J.S. Cooper Block – Independence, Oregon


This is the J.S. Cooper Block at the corner of Main & C streets in Independence, Oregon. Independence was established in the late 1840's on the west bank of the Willamette River in Polk County a few miles south of Salem, Oregon. The river was instrumental in the development of the town and the ferries' arrivals were heralded by ringing the bell in the tower of this Queen Anne style building. It was built in 1895 by J.S. Cooper, a banker who later turned to hop growing, and still later became a state legislator.

This was harder to do and took longer than I expected. I want to sketch architecture and I thought I'd start by sketching a reference photo that I took last Fall.

I wanted to test several new things before trying to sketch on location. First, I wanted to try a new larger paper (Arches hot press 140 lb. 9 x 12 inches watercolor block). I also wanted to try blocking out the sketch first using a Pilot FriXion erasable pen and then do the finish drawing with a Faber-Castell Pitt S dark sepia pen which is waterproof. I made the mistake of doing too much detail and correction with the erasable pen. I could have saved time by just blocking in the major shapes and perspective lines with the erasable. As it was I ended up drawing all the details twice and the finished drawing looks like I traced it. I actually prefer the initial sketch done with the erasable. It has more spontaneity and life.

Anyway, I ended up doing the entire drawing again with the brown pen over the black erasable pen. I then added the darks (mostly in the windows) using a Faber-Castell Pitt brush warm gray pen. I used a hair dryer to completely erase all the black erasable ink. The drawing took several hours over two days.

I liked the pen and ink drawing. I wasn't sure I wanted to add color. So, I did a quick color version on the iPad using Procreate just to test it out.

I still wasn't sure. So, I held off for two days to think about. This morning I woke up and felt ready to add the watercolor. I used three brushes, all round, numbers 4, 8, and 10. I painted the building first, then the trees and foreground and finally the sky. I sweated the sky because I didn't want it to overpower the building. I used a spray bottle and brush to wet the area, dropped in some cobalt blue and mopped out the clouds with an old sock.

What I learned:

  • Bigger is better. I like detail and its easier to draw detail when you work larger. It does take longer however.
  • I like the hot press smooth paper. This is the first time I've used it.
  • The Pilot FriXion is an amazing pen. The ink completely disappears when you heat it with a hair dryer. Next time I will use it just for construction lines. I won't try to draw the whole subject with it.
  • It's very difficult to get perspective and proportions right. I need to practice. I didn't draw the initial angles right and the building ended up being too short.
  • I used rubber cement as masking fluid to maintain the pure whites in the signs and window trim. It worked, but I don't think it's worth the effort. It would be faster and easier to just paint around the whites.
  • I need to vary my greens. It's easy to forget to leave the lightest greens alone. You can't get them back with watercolor. You can only make them darker. Also, I need to explore other pigment combinations. Cobalt blue and lemon yellow just aren't enough.
  • Watercolor takes patience. I worked in stages from light to dark letting each pass dry completely before adding darker tones. This keeps the colors fresh.



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