This past weekend, the Seattle Urban Sketchers met at Gas Works Park to mark the 10-year anniversary of when Gabi Campanario organized the first meet-up at Fishermen’s Terminal, back in June of 2009. Here’s a wide-angle view of the park, looking toward downtown Seattle. I composed the view so that the space needle could be seen amid the pipework. Below is a close-up view of remnants of the original coal gasification equipment.
I drew this view from a rootop terrace on the southwest corner of 4th and University Avenues. It depicts buildings from three different periods of Seattle’s downtown development. On the right is Minoru Yamasaki’s iconic Rainier Tower of 1977. To the left is the Cobb Building, a brick-and-terra cotta Beaux-Arts design by the New York firm of Howells and Stokes, which was completed in 1907. And in the background undergoing construction is a new 58-story mixed use tower by NBBJ.
Below is another view of the terra cotta ornamentation atop the Cobb Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original market structure built in 1917 at 1426 1st Avenue, across from the entranceway to Pike Place Market, was transformed in 1939 by Bjarne H. Moe, who designed the art-deco interior of the theater and added this marquee out front. Over the past six decades, the theater has provided a venue for musical acts from Vaudeville and jazz to grunge and hip-hop.
In 2018, Vancouver, BC-based Onni Group bought the property and announced plans to demolish the building and replace it with a 44-story residential tower. That same year, local preservation groups organized a campaign to secure a landmark nomination in an effort to save the Showbox. The Seattle City Council recently voted unanimously to extend temporarily the Pike Place Historic District to include the original Showbox building. This has, for a time, protected the building from demolition.
These two views can be seen approaching Red Square, the central plaza on the University of Washington campus. The first uses the statue of George Washington to establish the foreground, with Suzzallo Library establishing depth in the background. The bronze sculpture was commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and sculpted by Lorado Taft for the Alaska Yukon Expedition of 1909.
In the second view, the elaboration of the Suzzallo Library facade draws the viewer through the space between Odegaard Undergraduate Library into the scene and Meany Hall, up a broad stairway, and into Red Square.
Still waiting for the opportunity to draw the upper level of the Alaskan Way Viaduct being broken through. In the meantime, here is a drawing done in 1990 of a shrine in Jiyugaoka, a small town west of Tokyo. The composition consists of an interplay of positive and negative shapes and spaces, which interlock to form a unified image. In one instance, we can discern the edge of a tree trunk on the left and the outline of a torii on the right. At the next moment, we can focus on the details of the shrine itself as seen between the white spaces in the foreground.
A question often asked is how to begin a drawing on location. Once we have selected a point of view and mentally composed the picture, one way to begin is to select a vertical plane in the scene, which can be the facade of a building or a wall of an interior space, and drawing this plane before delineating the horizon line—our eye level—relative to that plane.
It is important to properly size and locate this vertical plane relative to the page or sheet of paper to ensure that the entirety of the intended image will fit. If the initial plane is drawn too large, we may have to crop some of the intended image or worse, we might be tempted to alter the proportions of the scene to fit the page. Also, if the vertical plane is placed too far to the left or right, or too high or low on the page, the resulting composition may be distorted.
The initial vertical plane need not be a physical one. It can also be a virtual one, such as the cross section of a church nave or the width of a street.
Once we have decided on the subject matter for a sketch and established a particular point of view, we turn our attention to framing and composing the view on the page. A useful guide about which I had posted five years ago is the rule of thirds. Many photographers are familiar with this strategy of divided the image field into nine equal parts with two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines, and placing points of interest at any of the points of intersection or laying out important compositional elements along any of the horizontal or vertical lines.
Overlaying this grid of thirds onto the above drawing shows how the plane of the porta is placed at the upper left intersection and is balanced by the element on the right.
Here are two drawings, both of which use a horizontal line as the basis for the composition. One is along the lower third to emphasize the view upward while the other is on the upper third to show the foreground and convey a greater distance between the viewer and what is viewed.
In this drawing, both a horizontal and a vertical grid line serve to organize the urban scene.
Of course, the rule of thirds is not a precise method for placing compositional elements. Rather, the general idea is to place important points of interest off-center to create greater visual tension and more dynamic compositions.
And sometimes, the scene requires accommodating multiple centers of interest that draw the eye into and around a drawing.
Once we have decided on the subject for a sketch—a scene, a building, or a fragment of a building—the next step is an important one in which we search for a vantage point from which to view and capture the subject. In so doing, we are in effect organizing the visual elements and focus of the drawing composition. Moving one way or another alters our viewpoint and thus the way the compositional elements relate to each other on the page.
And so, deciding where to stand or sit should be more than a matter of convenience or comfort. Rather, it should be determined by the composition a particular viewpoint offers. To illustrate, here are three different views of the main reading room of Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus, a beautiful example of Collegiate Gothic architecture.
Here is a view of the interior of Trinity Church in Boston, showing how the sanctuary occupies one arm of the Greek-cross plan while the congregation occupies the airy crossing and the other three arms. Here is a video clip of the drawing process.
Being in Boston for a drawing workshop—sponsored by Suffolk University and hosted by Sandro Carella—gave me the opportunity to take another look at Trinity Church. A National Historic Landmark, the H. H. Richardson design is recognized as a masterpiece of American architecture. Although the parish was founded in 1733, it was more than 150 years before the current church was built on land-filled marshes in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
Richardson replaced his initial idea of a Gothic Revival church with a Greek-cross auditorium plan that expresses the emerging, inclusive nature of American congregational practice, as inspired by the preaching of Phillips Brooks, Trinity’s Rector at the time of the building’s design and construction.
Despite its landmark status, Trinity Church is not a museum but rather it remains a place of worship and service where Christians and visitors gather on a daily basis.