Monday, May 17, 2010

Matthew and Simonetta, architects in sketchbooks -1

Mattthew and I had a sort of conversation on our approach to urban sketches, instead of a simple interview. This is the first part of it.

: How often do you sketch, and how much time do you typically spend on a single sketch?

Simonetta: Sometimes I do not open my sketchbooks for days, sometimes I draw the entire day. I can spend a minimum of 15 minutes on a sketch, and 30 minutes to 1 hour on a watercolor. Lately I'm trying watercolor on loose pieces of paper (50x25 cm) and it takes me longer. I could draw for hours if I'm not interrupted, I'm never tired of it, I really like the feeling of being completely concentrated on it.

Matthew: I can also go for days without drawing, because I’m so often busy with work and the rest of my life. But I am almost always thinking about drawing, so when I get the chance I really enjoy it. Because I teach architecture, sketching is part of my focus with when I’m working with students, but sometimes I feel like I don’t sketch for myself quite enough! When I am using a sketchbook, I usually just spend 15-20 minutes on a drawing. When I use loose paper (23x31cm, or 9”x12”) I try to spend about 30-45 minutes on a drawing, usually longer if I’m using watercolor or a mix of ink and watercolor. I’m usually happier with the results if I keep the sketch relatively brief, but some subjects require more time and patience.

Matthew Brehm, Watercolor on Moleskine sketchbook pocket size (14x9 cm), Moscow ID.

Simonetta: When my childs where younger, I used too very small sketchbooks like this on Ustica island (14x9 cm), that I do not prefer anymore. Since I have more time and maybe because my eyes are not as good as before, I'm enjoing the experience of bigger pieces of paper even if is not that practical to carry on travels. I bought new brushes n.20, I use more water... and it does takes more than half an hour.

palazzo Donn'Anna

Simo Capecchi. Palazzo Donn'Anna Napoli. Watercolor on Arches paper (56x23 cm), 1 hour approx.

Matthew: What are your preferred sketching subjects?

Simonetta: I guess I feel more comfortable when I draw buildings, since I studied as an architect. I love the best to draw cities and landscapes and people from a panoramic view. I always try to go on top of terraces, towers, hills... this goes with my passion for climbing, both mountains and trees.

Matthew: I am also more comfortable with buildings and urban spaces, which is no surprise since I also studied and now teach architecture. My preference is to be in the space I’m trying to draw, with something dramatic about the perspective and the light – I almost can’t draw on grey, rainy days because I need to see light contrast to become interested in a particular view. I have been participating in a weekly figure-drawing session, trying to break my aversion to drawing people, and this has been a great experience. It’s very different than sketching in an urban environment, but I think it’s good to vary the subject matter and the media on a regular basis.

Matthew Brehm, drawing with students in Rome, Piazza Navona. Watercolor and ink.

Simonetta: I agree. I had a weekly figure-drawing session too, with Spanish painter Pedro Cano that has been a very intense, almost shocking experience: 30 minutes sessions on 50x35 cm. paper with no pencil admitted. Some (strange) drawings of mine here. I like to draw figures from ancient statues, for instance at the Archeological Museum, much more easy.

Simo Capecchi, Archeological Museum in Neaples. Watercolors on Arches paper 20x30. 20 minutes.

Matthew: Do you make plans in advance to sketch particular subjects, or are you more spontaneous?

Simonetta: I have dedicated sketchbooks like: Naples ink, Naples watercolors, Appennins, Bologna... for places or cities where I often go, I start a new book for each trip or long vacation and I have a small sketchbook for daily life, conferences and unplanned drawings. I also made sketchbooks as a project, like these ones for an exhibition, on a square in Bologna and about two days in Paris.

Matthew: I have some dedicated sketchbooks as well: University of Oregon campus, University of Idaho campus, and I collect my loose sheet sketches into portfolios for a particular time – such as each summer I have spent in Rome. I am trying to simplify, and use only one sketchbook for notes, journal entries, and impromptu sketches, but it’s not easy because I enjoy the properties of different books and papers. Most often, I don’t make plans to draw something specific, but occasionally I will see a certain kind of sunlight on a building and make a mental note to return at that time another day. This happens in Rome very often, because I am usually busy with students and need to come back to sketch when I have free time.

Simonetta: I know you are leaving for Rome again, good luck with your students and see you soon, in Naples and then in Portland!

Second part of this post will follow in a few days...


  1. great way of talking about sketching looking forward to the second part.

  2. wonderful exchange and very useful information and links, thanks Simo and Matt! can't wait for the second part!

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