Freehand drawing the life of St. Andrew the Apostle
One of the most exciting discoveries in my life as a young artist came from seeing the power of spontaneous, almost non-selfconscious sketching and doodles. At first, however, I felt there was a huge abyss of quality between my doodles and the sorts of work I thought others would appreciate.
The pair of images above show how my larger, polished color-pencil drawing of "The Fisherman and his Wife," came from a quick black and white notation from a small travel sketchbook that I kept as I explored the northeastern coast of Venezuela (known as Barlovento) by bus in the late 1980s, looking for subjects to paint.
Some years before, a Catholic monk friend of mine from upstate New York had told me to value all my thumbnail sketches (or "croquis," as he called them in Spanish)--- and to keep doing them, alongside my more laborious pieces. In fact, the more I switched back and forth from spontaneous croquis to more controlled studies in pencil, charcoal, or watercolor, I began to feel the two approaches converge. The sort of scribble my friend talked about is what Leonardo DaVinci also called the "stain" (in Italian, "macchia, mack-ee-ah). In various passages of his famous journals, Leonardo insists not only that the painter should first work out his painted compositions as loose, gestural notations in crayon or ink, but that those same crayon or ink tangles contained the seed or inner movement of the more developed images. The more I trusted and enjoyed the croquis stage, the more spontaneous and accurate my controlled sketching or painting became! I saw, too, how a good painting could be developed from a lowly, almost throwaway scribble!
Please CLICK on the IMAGEs of my drawings reviewed in the above slide bar.
The churches and monuments of the City of Rome offered me ample opportunity for practicing what Brother Stephen Galban, of Mount Saviour Monastery, taught me when I met him in my freshman year in college. (At St. John's College, a non-denominational university of classical studies located in Annapolis, Maryland, we did nothing but read "the great books," and analyze their content. So my meeting Br. Stephen was quite a relief to the feeling of "binging" on so many cerebral discussions and reading assignments.) With the years, I found more and more time to draw and sketch, and the pencil drawings in the above slide bar show the result of, literally, years of independent study of the human figure by me, and of outdoor, "plein air" sketching of landscapes or sity monuments.
My portfolio of sketches in sepia or color pencils in this page reflects how I advanced by the time I moved to Rome in the year 2008 -- by that time, however, the eye-to-hand coordination I had acquired, and it had in fact awarded me the opportunity to TEACH freehand drawing at the University of Miami. When I sketched the various areas of the front altar frescoes by Mattia Preti and the ceiling frescoes by the great DOMENICHINO in the Roman church of Sant'ANDREA DELLA VALLE, I was aware, too, that as the old Roman designers understood things, both in the ancient world of the Caesars and in that of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, the drawing and painting of form inside the moldings or arches of a temple or church honors the wholistic sense of the designers of those glorious periods of the idea that FIGURE, NARRATIVE, Spatial Perspective, Lettering, and Color, plus construction materials used to dsiplay such images, are all ONE.
Sometimes I smile when I think that this whole other world that my friend the monk showed me the way to, actually enriched and completed my St. John's College education in the Classics, and it designed my life, henceforth, as a sort of Odyssey looking for the way back to a home to which I was entitled, if only I did the work and bowed to the task of focusing my ideas and training my hand, working from "croquis," to examine what life and beauty and truth were all about.
The X-Shaped Cross of Saint Andrew the Apostle and its significance in Drawing and Design:
It took me many visits and drawing session, using in fact binoculars (but no photo camera) to produce this group of drawings. During the course of these sessions, my mind would often wander to related or unrelated topics or be distracted by situations that took place around me inside that great church of the Theatine Order. For instance, I recalled often that Giacomo Puccini wrote his great opera TOSCA so that its opening First ACT (with no Overture, previous) actually opens inside this church, where his hero, a painter named Mario, is painting a fresco in the Barberini Family Chapel, located to the left as one enters this grand church. Another time, a Roman homeless lady often spent entire mornings inside the church, and she would use a funny mixture of violence in her language and tone of voice, and of more courteous bows and smiles, in approaching visitors to the church and asking them for alms. At times she directly asked me to give her a sort of artist's fee to be able to sit inside the church and sketch as I did.
But some of the more interesting thoughts and realizations that came to me from these drawing lessons that I allowed myself, came from my noticing the use of THE LETTER X to compose the pictures of the church saint, the fisherman Andrew, brother of St. Peter the Apostle, whose form of martyrdom was crucifixion on an X-shaped cross. I am referring to the use by both Mattia Preti and Domenichino of THE LETTER or form of the X , indeed, not only as a significant pictorial element in identifying tha many images of St. Andrew in Christian churches and iconography, but as a simple and very strong design element in his pictures in this Counter-Reformation church. For me as a student of drawing and painting, moreover, the X was the single first marking that opened the way for every other line and mass in the picture.
Rome is full of such VOCABULARY keys --- and one could say they are the code of the ancient world of the Greeks and the Romans, too, which was the library that the architects and poets of the brush and pen of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods were reading from (like me in St. John's reading Plato and Homer), in order to bring harmony and balance to their new city plans and religious spaces.