Summer Sketching School
Architects sketch when they travel - in all kinds of media, on fine watercolour paper and in simple sketchbooks, on napkins in bars and paper place mats in sidewalk cafés, on backs of envelopes, on empty cigarette packs, and even, but rarely, on stretched canvas. Some keep journals that document journeys with ruled margins and crisp pencil drawings and others fill notebooks where train schedules and e-mail addresses share the page with watercolours of the Parthenon. For most, these sketches are more than just images; they are evidence of curiosity and the result of attempts to understand the world by observing and drawing what is seen and experienced. They record both information and knowledge and reveal a process of inquiry and searching in which architectural ideas are explored and a deeper understanding of the environment developed.
This kind of sketching is for architects a fundamental skill but it is acquired with practice, so at the end of every summer half of the student body of the McGill School of Architecture and two faculty members disappear for a little over one week to Sketching School, a one-credit course that the University Calendar, with characteristic understatement, defines as "an eight-day supervised field trip in the late summer to sketch places or things having specific visual characteristics."
The location of Sketching School moves every year but the criteria used in its selection have not changed significantly since 1921, when the course was offered for the first time. The site is usually a small to medium-sized town, large enough to accommodate the class in hotels, motels, inns, dormitories, guest houses and campgrounds, but not so large that the group itself is absorbed. It is within a day's travel from Montreal by road or rail and is located on the shore of a navigable body of water - the sea, a river, a major lake. Most importantly, the place selected is architecturally rich and visually memorable. Quebec City and Kingston, sites of the first two Sketching Schools, are still popular locations. In the last ten years, the course has travelled to five provinces, and other places visited include: Port Hope and Gananoque, Ontario; Baie St-Paul and La Malbaie, Quebec; Halifax and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, PEI; and Saint John, New Brunswick. In 1991, it was held for the first time in the USA, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and in 1993, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Last year, the course travelled to Saint John, New Brunswick, and this summer it will be held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
During the course, students are expected to explore the place - townscape and landscape - and to make sketches that describe what they find. Final evaluation is based on a portfolio of at least twenty pieces, the majority of which must be substantially worked. The emphasis is on field sketching as opposed to studio work, so students draw outside every day, working individually and in small groups, and in a variety of media, but not to the extent that they become distracted from the subject. On rainy days, those determined to remain outside find shelter under an assortment of overhangs, gazebos, balconies and canopies, while those retreating indoors find inspiration in markets, taverns, churches, boat sheds and other previously undiscovered interiors. Every second evening, we meet in a gymnasium, hotel meeting room, community centre or some other place large enough for the class to assemble comfortably and with enough wall space for two days' worth of sketches. These sessions last two hours and provide a forum not only for a review of the work but also for informal discussions on the intentions of the course and on the process by which images and memories are formed.
By the end of the course, the place is thoroughly and eloquently documented in the fifteen hundred images generated by the group over the eight-day period. The volume of production is impressive, as a body of work and as the result of a process intended to develop in architecture students not only a love of drawing but also an appreciation for its power as a mechanism for understanding the world.
For more information about the 2013 Sketching School, please click HERE.
Previous Sketching School Sites
|1959||Quebec (Ile d'Orléans)|
|1963||Baie St. Paul|
|1988||Saint John, NB|
|1993||Bar Harbor, Maine|
|1998||Saint John, NB|
|2003||Saint John, NB|
|2004||Bar Harbor, Maine|
|2005||Baie St-Paul, Quebec|
|2006||Lunenburg, Nova Scotia|
|2008||Saint John, NB|
|2009||Baie St-Paul, Quebec|
|2010||Lunenburg, Nova Scotia|
|2012||Saint John, NB|
|2013||Portsmouth, New Hampshire|