Walking On New Ground

COVID isolation has resulted in my covering new artistic ground as a substitute for daily urban sketching jaunts in old Quebec and elsewhere.  But here in Quebec City things have relaxed a bit as Canada has gotten things under better control.  We’re all shopping in our masks but we can move almost freely outdoors.

A couple weeks ago the Artistes dans les parcs group was supposed to have an event at a small park not too far from where I live.  The plan was to paint the old alley ways in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the event was rained out.

The next week I decided to walk there just to see the area as I’d never sketched there before.  As I walked the street I looked down one of the alleys and saw a scene that grabbed me.  It wasn’t the subject (an old garage structure surrounded by trees, but light/shadow situation.   The trees on the left side of the alley were nearly black from being in shadow while the garage and the trees on the right of it were brightly lit.

I decided to try to paint it in gouache, a medium I’m trying to figure out. Frankly, I was in a bit over my head.  I’m still working on Shari Blaukopf’s light and shadow course and trying to get my head around painting light rather than stuff.  To do it with gouache was, well, intimidating.  But in the end the exercise was extremely informative and fun.

In hindsight the sketch would have benefited from my “moving in”, making the garage a larger piece of the puzzle.  I started with a minimal pencil sketch and then tried to do washes to mark out the various values.  I think this was a mistake, but only because I was in watercolor mode, which to me means I was working light to dark.  I’m sure that an experienced painter wouldn’t have a problem but quickly I realized that I would have been better off laying in the darks first.  I had a hard time adjusting lights and darks to fit the scene.  I found myself longing for some Alizarin because my Pyrrol Red just couldn’t take my cobalt/yellow green dark enough to match the light grays I’d used to represent the whites of the scene.  Looking back, I realize that my REAL problem was that I was ignoring my tube of ivory black gouache, which would have solved the problem quickly.  I just don’t think about black as being part of the arsenal.  Pretty dumb when using an opaque medium.

As I said, I had a lot of fun.  One little epiphany I had during this effort was about my artist brain.  When I’m working with ink and wash, I think about proportions and relative locations of things, but most of the rest (perspective, edges, etc) is handled automagically by my subconscious.  It’s that ‘in the zone’ thing we talk about.  I realized that while doing this painting, I was getting no help from my lizard brain.  I was having to think about everything and it was HARD!

I remember that feeling from years ago when I was faced with trying to learn to draw.  How could I think about all that stuff at once?  Truth is, you can’t.  It’s impossible.  You simply have to do it enough that some of it becomes automated to the point where all you have to do is think about how big to make stuff and where to put it.

What’s A Pencil?

When I came to sketching I’d been using fountain pens for all of my writing for decades.  It never occurred to me to use anything different to draw stuff.  So I’ve spent years using fountain pens for sketching and rarely have I tried anything else, though I’ve spent a bunch of time with watercolor pencils in museums when watercolors weren’t allowed.  But with the COVID scurge going on I’m doing more experiments.  I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with me doing more art in isolation rather than going out with friends to sketch some location.

I was at an Artistes dans les parcs event last week.  Even here I’m mostly by myself because the language barrier prevents a lot of interaction between myself and the rest of the participants.  Anyways, I was out on the shore of the St. Lawrence River sizing up some rocks to draw.  For whatever reason I got the idea to draw them with a pencil.  I dug around in my bag and came up with a short hunk of Blackwing 602.  Here’s the result.  Another result of this experiment is the realization that I’ve never learned how to draw with a simple, graphite pencil.

Strathmore 184lb Toned Tan paper, pencil

Squash On The Run

We’ve been having a lot of heat lately.  I guess it’s mother nature’s way of telling me that I complained too much when spring didn’t come soon enough.  Anyway, the result has been a lot of growth in our new vegetable gardens.

One result is that our butternut squash is attempting to escape.  It jumped the wall of the garden and is now running along its edge, using the garden wall to hide its actions.  I had to sketch quickly because it is growing fast, but here’s my capture of the action.

The River Runs Through It

It’s said that you can’t step in the same river twice, alluding to its transient nature.  I wonder though.  Can you see the same river twice?  You can if you sketch it first.

I’ve always chosen my sketching locations first by the prime directive, can I sit in the shade, and only secondarily make decisions about the subject.  These days, the “COVID days”, a third criterion has injected itself between these two parameters.  Can I be isolated from anyone walking nearby.  Normally I like people talking to me but not right now.  I want to be alone when I sketch so I can drop my mask and draw.

And so it was on this day.  If I exited the path through Parc Cartier-Brebeuf I could hide myself behind a tree and draw this little scene, with the Riviere St. Charles meandering slowly by.  I made the mistake of trying to draw the end of the big rock to depict the fact that it had been slabbed off at some point, making it look weird.  Guess what?  It looks weird in the sketch too 🙂

Clairefontane watercolor book, DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3008

Life In The COVID Lane

I’ve got to say that COVID isolation is both positive and negative for me.  It’s great that both my wife and daughter are home all the time, a real bonus for a retired old guy like myself.  It also gives me some time to get a bunch of house repairs done, a long list of which has accumulated during my two years of bad health.  And COVID isolation my wife time to rebuild and work in her garden which was neglected as she ferried me to doctors for those two years.

In spite of my telling her that it’s “not my hobby,” I’ve been spending more time with garden tools than with my fountain pens.  So I apologize for the lack of blog posts, but all this stuff is just how we’re coping with the stress of life in 2020.  COVID isolation has disrupted my “daily sketch” regime in a major way.  Oops.

Here’s a sketch of our garden staging area.  By that I mean that we went to a garden center, filled our vehicle with a jungle of plants and many of them are shoved into this area as they wait for garden beds to be created for them.  I drew this the day we finished a couple raised bed vegetable gardens and moved a whole bunch of plants from this area to their new home.  Hope you like it.