Spud Sketching In The Afternoon

Winter is tough on people who like to sketch on location.  We can go to museums, sketch people in coffee shops, and maybe even visit a mall, but there are days when the weather is so bad that we can’t even do that.  What to do, what to do.

Those of you who follow Tina Koyama might have an answer.  You draw fruits and vegetables and since Seattle agreed to take some of the snow headed to Quebec, that’s what she’s been doing.  Recently she ventured beyond bananas, apples and garlic and drew a potato.

I’ve drawn apples, bananas, garlic, pumpkins, peppers, etc. (we get lots of snow), but I’ve never drawn a potato.  Following in Tina’s footsteps, today I drew a potato, or rather two potatoes since that was the road less traveled.

Stillman & Birn Beta (10×7), Pilot Kakuna, DeAtramentis Document Black, Daniel Smith watercolors

I Went Sketching – Yippee!

As I look out my window I can only barely see the house across the street.  This is because we’ve got a rip-roaring blizzard going on.  This winter has been a doozy thus far.  We’ve already had 11-12 feet of snow and it’s only mid-February.

Many of us have gotten some chuckles listening to the people in Seattle and Vancouver try to deal with snowfall and I include myself among them.  Sure, they’re not used to it, aren’t equipped for it, and are even somewhat surprised by the snowfall, I suppose, but it’s fun to poke fun at them nevertheless.  I’m just glad they took some snow off our hands as we’ve got so much my snowblower is having a hard time throwing the snow to the top of the snowbanks that line my driveway.

But it wasn’t snowing on Monday and Yvan and I headed for the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen offices.  They have an amazing exhibit of taxidermy animals and it’s a delightful place to sketch.

My hand was hurting a bit, but my real problem was that I’d lost my ability to “see.”  Nothing was automatic and I struggled to see the shapes and volumes of the coyote skull I decided to draw.  I should have chosen something more simple.  I guess I should have known that “out of practice” would include all aspects of drawing, but I figured that once I trained my brain, it would stay trained.  Then again, I forget where I put my keys so…  Anyway, here’s my version of a coyote skull, which has an eye socket drawn way too small.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Pilot Metropolitan, DeAtramentis Black

I took a short break to get a drink and rub my hand a bit.  Then I sat down to draw a duck.  I felt a bit more confident by this point and I didn’t need to second guess myself so much.  We’d decided to stop at noon for lunch and so I rushed a bit to finish this one but I was happy, and a bit tired.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

We ate lunch with the idea that we would return to sketching but we didn’t.  My hand was hurting and Yvan suggested that we call it a day since it was my first day back to location sketching.  Instead, we decided to go have coffee where we talked about composition, tactics for blocking in drawings and identifying simple shapes in a scene.  We topped off the day with a stop at an art store and then I got to look over a bunch of Yvan’s art.  The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

Learning To Draw Again

I’d like to begin by thanking all of you who take the time to post your sketches on the internet.  Without them, the last year would have been miserable for me.  I haven’t been able to draw myself and your art kept me inspired and hopeful that I would, some day, be able to return to creating sketches of my own.

Those of you who have followed my blog (both of you) know that I’ve been dealing with some health issues for the past year.  I’m happy to report that I may be seeing some light at the end of this long tunnel.

I’ve been poked and prodded endlessly, CT-scanned, eco-grammed, candy-grammed and other miscellaneous-grams in an attempt to find out why my inflammation blood factors were off the charts.  This has been terribly frustrating and it didn’t solve my problems, which amounted to me having no energy, loss of appetite, loss of 25 lbs, and joints that hurt constantly.  Many days I had a hard time walking but the real problem was that my left hand wouldn’t allow me to draw.

But after they eliminated every disease known to man (the silver lining is that I’ve had the most exhaustive physical imaginable and passed all test(ssssss), I was handed to a rheumatologist, a wonderful woman who is now my hero.  We spent two hours together as I received more prodding and a lot of joint squeezing, bending and stretching.  By my estimate a gazillion questions were asked and answered.  Then it was time for a cortisone shot in my particularly bad knee and fluid was drained for analysis.  Oh…and drugs were prescribed to knock down my general inflammation.

