Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 1

As a blogger and sketcher, I have a problem.  It’s an internal problem that generates embarrassment and shame.  You see, when I started sketching I remember always wanting to know what pen was used (and why), what colors were chosen, and what approach was used by every artist I came across on the internet.  I remember grumbling when they didn’t tell me.  So whenever someone asks “what kind of gizmo do you use Larry?” I always write long emails back to the person, BUT I never seem to get around to putting that information into blog posts.

By way of excuse, I have the feeling that I’m not qualified to speak with authority on anything artistic and that my choices are unimportant.  I think that’s true.  But here’s the thing.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that what materials people use aren’t very important, but for people trying to find their way, knowing such stuff matters.  It still matters to me.  Anyways,  this post is the beginning of rectification of those omissions.

Everyone has their way to move tools and materials to a sketching location but, in my view, this is also the most important issue when it comes to materials.  If you have to think about what you’re going to take and/or how you’re going to carry it, you’re not going to do it at all.  And if your stuff isn’t conveniently available when you get on site, you’re going to be too distracted to be effective.  In my case there is an additional caveat.  I have to carry everything when I walk and those walks can be a couple hours long, at least they were before my leg problems of late.

My Sketching Bags

I started out with a single bag.  I’ve had it since I started location sketching and I fear the day when it dies as I haven’t been able to find a look-alike backup.  Into this bag I stuffed pens, paints and sketchbook and carried it everywhere.  That worked pretty well, though I found myself leaving stuff out, adding new stuff, and there was no rhyme or reason to it.  Because I carried it everywhere, I always worried about weight – micro-managing things by adding/subtracting single items.

Then came along a large bag, a bag too large to carry everywhere but the one I used when I want on an organized sketching events.  This caused a shift in my approach because I was spending too much time moving stuff back and forth between the bags and worrying about whether I had everything or not.

A Modular Approach

I tried replicating everything, outfitting each bag with the same stuff.  That didn’t work for me because that was expensive.  More importantly, the maintenance doubled.  Ensuring that two sets of pens were filled with ink, pencils sharpened, etc. was just too much for a lazy guy like me and I didn’t like the fact that I was working in different sketchbooks just because I was carrying a different bag.  So, I went modular.

To facilitate this approach I put identical misc support gear into each bag.  This includes:

  • bulldog clips (some of these have magnets attached to them): I use these to attach palettes to sketchbooks, clip pages down when it’s windy, etc.
  • kneaded eraser:  I don’t erase when I draw but when I use a pencil to layout a sketch I like to remove those layout lines once the drawing is completed.
  • water bottle(s): more on this later but this is the water I use with watercolors.
  • tissues: each bag has a pack of tissues, used when I paint. 
  • tiny paint kit: each bag has a 4-6 color mini-palette “for emergencies”
  • waterbrush:  I don’t like waterbrushes but “for emergencies” one will suffice.  I currently prefer Kuretake/Zig brushes which seem to give me better water control than others.

That’s it.  Everything else is included in these three modules.

From left to right: watercolor kit, pens and such, watercolor pencils

When I head out I simply choose which modules I want, stuff them in my bag, and go.  In practice, most of the time the pens and watercolors are in my small bag already because it’s still my go everywhere bag, but they’re easily moved to the large bag if necessary.  The important thing is that I don’t have to think about it, which matches the amount of brain power I want associated with getting out the door.  Next time I’ll discuss the contents of these modules.

Life Of A Sketchless Sketcher

I made another trip to our museum.  I’m still amazed at how tired I can become just getting there, but got there I did.  It’s the last week of the Hergé exhibition and I hadn’t actually viewed it seriously.  The exhibit emphasizes the process of creating Tin Tin, Herge’s famous comic series and so there’s lots to read and look at.  Not much to draw.

I hobbled around the exhibit, reading everything and studying the artwork.  It’s a really good exhibit in my opinion.  But finally I had to sit down, completely exhausted.  It must be the weight of the cane that’s wearing me out (grin).

After a while I decided that I needed to draw something, so I combined getting a cup of coffee with drawing one of the weather vanes on display in the cafeteria.  It’s not much and like eating a single Gummi bear, not quite enough, but it formed a satisfying end to yet another sketchless sketcher day.

