A Dog’s Life In A COVID world

I had an interesting conversation the other day.  I sat down with my brother’s dog to paint him and he opened up to me about how a dog’s life has been during the COVID pandemic.  Here’s what he had to day.

“Humans are right when they talk about a “dog’s life.”  It is pretty good.  Most of the time my brother and his wife keep my house clean and maintained so I don’t have to worry about that.  They drive my car when I need to get stuff at that store and they pay for everything.  They feed me often and are always giving me the treats I demand.  Yep, a dog’s life is normally pretty good.

With all this social distancing stuff, however, it’s different.  They spend more time watching the news, time they’d normally spend with me.  And when they take me for a walk they avoid other humans and never stand around talking to them.  So, I never get to rub noses with dogs kept by other humans.  I don’t get to meet up with my friends and I never get to run around off my leash anymore.  I’m more isolated than humans because at least they have that thing they call the internet where they sit and talk to computer screens, laugh while watching videos, and stuff like that.  I just lay on the floor hoping for a better tomorrow.”

His name is Opie and when he was done talking, I had a new appreciation for what dogs are going through right now.   We need to show them more empathy, maybe showing them a dog video or three.

I painted Opie in gouache, a medium I’m trying to learn.  The notion of “painting” anything is new to me.  Opie liked the result and said I made him look regal.  I call the painting “A dog’s life.”

Winsor & Newton gouache

 

Urban Sketching In Isolation

Many of us have lamented that our urban sketching lifestyles have been disrupted by COVID-19.  We sit in houses thinking of better days when we sat in public places drawing the scenes before us.  And some of us have reported our “solutions” to this.  Tina Koyama talks about standing in a street circle and drawing what’s around her.  I’ve mentioned my 2-min sketches while on walks. Others have succumbed to looking out their windows for subjects.

I may have found a way to up my game as an isolated urban sketcher.  Maybe you’ll think I’m not urban sketching at all, but it feels like urban sketching to me.  Here’s what I did.

1) I went for my daily walk and found a scene worthy of sketching (are there any that aren’t)?
2) I stood, leaning against a tree, while I studied the scene, thinking about drawing it.  I noted the relative locations of all the major objects and ‘saw’ the major angles and proportions that related the objects to one another.  I thought about what I’d eliminate from the scene, where the center of focus would be.  I even mentally traced around one of the cars and some of the major tree branches just to etch them into my mind a bit.  I probably spent 5-min doing this, just as though I was actually going to sketch the scene.
3) Then I took a couple photos and rushed home.
4) I cropped a photo to reflect what I’d been thinking while on the street and drew some organizational lines and blobs to organize the paper and then started sketching from my laptop screen.  This is what it looked like when I finished the ink.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black ink, gouache

5) I’m still experimenting with gouache and still stumbling over myself with it.  Nevertheless, I decided to use gouache on this sketch and had some fun trying to move back and forth between transparent and opaque approaches.  Very confusing but lots of promise.  I got James Gurney’s new course yesterday and, shazaam, that’s exactly what he starts the course talking about.  Can’t wait to try some of the things he talks about.

BUT, excepting that I was sitting at a table rather than on my stool, it felt like urban sketching because of the immediate translation of a scene I’d just looked at and the one I was putting on paper.

I won’t split hairs whether this is “real” urban sketching or not as I don’t much care.  But if I can repeat this process during my isolation, I’m going to be a happy camper.  The only thing I miss is meeting up with friends after the sketching session.  I have to settle with bugging my wife and daughter with “Hey, look at this.”  Give it a try.  You just might like it.

 

Do Sketchbooks Organize Your Art?

I’ve spent two years being “isolated” by an inability to run around because of a bad knee and rheumatoid arthritis.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now.  But the truth is, this new form of “isolation” is getting to me, probably because I can’t make pilgrimages to the local art and book stores (they’ve all been closed since Mid-March here in Quebec.

On the one hand, this isolation is nice as I have my family home so we’ve been baking/cooking more.  I made scones last night.  On the other hand, we’re watching and fretting over too much news, watching too many Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. movies and generally all discipline in out lives has gone to pot.  I hope you’re doing better on that score.

I may be learning something about my art production, or lack thereof.  On and off I’ve tossed around the idea of giving up sketchbooks in favor of working on single sheets of paper.  The later has always made more sense to me and for sure more convenient if you like to use different papers, different sizes of paper, and maybe different surfaces.  Sketchbooks have always remained big a part of my sketching, though, because I do (did) most of it on location.

With the isolation, however, I’ve been doing almost all my drawing on hunks of 6×9 paper, whether that be sketching paper, toned paper, or watercolor paper.  The darn things are everywhere and most of them end up in the trash.

I’m beginning to think that much of the reason for this is that I don’t value a single piece of paper like I do a sketchbook.  A sketchbook is a collection of sorts, a compendium of what I did over a time period.  These single sheets don’t do that.  Heck, I’m not even dating them.  I just draw something, set aside that piece of paper, and grab another sheet.

