Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rochester Skyline

The city of Rochester has a beautiful skyline, and as many Rochesterians know, the Ford Street Bridge is one of the best locations from which to enjoy it. Set against the Genesee River in the foreground, the Chase Tower, Bausch & Lomb Building, and Xerox Tower form a distinctive silhouette when joined with smaller buildings such as the HSBC Building, Hyatt Hotel and others.  

Last week, looking for inspiration for forthcoming drawings, I stopped on the way home from work at the Ford St. bridge to take some pictures of the Rochester skyline. I was pleased with the results and knew that the photo would prove a worthy challenge to draw.

Rochester skyline from Ford Street Bridge (image copyright 2012 Paul Bielewicz)

To begin the drawing, I set up a virtual grid on the photo using Photoshop. I translated this grid onto the sketchbook and created key reference points for each building and other features in the photo in order to ensure that the drawing would be to scale. This proved time consuming, but it was worth the effort. As I began "connecting the dots" with pencil, the buildings and river area started to take shape.

Pencil sketch - note visible grid along edges of sketchbook

Due to the precision involved, the grid method somewhat takes away some of the "organic" nature of a drawing... but that was less important to me for this subject matter composition than it might be for others in the future.

When I was satisfied with the pencil sketch it was time to begin inking. The first step was to create a line drawing to capture the fundamental elements of the drawing. I began with the bridge, continued with the buildings, and continued with the trees and foliage along the west (left) bank of the river.

Early inking - bridge, towers and trees along west bank of river

I continued with the buildings on the East (right) bank of the river.

Line drawing with buildings outlined

Once the line drawing was finished, the next step was to add detail to the buildings. The Bausch & Lomb building (the peaked building in the middle) was the most challenging due to the architectural details of the building. The bridge also proved challenging because I couldn't "cheat" with a ruler! 

Detail completed on central buildings

The apartment building on the East river bank (right side of drawing) proved challenging as well due to the colorful and scattered exterior paint scheme. Once the buildings were complete to my satisfaction, I added trees, foliage and detail to the riverbanks.

Buildings, trees and riverbanks complete

The next challenge of the drawing was to translate the intricate cloud pattern into ink and finally, to add detail to the water in the foreground.

Finished drawing

All in all I was very pleased with the finished drawing. This drawing was really fun, and I learned a lot which is the important part after all. Although pen is pretty unforgiving, I don't think there were too many mistakes - whatever I wasn't 100% happy with, it was easy enough to cover it up. I did take some artistic license too - for example, I chose to leave out the cell tower that's in the original photo (on the right side), and I simplified some of the trees, smaller buildings, etc.

I thought the water and the clouds were going to be the hardest parts, but they really weren't. I just had to pick a pattern I liked and stick with it.

I am definitely looking forward to the next challenge! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paul's Artwork - Guest Post!

Brief intro: I am delighted that my brother Paul has started a sketching challenge for 2012, and will be posting to this blog on occasion. In his words:

I am excited to join my sister Melissa in posting artwork on the Syncopated Sketchbook blog! Although the majority of the postings will still be made by Melissa, I will periodically contribute as a guest and post some of my own artwork to complement hers.

Art is not part of my profession, but I’ve always had a passion for it and have always been interested in exploring my talents in the area. My experience to date has been largely with pencil drawings. Although I tend to draw buildings and architecture most often, I also like to create likenesses as well.

Inspired by Melissa’s wonderful 20-minute sketches, and especially by her pen-and-ink drawings, I decided that it was time for me to give it a try, so I’ve made a new year’s resolution for 2012 to hone my skills at pen-and-ink and to create at least one completed drawing per month for the entire year. In addition to Melissa’s work, I’ve especially found inspiration in local artist Michael S. Smith – I love his drawings and own quite a few. I’m amazed by the intricate detail and seeming perfection of his work.

My only experience so far with pen-and-ink as a medium was for a drawing I did for my daughter as a Christmas present last year. I drew her name in a stylized manner, reminiscent of turn-of-the-century graphics, a particular area of interest of mine.

