Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Towncrafting Workout 02 - Watercolor Elm Tree

Would you like to improve the landscape elements in your illustrations? Join me for this quick "how-to" workout to practice a step-by-step process for painting an elm tree in watercolor!

Watercolor is a great medium for quickly capturing accurate form, evocative color and lighting effects.  Grab your painting materials and let’s get started!

You'll need a few simple supplies to follow along with me. Here's a materials list (along with links if you'd like to buy them online).


Cold press means the paper has a medium texture - not too smooth and not too rough. 90lb is a fairly thin watercolor paper. I use it because it will go through a photocopier, which is often useful if I need to quickly transfer a line drawing onto my paper before painting. (In this exercise we’ll be blocking out our drawing directly on the paper though, so a thicker paper like 140lb would work great too).


I’m using Windsor and Newton professional artists colors. For this painting I’m using a fairly limited palette of just 6 colors.  The first three are primary colors (yellow, red and blue) that mix well together.  The last three colors are extras that are useful for occasionally accenting and/or darkening mixtures as needed. 

  1. Yellow Ochre - a warm, earthy yellow.
  2. Permanent Alizarin Crimson - a slightly purplish red. 
  3. French Ultramarine - a deep, intense blue.
  4. Permanent Sap Green - a strong, slightly olive green.
  5. Antwerp Blue - a bright, smooth blue that goes down with a minimum of graininess.
  6. Neutral Tint - a beautiful grey that mixes well with all the other colors to reduce the value and saturation of a mixture when I want to achieve a really dark color.
I like to use tube colors because they make it easy to mix up a large enough quantity of paint for my bigger wet-on-wet washes.  (You could do this painting workout with dry pan watercolors too, but you'll just need to spend a bit more time mixing up your paints).

You can buy the watercolors in individual tubes (the small 5ml ones last a long time - the colors I've highlighted are the individual tube colors I could find available online at Amazon), or Windsor and Newton makes a great set available for purchase online with all these colors or pretty close equivalents that should work just fine:


A high quality watercolor brush is critical. A good brush will hold a substantial amount of paint which allows you to block in shapes quickly and will also come to a sharp point when it’s wet to allow you to paint small details. For this painting, I’m using just a single round” shaped sable watercolor brush by Princeton. The size I’m using is a #12.

Watercolor Mixing Palette:

I like to use a palette with separate small wells on the left for squeezing out a pea-sized bit of paint straight from each of my tubes (a little bit goes a long way).  My palette also has larger wells on the right.  I put a tiny splash of water in each of the larger wells and use them to mix the colors to be used in the actual washes on my painting.

I'm using a small plastic palette in the video.  I also like to use this slightly larger plastic watercolor mixing palette made by Jack Richeson.

Water Cup:

You’ll need a container to hold water for mixing your paints and cleaning your brushes.  (Be sure to use a container that you won't be drinking from - some watercolor paints can contain ingredients that are toxic to ingest).

Paper Towels:

These are useful for dabbing off extra paint from the brush if you’ve picked up more than you intended (and also great for cleaning up)! Any brand will do.


The book I'm referencing in this workout is:
How to Draw Trees (by Frank M. Rines)

This brief, wonderfully condensed book discusses key form and compositional aspects of many species of trees from an artistic viewpoint. 

It also breaks down a great sequence for rendering trees from the initial block-in, through more detailed attention to silhouettes, to planning of shades and shadows, and then steps for finalizing the illustration.

It's a great resource for any artist interested in capturing the specific character of various species of trees.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Towncrafting Workout 01 - Classic Architectural Composition

Want to improve your architectural composition skills? Join me for this quick "how-to" drawing workout! 

We'll get our pens moving and practice how to break a complex classic architectural composition down into bite-sized steps:

Base Drawing:
Download the base drawing that I'm working from here (click the image and then save it). Print the image at 11"x17" or A3 size.

You'll need a few simple materials to follow along with me. Here's a materials list (along with links if you'd like to buy them online).

  1. Tracing paper: I prefer tracing paper with a high degree of transparency for an exercise like this, like the A3 Tracing Paper by Derwent.
  2. Pencil: any normal writing or drawing pencil will work for this exercise. I'm using a #2 (HB) pencil by Dixon Ticonderoga.  
  3. Pen: a felt or fiber tip pen is best when working on tracing paper to reduce the chance of smearing. I'm using a Black Sharpie Ultra Fine Point.
  4. Drawing triangle: any drawing triangle will work for this exercise. For example, the simple Alvin set containing both 30-60 and 45 degree triangles.
  5. Parallel bar: you can get by without a parallel bar for this exercise, but I find it helpful to keep things orthogonal when I'm drawing quickly. I'm using a Faber-Castell A3 size lightweight TK System drawing board with parallel bar.

Les Concours Publics d'Architecture:
The base drawing I'm working on top of is from a magnificent 16 volume set titled Les Concours  Publics d'Architecture.  It's a French publication produced at the turn of the last century that compiled the submission drawings of numerous public professional architectural design competitions. The book set is a treasure trove of original 19th Century and early 20th Century architectural drawings - one of the best collections I've ever seen - and well worth the effort to see in person. I particularly like that it includes not only civic buildings, but also a wide variety of beautifully designed fabric buildings.

Here's a link to the HathiTrust listing for the complete set of Les Concours Publics d'Architecture.

HathiTrust's copies of Les Concours  Publics d'Architecture are scans from a complete set of the books located at the University of Michigan.

HathiTrust used to permit a full online viewing of pdfs of the books, but now unfortunately seems to allow only limited online viewing of search terms. But - to find a library near you with actual print copies, just click on their "Locate a Print Version: Find in a Library" tab. You can enter your address / zip code and it will give you a list of the nearest libraries with a copy in their collection.

(Incidentally, this is not the same publication as the Les Concours d'Architecture de l'Année Scolaire series, which is also a fantastic resource. Les Concours d'Architecture de l'Année Scolaire is an annual publication compiling architectural drawings produced by students at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris from the turn of the last century).

Here's a link to the HathiTrust listing for the Les Concours d'Architecture de l'Année Scolaire

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Connecting Passengers To Their Train Platform Seamlessly: Vienna's Hauptbahnhof Station

This past weekend, I visited Vienna with my wife and kids. We traveled by train and arrived at the new Hauptbahnhof train station (image from Wikipedia):

The sleek, bustling new central station, conveniently surrounded by a cluster of new transit oriented development, consolidates boarding to international trains traveling north, south east and west from the city. It also connects directly to Vienna's metro, streetcar, bus, bikeway and pedestrian systems:

One of the details that I was particularly impressed with was the well-thought-out access for passengers to the station's 6 train platforms that run parallel to one another.

Typically in such arrangements, there is a lower pedestrian access passageway that links the platforms; but often this passageway can be dark, unattractive and occasionally unsafe-feeling if there is a lack of natural surveillance.

The designers of Vienna's Hauptbahnhof train station solved this issue by converting the lower passageway into a bright, airy multi-level shopping hall. Stores and cafes line the sides, making the space feel lively while providing travelers with useful goods and services and a great diversion to pass the time while waiting for one's train departure time.

Running down the center of the shopping hall are a series of glass elevators and escalators marked with the numbers of the various train platforms. When it is time to board a train, one need only go up a level, and then walk out right onto the platform:

This seamless connection for passengers to the train platform is a wonderful innovation that helps keep every step of travel by train to Vienna a high quality experience:

The Vienna Hauptbahnhof train station's website has a cool 3D image tour of the construction process. (click here to take the tour)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween in Budapest - Jack-O-Lantern Festival in Heroes' Square

In celebration of Halloween, today's post looks at seasonal festivities in some of Budapest's well designed public spaces. 

Halloween has only recently begun to be celebrated in Budapest. My wife and I had a great time this year dressing up our kids in costumes and enjoying the festivities like trick-or-treating on Raday Utca - one of the city's beautiful restaurant-lined streets.

We ended our evening at Budapest's Heroes' Square - one of the city's main signature public spaces - which is grandly flanked by porticoed museums and terminates a marvelous multi-way boulevard.

The square is used throughout the year for a variety of concerts, shows and other events. I wrote a while back about how Heroes' Square is closed to traffic and transformed into a horse track for the annual Nemzeti Vagta (National Gallop) celebration:

Well, for Halloween, Heroes' Square is the site of a wonderful, spontaneously-organized Jack-O-Lantern Festival.

Many people have recently begun carving Halloween pumpkins with their children, and wanted a place to share their creations. Heroes' Square, as one of the public 'living rooms' for the city, seemed like just the place.

Today, hundreds of people show up at Halloween and place their lighted Jack-O-Lanterns on the pedestals of the various Belle Époque monuments. Crowds slowly circulate to marvel at the display, take photographs and discuss their favorites.

A great ending to a great day celebrating Halloween in Budapest!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sketching Sculptures at the High Museum of Art

I was recently in Atlanta, Georgia and had the chance to swing by one of my favorite sketching locations - the High Museum of Art. The building, designed by architect Richard Meier and opened in 1983, is itself a sculptural work of art:

The High Museum, part of the Woodruff Arts Center, houses a splendid collection of European and American sculptures from the late 19th Century.

My first subject is a bust of the French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) - one of the founders of Realism in French literature. The bust was sculpted by Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert (1823-1893) in 1877:

I enjoy sketching sculptures executed in the French Academic style, because the composition of shapes, lines and proportions is typically very carefully thought out and composed. There is typically a large skeleton of proportions that is then subdivided again and again to arrive at the details. When I sketch from such a sculpture, I try to proceed step-by-step in the same manner.

I prefer to do these types of proportional studies using just a pencil and paper and I don't typically even worry about using an eraser - just leaving my guidelines visible as I go. I avoid other tools and measuring devices so I can focus on training my eye and hand to see and record proportions and shapes as accurately as possible.

