The several times I had the privilege of teaching in the University of Washington’s Architecture in Rome program, I asked my students to keep a journal during the semester to record and document their history walks, field trips, and design studio work. To try and set an example, I kept my own sketchbook along with them. Here are a few sample pages showing how my drawings changed due to the passage of time as well as how my trusty Lamy fountain pen interacted with the different types of paper I used.
The Seattle Urban Sketchers group met at the Lenin stature in the Fremont neighborhood this past Sunday morning. Despite the, for Seattle, hot sun and extremely warm temperature, I managed to find a shady spot from which to draw this view along the alley between North 35th and North 36th Streets.
Alleys are interesting places. In addition to serving as conduits for goods and services, they provide more intimate views of the back sides of buildings and other structures, which we mostly see from their more public fronts.
If you look closely, you will notice the stray lines that indicate my several attempts to get the building forms in proper proportion, relative to the width of the view. It’s important to realize that it is extremely difficult to execute a drawing without any of these stray lines unless one draws first in pencil before inking over and erasing the pencil lines. I prefer using only ink and letting the process of building a drawing show through.
When I purchased my first iPad 5 years ago, I was excited to try out various drawing apps designed for the digital tablet. Disappointed with the lag time and feel of the styli available at the time, I resorted to drawing with my finger instead. At first, it was liberating to sketch so loosely but I soon returned to drawing with a fountain pen on real paper. I missed the feel of a metal nib flowing liquid ink onto a paper surface.
Hearing about the new Apple Pencil, I decided to try it out with the Procreate app. Here are a few examples.
I found that while the Apple Pencil had less lag and better “feel” than other styli I have tired, there was no doubt that I was drawing on a glass surface. Also, while the iPad has good palm rejection technology, I still inadvertently touched certain menus and options while drawing in the Procreate app, causing unintentional effects to occur randomly. Even so, realizing that I am not using all of the drawing app’s capabilities, I’m resolved to continue to experiment with the new media.
Having filled one sketchbook, I pulled a new one off the shelf to do this drawing. In beginning, I was instantly reminded of how the change from an absorbent surface to one treated with sizing affects the quality of lines from a fountain pen. Where I was used to being more tentative with thicker lines in my last sketchbook, I had to be more insistent with the thinner, lighter lines on the Moleskin paper.
This view is typical of the shipbuilding and related industries fronting the Ship Canal in the area between Fremont and Ballard, which some people are calling Freelard. I decided to begin with the barbed-wire-topped chain link fence and blackberry bushes that separated me on the street from what I was viewing, a ship under construction. The drawing ended up being more of a vignette than I had intended but that is the nature of sketching. Like a conversation, the drawing process can often lead to unexpected results.
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.
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.
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.
I did this sketch to help publicize a one-day workshop Gail Wong and I will be offering in Mt. Vernon on Saturday, April 20th. Mt. Vernon is an enchanting small town in Skagit County north of Seattle and the Mt. Vernon Downtown Association is hosting the event.
Full disclosure: Due to constraints of time and weather I drew this scene from a digital photograph that was sent to me. I soon realized that drawing from a photo can actually be more difficult than drawing on location. In a 3D environment, we are able to perceive much more than in a 2D photograph. We can shift our gaze, if necessary, to uncover certain details or to see more clearly things that might be hidden or obscured. And we are free to interpret the 3-dimensional information before us. But in a photograph, everything is frozen, including ambiguities that have to be resolved.
Another note: The Namiki Falcon fountain pen is known for its flexible nib. While it is a joy to draw with, I rarely carry the pen for fear of losing it. But since I was in my home office, I took the opportunity to use it for this sketch. The Namiki Falcon is not inexpensive but still it is a reasonably priced introduction to fine quality fountain pens. Highly recommended.
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.
The line is the essence of drawing. It is a humble element, made simply by the tip of a pen or pencil as we move it across a receptive surface. Once drawn, a line chronicles the movement by which it was created. It can describe contour and shape, even texture.
More importantly, the line is able to convey to the mind’s eye three-dimensional forms in space, often not by its presence but rather by its absence—where we decide to stop a contour…and pick it up again.
These sketches of sculptures in and around Rome and Naples are prime examples of this amazing power of drawn lines to suggest what in reality is not present on the page.
In 1995, my wife and I left the kids behind to travel to Italy, working our way from Varenna on Lake Como to Florence, Cinque Terra, Siena, San Gimignano and Assissi. We had intended to also spend some time in Rome but we found Assissi to be such a spiritually relaxing place that we decided to spend our last few days in Italy at this country house just outside the city walls.
Continuing to employ the contour drawing style I had used in Japan, I made generous use of white space to imply the foreground and draw attention to the main house beyond. Contour drawing requires working from part to part and seeing how shapes and details fit into a larger pattern. Because I was drawing with a fountain pen, I used dots to help me visualize the placement of the image on the page and to work out the roof forms before I started drawing the contours.
It is interesting that later, in teaching drawing, I advocate a more structural approach based on analysing geometric forms and their spatial relationships. As the years go by, I find myself using a combination of the two approaches, as seen in these studies of the Pantheon done a few years later.