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.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't "Gold Plate" the Alleys!

I was recently spending time in Cape Charles, VA, a quaint beach town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  Founded in 1884, this master-planned railroad and ferry company town has today a great combination of proud historic architecture and a wonderfully laid back vibe:

Cape Charles, VA

The lovely streetscapes of Cape Charles are made possible in part by a system of mid-block alleys which accommodate messy back of house services like trash collection, parking access and utility poles.

One of the great traditional details that can be seen in Cape Charles is the modest treatment of the alleys:

Cape Charles, VA

Detailed like ribbon driveways, they are usually just grass with a pair of gravel stripes for vehicle wheels.  This simple way of making alleys has several benefits:
  • Less impervious surface means significantly less water runoff.
  • The additional greenery is quite attractive and looks less car-dominant, particularly when looking straight down the alley.
  • Lower cost of construction.
I happened upon one alley just as trash collection was occurring and yes, these modest alleys can in fact accommodate normal garbage trucks:

Cape Charles, VA

For comparison...

Take a look at one of today's best-designed new traditional neighborhoods, Celebration, FL which was designed in the 1990s.  The intensity of Celebration's urbanism is comparable to that of Cape Charles:

Celebration, FL

Yet Celebration's alleys are far more elaborate:

Celebration, FL

They are detailed much more like streets, with wide paving and full driveway aprons.  

The alleys of Celebration, like those of Cape Charles, do the very important task of handling messy back of house services so that the streetscapes can be more beautiful and pedestrian-friendly.  

But - these elaborate alleys have several negatives:
  • The significantly greater paved area means much more water runoff during storms.
  • Views down the alley are dominated by asphalt rather than greenery.
  • The added expense of constructing such elaborate alleys makes them less likely to occur.  Expensive alleys can weigh very heavily on a developer's pro-forma and can even sometimes lead to a decision to abandon a pedestrian-friendly traditional neighborhood format altogether.

So remember - alleys needn't be elaborate to be highly effective!

BTW: If you're interested in learning more about the design details of great streets, I highly recommend the book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Dover, Kohl & Partners' own Victor Dover and his co-author John Massengale:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Small Urban Maintenance Vehicles

Cities designed at the scale of the human, rather than the scale of the automobile, often feature compact street dimensions.

But - normal city functions like street maintenance and cleaning must still take place!

This can effectively be accomplished with small urban maintenance vehicles.  Modern compact urban maintenance and cleaning vehicles are effective at their jobs and are often even small enough to share sidewalks with pedestrians.   A variety of manufacturers produce these vehicles today.

Here are some great examples recently seen in action in the public spaces of Budapest:

Dulevo 850 Mini:

This first example is one of the real work horses of urban street cleaning in Budapest.  The Dulevo 850 Mini, available worldwide, is produced by the Dulevo International company in their facility near Parma, Italy.

The machine is small enough that it is used for sidewalk cleaning in Budapest.

The very compact street flushing vehicle seen in these photos appears to be a slightly older variation of RCM's current compact street cleaning product, the Patrol Suction Street Sweeper.  The RCM company is located in Modena, Italy and distributes their machines quite widely around the world.

This small municipal utility vehicle is seen used flexibly for a variety of tasks in Budapest, from hauling landscaping materials to collecting trash.  The rear load bed is able to tip to the back or to the sides.  The Grillo Agrigarden Machines company is located in Cesena, Italy and distributes its machines in 55 countries across 5 continents. 

While not exactly a maintenance vehicle, it's worth noting that Budapest has begun incorporating Smart cars into its fleet of police vehicles.  The tiny "fortwo" model is particularly well-suited to winding, narrow, pedestrian-heavy streets such as those of the medieval Castle District.  With no back seat, these cars are intended primarily to support tasks such as traffic enforcement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Outdoor Bus Stop Cycle Gym

A cool idea seen here recently in Budapest: 

At a downtown Pest bus stop near our apartment, a small outdoor built-in cycle gym was installed so people waiting for their bus can pedal and get a bit of exercise!

The sign on the bus stop translates roughly to "You missed your bus...while you wait, give the pedals a push!"

The customized bus stop was interestingly installed by the Coca Cola company, who have an ongoing public health campaign in Hungary titled "Testébresztő" or "Wake Up Your Body!"  They're encouraging healthy lifestyles that incorporate greater levels of physical activity.

Click here for a link to the Coca Cola company's health campaign website - which features a short video about the bus stop installation among their other projects.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"We have bad weather - people won't walk here!"

This is one of the familiar refrains I often hear in car-oriented places where plans for the development of new walkable urbanism are being proposed.

It can often really be hard for people living in places designed around automobile dominance to imagine that, with the right built environment, traveling on foot could be possible (even pleasant!) in challenging weather.  

I want to share a reassuring typical winter snapshot from last week here in Budapest: 

This is the Szent István körút, one of Budapest's large ring avenues.  (4 lanes of traffic, plus dedicated center tram lines and outer bus / bike lanes).  

The temperature is 18 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius), and the sidewalk is covered with a layer of ice and snow:

Though the temperature is quite cold, all that is required for comfort are a few layers of winter clothing.  People (including my 4-year old son Benji in the red hat) are going about their normal daily routines and enjoying their stroll along the broad sidewalk.

The key is a built environment that is specifically designed to be comfortable for people on foot.  

The relatively simple but powerful ingredients are time-tested:  

  • The street space is well-shaped by buildings to form an embracing "outdoor room".
  • Plentiful front doors and windows face the street to add liveliness.
  • Sidewalks are generous in width.
  • Well-placed trees and bollards protect people on foot from moving cars.
  • There are interesting shops, signs, architectural details and people to look at.
  • A rich mix of uses helps provide places to occasionally step in out of the cold.

BTW: If you're interested in learning more about the design details of great streets, I highly recommend the book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Dover, Kohl & Partners' own Victor Dover and his co-author John Massengale: