Our series on hand drawing continues, with McLean Jenkins:
“When one travels and works with visual things, one uses one’s eyes and draws, so as to fix deep down in one’s experience what is seen. All this means first to look, and then to observe, and finally perhaps to discover.”
I discovered this quote by the famous architect, Le Corbusier, early on in my architecture career and it has stuck with me in the way it describes drawing as essential to our understanding of the world. It also implies that seeing – not just in terms of traveling the world and exposing ourselves to its beauty, but in the sense of intense study and scrutiny – is what unlocks the potential of drawing. I am reminded of this in my one-year old son. He is encountering new things in his world every day, and the intensity with which his eye alights and focuses on every image, every detail, is a powerful reminder of the process by which we come to understand something visually.
Over time my own understanding of how to see has evolved, and with it, my drawing. Drawing on site – en plein air – took on great importance for me as we were taught its significance in architecture school. This certainly helped me see the value in the quick, decisive sketch. But it wasn’t until I discovered the medium of watercolor that I truly began to throw off any bounds of inhibition. This is because the medium imposes its will – it rejects labored precision and fastidious detail; it invites spontaneity, gesture, movement and spirit.
My assiduous practice of these elements – seeking out subjects to study and draw en plein air, and combining a quick sketch with dabs and splashes of watercolor – coalesced with a pre-existing love for the city of Venice. I’d “courted” the city ever since I first discovered it at the age of 13, on my first trip to Europe with my family. It is a mesmerizing visual experience; easy to understand how Turner, Sargent and others have devoted much of their labor to capturing its beauty in the perfect medium to represent it – watercolor.
Early in my architectural career I won my chance at devoting entire days and weeks to consuming Venice’s visual panoply – I won the J. Neel Reid Prize offered by Atlanta’s Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. I have included below drawings from that trip, some of which were done on site and others of which were taken back to the studio for consideration. Each drawing remains, at least for me, redolent with the spirit of my precious time there, and forever proves the accuracy of Le Corbusier’s words.
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