Saturday, July 7, 2018

Watercolor Sketch of Free Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When I was attending Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, we would occasionally venture out of the classroom to work on location, en plein air (French for "in full air", this is a typical art term used to mean working outside). Because the school is located on Logan Circle in downtown Philadelphia, there was no shortage of cool subjects to draw or paint, from the stunning Swan Fountain on Logan Circle to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and other such historical buildings as The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and the country's first library, The Free Library. The Free Library consists of two buildings, so I cheekily referred to them as Volume I and Volume II (and I am probably one of only a few hundred thousand people who thought that up).

One day our class went outside to do some watercolor sketches. Yes, watercolor is paint, but if you aren't doing what you consider a "finished" painting, you can refer to it as a sketch. Although it's true that sketches are frequently done in pencil or charcoal, a "sketch" is simply a quick rendering, sometimes as a preliminary to a more developed piece, and is not related to any specific medium. This can also be referred to as a "study", if plans are to use it as reference for a finished work. The choice of subject was ours, and the way the afternoon sunlight played across the westernmost building, or Volume I, if you will, of the Free Library caught my eye. A tree in full blossom in the foreground provided a nice framing device to enhance the composition (read about framing devices here).

I made a sketch in colored pencil on my small (9" x 12") Arches watercolor block (watercolor blocks are basically a pad of watercolor paper that is sealed almost all the way around, leaving only a small area into which you slide an X-acto knife to carefully cut around the edge to release the sheet once it is dry. This is to spare having to stretch the paper--it stays taut while you paint. Quite a blessing for us lazy folks!) and then went to work with my watercolors (half-pans by Schminke, a very good German brand) until it was sufficiently developed. I used white gouache to lay the white blossoms into the foreground.

Since this was freehand, the railings and columns aren't perfectly straight. I would definitely use a ruler to get that right if I were to develop this into a finished piece. There are some things I would re-think (the tree and blossoms in the foreground are well-placed, but rendered clumsily), and some others that came out just right (I was delighted with how well the quality of the light came out). Our professor always wanted us to make our preliminary sketches with red pencil, but I would definitely do that differently, as it does not disappear after paint is added and tends to look incongruous. These days, I always make an underdrawing with a related color--usually the primary color in the painting, so that would be green, brown, or blue, usually. I might use red for an Arizona desert landscape!

Anyway, just wanted to share some work with you in hopes to educate and inspire. Thanks for visiting!

Image is original art by the author.

Here's another story about working on location in Logan Circle:

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