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Il Redentore Class: to draw and paint for understanding

During the time I taught for the University of Miami's School of Architecture, the department  offered students of high-school age who might be considering an architecture career a three-week intensive summer course in theory, design, and drawing, where they could learn the essentials of the discipline in a hands-on studio setting, including sketching field-trips and design workshops or charrettes.

In 2005 and for several years afterwards, SOA Professor Carmen Guerrero coordinated EXPLORATIONS  and invited me to co-teach the graphics component with her.  The final week of this intensive course, our class studied the 16th century church of Il Redentore, designed by Andrea Palladio, to see the relationship of drawing to architecture by analyzing the Venetian church's plans, elevations, and sections.  Simultaneously, we introduced the students to oil painting and showed them how to use traditional glazing techniques to create their own individual "reading" of the church's façade. Oil glazing is ideal for this exercise, since it can be used to describe spatial relationships and other aspects of the church which the class first studied analytically by looking at the plans, section, and elevation. Below are several examples of the students' work -- as they analyzed features like symmetry, diagonals, and other hidden geometries embedded in the Palladian church façade.

The power of drawing and painting as a tool of understanding and asking questions also became clear to the class when we directed our attention to one of the most intriguing artworks in the university's Lowe Art Museum.  Only this time, the class was not looking at lines, volumes, and color - - they were including the narrative subject that inspired this unique mural on canvas.  The mural was begun but never finished by Washington Allston, an American artist living in Rome shortly after the French Revolution.  Since its three main levels of execution are distinctly visible - - under-painting, charcoal line drawing, and finished oil glazes - - the mural is very much like the " section cut" of an architectural space or building, and it thus becomes a wonderful teaching tool for more than only the painting process.
" Jason returning to Demand his Father's Kingdom" (1807-8)  Washington Allston (U.S 1779-1843) 16.8' x 24'  oil, chalk on canvas 
The students were challenged to do an analytical pastel "exploration" of the key figures and buildings in the  original Washington Allston canvas in the Lowe Art Museum. I always taught this lesson by working side-by-side them on a drawing of my own, as shown above.

Still-life and Abstract Class:  University of Miami

These images of my students' art highlight the studio work done in one of the Freehand Drawing classes I recently taught at the University of  Miami's School of Architecture. The overall course focus and content were designed and supervised by SOA Professor Rocco Ceo.

The students were introduced to basic color theory and still-life composition, and they were asked first to produce a color-pencil study of their fruit subject. Then they had to "abstract" the deeper color harmonies and form of the fruit and combine these to create a floor tile design for a hypothetical fruit export company in Miami, Florida.  It was astonishing to see how limes, mangoes, coconuts, and pineapples exploded into myriad design combinations.

Landscapes Class : University of Miami

These student landscapes were produced in one of the Freehand Drawing classes I taught some years back  at the University of Miami's School of Architecture. The overall course focus and content were designed and supervised by SOA Professor David Fix. I taught an individual studio of 10 students how to draw "freehand" using pencils, pen and ink, and pastels.

First, the class was introduced to basic color theory and landscape composition, particularly in the architectural tradition of travel sketching and on-site drawing and documentation. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, our studio scouted the City of Coral Gables, Florida, looking for examples of Moorish designs in the architecture, fountains, and landscaping of the "City Beautiful," as this area of Miami is traditionally known. Soon the students were working out their lessons of color, 3-dimensional space, and page design in the various CG landscapes and structures exhibited on this web page.

A final part of the class work at semester's end required that the students apply the Moorish garden and building elements gathered from their travels to create a color illustration of setting for one of 19th century American travel-writer Washington Irving's "Tales of the Alhambra,"   which in fact were told having the Moorish city of Granada, Spain, as a setting.

Just as Washington Irving's 19th-century visit to Granada and its Alhambra palace and gardens, then in a state of virtual ruin was broadened by his previous readings about the history of the Umayyad, Almoravids, and Nasrids in Islamic Spain, my class's readings of Irving's tales gave them a somewhat romantic historical context as they explored "Moorish" Coral Gables. They also came away from the experience with a more visionary appreciation of George Merrick's original inspirations in designing  Coral Gables as he himself "quoted"  and celebrated Islamic architecture and garden designs in his City Beautiful.

