Sometimes coincidences can guide is into doing things we probably should have got around to long ago.
A few days ago I was at the supermarket buying some reflective tape to scare away pigeons from my balcony and I came across some acrylic paints and a small stretched canvas. I have been thinking about ordering these online for a while now, so I bought them.
Yesterday as I was setting off on my morning walk I stumbled across this strange wooden frame discarded on the waste ground right next to my building. Couldn’t understand what it was but the timber looked reusable. So this morning I took some screwdrivers with me and took it apart. Took two trips to carry everything up onto my balcony. I was still intrigued by what it could be, so I decided to put it back together. Gradually the penny dropped … it must be an easel, as used by oil painters.
The fact that I had just bought the stuff I needed to use this wonderful object for the purpose intended was too much for me. So what should I paint. I decided to do a street scene. So looking through photos I took in Volterra, Tuscany in 2018. I came across a view looking into a courtyard that I liked. Nice pattern of light and shade. Pulls your eye into the picture and hints at some mystery around the corner. Good enough.
So I brought the photo into a Revit drafting view and squared it up. Red lines dividing it up into a 4 by 4 grid. This should be enough for me to get the proportions of my outline sketch roughly right.
So I did the same on the canvas and sketched out the picture in pencil. Loaded the picture on my ipad, and ready to go
Turns out I had room on the easel to place the ipad right next to the canvas. My portable workbench serves nicely as a table to hold the paints, palette and brushes. Magic. But why has it taken so long for me to get back to this. I did some watercolour work in the early days of lock down almost a year ago, and since then, the nearest thing has been apple pencil or Samsung stylus or photoshop mouse.
Anyway, I had a good session and I’m happy with this for a first roughing out. Not sure what direction it will go from here. Hoping to use the paint texture a bit, maybe leave part of the canvas a bit sketchy, probably towards the edges.
So why am I doing this, and what does it have to do with BIM, digital construction, all the other stuff I do on this blog, at work, etc.
Well in my mind it’s all of a piece. Drawing and modelling are essentially the same. You take an aspect of the physical world and abstract it, re-present it, explore it’s structure for some reason or purpose, whether because it has emotional meaning for you or because a client has asked you to do it, or …
It could be physical or digital, precise and painstaking or rapid and sketchy. I’m a big fan of the “single source of truth” approach to analysing buildings. But I also recognize that distributed networks and cloud connectivity have a role to play. You can’t embed all the technical specifications of every component into a Revit model, nor would we wish to embed the quantity surveyor’s entire cost database. “Open BIM” surely means accepting that many different disciplines and approaches contribute to the design, construction and maintenance of buildings.
Variety is the spice of life. I strive for balance between the digital and the physical. The activity of creating a painting taps into subconscious and emotional aspects of my cognition. It’s a different way of thinking about a built space that I walked into three years ago. Why are those spaces so much more satisfying for me than almost any modern equivalent? Am I just an old stick-in-the-mud? Showing my age perhaps?
The easel itself has something of that magic. Maybe it’s only a decade or so old, difficult to say, but it does have the feel of a “relic of times past” It does evoke for me, reflections on the way the world has changed over the past 70 years since I was born. It stimulates my hunger for understanding of the generations that preceded mine, going back to John Soane, Nicholas Hawksmoor, the craftsman who built Our Lady of Paris.
I had no conscious memory of this style of Easel. I could only think of the tripod versions of which there are a couple of sub-categories. So I looked for images on the web. Matisse is using a tripod type, Norman Rockwell one more similar to mine. And there are so many other variations that workers in wood have conjured up. Fascinating.
Day two and I woke early, took my customary walk, then shifted the equipment out onto the balcony to take advantage of the morning shade. I felt like Picasso, sitting there, bare-chested working away at my painting. Trying hard to bring out something of the quality of the paint and the brush strokes at the same time as representing the “reality” of the scene.
I worked from memory and imagination this time, no need to refer to the photograph. It’s more important from here on in to explore my own ideas and feelings about an urban space of this kind, to enhance the composition, the textures and colours.
Stand back and reflect. Let ideas come into my head. Towards the end of the session I suddenly got the age to apply a lemon yellow wash to one face of the archway in the foreground. Then, when it came to it I continued to the edge of the canvas. Partly an aesthetic decision, partly an attempt to invoke the multi-material patchwork of walls in Volterra: stone and brick interwoven.
Not finished, but probably on pause for a while.