Sketching Essentials in Graphite

 It already seems like a while ago that I was in Denver filming my new course on "Sketching Essentials," probably because I've been so wrapped up developing drawings for my next book. But the course is attracting a lot of folks, and it's been fun answering their questions and discussing their work. The platform that Craftsy has created for administering courses is really nice - you can watch the video segments whenever you like, and as many times as you like, and there are easy-to-use tools for asking questions, uploading your sketches, and participating in discussions.
The course was created with all levels of sketchers in mind. It's probably most clearly directed at people who are just beginning to learn, but I firmly believe that you never get "too good" to focus on the fundamentals of any skill. To the contrary, the people I admire most - in just about any field - are those who have made the fundamentals of their craft central to what they do. I hope that, in some small way, this course helps all kinds of sketchers to develop their abilities.
So if you or someone you know is interested, please click the link here and watch the overview video to get a taste of what the course is all about. Then join up, and start sketching!


New Book!

One of my new books just arrived! It's being printed by three different publishers - Barron's Educational here in the US, and Search Press as well as New Burlington Books in the UK - and each one is apparently producing its own version, with a different title and a different format. They're all really nice, high-quality books ... though, if I had to pick a format I like best, I'd go with the Search Press version, which has cover flaps with a couple of my watercolors on them. But really, I'm thrilled about all three. I'll have to update this post, or create a new one, when I know where these will be available online. I think Barron's has a pre-order page up on Amazon already, saying it will be available March 1, but I'm not sure about the other publishers.

It's great to have this one done, as it was a LOT of work over the past several months. My most sincere thanks go to all the fantastic artists who contributed their work: A.Rmyth, Florian Afflerbach, Eduardo Bajzek, Shari Blaukopf, Marianne Campolongo, Daniel Castro Alonso, Cristina Curto, Elena Elisseeva, Arno Hartmann, Miguel Herranz, Omar Jaramillo, Richard Johnson, Stuart Kerr, Lapin, Gerard Michel, Hans Muerkins, Brenda Murray, Keith Nevens, Olgysha, Ana Rojo, Maarten Ruijters, Luis Ruiz, Pete Scully, Sharon Smart, Pat Southern-Pearce, Liz Steel, Christian Tribastone, Alexandre Veron, Nathan Walsh, Lis Watkins, John Woodcock, and extra special thanks to Thomas Thorspecken for his invaluable contribution to the workbook portion. THANK YOU ALL!

Now it's back to work on my next book. No rest for the weary, as they say.


Busy Times ....

I know it's been a while since I blogged anything, but I've been a busy guy, to put things as mildly as possible. But I'll get to that stuff in a moment. First, I want to announce my new "Sketching Essentials" course on Craftsy! I just did the filming about a month ago, and it was great fun working with the Craftsy folks - they really know how to put together a valuable teaching and learning experience via the web, and I'm looking forward to getting started working with everyone who signs up!

Now, to explain my absence from blogging. I was in Rome over the summer, as usual, but this year was more challenging than most - I won't get into detail here, but the difficulties were related to our housing and studio space, and dealing with this took a crazy amount of time and energy. So while I was drawing as much as usual, there were other activities - like blogging - that had to be set aside. On top of this, I've been developing a new book on perspective, which carried into the Fall but is now complete - more news on this when the book becomes available in the Spring. As if that book wasn't enough, I'm currently working on another drawing instruction book, which should be out in the summer. Again, more news on that as the publication date approaches. 

Also, I went to Singapore, to teach at the Urban Sketchers Symposium ... and I wouldn't even know where to begin to describe that experience! So I'm not going to start right now, because it would take me so much time that I'd get nothing else done today ... and I have a deadline this evening for a couple book chapters!

And finally, I've been trying to teach and be a responsible faculty member, not to mention a responsible husband and dad. All the book stuff and travel stuff and Craftsy stuff has been a blast, but I'm looking forward to a respite - as soon as the next book is done, I'll be downshifting a bit, and hopefully drawing more, just for fun.


The Cupola of Art & Architecture South

I had my “Introduction to Architectural Graphics” class go outside to draw this morning, because it’s a perfect spring day, and by the time I answered a few questions and actually got out there I only had about 25 minutes to draw. So I limited my focus to one detail of the building where I’ve worked and taught for the past eleven years. Designed by J.E. Tourtellotte and built in 1904, what is now known as “Art & Architecture South” started its life as an armory and then the Women’s Gymnasium before being converted into offices and studios for the University of Idaho’s College of Art & Architecture in 1976. At some point the original cupola was removed, and the upper level studios would get very hot in the early fall and late spring. So in 2009 a new cupola was designed and built to replace the old one, and it now works effectively to vent the heat from the building. Here are some historic photos of the building and its original cupola in the years 1906, 1907, 1926, and 1936. [9" x 6" in a Stillman & Birn Gamma Series Sketchbook]


The People of Clyde Common, Portland

While I most often draw subjects that are architectural, or urban, or even landscape-oriented, and I go to figure drawing sessions as often as time permits ... I don't often draw people in public places - buses, cafes, bars and the like.  
 However, after my recent trip to Brasil for the 5th International Urban Sketchers Symposium, where I found myself surrounded by artists who are more or less constantly drawing the people around them ... I've been inspired to follow suit more often.  