These student landscapes and sculpture studies were produced in one of the outdoor Freehand Drawing classes I taught at the University of Miami's School of Architecture. The overall course focus and content were designed and supervised by my colleague, Professor Rocco Ceo.

Landscapes (continued)

These student "gate designs"  were created by my section of Freehand Drawing students at the University of Miami's School of Architecture . Colleague Professor Rocco Ceo directed this project. Students were asked to first sketch some of the plants and trees at the Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Coral Gables, Miami, and then to gradually develop an abstract design for a hypothetical new gate for the garden grounds.   Students sketched the plants first in pencil, but the final gate drawings were done in the old-fashioned pen & ink technique, using pen nibs and India ink on smooth grain, white paper.

The Design of a Gate

On reading HOMER ... to learn Design through narrative

In August 2008, I asked a small group of graduate students from an American university studying in Rome to read and think about the thread of Ariadne and other myths  while they studied architectural drawing and design here in the City. The class also received lessons in one- and two-point perspective and sketching from the live human model in order to improve their freehand drawing skills. While by most accounts, it was the world's first architect, Daedalus, who designed the famous Cretan labyrinth, Hungarian scholar Karl Kerenyi (1897-1973) assures us that a series of dance steps performed by Ariadne in front of Theseus gave Theseus the "thread" he needed to follow to enter and exit from the maze, in order to defeat the Minotaur -- a half bull, half human creature who lived inside it.  I  knew, of course, that for the students, the reference to such ancient legends had little to do with their final project of producing, by semester's end, a well- documented 30" x 40" elevation drawing of a Roman site -- done in computer CAD software. But all the same, we all brought along a 1930's version of Homer's ODYSSEY -- by T. E. Lawrence -- as sort of trip companion, and devoted a number of class discussions during the semester to see 
just what Odysseus's homecoming journey after the Trojan War, his encounter with the one-eyed Cyclops, or his overcoming of the enchantress Circe had to do with things "architectural."



However, I feel that the various charcoal studies executed --shown here -- from live poses of our human model while we were in Rome, also reveal -- in terms of the FIGURE -- how the elements of a good drawing are somehow universal. In the end, it is all about composition, stacking of parts to make the whole, line weights, and expressiveness. Despite these parallels and commonalities, though, some drawing students and teachers insist that buildings and human figures exist in very different realms of learning about design.



The design dimension of drawing can be strengthened following the approach used in the mastering of a musical instrument by playing short pieces by Clementi or some of the preludes by Bach in his work for the well-tempered clavier. Two young drawing students here in Rome learned much from analyzing and rendering the monochrome painting by Raphael Sanzio shown below, where 6th-century Pope Gregory the Great tames or overpowers a dragon in the Rome of the Middle Ages, wrought with civil war and pestilence.





This was these students' 2nd exercise in painting. And we deliberately kept the exercise one-color, so they could learn how to handle the painting medium and address the act of painting as one of drawing.

This also allowed them to concentrate on issues of proportion, chiaroscuro, and composition..., which are similar in both drawing and painting.

In my classes I encourage these students to think of painting as DRAWING IN COLOR, and to think of what they are drawing as a narrative or plot line that they are narrating in darks and lights. I also tell them to "see" their image as though through a dreamy kind of haze at first, so they can better concentrate on relative sizes and values of the general areas.  In fact, they have also learnt often use the DaVinci trick of looking at their work  through a mirror, in order to dis-attach themselves from their work and thus view it with more objectivity.









Renzo Punay
age 14
acrylic  25 x 20 cm

At all times while I teach these students, I paint right alongside them.  That way we not only work as a team and critique each other's progress, but I can experience and anticipate possible difficulties in order to guide them better !  

Michael Whalen
age 14
acrylic  25 x 20 cm

Working from monochrome paintings of the Masters, also called grisailles

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