Daily Inspiration from the 2019 Christopher H. Browne Paris Drawing Tour
Video courtesy of Tour participant Emmie Ruth Wise.
Follow the ICAA through the 2019 Christopher H. Browne Paris Drawing Tour as we study the classical architecture, interiors, and landscapes of Paris through observational drawing and painting. The program is led by prominent architect Kahlil Hamady and designer Leslie-jon Vickory, alongside renowned watercolorists, Bernd Dams and Andrew Zega. Blog posts are provided courtesy of Tour participants.
The tour began the evening of Saturday, October 5th, with a reception at the atelier of instructors Bernd Dams and Andrew Zega. The participants all had the chance to meet each other and their instructors, and learn more about what they would study during the week to come. The night ended with a group dinner at Le Fumoir, a restaurant near the Musée du Louvre, where participants continued their conversations from the reception.
October 6th, by Emmie Ruth Wise
On Sunday morning, we all arrived at Hotel Turenne Le Marais and were immediately greeted with coffee and croissants. After we settled in for the morning, we began with a glimpse into the sketchbooks of both Kahlil and Leslie-Jon. They had just recently returned from a trip to Baalbek, and their sketching techniques astounded us all.
We then passed around the reproduction of Hubert Robert’s sketchbook from his time in Rome as Kahlil gave an overview of Robert and his technique. After reviewing the work of the masters, we were able to put our ink pens to paper as we recreated the scenes from Robert’s sketchbooks in efforts to learn directly from his ways. As Kahlil passed out the handmade, artisan French watercolor paper, he emphasized the importance of keeping the hand-crafted aspect in all of the materials of your work, including paper and ink.
Both Kahlil and Leslie-Jon encouraged us to repeat the same sketch over again, in effort to fully grasp how Robert was specifically trying to convey Rome in a scene. They also encouraged us to work on multiple sketches at once, which added to the excitement and also increased the learning potential as we moved between sketches, waiting on previous ones to dry.
For lunch, we all met near our next destination and ate at the local cafés. Kahlil suggested a particular angle with a nice view to sketch, so a few of us juggled our baguettes and cheese with our ink pens at the table. For the rest of the afternoon, we sketched in Place des Vosges.
The green space was bubbling with life from the local school children, to families with strollers, all to the sound of the opera singer on the nearby street.
We sketched in our own spots but often traded places as well as sketching secrets. Our lovely afternoon was blessed with the perfect sunny weather, and we wrapped up the day at the nearby bookstore.
October 7th, by Timothy Farina
We spent our Monday in the atelier of our instructors Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams. The two first introduced us to the history of their work together, starting with their work with patrons in New York and then their move to Paris at the behest of a friend and client. The lecture continued into a slideshow of their incredible body of work, which was both unbelievable and inspiring. They shared with us the story of their endeavor to document unique interests they shared: first Versailles, followed by Chinoiseries and then Central Park - collected in publications of the same name. The conversation shifted as they began to evidence their process of translating an idea into a final drawing. We were all impressed by the collaborative yet distinctive roles each one assumes in the process - Bernd drawing, Andrew rendering - and how this has come to be so successful.
The sound of the bustling street creeping in through the balcony doors signaled that it was time to break for lunch. The weather was warm so we were able to enjoy the beautiful Les Halles neighborhood by dining outside in authentic Parisian fashion.
When we returned to the Atelier in the afternoon, we began the first watercolor wash exercise. While we were all eager to see an end result like those of the morning lecture, perhaps the biggest lesson was in patience. We worked for about four and a half hours, the sound of at least one hairdryer running at all times, fueled by many batches of coffee, yet our objective was only to render a simple lead roof about two inches wide. As the process unfolded, and we gained a greater understanding of the precise steps and methodical approach, so too did we appreciate more the genius of Bernd and Andrew. Emotions during the exercise ranged from excited admiration to unpleasant surprise and everything in between. The final step of "dirtying" the material did wonders to cover many mistakes and restore the hope of a nice drawing. In the end, the rendered results were secondary to our experience working with two masters in their craft, and the time in the atelier was wonderfully fun.
In the evening, we adventured to the office and showroom of Rinck for a cocktail party. Their outstanding display of things designed and built by their team was eye opening to all of us. We were able to see their creative and craft abilities, ongoing projects, and many innovative applications of their products. Their staff was amazingly kind and welcoming to each of us, and the party a fitting celebration of our common interests.
October 8th, by Taylor Driscoll
We departed for Versailles early in the morning, just as the sun lit up the city. As our bus pulled into the grounds, the sheer scale of the complex was overwhelming. Our first stop was the colonnade of the Grand Trianon, where the instructors discussed the history of Versailles and the Grand Trianon. The soft rain heightened the colors of the stone and surrounding gardens. We then proceeded to our main destination: The Petit Trianon. We began with a watercolor of the interior of the Pavilion. It was challenging to compose a view that captured a complete sense of the octagonal main hall, and to restrain ourselves from trying to render all of the intricate detailing for time’s sake.
We were surprised with a brief visit by the head gardener of Versailles, Alain Baraton. He has been Versailles’ head gardener since 1982, and everyone was a little starstruck. The next destination was the Théâtre de la Reine to watercolor. Here, Marie Antoinette would hold events and shows for her own exclusive entourage. Watercoloring here was difficult due to the complexity of the space and the darker lighting.
We finally arrived at the Petit Trianon itself, where we toured the building and produced watercolors of interior spaces, such as the chapel and the main stairs.
We then gathered outside to study the rear facade, which we will be rendering in studio tomorrow. The rain had brought out the rich yellow and orange hues of the stonework, and everything had a romantic air about it. The day concluded with a study of the proportional relationship between the Petit Trianon and its surrounding gardens before the rain picked up again and sent us back to our bus.
The bus brought us back to Paris for a light dinner of charcuterie and wine. A smaller group then made a visit to Montmartre, once the domain of such masters as Renoir and Picasso. We climbed what seemed to be thousands of stairs before finally reaching the top of the hill to take in spectacular views of the city. There was a mass taking place at the Sacré Cœur church and we produced some sketches of the interior. We concluded the night with crepes and a walk around the neighborhood, peering into rustic cafes and admiring the eccentric graffiti along the walls of the buildings.
October 9th, by Mary Catherine Walter
On Wednesday we returned to the atelier of Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams for another exercise in formal wash rendering – this time with a bay detail of the Petit Trianon. We spent the day applying the rendering techniques we were introduced to on Monday to the building we had visited the day before.
The first step before rendering was to cache around the portion of the drawing that would receive the wash with tape and trace paper. This kept the rest of the page clean and ensured that the watercolor would not run into the other parts of the drawing. Then colors could be mixed and the layering process could begin. We began by mixing a stone color and gradually built up light layers until the desired darkness was achieved. Next we added texture to the individual stones to bring depth and life to the elevation before layering on shadows with a ruling pen. The ruling or drafting pen enabled us to apply shadows in thin lines to delicate features such as the cornice and window frames. We also used it to outline each window pane before rendering the windows with a brush.
Wash rendering requires much patience and precision, but with each layer the materials, textures, and shadows came to life. (We also had the help of two hairdryers to speed the drying process along!) By the end of the afternoon we had a bold rendition of the Petit Trianon’s façade and a new understanding of watercolor rendering.
Progress of studio watercolor exercise by Mary Catherine Walter
October 10th, by Therese Madigan
Today we visited the Fondation Coubertin, a 200-acre farm outside of Paris that was converted into an atelier for the education of young people in the trades: bronze casting, metalwork, and woodwork.
Upon our arrival, the director of the Fondation gave us a tour of the grounds and of the various ateliers where the students were at work. The ateliers within the school are commissioned to work on many projects of historical and artistic significance, ranging from restoring historic buildings to the construction of sculptures designed by contemporary artists.
We first visited the bronze casting atelier, where we learned about the entire bronze casting process from the mock-up produced by the artist to the final bronze statue. The Fondation has possession of the molds for the statues produced by the atelier, in case the artists decide they would like another statue cast. Of the many molds that we passed by in the workshop, most notable was Rodin’s “Gates of Hell” that sat in a corner waiting for a museum to commission another cast.
We next visited the woodcutting atelier. First we passed through an enormous room where all the timber was stored and air dried. The wood is organized based on where it came from, so that all the beams from a single tree or forest are kept together. Inside the atelier, we saw the students at work on wood staircases, wood paneling, and a mock-up for a wood door produced for the Place Vendôme.
The metalwork atelier was next, and we were privileged to have one of the students explain his current project to us. He is working to restore the elaborate metalwork on the gates of Versailles, and he explained to us the process of cutting out metal sheets according to a template, and then carefully hammering the sheets in a series of concave and convex curves until it becomes one of the flowers to adorn the gates.
The Fondation Coubertin aims to give a holistic education to the students, so in addition to working with their hands in the ateliers they also spend half of their time taking classes. This dedication to the intellectual development of the students is most evident in the library present on the school grounds. We visited the library after the ateliers, and were able to view the treasured collection, which included a 16th-century copy of Vitruvius.
After our tour of the grounds we joined the students in their dining hall to eat a fantastic French lunch. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon sketching the various buildings around the property, and finally returned back to Paris in time for dinner.
October 11th, by Patrick Mahar
On Friday, the seventh day of the Paris Drawing Tour, we all met in the morning outside of Bibliothèque Saint-Genevieve, the first public library of Paris and the archetypal model of early American libraries. While waiting for the library to open, we sat in the square outside while sketching the exteriors of the Bibliothèque and listened to professor Kahlil Hamady prepare us with some history before entering. One of the overarching themes of our Paris tour was how we practice classicism in our current times while incorporating new materials and technologies into the classical canon. We learned that the rupture in architecture that polarized architecture into the “modernists” and the “classicists” does not exist at the Bibliothèque Saint-Genevieve, since Lebrouste had no intention of abandoning classicism in modern times, but rather was flexible in his openness to modern technologies.
We learned much about Henri Lebrouste and his ways of incorporating iron and other materials and how the orders adapt and conform to these materials that have properties different from stone. For example, Lebrouste designed his Corinthian columns in iron with proportions of 1:30 to honor the material properties of metal instead of the canonical Corinthian at the common 1:10 proportion. Our group also had the great honor of looking through Labrouste's original renderings and drawings for the Bibliotheque guided by the director of the library!
We then went to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and explored the Palais des Etudes designed by Felix Duban, a contemporary of Henri Lebrouste, and his similar use of elongated iron columns and the incorporation of modern materials into classicism. We also visited an exhibit at the school of works by 18th-20th century students, where we saw many studies of the human form, its proportions, and various methods of drawing. This exhibition of the Beaux-Arts masters prepared us for our evening trip to the Louvre Museum, where we sketched and studied a few 18th century sculptures of human figures and their proportions in relation to the classical orders.
This year's Paris Drawing Tour ended on Saturday, October 12th, with a final site visit and a review of all of the participants' incredible works throughout their journey. In the morning, the group got a special glimpse into the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, where they sketched the beautiful interior architecture. After a free afternoon, the students returned to the atelier of Bernd Dams and Andrew Zega for a farewell dinner and sketchbook review. All of the participants were excited to see how much their technique had grown over the course of the week, and departed back to the United States full of inspiration for future studies and carrying a new perspective on their own practice.