Thursday, May 16, 2013

Serbin Studio: Website Launch

This is the last post I will write under the blogger website.  I will continue blogging but on our new   Yes, we are launching our new website! I have been toiling away adding new content for you to check out.  Hopefully it will be easier to upload YouTube videos so we can watch more Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. animation.  I have added a few of the past blogs and will issue a fresh post soon.

The original website was designed and programed by Jeff Serbin.   After 15 years of being in business we knew it was time to streamline our website.  With the help of Ryan Naylor and his team at Local we were able to understand how we could present ourselves in a more deliberate way.  I owe so much gratitude to Joseph Garcia at Local for teaching me everything there is to know about adding content to Word Press.  He was very patient with me and over time he started to understand how I like things done.

I hope you visit the site.  There are lots of new things that have been added like graphic design, planning, publications and new photos.   So if you want to read future Serbin Studio blog posts you can visit

Thank you for your support!

Lara Serbin

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Building Approach

Building approaches are like the beginning of a good novel.  There are a few ways to design an effective approach.  One of my favorite design references is Architecture: Form Space & Order by Francis D.K. Ching.  Approach starts with a pathway to a building.  The pathway is the first phase of how we take in the building and prepare for how to use the building's spaces.  There are three approaches to a building: Frontal, Oblique and Spiral.
1. Frontal Building Approach
The Building Approach, Architecture: Form Space & Order, Francis D.K. Ching, pg. 249.
 The New York Public Library, photo credits, Jan Shepherd.
A frontal approach leads directly to a building's entrance along a straight, axial path. - Architecture: Form Space and Order, Francis D.K. Ching.
   This approach is formal I know.  I like this double loaded entry within an entry.  The entry is designed to make you feel small and overpowered.    The 3 arched openings in the wall plane *or 3 doors* surrounded on all sides by the surface of the stone.  You see how the doors themselves are made to be supersized with the pediments and glass above to stretch the eye always upward.  
   I have never been in this building but it seems like when it was built books were cared for and put on a pedestal.  The symmetry of the approach leaves one at a loss to want to turn the corner to explore around the perimeter. The visual goal that terminates the approach is clear; you know what you are getting into here. You will see what I mean when you see the part on spiral approach.  
2. Oblique Building Approach
The Building Approach, Architecture: Form Space & Order, Francis D.K. Ching, pg. 249.
Palazzo Mocenigo, at San Stae, Venice, Italy, Venetian Palaces, Rizzoli, pg.425.
Map of Venice, Italy, Venetian Palaces, Rizzoli, pg.524.
An oblique approach enhances the effect of perspective on a building's front façade and form. - Architecture: Form Space and Order, Francis D.K. Ching.

   I looked for a Palazzo that was on the extreme approach of course, why wouldn't I.  Palazzo Mocenigo would be a ridiculously cool building approach.  I would have to float down the Canal Grande on a gondola and then take a hard left to a more narrow canal to reach the oblique entry.  Naturally, I would stop to shop on the way.  The path is re-directed one or more times to delay and prolong the sequence of the approach.  This heightens the sense of approach and curiosity of how the façade will stack against the majestic architectural gems seen on the way.

   If a building is approached at an extreme angle like this one, its entrance can project beyond its façade to be more clearly visible.  The façade that overlooks the rio is made more interesting and lively by its irregularities.  Like anyone would go out on those marble balconies! This building could fit into spiral approach too.
 3. Spiral Building Approach
The Building Approach, Architecture: Form Space & Order, Francis D.K. Ching, pg. 249.
Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, Le Corbusier Ideas and Forms, William J R Curtis, Rizzoli New York, pg. 147.  
 A spiral path prolongs the sequence of the approach, and emphasizes the three-dimensional form of a building as it moves around the building's perimeter. - Architecture: Form Space and Order, Francis D.K. Ching.

   Last time I was at Ronchamp there was no such thing as internet or cell phones.  I am so excited there are videos I can watch from my Aeron chair.  This building cannot be understood by looking at a digital photo with the spiral building approach in mind.  This building is soft on the eye and easy to walk around.  There are so many symbols in the forms that it is good to have one thing in mind each time you study it.  This time I focused on entries.  I like how the entries are a subtractive slice of grey concrete through the white sculpted chapel volumes.  Even though the doors don't want to be too high, the dark grey color is carried all the way up above the door to keep the eye upward.

