My Sketching Brakes Are Ineffective

Recently I’ve been on a quick-sketching binge.  Everything I look at got scribbled onto paper in a minute or two.  That’s a lot of fun and, I feel, it helps me “see” shapes and their relationships more quickly.  But it’s sort of like eating a steady diet of Twinkies.  You might even like Twinkies but at some point you’re going to want an apple.  I needed an apple.

I stopped to pick up a pound of coffee at a local coffee roastery.  I decided to sit and draw so I also bought a coffee as an excuse to inhabit one of their chairs.  I sat on a high chair near a window and two guys sat down near me, below my eye level, and I saw an opportunity to ‘know’ that my subject would be there for a while.  I started sketching with the idea that I would have ample opportunity to truly capture their essence.

Have you ever gotten off the freeway and had a hard time driving as slowly at the side street speed limits require?  That’s how I felt.  I started blocking out the sketch with some well-placed dots and then found myself scribbling details.  I tried to slow down but my quick-sketching brain just wouldn’t let go.  This was a constant struggle throughout the process.  The result was a sketch that wasn’t quite a quick-sketch but not what I was really trying to accomplish.  I think I have to get my sketching brakes checked.  Oh…and how do you draw shaved heads?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pentel brush pen

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pentel brush pen

De Atramentis Document Ink: Creating A Grey

The new De Atramentis Document inks (not to be confused with other De Atramentis inks) are a dream come true for those of us who sketch with fountain pens and want waterproof inks.  Before they came along, color choices could be described pretty much like Henry Ford described color selection for the Model T Ford – “any color as long as it’s black.”

The current elephant in the room question is whether we’re going to have a ready supply of these inks over time.  De Atramentis is a one-man operation and Goulet Pens, to my knowledge, is the only source for them in North America. Their last shipment came in and went out before some people had a chance to even see them show up.  Brian has said their current order is very large.  I hope so.

I was one of the lucky ones.  I’ve had De Atramentis Document Black and Brown for a while now and was able to fill in the other colors during the few hours they were available at Goulet Pens.

The potential to create any color I want now exists, except for one thing.  De Atramentis sells a solvent for their inks and proper dilution should be done with that solvent.  These inks are pigmented inks and every ink have a particular chemistry to give them the flow and paper interaction properties of a particular brand of ink.   The proper solvent should be used to provide the proper lubricant, stabilizer, and maybe anti-fungal agent in their proper proportions.  The big deal here is the lubricant as this generates proper flow through the pen.  Too much lubrication and you can get feathering, nib creap, and slow-to-dry inks.  Too little and you can get a dry-writing ink, though it may actually dry more quickly.

So before I continue, there’s my caveat.  If you fear doing anything that might be referred to as an “experiment”, read no further.  This is an experiment.  I’ve mixed up a grey ink using the brown and blue ink in this line.  It creates a very dark grey, not unlike Noodler’s Lexington Gray  but a bit darker.  I wanted to lighten it up, but the solvent isn’t available to me, so I used water.  Worse still, throwing caution to the wind, I used plain old tap water to thin the ink.  Here’s what I mixed:

De Atramentis Document inks, not to be confused with other De Atramentis inks:

Brown:  3 parts
Black:    2 parts
water:    3 parts

That works out to 60% water, which is a lot but I found that when thinning other inks I had to add a considerable amount of water to lighten their color.  This proved true for the De Atramentis Document inks as well, maybe even to a greater degree.

grey

grey2As you can see, I got a decent dark grey.   I may want to play a bit with the blue/brown mix or maybe try a green/red mix but this is just about what I want on a tonal scale.  Just enough to take the harsh black edge off my sketches.

The real point of the experiment, though, was to see how diluting with water would work.  I’m surprised to say that even with this extreme dilution, the ink holds up nicely.  There is no feathering, the line remains consistent and there are no flow problems with the Pilot Prera (fine nib) that I used to dispense it.  I wanted the sketch to reflect the tonal differences between the black and gray lines so I used De Atramentis Black to do all the shadow lines on the right side of the bottle.  After scanning I quickly slopped watercolor all over it and can report that the waterproof nature of the ink is retained.  All of this is being done on cheap sketchbook paper.  Just to ensure that it wasn’t the result of the paper, I did a bunch of scribbles on Stillman & Birn Alpha series paper and those were were waterproof as well.

By the way, there’s been some discussion of a Fog Gray color being added to the De Atramentis line.  Those few who have had access to it have found that it’s really more of a grey blue than a true grey.   Given that it’s easy to mix our own greys, though, it hardly matters.

