Weathervane Sketching Is Fun

I should be writing blog posts about how life would be for a snail trying to do location sketching.  Movement from point A to point B is so slow and energy-draining for me these days that I have to make decisions based on how long it will take me to get there.  I suppose that’s true for everyone but I’m talking about how far I have to walk in a museum.  Distances measured in feet have become important (grin).  Weird that.

But I am starting to get out and about and it feels really good.  I went to the museum on Tuesday.  I used to walk there (about 45min).  Now I take two buses and when I get there I’m exhausted.  Once I’ve hobbled up a couple flights of stairs I have to sit down and rest before I try to sketch.

The significant thing about all this is that the majority of my sketching time isn’t spent sketching so I have to keep the subjects simple and just try to get as much enjoyment from the short sketching fix as possible.  There’s a row of weathervanes on display right now and they fit a snail-sketcher’s approach really well.  Hope you like this one.  The original is made of sheet metal.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot/Namiki Falcon

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.

 

Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 2

In my last post I described my modular system for location sketching.  I want to emphasize that there’s nothing unique about how I approach moving art materials to and from location sites and neither is there anything “best” about it.  It’s just what I do, so this is more of a “just the facts ma’am” report than a “Look what I invented” thing.  Here I continue the discussion by describing the three tool modules I mentioned in that first post.

Paint Module

This module holds all my paint stuff, or rather the paint stuff I take on location with me.  Home seems to overflow with palettes, brushes and tubes of color.  Why is a question more for a psychiatrist than myself.  Anyway, the case itself is a Lihit Lab Teffa Pen Case, or so says Jet Pens.  This is the second one I’ve owned.  I lost the first one, along with two nice Escoda Kolinsky travel brushes somewhere between here and there on Black Tuesday, at least that’s how I refer to it.

This case is mostly empty so for those who carry a lot of brushes and paint, there’s plenty of room for more.  I try to keep my paint kit simple because that matches my understanding of paint.  Here are the contents of this module:

From left to right: 30ml Nalgene water bottle, squirt bottle, messy paint kit, Rosemary pointed-round Kolinsky brushes (#6 & #19), waterbrush, small brush used when I want to do something that’s hard on brushes.

A few words on this kit.  First, the water doesn’t typically reside in this module, though it’s easy enough to include a bottle in the case.  But as I mentioned in Part 1 of this treatise, I carry water bottles like this in each of my bags.  I stole this bottle idea from Marc Taro Holmes and love it because it’s easy to carry a couple of them, exchanging a dirty one for a clean one when necessary.

The squirt bottle is indispensible.  I love my Kolinsky brushes but they’re expensive and scrubbing them around to pick up pigment off dried cakes of watercolor isn’t my idea of a good use for them.  But if I wet those cakes, and rewet them occasionally as I paint, it’s easy to pick up paint and a more saturated paint it will be.  I think this is good, at least it works for me.

The paints are all Daniel Smith watercolors.  Expensive yes, but I have a hard enough time with paint; I don’t need to be handicapped by cheap paint.  When I started out I tried several cheaper paints.  I thought it normal that my watercolors were all light and washed out.  Then I bought some Winsor & Newton paint, real Winsor & Newton paint, not their Cotman line of student-grade paints.  The difference was startling, even to someone like me.  I have found that Daniel Smith paints rewet better than do W&N paints, which is why I now use them.  This is not an endorsement as, to quote Sgt Shultz from Hogan’s Heros, “I know nothing” when it comes to paint.

Rosemary travel brushes:  Wow…I love these brushes.  I have limited experience with brushes I suppose.  When I started I was determined to use good quality and so I bought a couple W&N Kolinsky brushes.  I’ve mentioned the Escoda Kolinskys that I lost.  Those were replaced by a couple of their Escoda Versatile travel brushes (synthetic) that are ok but just not the same as sable.  I also own several Silver Black Velvet brushes which are a blend of squirrel and synthetic fibres.  These are very nice and I use them when I’m at home.

The Rosemary travel brushes shown above are, as my dad used to say, the cat’s meow.  I also like their short dagger brushes (#772) that Liz Steel loves but I’m more clumsy than normal when I try to use them.  That’s all I’m going to say about brushes because there are better, more knowledgable people to listen to when it comes to all things watercolor.

