Celebrating the Freehand Renaissance--sketching as a vital way to see and value culture, and to envision a better world.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Music for the Eyes

This series retraces my steps in sketching Paris's magnificent opera house, the Palais Garnier.  It's an irresistible subject, at once visually overwhelming yet with a design structure that conveys a harmonious whole.
As with many of my urban sketches, I begin by trying to make sure everything I want to draw will fit onto my page.  In this instance, I used people on the street to set an eye-level (horizon) line, then blocked out the height and width of the three main levels of the facade.  Drawing a few people at different sizes has already created an illusion of depth.


I draw in the rest of the basic geometry of the facade.  At this point the overall composition is fixed on the page, and I can have fun observing and sketching the ornate design structure and details.

I've had to carefully observe and understand the design structure (counting openings and columns and finding alignments of key elements, for example) while simplifying the ornate sculptures and other details.  My goal is to capture the almost musical rhythm of the facade's design, and how the people in the scene almost become a living part of that design structure.

I've carefully chosen where to place darks to reinforce the rhythms of the facade and to add visual punch to the sketch.  Adding darks to some of the people ties them in to the overall composition.

I've added very light colored pencil washes to complement but not overwhelm the linework.  The sky is purposefully drawn in a heightened, energetic style to tie it to the loose feel of the rest of the sketch.  Some bright colors on the crowd help convey the palpable urban energy of this place.  Note how the color fades at the edges of the sketch.  I have a feeling this building will call me back to draw it many time...next time in watercolor?

18 comments:

  1. A perfect result!
    Thanks for sharing, James :)

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  2. world class teaching!
    Thanks Jim.

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    1. Hello Filipe! Thanks for your comment and encouragement!

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  3. Thank you for visiting and for your kind words, AnAis!

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  4. Excellent tutorial for me....thanks for sharing the steps & comments!!

    (oueillarou = my Internet pseudo....Pedro FSH)

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    1. Thank you for visiting, oueillarou!

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    2. I'm always eager to see your marvelous work....and learn! Soon, maybe, I will start publishing some of my "beginner"s junk".

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  5. Yes, great drawing instruction, thanks!

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    1. Thank you Don; good hearing from you!

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  6. Theory goes that drawing and painting uses both the left and right cortex of the human brain and therefore promotes long term memory survival, it suggests the more I do the healthier my life, that can't be sniffed at. Love this sketch, and the deconstructed process is excellent as I am comfortable drawing people but not so buildings.

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    1. Enjoyed your thoughts, Stef...thanks for visiting. Glad you enjoyed the step by step. Folks seemed to enjoy it, so I'll do some more in the coming weeks.

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  7. This is an enormously helpful demonstration. If the rest of your book is like this, it'll be a must have. Good luck!

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    1. What a nice thought, Robyn, thanks! Glad it was helpful.

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  8. Wonderful posting, James. I have shared a link to this with our group, "Urban Sketchers: Tri-Cities,WA." http://509urbansketchers. blogspot.com

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  9. Super informative, can't wait for the book!

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  10. Beautiful! What is the best way to contact you?

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