  With a building like Corbusier's Ronchamp, the entrance might be viewed intermittently during the approach to clarify its position.  You know where it is but you might want to wander around a bit to take some photos of those massive concrete scuppers that look like ox nostrols.   Also with a spiral approach the entry may be hidden until the point of arrival.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Exploring Harquahala Ghost Mining Town

It was a bright and windy morning.  This was the day of my second Arizona off road excursion with the Buckeye Rock and Mineral Club.  We were headed west of Buckeye about an hour and a half to a turn off the I-10 freeway called Hovatter Road.   After driving along the dirt road about 15 minutes, I spotted the building perched up on a hill.  This was the gateway to Harquahala Ghost Mining Town.  The Native American name is pronounced "Aha qua hala", which meant "water there is high up."  The intent was to look for turquoise rocks but I naturally headed to the top of the peak to get to know the commanding metal building.   
Walking up the gravel slope I checked for turquoise and found to my delight rusted treasures of a bygone era. This place was settled for the sole purpose of mining gold in what was called The Bonanza and Gold Eagle veins discovered in 1888.  This location is so remote that there are lots of reminders still intact like vintage desert glass. I picked up beach glass in Washington when visiting my Mom and thought how cool it was to find a piece of glass that is from the turn of the century that nature has had its way with. The edges are soft and the glass is opaque with an opalescent dirty cast.  I found tons of it. 
I also liked these thin old tin containers with a hinged top that were mostly smashed flat and dark rusted brown.  I asked Chuck one of the most knowledgeable members of our group what he thought the containers were for and he said, "They didn't have cigarettes back then so they probably kept their tobacco in those containers to keep it fresh."  If you ever have a question about a rock you ask Chuck. He will pick up a rock and look it over with his weathered hands. I like watching his super sized knuckles the size and look of walnut shells. He will slowly move a rock around to inspecting it and know what it is called.  He always finds sparkly craggy rocks . He really knows where to look.  He once got bitten by a scorpion and secretly enjoyed it due to not having arthritis for 3 months. 

But I didn't want to look for rocks.  This rusted beautiful building was my Bonanza.  The views from each direction were spectacular.  The dirt from under the darting out foundation had eroded away so I had a worm's eye view for a couple shots.  There was a faint turquoise hue on a burnt window frame that looked onto a solid concrete box room.  I crept inside the doorway and found tons of deteriorated canvas bags semi buried in white sand with pale yellow tags that read Shell Mining Company. 

It must have been a really rough place to live. The surrounding desert was littered with shot gun shells from every vintage.  That door opening above is where I found all the empty Mineral Sample bags.  I love that most of the major structure was still intact.  For a small building, it has a lot going for it.  The concrete box with the water tank on top gives the building an anchor.  There is a center ridge vent that continues the whole length of the building probably used to cool the space. The ridge roof even cantilevers out over the entry which I thought was pretty cutting edge for back then.

This was a close up of the roof that had fallen.  Simple construction leaves behind poetic images for decades after the people who built them are gone.

An abobe structure sat in the distance with some walls missing.  It was quiet there today; the only thing I could hear was the wind blowing nonstop through this doorway.  The wood lintel was chard from a fire but still holding up the adobe made with small twigs, soft peach mud, hay and rocks.  Outside the entry lay a sun ravaged pile of wood mixed with rusted pieces of metal full of pocks and lacy edges.
I did end up looking for turquoise and more vintage glass.  I feel like I don't have to leave my home state to find beach glass. I have desert glass that is just as beautiful. Arizona erosion is the constant sun, intense baking heat and subtle movement of shifting sand.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ideal Working and Living Space

I have been thinking of an ideal work studio space for millions of years.  I will never be done with defining the idea, it will constantly be changing and expanding.  For now, I found the best images to transfer and overlay on my light table.   When I trace something it becomes real for me. I get to know it well.  That's why I have been quiet.   I have been sketching what I really want. 

My work space desires have not strayed much from when I was about 12 years old.  The first work space I can remember was a storage closet under the basement stairs.  It had a single bulb with a pull chain to light dusty wood planks on the left.  All I can remember is heavy books of my Dads with flowers inside that had been in there for months being pressed.   My signature is still visible on the right side of the door.
This first work space is a studio situated on the tippy top of some jungle with bright green trees. I would like the adventure of climbing up to the top.  It would be a bummer if my pen dropped over the edge and it would be tough to haul the light table up there.  The views and sounds would be delicious.

