I’ve been working a little bit on my portfolio this afternoon and spending some time looking at my Vicenza sketchbook for some inspiration. During the summer of 2009, I spent five and half weeks in Northern Italy participating in an intensive drawing course with UVA’s School of Architecture. For the first half of the program, I was pretty miserable. I had never had much confidence in my drawing skills and I knew after the first day that, in terms of ability, I was most definitely in the lower half of the class. It had also failed to occur to me prior to starting the program that the course I was taking was a UVA class – that I would be with UVA Architecture undergraduate and graduate students and that the same culture that existed in studio would exist in this class. Though we didn’t really like to admit it, everyone was always looking over each other’s shoulders, quietly evaluating (judging) each others’ drawings and comparing themselves to one another. It was so disheartening to see all of the talented people around me effortlessly producing such amazing sketches. I felt so self-conscious of my sketchbook that I just wanted to tuck it away. By the middle of the program, I was so frustrated that I literally broke into tears in the middle of Vicenza’s piazza. I felt like I had tried everything — I’d used every kind of pencil I’d brought (even the magical 6B everyone else was using), bought the fancy pens and erasers that my classmates were using, asked my TA for help — nothing was working. I was convinced I was going to go home to the US with a sketchbook filled with drawings I loathed – drawings like the one above of a portal in Vicenza.
After a life changing weekend trip to the mountains, I decided to start fresh with a brand new sketchbook. No more fancy pencils – only plain, unpretentious, yellow #2 pencils. The change was phenomenal. The drawing above of an altarpiece in Venice was the first sketch I drew in that new sketchbook (can you see the difference?). All of the sudden, I had discovered my “hand” – my style. I was at ease with who I was and could appreciate the value of my own perspective. Though my drawings may not have been as realistic or as “perfect” as some of my classmates, I knew they were beautiful in and of themselves.
Speaking of beautiful in and of itself, I fell in love with the space depicted in the drawing above. This sketch was one that I drew in Sienna, not long before the program ended. Some friends and I had just visited Sienna’s Duomo — one of the largest, most expensive, ridiculously ornate cathedrals of its time, and we were standing what was intended to be an extension of its transept. Once construction began on this portion of the building – bam. The plague hit (talk about frustrating!). Rather than finish construction a few hundred years later, they just let it go. Now, all that stands are a few walls, window openings and doorways. It actually turned out to be a pretty incredible space — it’s a small area for gathering at the threshold of extravagance. Though it’s part of the duomo, it contrasts the pretentious nature of the cathedral and stands more as an extension of the elegant simplicity of the city beyond than of the church. In the frustrating week I’ve had, I’m reminded how important it is to take stock of what’s important, simplify, recognize that it’s not about what other people do or think, and look for what I know to be true in my heart. Whether it’s a space or a drawing lesson, it’s about being confident in who (or what) you are and appreciating the ways you connect to the world around you.