Friday, November 30, 2018


I've been sketching on my phone at odd moments, often while trying to drift off to sleep in my bed.  I think I am gradually adapting to a digital toolkit.  Ultimately it has to become a kind of "muscle memory" thing, so to some extent you just have to put the time in and see what happens.  Focus your conscious attention on higher level questions, and let your subconscious self develop its skills in the background.  At times I just scribble out the first thing that comes into my head.

Recently I have been doing a series of pilaster capitals.  It's a way of gaining a deeper understanding of the enormously rich variety that is possible within the rigid discipline of "the 5 orders"  I've been modelling these things in Revit, but sketching them by hand gives a completely different set of insights.  I've done four in the past few days: mostly composite. but one of them is probably more Ionic.  Sketchbook Pro has layers, so I usually save out a line drawing, then do some fill and brushwork, save again and process the result in an app to soften it a bit, or adjust the colour balance.

The resulting folder full of images gets synced to my One Drive cloud so I can also apply a bit of trickery in photoshop (or similar) In this case I wanted to harmonise the images so that they are more similar in treatment.  We want to compare four column  capitals, not four drawing styles.  Basically I have taken two versions, put them on separate layers, duplicated one of them, used blending modes, transparency and masks.  The result is a more consistent colour balance. Some subtle variation between greens and browns, deeper shadows (especially towards the centre) and some white (or at least very pale yellow)

Let's start with a fairly straightforward "Composite".  Why is this not Corinthian?  Well the scrolls are a bit bigger, more compact, and connected by a row of "egg and dart" running ornament.  That's typical Ionic, subtly different from the volutes you would see in Corinthian.  But Ionic would not have the broad band of acanthus leaves.  In this case you have a row of "baby leaves" with three full size ones above and behind. Often the lower row would also be full size leaves, two leaves aligned with the gaps.

Next we have a rather elaborate and esoteric interpretation of the composite, with both a winged cherub and a festoon inserted in place of the upper row of leaves.  The festoon is a kind of garland, as if the decorations hung on a building during festivals had fossilised and become a permanent part of the building.  Soane used festoons quite a lot, often with ribbons flying out, curling and folding to fill our the spaces on a rectangular background.  How are you going to model them in Revit?  It's an interesting challenge.  I've made some progress but not really get their yet.

Third up, I'm going to call this Ionic, because it lacks the rows of acanthus leaves.  The rosette, or fleuron has been dropped down from its usual position on the top moulding (Abacus) to the egg and dart row which is almost obscured.  These are all capitals to shallow pilasters, shallow projections dividing up the wall surface rather than having a structural purpose.  In this case the shaft itself is treated as a panel with a rectangular recess, as if it were a board, held in place by a moulded bead.

And finally there is this strange beast, which I think is from the V&A, a splendid museum that I visited when last I was in London.  I guess it's composite, but both the leaves and the volutes are rather unusual and abstracted.  Once again the shaft is treated as a panel.  These S shaped scrolls interest me.  I've seen quite a few different versions, in one case interpreted as Dolphins.  Somehow classical architecture seems to be very comfortable with sliding between realism and abstraction in a quite unselfconscious manner.  Leaves, animals, faces: rectangles, circles, spirals; it's an endless game of exploring the border between order and chaos.

The leaves in the last example suddenly reminded me of fingers, and the volutes seem to be eyebrows, so I was motivated to make another rather playful sketch.  Can we invent new capitals in this day and age?  Of course we CAN ... but the meaning may be different in a world where the classical language is no longer the default mode of building.  It becomes a rather self-conscious, tongue in cheek gesture.

But let's keep our feet on the ground.  I am learning to become more fluent with my digital pencil: getting the hand-eye-brain loop moving again at a subconscious level.  And I am continuing to probe the classical orders and associated motifs, reprocessing images that I have collected over the past decade or so in various cities: exploring the variety, the rules, the pitfalls even.  Some of this will surely feed back into Revit and my "Heritage BIM" studies.


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