Pencil Module

The case is from Global Art.  They sell this case as a single and double-layer case but I keep my pencil selection to a minimum and thus use the single-layer case.  Mostly I’ve followed Cathy Johnson’s list of watercolor pencils and I limit myself to 3-4 graphite pencils (Tombow Mono 100).

My watercolor pencils are Faber-Castell Albrect-Durer, mostly because I can completely solubilize the line they produce allowing me to use them to replace watercolors when I’m working small and particularly when I work in a place where water bottles and such are not allowed.  I love working with them for everything but large washes but confess that I don’t use them as much as I once did.  Not sure why.  Notice that I carry a short waterbrush in this case.  It works well in museums.

I should point out that I use the graphite pencils only if I’m going to do an actual pencil drawing, including rendering, which is rare.  I’m a smeary kind of guy and always have trouble with that approach to drawing because of it.

Pen Module

This module is central to what I do.  I’ve always said that I’m not an artist and that I just draw stuff and most of what I do is drawn with fountain pens.  I just love them.  I’ve used fountain pens since me and Alley Oop attended school together.

The case is one of those squeeze-to-open sunglass cases.  It’s ideal because the metal squeeze mechanism allow pens to be clipped to the case on both sides.  I cut a double layer of Bristol card that separates the two sides, keeping the pens from rubbing against one another.  Note that I also sewed a couple half-rings to the case so I could have a shoulder strap.  When on site I can hang this thing around my neck and my pens are always accessible.

Mechanical Pencils

I don’t “draw” with mechanical pencils but I do use them for organizing a drawing.  During this stage of my drawing I’m concerned with proportions, locations, orientations of objects, not the actual objects themselves.  In this way, when I pick up my pen, I know where the pieces are, what size they should be, and it gives me the freedom to concentrate on the drawing because the organization is already done.  For this job I could use any old mechanical pencil but I love pointy devices and enjoy using good ones.  I use a a Pentel Graph Gear 1000 (0.7mm) and a Pentel Kerry (0.5mm).  The former has a retractable tip while the later can actually be capped, like a pen.  Both are superb performers.

Fountain Pens

This is the most dynamic portion of my kit.  I own a lot of pens and I like to play with them.  The photo reflects what’s in the case right now.

From left to right:  Duke 209 (fude), Pilot 78G F, Platinum 3776 SF, Pilot/Namiki Falcon EF  

I guess this set of pens reflects several views I have about pens.  The first is that a good cheap pen is as good as a good expensive pen, and I don’t buy pens costing more than $200, period.  I think I paid $6 for the Duke 209 and the Pilot 78G was about the same.  While I grumble a bit at the Duke 209 on occasion, the 78G works flawlessly.  Yes, my ‘go to’ pens are the 3776 and Falcon but mostly because I love using them, not because they let me draw stuff any better.

Another thing this cadre of pens reflects is my approach to inks.  You can’t talk about fountain pens without talking about ink.  I’m lucky because I don’t get excited about drawing with colored inks and because I insist on my inks being able to withstand watercolors once they’re dried.  This limits me to only a few inks on the market and most of them are black, or thereabouts.  That said, drawing with dark, dark, black ink is sometimes useful, sometimes not so much so I mix it up a bit.

The Duke 209 is filled with DeAtramentis Document Black.  I’m not the fan of fude pens that a lot of urban sketchers are and I confess that’s mostly because I’ve never been able to get use to them.  I do like the Duke, however, because it’s very light.  The black ink supports the fude role, where I can get fairly thin lines, but its real value is for creating shaded areas, thicker lines and more expressive sketches.

My Pilot 78G produces a very fine line and it’s filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  This produces a light line that is great when I want edges to be less pronounced and when I work very small.

My Platinum 3776 is filled with Platinum Carbon Black, still one of my favorite inks.  It serves to provide me with a thin, black line and the gold soft nib gives me enough line variation to make me happy.

My Namiki/Pilot Falcon is filled with a mixture of Noodler’s Black, Noodlers Polar Brown, and water in equal proportions.  This serves two purposes.  It lets me use up the Noodlers inks, neither of which work for me by themselves and I end up with a brown-black that flows beautifully because of the addition of water.  Another way I’ve gotten this sort of result is to mix DeAtramentis Document Brown, Document Black, and their Dilution solution.

