Self-Distancing On The Street

As I’ve mentioned, we’re isolating right now, along with the rest of Quebec.  It’s been that way since March 12th.  But the ice is now off the sidewalks and while it’s still cool outside (2C when I went out this morning) it’s really nice to go out and walk around a bit.  The streets are rather empty but there is an occasional fellow walker out and about.  I’ve noticed that even though we’re all trying to distance ourselves from everyone (in Canada we have to be 2-meters apart rather than 6-feet as in the US 🙂 but we’re a lot friendlier than normal, saying hi and maybe saying “stay safe” or some other gesture to anyone within shouting distance.

I don’t feel comfortable hanging out in one place but I did stop today and scribbled a quick sketch (about 2 min).  Though crude, it sure felt good to “urban sketch.”  I think I will be doing more of these for the sake of my sanity.  Then again, we’re supposed to get 15cm of snow tomorrow so maybe not (grin)

4×6 sketchbook

 

Do Sketchbooks Organize Your Art?

I’ve spent two years being “isolated” by an inability to run around because of a bad knee and rheumatoid arthritis.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now.  But the truth is, this new form of “isolation” is getting to me, probably because I can’t make pilgrimages to the local art and book stores (they’ve all been closed since Mid-March here in Quebec.

On the one hand, this isolation is nice as I have my family home so we’ve been baking/cooking more.  I made scones last night.  On the other hand, we’re watching and fretting over too much news, watching too many Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. movies and generally all discipline in out lives has gone to pot.  I hope you’re doing better on that score.

I may be learning something about my art production, or lack thereof.  On and off I’ve tossed around the idea of giving up sketchbooks in favor of working on single sheets of paper.  The later has always made more sense to me and for sure more convenient if you like to use different papers, different sizes of paper, and maybe different surfaces.  Sketchbooks have always remained big a part of my sketching, though, because I do (did) most of it on location.

With the isolation, however, I’ve been doing almost all my drawing on hunks of 6×9 paper, whether that be sketching paper, toned paper, or watercolor paper.  The darn things are everywhere and most of them end up in the trash.

I’m beginning to think that much of the reason for this is that I don’t value a single piece of paper like I do a sketchbook.  A sketchbook is a collection of sorts, a compendium of what I did over a time period.  These single sheets don’t do that.  Heck, I’m not even dating them.  I just draw something, set aside that piece of paper, and grab another sheet.

Another thing spins off of that for me.  If I’m not filling sketchbooks I don’t feel as much need to sketch and maybe more to the point, I have no direction.  Some of this may simply be the stressful situation these days.  I don’t know.  Anyways, I’m curious, do sketchbooks organize and/or provide discipline for your art?

I’ve been sketching a bunch of Schleich animal figures I have collected.  These are beautiful models.  While small, they don’t move.  Some of the sketches were done in pencil, some in pen.  Some have been done quickly, while others were done more carefully.  It’s been fun but more a matter of doodling than sketching.  Here’s a pig that I did with pen and gouache.  This one was done in a sketchbook I made from Strathmore Toned Tan (184lb) paper.

I wanted to post some of the others but realized that the garbage got taken out, along with all the rest of them.  Maybe I need to go back to using sketchbooks (grin).

Taking The Train Down The Gouache Road

I’ve mentioned that I’m starting to work with gouache and have posted a couple small results of those activities.  I’ve also filled a garbage can with paper covered in various sized spots of gouache as I’ve tried understand gouache-water ratios, how to lighten colors with white, and the rest.  I really hate doing that stuff.  I guess I’m just not cut out to be a color spot maker.

The other day I was drawing, in my typical pen and ink style, a small steam locomotive.  I was enjoying myself when my brain went off dreaming.  It started thinking about painting that locomotive in gouache.  They say that if you’re going to dream, dream big and this was a whopper.

But I did it anyway.  I’ve never painted anything complex without a proper drawing.  I have painted a couple simple buildings though so how hard could it be?  In short, I was delusional.

I decided to leave my pen and ink drawing alone and made a big beginner mistake.  I thought, “I’m just learning so I don’t need to use good materials.”  I got out a piece of cardstock, drew the main boxes and cylinders of the locomotive and, with a thin layer of Payne’s Gray gouache, drew in the shape of the locomotive… sort of.