Roughly two weeks later, that’s working.  The annoying cane I’ve been hobbling around on is starting to collect dust and my hand(s) are getting so I can think about drawing again.  I still have a hard time using my thumb in any way to hold a pen though.  I’ve been drawing endless numbers of circles and ellipses in an attempt to eliminate an almost lumpy nature to those objects as I try to find a pen I can hold so those glitches don’t occur while I draw.

I’m also dabbling with painting shapes/volumes and relying less on line to sort of skirt around these problems, though I’m horrible at it and still confess to enjoy pen driving too much to be happy with that approach.  Nevertheless, my energy has returned, I’m walking and I’m ready to fly.  Yvan and I are heading for a sketching session Monday morning and I’m quite excited about it.

I’ll leave you with this simple, poor drawing of an onion.  I did a simple, lumpy outline and then did the paint, adding some more lines when everything was dry.  It was done in my quick-sketch (ie – cheap) notebook and it was like painting on a blotter but I enjoyed the fact that shapes were being made, which is the important thing.

Yet Another Tiny Palette

I don’t know why but we urban sketchers are almost obsessed with the notion of creating tiny palettes.  I’ve made a bunch of them, though each time I’m disappointed, mostly because there’s not enough mixing area and I find them difficult to hold compared to my larger palette that has a nifty ring on the back I can shove my thumb into.

And yet, here I am again… I just can’t help myself.  When my buddy Yvan made one of “these”, I had to follow suit and I thought I’d share it with you.

Unlike the traditional Altoids box, this one is made from a case for reading glasses.  As such, it’s long and thin and I think it might fit my particular needs.  To “create” it all I did was paint the lid with white acrylic paint and stick 8 half pans into it using blue-tack.  Instant tiny palette.

I did add one more thing, or maybe two things. You can see in the bottom view that I’ve glued a couple small seed magnets to the underside.  These are very handy because I often draw on a 8.5 x 11 surface of a thin, metal-wood surface.  It helps corral things into a unit I can hold with one hand, whether I’m standing or sitting.  I can attach single-sheets to it using magnets or, using a support board rest for landscape or portrait sketchbooks.  And now, I can attach my tiny palette to it as well.

 

 

 

Doodling My Way Into Winter

My sketching over the past month has been mostly doodles done out of desperation and then only when my hands are working.  I’ve put my free time to good use, however, revisiting art books I’ve wanted to re-read.  Don’t you find that second reads of art books reveal information you didn’t get the first time through?  I sure do, particularly if I wait several months worth of sketching experience before the re-read.

Anyways, it never seems that doodles are worthy of blog posts so my posts have become fewer and farther between.  I did get out a couple times this week, though, so I’m reporting that I finally got to sketch in a more formal way, though ‘formal’ is exaggerated here.

My first stop was the 3d mask exhibit I talked about at the beginning of the month.  I went there with our sketching group and while my hands were less than happy about it, I drew one of the masks.  I confess to a certain frustration drawing these masks and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ve been trying to turn them into a real face, when in fact they are somewhat alien because the tops of the head are removed, the eyes closed, and in general they’re just too smooth everywhere.  So, I figured I’d go with the flow on this one, producing the alien creature that it is, exaggerating it a bit with watercolor.  The mask is lit from below and excepting that it’s white rather than blue, this is pretty much what it looks like.  Kinda spooky don’t you think?

Once  a year we all get together and draw holiday cards in one form or another.  This year was no exception though I confess that I wasn’t much in a holiday mood that day.  It was a lot of fun, though, because there were a bunch of us creating art so I could see what everyone else was doing while I puttered away myself.  For this I always use Strathmore’s Watercolor Cards, which are convenient.  I never did get around to writing the obligatory Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on them.

Sketching With The Pilot Kakuno

For the past couple years, my sketching tools of choice have been the Platinum 3776 and a Pilot/Namiki Falcon.  Both are excellent sketching pens but a bit on the pricey side.  I’m a pen nerd so such expense was “justified” simply cuz I wanted one but the reality is that one doesn’t have to spend a lot of money on a fountain pen to get good results.

Evidence for this comes in how many sing the praises of the Platinum Preppy that may not win any beauty contests but it only costs $4 and works really well.  I remember a time when everyone recommended a Lamy Safari to newcomers because it was the only game in town when it came to inexpensive pens but since then we’ve seen the release of the Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Eco, Platinum Plaisir among others.  Each of these is less expensive and at least the equal to the Safari so choices abound.

