Archive for February, 2010

The exterior of Glashaus in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego, home of a growing number of art+design hubs.

Some of you, as I write this, are partaking of the festivities (and revelries) at Glashaus in Barrio Logan , San Diego for the Moustache Masquerade – Anniversary Party . Last week, Jamie Huffman of Surface Furniture was so kind to let me roam around the studio with my camera, arrange his tools and wooden cars and play with rusty, coppery dust.

I have in mind to try rust watercolors in a future session, and to film the vents turning intermittently with the haphazard breeze, a’ la American Beauty.  There was so much to see at Glashaus, the Beauty of things made, the poetry of craft.

I am reading Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, of which John Stilgoe writes in his foreword:

The Poetics of Space is a prism through which all worlds from literary creation to housework to aesthetics to carpentry take on enhanced–and enchanted– significances.Every reader of it will never again see ordinary spaces in ordinary ways. Instead the reader will see with the soul or the eye, the glint of Gaston Bachelard.

Indeed, whatever spirituality we can imbue dwellings with starts with the choosing, crafting, and careful shaping of materials.

The resin vapors and the tools reminded me of my father’s and my uncle’s boat and motor repair/workshop in Calabria, Southern Italy, a place that I can only now appreciate in memory–as a kid I saw it as a bit random, a bit dangerous, a bit of a world foreign to me, perhaps unknowable as a little girl, a place of working men, wood shavings, tools and grease. I was drawn to the dogs that were kept there, the boats, big and small, that were stored under the sheds. My favorite parts was the orchard of fig trees in the back, the grape vines, the fields beyond the property wall.

Visiting Jamie’s studio reminded me of  ‘the work of honest men’ and the Wabi Sabi principles of the aesthetics of rugged things. Running my hands on rough surfaces brought me closer to the material aspect of architecture, delighting in details, something that was definitely a learned trait for me.

Thank you so much for having me over, and Happy Anniversary to everyone at Glashaus.

The working space of Surface Furniture Studio and Make in the Glashaus.

Wooden cars designed and crafted by Jamie Huffman, a statement on mass production and commonplace of outsourced manufacturing products.

Surface Furniture Teardrop Travel Trailer


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Third Street Homes. Graphite and Watercolor. Feb. 25, 2010.

Well, here is the finished (first) watercolor layer.   One more iteration is needed, as much as I am ready to move on to the next project.

Contrast and shade and shadow, ink and lineweight, and perhaps a layer of color pencil for texture.  What I am looking for is for these homes to ‘pop’, and come alive – just as the first house on the left begins to do; perhaps one more targeted watercolor wash is needed (just on the areas of shade and shadow), perhaps just going over with ink.  Perhaps more art, less architecture.  I am proceeding with caution as there is a hair of a difference between a watercolor and a muddy mess.  Somewhere in between there is a rendering that satisfies.   I will keep you tuned.

Speaking about the Impressionists in class last Thursday, we discussed how they believed that an object, painted in a different light, becomes a different object altogether, imbued with a changing feeling, a changing ‘impression’.

Perhaps we, as viewers become different people too.

As I was completing the watercolor I met Wanda, a neighbor, who kept me company for my plen-air session. I told her how Monet painted the same cathedral and haystacks about a hundred times, and we pondered how much persistence and dedication it would take. Would familiarity become comfort after a while, a sort of therapeutic, zen-like activity?

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Third Street Homes- Ink on trace. February 24, 2010

Third Street Homes - Graphite and watercolor. February 25, 2010

I have been squeezing some plein air drawing/watercolor-ing in between classes, lectures and sketchbook exchanges.

This is the continuation of the project started last week. I inked the pencil drawing to use for a future marker rendering, and started to give it some lineweight, while I continued with some washes on the original- now finished- pencil drawing. Hope to finish to the watercolor tomorrow.

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Last week I was reeling from hearing a contractor repeatedly referring to Architecture projects as ‘products’ (can you please stop talking about Architecture as a manufacturing industry? thankyou) and from seeing this noble profession hijacked by what one student referred to as ‘technicians‘.

Vitruvius, Le Corbu, are your tired bones  spinning in your graves? They will soon design a software that, given site parameters and local codes will design the building by itself (look ma, no architect!). If they are not about to launch it already. As my friend Andrew Duncan said, we are looking at a software company deciding the future of architecture projects in this country, in form of who owns the -increasingly more sophisticated- computer models/simulations of buildings. And thus the nail in the coffin, the relevance of our profession is eroded, while we just sit and watch, and clap at the latest computer wizardry. What is it called when people clap at their impending demise?

I am so tired of seeing the creativity of our young architects being sapped by the grueling process it takes to be a ‘licensed architect’ here in U.S. And yes, it is just here and Canada, because everywhere else in the world you are an architect after having proven worthy of an architecture degree and after a standard, brief, state exam. So we/you are all architects in my eyes.

So as I was saying, I was a bit demoralized.  But then, during our Le Corbusier’s seminars, my students put these quotes up (underlining is mine):

I repeat: a work of art must have its own special character.

Clear statement, the giving of a living unity to the work, the giving it a fundamental attitude and a character: all this is a pure creation of the mind.

This is everywhere allowed in the case of painting and music; but archtiecture is lowered to the level of its utilitarian purposes: boudoirs, W.C’s, radiators, ferro-concrete, vaults or pointed arches, etc., etc.

This is construction, this is not architecture.

Architecture only exists when there is a poetic emotion.

Art is poetry: the emotion of the senses, the joy of the mind as it measures and appreciates, the recognition of an axial principle which touches the depth of our being.  Art is this pure creation of the spirit which shows us, at certain heights, the summit of the creation to which man is capable of attaining.

And man is conscious of great happiness when he feels that he is creating.

Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture. English Ed. 1931

Is it a coincidence that Le Corbusier uses the term Art and Architecture interchangeably?

Construction is for an architect what grammar is for a thinker; the architect should not vegetate there, Le Corb reminds us.

The desired effect is not a mass of grammatical rules, but prose,  or even better, poetry, which not only uses grammar, but trascends it.

Now look around you and tell me how many pedestrian masses of periods and exclamation points surround you, and where does poetry happen (does it at all)?

In class we talked about art being the product of the heart, and architecture the product of the mind.  I knew then these young men and women believe in Architecture, with the capital ‘A’ – not to be confused with building- and everything that it stands for, everything that our ‘architectural heroes’ tell us through the echoes of time, and whispher with their art, their sketches and drawings, their buildings, their irreverent portraits (just as Keating’s poets in Dead Poets Society).

More importantly, these students believe in themselves. Everything then went right in my world.


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MeghAnn and Sean Drawing. Self-Portrait of my hand. Ink and Graphite on Paper. Feb. 20, 2010

Graphite and Ink on paper. February 20, 2010

I  spent Saturday afternoon drawing with my favorite artist buddies|budding artists, Meghann and Sean. We drew each other, they drew me (see below) and did self-portraits of our hands.

Me as drawn by Meghann (first attempt)

Me as drawn by Meghann- Second Attempt.

Me as seen by Sean.

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Night Tree. Untouched Photograph. San Diego. February 18, 2010

Photography means ‘writing with light’.

Tonight the sky is lit up, and I took one of my ‘apnea photos’ as I was  walking home. I set the camera on the night setting, then, since I don’t have a tripod, hold still and don’t breathe until the camera finishes computing all available light.

Earlier in class  (History of Art Neoclassic-Modern) we discussed the concept of ‘organic photography’,  that is photography that is not retouched or  enhanced digitally (Photoshopped). Well, what you see above is a direct dump from my camera. I read the recent review of ‘Werewolves’ and our very own Duncan Sheperd mentioned a David Caspar Friedrich light throughout the movie.

The sky tonight reminds me of German Romantic poetry.

David Caspar Friedrich. Mann und Frau Den Mond Betrachtend. Oil. 1819

The one true source of art is our heart, the language of a soul infallibly pure.

A work that is not begotten from this source can only be an artifice. Every authentic work of art is conceived in a sacred hour, and borne in a happy hour, often without the artist’s knowing, by the inner impulse of the heart.

David Caspar Friedrich

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Happy Tuesday. Throughout my four years of teaching Tuesday has always been my ‘work at home’ day, the one costant in the changing tides of quarters, classes and schedules. Today I thought I’d start a special Tuesday section, when I have more time to start new projects. So here is the first artuesday: this is the view I wake up everyday to, small happy townhomes in earth colors. I always wanted to do a watercolor of these homes on the edge of urbanity and nature (they sit on a canyon in uptown San Diego). Yup, I live near a canyon, yet in the city, more on this later. So here is my progress, I started with some guiding lines and this is as far as I got today. The watercolor will be a simple wash.
[click to enlarge. Unfortunately, soft graphite drawings are infamous for not scanning well]

Starting the drawing with tree shadows, to warm up the hand. From stationary point on the ground, the proportions are lightly drawn.

Vertical guiding lines.

Vertical and horizontal guidinglines of doors and windows-

Drawing and leaning on car, then sitting on the curb or grass in front of each house in my neighborhood was fun, and different cause I *never* hang out near my house. I even met a neighbor who was an artist! Doing art outdoors can tell you so much about where you live, and I am so glad no paranoid people called neighborhood watch on me (:P)

I used a Derwent Sketching for roughing in the proportions, the (only) tree and the tree shadows. You can see my new Faber Castell mechanical pencil, bought in Kuwait. What a dream drawing tool, see how ergonomic it is? (ok I will stop showing off now).

Derwent Sketching 2B, Faber Castell Grip Matic 0.5, Staedler eraser, Kneading eraser (to tone down lines).

A thing of beauty. The eraser part twists to reveal the eraser stick.

Sometimes I see my students sketching from photos, and it breaks my heart: there is nothing like the training of the hand to succeed as a designer and architect. I like to tell them to use the verb ‘draw’ as in ‘drawing information’.


Don’t get me wrong, I am not a dinosaur.  I love Sketchup, as a 3D modeler use 3D Max, have done my fair share of CAD and Revit and  Photoshop is my religion, but, as this article says, if you don’t know how to draw and sketch, and quickly convey your ideas through hand-eye coordination, your role as an architect will be very limited. Thank you to Andrew Duncan for sending me this.

Should rulers be outlawed when sketching? I believe in training your hand to be a plumb weight, creating straight yet ‘human’ lines.

Ah, the ‘Tyranny of the Straight Line’!


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