For me, the experiment was a great success.  To be honest I’m still a bit surprised because in my experience, dilution of pigment-based products (wood stains I’ve used) with water are very limited and things tend to fall apart once you get past 10-15%.  Here I’ve more than doubled the volume of ink with water..and it still works.  Go figure.  I still wish I could get access to De Atramentis solvent but until that time…I’m going to go draw a few shades of grey.

De Atramentis Document Inks & Doodling

De Atramentis, the Austrian ink company, has been releasing a growing line of fountain-pen friendly, waterproof inks for a while now.  Buying them in North America, however, has been nearly impossible.  Goulet Pens finally got them back in stock, I ordered, and within a couple hours people were reporting that they were out of them.  Hopefully distribution will get worked out over time.

DeAtramentis Document inks

These inks are a wonderful addition to my arsenal and become the ones I use most often, I think.  Not only are basic blue, black and brown available but they sell an equivalent of the CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black) set that is used to generate color in offset printing.  And they’re mixable.  Jane Blundell has done a series of blog posts on mixing them.

2015-01-20doodles

The black ink makes my Pilot Falcon very happy. Like Platinum Carbon Black, it causes the pens to write a bit finer than they normally would.

 

2015-01-21doodles

Same thing for the Pilot Prera.

 

I’ve just started doodling with them.  I’ve mixed up a gray but otherwise I’ve been working with the colors straight out of the bottle.  They are very similar to Platinum Carbon Black in use, though for some reason they feel smoother to me, maybe a bit wetter.  So far I have them in Pilot Prera and Falcon pens and a Noodler’s Creaper.  As is typical of the Creaper, there is a bit of start up problem but otherwise all these pens seem to like it.  Time will tell.

2015-01-22hatching1

I did some hatching practice with a Pilot Prera filled with De Atramentis Document Brown. The color is a rich brown, leaning towards a burnt sienna. I really like it, though I can always adjust the color by mixing. That’s the great thing about these inks.

 

Coffee Shop Sketching With Friends

Sometimes it’s fun to meet with friends and at this time of year it’s fairly common for me to have coffee with a friend to wish them a Merry Christmas and to chat.  But there’s something special about doing that with sketcher friends and that’s just what we did Monday.  Fernande, Claudette and I met at a large coffee shop, thinking it would give us more sketching opportunities than some of the smaller shops.

I think our plan would have been sound at other times of the year but this is the Christmas season and the shop was packed to the gills with people, decorations, stuff for sale and, well, it too crowded for relaxed sketching.  Still, we had lots of fun chatting about sketchbooks, brush pens and life in general.  And we sketched.  Fernande and Claudette were more productive than I was; they always are.  I get wrapped up in whatever sketch I’m doing and spend too much time on it, I fear.  My way of saving paper, I guess.

Here is my Christmas sketch for 2014 – I’ve never been much for drawing Christmas ornaments for some reason, but a huge poinsettia and balloons?  Yeah…that’s more my style.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Stillman & Birn Delta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

A Few Of My Favorite Things

I love trains and I was lucky to be a kid when trains were a very important part of our landscape.  I’m also lucky enough to have lived long enough that we’re now wishing we had those trains we discarded because our ‘modern’ mechanisms for moving people and goods are becoming economically and environmentally untenable.

I also love my daughter, but she rudely grew taller and taller until, one day, she ran away to college.  But it’s the holidays and she was coming home – on a train.  Trains, daughter and me, all in the same place.  What more could an old man want?

Palaisdugares

I arrived at the train station about 15 minutes before the train was to arrive and found that her train was going to be about 10 minutes late.  Figuring I’d have about 20 minutes before I had to move to the arrival gate, I sat down in the main hall to draw.

I love our train station.  It’s something of a shell of its original footprint, with only a few trains and far fewer passengers moving through it’s cavernous insides.  Fewer passengers means more room available and in recent years they’ve built a couple smallish restaurants along one wall of the main hall.

I drew one of them (resto can be seen in the interior photo above) in a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8) with De Atramentis Docu Black.   Not having a lot of time, the sketch is a bit on the wonky side but it was fun and I finished up in time to watch the train arrive.  Did I mention that I like trains?  Oh…and my daughter too.

Happy holidays everyone! — Larry

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

I’m A Little Teapot, Short And Stout…

I’m a little teapot, short and stout,
here is my handle and here is my spout.

That’s what sketching is all about.  You find a subject and you put the pieces in their proper locations.  Then you’re done.  Easy peasy, so what’s the big deal?

