Walking On New Ground

COVID isolation has resulted in my covering new artistic ground as a substitute for daily urban sketching jaunts in old Quebec and elsewhere.  But here in Quebec City things have relaxed a bit as Canada has gotten things under better control.  We’re all shopping in our masks but we can move almost freely outdoors.

A couple weeks ago the Artistes dans les parcs group was supposed to have an event at a small park not too far from where I live.  The plan was to paint the old alley ways in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the event was rained out.

The next week I decided to walk there just to see the area as I’d never sketched there before.  As I walked the street I looked down one of the alleys and saw a scene that grabbed me.  It wasn’t the subject (an old garage structure surrounded by trees, but light/shadow situation.   The trees on the left side of the alley were nearly black from being in shadow while the garage and the trees on the right of it were brightly lit.

I decided to try to paint it in gouache, a medium I’m trying to figure out. Frankly, I was in a bit over my head.  I’m still working on Shari Blaukopf’s light and shadow course and trying to get my head around painting light rather than stuff.  To do it with gouache was, well, intimidating.  But in the end the exercise was extremely informative and fun.

In hindsight the sketch would have benefited from my “moving in”, making the garage a larger piece of the puzzle.  I started with a minimal pencil sketch and then tried to do washes to mark out the various values.  I think this was a mistake, but only because I was in watercolor mode, which to me means I was working light to dark.  I’m sure that an experienced painter wouldn’t have a problem but quickly I realized that I would have been better off laying in the darks first.  I had a hard time adjusting lights and darks to fit the scene.  I found myself longing for some Alizarin because my Pyrrol Red just couldn’t take my cobalt/yellow green dark enough to match the light grays I’d used to represent the whites of the scene.  Looking back, I realize that my REAL problem was that I was ignoring my tube of ivory black gouache, which would have solved the problem quickly.  I just don’t think about black as being part of the arsenal.  Pretty dumb when using an opaque medium.

As I said, I had a lot of fun.  One little epiphany I had during this effort was about my artist brain.  When I’m working with ink and wash, I think about proportions and relative locations of things, but most of the rest (perspective, edges, etc) is handled automagically by my subconscious.  It’s that ‘in the zone’ thing we talk about.  I realized that while doing this painting, I was getting no help from my lizard brain.  I was having to think about everything and it was HARD!

I remember that feeling from years ago when I was faced with trying to learn to draw.  How could I think about all that stuff at once?  Truth is, you can’t.  It’s impossible.  You simply have to do it enough that some of it becomes automated to the point where all you have to do is think about how big to make stuff and where to put it.

Micro Portable Palette: A Review

Steve Padden is a genius when it comes to designing small palettes that excite the wandering sketcher.  His original Portable Palette is still being used by yours truly, though I confess I’ve found it most handy for painting while I watch TV.  When he launched an Indigogo project to fund a Portable Palette Micro I quickly dropped the bucks to buy a seat.

But poor old Steve ran into a world economy buzz saw we call COVID right in the middle of dealing with prototyping and production.  His suppliers were shut down by China, shipping stopped, and all he could do was worry about satisfying his customers.  Lucky for him, we artists are tolerant souls and, if I’m any indication, we were all tied up in our own COVID buzz saws and so we waited patiently as Steve apologized and kept us informed about what was going on.

But the Portable Palette Micro has arrived and WOW.  As my dad used to say, “It’s a doozy.”  Steve’s engineering prowess has created an amazing little palette.  It’s tiny, everything fits precisely, there’s lots of mixing space AND there’s a place for water.

It comes in a nice carrying sack that I may or may not use.  The main lid pops off and its underside provides two mixing areas.  When you take the main unit out of its case, the case serves as a water container and when the lid of the main unit is flipped up to expose six half-pans, the lid provides two more mixing areas. 

The three pieces slide together to create a single unit that you can hold conventionally or you can pull down a little T-shaped gizmo that’s supposed to serve as a thumb ring substitute.  It’s sort of hard to explain why, but I don’t like it.  It’s just too unstable for my tastes.  It’s so easy to hold this palette between thumb and forefinger, though, that I don’t see a need for it.

It was raining today so I couldn’t get out to paint anything so I drew a carrot.  Notice the beading up of the paint in the mixing trays.  This is typical of all plastic palettes and all you have to do is scuff them up.  I typically use a kitchen scouring pad (not metal) and a few seconds of rubbing.  Oh…and the half-pans are removable/replaceable so swapping colors around, as we’re prone to do, isn’t a problem.

Thanks Steve, for a fantastic solution to our micro palette problems.

What’s A Pencil?

When I came to sketching I’d been using fountain pens for all of my writing for decades.  It never occurred to me to use anything different to draw stuff.  So I’ve spent years using fountain pens for sketching and rarely have I tried anything else, though I’ve spent a bunch of time with watercolor pencils in museums when watercolors weren’t allowed.  But with the COVID scurge going on I’m doing more experiments.  I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with me doing more art in isolation rather than going out with friends to sketch some location.

I was at an Artistes dans les parcs event last week.  Even here I’m mostly by myself because the language barrier prevents a lot of interaction between myself and the rest of the participants.  Anyways, I was out on the shore of the St. Lawrence River sizing up some rocks to draw.  For whatever reason I got the idea to draw them with a pencil.  I dug around in my bag and came up with a short hunk of Blackwing 602.  Here’s the result.  Another result of this experiment is the realization that I’ve never learned how to draw with a simple, graphite pencil.

Strathmore 184lb Toned Tan paper, pencil

Sitting In The Morning Sun… I’ll Be Cooked Before The Sketch Is Done

Apologies to Otis Redding for the title of this post.  But it describes pretty well a morning I had at the latest Artistes dans les parcs event.  It was all my fault.  Sometimes I forsake rational thinking while choosing a sketching subject.

This event took place at a spiritual retreat site that looks like it has its roots as a home for the upper crust.  The grounds are huge and high on a hill that overlooks the St. Lawrence River.  Almost all of the participants set up easels in a shady area so they could paint the coastline.  Those were the smart ones because we were in the middle of a heat wave with pressing heat and humidity.

Me, I took a different approach.  I decided to sketch a bunch of stairs.  My thinking was simply that I needed practice sketching stairs.  I didn’t think about the fact that to do so required that I sit out in the open, in bright sun, and that I would sweat myself to become ill from the process.  I cooked, and cooked, and cooked, more concerned about lilies and concrete than how I was feeling.

When I came out of my sketching fog I realized I wasn’t feeling that great.  Only then did I realize that I was light-headed and dripping with sweat.  I headed for some shade.  Then I realized that I had forgotten to bring a waterbottle.  All I had to drink was my back up water for painting, all 30ml of the stuff.  I drank that and then waited for the little bit of breeze to cool me down.  In the end I was fine, with only a hint of stupid to chew on.  I did go home early, however.  It was just too hot to be out without water.

Squash On The Run

We’ve been having a lot of heat lately.  I guess it’s mother nature’s way of telling me that I complained too much when spring didn’t come soon enough.  Anyway, the result has been a lot of growth in our new vegetable gardens.

One result is that our butternut squash is attempting to escape.  It jumped the wall of the garden and is now running along its edge, using the garden wall to hide its actions.  I had to sketch quickly because it is growing fast, but here’s my capture of the action.