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After missing the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore this summer, I was delighted to be able to attend a workshop on the island of Ischia, a magical spot in the Bay of Naples. Planned by Simonetta Capecchi, who taught alongside Caroline Peyron and Kelly Medford, the workshop was a huge success, and was attended by about 30 sketchers from all over the world.

Our primary subject was the Castello Aragonese, a tiny island connected to Ischia by a narrow stone bridge. Over the centuries, this fortified citadel has been the site of a convent, a monastery, a prison, and a number of churches. Bombed by the British in the nineteenth century, parts of it exist in ruins, while there is a very elegant hotel surrounded by gardens in the former monastery. The Albergo il Monastero was an ideal location to stay, and offered magnificent views of the island and sea beyond.

One of many sketches of the Castello Aragonese. Blue ink and watercolor in a small sketchbook.

The theme of Simonetta’s workshop was the Picturesque, which we explored through the many views of this castle that artists have made over the centuries. We looked in particular at the use of foreground in certain views. I drew the Castello many times, and this time used a simple piece of cardboard I’d brought to protect my watercolor paper. It was a grey afternoon, and the scene seemed to lend itself to the cardboard.

Drawing and painting one (albeit complicated) subject over the course of several days gave me the chance to think about how and why architects sketch. I often wonder whether the process of figuring out a building gets in the way of just drawing what it looks like. Much like an understanding of anatomy is important for even a basic sketch of a person, I suspect it is important to know how something is constructed–where the loads are carried, what kind of spaces are inside. I don’t think it’s a part of my brain that I can turn off, though I must admit I try it from time to time. Knowing very little about botany makes plants a perfect relief from architectural sketching! In fact, I often use a plant detail as a warm-up sketch. Studying a branch, such as this one at Negombo, allows my hand and eye to work together differently. Certainly, a plant has structure, and proportion is important to conveying its form. But i find these types of sketches help to open up my mind and free up my hand, both of which are too often cramped up worrying about how many windows are in a row, or how high a ceiling is likely to be. I spend so much time drawing things that are designed, or designing things myself, that it’s often nice to take a break to simply observe what nature has come up with. 

I’ll continue to post more sketches and photos from this trip here.