The Sketching Process

Whether sketching is about the sketching process or sketching product is discussed frequently enough that you’d think everyone would “get it” by now.  But just as often you hear people lament that they don’t have anything to sketch.  They don’t get to go on trips, don’t live in places with great scenery, or simply they “just can’t find anything to draw.”  Obviously some people haven’t “gotten it” yet.

But for most of us, the process of putting lines on a page for the pure enjoyment of it is all that matters.  What we produce with those lines is way down the list of priorities.  I confess that I love going to a new place to sketch.  I lament the fact that my health issues are limiting my ability to sketch Quebec City architecture.  But I still enjoy putting lines on paper regardless of the subject.

Even a simple trip to the grocery store can feed my need for something to draw.  Subjects that are brightly colored and that don’t move make great sketching subjects and grocery stores are full of such objects.  On this day I had a “life drawing” session with some great models.  Hope you enjoy the results half as much as I enjoyed drawing them.

 

Doodling My Way Into Winter

My sketching over the past month has been mostly doodles done out of desperation and then only when my hands are working.  I’ve put my free time to good use, however, revisiting art books I’ve wanted to re-read.  Don’t you find that second reads of art books reveal information you didn’t get the first time through?  I sure do, particularly if I wait several months worth of sketching experience before the re-read.

Anyways, it never seems that doodles are worthy of blog posts so my posts have become fewer and farther between.  I did get out a couple times this week, though, so I’m reporting that I finally got to sketch in a more formal way, though ‘formal’ is exaggerated here.

My first stop was the 3d mask exhibit I talked about at the beginning of the month.  I went there with our sketching group and while my hands were less than happy about it, I drew one of the masks.  I confess to a certain frustration drawing these masks and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ve been trying to turn them into a real face, when in fact they are somewhat alien because the tops of the head are removed, the eyes closed, and in general they’re just too smooth everywhere.  So, I figured I’d go with the flow on this one, producing the alien creature that it is, exaggerating it a bit with watercolor.  The mask is lit from below and excepting that it’s white rather than blue, this is pretty much what it looks like.  Kinda spooky don’t you think?

Once  a year we all get together and draw holiday cards in one form or another.  This year was no exception though I confess that I wasn’t much in a holiday mood that day.  It was a lot of fun, though, because there were a bunch of us creating art so I could see what everyone else was doing while I puttered away myself.  For this I always use Strathmore’s Watercolor Cards, which are convenient.  I never did get around to writing the obligatory Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on them.

Sketching With The Pilot Kakuno

For the past couple years, my sketching tools of choice have been the Platinum 3776 and a Pilot/Namiki Falcon.  Both are excellent sketching pens but a bit on the pricey side.  I’m a pen nerd so such expense was “justified” simply cuz I wanted one but the reality is that one doesn’t have to spend a lot of money on a fountain pen to get good results.

Evidence for this comes in how many sing the praises of the Platinum Preppy that may not win any beauty contests but it only costs $4 and works really well.  I remember a time when everyone recommended a Lamy Safari to newcomers because it was the only game in town when it came to inexpensive pens but since then we’ve seen the release of the Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Eco, Platinum Plaisir among others.  Each of these is less expensive and at least the equal to the Safari so choices abound.

I want to talk about the Pilot Kakuno, specifically about the recent release of the completely transparent version, though it comes in a couple of colors as well.  There were two things that caused me to investigate this pen.   I love transparent pens because, as a street sketcher, it’s nice to be able to quickly check the amount of ink in a pen before I go out the door.

Mostly, however, this pen interested me because it was from Pilot and I love Pilot steel nibs.  They are smooth line makers, even when you use fine nibs like I do.  Second, they can typically provide lines that are very fine or a couple times that width with a little bit of pressure.   The low price point ($14) made it easy for me to scratch my curiosity itch and so I ordered a fine nib version of the pen.

I loved it from the start.  This pen may be the lightest pen I’ve used and it fits my hand beautifully when posted.  Like all of the dozen or so Pilot pens I own, this one works flawlessly with the DeAtramentis or Platinum pigmented inks I feed my sketching pens.  I was a happy camper but I was about to get happier.

I decided to order a medium nib version because I had a medium nib Metropolitan that I enjoyed a lot for quick-sketching.  The reason is that the medium nibs provide width variation from a Micron 01 with light pressure to a Micron 03 with a bit of pressure.  In addition to that, if you flip the pen upside down you can get hairline lines from the same nib.  Since I’ve received this pen I’ve used almost nothing else.

I got happier still when I solved the one problem I had with the Kakuno.  It has no clip and I need a clip on my pens.  Happiness came, however, when I discovered that the inexpensive clip sold by Kaweco for their pens fits beautifully on the Kakuno cap.  I immediately ordered a silver one for my fine nib pen and a gold one for my medium pen.  I now have a color-coded set of these pens and I’m thrilled.

Doppelgangers, Look-Alikes and Soses

There’s a new exhibit at our Museum of Civilization that plays right into my new endeavor to learn how to use a pencil while drawing portraits.  It’s called Mon Sosis a 2000 Ans  which means, I think, My 2000-Year Old Double.  While there’s some variation in how it’s presented, most of the displays look like this one (left).  On the right is a head (or bust) from long ago and far away (many are Egyptian or Greek).   On the left is the result of scanning a person’s head and using the results to 3D print a mask of the person’s face.  The pictures above show you what the person looks like with a comparative photo of the ancient sculpture.

This presents to the sketcher an array of faces/sculptures to sketch.  The downside of the 3D masks is that the person’s eyes are closed and the top of their head is gone so there is no hairline.  Still, they don’t move which is a plus.

Here are a couple of drawings from my first batch of sketches.  I’m not very good at this but I’m determined to improve.

Struggling With Pencil And Other Laments

Pat Roberson wrote to me asking if she was somehow missing my posts.  I was glad she was missing my posts, but had to confess that they were being missed because I wasn’t writing them.  If I could write about CT scans, doctor visits, constant blood and urine testing, and a bit of depression, I’d have lots to write about.  As it is, however, writing about urban sketching would leave me empty-handed right now.

So, I’m going to talk about the little bit of sketching I’ve been trying to do, even though it’s sketching I’m unfamiliar with and even more problematic it’s being done with a tool I don’t understand at all … a pencil.

As the weather turned cold and my leg didn’t get any better I realized that this winter I was not going to be able to be an urban sketcher.  I decided to view this as an opportunity (I brainwash myself regularly).  I told myself that this would be a great time to set my pens aside and pick up a pencil in an attempt to master the tool.  Everyone else starts with pencil but I was a pen-driver when I came to sketching and so all of my art baby steps were done with pen.

Further I decided that I would learn my pencil skills by drawing portraits, either from photos or from plaster casts.  This was (is?) probably foolhardy because my least favorite sketching subject is people, but I need practice in this area too, so while the wind, rain and snow keeps me indoors, I might as well “get out of my comfort zone” and learn something new.

I started by drawing a bust of Mozart, a cast I picked up at a flea market in a small town east of Quebec City.  Only an artist drives along a road to a sketching location and has to turn around to visit the flea market because they saw a white head sticking up from one of the tables.

Anyway, it seems I got off to a bad start.  I made a rank beginner mistake.  “I was just learning so I don’t need good materials” was my thought and so I grabbed a pad of cheap watercolor paper that I’d rejected for use long ago and started drawing.  It was too grainy for a pencil drawing but it didn’t matter; I was “just learning” after all.  I struggled to get an even tone, partly because of my lack of skill but also because of that paper.  And then I realized that I’d drawn Mozart’s eye too large so I tried to erase it.  The paper immediately pilled and I had a REALLY rough spot where the eye used to be.  I tried to fix it but was a fool’s errand.

This frustrated me to the point of giving up, realizing that I was fighting the paper more than the pencil.  So, here is my partially drawn Mozart, shown here with a black eye caused when he told Haydn that major-minor theme variations were silly.  I’ll have to draw him again.

 

My Lack Of Imagination

I’ve been sketching for about six years.  During all of that time I’ve been a dedicated urban sketcher.  Nearly everything I’ve drawn has been from life, mostly from my perch upon a tripod stool.  Those of us who work this way are fond of extolling the virtues of drawing from life.  If drawbacks are mentioned they generally relate to how weather and/or material limitations affect the actual drawing process.

One thing we always ignore when talking about location sketching is that there is no exercise of the imagination when you’re trying to depict some object or scene that lies before you.  We may simplify, or even modify the scene but nevertheless, the scene provides the subject of our work.

Because of this, I’ve developed very little imagination when it comes to generating my own scenes.  Yes, I can draw a dinosaur creature and maybe even a funny-faced character, but drawing a citiscape or landscape from my imagination – no way.  And while I can draw cars, statues, and airplanes when I’m looking at them, I can’t draw one from my imagination to save my soul.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I should spend time drawing from my imagination, because if I did I would look at the world differently, generating a different kind of knowledge about my world.  I know he’s right but I’ve found it difficult.

These days, however, I’m sort of stuck at home a lot and often my hands don’t function as well as I would like.  Yvan showed me a lot of the small vignettes he draws (which are amazing) to develop his imagination and I decided to give hem a try.  His approach is pretty simple:

  1. Paint a block of color(s).  Not too big (the ones here are only 3″ to 4″ wide).  Add some blotches of color (low contrast is best as it doesn’t force you in one direction).
  2. Let them dry (or not) and imagine what sort of scene can be made from the blotches of color contained within each block.

That’s all there is to it.  While the ones presented here are the first two pages of these things I’ve created, they don’t have to be landscape/citiscapes.  Yvan likes to invent candlesticks, fancy bowels, statues, or groups of people.

I’ve found this hard, mostly because I have no imagination, no “vocabulary” for making stuff up.  But Yvan is correct, I’m looking at everything differently, asking things like “what are the typical shapes of citiscapes”; “what are the features of vases that one could use to create a new type?”, and a million other similar questions.  There’s lot of fun to be had here and I’m convinced that it will help me with my “normal” drawing.

 

Sketching The Alleyways Again

The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location.  But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching.  This, and the smile on my face, was the result.

A Bit Of Eye Training

Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business.  We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities.  This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing.  I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.

For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions.  Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’  The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.

I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski.  I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.

The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree.  Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw.  I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles.  Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details.  I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.

With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink.   It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be.  It’s very liberating and fun.

I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less.  The ink portion was more like twenty minutes.   Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate.  Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way.  Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it.  Besides, it’s fun.  Here’s the result.  It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.

 

 

 

Sketching At A Winery

The Artistes dans les Parcs leader, Denise Bujold arranged for us to spend a Thursday sketching at a winery on the Ile d’Orleans, not far from Quebec City.  She surprised us by using her superpowers to give us ideal weather as well.   There were sixteen of us scattered around the winery, drawing, painting or enjoying each other’s company.  It was quite a day.

I decided to draw this scene, not part of the winery but across a field from it.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get more depth into this sketch.

We all took a break for lunch, sitting at some picnic benches available for visitors to the winery.  The sun was so inviting that I wanted to lay down in the grass and fall asleep.  Ah…to be a kid again where that wouldn’t be seen as rude (grin).

Rejean had done a small vignette of a cluster of grapes and I decided I needed to do one too.  I have a tough time walking down hills right now but I found I could walk along a road that wound its way around some buildings and served as a way for tractors to get to the lower level.  Eventually I got to the head of one of the fields and found  a cluster of grapes near an end post, creating an ideal subject.  I was pretty happy with the result and the entire day.

Artistes Des Parcs Visit Domain Cataraqui

Denise Bujold is doing an amazing job of organizing events for us to attend.  While most art groups are held together by the love of a particular medium or way of working, this one is held together with smiles.  It seems everyone is working in a different medium, some carry easels, others tripod stools.  But everyone shows up with smiles on their faces and that’s all we need.

This week we assembled at Domain Cataraqui, which at one time was a huge estate.  I guess it’s still a huge estate but now it serves several purposes, most central of which is a cooking school.  For a sketcher, there is a large cluster of unique architecture and gardens that are all surrounded by forest.  Oh…and it’s quiet, one of my favorite things.

Yvan and I arrived a bit early and we chose an area to start sketching.  I decided to do a larger sketch of a view of the building complex and because I’m slower than molasses as a sketcher, it took me until lunch to complete it.

Everyone else had set up and were painting on the other end of the estate so I headed up there to take part in the smiles, some chit-chat, and maybe some lunch.  It was a gorgeous day and sitting in front of a multi-million dollar mansion just felt right.