I’m having a ball in Liz Steel’s Foundations class.  She’s showing us different ways of organizing drawings and the various ways of getting those parts in the right places.  This week was “climb out on a thin limb and draw without measuring anything, no set up, no nothing.”  This is where eraser users do a lot of scrubbing as “oops…it should be just a bit to the right” or “eek…that’s too long” start being uttered in less than muffled tones.

And so I was at the museum, wandering around looking for something to draw.  I’m sort of getting tired of drawing statues of Greek gods and so I found myself in the Quebec history exhibit.  It’s an exhibit where you’d think Quebecers lived in caves in the past was the exhibit exists in near darkness, making it hard to sketch anything.  Heck, some of the stuff is downright hard to see.  Not sure what’s going on there.

But as I was in Liz’s course (she being the patron saint of teacup sketching), and as I was staring at some tea cups, saucers and teapots, I figured I’d found my subject for the class.  The only problem was that these items were scattered around a case, not clustered together as in a still life.

But with a bit of mental sliding items around, and a few pen marks to indicate location, I created the arrangement depicted here and went to town with my Namiki Falcon.  Here is my handle, here is my spout.  I’m really enjoying the De Atramentis document inks and sure hope that Goulet Pens gets some of the other colors back in stock real soon.  This sketch took me about 20 minutes, maybe a couple more.  It was fun.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black, watercolor pencils

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black, watercolor pencils

Sketching A Door

One of the exercises for this week’s Liz Steel Foundations class was to draw a door.  This was supposed to be our “outdoor” exercise.

There is nothing I’d rather do than draw outdoors but I’m afraid that weather dictates that I won’t be able to do that until at least April and that’s being optimistic.  Not wanting to wait quite that long to do the assignment, I found an alternative.  As I was leaving the museum I noticed that if I sat down just inside the rear entrance, I could see the door across the street.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The door leads into the Hotel Saint Pierre but the door has a far richer history as it served as the main entrance of the “Quebec Assurance Building,” and the interesting thing is that this is carved, in English, in the upper reaches of the building – a remnant of times past as it’s fairly rare to find English written anywhere in Quebec City.

The exercise goal was to ‘set up by measurement’ and thus the principle goal was “..to be as accurate as possible.”  I can’t say that I was (sorry Liz) but I did it in my typical cartoony style and in spite of what it looks like, I did measure, with my thumb stuck up in the air and everything.  I really enjoyed sketching something that wasn’t a statue and I think I need to look around for some more doors to look out of.

Quebec Assurance Building door

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Black

Sketching On A Sunday Morning

I went to the museum this morning and decided to draw a short column piece featuring three woman.  I didn’t have my pencil case with me so I decided to do it in my sketchbook (10×7), using my Namiki Falcon.  This is one time when I wished for larger paper as it was hard to capture all the detail in what is roughly an 8″ high sketch.  But it was a bundle of fun to do.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Docu Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Docu Black ink

Addendum:  I was playing around last night and added just a hint of color to this sketch.  I think it improved it somewhat, mostly by removing some of the starkness of the black on white.   I didn’t want to turn it into a color sketch but now I’m wondering what it would look like if I increased the tonal variation even more.  What do you think?

2014-12-14statue_c

Doing Stand Up, Sketcher Style

What does a street sketcher do when it’s snowing and there are 80 km/hr gusts blowing it around?  Cry in some beer?  Sketch lemons?  Sketch a recipe for lemonade?  I was at a loss.

Normal art people just head to their studio and draw or paint to their heart’s content, but I really have a hard time sketching without going somewhere first.  I know…I should take a pill to get over it, but I’m old and already taking too many of those.

So, I decided, why not do something that might help me when I do get to go onto the street to sketch.  One of my big problems is that while I’m very comfortable sitting on my tripod stool and can sketch up a storm there, I struggle when I try to sketch standing up.  I’m not sure why.  My belly is sufficiently large to hold a sketchbook, afterall.

Anyways, that’s what I decided to do – sketch while standing.  I went into my office, picked up sketchbook and pen, looked around and decided to draw the three principle books that stand on my desk.  I added a bit of the surroundings for context.  And yes, there is lots of stuff on those shelves but you think I’m going to let you see what a mess my office is?  Not a chance.

