I confess, I was holding off on my pandemic sketching. I don’t know why, maybe it’s lack of ability to focus, or maybe feeling overwhelmed by life these days, even though things are radically simplified by staying at home. I’ve never felt more grateful for a roof over my head and food in the fridge.
Yesterday, however, I finally jumped in to the Urban Sketchers group on Instagram at #uskathome this with this sketch. I had to capture those orange flowers in the bright light, as their tropical colors cheer me up every day as they over-winter in the only sunny window in our house.
And since we’ve been talking about starting with big shapes, can you figure out which shapes I drew first to set up the sketch?
I had to redraw these shapes a second time to get them the right size and location on my paper. Those first boxes determine everything! If you are sketching indoors during this pandemic, please consider posting your sketches to Instagram at #uskathome. More blog posts to come, how to find the vanishing point is coming up…stay tuned!
Now you know to edit your view to simple and basic shapes, and you have some idea how to find those shapes. Let’s talk about how to measure those shapes in order to get them right, that is with correct PROPORTIONS.
1– Just what are “proportions” anyway? The answer is simple: proportions are basically the relationship of the height to the width of something. That’s it. Simple, but important, as proportions are key to how we see the world accurately and in particular, how we perceive beauty. Imagine the Taj Mahal looking squat or the elegant and timeless proportions of the Parthenon being off. So how do we capture accurate proportions when sketching in the field, and how do we apply that to our sketches?
One of the comments most often posted to my Craftsy/Bluprint classes is that people are so happy to finally understand how to measure a scene with their pencil. Apparently, lots of artists have been told in colleges and universities around the world to fully extend their arm and pencil, lock their arm in place, then use the pencil to measure things in their view… so it was a joyous ah-ha moment for many folks to realize instead that they should, 1) close one eye to flatten out the view, 2) align your pencil with a prominent vertical (or sometimes horizontal) edge, 3) THEN lock your arm and 4) use that pencil length to measure. Here it is in the recent book:
2– For lack of a better term, I call this vertical edge my “Measuring Line”. It is a line that I use to measure and reference many things in my view. For example, in the photo above, I can see that the 2nd floor balcony in the distance is just about half way up my Measuring Line/pencil, information that helps me locate the height of the 2nd floor in my sketch. And the top of that arch in the distance just about lines up with the top of my Measuring Line, also useful to know. I can also use my pencil to locate other buildings in my view, see this example from Rome below.
In this view, I align my pencil with a prominent edge of the building (which I used as my Measuring Line ;), then I lock my arm and drop the pencil horizontally to measure the distance to Trajan’s column and then the corner of the Wedding Cake building. Analyzing the scene with my pencil before I start sketching helps me locate things accurately in my sketch.
3– It’s critical to note that you are not transferring the actual height of your pencil to your paper (it probably wouldn’t fit anyway), you are really just transferring the RATIOS you have measured with your pencil. Is a wall 1 pencil high to 1 pencil wide (a square), or maybe a tall rectangle, or a wide rectangle like in the sketch from the Met above? Seeing this gets easier with practice. And once you start looking, you will see 1:1 SQUARES everywhere!!!!
4– And last, I want to add that the Measuring line is the first thing I sketch on my paper, and its size determines the size of everything in my sketch. Its location on my page determines what I will be able to include in my sketch. Remember, the Measuring Line should probably be lower than you think!! By starting with the Measuring Line the right size and low on my paper, I have room to include the ceiling! See the quick thumbnail below.
Years ago in NYC when I was teaching sketching at Parsons in the Environmental Design and Architecture department, I had a student who had transferred in from the Art Department. I had everyone in the class start their sketch by ignoring the details in front of them and just drawing the big shapes of the buildings and spaces. This one art student, however, could never do it. After 20 minutes of drawing when everyone else had a pretty complete sketch on their paper, she had only a small piece in the corner of the page, fully completed and beautifully rendered, while the rest of the page was empty. I don’t think I could ever get her to see her sketching process differently, and it made me start to notice a difference in the way a designer’s mind worked and the way an artist’s mind worked. Many years later when writing my book, I describe this as Tip #49: “Sketch like an Artist: Grow your sketch” and Tip #50: “Sketch like an Architect: Start with the big shapes”.
If you see his posts online, rockstar sketcher Paul Heaston, can start with one area of his sketch and sort of grow it from that point, much the way the artist in my Parsons class worked. He often first draws his own sketchbook on the page, then uses that sketchbook as a reference to locate and size everything else as he grows his sketch in a clockwise direction. He’s got to be clairvoyant as from the beginning, he can somehow visualize how his sketch will sit on the page and its extent — he somehow gets everything to fit and look right. It’s an amazing skill, and other artists have it too.
I, on the other hand, Sketch like an Architect in what is really a different approach that reflects how a designer’s mind works. I reduce what I see in front of me to simple shapes like squares and rectangles, and those shapes are the first things I sketch on my paper using very light and loose lines. I believe there are real benefits to taking this approach, especially when sketching in perspective:
Within the first few minutes, I know everything will fit on my paper. Have you ever sketched a tower only to find 45 minutes into the sketch that the most important part, the top, doesn’t fit on the page?
These simple shapes provide something of a road map to follow. Once the shapes are on paper, the hard part is done. The rest is filling in the lines and then details. I do this working in layers in several passes.
It’s much easier to capture true proportions using this method. No more buildings that are too tall or squat.
Starting with simple shapes makes a really complicated view easier to draw and less overwhelming.
It doesn’t require the remarkable ability to visualize that Paul Heaston has!
I think why architects tend to draw this way is because we think about the relationship of the pieces to the whole. Architecture is not just about making a beautiful, functional building, but about how that building sits in its context, how it creates spaces in and around it, and how people interact with those forms and spaces. We don’t see surfaces, we see volumes. We also tend to approach the design process by starting with the general and working toward the specific, that is, starting with massing and figuring out the details later in the process. OK, this is a gross simplification of the process, but I’d say it’s the way most designers that I’ve known tend to think and work. There is also a strong correlation to the way designers sketch — start with the big shapes, add more information in layers by breaking the big shapes into smaller shapes, then adding details toward then end.
While I think this process is easier than growing a sketch, the hard part is finding the simple shapes in your view and then transferring them to your paper with true proportions. More on that process in the next post!! In the meantime, here are some sketches showing the simple, big shape that I drew first on my paper:
One more thing, I’d love your feedback on these posts so far…too long, too much writing, too much detail? Font too big, how does it look? I’m still figuring out how to post to this new blog platform. Send me your thoughts and questions. And if you like these posts, please let other folks know too…we can all help each other stay sane during these challenging times!
When I wrote my book on perspective in 2015, I came up with several unique ways of describing perspective terms and processes — things that I have seen no where else but are a product of my 25+ years of teaching perspective sketching and the crazy ways I explain things 😉
Here’s an example. Instead of using the concept of “Horizon Line” used in every other book or class I’ve ever seen on perspective, I use the concept of “Eye Level Line” or “Eye Line”. This is literally a horizontal line that represents the height of your eyes above the ground (shown in blue in the photo below.) Why use ELL instead of HL? Unless you are sketching at the beach or West Texas or from the second floor of Basilica San Marco in Venice and can see the horizon (where the ocean or land meets the sky), the concept of your Eye Level Line is more relevant to urban sketching.
Your EYE LEVEL = Horizon Line, but ELL is better!!
Now let’s apply it to sketching interiors. From lesson 1, you know how to use converging lines to find your Vanishing Point. Next thing to learn is that nearly all the vanishing points will live somewhere on your Eye Level Line!! This line is so important for so many things, I draw it into every sketch I make.
How do I find my Eye Level Line in my view? Here are a few methods:
Hold your pencil or pen at your eye level in front of your eyes, and compare this horizontal line to your view. Where does this line hit something in the scene that you can use as reference?
If you are sitting, find a door handle. You’ll notice my eye level is just about the height of the handle on the door to the left.
Find where parallel lines that are receding away from you converge to one point, that Vanishing Point will be on your Eye Level Line.
Horizon = Your Eye Level, so if you can see the horizon, use it! Keep in mind that your Eye Level Line is different if you are sitting (about the height of a door handle), standing (about 5′ from the ground), on top of a building or in a plane, just remember that the vanishing points will be on this line!
