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Drawing Kingston and Area Museums: Process and Memory Recall

Drawing Kingston, The Spire/ Sydenham Street United Church, made me recall memories of my early days volunteering with KAM.

The Spire/ Sydenham Street United Church

When the Kingston and Area Association of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites (KAM) approached me to create line drawings of their member sites, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. By drawing Kingston and area museums, I could finally combine my passion for creating art and visual arts degree with my work as a heritage professional and natural curiosity for the heritage and culture that I grew up surrounded by as a local. But little did I know, this opportunity would also be a deeply personal exercise in memory recall.

My Creative Process

My creative process for drawing each of the KAM sites can loosely be broken down into three broad phases: research and brainstorming, drafting, and then final drawing and refinement.

Research and Brainstorming Phase

With the preparation and brainstorming phase, I visited each site, in-person and/or online via their websites, social media, and collections databases. It’s largely the buildings of the sites I was drawing, so I took notes on key architectural features and angles pronouncing them. Some of these notes include very rough and spontaneous pencil sketches to determine angles or layout. When visiting in-person, I took wide angle and detail photographs.

During this phase, I determined some sites aren’t defined by permanent physical spaces. Some are defined by their collections or exhibitions, such as the St. Joseph Region Archives of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph and Union Gallery. Insightful conversations with site and KAM staff were vital to the brainstorming for such sites.

Drafting Phase

During the drafting phase, I sketched the main lines of buildings or scenes. I used my notes, photographs, and recalled memories for reference. I wanted to emphasize the grandeur architectural character of many of sites. Sometimes I played with exaggerating angles and features or slightly distorting vertical lines. For instance, I purposefully elongated the wall in the Kingston Penitentiary Tours drawing. Similarly, I angled the vertical lines of the bell tower in the St. George’s Cathedral drawing.  

Final Drawing and Refinement Phase

The final phase involved putting ink to paper. On most occasions, the little details like the bricks on St. Mary’s Cathedral drawing, were impromptu additions. However, determining when was enough detail was a difficult decision. I often found myself stepping back and reassessing. Sometimes I would even walk away for days before determining whether to add more or to stop. One decision I naturally made was putting more detail in buildings than the surrounding nature. I want the focus to be on the striking architecture. Although there are some exceptions where I find nature to be part of a site’s architecture and character. For example, the Cloyne Pioneer Museum and Archives is housed in a log building surrounded by trees. Walking through the exhibits you learn that Cloyne was once known as a logging town. Adding more detail than usual to the landscape aligns with the museum’s character.

For each member site drawing, I went through these phases, however, at different paces and times. Sometimes I even repeated the phases multiple times for a single site. My preparation or brainstorming for the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum wasn’t the same as that for the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Archives.

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Full Circle Moments Drawing Kingston & Area

For me, drawing is deeply connected to preserving memories I fear of forgetting. It helps me better encode new memories by processing my surroundings not only semantically, but also visually and kinaesthetically with each mark on the page and movement of my hand. While studying abroad in university, I was feeling overwhelmed trying to take in new core memories. By drawing historical landmarks of places I visited, I was able to actively process any new memories associated with them rather than passively taking them in.

As I was drawing Kingston sites, I discovered these drawings also had strong relationships to my personal memories. I was using my memory as a drawing tool, as well as continuing to use drawing as a memory recall tool. This inadvertently influenced my artistic decisions. Case in point, stories I’ve repeatedly heard about inmate attempts to breach the prison walls, informed my decision to include the entire front facade in the Kingston Penitentiary Tours drawing. Likewise, memories I recall of running up the waterfront hill at Fort Henry during cross-country meets, influenced my decision to draw the Fort from an angle emphasizing the steepness of the hill it sits atop.

Drawing other sites also retrieved some buried memories. These included: elementary school tours at Murney Tower Museum, Macpherson House, Bellevue House, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes (and climbing aboard the CCGS Alexander Henry), and Fairfield House; visiting my great grandmother’s grave at Cataraqui Cemetery; volunteering at St. George’s Cathedral at a Doors Open Kingston event; and seeing my first in-person Rembrandt painting at the Agnes. And finally, to come full circle, drawing the Spire made me reminisce about my early days of volunteering for KAM when their office was in Sydenham Street United Church.  

Written by: Nicole Mulder, Kingston & Area Association of Museums

If you would like to learn more about the Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Sites of Kingston and the Area start by exploring the spaces around you!

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