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

 

Are You Bugged By Bugs?

I’m not, but I am bugged by people who call insects bugs (grin).  I spent a good part of my life studying insects so I’m very comfortable around them and them being around me.  I just don’t see them the way most people do.

That said, it wasn’t always so.  Long before I became a biologist my dad moved our family from Ohio to Arizona.  It was great being away from snow, only having to own one set of clothes and not having to worry about what the weather was going to be like every day.  But when the monsoon season, the time that Arizona gets the majority of its very limited rainfall, something happened that upset this bliss.  Derobrachus hovorei appeared.  These “little” guys feed on the roots of Palo Verde trees as larvae but the adults are beetles (3″ long) and they’re powerful flyers.

I’ll never forget my fist encounter with them.  I was a just-barely-a-teenager, minding my business, when one of these things flew right into me.  It fell to the ground and immediately started buzzing.  It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen.  Now, a bunch of years later I know that they are harmless nectar feeders with only one thing on their mind – finding a mate, but at the time…

So what does this have to sketching?  Well, Derobrachus hovorei is a Cerambycid beetle, one of around 40,000 species of the Family Cerambycidae that share our planet.  This makes it the largest beetle family and they exhibit a correspondingly large degree of variability, providing an endless set of opportunities as sketching subjects.

See…you knew I’d get there, didn’t you (grin)?  Not only are their sizes and shapes quite varied, many of them look like tiny Christmas tree ornamets because of their bright, often metallic colors.  I just love them, so I drew one just for you.

Tiny Sketches Of February

Stillman & Birn Beta softcover, mostly done with a Platinum 3776 and DeAtramentis Document ink

A guy I follow on Instagram (@lefthandeddrawer) posted a graphic showing tiny, daily sketches he did for the month of January.  That looked fun to me so I started doing it for the month of February.  Being the lazy sort I did pick the shortest month of the year and it worked out nicely.  Each square is 4cm.  I’ll say no more except that you can see a larger view of this by clicking on the graphic.

Baseball Is Back – A Sketcher’s View

I am Canadian, but unlike every other person living in the frozen north, I don’t like hockey.  I suppose that reveals my American roots but the bottom line is that the only sport I watch is baseball and since coming to Canada, I’ve been a Toronto Blue Jays fan.

It’s that time of the year when spring training starts and a few spring training games (in Dunedin, FL) are broadcast for those of us willing to watch, for the most part, Blue Jays wanna-bes play the game.

The first one was last Friday and I decided to celebrate the event by sketching some baseball faces.  Baseball is a slow sport; how hard could it be?  I learned that a sketcher’s view of baseball is different from a fan’s view.  Indeed, for a fan, the game is slow with lots of time spent watching seven guys stand on a field while two other guys play catch and a tenth guy, from the other team, tries to spoil their fun.  From the view of a sketcher however, this same scene is a frustrating series of camera switches between players, between views, and there’s rarely more than a few seconds on any one player.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d wanted to draw full-body players.  The pitcher stands in one place and is on camera more than anyone else.  The catcher is equally stationary, at least in the sense of returning to the same position regularly.  But I was interested in drawing faces shaded by ball caps and 1) they are rarely shown and 2) they are rarely in repeatable positions.

Sketchers are tough, however, and I managed to get a few, stitching together brief looks at the player and faking it when necessary.  Here’s my meager tribute to Blue Jays spring training opener.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5) hardcover, Platinum 3776

In The Tunnel But There’s Light Ahead…

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… I just hope it’s not a train.

 

Hi guys, it’s me, Larry.  Really, I’m not dead.  I know it’s been forever since I’ve written a blog post but gosh a lot has happened since my last post.  I’ve been dealing with so many doctors I have a hard time remembering their names but the results have been really positive.

Except for all the snow and cold I’m, as they say in the military, good to go.  I can even walk up/down stairs again.  More importantly, except for really bad arthritis days, my drawing hand is cooperative, though it’s very out of practice which is frustrating.  I even think the steady drone of doctor visits is coming to an end (I had six of them in the last eight days).

I’m way behind in Liz Steel’s watercolour class but it’s fantastic.  I just have a LOT of homework to make up.