Use the concept of Foreshortening. Vanishing lines ABOVE your eye level will angle down, receding lines below your eye level will angle up, and receding lines that appear dead flat are ON your eye level line! The example below shows the floor lines of an office building, but you can also see this when looking at shelves in your home. Where the lines of the shelves flatten out to a true horizontal line, that is your eye level!
Reference other people in your view. If you are sitting, other people in the view who are also sitting will align with your eye level. Same if you are standing and the ground is more or less flat– the eyes of other people standing will be just about the same as your eye level!
Try taking some photos around your house of things like bookcases, drawers, horizontal wood siding, etc. to see if you can find where these lines flatten out to a horizontal–that will be your eye level line! Watch this line change as you sit or stand and how this change impacts other lines.
It’s really important to understand where your Eye Level Line is in your view and in your sketch… much more on that coming up!
I’ve been spending my days cancelling plane tickets and hotels, writing piles of refund checks to the wonderful folks who had signed up for workshops, and being hit hard by the reality that with this pandemic, so much has changed. I have cancelled virtually all of my workshops for the year, but one… a one-day workshop at the Seattle Daniel Smith store and mothership on Saturday, August 22 — thank you to Thom at DS for rescheduling! But Italy, Paris, Spain, the Loire Valley, and San Jose with Shari and Suhita are all cancelled or postponed to next year. (You can check out the “workshops” tab on this blog for dates and locations.)
As everyone around the world is quarantined at home (did I really just write those words??), I’m reminded of Tip #12 in the 101 Sketching Tips book:
It’s these connections that give meaning to our sketching! This concept really hit home when talking with a sketcher in Hong Kong 2 years ago who said that being part of a sketching community had changed his life, brought him out of a deep depression. So no coffee shops, but let’s stay connected– I hope it will cheer all of us up! I hope you will motivate me as I hope to motivate you!
To that end, I’m starting a series of posts about sketching interiors. They will go step-by-step, in small and detailed steps, and will walk you through the process of sketching interior spaces in perspective. Here they come!
And if you want me to see your sketches as you try these exercises, please post them to Instagram and tag me at @stephanieabower (don’t forget the “a” in the middle.) I will give you feedback on your work, like an online class.
So stay healthy, stay inside, but stay connected — and sketch interiors!
Looking at sketches on Instagram or Facebook, it’s often hard to see the details in my sketches. I love to work in large, horizontal wide-angle compositions, but they tend to not read particularly well in online formats–if I post the entire sketch, the details get lost. In order to see some of that architectural detail I love, the past few days I’ve posted a few cropped, zoomed-in images of sketches from this summer in Spain, Italy, and Croatia on both IG and FB.
A number of people have posted comments about how they like the “glow” in the shade and shadows, so I thought I’d write a blog post to talk about how I get that effect. To create an incredible glow, I rely on the magic of Daniel Smith’s Quinacridone Burnt Orange! You can see it in the warm orange color to the left of the tower in the image from Dubrovnik.
First, let’s talk about the differences between SHADE and SHADOW. Shade is the backside of a lit form, while SHADOW is the darkness that is cast onto other surfaces by forms. Shade tends to appear warmer and lighter when compared to shadow, which appears cooler and darker.
I start by painting the upper/outer, darker part of the shade or shadow using a blueish gray made from three colors: Winsor & Newton French Ultramarine + W&N Burnt Sienna added to make a Payne’s gray, then finally I add a touch–just a few molecules– of Permanent Alizarin Crimson to add depth and warmth. That tiny bit of PAC makes a huge difference! I will vary the percentages to get the color on the gray side or more on the blue or purple side.
So first I paint the gray, then while it’s wet, I drop in the QBO in areas where I want a sense of bounced light, often toward the bottom of a wall or the ground near a wall. QBO displaces the gray and leaves a warm, orangey glow. Some people ask why not just use the Burnt Sienna as they are almost identical in hue. The reason? They behave very differently on paper or when mixed. The wet-on-wet QBO somehow retains its bright orangey color, while the BS goes to a gray, and it’s that orange that creates the glow.