First I try to capture the big shapes and proportions as accurately as possible:

Then I begin to subdivide to capture the next level of detail. I concentrate on finding the shapes of the outlines of both the forms and the shadows:

I proceed across the entire drawing briskly but methodically, trying to make sure each line is properly located in reference to the others:

Working in this manner, a likeness of the sculpture begins to emerge:

For this type of proportional study, I do only minimal modeling of the various tones within the shadows, and instead focus primarily on the precise perimeter shapes of the shadows:

I constantly look back and forth from my sketch to the sculpture being drawn in order to compare the shapes, angles and proportions.

This is wonderful exercise for both the eye and my sense of proportion. I did this sketch exercise in about 45 minutes, and I like to move pretty quickly so I can do more than one sketch in a museum visit when possible:

I had the opportunity to do 2 more sketches in a similar manner on this visit to the High Museum.

Next was a sketch of Flora by the American sculptor Chauncey Bradley Ives (1810-1894):

And then a sketch of Proserpine by one of my very favorite American sculptors, Hiram Powers (1805-1873):

Friday, January 27, 2017

"The Sense of Proportion is the Chief Artistic Sense"

Proportional study sketches from master drawings, paintings and built works of architecture are some of the best possible exercises for one's sense of proportion.  I try to do them whenever I can.  
Simple tools - just a pencil and sketchbook are all that is needed.  Here are some examples from my travels:

Proportional study sketch by James Dougherty from the painting Portrait of a Young Man – by Hans Holbein the Younger in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Julien Guadet (1834-1908), the esteemed French architect, theoretician and Professor at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris writes in his four volume masterwork Éléments et Théorie de l'Architecture:

"The sense of proportion is the chief artistic sense.  Proportions are infinite and delicate in art and are still more so in nature.  

How do you recognize a friend among all the people you see, even though you see millions pass?  A question of proportions alone.  But proportions are so infinite and variable, that among millions of heads no two are exactly alike.  

Nothing develops a sense of proportion like practice in drawing.  To draw is to perceive and then express those specific proportions that distinguish and identify the model.  The best draftsman is the most sensitive to proportions."

Proportional study sketch by James Dougherty from the sculpture Theseus Battling the Centaur - by Antoine-Louis Barye in the High Museum of Art, Atlanta GA

Proportional plein air study sketch by James Dougherty of Budapest's Chain Bridge - designed by William Tierney Clark

Proportional study sketch by James Dougherty from the sculpture Nymph of the Fields - by Carlo Pittaluga in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Amazon: Éléments et Théorie de l'Architecture

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Budapest Car-Free Day / European Mobility Week 2016

This past weekend, my wife and I took our sons to Budapest's annual "Autómentes Napot" or "Car-Free Day" festival:

The centerpiece of the festival occurred Budapest's grand Andrassy Boulevard, which for the weekend is closed to cars and converted to a pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfare:

For almost 2 1/2 kilometers, the beautiful street is filled with food, drink and fun and engaging activities and displays for the public that focus on methods for reducing energy consumption, emissions, and carbon footprint:

The event was a hit, with thousands in attendance:

In the month leading up to the festival, I had the opportunity to volunteer some time and help one of the main organizers, Zsolt Kovács of A-Z Produkció, to help design the arrangement of the exhibits and other facilities for the central area of the event:

Nemzeti Vágta:

Budapest's Car-Free Day coincides with the "Nemzeti Vágta" or "National Gallop" which occurs in the stunning Hero's Square at the termination of Andrassy Boulevard:

The square is closed to traffic and converted for the weekend with into a truly grand horse racing track featuring riders in traditional garb.  It is a spectacular example of how flexibly a well-designed public space can be used:

Budapest's Car Free Day was just one event that was part of the much larger annual "European Mobility Week".   Over 2,000 cities and towns across Europe participated this year.  Hungary was one of the countries with the greatest level of participation, with 214 cities and towns taking part.

As described on the event's website, each European Mobility Week focuses on a particular topic related to sustainable mobility.  Local authorities are required to organize activities for their citizens based on this theme. They are also encouraged to launch and promote permanent measures that support the theme.

This year's theme is "Smart and sustainable mobility – an investment for Europe" and focuses on the connection between smart mobility and a strong economy. 

Interesting observations by the event's organizers include:

  • Strengthening local economies is a universally popular goal, but one that many feel lies outside of our control as individuals or communities. Research shows, however, that by making smarter mobility choices we can notably boost public finances.
  • Studies indicate that cities that promote sustainable transport are at a significant economic advantage over those that favor traditionally fueled cars. People who travel by active transport modes, such as walking and cycling, are not only more productive at work, they also take fewer sick days and spend less time on average in the doctor’s office.
  • And the benefits go far beyond better health. Property values in cities with good cycling facilities and efficient public transport tend to be higher, while children who walk or cycle to school perform better in class.
  • Prioritising sustainable transport also benefits the private sector. Reports reveal an increase in trading of up to 40 percent in areas where walking and cycling become the norm. In Copenhagen (Denmark), customers who travel to cities by bicycle spend €2 billion per year - more than those who travel by private vehicle.
  • From a governmental standpoint, investing in infrastructure for active travel, encouraging public transport use to reduce traffic congestion, and supporting bike-to-work schemes can save public money and boost local commerce.