Tuscan Travels in Texture

By 2018

My recent trip to Volterra in Tuscany was an opportunity for me to indulge in some detailed drawing of the architecture that I saw there using three different platforms: an iPad and Apple pencil, my Android phone with the sPen and on the PC using a Wacom tablet.

Volterra gives the impression of being a single organism. The palette of materials is restricted but quite rich. Walls are often a wild and crazy blend of stone and brick, perhaps with patches of crumbling stucco, and accents of dressed stone. Doors often come as a hinged pair, even where the opening is quite narrow. I love the traditional blacksmith technique for locking a grid of bars together like threading cotton through the eye of a needle.

The mixture of stone and brick is sometimes a random effect over time as window openings are moved around, sometimes the calculated insertion of brick string courses and relieving arches giving structure to random rubble walling. It’s not unusual for the lower courses to be dressed stone, with un-coursed rubble above. It’s difficult to know how much of this rich textural variation was meant to be seen and how much results from stucco falling off, or owners never quite finishing the job.

My first drawing on an android phone is very loose in style, a kind of a pen and ink feel. The perspective is quite dramatic, converging towards a distant point then disappearing round the corner to points unknown. I was thinking in traditional art terms: composition, rhythm and balance; areas of flat surface contrasting with areas of detail. These are very abstract ideas, but as I work I notice incidental details. I become aware of the typical street lights projecting out from the wall on scroll brackets.


architectural drawing android

Before the trip, I had started to think about the windows and even begun to make some Revit families. There is a lot of variation, but also some extremely strong, persistent themes. Ground floor windows are almost always treated quite differently from the upper stories. The main factor seems to be security: sturdy bars forming a grid of squares or diamonds, or occasionally more elaborate scrolls and radial arrays.

Ground floor windows have solid shutters, opening inwards, secured from the inside. By contrast, upper windows have louvered shutters that open out. These are fascinating contraptions. Some of the louvres are fixed, some enclosed in a secondary frame that hinges out like a flap when the shutter is in the closed position.

It’s clear that many of the residents of Volterra live in apartments, so the window a point of contact with the outside world. Domestic life spills out in the form of washing lines on pulleys and little rows of plant pots on the window sill. How far does apartment life trace back? To medieval times, late Roman, early Etruscan? Would it be possible to outline the evolution of urban housing in Tuscany over the centuries?

My second drawing on an iPad was chosen for its dramatic pattern of light and shade. I started with a simple boundary and areas of flat fill to represent deep shadow and sky. Later on the flood fill accidentally picked up patches of darkness in the lower walls. These two moves conspired to tilt the image towards a comic-book style, emphasised by the powder blue and yellow. No shutters here? I guess the geometry of the tall narrow alley keeps the windows in shade most of the time anyway. Is this a general rule, or a lonely coincidence?

architectural drawing iPad
I’m not sure how to characterise my third drawing. I used my iPad this time and it became a highly abstracted study in textures. Once again I was attracted by the drama of the perspective.┬áThe alleys are often bridged by arches, sometimes with linking rooms above, but here apparently structural buttresses, resisting the internal thrust. But why? You can see a couple of rainwater pipes here, normally copper, descending from half-round gutters. It seems to be normal practice for the downpipes to disappear inside the wall at ground floor level. Is this to protect them from damage? Presumably they drop straight into an underground storm water system.

Tuscan architecture drawing iPad

My final drawing was done on the PC using a Wacom tablet. You can tell by the sensitivity of the line and the level of detail. This is San Felice, a chapel and a minor gate. This image captures the feeling of a limitless horizon around the town: rolling arable farmland floating out in every direction.

architectural drawing Wacom tablet
Comparing the three operating systems and pen technologies I still find the Apple pencil disappointing, but the iPad is a good compromise between a phone and PC peripheral in terms of size, portability and ease of use but I will probably continue to use all three.

Read the full report here: http://grevity.blogspot.com

By Andrew Milburn – Associate