Hat Shop in Turn-of-the-Century Doylestown

My illustration can be seen at the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Bucks Fever Art Exhibition which opens Thursday, November 10 from 5 to 7 pm at the Mercantile in Doylestown, PA.

There’s a building in the middle of Doylestown, at the corner of Main St. and Shewell Ave., that’s been scaffolded for months – it’s being renovated into lavish condos, with a craft brewery on the bottom floor. But if you’d walked down Main Street in 1900 you’d have noted the latest women’s fashions in the elegant semi-circular second floor window of that same building, because that floor was home to Mrs.Ivins’ millinery shop.

The Doylestown Historical Society asked me to envision a typical day in Mrs. Ivins’ shop, with hats, customers and that lovely Victorian arched window. I had a wonderful time researching and creating this scene and I’m pleased to say that my original illustration will be in the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Bucks Fever Art Exhibit, which opens to the public tomorrow, Thursday, November 10 with a reception from 5 to 7 pm at the Mercantile in the Doylestown Shopping Center.

Kurt Spence of the DHS sent me excellent photo references, courtesy of the Doylestown Historical Society, to begin sketching for the scene. Some were photos of the outside of the building from the turn of the century, some of ladies’ dress and hat fashions, and some from the interiors of Victorian hat shops.

I boiled down my process of creating this historical scene to three steps: research, distillation, and reintroducing selected detail. The research came in studying these photos, pictures from costume books I have, and information on the internet. I started sketching by creating the empty shop room with little detail, just to get the space correct. I sketched some figures separately, to drop into the scene. This was par0r of the ‘distillation’ – simplifying the elements to get a clear composition

Here is the room with the figures dropped in –

At this point I showed the sketch to Kurt, who, as a retired contractor, knows a lot about architecture and buildings, and he gave me suggestions which I was happy to revise. I next did a tonal sketch next to help with simplifying the light and dark areas. This would be a fairly complex drawing when finished, so thinking tonally helped organize shapes so the viewer could ‘read’ the picture more easily.

The DHS asked for this picture to be in color, but of course all the photo reference I had from the urn of the century was black/white, so I had to look at painters of the era to get a feel for the colors. I found this lovely piece of an interior by William Merritt Chase, painted in 1895. I liked the teal, rose and muted yellows and creams, and saw those colors repeated in other paintings of the era, and felt I’d found a good palette.

I did a rough color sketch, using colored pencils over a scan of my line sketch –

At this point I could start adding ‘selective detail’ – detail that would give the flavor of the era but not confuse the viewer’s eye too much. I could add pattern – the Victorians loved patterns of course – to the the carpet and the wallpaper, as long as it was low contrast. I added the bold wallpaper border near the ceiling because there was not much going on in the top third of the scene, and used my chosen teal, rose and yellow in that border.

I wanted to make this scene tied specifically to my hometown, so out the window one can see the Civil War Monument and the Intelligencer building, two landmarks that can be seen from this corner in Doylestown.

After this stage I transferred the drawing to illustration board, outlined using prisma pencil, and painted it in using acrylic paint washes. The finished piece –

The public is welcome to attend the Central Bucks Chamber show to see my piece and many other works of art. The opening reception is Thursday Nov. 10 from 5 to 7 pm at the Mercantile in Doylestown, with light refreshments and music on tap. The exhibit continues until November 20.

Drawing for a Save-the-Date Card

A Mother of the Bride asked me to draw the lovely exterior of her daughter’s wedding venue for the Save-the-Date card. The venue will be The VanLandingham Estate in Charlotte, NC, and it’s a stunning building. The client showed me several other samples of cards with venues drawn in simple line and I loved the classic, elegant look of them.

She sent me a perfect head-on photo of the building and I drew it first in pencil.

A graceful and dignified mansion, is it not? After the ok from the client I inked it in cleanly with black ink and sent it off.

Just a few days ago the Mother of the Bride sent me the finished card, beautifully printed on heavy rag paper. The letterpress printing was done by Scott McClelland, with assistance from Bo, at Paper Meets Press in Glenside, PA. Letterpress is a traditional printing technique that creates a relief of the type and image in the paper – you can feel the depression if you run your fingers across the text. Some of the impression is visible in the closeup below.

I think the finished card is a very stylish and appropriate look for what I’m sure will be an elegant wedding.

Looking at Illustration: Arthur Getz – April 1957

I’ve been flipping through more Arthur Getz cover art from The New Yorker and came upon this beauty from 1957. Let’s take a look.