This is a tracing of Philippe Starck, a French product designer. His designs range from interior designs to mass-produced consumer goods such as toothbrushes, chairs, and even houses.  I like this idea, number 1: he is a super successful guy and number 2: he works outside naked. I am pretty sure this space is at his Formentera House built in 1995, found in my book titled, Starck, published by Taschen. 

   The example of Ted DeGrazia's studio and museum in Tucson, Arizona has subtle creative hints of the artist everywhere.  I wouldn't want to live in the adobe buildings on site but on a macro level I like the artistic details like ocotillo branches and saguaro ribs used as fence pickets and wind chimes.   DeGrazia cut up and painted aluminum cans to make flowers. The flowers really get to me.  Most everything is pretty raw and tough, the permanent perennials soften heavy post and beam entry ways.   Studio space could be an expression of an artist constantly experimenting with ideas.  I know most artist's spaces are always filled with mismatched accumulation.

Sara Werthan Buttenwieser of Crafted Lives said it best in American Craft Magazine that , " (studio) resemble artists' houses, which also display respect and admiration for each other's work via similarly stocked shelves.

   Then there is the image of a modern farm house that appeals to me.  A rural setting with wide open plains but at thick wall of trees to protect the house.  It would be respectful of the historic simple farm house but have a modern forward stance with an amplified porch.  The symmetry would be proud and provide shade all year long.  Inside the work space could be filled with light to bounce off wood floors.  The walls would be simple white to showcase minimal art pieces.  It could be about waking up to inspiration on a daily basis.
While putting the finishing touches on the sketches you see here, I discovered how to define the profile around the building in a different way.  After I had finished hand rendering the blue in the sky with Non-Photo-Blue Prisma pencil, I scanned it.  Once I brought the image into Photoshop I matched the blue with Eye Dropper Tool and then used pencil in a number 5 to profile the roofline. I love how it came out.  I added bright white with a transparency to the columns and pediment to make it POP. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sear-Kay Ruins

Sears-Kay Ruins, taken with Iphone, Lara Serbin #coloreffects.
 The soft dirt path sparkled as I looked for clues to why the Hohokam, ancestors of today's Pima Indians decided to build a village on top of this mountain.  I caught myself imagining them using this sparkling dirt to create body paint or add bling to mud plaster earthen walls.
Sears-Kay Ruins, taken with Iphone, park signage.
  As I came upon the first of 40 rectangular rooms made out of heavy rocks blackened with centuries of desert tarnish I began to imagine how one would live on a summit like this. I mean I could see for infinity up here.  Lily, Eva and Ben and Jeffrey were already up at the mountain top village of decay.  I wanted to savor the approach of the village. Lily was expecting actual houses and that the Hohokams would have dinner waiting.

 Sears-Kay Ruins, taken with Iphone, Lara Serbin #coloreffects.
Did I mention that this place was built 900 years ago?  It is amazing to know that Westminster Abbey was built 1000 years ago. Currently, I am reading Westminster: A Biography: From Earliest Times to Present, by Robert Shepherd and it is funny to see how relatively new the west is.
Westminster Abbey, London, England, Google Images
While Edward the Confessor was spending 60 years building an Abbey that is still functioning,  the Hohokams were building stone based shelters for the basic necessity of shelter.    Of course this location at Sears Kay is rather remote. There is no body of water to bring constant foot traffic.  You would never know it was there if it wasn't for the road sign.
 Sears-Kay Ruins, taken with Iphone, park signage .
The Hohokam had everything they needed up here.  There is wild game to hunt, small floodplains for growing corn and beans and many native plants like saguaro, cholla, prickly pear and mesquite.  Then as now, the foothills provided ideal habitats for deer, sheep and rabbit; the burned bones of these animals have been found in the trashed deposits at Sears-Kay Ruin.
Sears-Kay Ruins, taken with Iphone, Lara Serbin #coloreffects.
I really felt on top of it all up here.  Even though the temporary means of construction were no longer, I could still feel something vital.  How could you not, the views were powerful in every direction.  It is worth a return trip to watch sunrise.  I will be surprised if my red stone arrowhead is still sitting where I left it.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Presidio Windows

