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June 19, 2014

Graphite Finds Form on the Gianicolo

 This morning we had our sketching class on the Gianicolo (aka, Janiculum Hill) here in Rome. When I'm working with my students during our sketching sessions, I almost always use graphite - it's clean, fast, expressive, and extremely easy to use. It's easily the best medium to work with when you want to find form in a gradual way - light lines that search for the correct angles of perspective and relative proportions, followed by broad, strong strokes that define shade and shadow. The 'set up' for this sketch of the Acqua Paola only took about 10 minutes. I then made my way around to the students to show them how I had laid things out, and to give instruction on their works-in-progress. After I had talked briefly with each student, I had only about 20 minutes to add value to my drawing - so there was no time to get distracted by the small details; it was all broad stokes of darkness and midtones. From here, we walked down the hill to San Pietro in Montorio, home of the perfect little building known as the Tempietto, designed by Donato Bramante around 1502.

Here we worked on an exercise - one I learned from my sketching teacher almost 30 years ago - for finding the form of this 'simple' little building. In practice, these sorts of subjects - ones that appear simple on first glance - often create the most trouble. We typically try to draw every detail without first finding the overall form and proportion. By focusing on the elliptical forms of a circular structure seen in perspective, we can get a much better handle on the overall geometry of the subject. So I have my students draw in a continuous spiraling motion, really using their arms rather than their fingers. Perhaps 10 or 15 minutes of this exercise usually leads to more accurate proportions and less focus on detail.

We ended the day with a sketch of the equestrian statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Perhaps the ultimate challenge in 'finding form' - at least for a group of architecture students - is to draw human and animal figures. Our brains tend to over-analyze or objectify the subject, and get in the way of what our eyes are really seeing. So this was an exercise in seeing line and form, and trying NOT to draw a 'person' on a 'horse.' All in all, it was a wonderful morning of walking, sketching, learning, and enjoying yet another day in the Eternal City.


Fred Lynch said...

Matthew, what a wonderful sharing of a day's teaching. Thanks. Your drawings here remind me of a modern pencil master, Ernest Watson:

Matthew Brehm said...

Hey Fred - thanks! That's a very kind comparison you make - too kind, I think :) - Ernest Watson and Arthur Guptill have long been my favorite teachers when it comes to graphite.

VHein said...

I completely agree with Fred--both in the graphite mastery and a great lesson in seeing and drawing.

Matthew Brehm said...

Thanks Virginia!