Careful What You Wish For…

 

…you just might get it.

It’s all my fault.  For weeks I’ve been wishing that the snow would melt in Quebec.  Until a week ago, we Quebec City was still having below freezing temperatures so, I guess, my wish was more a dream than a real wish.

And then it came…the rain..the temps that got downright near reasonable and our record levels of snow started melting – QUICKLY.  Too quickly it seems because now we’ve got people in western Quebec being evacuated from their houses due to flooding.  The military has been called in to supply manpower.  I’m not proud of my selfish wish and I never wished it would all melt at once, but in a matter of days the 10-foot high snow banks that have surrounded my house have all but disappeared.  Today it’s 12C outside and the bright yellow ball has returned to our sky.

My task this weekend was to draw something “nature,” a task handed out by the Sketch With Me Facebook group.  I guess dirty snow banks are nature but the truth is, in the middle of a city just coming out of winter, there’s not a lot of nature to be found.  So I got the bright idea of drawing a small stick from a maple tree.  The maples are waiting for spring too.

So, I crunched up the snow hill in my backyard (major improvement over the mountain that used to be there) and clipped a branch.  Being a street sketcher, I’ve never done this sort of thing before and I was ill-prepared.  I found two problems.  First is that I was drawing too small, which caused the second problem, my tools were too big.  The smallest brush I own is a #6 and even my fine fountain pens were a struggle because my ‘stick’ was being drawn too small.  Nevertheless, it was fun and I’m going to do more of this, just as soon as I get a smaller brush.  With spring on my doorstep, I should have lots of subject matter available.

Fisherman Wood Carving

Canson XL Multi-media (7×10), Wing Sung 8008, DeAtramentis Document brn/blk, DS watercolors.

My hands were working Friday night so I decided to sketch a small wood carving we have.  The actual carving is of a grumpy old man like myself but decided to draw him younger.  In the end, it made me smile.

I was sketching while watching the Blue Jays so I was drawing in a Canson XL multimedia book that I use for scribbling during TV time.  This is not watercolor paper but if you go easy on the water, you can add some color.  I used a Portable Painter filled with Daniel Smith watercolors that I keep available for these purposes.

It Ain’t Happening This Year

Once upon a time I really enjoyed the #100PeopleInAWeek challenge so it just seemed natural to say that I was up for the challenge this year.  To be completely honest, I don’t know what I was thinking as I’m struggling to draw anything right now and am grateful for the occasional day when arthritis takes a break and I can hold a pen.

When April 8th rolled around, we citizens of Quebec were blessed with a raging blizzard.  Such storms raise havoc with my arthritis, but I gave people drawing an effort.  I got a few drawn but I just couldn’t concentrate because my hand hurt so much.  Seems after 10-15 minutes the pain increases.  So I had to stop.

Later that evening I decided to try again, this time drawing people as I watched TV.  Same situation this time; my hand gave me about 15 minutes before it became unbearable 🙁

So…after day one I was 11 people behind schedule.  The next morning we were facing blizzard conditions again and the barometric pressures were bouncing up and down.  I was supposed to sketch with friends and so I went to the rendevous, though I was having difficulty walking and my left hand (the important one) was throbbing.  We were drawing windows in the mall and I got halfway through a shaky drawing before I gave up in frustration.  And today…I can hardly hold my pen.  So… on day three I’m 41 people behind.  I’m a slow learner but even I have figured out that attempting this challenge, this year, is a fool’s errand.  Next year.

 

Why I Like DeAtramentis Document Inks So Much

When I started sketching, like most people, I gravitated towards using Noodlers bulletproof inks.  They promised a waterproof ink but that promise isn’t fulfilled if you’re using them on papers with a significant amount of sizing (i.e. – watercolor paper).  Like so many others, I found that Noodlers’ Lexington Gray was best, mostly because the gray didn’t make such bold marks when it smeared.  Nevertheless, I eventually moved to Platinum Carbon Black, a pigmented ink that worked in fountain pens and provided completely waterproof performance.

When DeAtramentis released their Document inks the sketching world went nuts for them, as did I.  Finally there was a line of colored inks that was waterproof.  I took out a second mortgage on my house and bought a bottle of each and a bottle of the dilution fluid.  I think that was about three years ago and I’ve learned a bit about my needs and the inks so I thought I’d share a few heavily biased points of view.

