For more than a decade, the grand structure known as the Divine Lorraine lorded over its corner of North Broad in an unkempt state. Not anymore. Vacant and abandoned since 1999, the building has gotten new life.
The $44 million rehab, which made way for modern apartments and restaurants and retail, was done in a fashion that maintained most of the original bones. The iconic sign was also saved (and repaired so that its lights actually work, most of the time).
One thing that was not preserved: the graffiti on the outside of the building.
Most are thrilled with this development. But others, like Port Richmond artist Cody Gladstone, have a soft spot for the old look. Not for the chain link fences and trash that used to surround the Divine Lorraine, but the juxtaposition of the street art with the Gilded Age architecture.
Which is why he chose a very specific angle for his intricate sketch.
“The more iconic view of the building would be looking south, toward City Hall,” he said, “but I wanted the ‘You go girl’ on this side.”
Gladstone been wanting to capture that in a drawing for years, he said, ever since he started driving to Philly regularly from his native New Hampshire to meet his then-girlfriend, now wife. In 2016, he moved here permanently — just in time for the graffiti to start being powerwashed off.
Instead of his normal process, which involves taking his own photo and using that as a reference, he found an image from years past, and began working with that.
First he uses a pencil to lightly outline the structure, then follows up with micron pens to ink in details. The last step is shading, which he does with a very soft lead pencil of the kind often used for portraiture.
All of this happens on a regular letter-sized sheet of paper, in a notebook he regularly carries around.
Gladstone isn’t a professional artist — he’s an engineer for the city — but he’s been drawing as a hobby since he was a kid. He currently uses his own daughter as a muse.
How long he spends on a particular piece depends on its features, he said, but he estimates this particular drawing probably took him four hours of sketchwork, spread out in 15 minute stolen chunks of time.
“It’s just a matter of practice,” he said about the process. “My whole life everyone always said Oh wow, you’re so gifted and talented, but I really believe everyone can be good at art.”
Unfortunately for those looking to pick up a copy of Gladstone’s Divine Lorraine rendering, he doesn’t currently sell prints, although he “wants to get around to” setting up a place to take orders.
If you like his work, what can you offer in return? Idea for future drawings.
“PM me with suggestions for others,” he said. “Appreciation is my driving force.”