Can Shari Teach Me To Paint?

While the COVID pandemic generated a bunch of negatives, there have also been positives.  For instance, because Shari Blaukopf couldn’t travel or do her in-person workshops, she decided to produce a series of video watercolor workshops and made them available on her website.

I bought several of them and will probably buy more because the pricing makes them irresistable.  There’s only one problem.  Buying them didn’t make me a better painter.  And while watching the videos taught me a bunch of stuff, this didn’t improve my painting abilities much either.  Surprise, surprise.

Seems I’ve actually got to move a fuzzy stick around… a lot, if I’m going to improve and I’m not good with fuzzy sticks.  My approach to “painting” has been to do a complete pen and ink drawing and then to quickly add local color, being sure to stay “inside the lines.”  Most of the time, my paint detracts rather than enhances the original drawing. Painting Shari style isn’t like that at all (grin).

Shari starts each of her workshop studies with a pencil, drawing outlines of the major components.  I’m not much of a pencil-driver either, but a pointy stick is a pointy stick and so I have no trouble with this step.  Here’s my first attempt at painting a Victorian window:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not horrible, but it’s not even close to Shari quality.  My brushwork is sloppy.  I expected that (see above about my fuzzy stick management), but it’s the other stuff that suggests I wasn’t paying attention.

  1. Shari explains how to mix paint to the right consistency.  I was anything but consistent.
  2. Shari showed me how to create the dark red shadow color.  Mine isn’t dark enough cuz I got caught by the watercolor “drying up.”
  3. And oh my goodness.  Shari talks about painting linework with a rigger brush.  I couldn’t get a paint mix that was dark enough and yet wet enough to do it at all so I resorted to a fude pen instead.

I love how she presents these workshops, though, and with more time with my fuzzy sticks, I just might figure out how to do it.  Hope so.  Thanks to Shari for making these workshops available.  With my help I bet Shari CAN teach me to paint.

The Sketching Path We Travel

I’ve been pondering where I want to go with my art and thus, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the path I’ve taken to get where I am.  It’s funny, and maybe a bit odd, that I’ve been trying to get better at sketching and I haven’t done much of this kind of reflection.  Instead, I’ve plodded along as a guy “who draws stuff” and most of that drawing has been as a pen and ink guy who uses color to tint sketches, as so many urban sketchers do.

When I look back, though, I recall the early stages, where I was trying to draw things.  I would choose those things based upon what I was capable of drawing.  This is the stage where new sketchers say things like:

“I can’t draw buildings because I don’t understand perspective.”

“How do you draw a car?”

“Gardens are hard because they are complicated.”

“How do you draw trees?”

Eventually, sketchers learn that what they’ve been told over and over is true.  Everything is just a shape.  This changes things forever once we adopt this view.  It takes some time (for me it was counted in years), but you shift from looking at things and start seeing and drawing shapes.

The draw shapes path causes a change in what you try to draw because now, anything is a good subject, not just things you know how to draw.  A nose is no different from a can of soup to a shape sketcher.  For me, this didn’t come easy (maybe I haven’t even completed this shift) but it’s so liberating.

When it does occur, however, you need a new criterion for choosing a subject.  We all like to believe that we choose subjects based upon some high-art goal but in my experience that’s rarely the case.  In fact, I’d say that most sketchers, once they work with shapes, more often choose a subject based upon how much time they have, can I see it from a shady spot, and with a dose of “what’s my style?” mixed into the analysis.

And this is where we come back to me.  I’ve always been a guy who loves fountain pens and who worries a lot about proportions and relative sizes.  Translate that to mean, I’m not good at “loose” or “simplification.”  Marc Holmes has chided me into trying to draw loose and quickly a number of times.  I’ve tried.  Maybe I’ll get there some day but my sense is that I  simply like the process of capturing proper proportions, angles, etc.  All of this in spite of the fact that I’d love to be able to draw in the loose, “painterly” (his word) style he uses.

