Sketching During A Perfect Storm

I bet you think I was calling Irma a perfect storm.  Naw…it was a large storm.  People use the term “perfect storm” to refer to several things coming together to create more than the sum of the parts.

What I’m referring to is a storm like that.  My right knee was frozen up so that going out sketching was out of the question yesterday.  At the same time, Irma, the great liberal hoax, was raising havoc on the people of Florida.  Add to that my wife’s fascination with watching people stand in the rain while saying the same things over and over and over… and you have my personal perfect storm.

While I always like watching journalists make fools of themselves in these storms, I can only handle so much and eventually I got bored.  I decided to quick-sketch the crazies, standing in the wind and rain while talking about how hurricanes work.

So I started doodling.  I was using my new Kaweco Lilliput pen.  I loved the young woman in the red coat.  She was standing in heavy rain and 100 mph winds.  She held one hand up against her face to keep the rain from stripping the skin off her face and her shoulders were scrunched up tight around her neck.  Of all the people (mostly guys) who were doing this gig during the day, she was the more sane of the bunch.

I kept doodling.  The guy in the orange jacket had his arm wrapped around a railing to keep himself from being blown away.  I started being bored by weather people, or maybe I was always bored with weather people, so I drew a couple pine trees.

I continued to doodle but lost interest in the hurricane coverage as a subject.  I started drawing steeples and such from memory/imagination.  Here’s a few of them. I really am enjoying this pen for small pen and ink drawings.

I then turned my attention to a small (about 6″ tall) statue of a sitting Samurai warrior.  I had fun drawing pieces of him.  He was more fun than weather people.  Probably smarter too.

Binge-Watching Sketcher Confesses

Everyone does things that aren’t the best use of our time.  You know you do.  Mostly we do it because it’s fun and we can.  But what happens when you’re a sketcher and don’t want to say “I don’t have time to sketch?”  Many simply utter the phrase and maybe feel a little guilty about it.

I’m no different I suppose and recently Chantal and I discovered the TV show Once Upon A Time on Netflix.  We’ve gotten caught up in it and we’ve been binge-watching it in the evenings.  It’s taking a lot of time…a whole lot of time that I would normally spend doing other things.

The one saving grace is my habit of doodling and practicing while watching TV of any kind.  I thought I’d share a few of those pages, though they’re all scribbles generated from a variety of sources, including my imagination.  I have left the pages full of ellipses, lines, hatching, and other sketching calisthenics because they’re really boring to look at.  Hopefully these doodles will give you some idea of some of the things I play with while watching TV.  They’ve all been done in a cheap sketchbook (9×6) and most done with a Platinum Carbon Pen.

The owl was drawn from a tiny statue I own.

Chantal is a constant target, though I think I’ve drawn her foot/shoes more than anything. The hand coming out of her head was drawn before I drew her. She doesn’t really hold her sketchbook that way.

I got in the mood to draw very loosely, with the pen flitting around without much thought. I know some like this sort of thing but it grates against my sensibilities 🙂

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone?

Oh how I hate that phrase.  It’s used in various ways to suggest something, but I never know exactly what, at least when it’s directed towards me or my sketches.

But maybe it’s a soft way of talking about something very basic to learning art.  I’ve noticed that amateur artists in particular don’t progress because they conflate learning with simple doing.  We believe we will improve by going out with our sketching group once a week, doing sketches just as we’ve done every other week.

Sure, you’ll improve, slowly, by this approach.  The problem is that when you go out with your sketching group, you want to produce something that you can proudly display when everyone says “what did you draw?”  Because of this, you sketch in the way you know.  There is no experimentation.  You choose subjects that are similar to ones you’ve drawn in the past.  So, you get better and better at what you know, avoiding anything that you don’t know.

I’ve always thought about my drawing as a two-part thing.  One part is the execution/performance part.  I use what I know to produce the best sketch I know how to make.  I do learn a bit from this process but mostly it’s about producing sketches that day.

