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a single step

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

For each of the fourteen students and two instructors from the Bellevue College Interior Design program, the first step on our individual journeys led all of us here — to Florence!

All of us, in whatever measure, share a passion for drawing; some just discovering their interest, some devoted practitioners, and others who want to shake the dust off their sketchbooks. What better way than by exploring Florence one drawing at a time!

Please follow along on the first of what I hope will be many journeys to Florence.

Drawing on Florence | August 23 – September 12 | 2017

Signature D

Dan Beert, IIDA
Bellevue College Interior Design
Bellevue, WA

the journal | student sketchbooks no.1

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Our last Sunday in Florence and it was time to gather the student sketchbooks. This was the first time we’d seen the collected works of the Drawing on Florence students – 2017 edition. And speaking of editions, this post is dedicated to Kristin, whose sketchbook was an amazingly detailed – and fun! – illustrated journal of her adventures in Renaissance art and architecture. For those of you who are familiar with Michelle Cooper’s Visual Journaling approach, you’ll see below a similarly wide-ranging eye for everything Kristin could fit on a page or two, including notes and mementos pasted on the pages.

Kristin’s sketch journal is just a sample of the awesome work our students produced while on our journey. It’s notable, though, for suggesting a method of practice that justifies our continuing to teach and promote drawing practice.

This is one of my favorite pages from later in our trip: a three-day record of visits to the Medici chapel and Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Ferragamo Museum, Accademia, and San Marco convent. It represents a range of approaches, moments, and ideas.


By making notes, the sketches also record moments in time. Including John’s sandwich moment (…seriously, an army travels on its stomach). Anyone who’s taken the time to draw while traveling knows how memorable each drawing can be – how one sketch can capture more than a folder full of digital photos and selfies; if only in the imagination of the one doing the drawing. A sketchbook is personal, and I believe that our students discovered that it wasn’t all about making pretty pictures.

Sure, starting a drawing reminds us of our inadequacies. We’re never fully satisfied with our skill. But if you want to get better at drawing, JUST DRAW! And it was a familiar sight to see Kristin hunched over her notebook, not just drawing but making notes; intensely focused, drawing with intent and attention.

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Drawing of the crypt at bottom left/center, along with other observations and interpretation.

In upcoming posts that summarize the trip, I’ll show work from other students that’s impressive in its own way: creative, artistic, beautiful, skillful drawings that show how much the students’ work improved in three weeks. Some was incredible from the start.

What’s impressive is that Kristin’s sketchbook shows an interest in the ideas behind what Kristin observed, not just the visual details. In a digitally infused design practice, you have to ask: “Why draw?” If computer graphics can approximate reality and photos document our world with abandon – remember film cameras? – is there any reason that design students should learn to draw?

I think this journal goes to show the kind of drawing and sketchbook practices design instructors, employers and even clients would benefit from seeing. We don’t need to reproduce the world we see in lifelike drawings. We need to record the world as we see it – as we come to understand it in a personal way; to represent the ideas that come up as we pay attention to what we look at while drawing. This is an important step in being able to represent what we imagine while envisioning things that have yet to be built.

Here’s the full journal montage. Brava, Kristin!


feet don’t fail me now

It’s hard to believe all that we’ve been doing since my last post. For one thing, the weather finally broke last Friday. After two weeks of temperatures in the upper nineties, we’ve been enjoying mid-70s to low-80s with blue skies and what I refer to as Michelangelo’s clouds. These shots are from our Sunday visit to the church of San Miniato al Monte and the Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking Florence.



To give you an idea of why you aren’t reading more about what we’ve been up to, here’s a list of places we’ve been over the last nine days:

  • 08_30 Wednesday
    Galleria degli Uffizi. A five hour journey through gallery after gallery of world-class art. Probably only second to the Louvre museum in size and significance of its collection. And the crowds seemed to support that claim. A long and rewarding day of viewing, sketching, and sharing the experience with a couple thousand other visitors. John secured a shaded table on the rooftop cafe, and we played musical chairs as others in the group showed up for a break.
  • 08_31 Thursday
    Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. After our day at the Ufizzi, this didn’t take as long, but feet were sore, and we needed to rest up for our day trip on Friday.
  • 09_1 Friday
    San Gimignano Day Trip. A third of the bus trip there was just getting out of Florence! This was a fantastic day all around. San Gimignano is the epitome of picturesque. We had no problem finding great drawing subjects around every corner. No one wanted to leave. Will report more later on our visit.
  • 09_2 Saturday
    Arezzo. Instructors’ side trip on students’ day off. John and I thought, “maybe a couple hours.” More like six. No surprise to anyone who knows us, or John’s fervent interest in all things Renaissance. Piero della Francesco anyone? Oh yeah. A surprising city with several amazing sites. We missed the annual joust in the main square by one day! Next year? Most students stayed home to rest. A couple went to Venice on a one-day tour!
  • 09_3 Sunday
    Casa Buonorrati | Piazzale Michelangelo | San Miniato al Monte. Starting the day with a visit to Michelangelo’s home, then heading across the Arno to the piazzale named after him, we enjoyed a really great day to be on a hilltop overlooking the city, and were amazed by San Miniato. After some exploring and sketch activity, most of us retired to the piazzale below for refreshments, returning late in the afternoon for mass and Gregorian chant in the crypt sanctuary at San Miniato. I walked the long way back to Santa Maria Novella and caught some great views of the wooded hillsides over Otrarno.
  • 09_4 Monday
    Church and Museum of Orsanmichele | Palazzo Vecchio | Piazza della Signora. We started the day off with a studio session where students had a chance to experiment with some different media on a view or two that resonated with them. Some minds were stretched and concepts explored, after working mostly in pencil and pen on small sketchbook pages. I’ll share the images with you in an upcoming post. Later that afternoon we saw statues by Donatello and others at the Italian Gothic church of Orsanmichele, then dropped in on yet another Medici palace to see more Michelangelo sculptures and lavishly designed ceilings.
  • 09_5 Tuesday
    The Laurentian Library | Medici Chapel | Basilica di San Lorenzo| Palazzo Medici. How the Medici lived, and lived on after death, was the theme of the day. Through the tombs designed for the chapel, including Michelangelo’s Sagrestia Nuova – with its compelling figures of Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk overlooking visitors to the tombs of Lorenzo di Piero and Giuliano di Lorenzo – visitors are confronted with questions of mortality, and how two of the more insignificant Medicis warrant such a significant tribute. In the main chapel, the scale of the six empty sarcophagi is stunning. Tombs of giants. Or gods. But all are actually buried in the crypt below, like mortals. We spent some extended sketching time in the basilica, practicing our one-point perspective on the rational geometric forms of this majestic space. The day ended with a visit to a more modest Medici palace than Palazzo Pitti or Palazzo Vecchio. Refreshing.
  • 09_6 Wednesday
    Palazzo Davanzati | Ferragamo Museum. The day began with a studio session, reviewing work from Monday’s studio and wrapping up some lesson plans on perspective drawing processes. Palazzo Davanzati was an excellent look at how the upper-middle class lived. The Ferragamo Museum rotates their exhibit every year, this year featuring the art and craft of late 1920s Italy, through the contemporaries of Salvador Ferragamo, on the 90th anniversary of his return to Italy from 12 years designing shoes for the stars of Hollywood.
  • 09_7 Thursday
    Galleria dell’Accademia | San Marco Museum | Ospedale degli Innocenti | Basilica della Santissima Annunziata. Today’s itinerary was jammed. Michelangelo’s David was the highlight of the Accademia. Then off to see the former convent of San Marco; the recently completed renovation of the former orphanage at the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the cafe in the rooftop loggia with amazing views of the surrounding city; then heading across the piazza to see a Baroque church – what a change! After days of nothing but Gothic and Renaissance churches, the Baroque excesses were jaw-dropping and almost funny in the sheer excess of decorated surfaces and carved ornamentation.

There are plenty of images to accompany the descriptions above, and I’ll put them in separate posts with narrative summaries. But it’s almost 10:30 and I have an early train to catch tomorrow.

Siena! Our last excursion together before we gather on Sunday to review all the sketchbooks. Students have improved their drawing abilities so much in the last couple weeks! Can’t wait to get the pictures and share with you.


a pause


It’s been nine day pause since my last post, but before the news of what we’ve been doing – and drawing, a brief pause to share an unexpected bit of uniquely Italian hospitality. While walking home from last Monday’s site visits a lovely and accomplished musician was sharing her talent and joy of making beautiful music on the steps of Chiesa Santi Michele e Gaetano on the Piazza degli Antonori.

Vivaldi’s “Spring” Allegro from the Four Seasons, and other popular Italian songs, played for anyone lucky enough to happen by. In fact, she looked like she happened onto the idea of a public concert on her way home from her regularly scheduled gig.

As listeners – and there were many – walked up the steps to leave money in her violin case, she graciously bowed while playing. It was one of those life-affirming moments, filled with generosity of spirit from both the musician and her appreciative audience.


It’s only one example of how Italy welcomes you, and how musical traditions continue to make a place for civility and grace.

Un altro, grazie!

duomo folio | 29 august

For two hours, a few of us commandeered a block of sidewalk tables at Bottegone, a prime sketching spot with views of the cathedral, Baptistery, and dome. Students were assigned two sketches. One of either the dome or the Baptistery, and one view of their choice, including detailed views of objects, windows, doors, or of other subjects that interested them.

In our first week, we’re focusing on drawing shapes, composing views by drawing the shape of the sky, geometric forms and proportions, and primarily one-point or elevation views. We’re starting to get into linear perspective lessons, and assignments next week will ask students to use vanishing points and horizon line to construct their sketches.

Today we visited the Ufizzi Gallery, tomorrow Pitti Palace, seeing two major museums in a row. Not expecting much in the way of sketching right now, because it can easily take 4-5 hours just to cover 2-3 miles of corridor, seeing the artwork on our featured list of highlights, plus the unanticipated discoveries.

There are, of course, the paintings everyone comes to see. fullsizeoutput_4e1

But one can easily find delightful and compelling works ignored by the crowds.

So many angels! Mary’s posse, running angels of annunciation, musical angels, and look out for the flying ninja angels of banishment.

Some familiar faces appear in dual roles:

And Leonardo teaches us about drawing:




Just time for a quick post of student work from yesterday’s drawing session at the Duomo. This sketch by Sara captures the drama of the setting.


As these things often go, the dark values that make this so evocative were the consequence of a mistake she tried to correct. One thing led to another. Beautiful.

More student work to share later today. We’re off to spend the day at the Ufizzi Gallery with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Lippi, Giotto, Raphael, et al.