Sketching as Meditation: Drawing on Rome

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My student, Tim Cohan, wrote a lovely story about his experiences at the SVA Masters Design Workshop in Rome called “Drawing Inspiration from Rome.” The workshop is currently accepting participants for Summer 2014, and I thought it a propitious time to share his story.

By Timothy Cohan

By Timothy Cohan

Last summer, I rediscovered my passion for drawing. During the two weeks I spent in the SVA Masters Design Workshop in Rome, the city smashed a creative block and inspired me to get my hands dirty.

It didn’t happen immediately. We hit the ground running with an ambitious schedule. There were classes to be taken in typography past and present, lectures to hear on inscription and vernacular signage, and designers to meet in the Roman design community. There were libraries and museums to visit, and ruins to behold.

Cohan Rome

I shot hundreds of photos, traced dozens of inscriptions, studied original manuscripts, and trekked the Appian Way. The intensity of the classes and the knowledge that a final project deadline was rapidly approaching was stimulatingly stressful. But I was never stuck on what to do with an empty page. Each day it transformed into a personal record of lessons learned.

Then I picked up my pen, next watercolors and brush, and began to fill the pages with more than meticulous notes. Inspiration struck one afternoon on a walk after class. I found a café across from the Pantheon, a block away from where we resided, and stared up at the towering structure for a few moments. I opened my sketchbook and spent a half hour scribbling and hatching with a black ballpoint pen. Incredibly, it wouldn’t look much different if I had drawn it 100 or even 1,000 years ago, assuming I had a ballpoint pen. Later in the week I made a few more drawings with watercolors and pencil. One depicts a section of the Roman Forum that was recently reopened to the public. The degree of decay is evident throughout. Walls have sagged and fallen, any wood has long since decomposed, and plants have overtaken open spaces. I sat on a bench in a quiet part of the site located on the perimeter. I was alone aside from a few tour groups and the occasional passerby sneaking a quick glance over my shoulder. I finished the sketch as it began to rain.

Cohan Rome

I find sketching to be a form of meditation. It is a time to shut out other thoughts and concerns and concentrate on the unique light, color, and form of what’s in front of you. The result is a personal interpretation of that particular time and place captured through one’s own unique lens. The trick is to be open to inspiration when it strikes. With this in mind, maybe we all can find a little more time to sit down and take advantage of it.

There aren’t many times when one course can become a life-changing experience. The SVA Masters Workshop helped me learn to see and draw again, and changed the way I practice design. I was reminded that it’s not just a computer driven experience. Rome opened my eyes and gave me my hands back.

Additional ResourceDiscover techniques and hear from artists on how to use your travel to inspire an art journal with An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers.