Drawing Canyon: Sfumato presences in drawing and landscape

  • Simon Twose
  • Jules Moloney


Drawings are fields of multiple, hovering presences. A rapidly sketched line in an architectural drawing, of say, a landscape, describes its form but can also record its presence, evoking vastness or a dynamic material potential. Yet the sketch is itself imbued with presence; smudges, blurs and erasures record the rapid actions of pencil over paper in the draughtsperson’s pursuit of an architectural idea. The blurs of graphite are evidence of hand and mind moving over paper and, at the same time, massive atmospheric potentials of rock, mud and sea. In this way, the sketched mark continually hovers between being a smudge of graphite and an immense landscape, the presences in both inflecting one another as if sfumato lights and darks in a painting. This paper reports on Canyon, an experimental drawing project that intensifies drawing’s capacity for sfumato presences by sketching a submarine landscape using a multi-modal technique. Canyon attempts to develop an ever-emergent, nascent architecture from presences in drawing and landscape through analogue sketches, VR and soundscapes. The first stage of Canyon was exhibited at the Palazzo Bembo in the XVI Venice Biennale, 2018.

Canyon draws presences from the dynamic undersea landscape of Kaikōura Canyon, Aotearoa/New Zealand. A series of hand sketches, soundscapes and virtual reality (VR) distils an architectural sense of the bathymetry and vast body of water of the canyon, recently jolted by huge forces in the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake. This submarine landscape is known through instrumental descriptions: sonic scans, digital models and scientific data, yet its powerful and ominous spatial presence is less easy to record. The Canyon drawings project into this unseen, imagined space, drawing its ominous presence through smudged and irresolute sketches that are intensified in a VR environment and in a series of immersive soundscapes. This hybrid, multi-sensorial drawing technique attempts to make presences in drawing and in the Kaikōura Canyon share the same space, as an inhabitable, open sketch.

This work proposes hybrid drawing as an open medium figured by presences in drawing and in landscape. It resonates with Jean Luc Nancy’s notion of drawing as the opening of form, indicating “the traced figure’s ‘essential incompleteness, a non-closure or non-totalizing of form’” (Nancy 2013: 1). We extend the openness of gestural, analogue sketching to the digital and sensorial, and argue that VR, and sound, can be sketch-like: they too are figured by “recalcitrant, ‘meaningless’ smears and blotches” (Elkins 1995: 860). We argue these hybrid, “non-semiotic” marks draw presences, from material, scale and sense in drawing and landscape: presences that hover in sfumato relation, pointing to a sketch-like, ever-emergent architecture.

How to Cite
Twose, S., & Moloney, J. (2019). Drawing Canyon: Sfumato presences in drawing and landscape. Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts, 19(19), 41-53. https://doi.org/10.24135/ijara.v0i0.554
Peer Reviewed