I wanted to post this update, though, to let you know that I’m still alive.  Here’s a quick sketch I did to see if I could “loosen up” as everyone seems to hold as the highest form of art.  I have a hard time looking at “loose” coming from my hand.

I’ll leave you with this sketch of an old window.  It shows my out of tune hand all too clearly but I’m getting back into the swing of things so maybe I can call myself a sketcher again.

Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook, Pilot Cavalier pen

A Sketch Of A Statue Of A Statue

Qin Shi Huangdi, who proclaimed himself the first emperor of China, built one of the wonders of the world when he ordered the creation of a veritable army of clay soldiers, horses, armaments, and a whole lot of other stuff.  And since these treasures were excavated from his tomb, statues of them have been created and sold to those of us fascinated by these relics.  I own one such statue, albeit it’s a small one.

It’s been a while since I’ve drawn in my slower-than-molasses style and I was feeling the need for it.  I didn’t really take as much time as I probably should have but it was nice to sit, comfortably, and draw with some Miles Davis in the background.  This sort of thing reminds me of the compromises we street sketchers make by sitting on tripod stools while juggling our materials in our laps (grin).

I start this sort of drawing with a mechanical pencil.  I started by locating key parts of the figure, thinking only of lengths, angles and locations.  Once I’m convinced that I’ve got the pieces and their locations on paper, I move on to fountain pen for the real drawing.

Some say “never use pencil..just go for it.”  That’s fine, and I often do that myself.  But it’s really liberating to know that the parts and their locations are defined because I can concentrate on drawing the arm without having to think about its relation to the head.

There’s another reason I like this approach.  The pencil step I outlined above requires cognitive functions as elements are compared, sized, and located.  Once done, however, I can let go, relying upon my visual cortex (that I work desperately to train) feed my motor cortex with info that guides my hand.  No thought is necessary; I just do.

Once I did the basic drawing I made a decision not to hatch the shading but rather to use watercolor for the darks and colored pencil for the highlights.  I was pretty happy with that decision.  The Stillman & Birn Nova paper handled both well.

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.

Sketching Without A Net

I’m used to working with the subject in front of me.  I rely upon it to provide me with proportions and relationships.  When I leave that world and rely only upon my imagination, I feel lost, needing something to grab onto that is simply not there.

This morning I sat down with a piece of hot-press watercolor paper.  I’m trying to figure out how to use it so I thought I’d doodle a bit.  This sketch started with an eye.  Then I added some hairs around it.  This led to the addition of a nose and I was off in never-never-land, trying to figure out how to draw a mouse.

I don’t know how to draw a mouse.  I’m sure I got the proportions wrong but my serendipitous road took me to needing a mouse all scrunched up while trying to hold onto something.  Where are a mouse’s feet anyways?  I don’t really know.  I was just doodling.  Anyways, here it is.  Mice, even poorly proportioned mice are cute.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I needed to spend more time drawing from imagination.  According to him, if you do this you will never look at the world the same because you’ll always be building a vocabulary so you can draw from imagination.  I think he’s right.  I need to go look at some mice.

A Little Shed By The Bay

As a street sketcher, I’m used to coming to these blog posts with stories about where I went, what I saw, and why I drew what I drew.  What do studio artists talk about anyways?

Here’s a little sketch from my imagination.  I spent a few minutes trying out some Fabriano Artistico hot-press paper.  Watercolor acts very differently than on cold-press paper and It’ll take a while to figure out how to use it.

A Little Piece Of Nature

My wife has been way too nice to me as I’ve hobbled through life for the past few weeks.  I feel guilty about the burden I’ve placed upon her, but I’m grateful that she’s been there for me.  She’s very special.

A couple days ago she came home with a wad of nature in her hand.  She put it on the table and said, “I thought you might like to draw this.”  She is a sly one.  She knows I’ve been fighting motivation and energy levels but she also knows that when she gives me something I feel a compulsion to draw it.  She also knew that it would only remain draw-worthy for a couple days.

And so, I drew it.  I decided to skip pen hatching, one of my favorite things, and rely upon watercolor for shading and once again I demonstrated how little understanding of watercolor.  I should stick with pen (grin).