Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Picture it: The art and teachings of Fred Lynch

via Fornaccia
11:10 a.m., July 25, 2007. Viterbo, Italy, by Fred Lynch.

Sometimes you find artwork on the web that stops you on your tracks. That was my experience when I first stumbled upon Fred Lynch's timeless and peaceful scenes of Viterbo on flickr.

Fred didn't turn out to be an English or American ex-pat living in Italy. He is an artist and educator who teaches at some of the best illustration programs in the U.S., at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Mass., and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI.

My curiosity about Fred's art and teachings, which he generously shares on his blog Picture It, led me to do this Q&A with him that I first published on the Urban Sketchers blog in 2009.

Though the post is four years old, Fred answers' are just as valid today and I think you may enjoy reading them again, or perhaps for the first time, in this new "Show and Tell" phase of my blogspot.

How did the idea of drawing and documenting Viterbo come about?

Montserrat has been taking art students and enthusiasts to Viterbo, Italy, for many years to study landscape painting and photography as well as art history and journal writing. The director of the summer program asked if I'd like to create a drawing course … and I jumped at the chance. That's when I came up with the course "Journalistic Drawing in Italy."

Throughout history artists were valued correspondents for every publication that featured visuals. They recorded visions of wars, foreign lands and historic events. Paul Hogarth, the great British illustrator, wrote well of the history of this genre in his book, The Artist as Reporter. But, until recently, it seemed that the value of on-site, journalistic drawing had been decreasing, losing prominence in the editorial world to photography.

Now I see that eyewitness drawing appears to be enjoying a renaissance, particularly online with blogs, websites and image sharing sites such as Flickr. Urban Sketchers is certainly a great example. My class in Italy aims to discuss the history and contemporary trends of sketchbooks and visual journalism and to use Viterbo as the subject (and inspiration) for visual essays and observational sketches.

Top: Drawing by Heather McCoy. Bottom: Leeza Masia drawing in Viterbo. More students' sketches at Drawing Viterbo. Photo by Deb Venuti.

How is Viterbo like? How is it like to sketch there with your students?

Viterbo is a small ancient city, with a population of about 60,000. The old part of the city is contained in walls that were constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries. The city is both old (with a wonderfully preserved Medieval Quarter) and new, with modern shopping, fashions and lifestyle. What makes Viterbo particularly great for us is that it is off the beaten path of tourism. As visitors, we get a pure Italian experience and have no competition for interesting sites.

Students draw constantly throughout the month long trip, both in and out of class. They are encouraged to act as sponges soaking up everything and wringing it out in their sketchbooks! They visit Rome, the Mediterranean and Florence with their sketchbooks. In a foreign place, one’s senses are heightened and almost everything is interesting to draw. We talk about how we need to take that quality of seeing back home to our own ordinary lives.

What is your sketching process and technique. How long do you spend on each drawing. Why is it important to caption them with exact time and date?

Ordinarily, I'm an oil painter, working slowly and making many corrections and changes. But when I sketch, the focus is on the moment and on the place.

Because light changes as the sun crosses the sky, I work as quickly as I can (shadows move quickly in the city). I want very much to finish the work on-sight in one sitting. Each drawing ends up taking about an hour to complete. At the end of the drawing, I write the time and the address of the spot where I am. I don't revisit the works later. The work represents its point in time, an eyewitness account.

I currently sketch with either ink (Windsor Newton, nut brown) or black ballpoint pen. The ink drawings are washes and are created with brushes and ink watered down to start and darkened as I go. From time to time, I'll paint with watercolors from a small Windsor Newton travel kit. I work in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook or on a small, 7x10" Arches watercolor block (hot pressed). Pencils, erasers, a quill pen, a rag, a big water bottle and sunblock are essential supplies too!

Each sketch starts with a 10-minute inspirational light pencil drawing to interpret the scene, followed by 50 minutes of perspiration. I work the entire surface from the general to the specific and from the light to the dark. While I strive to capture the scene as I see it (to get it "right"), I'm not all afraid to impose my personality to the works and to be comfortable with the work’s overall lack of finish. Each and every time I sit and draw I wonder if it will work out in the end. Happily it almost always does and I usually feel satisfied in the end. That said, I don't love all of my drawings and I wish to push myself further each time I work, which is easier said than done! I’m never comfortable. I'm drawn to the difficult, I guess.

• Drawing Viterbo on Flickr.
• Drawing Viterbo students' blog.
• Fred Lynch's website.

P.S.: Fred will be giving a lecture at this year's Urban Sketching Symposium in Barcelona. If you are planning to attend, make sure not to miss it!

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