Last week my great sketching buddies Suhita Shirodkar and Paul Wang invited me to be a guest at one of their SketchingPlayLab Block Parties. It was so much fun!
The theme of the Block Party was travel sketching and I gave a short presentation about my approach to it. I explained three important aspects of my travel sketching which stems from early work – decades ago. These were:
- My love of storytelling (particularly of my silly adventures) during my teenage years using words, little sketches and maps. See this article for some travel sketches done when I was 19!
- My desire to sketch with the same flow I had while ‘design sketching’ as part of my job as an architect. See a little about this here.
- My personal hobby (and mind obsession) of studying architectural history and theory. At the time I felt this was a rather obscure interest for a contemporary Australian architect to have. My university education was focused more on modern architecture and when I graduated I certainly didn’t have an appreciation for old buildings. This interest in architectural history was started by thoughts of traveling to Europe one day.
Back in 2000, I traveled through the UK for the first time with my sister, and part of my preparation for that trip was to do a LOT of research on the history of architecture in England. I didn’t want to go until I was able to recognise all the different periods of English Gothic – talk about setting high standards for myself! And I was also very interested in the influence of Palladio on English architecture. Yes, I’ve been a Palladian fan-girl for decades!
I wanted to sketch while I was travelling but I only managed to do a few pages. So instead I spent nearly a year after returning home researching all the buildings we visited and then summarising my findings in a number of drawings. Doing notated drawings was the best way I knew to record my discoveries! I also remember that at the time I wanted to improve my freehand drawings for work and I thought this would be a good way to do that.
I filled two A5 cartridge sketchbooks with the drawings of floor plans, elevations (straight-on views) and sections (cutaway views). I also did a number of axonometric drawings!
An axonometric is a 3 dimensional drawing which is created by rotating a plan and then projecting the heights vertically. They result in a funny looking aerial view, so they are more diagramatic than realistic. But the really cool thing about them is that they accurately describe the plan and the form of a building. I did an axonometric view of all the cathedrals I visited and some of the great houses as well. It was a good challenge! To make it easier for myself, I drew the floor plans at an angle so that I could use it as a base for the axonometric on a page over the top.
I’m a big fan of the work of Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor and absolutely love Blenheim Palace. BTW I also did a lot of drawings for Castle Howard (also by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor) which you can see here.
Here is an axonometric of the whole palace showing the main volumes.
Elevation of the front facade. I drew four different elevations like this one!
Back in 2000 I was really interested in English Gothic architecture and went to a lot of different cathedrals during the trip. In fact we visited 4 cathedral towns in one day. Here are a few of many sketches I did of them.
The elevation of Salisbury Cathedral. One of the books I used for my research was The Cathedrals of England by Alec Clifton-Taylor. It’s a fantastic book with delightfully strong opinions which I loved quoting!
Another great house and fun overall axonometric!
Comparison of a few Elizabethan palaces. Little did I think at the time that I would sketch Hardwick Hall on location 10 years later.
It’s really fun to look at these sketches again – both in terms of the content and the technique. I did them all with a 0.4 Artline fineliner and so there is no variety in line weight. I also didn’t know much about cross-hatching back then. So these are two aspects which would be different if I were to do something similar these days. I can still do neat but I rarely feel like it.
Yes! I can do neat when I’m in the mood. In fact, I did a number of accurate and detailed sketches during this years Group Run-through of my Buildings course which you can see here. And a number of years ago, I did a neat sketch of Chiswick House and commented that the biggest part of the process was drawing some small details carefully even though they were not the most important part of the whole building. I like to focus on the most interesting part of the design of a building and this rarely involves recording all the details.
I know that detailed drawings always look impressive but for me they are a little tame. It does take skill to be able to balance details, line weights and hatching etc but I know that if I simply slow down and take each step carefully I can fairly easily produce this style of drawing. But working quickly and loosely, direct with watercolour while still achieving a degree of accuracy is much harder! It also has a greater degree of risk-taking and discovery.
My current style architecture sketches (a lot of direct watercolour) is very dependent on this type of architectural study and detailed work but I no longer feel the need to draw this way. Instead I want to capture the essence of a building with minimal strokes so that the end result tells more of a personal story – what I think of the building. My epic day in Venice from 2019 is an example of this.
There is a lot more I could write about the importance of these drawings, but I’ll leave it for another article. And just for the record, these are only a few examples… I still have some more drawings of important architecture in London to share!
I’m really happy to have had a prompt to revisit some of my early work. So thanks again to Paul and Suhita! It was great to hang out with you as part of your SketchingPlayLab sessions. I have done a few private sessions with them doing some SketchingPlayLab exercises and highly recommend them. Find out more here.