(Unrelated Top Edit since this doesn’t need its own post: I’ve added my technical resume to this site in the Pages section if anyone is curious. I’m trying to consolidate the “plethora” of online personalities I’ve built up over the years.)

The past two or three weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of energy in and around the art world (and writing), but have been too busy to actually produce anything myself. This weekend I was determined to change that. For whatever reason, though, I just couldn’t bring myself to do another portrait. Honestly, I think it’s because I haven’t come across any faces that have really inspired me lately. So, instead (and because it had been a long time since I had drawn buildings or anything else that requires real perspective in a piece) I chose to use a slice of DC itself. I wanted to try and make an expressive portrait of a scene completely devoid of people.

What I ended up drawing was a cell phone capture of 3 or 4 unused buildings on Eye Street in Washington, DC just north east of China Town. I had taken it last Sunday while I was out in the area with Art Outlet folk. The street corner isn’t particularly special – it looks a lot like many other DC streets – but I thought the mix of building color (especially the boarded up windows) in contrast to all of the flat gray surroundings would be interesting. The rules I set for myself were: no rulers, no measurement markers, and a one hour max completion time. What came out was this:

sketch of 459 Eye Street, Washington, DC, in conte crayon


(More to come later, this post has been interrupted by an artoutlet.org meeting.)

Now back. As I was saying… The above picture is obviously not going for intricate detail. All of the squares repeating really gets tedious. Instead, I tried to use some of the same techniques I use for face portraits (namely to get down the main details that strike me as the most interesting and core to the feeling of the face) and apply them to a city scene. In this case, I thought these were the specific things that held it together:

  • The green window area of the second building
  • The burnt/exposed brick area on the side of the second building
  • The blue/white split of the third building
  • The fire escape on the 2nd/3rd story of the second building
  • The window repetition of the furthest (office) building
  • The blue dumpster in front of the third building
  • The fence next to the second building
  • Tree branches and the sign coming in from the right side
  • The yellow boarded windows (others were grey)

Once all of these things were represented somehow on paper (just enough so they were recognizeable), the other details didn’t really matter so much and could be fudged. How many windows there are on the last building or what exactly they look like really doesn’t change the character and feeling of the scene at all. The detail of the black car past the dumpster didn’t matter either, the subjects of the piece were the buildings and not the things around them. As long as some bare minimum context was provided, the main points identified above were sufficient for the purposes of expression.

I think the portrait techniques worked and, if not technically brilliant, I think the piece that came out has a definite personality.

(As a side note, I pencil sketched this first and added the conte crayon on top. The pencil itself would never have caught enough of the feeling to allow for an expressionist attempt like this without a lot more attention to detail.)