It’s the second part, the learning part, that improves all of my sketching and I feel that progress has come more quickly than would be the case if I’d simply concentrated one that first part.  This learning part burns through paper a lot faster than the first part of my sketching life.  In this time I’ll create pages full of elllipses and hatching of all kinds.  It’s really fun to just draw a random amoeba-like shape and then contour it with hatching.  I’ll also draw lines between dots drawn in advance.  I’ll try to draw over a single line repeatedly trying to do so without widening the line.

I’ll draw parts of other people’s sketches, trying to get a feel for how they’ve made the lines they’ve drawn.  I’ll quickly sketch stuff, mostly from commercials on TV.  I’ll draw lines and divide them into thirds, fourths and fifths, followed up by measuring how good I was at it and correcting the errors.    I’ve filled a bunch of cheap sketchbooks with this stuff and it’s rare that any of it sees the light of day, but it’s the most important “art” I produce.  Now that I’m thinking about it, I should post some of those pages so you can see how disjointed, loose, and how little thought is given to producing “art” of any kind.  It’s all about training my visual cortex to gather the right information and disseminate it onto the page. Hmm.. maybe I’ll do that.

Anyway, while I’m very much in love with making lines with fountain pens, I also draw with ballpoint pens, brush pens, and watercolor pencils.  Sometimes I’ll draw in pencil.  Most of this is done while I watch movies or TV shows but sometimes I’ll just sit down and draw with the notion of improving on things I don’t feel I know.  This gives me a lot of things to choose from and on this day I decided that drawing with pencil was the order of the day.  Sadly, I didn’t think well enough and just started drawing on a piece of Fabriano Artistico CP paper, which is not an ideal paper for pencil.  There are numerous errors here but I learned a lot in the process and am now motivated to do it again but on a more suitable paper.

Drawn with a 0.5 mechanical pencil

Drawing For My Daughter

My daughter was home for Christmas and she asked if she could have one of my sketches to hang in her apartment.  Since I do my drawing in sketchbooks, granting her request was difficult, so I decided to do a drawing for her on Fabriano Artistico cold-press paper.  It’s really a pleasure to have unlimited time and to work at a table and without needing to juggle the tools as I sit on a tripod stool.  I drew one of my favorite scenes in Quebec City and here is the result.

This project is something of a landmark for me as well.  It’s the first time I’ve ever matted one of my drawings.  Heck, it’s the first time I’ve ever cut a mat.  It was fun.  It improved the look of the drawing. I might do it again.  She was happy with it.  I hope you do too.

 

Various Thoughts At The End Of The Year

This post will seem a bit disorganized.  That’s cuz it’s a bit disorganized, or at least my thoughts about it are disorganized.  But I want to wrap up the year by talking about a couple things and I’ll throw in a sketch just to keep it interesting.

Stillman & Birn source for Canadians

Lots of people have asked me where to buy Stillman & Birn sketchbooks in Canada.  Sadly, Canadian suppliers are simply horrible when it comes to fulfilling the needs of urban sketchers and none of them are a reliable source for S&B sketchbooks.  Even Amazon.ca, who list them, do so at such ridiculous prices that nobody in their right mind would pay that for them.

Thus, I’ve never had an answer to give to those asking about S&B, until now.  I realized that Jackson Art Supplies in the UK has them… the entire S&B product line.  And what’s good about Jacksons is that they, like several UK online sellers, “get it.”  By that I mean they’ve figured out that if they sell to 7 billion of the Earth’s inhabitants, they are better off than selling only within their country.  If only the US would figure this out.  Anyways, Jackson Art Supplies will ship ANYWHERE for FREE if you buy 39GBR or more from them.  I’ve ordered from them a couple times and they’re great to deal with so if you want S&B, there’s a place where you can get them.

(ed note:  Susan King just informed me that Opus Art in Vancouver is not stocking the full line of Stillman & Birn softcovers which is really good news.)

New Year’s Resolution???