Presidio San Agustin del Tucson 1775-1856

I took some pics in Tucson late Friday with my friend Alice.  It was an hour or so before the sun was going to set and the sun was playing hide and seek with the dark gray scattered clouds.  I love showing off the Old Pueblo, I know I must have mentioned this many blogs by now but I did spend a lot of time in this place learning to perfect my sketching and watercolors.  The  historic row, territorial freestanding and mini mansions are located in the heart of the Old Presidio.  Back in the 1700's it was an adobe garrison built by Spanish conquistadors and priests.  Presently, none of the original adobe fortress walls are left but the architectural developments that cropped up in the 17th Century are within the street boundaries of  6th Street and Alameda going North and South and then Stone to Granada going East and West.  You have to cross the railroad tracks to get to it. Once you find yourself in the single lane dark dank bridge to cross the railroad up above you can feel you are crossing over to a different feeling.  The skewed streets will take you to the El Presidio the place of authentic Tucson vernacular architectural style.

Residential alley east of Main AvenuePresidio San Agustin del Tucson 1775-1856

Buildings were constructed of 14" thick adobe walls with smooth plaster and paint on the exterior.  Most of the structures have neutral paint choices like warm butternut, taupe, beige and white.  Since the shells are neutral, thick and heavy, the windows are generally small.  Think about it...if the the window was large it would deflect under the weight of the heavy plaster.  It is also hotter than an oven on broil in the summer so smaller openings means less heat to let in.  Spanish conquistadors rocked chain mail instead of medieval metal armor.  I really mean it!

Presidio San Agustin del Tucson 1775-1856

Let's talk about why El Presidio windows are so incredible.  

1. Deep set, allows for shadows *like eyeliner*.
2.  Compact size, usually narrow and tall, my favorite size.
3. Drape treatment. Adds grace to relaxed building style.
4. Ironwork, as long as it is painted and has some kind of ornamentation.
5. Prickly pear and other sculptural cacti growing up from the ground to give it that Good, Bad and the Ugly reminder.
6. Sometimes adhesive tint can add some colorful spark to the matte finish of the walls. 
7. Shutters are a nice long as they are operable. Something really great about having an open window in the spring and using a louvered shutter to block the sun but let in fresh air.
8. Striped awnings. Of course, how could I leave that out!

I have spent many hours water coloring windows in the El Presidio.  I can take a line drawing and paint it with watercolors to make it look life like.  It takes shadows which I mix with burnt sienna and you guessed it...French ultramarine.  What magic you get from mixing those two pigments together.

Watercolor, by Lara Serbin

Windows are the eyes of a building.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Farm House

I like this farmhouse very much.  I went with the intention of capturing the glow from the sunset since the front of this charming house faces directly west.  I sat on a sun beaten wood plank that lay across the flowing canal across the lonely road.  It was so peaceful sitting there, no cars passed the house and I for as long as I was there.   This house is isolated on a vast expanse of bright green fields with mature trees directly east and south to give it a quaint setting.  Sitting alone in a field can be uncomfortable, I am sure of that.

Like a vulture surveying it's prey I crept closer to the porch.  The solid wood door was charming and had modest dental trim.  Bright green weeds were a vivid accent playing behind the teeth of the ancient deck chairs.  The deck chairs were a weather hardened pair with one holding an ancient woven poncho and the other a phone book with faded yellow pages still turned to the same page by whomever was last sitting there.  When I peered into the window next to the chair there was an upright piano.  When I look at this image all I want to do is sit with some friends on the porch drinking home made lemonade, listening to a banjo and watch the sunset.

I thank Stephen Bales of Bales Hay to tell me about the history of this house.  Originally, it was the home to J.G. Osborn who worked for Bales Hay located in Buckeye for 15-20 years. The house sits next to Liberty Cemetery.

The 120-plus-year-old Liberty Cemetery is located on 207 Avenue south of MC85.  The land, donated by Clem Collins in 1885, was located next to the Free Methodist Church.  The first burial, in 1885, was for Norma Jones, daughter of W.W. Jones.  There are approximately 590 internments, with the last burial being Jose Ruan in 1992.  Buckeye pioneer Thomas Newton Clanton is also buried there.  Images of America, Buckeye, by Verlyne Meck.