Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finding the Bones

3/15/14 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
“Good bones” is what award-winning architect and urban sketcher Stephanie Bower calls the foundational structure of a strong architectural sketch. Learning to find those good bones and put them on paper with color is how I spent the last two days as a participant in Stephanie’s “Good Bones” workshop, sponsored by Urban Sketchers.

Unlike Gabi Campanario’s USk workshop in 2012, Gail Wong and Frank Ching’s workshop last year and all the workshops I took at the USk symposium in Barcelona, “Good Bones” included working in an actual classroom for more than half the class time. After hearing presentations and seeing demos on perspective the first day and watercolor the second, we completed several exercises each day at our desks working from photos to practice the concepts learned. I had gotten so used to “learning on the street” – literally – in the other urban sketching workshops that the traditional classroom format seemed unusual and surprising to me. But I definitely realized the significant advantage of being seated indoors at a comfortable desk while learning and practicing basic concepts.
3/14/14 This is the perspective exercise sketch that resulted in my
"Holy shit!" moment.

Although none of the concepts related to perspective, such as finding the horizon line and vanishing point, were new to me, I still had an “A-ha!” moment (actually, in my case, it was, as I exclaimed, a “Holy shit!” moment) when I realized that lines converging toward me pass through the same vanishing point as the lines converging away from me. Now it seems like a “Duh!” moment, but it obviously took me several workshops and books to really get it. And Stephanie’s explanations really helped solidify this critical concept.

Alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and nickel azo make up the triad of watercolor paints that Stephanie recommended for the workshop. Resisting the urge to throw in my more familiar ultramarine or cheat by using sap green, I got to know and appreciate working with one triad for the whole day today. Alizarin crimson is already a part of my everyday palette, but nickel azo was completely new to me, and I was starting to like it by the end of the day. I’m going to replace the lemon yellow I’ve been using with nickel azo for a while and see if it continues to grow on me. I’m less enamored of cobalt, which is much more difficult to get an essential gray with compared to ultramarine (mixing the latter with quinacridone sienna for warm and cool grays has been my staple ever since I learned about it from Gail Wong last year).

3/15/14 Pencil, watercolor. (Painting exercise done from a photo.)
In the afternoon of both days we hit the streets of the Pike Place Market as a group and on our own to put the lessons we learned into practice in an urban sketching environment. The Market on any Saturday afternoon is about as urban a sketching environment as can be found in Seattle – lots of lines converging on a multitude of vanishing points while thousands of people walk by – so we got a good workout putting our theoretical good bones into practice. 


  1. Wow...sounds like a great weekend. Must be great to be part of that USK group.

    Cheers --- Larry

  2. Sounds like a wonderful workshop, and working indoors for part of the day was probably a good idea. I've never seen nickel azo so I'm not familiar with it either. I'll have to check a color chart and see what it looks like.


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