Art by Arthur Getz. Prints available through https://condenaststore.com/art/arthur+getz

Mr. Getz was an expert at capturing small moments of New York City’s outdoor culture, and what is more ubiquitous in NYC culture than the sight of heavy construction parading right under the nose – or just over the heads – of the citizens? This scene of the renovation of a brownstone is as busy with textures and colors as a paisley tie, but hangs together beautifully thanks to his composition and palette.

The first thing I notice in Getz’s composition is how he directs your eye. Your view naturally starts at the upper left where there are sunlit construction workers and juicy detail in the nearest brownstone’s lovely oriel window. From the top left your eye slides down the chute and the wood planks, past the palisade of old doors to the dump truck; you inevitably climb the intricate façade of the buildings to the right of the truck, up and up to the hazily blank sky, where you can’t help but land with a thud on the bulls-eye of the whole scene, the wrecking ball. It’s a superb construction, sweeping your eye all around the view.

In landscape painting there is a general rule that warm colors advance and cool colors recede. This scene adheres to the rule with great success, with the warm brownstone tones closest to us, the middle ground scene of doors and rubble painted in slightly cooler shades, and the background sky and skyscrapers in the coolest, grayest tones – even that yellow apartment building is about as chilled a yellow as you can get in paint. I love how the artist ties together the scene by splashing periwinkle blue here and there – on a couple of the doors, under the scaffold, the brownstone handrail, the debris chute, one plane of the roof gable, and even high up on the top balconies of that yellow building. Getz’s loose but masterful treatment of the brownstone’s architecture is so admirable too, from the carvings and rustications in the massive sandstone shapes to his seemingly casual squiggles indicating the elegant wrought iron balustrade of the staircase.

Finally let’s point out Mr. Getz’s effective use of angles to make this scene dynamic and yet balanced. There are a number of strong diagonals echoing through this composition, that drive from the upper left to lower right, as I’ve indicated here:

They are formed by weighty, dark masses within the picture and give it a dynamic leftward and downward push. The scene does not ‘fall over’ from all that thrust though, because Getz brilliantly balanced all those forces against one thin, gangly yet very important element: the crane arm holding the wrecking ball. Its push is from lower left to upper right, and because it is a dark structure against the lightest part of the picture, and is more finely detailed than all the dark chunky shapes, and it holds that formidable feature of the portentous wrecking ball, it balances all that leftward thrust and makes the scene satisfyingly stable.

Arthur Getz created a stunning snapshot of NYC life here, marrying its iconic brownstone architecture with the careless jetsam of city construction zones. I would call this one of his best works ever for The New Yorker.

I wrote another cover review which you can read HERE. To see other New Yorker covers by Getz go HERE .

— Pat Achilles

House Portrait of a Lovely Doylestown Home

I was asked to paint a charming home built in the late 1800s in my hometown, a house that catches many an eye with its sunny coloring and delightful front gardens.

I took a number of photos for reference and consulted the owners about what season to paint. I tried pencil drawings of both summer and spring.

And then I tried rough color sketches of both seasons in colored marker.

We determined that spring gave both color and a good view of the house, since surrounding trees were still lacy enough to see through. I also put in the small figure watering the flowers, the lady of the house, to make it personalized.

For the finished painting I used watercolor board and acrylic paints diluted like watercolors. Here are two partial views –

And the completed painting –

Drawing a Historic Building in Doylestown

I am occasionally asked by the Doylestown Historical Society to draw representations of existing historic buildings as they looked when they were first constructed. Recently an assignment involved a lovely stone farmhouse, built by Robert Kirkbride in the late 1700s, possibly the oldest building in our town, which is now integrated into a neighborhood of townhomes. Its property was then referred to as a plantation since it was primarily farmed for crops that were to be sold.

The drawing would be of the original main house with attached kitchen, smokehouse, large stone barn with attached stone wagon shed, and a log hay house. Entrance to the plantation was by way of a dirt road (now called Veterans Lane) over a small wooden bridge over Cook’s Run (which is still there) and into the farm complex, with fields and woods beyond.

My first pencil sketch of the plantation and buildings was rough, based on instructions and photo reference given to me by Kurt Spence of the Historical Society.

Kurt had some corrections: changing the position of the carriage shed and barn door, making the field flatter, the house smaller and kitchen larger. I sent a revised sketch of the house, to the side of which i indicated a kitchen garden:

and a revision of the barn area:

I dropped them into the scene and adjusted a few other details, then sent this pencil sketch:

I then added digital grays to the scene to give some dimension to the buildings and surrounding area – the finished illustration –

Today the farmhouse still retains much of its historic façade, but the farm has been replaced by modern townhomes – a photo of the present home is below.

