Careful What You Wish For…

 

…you just might get it.

It’s all my fault.  For weeks I’ve been wishing that the snow would melt in Quebec.  Until a week ago, we Quebec City was still having below freezing temperatures so, I guess, my wish was more a dream than a real wish.

And then it came…the rain..the temps that got downright near reasonable and our record levels of snow started melting – QUICKLY.  Too quickly it seems because now we’ve got people in western Quebec being evacuated from their houses due to flooding.  The military has been called in to supply manpower.  I’m not proud of my selfish wish and I never wished it would all melt at once, but in a matter of days the 10-foot high snow banks that have surrounded my house have all but disappeared.  Today it’s 12C outside and the bright yellow ball has returned to our sky.

My task this weekend was to draw something “nature,” a task handed out by the Sketch With Me Facebook group.  I guess dirty snow banks are nature but the truth is, in the middle of a city just coming out of winter, there’s not a lot of nature to be found.  So I got the bright idea of drawing a small stick from a maple tree.  The maples are waiting for spring too.

So, I crunched up the snow hill in my backyard (major improvement over the mountain that used to be there) and clipped a branch.  Being a street sketcher, I’ve never done this sort of thing before and I was ill-prepared.  I found two problems.  First is that I was drawing too small, which caused the second problem, my tools were too big.  The smallest brush I own is a #6 and even my fine fountain pens were a struggle because my ‘stick’ was being drawn too small.  Nevertheless, it was fun and I’m going to do more of this, just as soon as I get a smaller brush.  With spring on my doorstep, I should have lots of subject matter available.

Fisherman Wood Carving

Canson XL Multi-media (7×10), Wing Sung 8008, DeAtramentis Document brn/blk, DS watercolors.

My hands were working Friday night so I decided to sketch a small wood carving we have.  The actual carving is of a grumpy old man like myself but decided to draw him younger.  In the end, it made me smile.

I was sketching while watching the Blue Jays so I was drawing in a Canson XL multimedia book that I use for scribbling during TV time.  This is not watercolor paper but if you go easy on the water, you can add some color.  I used a Portable Painter filled with Daniel Smith watercolors that I keep available for these purposes.

Why I Like DeAtramentis Document Inks So Much

When I started sketching, like most people, I gravitated towards using Noodlers bulletproof inks.  They promised a waterproof ink but that promise isn’t fulfilled if you’re using them on papers with a significant amount of sizing (i.e. – watercolor paper).  Like so many others, I found that Noodlers’ Lexington Gray was best, mostly because the gray didn’t make such bold marks when it smeared.  Nevertheless, I eventually moved to Platinum Carbon Black, a pigmented ink that worked in fountain pens and provided completely waterproof performance.

When DeAtramentis released their Document inks the sketching world went nuts for them, as did I.  Finally there was a line of colored inks that was waterproof.  I took out a second mortgage on my house and bought a bottle of each and a bottle of the dilution fluid.  I think that was about three years ago and I’ve learned a bit about my needs and the inks so I thought I’d share a few heavily biased points of view.

First, I should say something about why I’m not using other pigmented fountain pen inks (e.g. – Sailor, Platinum Carbon, Roher & Klingnor SketchInks):

Sailor: I’ve never had access to them so I’ve never tried the “nano” inks they produce.

Platinum: This ink works great.  It’s VERY black and dries somewhat shiny.  I’ve never been a fan of either of these attributes.  Also, when it’s cold this ink takes a long time to dry, leading to smearing while sketching on the streets of Quebec in October.

Rohrer & Klingnor SketchInks:  I like these inks..a lot and they’re less expensive than other pigmented inks for fountain pens.  They come in several toned down colors and dry quickly.  When it hits the paper it’s great that it dries quickly.  When its on a pen nib and the pen doesn’t seal perfectly, it can be annoying.  If I use these inks my Pilot or Platinum pens everything works great.  Put them in a Lamy, Noodlers or other lesser pen and you’ll have starting problems.  This can be resolved by dipping the nib in water but I don’t like to mess with reluctant writers.  I do still use these inks, however.

DeAtramentis brought to my sketch bag something the others do not – the ability to mix and dilute without changing the viscosity of the resultant ink.  I used to thin Noodlers inks too but there was always a compromise between getting the color I wanted and changing the flow characteristics of the ink because of the water being added.  But DeAtramentis sells pint-size bottles of their ink without pigment in it so you can add this “dilution solution” to any of their inks, thinning them with respect to pigment load without making them actually thinner, if you get my meaning.

This allows me to mix grays by adding dilution solution to black and so my  go to ink is a black/dilution mix (1:3).  It’s still a very dark gray but not the hard black line of a true black ink.  Of course I’ve always got full strength black available too if I need it.  Having the two values is handy at times.

Another problem is getting a good brown.  Noodlers bullet proof browns all seem to dry in the nib, though you can add water to solve most of that problem.  But most brown inks are too red for my taste, even DeAtramentis Document Brown.  But, I can add some Document Black to the Brown and get a really nice brown/black that serves me well.

So that’s my ink story.  I’ve gone through several bottles of these inks so I feel confident in saying that they work well in all the pens I own (at least a dozen brands).  I’ve used these inks mostly on Arches, Fabriano Artistico, Stillman & Birn papers but also on all sorts of cheap papers with success. These inks work in my pens in spite of the fact that I rarely clean a pen (only if I’m changing colors or putting it away).  Give them a try if you haven’t already.

Some Fun Museum Sketching

I was at our civilisation museum the other day and my joints were bothering me.  It was hard to draw and, even more, it was hard to concentrate because of the pain.  But I sat, stared at, and drew an Inuit stone carving of an Inuit stalking a seal.  I loved how a complete scene was captured in the rock.

