This is something I’m really excited to share with you. Corresponding with each new issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, I’ll be supplementing my “Design Matters” column with a series of what I call the Apprentice Sketchbook. A throwback to period design books that encouraged apprentices to uncover the design knowledge hidden in architecture and the classic orders. The well worn path to unlock this treasure trove is found by drawing models from classical architecture. Confession time, when I first attempted this years ago, my own drawing skills were on par with something Thag scratched on a limestone cave wall with a charred stick. But this isn’t about becoming a skilled sketch artist or draftsman (though that may happen unexpectedly); it’s about learning to see. These drawing exercises help the mind understand how forms are made up of combinations of simple shapes, and how proportions can work together to create harmony. I’ll also throw in a little geometry that’s helpful, stuff you learned from eighth grade math but probably forgot long ago. In reality, much of my drawing at the workbench is freehand. Layouts for mouldings are often so small that drawing tools become cumbersome. But because I’ve drawn these shapes at a larger scale on paper, I can visualize what I’m after and able to guide my pencil with more confidence.
This first installment is a series of three complex molding profiles redrawn from Plate LIII, in James Gibbs 1732 classic “Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture…” Gibbs describes them as, “These five sorts (I’m reproducing three of the five) of mouldings are for smaller panels, to be placed over doors, or between larger panels, to bring them to a just proportion when they are too broad.”
To your eye these mouldings may seem a bit bold. That’s because these are architectural profiles meant to stand out on a large interior wall space. The original plates also illustrated some carving patterns appropriate for each profile. For example, an egg and dart pattern on the ovolos, and rod and berry carved into the bead at the bottom of each profile. For now, this is a good introduction using dividers to lay out the proportions in each profile. Once you have completed a drawing. Take a moment and see how many simple ratios are layered into the design. I like think of these as a small assemblage of musical notes.
A little geometry lesson that applies to drawing arcs for ovolos and coves on these profiles. You will often find when drawing mouldings that curves are an odd section of a circle. To generate an arc for less than a quarter circle, extend a compass out from each terminus of the arc (A & B) and sweep a pair of intersections 180 degrees apart. Connect those intersections with a line to locate your center point (C) for your arc.
In coming months we’ll progress through a series of drawing lessons that will help develop your eye and build a library of models that you can draw inspiration from. Click on the link below for a full sized drawing you can print out to use for a guide.
George R. Walker