In order to learn a little more about the medium, I purchased Claudia Nice’s book, “First Steps Drawing in Pen & Ink.” It has proven very useful already in learning about the tools and techniques. I already have a set of pens that I purchased for my daughter's project last year (Pigma “Micron” series pens), so the only other thing to purchase was a sketchbook. On Melissa’s recommendation I decided on a simple 5.5” x 8” mixed media sketchbook.

In general, I am very interested in buildings and architecture, and I think that much of my art in 2012 will revolve around this subject matter. Perhaps it appeals to my engineering background, or perhaps it just seems a little easier to do for me. Regardless, the city of Rochester, especially the downtown area, has been very inspirational for me, and I am very much looking forward to tackling some drawing challenges revolving around the downtown areas – the Rochester skyline, the High Falls area, etc.

I work in the High Falls area, near Brown’s Race and the Pont de Rennes bridge. So recently I took a little excursion to take some photos and become inspired. I got some great photos and will very much look forward to drawing them once my skills are a bit more honed.

In the meantime, for my first drawing project, I decided to begin with something a lot simpler, some of my daughter’s blocks. As Claudia Nice recommends, I began by making a simple pencil sketch, I then added ink to create a line drawing, and I then utilized various shading techniques to add depth and dimension. Along the way I made notes on the drawing, capturing information about the tools I used (e.g. the different pen thicknesses), and some key learnings.

Even though it was a relatively simple sketch and it didn’t take very long (about 40 minutes), I definitely learned a few things along the way which will be useful as I continue to create more drawings.

For example: Straight lines are tricky to do in a freehand manner. For this drawing I made the conscious decision not to use a ruler in order to try my hand at it. I will probably often rely on the use of a ruler going forward, especially to capture the crisp lines of buildings.

Additionally, although I was drawing cubes, one of the simplest shapes available, getting the perspective just right was very tricky as well. My engineering background has taught me about using squares and 30-60-90 triangles as drawing aids, and I will perhaps at times employ these as well in the future. An additional technique that I will likely employ is creating a grid on the source photo and utilizing the reference points of the grid for key reference points on the drawing.

The “mixed media” sketch paper itself was not as smooth as I was expecting. It tended to absorb the ink a little more than I thought it would, and any given line in fact came out a little thinner than I thought it would. As a result, the paper is very “forgiving” for things like fine line shading (for example, on the sides of the blocks).

I don’t think I will be using the .5mm pen too much. I tried it for the stippling, but it was too fat for that. I think it will likely be relegated for use with thick structural lines and to blacken very dark shadows. I found myself using the .35mm and .25mm pens most often, and I assume this will likely continue going forward depending on my subject matter.

My overall learning from this sketch is that I am anxious to attempt something more ambitious and see how I do!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Creative Variations

Though I have been sketching nearly daily for the past year, I have also continued my pursuit of other creative outlets. I don't think there's any shame in expanding the horizons of this blog, as this year my challenge is "Creative Every Day," and creativity comes in many different forms.

Today, combining some old silk flowers I had on hand with some ribbon and Valentine's sparkle hearts, I decorated this grapevine wreath (above). I was eager to have something bright and cheerful for Valentine's Day (as I love red and pink together) and couldn't find what I wanted in the store. It took me about 30 min. and cost less than $10 for the materials. Seriously. I am very happy with it.

And - I finally finished the Tooth Fairy pillow I've been stitching for the past few months. The child couldn't wait to lose her first two teeth this past week, however... but fortunately there will be many other teeth to lose and place in this pillow before adulthood. Taking the child's ideas (sparkle threads! rainbow colors! blonde hair! red shoes!) into account, I drew, designed, charted, tie-dyed the fabric, STITCHED and sewed this fairy pillow, all myself. I have charted several other designs before, but this was probably the largest and most involved one I have done. I was happy to complete it, and the child was delighted beyond compare. Creative success!