Monday, September 2, 2013

Seattle Public Library Redux

9/2/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
I hardly ever sketch the same building, object or scene more than once (the rare exception is my series of sketches of seasonal maple trees at Green Lake). It’s not that I have anything against sketching something multiple times, but the world is so full of new things to sketch that if I’ve sketched something once, I want to sketch something different next time.

Today I was thinking about the Seattle Public Library’s Green Lake Branch, which, coincidentally, I sketched almost exactly a year ago. I remember I had sized up every line very carefully with a ruler and even drew some of the lines with the ruler. I also measured the angles and tried to get the perspective as accurate as possible. Given that architecture was my biggest sketching bugaboo at the time, I was mostly pleased with the results: The sketch of the library looked relatively accurate, and a Facebook friend who visits that branch commented that I had captured it well.

Yet something about the sketch nagged at me. Although it was probably my most “accurate” architectural sketch to date, it seemed lifeless. And what I remembered most about the experience was how much work it was to measure all those lines carefully.

I guess it’s been nagging at me ever since, because something compelled me to sketch it again today. I took the same point of view (easy to find because I used a bus shelter bench both times), but this time the ruler stayed in my bag. I took the Inma approach of viewing the building as a living, breathing creature. I made the colors more vivid than they really appeared, and I focused on only the shapes and details that really interested me.

Comparing today’s sketch (above) and last year’s (below), you can see that they aren’t exactly the same, and objectively, I’d say last year’s is more accurate. But which one looks more lively to you?



  1. Both of the sketches are great, but I think the newest one has a bit more "life" and energy. I think when we sketch without precise measurements we are feeling the subject rather than just making a copy of it. This shows more of how it made you feel and has more atmosphere. We were talking about that as we were sketching on Saturday.

  2. Actually, Tina, the perspective is better in the second sketch. You also observed the interplay of light and shadow more accurately in the second sketch. I think the major difference is not that you left the ruler in the bag, but that you've got more hours of sketching under your belt. You're building up observational expertise, and recording things more fluidly. A nice comparative study.

    P.S. Drawing the same thing more than once is -really- good practice. It's never the same thing twice. It can't be. There are thousands of little variables that make each sighting unique: time of day, season, weather, passers-by, your mood... If the goal of sketching is to learn to see the meaning and beauty in our daily (often blurry) lives, then revisiting the same subject from time to time helps you appreciate things more deeply.

    1. Elaine, thank you for your great insights -- you're so right! When I sketched 100 self-portraits, I certainly learned the value of repeatedly sketching the same subject. But somehow, sketching the same urban scene makes me restless... so much else to sketch, so little time. :-)


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