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I don’t think I’d be exaggerating by calling Edward Hopper one of America’s national treasures. His work captured a time and place like no one else, and his distinctive style makes his work instantly recognizable.
But his drawings are an undiscovered secret, as I found out when I began looking at many of Hopper’s works on paper. Here’s what Hopper’s drawings taught me:
-Hopper’s stark painting style started with an equally unadorned drawing style. In Street Scene with Barber Shop, he captures his subject matter in its essentials: a few horizontal lines mark the path of the street and the façade of the buildings; a few curved lines denote the figures that dot the scene; and the pattern of the barber pole appears with a handful of slash marks.
-Even in a quick pencil sketch, Hopper is mindful of light and shadow. In the barbershop scene, where there isn’t a line to spare, he devotes several strokes to the cast shadows of the storefronts in the fore- and middle-ground of the drawing.
-Looking at Three Studies of a Woman, it is obvious that Hopper is a close watcher. He’s capturing graceful gestures, and the poised bearing of the female figure seems to carry a lot of significance. Meanwhile, he’s also thinking, yet again, of light and shadow. The toned paper acts as the middle value and the artist makes note of the highlights on the figure’s hair, arm, and shoulder with white chalk.
-He is always aware of the edges of his surface. In Street Scene with Barber Shop, he even pencils in where he wants the composition cropped. Also take note of the vantage point—Hopper puts the viewer off to the left so that the scene juts forcefully across our field of vision in a strong diagonal, with the buildings looming over us as well.
-Hopper was also a master of line, taking a simple subject like the standing figure in The Bengal Writer and using hatching and crosshatching to turn the form and give it volume. Look at how many different layers of line he uses. With line alone, he breaks down the planes, establishes the direction of the light, and gives a strong sense of visual variety to the work.
-For Hopper to capture the “American scenes” that he is known for he must have drawn all the time, making dozens of sketches like Study of Men’s Hats and a Window, where the drawing can almost read as a day in the life of the artist—where he went, what he saw along the way, and what was preoccupying him visually at the time.
Hopper’s drawings are a working artist’s drawings, and indicate that even going about his day to day, the artist kept pencil and paper close at hand to make studies whenever the notion took him.Following in the footsteps of drawing masters like Hopper but putting our own spin on our day-to-day sketching is what Archisketcher: A Guide to Spotting Sketching Urban Landscapes is all about. Full of inspiration and instruction, this resource can help sketching become a seamless part of your life too, just as it was to Hopper. Enjoy!