I recently stumbled across the sketch column of Gabriel Campanario in the Seattle Times. The archive goes back a decade and is full of lovely art. But he's also using the medium to tell stories, and capture emotion and feeling, in ways others can't.
The stillness in this recent column on Microsoft's campus during the pandemic, for instance:
Tucked away between buildings 31 and 32 in the northeast corner of the tech company’s sprawling campus, the lofty wooden huts served as meeting spaces and inspiration zones in precoronavirus times. For now, the treehouses stand empty, waiting for the eventual return of the employees who have been working from home for months.
I've never been to Seattle. I've seen it on tv and in movies, but these sketches and explorations ground it as more than a backdrop. Some of it is the focus on the mundane, like markets, bookstores and small parks.
Sketching and watercolour capture moments in time. But unlike photography they force the creator to be present for an extended period. To measure, estimate and contrast. To notice little details and features most of us walk past every day.
And, consequently, they force the viewer to do these things too.
Campanario has used this to document change, explore class and highlight microhistories throughout Seattle. The buildings, the infrastructure, are themselves the characters. Just as they are in our lives.
Pen and brush can explore lines, space, value and visual juxtaposition. They can exaggerate and simplify. In ways others just don't have to. In ways others can't. That is the strength of this column. But Campanario's work is also an example of what we've lost as media companies have shrunk, as stories have become faster, more national and international.
How many others are there with the license to slowly explore and document our built world? Our local world? How many stories are we missing?