Today’s prompt is “famous building” and after mentioning the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a my previous Eiffel Tower post, that’s where my mind went today. I thought it would be fun to sketch another complex structure in a loose and quick way to see what might appear. This is what appeared, and it does roughly resemble the actual structure. I had the chance to visit this iconic building several years ago and it was truly awe-inspiring to see it in person. You can easily get close to it without crowds as most people are lining up on the perimeter to get that “iconic shot.” This is the one that has appeared since the time of black and white photographs and involves standing far away and making it appear as though you’re bracing the tower to keep it from falling. Or, with a little tilt of the camera, pushing it back to an appropriate upright position. Oddly, most people discover that if they attempt to photograph the tower, their first shot is a bit amiss. It’s natural to tilt your camera so that the tower doesn’t really lean at all, creating a shot the architects must have imagined, but sadly never occurred. The tower began to lean from the very moment it was built, so if you happen to see in person, you’re truly viewing history in the making.
Building began on the tower, which was simply meant to be the neighboring church’s bell tower, in 1173. The true identity of the architects is a bit of mystery, though credit has often been given to a couple different proposed architects. Both of which, I’m sure would probably not like to take credit for what was truly a bit of disaster in building. Due to the soft ground, the tower began to lean in 1178 as the third story was being added. In an effort compensate, the remaining stories were a bit shorter on one side, but the tower continued to lean mercilessly. Additional stories were built a bit taller on the other side to make up for the differential, but the net effect was a gloriously leaning tower that has miraculously stood until today. What I find fun about this story is that it’s really not much different than the quick little sketches I make each day. They are not architecturally sound in any fashion and I simply make little tweaks as I go hoping the net effect will create a rough idea of the final thing. My “soft soil” is ink and watercolor which tends to do whatever it pleases as I go and makes for a rather exciting process. And like the mystery architects in Pisa, I never start over and just keep right on going until the job is complete.
So, yeah, most of my doodlewashes are a bit wonky in so many ways, but it makes me happy to know that a totally wonky structure like this one has managed to captivate people for over 800 years. It shines a light on what should and shouldn’t be considered perfection. Is it the intent or the outcome? Had the architects intended to build a leaning tower, they most certainly would have failed, or created a tower that might toppled over in time. Instead, they stayed true to their original vision, and made little corrections as they went along to push things back into the intended path. The outcome is a dance between nature and the artist. A perfectly unique piece of work that defies all logic and yet somehow captures the spirit of the idea. For me, anyway, this is the fun of painting and sketching with watercolor each day. The vision in my head never really matches the outcome, and I’m left to admire the outcome for its own original merits. And though I’m sure it was a constant struggle for those architects and builders, who felt they must surely have failed in some way, I can only be inspired by that Leaning Tower in Pisa.
About the Doodlewash
Da Vinci Paint Co.: Yellow Ochre, Leaf Green, Cobalt Turquoise, Terra Cotta, and Cobalt Blue. Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with sepia ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. Want to purchase a print of this doodlewash? Send me a note with a link to this post, and I’ll add it to my shop!
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!