Architects sketch in order to see.
We sketch a thing that interests us so that we can grasp its form and meaning. To sketch is to observe closely. The image on paper augments our hazier mental image, and sometimes sharpens it. It augments our memory, it is a memory, the kind that exists outside the mind.
Sketching, for us, is thinking. It drags the process outside of our head and into our hand and pen (or pencil, or paint, or dirt, or . . . .).
I began sketching regularly as an architecture student, partly because life drawing was my weakest skill, and I wanted to improve it. Eventually I sketched for pleasure.
A set of sketches I made on a school field trip to the Yucatán region of Mexico were particularly meaningful to my progress. I sought a technique which would capture the fullness of visual perception and the “thingness” of a subject- its material presence.
In Turner’s paintings, natural phenomena flow and interact, as they do in life. Brush strokes free surfaces, and boundaries dissolve: land to water, water to sky, and cloud to air. A holistic image emerges, a field of matter in movement and transformation.
Crumb’s exquisitely raw pen work similarly unites the disparate elements in a drawing. Crumb uses hatching to convey tone (reminiscent of Master drawings and engravings from the 14th-19th centuries). Edges are conveyed through contrasting tone value, not line. His work, to paraphrase Crumb, has the meaty, visceral presence of the early cartoonists and comic book artists he loved, such as Disney’s Carl Barks.
The Yucatán sketches, then, came about under the influence of these two great artists. Although my ability is dwarfed by Turner and Crumb (and pretty much any disciplined professional artist) these artists’ works continue to inspire and teach me.
I plan to publish future posts on my travel sketches from Florence, Rome, Havana and other places.
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013