My Porto workshop was called “it’s all in the details”and the idea suggested by this is that the character of the building is in all the details. The details are what we are initially drawn to.
However it was also an intentionally provocative title as it seemed to go against everything I have taught for the last 5 or 6 years. I have a seven-step system for sketching buildings and in this system the details come last. I teach this system in detail in Lesson 3 of my SketchingNow Buildings course.
My mantra has been “Structure, structure, structure – start with the structure!” However, I recently realised that a knowledge of the details is helpful at the ‘structure’ stage as it can affect how the elements of the structure fit together. In other words. you have to look for the details in the structure. And on the other hand, when it comes to sketching the details, it’s very helpful to look for the structure in the details.
My location – the front facade of the Clerigos was perfect to explain these concepts. It’s hard to find the words to describe how excited I was to be teaching a workshop around this building as I’ve been wanting for years to explain how to sketch a complicated Baroque facade. And this one was very complicated and very quirky – check all the details in this part of it. Perfect!
The next day I spent time just sketching the details of the church and I experienced a strange sensation – I was starting to get overwhelmed by how many different details there were. Everywhere I looked was different from the other parts. Wow! Now I never (well hardly ever) feel overwhelmed when sketching a 3×2 grid Baroque facade as it is my bread and butter. (More about the 3×2 grid in a minute).
So this exercise made me understand how many of you, who don’t think about structure, must find these buildings overwhelming. These two sheets of sketches were probably only half of the details I could have drawn.You can also see in the pink ink how I was then working out how to simplify them and scale them down by looking for the structure in the details.
I focused in on one detail in particular – the top of the columns and the horizontal band above it – the column capitals and the entablature. You can see here an example of my working sketches from the workshop itself.
So the point of the first exercise was to let the group do what they feel comfortable with and to show them that it’s not always easy to draw the details. That if the details are highly complex, focusing on them leads to overwhelm.
So instead of focusing on the details, I explained how to look for structure. By structure I am referring to a grid that is formed by the main (structural) elements and in the case of Classical buildings these are the columns and entablatures – the Orders. I gave them a crash course in Classic Architecture using this summary sheet.
So we looked for them in the facade and suddenly everything became simpler – three bays across and two stories with a broken triangle shape on top. Okay, this building was a little more complicated as it had another storey at the base with the grand staircases and had some quirky things happening with the columns. But in essence is a 3×2 grid.
Aside: Here is my favourite Borromini church in Rome which has a 3×2 grid as well.
The tricky thing about this building was that there were different columns on the top storey (at the ends there were two columns at the bottom floor and only one on the top). So I explained how I draw the grid lines down the centre and this would align everything.
For the first workshop I used my Sailor Fude pen.
And for the second workshop I used my Lamy Joy with a medium nib – which was a good example of how much more detail I needed to draw with a simple line than with the expressive line created by a Fude nib. (Just imagine if I was using an EF nib – no way!?!?)
I gave the group only 30 minutes for the final sketch – what?!? Yes, I might pretend to be nice but I’m actually super tough and demanding! But I encouraged them to have fun and work loosely, suggesting that they start painting the structure.
I was blown away by the results of everyone and they all finished! Yes, seriously they did. This shows the power of drawing structure first.
Here are all the final sketches:
My handout was a simply generic guide to the exercises – prepared before I had my location confirmed.
It was such a dream come true to teach this workshop and I can’t express in words how fantastic the three groups were. If you did my workshop – thank you, thank you – you were all so amazing and such a great pleasure to teach!
And finally, once again I have to thank my wonderful volunteers – thanks for helping me out so much.