Plein-air pen and wash on paper

A Shrink-wrapped Facsimile of a Skyscraper

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For the last two weeks the people in downtown Nanaimo were treated with a new structure that envelopes the stairs of the public parking garage at the harbourfront. It looks like an effigy  of a modern high rise building that belongs in Vancouver or Toronto.

At the bottom, stair landings are supported by massive steel tubes that are extended above the top level of the building, about 60 feet into the sky portraying a ship’s mast and rigging, decorated with flags. Normally this architectural feature is not very conspicuous, but the stair landings provide a majestic view of the harbour and beyond and is used by visitors and locals alike to make a snapshot and as an observation deck.

The picture on the right hand side shows what the stair structure looks like normally. It was built about 25 years ago, designed by a local architect, whose creative talent produced several prominent landmarks in this city.

The picture to the left shows the cocoon that covers the scaffolding providing access and a suitable environment for painters and other tradesman, presumably, to refurbish the stair structure and to give it a new coat of paint.

When I first saw this thing it reminded me of the sculptural creations by the artist team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude who produced huge outdoor features such as wrapping a building or a bridge with fabrics in several major centres across the world. Referencing Wikipedia where  Christo is quoted as saying: “We borrow space and create gentle disturbances for a few days,”.  In our case, of course nothing to do with Christo, a few days will probably be extended by a few weeks.

These sketches were developed from (my own) photographs as I have been housebound for the last week to recuperate from the flu. This was a good opportunity to experiment with different materials. The paper is a very thin vellum with a smooth surface purposely made by Strathmore for markers (50g/m2). Winsor Newton watercolour markers work really well on this surface, even with the use of a brush pen to (sparingly) apply water for varying the value of the payne’s grey and the sepia pigments. Some wrinkling of the paper is unavoidable, as can be seen in these scans; however, it does not appear to become disturbing or unacceptable.


Author: John Hofman

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