Another thing spins off of that for me.  If I’m not filling sketchbooks I don’t feel as much need to sketch and maybe more to the point, I have no direction.  Some of this may simply be the stressful situation these days.  I don’t know.  Anyways, I’m curious, do sketchbooks organize and/or provide discipline for your art?

I’ve been sketching a bunch of Schleich animal figures I have collected.  These are beautiful models.  While small, they don’t move.  Some of the sketches were done in pencil, some in pen.  Some have been done quickly, while others were done more carefully.  It’s been fun but more a matter of doodling than sketching.  Here’s a pig that I did with pen and gouache.  This one was done in a sketchbook I made from Strathmore Toned Tan (184lb) paper.

I wanted to post some of the others but realized that the garbage got taken out, along with all the rest of them.  Maybe I need to go back to using sketchbooks (grin).

Taking The Train Down The Gouache Road

I’ve mentioned that I’m starting to work with gouache and have posted a couple small results of those activities.  I’ve also filled a garbage can with paper covered in various sized spots of gouache as I’ve tried understand gouache-water ratios, how to lighten colors with white, and the rest.  I really hate doing that stuff.  I guess I’m just not cut out to be a color spot maker.

The other day I was drawing, in my typical pen and ink style, a small steam locomotive.  I was enjoying myself when my brain went off dreaming.  It started thinking about painting that locomotive in gouache.  They say that if you’re going to dream, dream big and this was a whopper.

But I did it anyway.  I’ve never painted anything complex without a proper drawing.  I have painted a couple simple buildings though so how hard could it be?  In short, I was delusional.

I decided to leave my pen and ink drawing alone and made a big beginner mistake.  I thought, “I’m just learning so I don’t need to use good materials.”  I got out a piece of cardstock, drew the main boxes and cylinders of the locomotive and, with a thin layer of Payne’s Gray gouache, drew in the shape of the locomotive… sort of.

Once I had an overall light gray locomotive, I corrected, to the degree that I could, the shape and proportions of the object.  Truthfully, this wasn’t very successful until I started using slightly thicker, darker paint as I brought more form to the boxes and cylinders.  This took me about an hour less than forever because I added and removed paint numerous times.  The paper didn’t help much as the cardstock buckled and seemed to instantly dry the paint.  Next time I’ll take my advise to others and use decent watercolor paper.  Anyways, here’s the result.  It’s a long way from good but I’m pretty happy with it.

gouache on card stock

 

Along The Gouache Road

I’m continuing my experiments with gouache, trying to figure out how to use it effectively.  I’m also learning how many basic concepts of painting I don’t know at all.  Giving up my fountain pen approach to capturing objects makes me feel lost.  But I feel (unsure?) that I’m learning those concepts more quickly than if I’d stuck with a pen/ink/wash approach.  In the end I think my gouache experiments will improve my pen and ink drawing and certainly my watercolors.

When I posted a lemon portrait recently, my first real gouache painting, I said that “gouache is not opaque watercolor.”  A couple people took me to task about this statement and I should have clarified what I meant and what my motivation was for saying it.  The motivation came from the many watercolorists who have said (on the internet) that they tried gouache and had trouble and the fact that I got the same problems

People try to use gouache like watercolor.  Of course you can do this, but NOT if you want to take advantage of its opaque characteristics.  You can use gouache in thin washes as you might watercolor, but it’s not nearly as good as watercolor when you do so.  It doesn’t spread, blend or mix as well as watercolor.  It lifts previous layers more easily than watercolor.  So if that’s the way you want to use it that way, you’re going to use it as a poor substitute for true watercolor  Nothing wrong with that but it’s really better to use true watercolors and then throw in a dose of white gouache at the end.  Many people do this.

If you want to paint opaquely, however, you need to approach gouache more like oil painters do (I have never done oil paintingl but I’ve watched some on YouTube :-).  They don’t lighten tones by adding solvent.  They use it to control viscosity.  They mix colors to lighten/darken tones.  They also work in layers that start thin (lean) and move to thicker layers (fat).  We sort of do the same with watercolors because we use a “tea, milk, honey” approach.  So, using water to control viscosity and color mixing for tone allows the use of gouache as an opaque medium  Anyways, that’s what I was talking about.  I make no claims to knowledge of anything so if you disagree, that’s fine.  You’re probably right (grin).

When I do gouache I sometimes wonder whether I’m learning, floundering or just creating personal embarassment.  I am having fun, however, and with the current state of things, that’s enough.

I went off the deep end the other day and did a simple landscape painting in gouache.  There was no under drawing.  There was no planning.  And most of all, there was nothing to look at because we’re buried in snow here in Quebec.  I NEVER DO STUFF like that.  Maybe it’s the cold I have or maybe it’s the “self-isolation” and “social distancing” I’m doing but I did it and here is the result.

Gouache (3×7), Stillman & Birn Beta

I also wanted to work on my ability to manipulate gouache to render an object so I painted this soup cup using only burnt umber and titanium white.  I sort of messed up the top rim of the cup but, as I said, there’s a certain amount of embarrassment that goes along with trying new things.

Hope all of you are safe and have settled into your own self-isolation.  At least we can draw.