Realize, however, that tomorrow this kit may have a Pilot Prera, Pilot Metropolitan, Platinum Plaisir, Platinum Carbon Pen, Kaweco Lilliput, or any number of Hero, Sailor, or even vintage pens.  No, I don’t use Lamy pens, though I own a couple.  No, I don’t use Noodler’s pens (I threw those away).

Misc. Pens

I carry a few specialty pens for special uses.  These are:

From Left to Right: Prismacolor fine brush pen, Uniball UM151 white gel pen, Kuretake brush pen

The Prismacolor pen is new to me.  I bought it because someone mentioned that they liked them.  I haven’t used it much but it does seem like it might be fun for quick-sketching when you want thick lines.  I’m not a fan of nylon-tipped pens though.

The Uniball white pen is a staple when I’m working on toned paper.  Nothing special here but I’ve found these to be more reliable than the Gelly-Roll equivalents.

The Kuretake #33 brush pen is one of my favorite tools, though it makes a fool out of me more often than not.  For those who have used the Pentel ‘real brush’ pen, consider the Kuretake as a classy equivalent.  It does have a real, soft, nylon brush and I can feed it with Platinum Carbon Black ink cartridges.  It’s ideal for adding dark accents but these real brush pens will test your ability to control tip pressure.  Marc Taro Holmes claims it was using these a lot that taught him how to draw directly with paint and I can believe it.

If your eyes haven’t glazed over by now you must be heavily caffeinated or a die-hard art stuff afficionado.  In any case, I applaud you.   Next time I’ll talk about paper, sketchbooks, and paper supports.

 

 

Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 1

As a blogger and sketcher, I have a problem.  It’s an internal problem that generates embarrassment and shame.  You see, when I started sketching I remember always wanting to know what pen was used (and why), what colors were chosen, and what approach was used by every artist I came across on the internet.  I remember grumbling when they didn’t tell me.  So whenever someone asks “what kind of gizmo do you use Larry?” I always write long emails back to the person, BUT I never seem to get around to putting that information into blog posts.

By way of excuse, I have the feeling that I’m not qualified to speak with authority on anything artistic and that my choices are unimportant.  I think that’s true.  But here’s the thing.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that what materials people use aren’t very important, but for people trying to find their way, knowing such stuff matters.  It still matters to me.  Anyways,  this post is the beginning of rectification of those omissions.

Everyone has their way to move tools and materials to a sketching location but, in my view, this is also the most important issue when it comes to materials.  If you have to think about what you’re going to take and/or how you’re going to carry it, you’re not going to do it at all.  And if your stuff isn’t conveniently available when you get on site, you’re going to be too distracted to be effective.  In my case there is an additional caveat.  I have to carry everything when I walk and those walks can be a couple hours long, at least they were before my leg problems of late.

My Sketching Bags

I started out with a single bag.  I’ve had it since I started location sketching and I fear the day when it dies as I haven’t been able to find a look-alike backup.  Into this bag I stuffed pens, paints and sketchbook and carried it everywhere.  That worked pretty well, though I found myself leaving stuff out, adding new stuff, and there was no rhyme or reason to it.  Because I carried it everywhere, I always worried about weight – micro-managing things by adding/subtracting single items.

Then came along a large bag, a bag too large to carry everywhere but the one I used when I want on an organized sketching events.  This caused a shift in my approach because I was spending too much time moving stuff back and forth between the bags and worrying about whether I had everything or not.

A Modular Approach

I tried replicating everything, outfitting each bag with the same stuff.  That didn’t work for me because that was expensive.  More importantly, the maintenance doubled.  Ensuring that two sets of pens were filled with ink, pencils sharpened, etc. was just too much for a lazy guy like me and I didn’t like the fact that I was working in different sketchbooks just because I was carrying a different bag.  So, I went modular.