Artists’ Studio Tour Video

I am a member of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce and once a year the Chamber organizes a studio tour to promote the artists in our area; it’s a great way to get your artwork seen. My studio is not large so I have not participated in the past, but this year they opted to do a virtual tour so the size of the room didn’t matter. I was invited along with a few other illustrators, and agreed to be on the tour.

You can see me and the seven other artists and craftspeople by going HERE to the Chamber’s Youtube video. The segments are brief, 3 minutes at most, and I think they show a wonderful variety of creative people in Bucks County. If you’re short on time and JUST want to see me, I’ll post my video below – it was edited & produced, by the way, by my talented son Tom Achilles!

Just a reminder, if you’d like to see more illustration art from the Philadelphia area, you can see the virtual Phillustration 12 exhibit of the Philadelphia Sketch Club, including a couple pieces by me, right here online. It’s available until December 6, so take a look HERE when you can.

Logo for 2020 Christmas in Doylestown

The Christmas in Doylestown House Tour, run by the hard-working volunteers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church since 1992, needed to be re-imagined this year to accommodate social distancing. The highly-anticipated Tour is a holiday tradition for many in the Central Bucks area, allowing delighted attendees of years past to wander through four beautifully-decorated and designed homes in the center of a town filled with historic buildings. Throughout the years the House Tour has raised more than $193,700 for the Bucks County Housing Group to support the Doylestown Homeless Shelter.

My original logo for Christmas in Doylestown, which took place mostly during daylight hours, was this:

The team in charge this year has come up with a number of alternate activities to keep patrons entertained and healthy at the same time, and they hope to still raise some funds for the Homeless Shelter. To avoid crowds, the tour will be primarily in the evening, where anyone can drive or walk down the designated streets to see beautifully lit grand houses from outdoors. There may be entire streets of homes that will participate, so it should be quite a show! This outdoor tour will be free, though donations will be gratefully accepted on behalf of the Bucks County Housing Group.

In addition, St. Paul’s will still hold its popular Christmas Attic sale – with a twist – where shoppers can find great bargains on all sorts of holiday decorations. To keep this safe for patrons, the sale will take place as an online auction.

I updated this year’s logo with suggestions from the CID team, to reflect the changes for 2020, and I think it still makes an eye-catching design –

For further info on this December’s Christmas in Doylestown and Christmas Attic, and to learn how to donate to the Bucks County Housing Group, click HERE.

Pen and Ink Drawing of a Modern Home

I’ve been recently posting a series of architecturally historic buildings that I have drawn in pen and ink, but I’ve found modern homes to be great subjects as well. I was commissioned to draw this home in the Doylestown area for use on the family’s Christmas card a few years back.

I love the setting, with the rambling driveway from which you get a long lovely look at the home as you approach, the sleigh decoration on the front lawn, and the symmetry of the building.

I’m open for more commissions such as this, though I do get busy as the holidays approach; so if you are interested I’d appreciate a note sooner rather than later.

To see some of my other house portraits click here, here, here, here or here.

A Turn-of-the-20th-Century Home in Pen and Ink

Here is another of my pen-and-ink drawings of architecturally-notable houses of Doylestown, PA. This house may be termed vernacular Victorian – vernacular architecture is characterized by the use of local materials and knowledge, usually without the supervision of professional architects. It is a simple and practical style with none of the fancy gingerbread trim of high Victorian buildings.

(c) Pat Achilles

I’m working on drawing another house down the street from this one, and will post it soon. Illustrations like this look lovely when framed and can also be used for personalized stationery and holiday cards for homeowners. If you’d like to inquire on my fees for illustration please drop me a note on my Contact page.

More Pen and Ink Bucks County Houses

In addition to the house drawing I posted a few days ago, I also drew these two lovely homes a number of years back, for the St. Paul’s Church Christmas in Doylestown House Tour. I used pen and ink, which I think gives a timeless quality to a drawing.

The first is a two-story colonial with a charming wrought iron fence and gate and a bracket portico over the front door. It was designed by local builder Jay Maxwell.

The house below, behind a stately crenellated stone fence, was built by Asher Cox in 1828 and is the oldest brick house in Doylestown borough. It was sold in 1831 to cabinet maker Lester Rich for $600!

I’ll post some more ink drawings from my picturesque home town soon.