Almost all drawing is memory drawing—drawing from memory. Even when drawing on location, as soon as we turn our gaze from the subject of our drawing to the page, we rely on our visual memory of what we have seen to be able to project this image onto the page and to draw it. Nurturing this ability to see, scan, visualize, project, and draw takes time and practice. But once we are comfortable with the process, drawing from observation will become that much more fluid.
Before the advent of computer graphics, meeting lines deliberately at a corner had long been a maxim in the manual drafting of architectural and engineering documents. This may appear to be a minor detail, but in freehand drawing—from direct observation—how lines meet, or not meet, can convey much about the nature of the forms we are capturing.
Take, for example, the drawings above, where meeting lines at corners can convey a crispness of planes and edges of volumes.
On the other hand, not meeting lines can convey the softness of curves and curvilinear forms, as in the sculpted nature of a marble bust or the contours of a landscape.
At times, the deliberate gaps between lines can merely suggest a form or create context without calling too much attention and detracting from the focus of a drawing.
In shifting our gaze from the subject before us to the paper surface with pen in hand, we must be able to hold the seen image in our head and recreate it on paper. Oftentimes, this translation can result in faulty proportions, as in this drawing of Michelangelo’s Moses in S. Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome. You will notice that I made a couple of attempts at getting the length of the lower right leg to match what I believed I saw in Michelangelo’s sculpture. This is an example of how the process of drawing from observation requires continually assessing whether the proportions and scale of the drawn image matches those of what is seen—a matter of trial and error.
Above is another example, where, beneath the gridded facets, you might be able to see my initial attempts in roughing out the forms of the Seattle Central Library by OMA/Koolaus. Initially, I drew the forms too narrowly given the building’s height. I kept increasing the width as the drawing developed. In looking at the drawing now, it seems that it could be wider still.
This a line drawing of the Danube, one of the Four River Gods in Bernini’s fountain in Rome’s Piazza Navona. The line is the quintessential element of drawing, 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 cropped enlargements of the original drawing use areas of black to emphasize the negative spaces of the drawing and the white of the sculpture. This brings to mind notan, the Japanese term for “light dark;” some translate it as “light dark harmony.” It is a concept revolving around the placement and interplay of light and dark elements in the composition of a collage, drawing, or painting. It is valued as a way to study possible compositions without the distractions of color, texture, or details.
From a Rome journal, two pages of sketches drawn during a teaching session. The first page contains explanatory sketches accompanied by bits of concise text: “Pay attention to profiles”…“Suggest details within shadows”…“Visualize shape of curves.”
The second page illustrates how to estimate proportional heights above and below an imagined horizon line.
Around ten years ago, I posted a few drawings from a journal I kept during a month’s stay in Japan in 1990. Wiley subsequently published a facsimile in 2000, Sketches from Japan, which is now out-of-print. Here are a few more pages from that journal, all drawn with a Mont Blanc fountain pen and using a contour line approach to the subject matter. The page above contains details that caught my eye as I walked the streets of O-Okayama. Below are a couple more street scenes of O-Okayama, a suburb of Tokyo where the Tokyo Institute of Technology is located.
The Seattle Urban Sketchers group met this past Sunday at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (aka Ballard Locks), which separates the fresh waters of Lake Union and Lake Washington to the east from the tidal waters of Puget Sound to the west. We’ve met here before, in August of 2019. This time, I chose to draw the larger of the two locks, beginning when it was closed and ending with it open and accepting vessels small and large, in from the west. Because of the constant movement, it was possible to merely suggest the boat traffic.
Part of the Ballard Locks complex is the Carl S. English Botanical Garden, in which is sited what is known as the Cavanaugh House, named “in honor of Colonel James B. Cavanaugh, Seattle District Engineer from August 1911 to May 1917, construction years of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.” The house was renovated in 1966 to become the official residence of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Chief Engineer during their 3-year tenure in the Seattle District.
Looking back at a few sketches done five years ago. Above is a view of the Pier 86 Grain Terminal along the Seattle waterfront. Below are the iconic and Glass Museum and the Old City Hall in downtown Tacoma.
Being able to listen, absorb, and process information during a lecture or conference is a valuable skill, one that can be practiced and cultivated by taking notes by hand. These notes can often be augmented with word diagrams and visual imagery that come to mind to reinforce points being made or expressing one’s understanding of what is being said. Here are a few pages of notes I took during a Design Communication Conference in 2018. See also my posts on 10.30.16 and 10.14.20 on the similar subject of taking visual notes.
It has been 12 years since Gabi Campanario, the Seattle Sketcher and founder of the urban sketching movement, organized the very first meet-up of Seattle urban sketchers. To mark this anniversary, the Seattle group met again this past Sunday at Fishermen’s Terminal. It was perhaps the largest gathering we’ve ever had.
Above are two drawings that I did on Sunday, both of which I composed to include the Fishermen’s Terminal sign and tower in the background of the fishing vessels.