To facilitate this approach I put identical misc support gear into each bag.  This includes:

  • bulldog clips (some of these have magnets attached to them): I use these to attach palettes to sketchbooks, clip pages down when it’s windy, etc.
  • kneaded eraser:  I don’t erase when I draw but when I use a pencil to layout a sketch I like to remove those layout lines once the drawing is completed.
  • water bottle(s): more on this later but this is the water I use with watercolors.
  • tissues: each bag has a pack of tissues, used when I paint. 
  • tiny paint kit: each bag has a 4-6 color mini-palette “for emergencies”
  • waterbrush:  I don’t like waterbrushes but “for emergencies” one will suffice.  I currently prefer Kuretake/Zig brushes which seem to give me better water control than others.

That’s it.  Everything else is included in these three modules.

From left to right: watercolor kit, pens and such, watercolor pencils

When I head out I simply choose which modules I want, stuff them in my bag, and go.  In practice, most of the time the pens and watercolors are in my small bag already because it’s still my go everywhere bag, but they’re easily moved to the large bag if necessary.  The important thing is that I don’t have to think about it, which matches the amount of brain power I want associated with getting out the door.  Next time I’ll discuss the contents of these modules.

Life Of A Sketchless Sketcher

I made another trip to our museum.  I’m still amazed at how tired I can become just getting there, but got there I did.  It’s the last week of the Hergé exhibition and I hadn’t actually viewed it seriously.  The exhibit emphasizes the process of creating Tin Tin, Herge’s famous comic series and so there’s lots to read and look at.  Not much to draw.

I hobbled around the exhibit, reading everything and studying the artwork.  It’s a really good exhibit in my opinion.  But finally I had to sit down, completely exhausted.  It must be the weight of the cane that’s wearing me out (grin).

After a while I decided that I needed to draw something, so I combined getting a cup of coffee with drawing one of the weather vanes on display in the cafeteria.  It’s not much and like eating a single Gummi bear, not quite enough, but it formed a satisfying end to yet another sketchless sketcher day.

The Return: Baby Steps With A Limp

I’m embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without a blog post, not much sketching, not much of anything.  I’m beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though.  My leg is no longer the size of a telephone pole and my knee bends again.  More important, while I’m not completely pain free, the pain is not constant so I can begin to think about other things.

I’m still lacking in energy but I went sketching for the first time last week.  It wasn’t a successful trip by most measures but it was nice to see the gang and the trip made me feel as though I was on the mend.  We went to the civilisation museum where their main exhibition right now is from France and presents the works of cartoonist, Herge, a Belge cartoonist best known for his Tin Tin character.

I got on the bus and headed to the museum. The trip, one I used to walk in 40 minutes, seemed more like a crossing the Alps adventure than a simple trip across town.  By the time I got there I was exhausted but also excited to see everyone.

Some wanted to draw character images glued to the side of the building.  We could see some of them from a large window and people set up to draw.  Honestly, it seemed sort of silly to draw these simple characters but the truth was, they fit my energy level and ability to engage with a subject very well.  I spent about 15 minutes drawing these.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

This quite literally wore me out and I spent the rest of the session sitting around, talking and looking at a bit of the Herge exhibition.

This week I found myself better able to walk and with even less pain.  I’ve started doing some doodling at home and even managed to get some winterizing stuff done on the weekend.  Still lacking energy but even that had improved.  On Wednesday I hopped a bus to the library where we were going to draw from comics.  Seems there’s a theme developing here.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

It was a wonderful session, though my lack of energy, and probably my hiatus from drawing, showed when I tried to draw some of my favorite cartoon characters.  I began drawing Corto, a very famous Hugo Pratt character.  Pratt is an Italian cartoonist and one of my favorites.

As I look at this small sketch I can’t help but reflect on how tired I was when I finished it.  I spent the next half hour just flipping through comics, mindlessly looking at the graphics.

Ultimately, though, I decided to draw Obelix, one of the main characters in the Asterix series of comics that taught most French kids early European history.  Asterix and his buddies are Gauls and the bad guys are Romans.  Obelix was Asterix’s super-strong friend, his loyal sidekick.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

We ended that day with a cup of coffee and the sketching banter I have so missed over the past six weeks.  When I got home I took a nap, but I’m getting there…taking baby steps with a limp.

Forgotten But Not Lost

It’s been several weeks since I walked out of my house wearing my larger art bag.  That was the day I met Brigitte, the new sketcher I mentioned in my last post.  We met in the small park along St. Denis street within the walls of the old city of Quebec.