I’m probably notorious for doing a bah humbug when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions and each year I say as much in a blog post.  This year I won’t do that because, I guess, in a casual way, I’m making a resolution.

I’ve decided to talk more about my drawing process on the blog.  I’ve avoided that thus far because I don’t really know what I’m doing and a lot of other people are much better equipped than I when it comes to discussing drawing.  But I’ve realized that I have something they don’t.  Because I’m relatively new to this I’m able to remember the kinds of struggles I had when I started.  Besides I know what I do more than anyone else and that’s what people ask me about.  I don’t know how or what I’m going to talk about and I don’t know when. I just hope to do it.  See…it’s just like a resolution 🙂

Turning the page to 2017

I’m finishing up two more sketchbooks so I can start with a couple new ones in 2017.  I still have an Stillman and Birn 8.5×5.5 with about 15 pages left so that one will drift into 2017 but I’ll be starting new 8×10 Beta and 3.5×5.5 Alpha softcover books.

I did a bunch of small sketches to finish up the little one and I have one page left in the larger one.  There’s a guy on Instagram that does a lot of loose motorcycle sketches and he really impresses me with his simplicity of line and confidence of purpose.  I’ve tried to replicate some of his sketches but have never been successful.  I decided to draw a motorcycle from memory of his sketches.  The result isn’t as good as his and not nearly as loose, but that’s how Larry rolls after all.  And yes, I’m now talking about myself in the third person.  If it’s good enough for Trump, shouldn’t it be good enough for me?

I’m anxious to get started with 2017 sketching and I hope the year ahead is a productive and happy one for all of you.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Platinum 3776

 

Mistakes: The Best Learning Opportunity

I have caught more than a little criticism when I’ve said things in internet groups that are less than flattering about my own sketches.  Mostly those comments come in the form of ‘don’t be hard on yourself’ and ‘there are no mistakes in art.’  I often wonder if these comments don’t say more about the people writing them than about me.  It’s always seemed to me that the best opportunities for learning come from when I’ve made a mistake.  If I don’t acknowledge my mistakes, I can’t learn from them.  One thing is clear, I NEVER learn anything from my successes.  They are but a reflection of what I already know.  It’s the mistakes that expose what I don’t know or things I’ve yet to master.

Maison Alphonse-DejardinsI study my mistakes often (I’m comfortable enough with myself that this doesn’t bother me) and I thought I’d share one such analysis.  This sort of thing doesn’t see the light of day very often, though, in this case I did post the sketch as documentation of a sketching session I did with Yvan at Maison Alphonse-Dejardins.

When doing a sketch like this I would normally draw, very lightly in pencil, a series of cubes to locate and proportion the two cabinets and the table.  I didn’t do that in this instance.  I just “went for it” as some would advocate.  Not bad advice but when the drawing becomes more complex, it’s far better to start with a bit of scaffolding for two reasons.  The first is that it lets you compare that scaffolding to what you’re looking at and allows you to correct it before continuing.  Second, once the scaffolding is in place, you can stop worrying about proportions/locations and just have fun drawing.

My approach started with “Simple enough, I’ll just draw the high and low angles of the scene and proceed from there.”  With those two lines in place and a horizon line, I felt everything else would fall into place.  You can see that decision reflected in the red horizon line and the two blue angle lines that frame the scene.

This is where things went haywire.  Notice the two  green lines.  I drew the left-most line first.  I’d let my vanishing point wander left quite a bit.  Then, wanting to nail down the table edge, I drew that line.  Notice that my brain pulled it back towards the proper vanishing point somewhat but as I drew it I’m sure I was looking at the countertop line and “saw” the relationship between them and my brain struck a compromise, trying to accommodate the proper vanishing point as well as the relationship between table and countertop.

In my opinion, THIS is the sort of frustration that comes from not doing preliminary scaffolding. You’re constantly chasing your last error, trying to accommodate it into the drawing and one thing is certain, two wrongs don’t make a right in sketching.

