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.

 

 

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.

A Little Piece Of Nature

My wife has been way too nice to me as I’ve hobbled through life for the past few weeks.  I feel guilty about the burden I’ve placed upon her, but I’m grateful that she’s been there for me.  She’s very special.

A couple days ago she came home with a wad of nature in her hand.  She put it on the table and said, “I thought you might like to draw this.”  She is a sly one.  She knows I’ve been fighting motivation and energy levels but she also knows that when she gives me something I feel a compulsion to draw it.  She also knew that it would only remain draw-worthy for a couple days.

And so, I drew it.  I decided to skip pen hatching, one of my favorite things, and rely upon watercolor for shading and once again I demonstrated how little understanding of watercolor.  I should stick with pen (grin).

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.

Tom Petty: 1950 – 2017

I’m not one to have heros or to worship celebrity.  But I am one who appreciates people who are the best at what they do and Tom Petty was one of those.  As I write this I’m listening to I Won’t Back Down, a tune that was meaningful to me at a time in my life when meaning was important and hard to come by.  I’m not much of a portrait artist but I felt the need to draw this.  Rest in peace Tom.

 

New Field Notes Format – Dime Novel Edition

Some know Field Notes as a company that produces thin, 3.5×5.5 notepads in a series of ‘themes.’  Most of the time these notebooks come with lines, graph or dot-grid paper but once in a while they produce a series with blank pages and these are great for use as small quick-sketch notebooks.  Most famous, thanks to Tina Koyama, is the Sweet Tooth series that had blank pages and came in red, yellow and blue paper books.  Tina has done, by my count, a zillion or so sketches in the red ones.

A recent release by Field Notes may be the most useful notebook yet for sketchers.  No, they won’t replace my Stillman & Birn books but for quick-sketches they’re just dandy.  The release is called the Dime Novel Edition and reflects the format (4.25 x 6.5) of dime novels of the early 1900s.  The paper is blank, except for a small page number in the upper right corner.

Instead of their typical staple-bound 48-page form, this book has three signatures (72pages) that are sewn together and then wrapped with a heavy cardboard cover.  To sweeten the pot, Field Notes uses really nice 70# paper that has just enough tooth to make it nice for drawing pencils and great for fountain pen.  I’ve only done a bit of testing but I saw no evidence of bleedthrough with this paper though there is a bit of ghosting.

I find the size ideal, mostly because it’s very thin – about 1/4″ thick, light and yet large enough that if you draw across the gutter you have a 6,5 x 8.5 page to work on.  Oh…and if you go through it, pressing each page open (the book handles this quite easily), it will also lay flat.

The 70# paper does limit what you can do with water, but if you don’t slop on too much water, you can use watercolor as well.  Watercolor pencils seem to work particularly well, but again, you need to keep the water applications light or you’ll get some buckling of the paper.

The books are sold as a 2-pack for $12.95.  Page count here exceeds the total pages contained in the 3-packs of the 3×5 Moleskine books that many use for this purpose and the paper here is far superior so if you carry such a notebook with you, give these a look.

 

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

Last Trip To Ottawa For A While

We made our final trip to Ottawa for a while.  Our daughter just graduated from University of Ottawa and we moved her to Montreal where she’s entering law school at McGill.  I gotta tell ya, I’m too old to be moving from school to school.  Been there, done that, even have souvenir t-shirts.

But since we were there, it seemed only appropriate that I should do some sketching.  The first chance came when we agreed to meet our daughter in Rideau River Park.  I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called but it runs along the Rideau River and Chantal and I had parked our butts on a bench while we waited, so its Rideau River park to me.

I got out a Stillman & Birn 6×6 Beta spiral book and just started quick-sketching everything and anything.  No rhyme or reason to it, which is fun sometimes.  Find a white space on the paper and fill it – easy peasy.  Here’s a couple of the pages I did.

I drew stuff; I drew people, and I even drew some of the birds on the river.  But then my daughter showed up and there were other things to do.  We hadn’t seen her in a while.

A couple days later, Chantal and I went down to the Parliament area and sat on a picnic bench in the shade.  I’m showing this next sketch to make a point to those who feel “I’m not good enough” to sketch around other people.  I was scribbling this teeny, tiny sketch (3×4) in the tiny sketchbook I mentioned in a previous blog post.  I’ve been having fun doing these really tiny sketches but they’re really crude and mostly just warm up sketches. Even that gives them too much credential.

Anyways, a really nice lady from Italy asked if she could sit because she was waiting to take the Parliament tour.  Chantal started talking with her, she saw my sketch and got genuinely excited about it.  She took a photo of it to show to her friends.  My point is, people are amazed that anyone can draw anything.  You don’t have to be good to sketch in public.  You just have to sketch in public for people to think you’re good (grin).

I started drawing this next sketch because we were sitting right near the corner of a building called East Block on the Parliament grounds and we  were on a hill, affording an interesting view where I wasn’t having to look up a lot to see the top of the building.

While I was working, a Chinese family from Manitoba came to sit.  They were waiting for a tour too.  Their son, a young teenager was excited to see someone drawing and showed us a couple of the sketches he’d done.  He wanted to be an animator and was making a good start at it.  They watched as I did this sketch and I confess that half a dozen people asking questions was a bit distracting, but Chantal fielded many of them so we sort of formed a temporary clan as I sketched and they waited for their tour.

Chantal and I were both getting hungry so we headed off to forage.  Once sustained we decided to go sit in the center of the busiest intersection in Ottawa.  Well, sorta.  There is a triangular piece of land near Parliament with a lot of traffic passing on all sides.  This place is filled with statues, including a memorial to Canadian military actions complete with honor guard.

I drew the Laura Secord statue, the famous candy lady.  Some defend her statue status with stories of her running for kilometers to warn the British of an impending attack by Americans during the war of 1812 but I know its the chain of chocolate stores that brought her fame.  It just had to be, though most deny she had anything to do with the candy business.

When I finished that sketch I was getting pretty tired but I quickly draw this part of Chateau Laurier, a posh hotel that’s nearby.  All sorts of errors in this one but it was a fitting end to the sketching day.  When I was done we headed off to meet our daughter for dinner.

The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get

I shouldn’t write titles like that.  Some of my Francophone buddies will be saying, “Ca va dire quoi?” and file it away as further evidence that I’m a crazy person.  Apologies.

It’s been a week since I’ve posted.  The reason, in part, is because I’ve been gone for a week, to Ottawa and Montreal.  While I had to share my sketching time with other activities, I’ve got scanning to do before I can post my sketches from that trip.  I’ve also got sketches from before the trip.  I’m so disorganized at this point.

In the meantime, here’s a sketch I did before I left.  It’s a small shed and basement access to the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the home of the St. Charles River park association.  Everyone draws the front of this beautiful, multi-gabled house from the front, including me, but I thought it fitting to give a bit of love to the lesser portions of the building.  Besides, I could sit in the shade.  Back soon, with more.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×6 spiral)