Sketching is becoming an increasingly important component of my life as I explore the nuances of the Venetian landscape. I’ve been taking fewer photographs and instead trying to internalize my surroundings in a way that can only be accomplished by measuring the proportions of spaces, the repetitions of form, and the contrasts between solid and void. The camera is a tool to remember a place; the sketch process is one that truly helps the landscape designer to know the space. A photograph is accomplished in an instant while even the quickest drawing requires a mindful pause and an emotional reaction to one’s surroundings. For that time that the pencil scratches the surface of the page, my mind is focused and completely present.
The book I’ve been drawing in was given to me by my brother. It is huge and makes my fingers numb as I steady it in the air standing before whatever space I’m sketching. I cradle it in my left arm and clench it in my hand and fumble it against the wind that whips the pages. The meandering crowds slam into my book as it projects out from my body almost 20 inches. I use a 4B or a 6B mostly or sometimes a fine tip pen. I leave pencil shavings like bread crumbs hoping that someday I will find my way back to the campi and bridges that have become such an integral part of my daily habitations.
During my instructor’s recent review of my sketchbook, he observed that I’m becoming fairly well versed in representing the outlines of things. He encouraged me to try to see the contrasts of light as it strikes the various surfaces in a space, to use the negative space that occurs between objects to make the void, and to capture the relative density of these places I am drawn to. To do this, I should attempt to fill-in the shapes without outlining them. The goal would be to see the gradation of shadow and to witness the subtleties of light as it changes moment by moment across a surface or a space. Thus, the sketch would have increased dynamism and be more realistic as the darkness and lightness work together and exhibit the surroundings.
A day later, I saw hundreds of sketches by the excellent Venetian artist called Canaletto at the Palazzo Grimini. While he used a sort of camera obscura to make his elaborate and highly rendered masterpieces of Venice’s people and architecture of the 18th century, his field studies of the city were no more than a few lines of lead on yellowed paper tracing the outlines and basic shapes of buildings, canals, and masses of people. While I do hope to begin to learn how to make spaces on paper without creating their outlines first, there is something so elegant in Canaletto’s sketch work that inspires me to continue to draw that way too. Like the earliest cave paintings, pictographs, and petroglyphs used around the world to tell a story, quick outlines of the surroundings are illustrative, easily understood, and splendidly spontaneous.