So here are several of my efforts from my recent visit to Portland, completed in a few evenings of having drinks at Clyde Common. This is an award-winning bar that has been managed for the past several years by an old friend of mine, Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Unfortunately, he was out of town during this visit, but that just left me with more time to sketch. 

Drawing in bars and cafes like this is obviously a time-honored tradition among urban sketchers, but it's relatively new to me. I must say, though, that it's a fantastic conversation-starter. Of course people are curious about what you're doing and why you keep glancing briefly in their direction, and when they see even a halfway decent representation of themselves, it seems to really pique their interest. 
 I also did a fair amount of journal-writing, occasionally having some fun with the formatting of the page. In this case, the people were basically a composite image - I sketched various individuals and people in the background as though the bar was much longer and more crowded than it was in reality. A fun exercise, just like all the people-sketching I did over the weekend.

A Few Architectural Moments in Portland

I spent a few days in Portland guiding a field trip, and managed to do a fair amount of sketching while there. It's always nice to go back to this city, because each time I seem to discover new places or to see familiar places in a new light. The city is also full of memories for me from the 1st International Urban Sketchers Symposium back in 2010 ... I still almost can't believe that so many sketchers from around the world descended on this city and started a phenomenon that has only continued to grow. Anyway, here are a few of the drawings form my visit - this first post will focus on buildings, and will be followed by a post about drawing people. [All these drawings were done in a Stillman & Birn Gamma Series 9" x 6" Landscape sketchbook.]

  This is the Federal Reserve Bank Building by Pietro Belluschi, 1949. A very sleek facade and selective use of stone cladding ... one of my favorite buildings in the city.
 The Governor Hotel, East Wing, designed by William C. Knighton in 1909. A very curious building, with highly unusual details at the cornice - anthropomorphic and/or robot-like 'sentinels' in glazed terra-cotta.
 Converted railway loading docks at NW 11th Avenue between Hoyt and Irving. I stopped to sketch here with my students, who are currently studying various housing typologies. This little stretch of street shows what can be done with existing industrial infrastructure - it's a very pleasant space, and I imagine the interiors are nice as well.

 A simple courtyard on NW 19th, immediately adjacent to The Commissary Cafe, a beautiful little space where I got my morning coffee.
And finally, "The Indigo" ... this is a building we visit each year for a tour of ZGF Architects, who designed the building and have their office here. I've always loved the way this building reflects the sky, and that's the main point I was trying to get across in this sketch. It was a struggle, as I'm still getting used to the paper in the Gamma Series sketchbook (watercolor behaves quite differently on this paper as compared to the Moleskine I've been using most recently), but I'm glad I made the effort.


Light in the Portico of St. Peter's

Yesterday I met my students for sketching class in Piazza di San Pietro, with its portico designed and constructed by Gianlorenzo Bernini from 1656-1667. They were sitting on the steps just inside the piazza while I talked about the variety of potential sketching subjects we could tackle, and some strategies for dealing with the complexity of the place. I mentioned how focusing on just a small portion of the portico can be a good antidote to feeling overwhelmed, and, as I said this, I noticed some beautiful light and shade in the colonnade behind the group. So I decided to demonstrate what I'd just been saying, and focus my attention on this relatively simple scene, trying to capture the gradations in light and dark, and trying to render the volume of the columns in a convincing way. A little later, Chris Kerins, who I'd had the pleasure of meeting at the first USk Symposium in Portland, walked up to say hello (he and I had communicated about this a bit, so it wasn't a complete surprise). Chris had his group of students sketching there as well, and we did a brief show-and-tell with the two groups. A nice morning spent in an amazing place!


