Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fantasy Architecture and Then Some...

I bought this book today: How To Draw and Paint Fantasy Architecture by Rob Alexander. I'm a fan of his books, having Drawing and Painting Landscapes and Cityscapes (with Martin McKenna) and Otherworlds: How to Imagine, Paint and Create Epic Scenes of Fantasy. His artwork is breathtaking both in the colors and the depth. In each book, Alexander covers art techniques like the pros/cons of various media (oil, acrylic, pastel, digital), perspective, color theory, and composition. 

The Fantasy Architecture book also includes a chapter on "Introduction to Architecture". It includes the trademark features of buildings from various cultures:

  • Middle Eastern buildings use domed roofs, tall minarets (towers) and precise, mathematical decorations that repeat over and over. An example of that is the Hagia Sophia mosque.  
  • Romanesque buildings usually have rounded arches, thick wall and small windows. The doorways are usually squat and heavy, since the shape and the height of the buildings are fixed ratios. Churches in Rome use arcading, which are rows of columns with archways in between them. These formed walkways (such as in monasteries) or architects set them flush against a wall (those are called blind arcades).
  • Gothic cathedrals have the high arches, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and wall mouldings (think Notre Dame in Paris). Those high arches, buttresses and vaults helped expand the interior space and allowed plenty of light through stained-glass windows. These buildings stretched gracefully towards the sky, the complete opposite of the Romanesque design.
  • Mesoamerican temples (Aztec, Mayan or Incan) are low and wide, instead of tall and high. They have highly decorated walls and lintels; the carvings tell important stories about the people's history.  Each major temple, stelae (stone markers) and the ball court were geometrically placed to reflect Heaven and the Underworld.   
  • Viking architecture used stave posts and wooden wall beams with low, sloping roofs. 
  • Asian buildings also have distinctive sloping roofs, and were mostly constructed out of wood instead of stone. Many doors were circular instead of square (those are called moon portals). Round-arched bridges symbolized the path between Heaven and Earth. Both Asian and Viking styles emphasized an integration with nature, instead of replacing or destroying it.

The book has plenty of examples of each type of architecture, which can inspire artists (and writers) to imagine their own based on them.

One helpful chapter of the book talks about the details and textures of various building materials. How can an artist portray a well-worn wooden chest?  A carved wooden lintel? A rugged stone wall? A brick arch that's falling apart and overgrown with weeds? A thatched roof? A plaster ceiling? A marble column? What about a Roman mosaic or tiled floor? What if the building's been gutted by fire and it's been damaged by smoke and soot? Alexander describes how an artist can convey their imaginary world through realistic art techniques.

A word of caution: this book is excellent for reference, but I wouldn't recommend this for complete beginners. It assumes at least a working knowledge of basic concepts like the values of lights, shadow and tone. If you're interested in how to convey your fantasy world in a realistic style, pick up this book. 


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