Take a look at these cropped sketches. You’ll also see lots of Quinacridone Burnt Orange dropped into lots of places for that magical glow!
If you follow my work on Instagram (@stephanieabower), you know that my focus the past few weeks has been on launching the new book, 101 Sketching Tips! It’s so exciting and to be honest, very surreal!!
I also want to be sure to post practical and useful information to this blog and to use this as a teaching platform. To that end, this is a post from a few years back that got more views than any other on my previous blog. It shows the process I use to sketch each and every sketch I make, starting with reducing what I see to a few big shapes. (OK, shameless plug: it’s also one of the tips in the new book, “Tip 50: Sketch like an Architect. Start with the big shapes.” I think this post will show you what I mean, as it’s a different way of thinking compared to many folks who have an art background. More on that in a future post. I LOVE to teach perspective because it’s something so many people fear, ignore, or fake, but there is no need if you understand a few simple principals.
Here’s the view in Suzzallo Library reading room on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. It was a regular USk Seattle meet up event.
Step ONE, Looking at the view ahead of me, I simplify what I see to a very basic shape, starting with a rectangle. This is basically what I call the “shape of the space”, as if you were to slice the room like a loaf of bread, this is the shape of one slice. Here, it’s the shape of the end wall. I measure the height and width with my pencil, then I transfer that shape to my paper. I place this shape very low on my paper, as I want to be able to draw a lot of the ceiling.
Next I locate my eye level and mark it in my sketch by drawing a horizontal line all the way across my paper…notice how LOW my eye level is relative to the shape of the space drawn. almost on the floor. On the eye level line is the vanishing point, that tiny dot just to the right of center (not the smudge right above it!) That spot is directly in front of me as I face the back wall of the space, and it’s the point where the many receding lines will all converge, making this a one-point perspective sketch.
Step TWO–by drawing in the three elements of step one (big shape, vanishing point, eye level), I have everything I need to do this drawing accurately in perspective. I can use the vanishing point to start drawing in the big lines, the major architectural elements of the space. For this, I use a small plastic triangle, as it speeds things up to be able to snap accurate lines QUICKLY…
Step THREE– you can see I’m putting more of the bones in…the verticals represent the columns, or each structural bay of the space. I start to tilt the lines closest to me to exaggerate the sense of height.
Step FOUR– I start working on putting in the ceiling…big shapes get broken down into smaller shapes, then I break those shapes into even smaller shapes…that is how structure works! I also start to put in the chandeliers, as they cover up a good bit of the ceiling. Each one relates to a structural bay in the ceiling, and the lamps on the left relate to the lamps on the right.
Step FIVE– here is pretty much the complete line drawing. I try to build up the focus with detail and linework at the back, allowing the lines closest to me to fade out. I also added the book shelves, as that builds up the sense of activity at the pedestrian level and helps to ground the sketch. Notice how FLAT the tables are because they are so close to my eye level. Notice how details are just suggested, I don’t take the time to actually draw in every detail.
Step SIX–Color…I started by putting an underpainting layer of Yellow Ochre on all the areas I want to be warm, usually the surfaces that advance spatially or are in the sunlight (what little there was!) , making sure to intentionally leave lots of white, unpainted paper for sparkle and light. Then I layer in more colors…mostly grays, as nearly everything in this space was gray to beige…I also build up the color carefully at the end of the space, the focal point of the perspective and the sketch.
And here is a scan of the final image, complete with signature and reminder of where I was! I often lose a lot of the linework once I add color, which always makes me a little sad, as I LOVE the pencil work. It’s tough to hit that perfect pencil line –paint balance.
So there it is, beginning to end. It took about 1 hour and 15 minutes, sketched and painted on location. Paper is a Fluid watercolor block 8″ x 16″, Winsor & Newton watercolors, and my favorite Escoda Reserva size 10 travel brush. Also my 1″ angled synthetic brush for broad strokes in big areas at the beginning.
I hope you found this post helpful…if so, please leave a comment. And how does it look? Is the font size too big?? AND if you have ideas for what you’d like to see in future posts, just let me know. Thank you again for following this blog, and please also check out my workshops page…dates are being set now for 2020, Civita is already full!! I will post future workshops announcements on this blog first!