Stepping away from drawing from location for a while, I want to mention design drawings—drawings designers use to initiate and develop ideas and make them visible so that they can be acted upon. Whether we start with orthographic views, such as plans, elevations, and sections, before moving on to 3-dimensional views, or we begin the design process with paraline and perspective drawings, we should move back and forth from 2D to 3D and have the confidence that our visualizations are dependable predictors of future outcomes.
In an actual project nearing completion, it is interesting to compare a design study created in SketchUp with a photo of the constructed space. While not exactly identical, these two images are similar except for nuances of color and material. This shows the usefulness of preliminary studies to reliably foresee the result of our design decisions. Of course, these studies include not only graphic representations but also study models and prototyping. But for efficiency of time and fluency of thought, it is difficult to beat the graphic tools at our disposal.
Some sketchers start by drawing a border and then filling in the frame. I prefer not to restrict my images to fit within a predetermined frame; my only size constraint is the page or two-page spread on which I’m drawing. And even then, I try to leave myself room for the drawing to develop and grow if necessary. For this reason, I tend to draw vignettes, images that fade into the background without a definite border.
You can see here how I typically start a drawing by roughly outlining the basic forms and establishing a skeletal structure upon which I can elaborate. Then, depending on how much time I have, I select what I want to focus on and develop those details, textures, and values. This approach allows me to leave parts of a drawing unfinished if pressed for time, especially when drawing on location.
Here is another example of how I’ve left portions of a drawing unfinished, allowing the viewer to fill in or sense the missing parts without those parts being actually drawn. Unfinished drawings, in fact, can often engage viewers by exercising their visual imagination.
Wanting to produce more drawings for the paper sheets illuminated in the Ingo Maurer-designed Zettel’z 5 Chandelier, I thought of adding Chinese characters that held some meaning to me and my family. Here are some of my initial experiments.
Despite my Chinese heritage, I do not speak, read or write Chinese. And I realize that trying to write in a language I cannot read nor comprehend can be dangerous, for a subtle change in a stroke here and a misplacement there could alter the meaning of a character, and possibly not in a good way.
Also, being left-handed, I cannot possess the natural inclinations of a right-handed calligrapher. Yet I admire Chinese calligraphy for its cultural significance and its visual beauty. I just hope I didn’t mangle the characters too much. After trying these, I realize Chinese calligraphy is an art form that cannot be learned quickly; it requires patience, practice, and a true understanding of the culture that nurtured it. All I can do is try to mimic the graphic qualities that I admire so much.
Back in January, I posted a piece on maintaining a delicate balance between a static state and one of dynamic disarray when composing a scene and laying it out on a page. Thinking about this subject again brought to mind the rule-of-thirds, a principle of composition that has been used for centuries by painters, photographers, and other artists.
We can visualize this principle by dividing our canvas or page into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines spaced equally apart.
The rule-of-thirds postulates that we should place points of interest at any of the four points of intersection or lay out important compositional elements along these lines. Applying the rule-of-thirds in these ways is supposed to create visual tension and an image that is more dynamic than one with the subject matter simply centered on the page.
Consider how moving the horizon line in these three compositions can affect how we perceive the same subject matter in subtle ways.
Of course, rules are alway subject to being broken but experimenting with the rule-of-thirds is a good first step before deciding to disregard it. Even when applying the rule-of-thirds, we should remember that it is not an exact rule to be applied in a precise manner. It merely serves as a guide.
The first decision we have to make is whether a composition is to be balanced in a symmetrical or asymmetrical manner. If the latter, then the rule-of-thirds can serve us well.
A group of Seattle UrbanSketchers enjoyed a crisp, sunny morning meet-up in Ballard last Friday with Sharon Bryant, who was visiting from Vermont. Here is a view of the building at the corner of Ballard Avenue NW and 22nd Avenue NW, which used to house the Guitar Emporium and is now the shop of Curtis Steiner. I find it difficult to describe Steiner’s work and so I will quote the headline and lead-in to an article from 2008 written by Tyrone Beason in the Seattle Times Pacific NW magazine:
“Artist and entrepreneur, Curtis Steiner shows us the value of objects ordinary or odd. Ballard gift-store owner Curtis Steiner applies his exquisite taste to both creating and finding things people will value as beautiful.”
If you are ever in Ballard, it is well worth a visit.
Once we have decided on the subject matter for a sketch and established a particular point of view, we should pay attention to the proportions of the conceived image. Some images may lend themselves to a square or nearly square format, others a vertical composition, and still others a horizontal layout.
At times, the nature of the image we are trying to capture can be odds with the proportions of the pages in our sketchbook. We shouldn’t allow this conflict to alter our intentions. In my next post, I will try to address the question of how to compose the image on the page.
A question that is often asked is: How do I start a drawing? Where do I start? The very first step, before even touching pen to paper, is selecting the subject matter and mentally composing the image—deciding what will be included and what excluded from the scene before us. Will we zoom in on a part of a building, capture one of its interior spaces, or focus on one of its details? Do we see the building merely as an object? Will we try to place a building in its context? Or will we try to capture the life of a street or square with the architecture serving as a container or backdrop?
• Interior space
• Building as object
• Buildings in context
• The life of an urban space
Even though it’s a typically chilly and rainy winter in Seattle, what better time to study the branch structure of trees. For these stark, black-and-white images, I used a Tombow brush pen.
While I could have relied on my memory or imagination to draw these, I find that the raw material provided by real-life patterns have a specificity that is more compelling than the stereotypical views that we store in our memory bank, and they are much easier to compose and interpret.
As we decide how we are going to compose a scene and lay it out on a page, we are juggling drawing elements to maintain a delicate balance between a static state and one of dynamic disarray. The elements that we balance are points of interest that draw the eye—an area of contrasting tone or increased line weights, a level of enhanced detail, even a field of emptiness. Here are a few examples of different ways of maintaining a delicate balance in a drawing composition.
When we want to emphasize the stability or serenity of the subject matter, we can use a symmetrical layout and still introduce visual tension through contrast.
For more dynamic compositions, we can offset one or more points of interest in an asymmetrical composition that leads the eye. We can emphasize height by raising the composition on the page or lead the eye by placing the central point of interest to the left or the right.
In the end, what we should strive for is a delicate balance that engages the eye and never lets it stray off the page.
I have often dreamed of writing and illustrating a children’s book, or at a larger scale maybe even a graphic novel. Always stopping me, however, was the lack of a genuine story to be told, a narrative with emotional and intellectual content. Technique, no matter how well developed, could only carry me so far.
That is why drawing on location suits me. Instead of having to create imaginary settings and characters, I can rely on the visual stimuli derived from direct observation. Real settings that can be experienced in a straightforward manner provide the raw material for my sketches, which I can then interpret in a purely descriptive manner or alter to suit my temperament.
This view of the train leaving O-Okayama for Tokyo is from real life, but even when drawing from a photograph, which lacks the immediacy of drawing on location, the visual information provides a starting point for thinking about and responding in a graphic manner. It’s a matter of fiction versus reality and I imagine even a lot of fiction is based on personal experiences, perceptions, and insights.
Behind each of these sketches lies a possible story. Maybe some day, if I am fortunate enough, I will be able to knit these into a more compelling one.