And so when I choose my subject, largely according to how much time I have, I have to choose a smaller, more simple subject than Marc would for the same amount of time.  I’m just not good enough to do it any other way.  Not a bad thing and to quote Clint Eastwood, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Here’s an example where I didn’t choose well.  Heck, I didn’t choose at all.  We were out on a walk, wanted to sit in the shade and I found myself looking at the butt end of a large statue of Simon Bolivar on his horse.  At most I’d have five minutes to draw it as we rested.  In reality, given my sloth-like approach to sketching, it would have taken an hour to do a decent sketch.  BTW, this will be the last of my 5-min sketches that you’ll see.  This one was a good example of what I am talking about here but I won’t abuse your sense with any more of them (grin).

How do you make your subject choices?  Are you lucky enough to have moved beyond all this and so can draw anything in no time?

Getting Back To Normal?

Before COVID, and before all my leg problems, my life was simple and thus, returning to it should be equally simple.  I’m finding it hard, however.

My daughter did return to Montreal last week so we’re back to being empty nesters.  Chantal is still working from home, which I hope is a prelude to her retirement.  And I’m getting so that walking is actually fun again.  So it should be easy, right?

But my head isn’t in the “old” place right now.  I used to get up, eat breakfast and head out the door to sketch.  I’ve yet to do that simple behavior once.  Instead, Chantal and I are walking… a lot.  We’re getting in 6-8 kilometers a day and when we get back from that, exhaustion is near at hand.  So, we generally fix some lunch and I watch a recorded Blue Jays game or the Olympics.  Also, there are endless home maintenance tasks that were postponed because of all the limping I was doing.

So I haven’t been doing much sketching.  I have started carrying a small sketchbook when we walk and sometimes there’s time for a quick, 5-min sketch while we sit and take a break.  It’s good practice and it’s getting me back in the mood, but it’s like eating a single potato chip – not very satisfying.  Here’s a couple that I have done recently.

 

I’m Back In The Game…Sort Of

Slowly but surely I’m getting back into sketching.  It’s amazing how out of practice once can get at normal walking after spending nearly four years with a limp (grin).  Yesterday I went on my training walk by walking with my daughter to an appointment she had not far from our home.  While she was doing her thing, I did this quick sketch, using a fude pen.

I sketched very quickly (some my say sloppily) and so I had time to throw a bit of color on it before she returned.  I suppose this is a landmark sketch for me as it’s the first in a very long time.  Hopefully I can get back to a daily routine.  If there’s one thins COVID and my bad knee has taught me it’s the power of routine to keep your skills up.  Mine are way down right now.  Feels real good, though, to click on Location Sketching as a tag for this sketch.

Book Review: Adebanji Alede’s Addictive

Here’s an interesting fact.  One in five Africans are Nigerian.  Nigeria is a big country. Its most lucrative export is oil, but they’ve exported something even better in the creative dynamo called Adebanji Alede.

Adebanji says he’s addicted to the creation of art.  He is fond of oil painting on location and loves sketching people on the streets and in trains.  He’s had a YouTube channel for many years where he presents his art and artistic ideas as well as energetic attempts to motivate others to be as addicted as he is to sketching.

Early in 2020 he published a book titled The Addictive Sketcher which is a superb text for anyone wanting to learn how to draw quickly and in a loose, but accurate style.  I’ve read it twice so far and highly recommend it.

This month he’s followed up with a second book titled Addictive.  This isn’t a traditional how-to book; it’s better.  Addictive is 275 pages (8.5″ x 8.5″) of Adebanji’s blood, sweat, and tears.  It’s the entire contents of his over-stuffed sketchbooks.  What makes it so useful, at least to me, is that he works with several mediums (ballpoint, pencil, fineliners, oil pencils) and adds color and shading using a small set of Tombow markers.  Studying the gazillion sketches in this book is a treat.

In true Adebanji style, though, that wasn’t enough.  He’s done a series of a dozen or more videos associated with the book where he takes an example from it and recreates it right before your eyes, discussing the order of events as well as the whys and wherefores of his creations.  So, if you’re even slightly interested in gaining the ability to draw people in the wild, you need this book.  Here’s some examples from his book.  Each of the 275 pages is like these.