First, I should say something about why I’m not using other pigmented fountain pen inks (e.g. – Sailor, Platinum Carbon, Roher & Klingnor SketchInks):

Sailor: I’ve never had access to them so I’ve never tried the “nano” inks they produce.

Platinum: This ink works great.  It’s VERY black and dries somewhat shiny.  I’ve never been a fan of either of these attributes.  Also, when it’s cold this ink takes a long time to dry, leading to smearing while sketching on the streets of Quebec in October.

Rohrer & Klingnor SketchInks:  I like these inks..a lot and they’re less expensive than other pigmented inks for fountain pens.  They come in several toned down colors and dry quickly.  When it hits the paper it’s great that it dries quickly.  When its on a pen nib and the pen doesn’t seal perfectly, it can be annoying.  If I use these inks my Pilot or Platinum pens everything works great.  Put them in a Lamy, Noodlers or other lesser pen and you’ll have starting problems.  This can be resolved by dipping the nib in water but I don’t like to mess with reluctant writers.  I do still use these inks, however.

DeAtramentis brought to my sketch bag something the others do not – the ability to mix and dilute without changing the viscosity of the resultant ink.  I used to thin Noodlers inks too but there was always a compromise between getting the color I wanted and changing the flow characteristics of the ink because of the water being added.  But DeAtramentis sells pint-size bottles of their ink without pigment in it so you can add this “dilution solution” to any of their inks, thinning them with respect to pigment load without making them actually thinner, if you get my meaning.

This allows me to mix grays by adding dilution solution to black and so my  go to ink is a black/dilution mix (1:3).  It’s still a very dark gray but not the hard black line of a true black ink.  Of course I’ve always got full strength black available too if I need it.  Having the two values is handy at times.

Another problem is getting a good brown.  Noodlers bullet proof browns all seem to dry in the nib, though you can add water to solve most of that problem.  But most brown inks are too red for my taste, even DeAtramentis Document Brown.  But, I can add some Document Black to the Brown and get a really nice brown/black that serves me well.

So that’s my ink story.  I’ve gone through several bottles of these inks so I feel confident in saying that they work well in all the pens I own (at least a dozen brands).  I’ve used these inks mostly on Arches, Fabriano Artistico, Stillman & Birn papers but also on all sorts of cheap papers with success. These inks work in my pens in spite of the fact that I rarely clean a pen (only if I’m changing colors or putting it away).  Give them a try if you haven’t already.

Sketching My Stuff

Yvan and Claudette came to visit this week and we spent the afternoon sketching my stuff.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff, mostly obtained at flea markets for purposes of drawing and we put some of it to good use.  As is too often the case, my hand was hurting me but we nevertheless had a great day.

Yvan drew the front of a plaster rabbit so I drew the back and found it hard to make the foreshortened ears sufficient to give the rabbit a real rabbit look.  Some views are better than others I suppose.  Claudette did a really great drawing of a large Japanese woman’s head and it turned out great.

Arches cold press, DeAtramentis Document Black,

We took a break, had coffee and the obligatory talk of drawing and watercolors.  We decided to draw something else.  I have two really nice Japanese figures that I’ve drawn several times and Yvan chose to draw the male figure so I grabbed the female (that didn’t come out right).  I’d never drawn her from behind so I decided to do so, drawing in pencil in a Stillman & Birn Nova.  In the end I wish I’d used ink but this is the result.

Stillman & Birn Nova, mechanical pencil (2B)

Some Fun Museum Sketching

I was at our civilisation museum the other day and my joints were bothering me.  It was hard to draw and, even more, it was hard to concentrate because of the pain.  But I sat, stared at, and drew an Inuit stone carving of an Inuit stalking a seal.  I loved how a complete scene was captured in the rock.

Sketching Hands At Yvan’s House

Here in Quebec City we’re still waiting for the opportunity to get out of our igloos so we can sketch outside.  Until the snow starts melting, however, we get together at someone’s house and sketch.

Stillman & Birn Nova

 

Stillman & Birn Nova

A favorite in that regard is Yvan’s place because he has a great studio that’s filled with an artist’s version of a cabinet of curiosities so there’s lots of stuff to draw.  When several of us gathered there I chose to draw plaster casts of hands.  I had a lot of fun with these but I made the mistake of using a water-based felt pen to shade them.  I know lots of people love felt markers but I can’t understand why.  Whenever I use one the results are streaky and splotchy.