I still find sketching while standing up a struggle.  I lose not only some of my control over the pen but also some of my ability to concentrate.  The later is the bigger loss and I’m not sure why it occurs at all.  Maybe I need to stand around sketching more often.  Any tips for a stand-up-challenged sketcher?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black ink

Roman Pitcher: What A Few Construction Lines Can Do

I was at the museum yesterday and drew a Roman pitcher.  Wednesday mornings are when Liz Steel releases a new lesson of her Foundations Now drawing course.  If you’re not already taking it, sign up.  We an amazing instructor.

What do those two things have in common?  Today’s lesson was about measuring and sketch “setup” to use her terminology.  I call it scaffolding but any way you talk about it, the goal is to look at your subject/scene and determine the relative sizes and locations of the objects, making some lines to indicate those relationships.  People seem reluctant to think about doing anything before they start drawing the “things” in their drawing but a few minutes spent before you draw actual “stuff” can improve both your accuracy and speed, the later more than compensating for the short time spent in analysis.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Once I got comfortable on my stool I just looked at the subject, trying to get a sense of shapes and sizes.  What follows is typically done using a 2H pencils producing lines so faint they won’t scan properly.  So, I took some tracing paper and drew them with a red pencil so you can see them.  Often I don’t even worry about erasing these lines as most just disappear.   Here’s what I did to draw this pitcher and why:

1) I realized that the bulk of the pitcher could fit inside a square.  Since I was working in a 10×7 sketchbook, I drew a couple vertical lines about 4″ apart to set the boundary of my drawing on the 7″ dimension of the paper.  I completed a square with appropriate horizontal lines.  Not only did this determine size but it determined location of the vase on the paper and ensured that I would have enough room and white space to make me happy.

2) I drew a vertical line at the halfway point of the square.  Centerlines for objects are generally helpful but in this case it was doubly so because the main pitcher was symmetrical and thus, having a centerline becomes a big help in the symmetrical curvatures of the pitcher sides.

scaffolding prior to drawing

scaffolding prior to drawing

3) I used dimension A to measure how high the pitcher mouth protruded above the main pitcher body and found it to be equal to A.  A quick line to identify that limit was all that was necessary, though I could have easily determined the width of the top of the pitcher at this time.  I just didn’t think of it.

4) At this point I’d taken a couple measurements using the ‘hold the pen up’ approach and drawn five lines.  I’d spent enough time looking at the pitcher to know there were three dips in the top edge of the mouth, that the handle attached between the back two and that the handle was turned a bit towards me and the pitcher spout turned slightly away from me.  I’m sure I also noticed other, more subtle things but these were the pertinent things.  It’s important to note that this is important information for drawing this pitcher and it’s best to know about it BEFORE you start drawing it rather than after you make an error because you didn’t.

5) At this point I switched to pen, but there was still more analysis work to be done along the way.  I felt the first thing I needed to do was locate the handle as it crossed in front of the top of the main pitcher body as I needed to know where that line would be hidden.  I thought about picking up the pencil again as it would have been easier to drop a couple angled lines to indicate the hand.  But I persevered and looked at 1) what was the distance between the left-most part of the hand from an imaginary vertical running upward from the body square.  At the same time I looked at the angle of an imaginary line that would run from the top of the pitcher body and that left-most part of the handle.  I put a dot there and another dot across from it to indicate the handle width at that point.  I did a similar analysis to determine how high the handle went above the ‘top’ of the pitcher mouth.  I don’t remember doing it but I also decided where the handle attached to the side of the pitcher body.  Then I drew the outer edges of the handle.

6) I was off to the races at that point.  I decided how wide the ‘cylinder’ that protruded to become the mouth was and put marks on either side of the centerline to indicate where it would intersect the pitcher body.  Then I drew the entire outline of the pitcher body, stopping briefly to do a similar determination about the base widths.

7) When I draw something more complex, like the convolutions of the mouth top edge, I do a lot of dynamic comparisons.  If I were really concerned with absolute accuracy I’d draw pencil lines to indicate the shapes but sometimes I just use my experience to compare a couple angles or locations to determine start/stop points for the various curves.  If you’re less experienced it might be a good idea to draw a box around this portion of the pitcher and then remove everything that doesn’t look like a pitcher mouth from that ‘block of clay.’  This is often very powerful as this forces you to look at it as the three dimensional volume that it is.

8) The painted details were pretty straight forward so I just freehanded those directly.  This was made easier because my basic drawing was accurate so I could rely upon it to locate the details.

Too often I see people talking about going “direct to ink” as some sort of badge of honor.  My goal may be more accuracy than some others but even if you like to draw with a loose style, just a few simple lines can give you the confidence that you’re laying down your loose lines in the right places.   You’ll also never be caught saying “I ran out of room for his feet.”