Building Physical Models


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.


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.

Edmonds, Washington

There was a large turnout yesterday for the monthly Seatttle UrbanSketchers meet-up in Edmonds, Washington. The weather was typical of an early Seattle summer day, overcast with a few sprinkles here and there, evidence of which you can see in my sketches. The first drawing I did was of the Edmonds town center, where Main Street meets 5th Avenue, featuring pavement stripes spiraling outward from a fountain and sculpture in the middle of the intersection. In the drawing, Main Street moves from left to right as it heads westward to the ferry dock, where Washington State ferries make their run across Puget Sound to the town of Kingston on the Olympic Peninsula.


After this first contextual view, I spent what time I had left focusing on a couple of fragments in the downtown area.

Edmonds2 Edmonds3

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.


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.


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.


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.

Thick Thin2

RAIC College of Fellows

Last Friday evening, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), as part of their annual Festival of Architecture, held a convocation for its College of Fellows at the Canadian Museum of Immigration on Pier 21 in Halifax. Here is a sketch I did as I sat in the rear of the hall, watching as a new group of members were installed as RAIC Fellows.


The event reminded me that in this age when viral and often transitory moments dominate our consciousness, there still remains a place for tradition and stability in our lives, just as buildings still require a strong and stable foundation, even though hidden from view, upon which the newest forms and fads can be erected.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

On Tuesday, I flew from the west coast of North America to the extreme east coast to arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I’m attending the Festival of Architecture, the annual conference of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Before my workshop sessions begin, I’m finding the time to walk around the waterfront district and do some sketching. Here are three views: one of the waterfront, another of the Halifax City Hall built in the late-19th century, and the last, a panoramic view from the Halifax Citadel.