Sketching Bobinette

Long before Sesame Street, baby boomers cheered on puppets of one form or another as they came to our houses via television.  Television was new back then and we didn’t seem to mind that the shows were goofy, didn’t have any super-heros and not a single explosion upset the simplistic dialog of these shows.

Remember Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob?  The people of Quebec didn’t see them, but they had Bobino and Bobinette and I never saw the Bobino show, so never got to see the marionette Bobinette perform.

Bobinette now stands in our civilization museum, next to Bobino’s suit coat and bowler hat, and while a blizzard was dumping yet another foot of snow on us, I drew her.   I probably should have used color to show off her pink dress and big blue eyes but I settled for a Pilot Kakuno and a brown/black mix of DeAtramentis Document ink.  I hope she’ll make you smile.  We need more smiling these days.

 

Spud Sketching In The Afternoon

Winter is tough on people who like to sketch on location.  We can go to museums, sketch people in coffee shops, and maybe even visit a mall, but there are days when the weather is so bad that we can’t even do that.  What to do, what to do.

Those of you who follow Tina Koyama might have an answer.  You draw fruits and vegetables and since Seattle agreed to take some of the snow headed to Quebec, that’s what she’s been doing.  Recently she ventured beyond bananas, apples and garlic and drew a potato.

I’ve drawn apples, bananas, garlic, pumpkins, peppers, etc. (we get lots of snow), but I’ve never drawn a potato.  Following in Tina’s footsteps, today I drew a potato, or rather two potatoes since that was the road less traveled.

Stillman & Birn Beta (10×7), Pilot Kakuna, DeAtramentis Document Black, Daniel Smith watercolors

I Went Sketching – Yippee!

As I look out my window I can only barely see the house across the street.  This is because we’ve got a rip-roaring blizzard going on.  This winter has been a doozy thus far.  We’ve already had 11-12 feet of snow and it’s only mid-February.

Many of us have gotten some chuckles listening to the people in Seattle and Vancouver try to deal with snowfall and I include myself among them.  Sure, they’re not used to it, aren’t equipped for it, and are even somewhat surprised by the snowfall, I suppose, but it’s fun to poke fun at them nevertheless.  I’m just glad they took some snow off our hands as we’ve got so much my snowblower is having a hard time throwing the snow to the top of the snowbanks that line my driveway.

But it wasn’t snowing on Monday and Yvan and I headed for the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen offices.  They have an amazing exhibit of taxidermy animals and it’s a delightful place to sketch.

My hand was hurting a bit, but my real problem was that I’d lost my ability to “see.”  Nothing was automatic and I struggled to see the shapes and volumes of the coyote skull I decided to draw.  I should have chosen something more simple.  I guess I should have known that “out of practice” would include all aspects of drawing, but I figured that once I trained my brain, it would stay trained.  Then again, I forget where I put my keys so…  Anyway, here’s my version of a coyote skull, which has an eye socket drawn way too small.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Pilot Metropolitan, DeAtramentis Black

I took a short break to get a drink and rub my hand a bit.  Then I sat down to draw a duck.  I felt a bit more confident by this point and I didn’t need to second guess myself so much.  We’d decided to stop at noon for lunch and so I rushed a bit to finish this one but I was happy, and a bit tired.

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

We ate lunch with the idea that we would return to sketching but we didn’t.  My hand was hurting and Yvan suggested that we call it a day since it was my first day back to location sketching.  Instead, we decided to go have coffee where we talked about composition, tactics for blocking in drawings and identifying simple shapes in a scene.  We topped off the day with a stop at an art store and then I got to look over a bunch of Yvan’s art.  The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

Doodling My Way Into Winter

My sketching over the past month has been mostly doodles done out of desperation and then only when my hands are working.  I’ve put my free time to good use, however, revisiting art books I’ve wanted to re-read.  Don’t you find that second reads of art books reveal information you didn’t get the first time through?  I sure do, particularly if I wait several months worth of sketching experience before the re-read.

Anyways, it never seems that doodles are worthy of blog posts so my posts have become fewer and farther between.  I did get out a couple times this week, though, so I’m reporting that I finally got to sketch in a more formal way, though ‘formal’ is exaggerated here.

My first stop was the 3d mask exhibit I talked about at the beginning of the month.  I went there with our sketching group and while my hands were less than happy about it, I drew one of the masks.  I confess to a certain frustration drawing these masks and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ve been trying to turn them into a real face, when in fact they are somewhat alien because the tops of the head are removed, the eyes closed, and in general they’re just too smooth everywhere.  So, I figured I’d go with the flow on this one, producing the alien creature that it is, exaggerating it a bit with watercolor.  The mask is lit from below and excepting that it’s white rather than blue, this is pretty much what it looks like.  Kinda spooky don’t you think?

Once  a year we all get together and draw holiday cards in one form or another.  This year was no exception though I confess that I wasn’t much in a holiday mood that day.  It was a lot of fun, though, because there were a bunch of us creating art so I could see what everyone else was doing while I puttered away myself.  For this I always use Strathmore’s Watercolor Cards, which are convenient.  I never did get around to writing the obligatory Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on them.

Sketching The Alleyways Again

The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location.  But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching.  This, and the smile on my face, was the result.

A Bit Of Eye Training

Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business.  We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities.  This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing.  I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.

For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions.  Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’  The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.

I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski.  I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.

The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree.  Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw.  I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles.  Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details.  I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.

With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink.   It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be.  It’s very liberating and fun.

I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less.  The ink portion was more like twenty minutes.   Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate.  Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way.  Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it.  Besides, it’s fun.  Here’s the result.  It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.