Near, Middle, Far

In this view of an art museum in Palermo, I am looking from an upper level, through a staircase in the middle ground, to a courtyard beyond. To convey a sense of spatial depth on the page, I attempted to use relative values and value contrast to suggest what is near, clarifying what is in the middle ground, and again merely suggesting what is far away. In the image below, I have stripped away the color to show the equivalent gray values of the sketch.

Projection: A Search for Meaning

The above image and following quote is from Drawing: A Creative Process.

“Merely looking at an apparently amorphous pattern can sometimes bring to a…searching mind a more specific image. In its search for meaning, the mind’s eye imagines and appears to project familiar images onto seemingly shapeless patterns until it finds a match that makes sense.” This recalls the familiar search for something recognizable when looking up at cloud formations.

The new year’s image I posted recently used as a backdrop this pattern that developed as I mixed and tested watercolors on a piece of paper. While squinting at that same colorful pattern, I can begin to “see” certain images. The following are two of several possibilities. What else can you see in these patterns?

The Pantheon

The combined effects of the ongoing pandemic and current cold, rainy weather have made it increasingly difficult to leave the home office to go out to draw. So it’s a good time to explore new ways of working. Just as with the portrait of Istanbul posted previously, this familiar view of the Pantheon in the historic center of Rome was created through a hybrid process involving a watercolor underpainting, scanned and imported onto my iPad, and using the Procreate app to draw over the watercolor image.

Keep in mind that using a photograph as a reference is very much different from drawing on location, from direct observation. A photograph captures a moment in time and reflects the processing that flattens out three-dimensional data onto a two-dimensional surface. A drawing done on location, such as the view above, takes longer to execute and involves our senses, especially that of active seeing.

But in both cases, like a conversation, we do not know precisely where the drawing or painting process will lead. Even though we may have an objective in mind when we begin to draw, the sketch itself takes on a life of its own as it evolves on paper and we have to be open to the possibilities the emerging image suggests.

Visual Notes

Drawing not only involves capturing what we see or imagine in graphic terms. Indeed, while drawing on location, from direct observation, we can also notice and take notes as well. Here are a few examples from my sketchbooks. These observations may entail written information, word diagrams, and visual notes.

Analog Dials & Digital Tuning

I remember a time when radios had an analog dial for tuning. To tune to a certain station, we had to turn a knob to align a moving hand with the desired frequency on a linear or circular dial. We had to rotate the knob back and forth and listen as the signal would get louder the closer we got to the desired station’s frequency, then get softer as we went past that point, and then back again to when the signal was loudest. The goal was to hone in gradually on that sweet spot where the signal was clearest and strongest.

Today, of course, with digital tuners, we simply have to scan and look at digital readouts. If a station has a frequency of 98.1, you merely dial that number in. Boom. Done.

I think of this comparison of analog dials and digital tuners as a way of contrasting the precision of digital vector graphics with the suggestive power of a hand drawing, which requires a tactile feel along with a lot of judgment about how what we draw matches up with what we actually see. if you look closely at the drawing of the Seattle Central Library above, you will see the multiple attempts I made to get the proportions of the Rem Koolhaas/OMA-designed building right. Each attempt was a turn of the virtual tuning knob until I reached the desired frequency.

Seeing is Subjective

What do we see when we look out upon a scene we are about to draw? This has often been a question on my mind during workshops that I have taught. I suspect that when two of us stand side-by-side and gaze outward in the same direction, we might not see the same things. And even it we did, we might not be seeing those things in the same way.

This is not an argument for getting everyone to see the same things in the same way, and therefore, producing identical drawings of a scene. Seeing is subjective, influenced by our individual interests, experiences, and what each of us expect or believe to be “out there.” And in some sense, what you actually see is always going to seem to be unknowable to me, except through your drawings.

Good Bones

I am reposting something from six years ago: To begin a drawing done on location, we must first select an advantageous viewpoint that conveys a sense of place and frame the composition to fit on the page. Then, a crucial step is establishing the “bones” of the drawing—its basic structure—with the first lines we draw. For some views only a few lines may be necessary while for others, more might be required. 

It is essential to understand that once this structure is established, changes can still be made to calibrate scale, improve proportional relationships, and adjust the positioning of elements. Drawing these first few lines is simply a way to block out the essential relationships on a page quickly, before expending too much time on a drawing only to find out that a portion might be misplaced or is out of proportion to the rest of the composition.

Here is an example—a very quick outline of a view of the Campo in Siena. With more time and better weather, I might have finished it but I think it is possible to see and visualize the space even in this incomplete state.

An Appeal

I accidentally deleted an email sent to me, I believe, from Augsburg. The sender was inquiring about a spherical perspective similar to the one shown above that I drew of Athens, Ohio, in 1976. The daughter, an art student, might be following this blog, and if so, I hope she will ask the sender to resend the email l so that I can respond properly. Thank you!