We were to meet at 10AM but Claudette and I arrived earlier, I think it was around 9:30.  We both started sketching and I was well into a drawing when Brigitte arrived.  When she did, we started talking about everything and anything and had a delightful conversation about her, about the sketching world in Quebec City, her house renovations and a bunch of other stuff.  She’s really a delightful person but eventually we decided that maybe we should draw and so got back to it.  By then, though, it was nearing lunch time, or at least coffee break time so we didn’t get much more sketching done.

I was starting to have my leg problems and when I got home my bag went on the shelf and the only thing I’ve done with it since was to remove my pen case, because all other materials are replicated on my desk and/or in my smaller bag.  Yesterday, however, I decided to organize for what I optimistically view as my imminent return to street sketching.

And guess what I found?  That partially complete sketch from weeks ago.  It seems very unlikely that I’ll ever complete it so I thought I’d show you an ‘in progress” photo of it.  Hope you like it.

Trying To Get Out With My Friends

Several weeks ago I got to meet a new sketcher.  She and her husband had moved to Quebec City and she wanted to hook up with local sketchers.  We met for a sketching session and had a great time.

Then I started having mobility problems and time after time, we couldn’t manage to get together for another session.  I was both frustrated and embarrassed by this and so when she asked if we could go sketching last week I said yes and we agreed to meet near the large fountain in front of the Quebec Parliament.  Yvan came along as well.

I limped my way to the site and sat on a bench.  It was really great to be out in the fresh air and to get to talk with friends but I was hurting so much that sketching didn’t seem important.  Still, there I was and so I started by drawing three young children who are part of the fountain.

I spent more time just sitting than I did drawing but I just kept adding small sketches of things I could see from my position.  No rhyme or reason to it; I was just sketching, or trying.  It wasn’t urban sketching at its best but it was urban sketching I suppose (grin).  For what it’s worth, the guy in front of the lamp post wasn’t actually leaning against it; he was part of the fountain too.  The lamp post was actually across the street from the fountain.  While he is shirtless, we were wearing jackets.

Men Never Know Their Limitations

Clint Eastwood is famous for saying “A man’s gotta know his limitations” but any woman will tell you that men never do.  I am one of those men and, sadly, sometimes I make a fool of myself because of it.  What men are pretty good at doing, however, is hiding the results or so we think, but sometimes it’s cathartic to expose the underbelly and today’s the day.  I’ll start with a story and end with really bad sketches.  I hope you can get a chuckle or two from it.

Tuesday morning I went for a physio treatment.  Right now, going anywhere is exhausting and physio visits even more so.  When I left there all I wanted to do was lie down but instead I went home, grabbed a sandwich, and then headed off to the second meeting of our still life group.  Arriving at the parking lot I realized that I had a “long walk” ahead of me.  It must have been a couple hundred feet to the door and then up a flight of stairs.  With my current hobbled gait, it only took me 10 minutes (grin).

When I got to the room I headed directly to a chair in the corner of the room and flopped into it as though I’d just completed the Boston Marathon.  I sat, looking across the room as everyone else was busy getting out art supplies, organizing their workspaces, and preparing to draw a large flower arrangement.  I just stared across the room.

Then it occurred to me that I was supposed to draw so I got out sketchbook and pen.  I couldn’t really see the flowers from where I was sitting but the thought of moving was unappealing so I started drawing people.  My sketch barely looks like people and my ability to “see like an artist” was lacking that day.  The result I share in the name of humor, not art.

I don’t know how long this took me but I’d guess 10-15 minutes.  It seemed like hours.  When I finished I closed my book, closed my eyes, and started reflecting on what nonsense it was that I was there.  Though we’re slow on the uptake, even we men ‘get it’ sometimes.

But I was there to draw and so I didn’t succumb to rational thought.  Instead, I decided to draw a purse that was sitting on one of the tables.  Again, the sketchbook came out, the pen started scribbling, and this was created.  Another 10 minutes that felt like a couple hours.

At this point I knew the session was near its end so I closed my book and put my pen away.  I looked at my watch.  I’d been there 25 minutes and there was 1 1/2 hours to go.  Not for me.  A man’s gotta know his limitations.  I went home.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black