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.

Sketching At La Maison Provancher

Several months ago members of our sketching group discovered a new winter sketching spot.  It was the home of a well-known Quebec naturalist, but it has become a place where school groups come to learn about nature.  The place is full of stuffed animals, pinned insects, skulls, shells and other representatives of mother nature.

The best part about it is that the kids can handle all these things rather than the typical hands-off policies of such places.  The downside of this, of course, is that many of the specimens aren’t in pristine condition.  The good thing for sketchers is that we can move any of these specimens to a table, set them up as we like, and draw them.

While others in our group have been to this place several times, I’ve always missed out due to doctor’s appointments and bad arthritis days.  But I got to go this week and it was wonderful.  I spent most of my time wandering around, admiring the collections, sort of taking inventory for future trips, but I did finally sit down and got acquainted with a beaver.  It’s sure good to be drawing on location again.

What Is It That Bugs You?

What bugs me is people using the word “bug” to describe any old insect that crosses their path.  There are bugs in our world so if you’re talking about leaf hoppers or stink bugs as “bugs,” you’re not out of line.  Ants, wasps, beetles and moths, however… not bugs.

Anyway, I went bug insect drawing the other day.  It was at a small exhibition here in Quebec City.  I joined Yvan and Claudette and most of what we were drawing was a display of pinned/boxed specimens.   My first thoughts upon arriving was that this was less than ideal but as it turned out, there was some sort of ying/yang thing going on that created an event that was more than the sum of its parts.

The displays dictated that you draw while looking at the insect from above and pinned specimens are often not oriented in a natural pose.  But insects have such varied morphology that you immediately get sucked into their shapes and colors if you’re a sketcher.  And so it was as we drew these tiny works of functional art.

I started by shunning the boxed insects, drawing instead from huge photographs.  That was fun and challenging because I struggle with drawing from photographs for some reason.  I stood the entire time, which wasn’t good for my gimpy leg but maybe it was good exercise.  I try to convince myself of all sorts of things that may or may not be true (grin).

Eventually, though, I decided to try my hand at a more technical drawing of one of the large Cerambycid beetles on display.  This is when I really got enthused by the process.  Just me and my pen, trying to “keep it clean, precise and accurate.”  What a thrill as my mind buried itself in the task.  Everything except that beetle disappeared and I just drew.  I need to go back and do more of this.  I must.

100 People – Day 4

#oneweek100people2018 – It occurs to me that my attempts to ‘catch up’ after missing the first two days of this five day challenge is becoming a “how can Larry embarrass himself further?” affair.  So be it.  I’m scrambling for numbers and it seems almost comical how I’m stumbling to the finish line of this challenge.

I woke this morning determined to get from 42 (done yesterday) to 70 or so to give myself a chance to complete the challenge on Friday.  I started today’s activities by ‘experimenting’ with the notion of doing a bunch of people direct with watercolor.  These were done on a 5×7 piece of watercolor paper.  What I learned is that I don’t know how but I’m going to count the eight little people I did during this experiment.  Once this challenge is over I’ll continue this experiment and maybe, after a few hundred of them, I’ll figure out how to paint people.

Since that wasn’t going to work for me I grabbed a sketchbook, a Pilot parallel pen, and a Pilot Metropolitan and I headed to the coffee shop.  There is a bus stop across the street so I figured I could sit in the coffee shop window and have lots of ‘targets.’  A couple things were wrong with that idea.

The first problem is that I was reminded that if a large truck gets between me and my subject, I have a hard time drawing that subject.  And, it seemed, every time the street light changed, a large truck had to stop – right in front of the people waiting at the bus stop.  This slowed progress considerably, but I was enjoying a nice coffee so my patience, while challenged, was sufficient.

I was sketching along with the parallel pen when it ran out of ink.  No big deal; I just switched to the Metropolitan.  I like the Metropolitan and don’t use it enough.  I was sketching along, though visibility was becoming reduced by a blizzard and the fact that people waiting for the bus started huddling inside the bus stop cubicle.  Then my Metropolitan ran out of ink.  This pen sits on my desk at home and I realized that it had been a long time since I’d checked its ink load.  My sketching session was over for the day.

The 25 people I had scribbled brought my total for the week to 75 so I do have a chance to make it to 100 if I can get out an about tomorrow.  Sorry for the sad lot of kinda-sorta-maybe people on display here.

Sketching Ain’t Easy These Days

It’s now 2018 and I’m hoping there will be fewer doctor and physio appointments this year.  I’ve tried to doodle my way through the last few months of 2017, working on using my elbow and shoulder more and my wrists less.  I draw small, though and find that transition to be tough sledding, particularly for drawing small-size curves that my wrist just won’t do.

Nevertheless, if I made any resolution for 2018 it was to get back to drawing.  This morning I decided to draw a scene from a photo.  My wrist was feeling “pretty good” which is my shorthand term for “it’s not locked up and doesn’t hurt constantly” and so I grabbed a Platinum Carbon pen and a 5×7 piece of Fabriano Artistico CP and tried to capture a photo I had of Quebec’s Finance Building.  The pen isn’t flowing like it once did, probably because I’m being too careful about how I’m moving my hand, but I did produce a sketch and I share it with you here.

Hopefully things will improve as I get back into it.  I sure hope so because Liz Steel’s new watercolour course starts January 10th and I hope to do a lot of fuzzy stick practice ‘real soon.’

Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 3

I’ve talked about how I carry my stuff and what pointy devices I use.   What remains to be discussed are the substrates and supports for them, or more simply paper.  My early thought was to discuss how I make my choices, but quickly that idea became more book-size than blog-size and so I’m limiting this to a more simple presentation of what I use.  Maybe, in the future, discussions of why can take place.