The Angel of Grief in Watercolor

Drawing sculpture is something I've been enjoying more and more over the past several summers of working here in Rome. With some of the most amazing sculpture in the world collected in the museums and churches, and also scattered around the city, there's always 'someone' who will hold a pose for as long as you like, and those poses are most often rather dramatic. In drawing sculpture, as with most subjects I find especially challenging, I typically prefer to use graphite, which makes it easier for me to find my way into the drawing slowly, to map out the lines, curves, and forms of what I'm seeing. For reference, some examples can be seen here. But on an afternoon last week (after a long walking tour of the Testaccio neighborhood guided by my colleague, Tom Rankin), I decided to try watercolor.
I was in the Cimetero Acottolico, otherwise known as the "Protestant Cemetery." This is where you would have been buried if you happened to die in Rome and you weren't Catholic. So it's quite a who's-who of foreigners who lived in Rome - there are Keats and Shelley, Antonio Gramsci, Hendrik Christian Andersen, Chauncey Ives, Gottfried Semper, Gregory Corso ... the list is long and the funerary monuments greatly varied. But perhaps my single favorite tomb there is the "Angel of Grief," the final work of American sculptor William Wetmore Story, carved for his wife, Emelyn. There are numerous other versions of this sculpture but, as far as I know, this was the first. It's such a dynamic sculpture that it's difficult to find the best point of view for a sketch, but there's something about the angel's drooping hand that I found appealingly expressive. Also, the shadows were most interesting on this side at this particular time of day. The sketch needed some background, if only to give form to the upper part of the wing, but I'm glad I made the decision not to get into drawing plants and other tombs - I figured these might distract from the sculpture. It was really a nice drawing experience - quiet, peaceful, contemplative - and I look forward to drawing at this location again.


Graphite Finds Form on the Gianicolo

 This morning we had our sketching class on the Gianicolo (aka, Janiculum Hill) here in Rome. When I'm working with my students during our sketching sessions, I almost always use graphite - it's clean, fast, expressive, and extremely easy to use. It's easily the best medium to work with when you want to find form in a gradual way - light lines that search for the correct angles of perspective and relative proportions, followed by broad, strong strokes that define shade and shadow. The 'set up' for this sketch of the Acqua Paola only took about 10 minutes. I then made my way around to the students to show them how I had laid things out, and to give instruction on their works-in-progress. After I had talked briefly with each student, I had only about 20 minutes to add value to my drawing - so there was no time to get distracted by the small details; it was all broad stokes of darkness and midtones. From here, we walked down the hill to San Pietro in Montorio, home of the perfect little building known as the Tempietto, designed by Donato Bramante around 1502.

Here we worked on an exercise - one I learned from my sketching teacher almost 30 years ago - for finding the form of this 'simple' little building. In practice, these sorts of subjects - ones that appear simple on first glance - often create the most trouble. We typically try to draw every detail without first finding the overall form and proportion. By focusing on the elliptical forms of a circular structure seen in perspective, we can get a much better handle on the overall geometry of the subject. So I have my students draw in a continuous spiraling motion, really using their arms rather than their fingers. Perhaps 10 or 15 minutes of this exercise usually leads to more accurate proportions and less focus on detail.

We ended the day with a sketch of the equestrian statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Perhaps the ultimate challenge in 'finding form' - at least for a group of architecture students - is to draw human and animal figures. Our brains tend to over-analyze or objectify the subject, and get in the way of what our eyes are really seeing. So this was an exercise in seeing line and form, and trying NOT to draw a 'person' on a 'horse.' All in all, it was a wonderful morning of walking, sketching, learning, and enjoying yet another day in the Eternal City.


A Few Days in Atrani

Our group from the University of Idaho made a visit to the Amalfi Coast over the weekend, staying three nights in the small town of Atrani and a day at the Greco-Roman city of Paestum. It's always a bit of a challenge coordinating travel for this trip, as I prefer to use public transportation and the rail/bus/boat schedules rarely align the way I'd like. There was only one real glitch - we went to transfer from one train to another in Napoli, and got on the train that was sitting on the designated track ... only to discover a bit later that the actual train had been sitting further down the same track, and had already left the station. Crazy. So we had to kill an hour or so waiting for the next train. In the end, not such a big deal, as the destination always renders insignificant any difficulties along the way. While I hate to give away what I feel is a bit of a secret ... Atrani is a wonderful place, and one of my favorite locations for drawing. MC Escher spent time there, which becomes obvious when you see his initial "Metamorphosis" woodcut and also consider his images of never-ending stairs and crazy perspectives.

And then there's Paestum, just a little way down the coast from Salerno, where we take the bus or boat to get to Atrani. Paestum was a Greek colony from the 5th Century BC that was subsequently made into a Roman city before falling to the Saracens in the 9th Century AD. It then lay all but undiscovered until the 18th Century when it became inspiration for English Romantic poets. Now, it is simply a magnificent place to visit, with three major Doric temples in immaculate condition. They make challenging subjects for drawing, and in this case I was trying not to get worked-up about the details and let the paint flow freely.

Then it was back to Atrani, where we had nice weather interspersed with some intense storms. We all stayed dry until we got off the boat in Salerno on the way home - in the 10 minute walk/run to the train station, we all got drenched in a heavy rain. But it was ok ... we were going home, to Rome, where warm showers and dry clothes were waiting. We're almost halfway through our two months here, with lots more to do and always more to see and sketch.
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