 

Book Review: Shari Blaukopf’s Working With Color

If you’re a sketcher you know something about the Urban Sketching Handbook series.  These books look like a 6×9 Moleskine sketchbook, complete with the elastic band holding its covers together.  There were five of them.  Now there are six, the latest written by Shari Blaukopf and titled “Working with Color.

If you’re a sketcher who uses watercolors, you probably also know that it would be great if you could spend time talking with Shari and asking her questions about watercolor.  Most don’t get that opportunity, so she’s written Working with Color and  owning a copy is the next best thing (grin).

I binge-read my copy, which means it took me three days to get through it.  No, I don’t read that slowly but Shari’s book is written, as are the other Urban Sketching Handbooks, as a bunch of small sections full of guidance and tips.  It seemed that each one had me doodling and pushing paint around, trying out the things she talks about.  Not only did I have a ball, I learned a lot.

Like most books on watercolor, the early pages cover materials.  This book emphasizes materials that facilitate sketching on location.  I confess that I rarely get anything from such sections but it was interesting to see Shari’s palette choices.

Very quickly, however, Shari moves on to color mixing and color and value in general.  Subjects covered include: mixing darks, mixing greens, shadow colors and a discussion of values.  Each of these subjects are supported by sketches that illustrate each subject.

There is a section on limiting your color(s), from selectively choosing a single color to discussions of the use of a limited palette.  This later subject was time-consuming for me as Shari suggests several triads and, of course, I had to try them all (grin).

There are a couple different sections on using color to express mood and atmosphere and I have to read them again as there is much to think about in these sections.

There’s also a large section on mixing and using neutrals.  This is an area that is important to the watercolorist, but an area where I understand very little.  Mixed into this section is the notion of using warm and cool grays in an urban setting and it all seems like its the core of what I should know.  Wish I did.  This book is helping quite a bit.  I need to do a bunch more doodles and neutrals mixing though.

I do think that if you just read all the tips and look at the pictures, very little will change in your art.  This is stuff that you have to do if you’re going to begin to incorporate the ideas and methods into your art.  But heck, that’s the fun part and I can’t recommend Working with Color enough to anyone wanting to better understand how watercolors work and how they can be used in a sketching environment.

 

 

Sketching An Inukshuk

Inukshuks are common across northern Canada.  Seen principally as a product of the Inuits, other Native American groups also make them.  They are said to have been used as navigation markers, or markers of significant locations.  They commonly represent of Canada itself and some have deemed them a symbol of hope.  You can buy tiny inukshuks as souvenirs, sold right next to the beaver and moose figurines.

In any case their structure is meant to represent a human form and larger ones even have legs and arms.  Most have outward projections that represent arms in some way.  Mostly, though, they are a pile of rocks and I love drawing rocks.

We were at the museum the other day and in the Native American exhibit there is a small inukshuk that sits behind some large display cabinets.  You can see all of it if you’re standing in front of those display cabinets but I had to sit across the aisle from them so I would have light to see my paper.  This meant that I couldn’t see the bottom half of it.  I drew it anyway, direct with ink, and this is the result.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5x.8.5), J. Herbin Lie de Thé ink

I really had fun drawing this inukshuk and I remembered that I’d drawn one before, an inukshuk that resides on the Quebec Parliament grounds.  I decided to see if I could find that sketch.  I rarely look at my old sketches but  I did find it and I learned a couple things.  First is that this older sketch was done in 2012, only a few months after I decided to learn how to draw.  The second thing I learned is that I have actually improved as I’ve accumulated pen miles.  That made me happy.  Maybe inukshuks do represent hope.

Learning To Sketching Rabbits

I recently posted a sketch of a rabbit skeleton and talked about drawing Beatrix Potter rabbits and then sketching my way to wanting to understand their insides.  I was asked “Where are the other sketches?”

Truth is, they were in my garbage can, where most of my “let’s try this” doodles end up.  I dug through the can and found a couple of the sheets with rabbits on them and, with some embarrassment, I’ll show them to you.  Laugh if you like.  I don’t mind.

These sheets are cheap card stock from Staples and so they don’t take watercolor well at all but I have such sheets sitting next to my computer and I’m always doodling something.

Some feeble attempts at drawing stuff from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit book.

 

This hodge-podge of scribbles is typical of my doodle sheets. This one contains some feeble attempts at rabbits.

I thought I should include a serious, though not entirely successful, attempt at a rabbit just to redeem myself somewhat.  I think she’s cute.