In the community of urban sketchers, architects are sometimes viewed as practiced in drawing buildings but not as adept at drawing people. While my focus is usually on capturing architecture and spatial environments, the drawing of people is often required to give scale to spaces and animate the places I try to capture in my work. And when drawing portraits, sometimes I am lucky enough to capture the personality of an individual with just a few well-placed strokes. At other times, I struggle and make people look younger or older than they really are.
The human face and body are difficult to draw, much more difficult than drawing architecture. Except for the cartoonists who are able to distort salient characteristics to emphasize the personality being caricatured, most of us can easily fall prey to mistakes in proportion and unintentionally distort our subjects. Still, drawing people is often necessary and always a challenge to draw. Good practice subjects are classical sculptures because they don’t move around as you try to draw them.
Last Sunday, I attended a book signing by Gabi Campanario at Elliott Bay Books in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. In addition to The Art of Urban Sketching, the event featured two more of Gabi’s recent publications. The first is Seattle Sketcher, based on Gabi’s exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry highlighting his five years of work documenting the people, places, and events in the Pacific Northwest for the Seattle Times. The second is the first in a series of more focused urban sketching handbooks, Architecture and Cityscapes: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location. Both are highly recommended.
During the cool, gray days of Seattle’s fall season, we have to find interesting indoor places to draw. Yesterday afternoon, I chose Fremont Brewing’s Urban Beer Garden. The combination of an informal atmosphere and a large variety of artisanal brews makes this a great place to spend some time on a rainy day. And when the sun’s out, especially in the summertime, the space spills outward with long tables and communal seating. Fremont Brewing will soon be moving to a larger brewing facility closer to Ballard but will retain this space as a lab and experimental brewery.
This is a view of the converted industrial space that I drew while enjoying a pint of FB’s Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop pale ale. I first sketched in a rough outline of the major forms and elements and then overlaid the people before filling in some of the details. I’m realizing more and more that my views are tending to be panoramic in nature just as my taste in camera lenses leans toward the wide angle rather than the telephoto.
A few weeks back, I had posted this view of the Fremont Public Library. While it shows the architectural appearance of the structure, it says little about where it is—its context. The structure could be in many different places. There is nothing in the drawing to suggest where it is located.
During a break in the rainy weather on Friday, I stopped to draw this view. While it doesn’t capture the frontal appearance of the library, it does show a bit more of how the it is situated in the city of Seattle. In the background, you can see the Aurora Bridge. To the right foreground is the A.B. Ernst Park, and on the righthand edge is the profile of the building to the north. The bottom line is that it is often difficult, if not impossible, for any single drawing to tell the story of a place.
Yesterday at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Urban Sketchers group, I drew this view while sitting in the corner park at East Pine and Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, looking toward the Broadway Performance Hall and Seattle Central Community College. This scene attracted me because of the way the trees in the park filtered the view of the buildings beyond. I began by first drawing the building forms and then worked from back to front, adding elements such as the fencing, the ground terracing, and the sculpture by Charles Smith. I then drew the tree trunks and foliage. Finally, I went back to fill in the details and texture that I could see through the trees.
I think that it’s okay in a sketch like this to draw over previously drawn elements and even be a little messy as long as the lines are lightly drawn. It’s when we add details and darken certain lines that we should pay attention to which elements overlap others. I believe the resulting transparency of the drawing helps convey the depth of the space.
Here are a few sketches I did when attending another stimulating Design Communication Association conference held at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. The first are views from Marietta town square; the second is of SPSU’s architecture building; and the third was done during a tour of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, showing Richard Meier’s building but not Renzo Piano’s addition that creates a piazza beyond.
The Seattle Urban Sketchers met last Sunday at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Since I had already sketched there a number of times, I was looking for a new vantage point and found one at the southern end overlooking the waterfront. The panorama begins with downtown Seattle on the left, moves north along the waterfront, and ends with a view of Magnolia on the right. To the right of center stands the newest addition to the park, Echo, a 46-foot tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.
The first sketch is a quick study of the overall composition I did before attempting the final drawing. Because there was too much visual information for the small two-page spread, I had to abstract quite a bit of what I saw.
Often when traveling with a small group, we don’t have an hour or more to do a drawing. So if we want to capture a scene, we have to be able to draw quickly. My strategy is to first establish the structure of the overall composition and then, depending on the amount of time available, add whatever details I can to try to capture the spirit of a place. While drawing these very quick 10- to 20-minute sketches in Rio de Janeiro, I was accompanied by my friend and fellow urban sketcher Norberto Dorantes of Buenos Aires, who is a master of flowing lines.
Many thanks to Glaucia Augusto Fonseca for being such a gracious and generous host during our short visit to Rio de Janeiro. The setting for the city is truly stunning.
On the last day of the Tacoma Line to Color Workshop this past weekend, we gathered at Stadium High School for an informal sketch crawl. This historic landmark, designed by Hewitt and Hewitt for the Northern Pacific Railway Company in 1891, was intended to be a luxury hotel but became instead a storage facility as a result of the Panic of 1893. After a fire in 1898 gutted the building, the Tacoma School District purchased the structure, which was renovated according to plans by the Federick Heath. Bassetti Architects and Merrit Pardini Architects undertook a major renovation, historic renovation, and seismic upgrade in 2005.
Thanks to my co-teacher Gail Wong and all of the participants in the workshop who endured a lot of hard work facing challenging scenes but displayed amazing progress over the course of the weekend. Their love of drawing and the wealth of sketching sites offered by Tacoma made the weekend both enjoyable and gratifying.