Before I started hanging out with Urban Sketchers I avoided sketching buildings. All that linear stuff was too boring, I thought. Then I started wanting to be one of those cool urban sketch artists who can capture a busy city scene quickly and expressively. I should be able to pull that off, I thought. After all, I’ve been an artist for 23 years, or longer if you count excursions into drawing since I was a child.
But it wasn’t that easy. I realized that I never really looked at buildings in the way one must to convincingly tell their stories. So it has been humbling, but also exciting, to forge new territory. It also helps with my motivation that one of my sons has chosen a career in architecture and opened my eyes to the beauty and mystery of structural design.
Garber St. in Berkeley, fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ hand.book sketchbook
You have to really be interested in building design to be willing to sit on a sidewalk and waggle your head up and down and try to make sense of what you see. Since I got back from Manchester, England where the Urban Sketchers annual symposium took place, I have been looking at buildings in a new way. I live in the countryside, so it takes a bit of planning to find structures complex enough to offer some interest. This street of beautiful homes in the Berkeley hills was a good find.
I also signed up for Liz Steel’s online course, “SketchNow Buildings”. Liz approaches her sketches with the benefit of having practiced architecture for 20 years, and she has learned how to communicate the essentials of architectural sketching to non-architects for quick sketching in public spaces. She has a new book that just came out: Architecture: Super Quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings
This is one of my class exercises, sketched from the parking lot of Sts. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa. To follow the lesson I focused first on following edges with a continuous line, thinking in terms of shapes (sky shape, shadow shape, etc.), and 3-D volumes, moving back and forth through these as I proceeded with the sketch.
Here’s a little house in town where I stopped to do my assignment, which started with analysing the volumes. I made the mistake of not taking time to measure properly, but I found it useful to critique the sketch and spell out the steps I could take to improve. Here’s some of my self critique:
-focus on volumes and thicknesses
-made the house too narrow
-needed to measure first
-steps are difficult
-need to go back with crucial lines left out
-difficulty of not seeing the ground line to get perspective cues
–sketching behind steering wheel in car is too restricting!
-color confusion: test to use more consistent shadow colors
A Methodist church I pass every time I go to town. More practice understanding the volumes and working out the watercolor mixtures for shadow shapes and more. Doing little side sketches to work out the details of areas like window insets and doors and porticos is so helpful. Also paying attention to leading edges on buildings and drawing all the thicknesses improves a drawing dramatically.
Working from a photo to understand some issues with the structural components of some classical architecture.
And then, how fun! I found this house in Santa Rosa which took lots of measuring and redrawing to even begin to understand how the columns related to the entablature (some things I’ve learned in past 4 weeks!)
Well I’m not ready to give up drawing people, but I must say that buildings hold a new kind of interest. Thanks to Liz Steel and Urban Sketchers, at least I won’t be so intimidated when I visit the city again and try to get all those lines to make sense!