Good Advice: Do Something Different

You hear it all the time.  Try a new medium.  Draw something different.  Use a different approach.  Sometimes this advice is given to help kick start an artist who is struggling to find motivation.  Sometimes it’s give in the name of developing new abilities.

For me, at this time, it’s good advice on both counts.  I’m starting to get back on my feet, though some days are better than others.  Drawing at home is a possibility but I’ve talked about how hard it is for me to be motivated to do that as I’ve spent five years doing most of my drawing on location.  But I have other struggles, one of which is that I tend to use watercolors as crayons and my color applications flatten, rather than enhance the 3D nature of my sketches.

I started with this light pen drawing, done with a Kaweco Lilliput and Kaweco Stormy Grey ink.

So…I give you something different…really different.  There are no such worms in Quebec City, though worms in my head is believable.  This one was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and a steady stream of fantasy characters that emerge from the brain of Daniel Potvin when he picks up a brush.  My goal was to try to use watercolors to generate 3D surfaces and while far from perfect, I was pleased with the result.  While it’s not urban sketching, it is certainly a new kind of fun and I’ll do more of it in my attempt to figure out watercolors.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Daniel Smith watercolors

The Return: Baby Steps With A Limp

I’m embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without a blog post, not much sketching, not much of anything.  I’m beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though.  My leg is no longer the size of a telephone pole and my knee bends again.  More important, while I’m not completely pain free, the pain is not constant so I can begin to think about other things.

I’m still lacking in energy but I went sketching for the first time last week.  It wasn’t a successful trip by most measures but it was nice to see the gang and the trip made me feel as though I was on the mend.  We went to the civilisation museum where their main exhibition right now is from France and presents the works of cartoonist, Herge, a Belge cartoonist best known for his Tin Tin character.

I got on the bus and headed to the museum. The trip, one I used to walk in 40 minutes, seemed more like a crossing the Alps adventure than a simple trip across town.  By the time I got there I was exhausted but also excited to see everyone.

Some wanted to draw character images glued to the side of the building.  We could see some of them from a large window and people set up to draw.  Honestly, it seemed sort of silly to draw these simple characters but the truth was, they fit my energy level and ability to engage with a subject very well.  I spent about 15 minutes drawing these.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

This quite literally wore me out and I spent the rest of the session sitting around, talking and looking at a bit of the Herge exhibition.

This week I found myself better able to walk and with even less pain.  I’ve started doing some doodling at home and even managed to get some winterizing stuff done on the weekend.  Still lacking energy but even that had improved.  On Wednesday I hopped a bus to the library where we were going to draw from comics.  Seems there’s a theme developing here.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

It was a wonderful session, though my lack of energy, and probably my hiatus from drawing, showed when I tried to draw some of my favorite cartoon characters.  I began drawing Corto, a very famous Hugo Pratt character.  Pratt is an Italian cartoonist and one of my favorites.

As I look at this small sketch I can’t help but reflect on how tired I was when I finished it.  I spent the next half hour just flipping through comics, mindlessly looking at the graphics.

Ultimately, though, I decided to draw Obelix, one of the main characters in the Asterix series of comics that taught most French kids early European history.  Asterix and his buddies are Gauls and the bad guys are Romans.  Obelix was Asterix’s super-strong friend, his loyal sidekick.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

We ended that day with a cup of coffee and the sketching banter I have so missed over the past six weeks.  When I got home I took a nap, but I’m getting there…taking baby steps with a limp.

Drawing From Photos Is Hard

The common view is that drawing from photos is easier than drawing from life.  This view is rationalized by the fact that the photo has already reduced the subject to two dimensions.  Clearly this is true but, in my opinion, it ignores the flip-side of this, i.e. that a photo takes the life out of the subject that three dimensions provide.

A cardboard cutout of R2-D2 doesn’t provide as much information as a 3D model of R2-D2.  This same information is lost in a photo as well, or so I believe.  And when I try to draw from photos, my brain seems to think so too, because it literally is less interested in the project than when I draw the same subject from life.

I’ve drawn a lot of statues because we’ve got a gazillion of them in Quebec City and I enjoy doing so.  But when I drew a Jacques Cartier statue from a photo, my brain wandered, failed to engage in the process and the results seemed to reflect my lack of interest.  I think I’ll stick with life drawing.