Field Sketching vs Oil Painting

The title of this post is probably a misnomer, but I can’t think of a better one.  Truth is, I’m comparing what I’ve done as a field sketcher to what I’ve tried to do as a neophyte oil painter.  Sort of apples and oranges but the apple and orange were both done by me and they’re both apples.  Does that make sense (grin)?

Ok…it was September of 2020 and a lull in COVID lockdown was in the air.  We went apple picking at an orchard on the south side of the St. Lawrence.  Everyone was enjoying being outdoors, climbing picking ladders and filling bags with apples.  I relied on my family for the picking while I wandered around looking for just the right view of apples and a mix of leaves.  I’m sure people thought I was nuts as I walked around and around trees, moving from one to another without picking a single apple.  But I found the spot.  So I sat down on my tripod stool and drew this with my fountain pen (S&B Beta sketchbook).

When I got home I added watercolor.

Fast-forward to 2022… and we’re in lockdown (again) because of Omicron.  I wondered what would happen if I tried to replicate one of my sketches with my very limited oil painting skills.  So, I applied a couple light coats of gesso to an S&B Beta sketchbook and went to work, using pencil to draw the closest replica I could from the original watercolor.

I’ve got to say that my limited abilities reared their head when it came to replicating the original.  Also, my pen and wash style relies so heavily on the pen lines to convey their msg that I struggled more than a little bit without them.  Still, the result kinda sorta looks like the original, though the watercolor apples look better to me.

This was an interesting experiment.  Painting in a sketchbook with oils works pretty well except you can’t close the sketchbook for a couple days.  This might slow me down as a street sketcher (grin).



Doing A Bit Of Pencil Pushing

Like many artists, I collect things to draw, or at least that’s the excuse I use.  Along the top of every bookshelf in my office/studio are crammed old bottles, vases, skulls, diecast cars, animal figurines and statues of all sorts.  In the old days, pre-pandemic, I loved to visit flea markets and garage sales, looking for something I “needed.” A few years ago I found a plaster head that I think is Japanese.  As I recall it cost me a buck, maybe two. Like so many of the items that I’ve bought to draw, I’ve never drawn this head… until this weekend.  Here’s the result.  The time spent was well worth the $2 purchase price.

Pencil/Art Experiments

Back before blogs and such artists could decide to learn something brand new and experiment to their hearts content without anyone knowing they were doing it.  When one has a blog, however, there’s still a desire on the part of the blogger, as well as his two followers, to continue to post “results.”  This is balanced by another desire, a desire to not embarrass oneself (grin).

I’ve mentioned that I was doing lots of experiments with pencil and, as a pen driver, how disappointed I’ve been with the results.  But I’ve now had three emails asking why I wasn’t posting those experiments.  I’ll try to explain.

They are experiments.  When Edison did his proverbial 2000 attempts to develop the light bulb he didn’t report failures or even partial successes.  The modern way of looking at art these days is that we say “It’s all about the process,” but most people still believe that it’s about the product and the internet underscores that belief.

So, at the risk of embarrassing myself, I’ve scraped together a few of those experiments.  I confess that most of these things get thrown in the garbage and are done on photocopy paper.  I don’t digitize them, don’t display them, and, frankly, I don’t think much about them as most of the thinking is done while I’m doing them.  I’m learning, or trying to, how to use pointy devices that aren’t fountain pens.

Here’s the tool kit I’ve been using.  I added the large charcoal holder because I have it on my desk and sometimes do really quick sketches of something or other that’s part of a YouTube video I’m watching.  From left to right is 1) Blackwing pencil, 2) General charcoal pencil, 3) Prismacolor black, 4)&5) Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils, 6) Derwent water-soluble pencil, 7) Monol Zero eraser, 8-11) Mars-Lumograph 3H HB 4B and 8B pencils, 9) Ticonderoga #2 soft pencil.

All the capped pencils have very long points, sharpened with a knife.  I carry small pieces of sandpaper to sharpen them.  Oh…the charcoal holder is an old Cretacolor holder that I love.  I tried to find a source to get another one but I could only find a metal one from Cretacolor.  I love the wood handle of the one I have.

Ok….as I said, I throw most of my experiments away but here’s what was laying on my desk from yesterday.

