Jean-Maurice Moulène elevates architectural drawing to a fine art
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
When real-estate lust gives way to house pride, what better way to share the joy than with a precisely scaled and detailed illustration, printed on a charming note card? So say the Los Angeles clients of architect and artist Jean-Maurice Moulène.
After studying at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in his native Paris, Moulène earned a master's in architecture and an MBA. His career in France included a communications job for the Grande Arche de la Défense, part of President François Mitterrand's Grands Projets. It was a grant from the French government that brought Moulène to L.A. to study the development of Playa Vista, a luxury residential community. He never left.
Moulène practiced architecture in his new home, first with Marmol Radziner and Associates, then with Moule & Polyzoides. Now, tapping into his left-brain business acumen, he has become vice president for development at Concert Realty Partners. He continues to interpret significant L.A. houses through Beaux-Arts, the drawing concern that he established in 2000.
What piqued your interest in this kind of drawing?
My parents owned a restaurant on the Right Bank, near the Seine. Spending time there, I became fascinated with the architecture of Paris.
How did architecture lead to drawing?
During my master's, I did an internship surveying farmhouses. I was by myself in the middle of nowhere in the French countryside, drawing buildings to scale.
And then what?
While practicing architecture in Paris, I also did scale drawings of historic buildings for the French government. Things took a more personal turn after I came to L.A. My family and I moved several times in the first few years, and I did a rendering of each house, so my two sons could remember them. When we lived in the Hollywood Hills, I made a drawing of the house for our Christmas card.
Which artists have most influenced you?
For me, Canaletto, Vuillard, Bonnard, and Hockney have had a tremendous impact. Even with the architectural-drawing course I'm teaching at the UCLA Extension, one of the foundations is painting. Everybody meets first at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where I explain painting techniques from the Renaissance through impressionism. It's a hands-on class in art history.
What medium do you use for your drawings?
I use both a Rapidograph pen and india ink. Sometimes I add watercolor and colored pencil.
Tell us about the process.
It begins with a survey. I take measurements and pictures. Sometimes the owners have blueprints, but they're not always accurate, so I prefer to do the studies myself. Then I do a pencil drawing to scale, using a ruler.
What about involvement from clients?
After I make the pencil sketch, I show it to the client, and we discuss how to interpret things like landscaping. One time, for a brand-new house, I had to meet with the landscape architect in order to draw what wasn't there yet. I also discuss the rendering's style, which depends on the site and type of architecture. Contemporary design, naturally, translates into a cleaner line.
What happens after the client signs off?
I do a final ink drawing, freehand. Now it's more realistic, with volumes and shadows. There's often a touch of humor—I think that's important.
What size is the final version?
Drawings are 11 by 17 inches. Note cards vary.
How long does it take?
Between six and 12 weeks, depending on the complexity of the project and the number of renditions requested.
How much does it cost?
From $1,000 to $10,000, calculated according to time spent measuring and actually drawing.
Have you drawn work by renowned architects?
One Bel Air house by Charles Gwathmey was particularly interesting for me, because I had done a research paper on him when I was an undergraduate. I got to meet him on the site—then I sent him a pencil drawing for approval. I did that, too, with a house by Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides. Anytime I'm drawing work by living architects, I have them review it.
Have you done commissions for any Hollywood players?
Yes, producers Steven Tisch and Mike Medavoy.
When do you have time for your drawing?
On weekends and in the evening.
Is there anything else you'd like to do?
If I hadn't been an architect, I would have been a painter. But I still have time to be one later, when I retire.