind legs was about a third of the dinosaur’s overall length. You can barely see the tic marks that I used to divide the length into thirds. I then used this measurement to fix the height of the hind legs. I also judged the position of the hind legs to be a little more than a third of the length from the head. Finally, I drew the curvature of the spine to guide the development of the dinosaur’s skeleton.
Being able to see and replicate proper proportions, no matter the nature of our subject matter, is an important skill in drawing.
Despite recovering from a bad cold and feeling a bit under the weather, I decided to join the monthly Seattle Urban Sketchers outing this past Sunday. It promised to be an unseasonably warm and sunny day but it was still quite chilly in the late morning when I drew this view of Pike Street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, standing in front of the new Starbucks Roastery, looking east toward the domed First Covenant Church. Not my finest work but merely another step in the long process of learning how to say more with less. There is so much missing in this drawing, so many things that I saw but omitted, and yet, the overall feel for that particular place is still there.
My second attempt at entering India was successful and we began the first of two days of a drawing workshop sponsored by the AARDE foundation. Many thanks to Xavier Benedict for hosting my visit and to the students and architects who persevered and returned to make this weekend possible. We began at the Luz Church, built in 1516, and then moved onto the 7th century Kapaleeshwarar Temple in the Mylapore neighborhood of Chennai. Here is the group in front of the main doorway and a quick study I did of the interior of the temple complex. The temple architecture is a difficult subject because of the multiple layers of sculptural details. The approach has to first establish the geometric framework that holds the details together. Tomorrow we head to Parry’s Corner to visit a prime example of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
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.
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.
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.
In the 1950s, the psychologist J.J. Gibson outlined a number of cues to depth perception. A few rely on our binocular vision and therefore do not apply to 2-dimensional drawings and paintings. Others, however, are psychological rather than physiological in nature. As such, these depth cues are pictorial in nature and are applicable to drawing and painting on a 2-dimensional surface. In the following, I try to use simple terms and snippets of my own drawings and photographs to illustrate each of the depth cues that I consider to be relevant to drawing on location.
Convergence of parallels: This is a key characteristic of linear perspective in which parallel lines appear to converge as they recede into the distance. Despite the usefulness of the other depth cues, linear perspective remains the structural scaffolding upon which to build a sense of spatial depth on the page.
Overlap: Near objects overlap or partially block the view of objects farther away. Locating effective overlaps can be useful in selecting a viewpoint and composing a drawing.
Position relative to the horizon: Objects below our eye level rise toward the horizon as they recede; objects above our eye level descend toward the horizon as they recede.
Relative size: Objects known or assumed to be of similar size appear to shrink in size with distance from the observer.
Texture gradient: Surface texture appears to get finer and smoother with distance from the observer.
Shading and shadows: Contrasts in light and dark can convey the shape, form and depth of objects.
Aerial perspective: Particles in the atmosphere affects the color and visual acuity of objects at varying distances from the observer; distant objects appear grayer or bluer and less distinct than nearer objects.
As we can see, scenes more often than not comprise a number of these depth cues operating simultaneously. Seeing how these depth cues occur in our real-life perception can aid our understanding of why things appear as they do, counter to what we know of the things we draw, which are often in conflict.