(Hi Brad...I posted this before I saw your post...sorry to have repeated stuff! Cheers)
Great to read this AJ!!!
I will do my best to be helpful, and its awesome to connect with another "Asian Architecture" enthusiast.
Question: If you're working from pictures or illustrations and do not have accurate 'blueprints', how do you do it?
Well of course the obvious
is going there and looking at it, then finding some folks that are doing it...but the next best thing is learning to use "technology" (and before that lots!!! of translation dictionaries)as you read and do "proper research" in Chinese itself. In time you learn bits of the language (we sponsor Chinese exchange students, and that is a resource as well as any Colleges "Asian Studies" department have folks that will help. Go meet folks that read, write and speak Chinese..
We have a few TFG members that have access to such info also...
I have a passion for all the different forms from Turkey to Japan, and over the last 35 years have gotten to learn a great deal of these many vernacular styles...especially in the "folk classes" which is my primary focus. From Turkish Mountain houses to Kath Kuni in western India into China and on, they are all brilliant. When we get into Korea's "Hanok" and Japanese "Minka," we really get to see all the broad connections of these many distinct styles going all the way back into the African timber framing styles.
I would also suggest (if you can) getting to the Yin Yu Tang exhibit at PEM.
Are there any tricks or techniques for reproducing a design by eye? In particular, how do you accurately capture proportions? Is it all just experience and guesswork?
It's possible to "get the flavor" of it in the work we do, and often this is enough, because we are adding a bit or ourselves to the work anyway. As for "proportions" the Asian cultures in general follow the "golden section" and its related "ancient/spiritual" geometries. Use these and you won't go wrong.
However, to actually capture the "soul of the craft" there is much study, examination and reading/discussing that is necessary....
I have to rely on the Google Image:
That can take you a long way!!
If you start doing your "image searches" in actual Chinese "Hanzi" (Korean "Hanja," Japanese "Kanji," etc.) you will find so much more accurate information...and...probably what you are really looking for.
It's not really possible to get the "good stuff" while using English.
I would especially love to be able to decode the illustrations I've found in the old Yingzao Fashi, even if only approximately
I am working on several "translation" now with one of my friends/students including this text. However, my focus on "folk vernacular styles" in earth, stone and timber work is a slow process when you add several other languages as well.
I think there is an "english translation" already for the Yingzao Fashi, but I can't remember at which University I found it...???
Feel free to email me anytime!!