Once I had an overall light gray locomotive, I corrected, to the degree that I could, the shape and proportions of the object.  Truthfully, this wasn’t very successful until I started using slightly thicker, darker paint as I brought more form to the boxes and cylinders.  This took me about an hour less than forever because I added and removed paint numerous times.  The paper didn’t help much as the cardstock buckled and seemed to instantly dry the paint.  Next time I’ll take my advise to others and use decent watercolor paper.  Anyways, here’s the result.  It’s a long way from good but I’m pretty happy with it.

gouache on card stock

 

What’s The Virus Doing To Your Art?

James Gurney asked this question in a recent blog post.  He was talking to people who make a living doing art but it made me realize that COVID-19 is affecting a lot of us these days so I thought I’d talk a bit about what it’s done to my way of making art.

Quebec was very proactive in responding to the pandemic and so we got shut down pretty much the same time as the professional sports closed their doors.  So we’ve been spending a lot of time at home.  We did make one whirlwind trip to Montreal to retrieve our daughter because we didn’t want her to spend months living alone in a one-bedroom apartment.

Now I confess that before the virus came along I was dealing with winter and already trying to teach myself that drawing at home wasn’t a crime, though without much success.  Still, I’d drawn a bunch of stuff around the house.  But I started to get serious about this when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to go out sketching when the snow melted.

Here’s me, in my studio before the pandemic:

Ah, the good old days.  Will they ever return?

Here’s where I spend my time these days:

I built the little gizmo to hold my laptop above my drawing surface because I signed up for Skillshare and I’m watching some courses, mostly making different kinds of marks and color blotches in an attempt to learn how to wield a brush.  Not as much fun as sketching on location but fun nevertheless.

Not wanting to do a post without some art, here’s one of a bunch of floating head sketches I’ve done from Mr. Google people.  What are you doing to while away the time.  Remember when we wished we had more time to draw?  Maybe now is that time, though I’m distracted a lot by the news right now.  Stay safe everyone.

Along The Gouache Road

I’m continuing my experiments with gouache, trying to figure out how to use it effectively.  I’m also learning how many basic concepts of painting I don’t know at all.  Giving up my fountain pen approach to capturing objects makes me feel lost.  But I feel (unsure?) that I’m learning those concepts more quickly than if I’d stuck with a pen/ink/wash approach.  In the end I think my gouache experiments will improve my pen and ink drawing and certainly my watercolors.

When I posted a lemon portrait recently, my first real gouache painting, I said that “gouache is not opaque watercolor.”  A couple people took me to task about this statement and I should have clarified what I meant and what my motivation was for saying it.  The motivation came from the many watercolorists who have said (on the internet) that they tried gouache and had trouble and the fact that I got the same problems

People try to use gouache like watercolor.  Of course you can do this, but NOT if you want to take advantage of its opaque characteristics.  You can use gouache in thin washes as you might watercolor, but it’s not nearly as good as watercolor when you do so.  It doesn’t spread, blend or mix as well as watercolor.  It lifts previous layers more easily than watercolor.  So if that’s the way you want to use it that way, you’re going to use it as a poor substitute for true watercolor  Nothing wrong with that but it’s really better to use true watercolors and then throw in a dose of white gouache at the end.  Many people do this.

If you want to paint opaquely, however, you need to approach gouache more like oil painters do (I have never done oil paintingl but I’ve watched some on YouTube :-).  They don’t lighten tones by adding solvent.  They use it to control viscosity.  They mix colors to lighten/darken tones.  They also work in layers that start thin (lean) and move to thicker layers (fat).  We sort of do the same with watercolors because we use a “tea, milk, honey” approach.  So, using water to control viscosity and color mixing for tone allows the use of gouache as an opaque medium  Anyways, that’s what I was talking about.  I make no claims to knowledge of anything so if you disagree, that’s fine.  You’re probably right (grin).

When I do gouache I sometimes wonder whether I’m learning, floundering or just creating personal embarassment.  I am having fun, however, and with the current state of things, that’s enough.

I went off the deep end the other day and did a simple landscape painting in gouache.  There was no under drawing.  There was no planning.  And most of all, there was nothing to look at because we’re buried in snow here in Quebec.  I NEVER DO STUFF like that.  Maybe it’s the cold I have or maybe it’s the “self-isolation” and “social distancing” I’m doing but I did it and here is the result.

Gouache (3×7), Stillman & Birn Beta

I also wanted to work on my ability to manipulate gouache to render an object so I painted this soup cup using only burnt umber and titanium white.  I sort of messed up the top rim of the cup but, as I said, there’s a certain amount of embarrassment that goes along with trying new things.

Hope all of you are safe and have settled into your own self-isolation.  At least we can draw.