Something about a bird and a power line

As I mentioned after my last trip to the Outer Banks, I enjoy seeing the above ground power lines connecting the houses. The birds like them too. Here’s one that settled across the way.

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I also got a nice picture of my almost five-year-old daughter enjoying a little freedom on the beach this evening. There was an incredible sky, and so many birds were out fishing. I took a bunch of pictures. When I get home I will try to work out how to paint it.

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Lunch Sketch

I haven’t been able to work on the Old San Juan painting since last week–too much going on and too tired in the evenings–but I am still trying to fit in some sketches where I can. Here’s one I did in my Moleskine Volant while eating a late lunch at work in Monday. It was a beautiful day and a lot of people were eating outside. By the time I could eat, most of them had gone back to their desks, so I could only get one person in this sketch. Still, it was a peaceful interlude in a busy day that started a very busy week.

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NADA, Tysons Corner, and Old San Juan

Yesterday I attended a fascinating talk about the future of Tysons Corner that gave me a new appreciation of the town I work in.

I had always thought of Tysons as pretty soulless–the land of office buildings and car dealerships, and of course the mall. Only 17,000 people live there, while about 100,000 people, including me, work there. Other than shopping, there are not cultural draws. One can eat outside at restaurants, and view a strip mall parking lot or a traffic jam. All that will change. It is supposed to become Fairfax County’s downtown. It’s pretty exciting. It has also made me more interested in what’s there now. Today, I ate outside at Panera, probably because my Pandora station thinks I am always hungry, and won’t stop telling me to go to Panera or Firehouse Subs. Something about my choice in music says sandwiches. This was my view, the NADA building and the Best Western across the new Silver Line tracks.

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I was not too thrilled at first over what I had available to sketch, but once I started that changed. It’s fun to realize how a quick little sketch can help me appreciate a place so much more. I am starting to get a new understanding of the area, and hope to showcase it more through these micro sketches, and probably some bigger ones as well.

On another note, I got some more work done on the Old San Juan painting tonight. Slow going but it’s really coming together. Here it is:

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Pattypan Squash

This is the first year we have signed up for a CSA share, and we’ve loved it. The fun part is being forced to try new vegetables. This weekend the vege box included pattypan squash, which I had never heard of. I sliced them, sprinkled them with large salt flakes, and sautéed them in olive oil and butter. Delicious. As the pan warmed I knocked out this quick sketch.

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Sketching to Think About Louis Kahn

In college I didn’t get Louis Kahn. This was contrary to the prevailing understanding. Maybe it was his manifesto “Order Is” which seemed a bit silly in its semi-poetic seriousness or his 1944 essay “Monumentality” in which, among many important points, he proclaims that his generation “accepts the airship as a vital need,” that gave me the wrong impression, or maybe it was the magnitude of praise that didn’t quite click with the justifications provided, or, as I am discovering now, maybe it was just me. I knew the interior of the Exeter library was incredible, and the photos of the Salk Institute were also impressive, albeit apparently cold (the architectural photos never show the view of the ocean or the people who work there), but based on what the slides revealed, these didn’t resonate with me as much as I thought they should have or as much as other works of architecture did. As an aside, why are architectural photos so often uninhabited? These are buildings, not sculptures. Perhaps that’s why Julius Shulman’s iconic image of Case Study House #22 by Pierre Koenig stands out so much: the cocktail party happening suspended in the air.

Fortunately, this week I finally watched “My Architect,” and started to think about Kahn and his buildings differently based on the views of the buildings and interviews with others who worked on them and in them. There were some duds to be sure, such as the Richards Medical Research Lab, which seems blandly imposing on the outside and was, as revealed in the film, uncomfortable for the people working inside, but the Exeter Library, the Esherick House, and the National Assembly building in Dacca warranted further study.

As part of this study, I did a few quick pen and ink sketches based on some pictures I found online. I wanted to spend only a short time sketching, hence the crudeness of the renderings, so I would stick with the core impressions to understand what really jumps out. Then I thought about those points in more detail in the context of the film, photos, and other readings.

I will key in on two examples here:

One:

Using a photo by Ezra Stoller, I looked at the exterior of Esherick House, which revealed a few things I didn’t appreciate on first glance that might be telling. I hope my sketch helps to illustrate these things.

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I noticed the use of depth and volume. The house is fantastically open, but in that openness there is a lot of framing, often in ways that crop the view from the outside. It’s almost like looking at a gallery wall, but instead of paintings, there are shadow boxes. This is because of the receding perspective in each frame. These aren’t just lines, they’re planes, which serve to situate the frame in space and vary the depth of the views. It was a nice variation on the tendency at the time to put Mondrian onto building facades, something that can be seen on some of the townhouses in Reston.

Two:

Looking at the National Assembly building, I was struck by the play with darkness and light, and heaviness and lightness.

From the outside, the building is hulking and imposing, despite the softening element of the water. This hulking aspect is enhanced by the large geometric cutouts which appear exceedingly dark in the images.

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But when you look at the same shapes from inside the building, they are a fantastic source of natural light. The building interior, while still massive, is incredible and inclusive and symbolic–a true realization of what Kahn meant by monumentality. This was apparent in the film, especially when seeing the architect being interviewed starting to cry while discussing what Kahn did for them in Bangladesh. It was that moment, that humanization of the work, that made me connect with Kahn. Between that and my small sketching analysis here, I have a new interest in his works and hope to see a few in person some day.

Thanks for reading.

Brubeck, Alessi, and Zeke’s

My dad got me into Brubeck when I was in high school (though it might have had something to do with those Infiniti commercials in the 90’s), and I often listen to him while I’m working. It seemed fitting to put him on while getting a little deeper into the Alessi percolator and bag of Zeke’s coffee. Paul Desmond’s clarinet and alto sax lines go so well with the stroke of a brush. I have found that listening to music while painting helps me stay patient and not overwork areas while they are still wet, which is something I did with the birdhouse over the weekend.

After preliminary composition sketches last week, I wanted to try a basic view of the objects themselves to get a better handle on the shapes and reflections. I worked on a square block of arches, so I went with a vignetted centered composition for now. We’ll see if it should be developed further beyond this sketch. Below are staged photos of progress.

It was interesting to note how the blue changes color in the reflection, taking on some of the aluminum’s color as well, thus muting it a bit. I also liked the raw sienna reflection of the table top outside of the composition infiltrating the picture. Maybe it is all a bit too blotchy and exaggerated to be a finished work, but for tonight, I am pretty satisfied with what I got out of this more in depth sketch.

Thanks for reading.

Stage 1–Drawing and first wash:

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Stage 2:

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Stage 3–Finished sketch:

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