Sketching The Mundane, The Ugly, The Unseen

When I was first learning about urban sketching my mentor (though she didn’t know it) was Cathy Johnson.  I fell in love with her sketches, many of which appeared to me in books by her about nature, historical reinactment, and art books.  Another thing she showed me how interesting and beautiful an artist can make the mundane and ugly.  She’d paint broken down buildings as seen through rusty chain link fence.  She did a sketch of a bridge being torn apart.  And she did these things in a way that made you want to hang them on your living room wall.

I still aspire to have her abilities but one of the great things about being a sketcher is that with only a dollup of persistence you can try and try again.  I’ve spent more than a little time drawing the alleyways of the older parts of Quebec City.  These are cluttered, ill-maintained places that are mostly out of sight and out of mind.  While I may not have Cathy’s expertise, I do have her zeal and I’ve done another alley sketch.  Here it is, warts and all.  I really enjoyed doing it.

Fabriano Artistico (7.5×11), Pilot Cavalier, R&K Sketch Ink (Lily), Daniel Smith watercolor

Playing Through The Pain

In sports there are regular references to athletes who play through the pain.  I feel like I’m trying to do that right now with my sketching.  I’m at a point where I can walk and stand but doing so requires a lot of energy because of my pronounced limp.  Then, when I get on site, I further abuse my knee by sitting on my tripod stool.

At the same time, a star finally appeared over planet Quebec City, or at least that’s what the astronomers call it.  The result has been that we’ve got these things authorities are calling shadows and a lot more light than normal.  It has also gotten warm enough that we can sketch outdoors.

A fairly large group of us were downtown sketching.  I learned later that everyone thought I’d gone home, I suppose, because of the grimace on my face when I walked, but actually I’d limped down to the south side of city hall and drew a street view.

Normally I lose track of time when I sketch but on this day I knew every minute because my knee kept sending out tweets screaming about being harassed and abused.  But eventually I did finish the sketch.  I didn’t notice, until now, that I didn’t draw any of those shadow things I mentioned.  I guess I’ll get used to those in time.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

When I finished I limped back to where everyone else was sketching.  They were finishing up sketches and starting to talk about getting coffee.  I sat down and with a couple minutes to fill, I started drawing some of the roof lines.  Then we went to get coffee and reflect on the day.  I think it’s going to be a long summer.  I think I should be on the disabled list but don’t tell coach.

Rohrer & Klingner Waterproof Sketch Inks

When I started sketching, there were two reasonable candidates if you wanted to use heavily sized watercolor paper and wanted to use watercolor over your pen sketches.  You could use Platinum Carbon Black ink, a pigmented ink, and Noodler’s Lexington Gray, which relied upon bonding to cellulose for its water resistance.  Lex Gray was only passable because it was a gray and when it smeared it didn’t create really bad smears.  I used both of them – a lot.

When DeAtramentis Document inks came to market, the stampede could be heard worldwide as we all rushed to our ink store to buy these waterproof inks. They’ve made a lot of us very happy, though these inks are a bit on the pricey side ($20/35ml).

The story could end right there except that I’m like a bass in the weeds, lunging out at every shiny object trolled in front of my nose by the pen/ink manufacturers.  When the Jet Pens newsletter featured Rohrer & Klingner Sketch Inks, my credit card warmed up, some buttons were pushed and I had three bottles of ink winging their way to chez moi.

There are actually 10 different colors in this ink line.  Each ink carries a female name and the bottle features a sketch of a woman.  Maybe I’m supposed to know who these women are but I don’t.  What I do know is that they are INK SKETCHES of women.  Did I mention that the inks are called Sketch Inks?  How cool is that?

More important, these inks are nano-pigmented inks that are suitable for fountain pens and they’re a lot cheaper than the DeAtramentis inks I use.  For $12 you get 50ml which works out to 24 cents/ml vs 57 cents/ml for DeAtramentis inks.  And the sketches on the bottle are really nice.  Did I mention that the inks are called Sketch Inks?  Very cool.

I bought bottles of Frieda (dark blue), Lily (dull brown), and Thea (dark grey).  The dark grey is the most exciting to me because it’s a gray like Lexington Gray but absolutely waterproof even on Fabriano Artistico.   The dull brown is very close to a color I’ve mixed using DeAtramentis Document Brown with a bit of black thrown in to neutralize it a bit.

One thing that’s great about the colors I got, and I presume the rest of the line, is their matte quality.  One thing I’ve never liked about Platinum Carbon Black is the shiny line quality.  They should blend well with watercolor.  Also, at least on the Emilio Braga paper I used for a quick test (below) these inks dry fast, really fast. (ed note: just tested on Fabriano and the ink didn’t smear after 5 seconds, maybe less).

I haven’t had a lot of time with them (just arrived last night) but I stuffed Frieda into a Pilot Cavalier (fine), Lily into a Lamy Safari (Xfine) and Thea in to a Pilot Falcon (SFine).   I scribbled a bit on photocopy paper and went to bed.  Figuring I needed something to show you beyond a picture of the bottles, I stopped while I was out and drew a lamp post and trashcan.  I drew this same thing with each ink, spending a few seconds more than 5 minutes on this scribbly page.  I apologize for them being different sizes; I didn’t plan as well as I might have.  Ultimately, you’ll be seeing a lot of sketches from my use of these inks; particularly the grey and brown.  I think I love my new lady friends.

Left to right: Frieda, Lily, Thea, Emilio Braga 4×6 notebook.

 

The Scales Fall From My Eyes

I’ve watched Marc Taro Holmes smoosh color onto paper, shifting colors as he “built washes.”  I’ve heard Shari Blaukopf talk about creating mosaics of shifting colors on a surface.  And I’ve stared at hundreds of Liz Steel sketches (relevance later).  Apparently, I’ve got a pretty thick head because in spite of all this exposure to the concept, I didn’t get it.

No, it took a single comment in Liz Steel’s watercolour course (highly recommended) to get me to rethink watercolors.  I know little of watercolor use but the first thing shown in every watercolor book I’ve read is how to do a flat wash.  That’s how I’ve been applying watercolor…in flat, boring washes.  Apparently I learned that lesson well. But in a single statement, as Liz was discussing mixing on paper vs mixing on the palette, Liz said (paraphrasing), “I rarely use flat washes; I prefer adding texture in my washes.”  This simple statement somehow connected both of my neurons together and there was a flash of light, at least that’s how I remember it.

So, I started looking more closely and practicing the addition of variability into washes.  I still struggle with its application but I was pretty happy with this sketch.  It was an experiment to see if I could put a very textured, high contrast “wash” behind the focal point and sort of gradate both the texture and the color (lightening it) as I moved away from that focal point.  My table light was just an excuse for a background.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

 

Cute Things Come In Small Packages

There are parts of Quebec City that were originally built in the early 20th Century but that have since been modernized, mostly by putting modern facades on the buildings.  The result is really boring.  But if you wander around in said neighborhoods you find the odd house that has been spruced up a bit but that retains its older shape and aesthetic.

Claudette found just such a house and we went to sketch it.  It was a bit cool but sunny but on the upside, we had a great place to sit as we sketched.  It was a small, simple house and didn’t take long to sketch but when I got out my watercolors I managed to dump half a bottle of water in my lap.  Suddenly it got very cool and I looked as though I’d wet my pants.  Life of a sketcher.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black