Sketchbooks

I like to have several sizes of sketchbooks available to me but this conflicts with my desire to not have too many of them ‘in progress’ at the same time so sketchbook management is a constant struggle.

This photo represents the size variation I like.  The large one in the back is a Stillman & Birn 8×10 Beta, the small red one is a Field Notes notebook, the landscape 9×6 is Stillman & Birn Alpha, and the other one is a 4×6 book, also from Field Notes.

Single Sheets

When it comes to convenience at the drawing stage, there is nothing better than working with single sheets as it allows me to switch paper types and sizes, work without the constraints of sketchbook covers, and single sheets are very light.  This approach is less useful when you want to hand a sketchbook to someone who comes up to you on the street and is interested in what you do.

My approach to using single sheets takes two forms.  The first is to use a magnet board.  The base of mine is very thin plywood and the metal surface came from a small magnetic board sold at the dollar store.  All I did was remove the frame from the dollar store board and glue the metal sheet, with contact cement, to the wood.  I rounded the corners to make it easier to slide in/out of my bag.  The magnets are rare earth magnets.  This approach allows me to quickly attach any paper and, because it’s very light, it’s easier to hold than any sketchbook.  It has the added advantage that I can attach my palette to it with magnets too.

The other way I use single sheets is an idea from Marc Taro Holmes and one I use when I want to use first-class watercolor paper (Fabriano Artistico).  I take sheets and tape them to Coroplast, sometimes on both sides.  Coroplast is so light that I can carry 3-4 sheets without any appreciable weight added to my bag and they’re a dream to work on because they are so light.

Both of these approaches are great for sketching while standing because there’s no weight involved or pages to have to clip to keep them from blowing in the wind.

This brings me to the end of this series.  I do have a sense that I’ve left a lot out of the discussion by not spending time talking about why I use what I use so if you have questions, feel free to ask.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into location sketching – Larry style.

 

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.

The Road To Waterproof Brown Inks For Sketching

Recently I wrote about the new Platinum gall inks and noted that they aren’t waterproof in the way that watercolorists need them to be waterproof.  They’re more like the Noodler’s “bulletproof” claim of water resistance.  You couldn’t remove a signature from a check, but the color bleeds when these inks are used on good watercolor paper.  The reasons may be different for Noodler’s vs Platinum gall inks but the results are the same.

Many of us have spent a lot of money trying to find a truly waterproof brown ink we can shove through our fountain pens.  Heck, I spent $30 on the Platinum ink even after I’d found a really good solution just because I was curious.  Anyways, my post on the Platinum inks resulted in some discussion and I thought I’d tell you about my solution.

Jane Blundell did an extensive analysis of the DeAtramentis Document inks where she mixed entire color wheels with these inks.  They are all quite waterproof and fountain pen friendly.  Making matters even better for the in mixer, DeAtramentis sells a “dilution solution” which is just like the ink but without the pigment.  I use Document Black, diluted 5:1 (dilution:ink) to generate a dark gray that’s similar in color to Noodler’s Lexington Gray but is more waterproof and its lower contrast to white paper works better when you’re going to use watercolors on your drawings.

DeAtramentis Document Brown leans towards red, pretty close to a burnt sienna color.  It works well as a sketching color but on white paper, just like black ink, its contrast is very high.  I’ve tried just diluting it and that works but, to my eye, it accentuates the red component of the ink and I’ve never liked that very much.  So, what to do.

Mix a bit of blue with it, that’s what.  Just like mixing ultramarine blue to burnt sienna, if you mix in enough blue you get gray.  But if I add only a few drops of blue, I get a nice, walnut brown that works really well for me.  I’m not going to tell you how many drops or anything like that.  Achieving the color YOU want will require a bit of trial and error on your part.  Personally, I don’t worry about too much.  I mix small quantities, and test with a dip pen until I get the color I want.  The next time I might get a slightly different color.  I don’t really care because my goal is to tone down the contrast of the ink with the paper, not achieve some particular color.

To the cost of this adventure.  A bottle of Document Brown (35ml) will cost you around $20 and the dilution solution (250ml) is another $20.  That’s pretty expensive but, depending upon how much of the dilution solution you use, you also end up with a lot of ink.  Adding another $20 for a bottle of blue really boosts the price and I’d recommend just buying a sample unless you plan on drawing with blue.  It doesn’t take much to achieve the shift shown above.

Finally, here’s a drawing I started on one of the few outdoor sketching days we’ve had thus far.  Watercolor will come but for now you can see the results of my “walnut” ink.  I think the contrast here is a bit more in the scan than on paper.

Fabriano Artistico (9×12), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Brown + blue

April Showers Keeps Urban Sketchers Indoors

Every spring, towards the end of March, we get a big snow storm.  People here call it the St. Patrick’s Day storm.  It comes just as we start to think that spring has sprung so it’s always a let-down.  What follows, without fail is a couple weeks of rain, which is good because it melts the snow, gets road salt dust out of the air, and generally does a spring cleaning of the city.

It’s sure hard to take, however, when you’re an urban sketcher who has been cooped up for the last five months.  In desperation I picked up some veggies while we were shopping, including an heirloom tomato that I thought could be a nice subject for a still life painting.  Ha… me trying to paint.  What a joke.  Anyways, this is what came of that idea.  I’m still pretty lost when it comes to paint and fuzzy sticks but I had fun doing this one.  Hope it stops raining soon.

Fabriano Artistico CP (7×11), Daniel Smith watercolors