Seattle Workshop: Fall Edition

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I want to thank Gail Wong and all of the participants in our Line to Color workshop for a fun and stimulating weekend. For me, it was inspiring to see and feel the energy emanating from the group as we sped through downtown Fremont Saturday morning, settled into Gasworks Park in the afternoon, and then reconvened down at bustling Pike Place Market on Sunday, all the time being blessed with great weather and company. After a workshop it’s always difficult for me to gauge the impact of what two-and-a-half days of drawing can have but I did see a lot of progress and hope all who attended will continue to pursue and enjoy this creative activity.

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Being occupied with working with each of the participants, I didn’t have much time to draw on my own. But here a couple of very quick sketches. The first is one of my teaching sketches that I do to demonstrate how to block out a composition on a page.

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The second is a market scene where I dabbled with a waterbrush that I borrowed from Daniel, one of the participants, to see how the it might react with the ink lines. I kind of like the effect even though it’s quite subtle. The ease of creating gray washes with a waterbrush might be the first step toward incorporating color into my drawings.

 

A Brief History of Bookmaking

Following up on a previous post about the making of Green Building Illustrated, here is a brief history of my publications.

My first book, Architectural Graphics, was published 38 years ago, in 1975. Due to the efforts of Forrest Wilson, Van Nostrand Reinhold offered me a contract based on of over 400 pages of notes I had prepared for the very first class I taught at Ohio University. I still remember condensing those notes and handlettering and drawing the final camera-ready pages with a Scripto lead pencil, a triangle, and a scale. I completed all 128 pages in a little over three weeks. Here is a sample page.

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Building Construction Illustrated soon followed, using the same tools and process. But this time I worked on tabloid-size paper instead of letter-size bond paper. Interestingly, after a few years of complaints from bookstores, the pages were reduced to letter-size.

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Wanting to use more subtle hatching and shades of gray, I used a 0.3 mm lead pencil to handletter and draw the images on Clearprint vellum for the camera-ready pages of my third book—Architecture: Form, Space and Order. Here are a couple of screen shots for a visual comparison.

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My next post will describe the first time I used digital technology in my bookmaking.

Building Physical Models

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Seeing and drawing this humble hobby shop in Edmonds reminded me of how much I loved building models of all kinds—planes, trains, ships, and for a very brief time, even classical guitars. As you can see in this photo, I still have a few around.

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Despite the allure of digital models and fabrication techniques, we can still learn a lot by working with real materials with one’s own hands, feeling attributes such as weight, texture, and grain. Unlike digital models, real materials tell us if we try to make them do things that they are not capable of. And in assembling physical models, we learn that sequence is crucial to success. We can turn a physical model over, not in our heads as we sometimes do with drawings or on the computer monitor as we do with digital models, but in real space and in real time. One can examine materials and joinery closely one moment, and then look at the whole from a more objective distance the next.

I still have a few model kits, just in case I ever find myself with some free time and nothing better to do.

Watercolor Trials

I’m still unpacking from our recent move and in the seemingly never-ending process, I discovered this Christmas card I had done in the late 1960’s. It reminded me of how I would take a few minutes to hand-paint these, one at a time, and send them to family and friends as holiday greetings—in the pre-digital age.

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It seems that the majority of urban sketchers whose work I’ve seen use watercolors to render how they see their world and I sometimes yearn to incorporate watercolor again into my work. Yet I like the simplicity of a pen and paper and have not yet settled on a compact enough kit that is truly portable. Given the time, however, I periodically experiment with a very limited palette and the feel of a waterbrush. Here are a few of these experiments.

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Why I Like Drawing with a Fountain Pen

I usually sketch with a Lamy fountain pen, with the nib turned upside down for a finer line. When people ask me why, I tell them that I like the tactile feel of a nib as the wet ink flows through it onto paper. I like the fluidity, incisiveness, and decisiveness of ink lines. I like that I don’t have to press to make marks.

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There is no going back if some lines go astray, as they often do. I simply draw new lines over the old. I don’t heavy-up any lines until I am sure, and even then, only to emphasize spatial edges.

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If the surface of the paper is absorbent, the ink will bleed a little and the lines will be a bit thicker than I would want but I adjust. When drawing on smoother paper, I can draw with the finest lines. Here are a few sketches done on different types of paper.

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A Few of My Favorite Photos

Because I’m still busy trying to finish a book revision and completing our move to Fremont, I’m turning away from drawing for this post and sharing a few of my photos. This idea came to me as I was reading through a discussion on a photography website that started with the question: What is your favorite photo? This would be difficult for me to answer but there are several that stand out in my mind for various reasons.

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The first is of actors preparing for their Chinese opera performance in the city of Quanzhou, China. I was lucky to get this shot since it was taken at night without a flash.

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The second is looking along the edge of Orvieto as it rises from the Umbrian countryside on a large butte of volcanic tuff. The colors remind of a Renaissance painting.

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The third was taken in the early morning, looking down Via dei Cappellari as it leads toward the Campo de Fiori in Rome. I enjoy black-and-white photos, especially those that mimic old T-MAX 400 film.

While taking photographs is a completely different experience from drawing on location, they both serve similar ends—creating visual memories of family and friends, places and events. The difference may lie in that while a camera may capture moments in time, a drawing done on location extends and deepens our awareness of both time and place even as we immerse ourselves in the moment.

Foreseeing the Future

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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.

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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.

Surface and Depth

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We draw by dragging, pulling, or in some cases, pushing a pen, pencil, or brush across a receptive surface to make marks that represent what we see or envision. This is the magic of drawing, that the ink, graphite, or paint marks we create can call to mind what we have seen and experienced, or what we foresee as an imagined future.

Surface

Some drawings simply lay on the surface on which they are created and tend to be seen and appreciated as 2-dimensional graphics or paintings, viewed through a frame. Due to my training as an architect, however, my personal challenge has always been to overcome the flatness of the drawing surface and create the illusion of space and depth on the 2-dimensional plane.

Depth

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There are a host of visual depth cues, such as overlapping shapes and size differentiation, that I spoke of in a post from July of last year. Even when drawing 2-dimensional plans, sections, or elevations, we can use contrasting line weights, tonal values, or level of detail to imply depth.

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Of course, when drawing experiential views on location, we rely heavily on linear perspective to create the illusion of spatial depth. The convergence of parallel lines, along with the associated principles of size and texture perspective are powerful devices that convince that we are seeing through the paper surface into the depth of a drawing.

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Medium & Surface

 

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We recently purchased an Ingo Maurer-designed Zettel’z 5 Chandelier. The distinguishing feature of the fixture are the 80 stainless steel wires from which hang sheets of Japanese paper that direct and diffuse the light. So this past Saturday, when the Seattle UrbanSketchers met at St. James Cathedral for their monthly get-together, I set myself the task of doing some drawings on the thin translucent sheets that came with the chandelier kit.

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I soon found that ink bled on the paper so I had to adjust the way I drew—moving quickly and touching lightly for thinner strokes; proceeding more slowly and pausing even momentarily resulted in blotting.

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Because of the bleeding, I had to be very careful not to overdraw. Some of the blots you see are unintentional but simply part of the process, reflecting the interaction between medium and surface. I think they actually add character to the drawings.

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This was just another reminder that while the medium we choose may not affect the viewpoint we choose, it certainly affects the way we execute a drawing and the resulting graphic image.