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.


Roma, ancora una volta

I'm back in Rome again, for another installment of the annual University of Idaho Architecture study abroad program I created back in 2007. It's been a little over a week, and I'll be here for a couple more months. Most of my time is spent working with students, but of course I find time to draw on my own as often as possible. I'm trying to work on my watercolor skills, working in a Moleskine A4 Folio for the most part - sometimes doing single pages and other times taking advantage of the landscape format by doing full page spreads for wide panoramas or very vertical subjects. But I'm also enjoying graphite again for the first time in a little while (last year I did relatively few drawings in pencil). Graphite doesn't have quite the visual impact as watercolor, but it's certainly quicker, easier to work with, and the focus is almost exclusively on value rather than color. More can be seen on my flickr page. It's good to be back!
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