Simplifying Palladio

March 31, 2016 | 10 Comments

As a lot of you know, I have this weird habit of reading serious architectural history and theory books for relaxation, and last Saturday evening was one such occasion. I was reading about Palladio again and as is often the case when I study him, was almost moved to tears by the sublime beauty of his buildings.

There are some architects whose work I love sketching (such as Borromini and other over-the-top Baroque masters) but I am a little scared of sketching any of Palladio’s early work. This is purely because of his precise geometry and careful detailing. The Basilica in Vicenza is one such building, and I really wanted to write down a quote from the book I was reading but that of course meant an accompanying sketch. It was getting late and I was worried that I didn’t have the time to do it justice, but with my ‘recording life’ hat on I just went for it.

You can read my thoughts at the time… what a building to attempt to sketch loosely? But I did!

And then last night I decided to more accurately explore the design. Notice I wrote “explore the design” because I wasn’t trying to produce a precise drawing of it. Once again it was all about me looking at the building (of course this is from a photo) and exploring the details and relationships while I sketched.

BTW this is one of the things I make a point of in my Sketching Architecture workshops: sketching buildings is all about exploring them. I can’t tell you that sketching buildings is easy, because many buildings ARE complex! But I find that it’s in the process of drawing them that I truly understand them, and feel connected with the original architect or designer that spend so much time and energy into putting it all together.

Ok, enough architectural ramblings for the day… I had a feeling that I had an important point or two to make in today’s blog post, but somehow I’ve gone a’wanderin!

Oh! just remembered…
1. Can you see which edges I choose to draw in the quick sketch? I always think about edges when I sketch, but my head is particularly full of the subject at the moment. I was certainly focusing on the main changes in plane and although I didn’t appreciate all the fine relationships until I did the second sketch, I was recording the important elements of the design in this first quick sketch.
2. I much prefer to sketch from life than from photos (especially when the subject is in Italy – hey?) but these two sketches are more about recording the design than they are copying a photo as the basis of a piece of art.

I think I might be starting a new trend: Thursday Palladianism. Hmm, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?


  • Larry Goldfarb says:

    In these sketches, did the watercolor come first or did the pen?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Larry!
      top image. rough pencil then paint then ink… then a little more paint (probably)
      Second image, the detail one. Few pencil lines, then ink, then paint and then a little more ink into the wet washes to get a few bleeding, fuzzy lines.
      Never a clean cut answer hey?

  • Katherine says:

    I don’t know about “Thursday Palladianism,” but I had been looking for something to sketch when I didn’t know what to sketch (tea cups don’t exist in my world) and your mention of Palladio a few days ago found what I was looking for. Today’s post helps me not got mired in the details. Thanks!

  • Connie Smith says:

    Love your architectural musings and drawings- and your last blog on perspective helps me look at the eyeline and building edges.

  • Chris kopet says:

    Palladio Thursday’s sounds great! Love your musings, sketches, and approach as an exploration of a building. It makes architecture seem less daunting

    • Liz Steel says:

      “It makes architecture seem less daunting” – I’m glad. Even with all my obsessive sketching and ability to quickly see the structure behind a building, I always spend time understanding it first (or during) my sketch

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