Paris in Yellow Ochre

With Paris workshop registrations starting tomorrow, it’s got me thinking a lot about my time in this extraordinary city back in 2013. I had been awarded an amazing architecture fellowship, The Gabriel Prize, which meant I was able to live in Paris for 3 months to learn about architecture by sketching on location (my project settled on the use of perspective in the gardens at Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte). Unbelievably great and challenging time. It was an opportunity that would change my life forever and lead to amazing opportunities. But of course, at the time, I had no idea any of this would happen!!!

A big part of what made it life-changing was having the luxury of time in an inspiring setting to figure out who I was as an architect and an artist. I literally stayed up nights wondering if I was a pen or a pencil person! Would I draw a lot or paint a lot, how would I hit that sweet spot of having the right balance of both? What colors and equipment would I settle on using? This meant a fair amount of experimentation with few “successes”, although in the end I realized — and this is an important tip from the new book — we shouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about sketching… instead, just do it. Do anything. Don’t worry about style or if you like your work or not, just listen to your inner voice and do anything… your style, your way of working will emerge as long as you keep moving in a forward direction.

So, one of my sketching experiments was in underpainting. Many artists start their painting with painting light washes of transparent colors like aureolin yellow, cobalt blue, and permanent alizarin crimson to establish areas of light and dark. Underpainting also unifies a painting, as there is a common layer at the foundation that is still just barely visible with the other transparent layers laid on top. I do this all the time in my studio work, but not very often when sketching in the field. It’s an extra step that takes time, especially since you have to wait for it to dry before doing anything else. It’s scary to start to apply watercolor, so another benefit of this wash is that it allows me to “dip my toe in the water”, aka start painting without making a huge color commitment. Helps me shake off my painting nerves!

But here, I wanted to emulate some beautiful sketches we have at home that were done by my husband’s Croatian great-grandfather. He was the head of the Yugoslav railroads, as well as a poet and artist who painted incredible watercolor scenes on the heavy yellow paper used for printing train schedules! It’s fun to flip over the paintings and see the schedules.

For these sketches, I tried to mimic the warm yellow paper he used by underpainting with yellow ochre. Once it dried, I painted other layers on top to create 3-dimensional shapes… and for surfaces hit by LIGHT, I painted with an opaque white. I rather liked the glow this gave the sketches, and it launched me into using yellow ochre to underpaint probably a majority of my sketches now. And you can see the beginnings of what would become my “style”! I’m eager to go back and try again, now that I have more sketching know-how.

So thanks to great-grandfather Villim Filipasic for his inspiration. I hope my great-grandchildren, should I be blessed some day, will look at my sketches with the same love that I look at and appreciate his…