The tree sketch has nothing to do with the sketches to the left or right, the car was just an imaginary car because I picked up an Indigo pencil and wanted to see how it worked.  You might begin to see why I throw these experiments away.  Yes, I could do them on separate pages in a sketchbook but, once again, these are experiments, not products.

I was watching an artist interview and they were showing some of the artist’s work.  One was a portrait of a woman.  I picked up that big Cretacolor charcoal holder and started quickly sketching her.  I had about 2 minutes and, as you can see, I ran out of time.  Still, these quick attempts are invaluable in better training my visual cortex.

Ok…I looked in my sketchbooks, and I found these few sketches.  In a toned book I found this one.  All I can recall is that someone was doing a life-drawing portrait and I drew this one.  I worked quickly and spent no more than 15 minutes on it.  It shows 🙂

I had my Bargue book out and decided to quickly (emphasis here) draw the Bargue planar eye page.  My experiment was to see if I could “see” all the angles quickly (no measurement or analysis).  My performance was, at best, ok.

This gave me the idea to draw some real eyes and so I turned to the internet again, simply pausing videos when I got a close up image I could draw.  These two were the results of that experiment.

I do apologize for not posting more regularly but, as you can see, there isn’t much in finished products coming from my pencil drawing.  Maybe I need to get a pen out (grin).



Sketching With Graphite

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing with graphite.  Mostly this has been done in a 4×6 book I carry everywhere.  I have come to a couple conclusions:

1) I think I prefer using graphite IF I approach a sketch as a watercolor, not a line drawing.

2) I don’t have enough patience to use graphite as an end product drawing tool.

Let me explain these one at a time.  I started running down this road because Shari Blaukopf showed me what is possible if you allow watercolor and not ink pen lines to define the edges of a drawing.  Clearly she is right.  She’s Shari Blaukopf after all (grin).  Thus, I won’t throw my pens away and I’ll use them to do line drawings, but if I’m going to do color, I’ll switch to pencil so I can take advantage of the power of watercolor/gouache.

Ok…number two.  I’ve done a few drawings where I’ve used pencil work to tonally create objects.  To do it right, it just takes too darn long for sketching.  Throw on top of that the fact that the graphite gets smeared either during sketch creation or while it sits inside your sketchbook.  I don’t like it, not at all.

So, what are the alternatives?  Well, there’s not much that can be done about the second problem as long as you want to stuff your sketchbooks in a pocket or backpack but it is possible to simply be faster in the sketch creation.  This means speeding up the toning process and accepting the compromises it entails.  Everyone has their own thresholds for when these compromises are unacceptable.

Here’s one such compromised drawing where I’ve added tones more quickly in a scribble fashion.  This produces a sketch more quickly but I’m not happy with the messy results.  And yes, I know that with practice I can get better at this but, why bother when watercolor over pencil layout brings so much more to my sketching.

I can always wield the pencil the way I do my fountain pens.  In my opinion, however, the results are not as nice as if I’d done them with a fountain pen.  Not bad, not good.  But if I’m going to do a line drawing, I will pick up a fountain pen.

Ah…The Meditation That Is Pencil Drawing

I’ve pulled these books from my library and they now rest on the table next to my reading/TV chair.  The Guptill and Harding books are still the best in my opinion but I like all of these books.  Harding has a great book on drawing trees too but I don’t have that one.

So here I am, pencil in hand, drawing stuff.  While it feels like a new road for me, I have done some pencil drawing in museums during winter, because many museums don’t like the idea of watercolors being sloshed about near the exhibits.  This is when I work with watercolor pencils too, using a water brush. That was back in 2013-2014 though, and mostly I was still trying to figure out how to deal with basic proportions.  Light and shade was mostly foreign to me.

I was walking the other day and found some mushrooms on their last legs I did some tiny sketches of them.  It was hard because they were old and falling apart.  Somehow I related to them (grin).  Anyways, the highlight was that I found some milkweed pods and I brought some home with me.  This was done in my S&B Epsilon 9×12 sketchbook.

Drawing this was… well… peaceful.  I’ve mentioned that I draw slowly regardless of medium.  That’s how this kind of drawing is done.  Pencil books don’t spend time telling you to draw quickly (grin).  The time flew by, however, and I felt refreshed at the end.  On to the next page.  I hope you find my stumbling around with new media at least casually interesting and that you’ll laugh along with me.