Notice that when I drew the doors on the lower cabinet (orange line) my brain had returned to the vanishing point and while these look the worst when it comes to alignment to the rest, they are actually more accurately drawn.

So, what did I learn?  First, the power of early scaffolding (or blocking in if that’s the terminology you prefer) is invaluable.  I actually know that but I guess I needed a reminder.  Sadly, this step is so under-reported when people teach sketching that I didn’t learn it until I’d been sketching for a couple years and it seems that too often I revert back to my pre-scaffolding days, generally with the results you see above.

The other thing I learned is that while my brain tries to accommodate for an error, even without my knowledge, it doesn’t do a very good job of it.  In this post-analysis, I’m not sure what could have been done at this stage as long pen lines are hard to move, so maybe I should forgive it for not finding a solution.

In the end, by actually thinking about what I did wrong, no emotional trauma occurred but I did learn something.  Maybe this will reinforce my brain to insist on locating objects and getting their proportions correct, BEFORE I start drawing rather than trying to fix errors as they occur.  Hope this short analysis has been helpful to some.

Sketching The Red Door

I love the doors of Quebec.  I’ve often thought that an entire sketchbook filled with doors and windows of Quebec City would be great.  If were even a little bit organized in my approach to sketching, I might just do one.  For today, though, here’s a single door, well actually two of them, done from a photo (my photo) on 7.5×11 Fabriano Artistico cold press.  I love this paper but it’s a bit rough for my very fine fountain pens.

2016-11-25door

Domestic Sketching: Quebec City When I Was Born

I’ve mentioned that this winter I was going to try to learn to draw at an indoor workspace and to draw from photos.  I know it sounds odd to those of you who do it all the time, but I’ve spent five years drawing on location and have a really hard time drawing in a ‘studio’ or from photos.

In this I’m very much like the dog that’s got to walk around in circles a couple times before it lays down.  Location sketching, for me, is about discovering something to draw, which requires wandering a bit.  There is no wandering in a studio.  Once I get going on an indoor drawing I seem to be able to do it and even enjoy it, but initiating the behavior… that’s harder.

I decided it was time, though, to draw from a photo.  Looking for something that would motivate me to do so, I decided that I should draw from a photo that is not of something I can go out and see.  The idea of historic sketching must have come from my watching the new Timeless series, which is about time travel, but as I already have a lot of historic photos of Quebec City I thought that was where I should begin.  I chose a photo of a trolley, both because I like trolleys and because it was taken in the year that I was born.

I started by lightly drawing everything using a Platinum Carbon Pen, keeping the lines very light so I could cover my errors if needed.  This is what I ended up with:

7.5x11 Fabriano Artistico cold press, Platinum Carbon pen

7.5×11 Fabriano Artistico cold press, Platinum Carbon pen

To bring a more solid nature to the drawing I started increasing the contrast, using a Platinum 3776 pen and a Platinum brush pen.  This got the drawing to this point:

2016-11-21trolly_bwThen it was time for color and touch up.  I still struggle with watercolors but at least I’m starting to pay attention to it.  I was pretty happy with the results.  Hope you are as well.  I think I’ll be doing more historic sketching.

2016-11-21trolley

Domestic Sketching: Let’s Try Imagining A Pine Tree

It seems there will be a continuing series of sketches being done by this urban sketcher that have nothing to do with urban sketching.  I’m forcing myself to draw at my desk.  I’ve even cleaned it off so I don’t have to shove stuff out of the way to do it.  I’m going to call this domestic sketching and label results as such.

Anyways, my first sketch was a small, defoliated tree and I thought it only fitting that I should follow it up with a pine tree.  As it turned out, I drew two of them, the second coming simply because I wanted to try to do a classic Christmas tree shape.  Probably shouldn’t have cuz it looks out of place in this sketch, at least to me.  One thing I’ve noticed about sketching at home, with good light, a desk and a good chair.  The sketching is a whole lot easier.

Fabriano Artistico (7.5x11), Pilot Falcon

Fabriano Artistico (7.5×11), Pilot Falcon