Notebooks, sketchbooks, journals… whatever one chooses to call these bound collections of pages, they all provide a physical sense of permanence and chronology and, in use, they become a repository of images and writings capable of reminding us of where we have been, what we have seen, and what we have experienced. But even as we acknowledge the pleasure of perusing these collections, we should also appreciate the process by which they are made. No single page in a journal is precious; not all pages must be perfect. In the act of making visible our experiences, reflections, and discoveries, we become more sensitive to and connected with our surroundings, expand our visual memories, and stimulate our imagination.
I returned to McGraw Square last week but instead of finishing my original sketch, I decided to annotate it and to redraw the square from a different perspective. I simply moved back about eight feet from my original position and in doing so, dramatically altered both the field of view and the drawing composition. This illustrates how the decision about where to position oneself is an important one when drawing on location and should not be taken lightly.
I took the bus downtown a couple of weeks ago to do this drawing of McGraw Square, where 5th Avenue meets Stewart Street and Olive Way. My intention was to document an intersection where various modes of transportation converged—the elevated Monorail that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and still travels a mile from Westlake Center to Seattle Center; the South Lake Union Streetcar line that runs 1.3 miles from this terminus to the south end of Lake Union; and the multiple buses routes that run east-west along Stewart Street. In addition, of course, there are all of the cars and pedestrians making their way through the downtown corridor.
But sometimes, things don’t work out as planned. Even though it was a fairly pleasant day, I just didn’t have the proper state of mind to finish the drawing. That’s okay. I intend to go back and finish it the next time clear weather is in the forecast.
On what turned out to be a beautiful Sunday morning after a few cloudy, showery days, the Seattle Urban Sketchers group met in the upper Queen Anne neighborhood just north of downtown. As I was viewing the subject of my first sketch, Nana’s Mexican Family Restaurant, I realized that the scene presented a multitude of details that would overwhelm the eye. I therefore chose to draw very selectively, leaving a lot of white space for the imagination to fill. This approach required the selection of a dominant element—in this case, the sign above the sidewalk—and then proceeding so that the drawing would lead the eye from one area of interest to the next. The key is never to lead the eye off the page.
I used a similar approach for the remaining two drawings I was able to do during the morning session.
Perusing my sketchbooks, one might discover many small notational drawings that I have used to understand and represent certain aspects of the places visited. When drawing from observation, we can capture not only what the eye perceives but also what the mind conceives. We can use the drawing process to think about, visualize, and explore in imagined and imaginary ways the conceptual basis for the environments we see and experience. These notational drawings may be simple plan or section diagrams or more complex three-dimensional studies but in all cases, they attempt to encapsulate the essence of a place or structure.
The Hotel Hotel Hostel is an example of a healthy renewal and reuse of an existing piece of urban fabric in the center of a vibrant neighborhood, within easy walking distance to shops, restaurants, and buses. Established in 2011, the hostel offers reasonably priced accommodations in Fremont, ranging from private rooms with private baths to private rooms and dorm rooms with shared baths. In addition, there’s a fully equipped kitchen and TV room to share and a pizza bar on the street level.
Check out their website at <http://hotelhotel.co/hotel_hotel_hostel> for more info.
I am sometimes asked what my favorite work of architecture is. Rather than name a historic or popular icon, I usually respond by saying that I like buildings that help build neighborhoods and communities. But if pressed to name one, I can only narrow the list down to two: the Pantheon in Rome and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Both are ideal in conception and outlook but also enduringly attractive in the way they have aged and adapted to different uses over the centuries. It is only over time that any design can be truly evaluated for its worthiness.
This office building at 3500 First Avenue Northwest reminds me of the formal, geometric modernism of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates and other firms from the 1970s. I was told that Barney Vemo designed and built the structure in that same time period. After walking by this place many times, what I recall in my mind’s eye are these fragments that I drew, not the entirety of the whole as shown in the photograph taken from across the street.
Sometimes, visual memories of places consist of single, iconic images. Think of the Pantheon in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. At other times, what we remember consists more of a collage of partial views rather than an image of the whole.
Thanks to all the participants in the Line to Color workshop Gail Wong and I led this past weekend in the Fremont neighborhood and Gasworks Park in Seattle. We appreciated the energy and willingness of everyone to endure the less than ideal weather conditions to draw and paint this weekend. When sketching while traveling or simply out and about, we often cannot control how hot, cold, or wet it is. We can only do the best we can.
After drawing on location for so long, I sometimes forget what it is like to be a beginner. More than a few participants mentioned how mentally tiring it was to draw all day, which, in thinking about it, shouldn’t have surprised me. Drawing, and the seeing it requires, does take effort, especially for beginners struggling to resolve the difference between what we know about something and how it might appear to the eye.
During these workshops, Gail and I rarely have the time to do any drawings of our own except for the quick demos we may do in our sketchbooks as we work with each of the participants one on one. Yesterday, to wrap up the workshop, we gathered at Seattle Center for a final session and I finally had the time to do a couple of sketches. The first is the view looking out from under the canopy at the base of the Space Needle, and the second is a contour line drawing of Space Bloom, an installation that combines art, science, and technology to enable the floral sculptures to sing and dance throughout the year.