I want to talk about the Pilot Kakuno, specifically about the recent release of the completely transparent version, though it comes in a couple of colors as well.  There were two things that caused me to investigate this pen.   I love transparent pens because, as a street sketcher, it’s nice to be able to quickly check the amount of ink in a pen before I go out the door.

Mostly, however, this pen interested me because it was from Pilot and I love Pilot steel nibs.  They are smooth line makers, even when you use fine nibs like I do.  Second, they can typically provide lines that are very fine or a couple times that width with a little bit of pressure.   The low price point ($14) made it easy for me to scratch my curiosity itch and so I ordered a fine nib version of the pen.

I loved it from the start.  This pen may be the lightest pen I’ve used and it fits my hand beautifully when posted.  Like all of the dozen or so Pilot pens I own, this one works flawlessly with the DeAtramentis or Platinum pigmented inks I feed my sketching pens.  I was a happy camper but I was about to get happier.

I decided to order a medium nib version because I had a medium nib Metropolitan that I enjoyed a lot for quick-sketching.  The reason is that the medium nibs provide width variation from a Micron 01 with light pressure to a Micron 03 with a bit of pressure.  In addition to that, if you flip the pen upside down you can get hairline lines from the same nib.  Since I’ve received this pen I’ve used almost nothing else.

I got happier still when I solved the one problem I had with the Kakuno.  It has no clip and I need a clip on my pens.  Happiness came, however, when I discovered that the inexpensive clip sold by Kaweco for their pens fits beautifully on the Kakuno cap.  I immediately ordered a silver one for my fine nib pen and a gold one for my medium pen.  I now have a color-coded set of these pens and I’m thrilled.

Struggling With Pencil And Other Laments

Pat Roberson wrote to me asking if she was somehow missing my posts.  I was glad she was missing my posts, but had to confess that they were being missed because I wasn’t writing them.  If I could write about CT scans, doctor visits, constant blood and urine testing, and a bit of depression, I’d have lots to write about.  As it is, however, writing about urban sketching would leave me empty-handed right now.

So, I’m going to talk about the little bit of sketching I’ve been trying to do, even though it’s sketching I’m unfamiliar with and even more problematic it’s being done with a tool I don’t understand at all … a pencil.

As the weather turned cold and my leg didn’t get any better I realized that this winter I was not going to be able to be an urban sketcher.  I decided to view this as an opportunity (I brainwash myself regularly).  I told myself that this would be a great time to set my pens aside and pick up a pencil in an attempt to master the tool.  Everyone else starts with pencil but I was a pen-driver when I came to sketching and so all of my art baby steps were done with pen.

Further I decided that I would learn my pencil skills by drawing portraits, either from photos or from plaster casts.  This was (is?) probably foolhardy because my least favorite sketching subject is people, but I need practice in this area too, so while the wind, rain and snow keeps me indoors, I might as well “get out of my comfort zone” and learn something new.

I started by drawing a bust of Mozart, a cast I picked up at a flea market in a small town east of Quebec City.  Only an artist drives along a road to a sketching location and has to turn around to visit the flea market because they saw a white head sticking up from one of the tables.

Anyway, it seems I got off to a bad start.  I made a rank beginner mistake.  “I was just learning so I don’t need good materials” was my thought and so I grabbed a pad of cheap watercolor paper that I’d rejected for use long ago and started drawing.  It was too grainy for a pencil drawing but it didn’t matter; I was “just learning” after all.  I struggled to get an even tone, partly because of my lack of skill but also because of that paper.  And then I realized that I’d drawn Mozart’s eye too large so I tried to erase it.  The paper immediately pilled and I had a REALLY rough spot where the eye used to be.  I tried to fix it but was a fool’s errand.

This frustrated me to the point of giving up, realizing that I was fighting the paper more than the pencil.  So, here is my partially drawn Mozart, shown here with a black eye caused when he told Haydn that major-minor theme variations were silly.  I’ll have to draw him again.

 

Sketching The Alleyways Again

The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location.  But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching.  This, and the smile on my face, was the result.

A Bit Of Eye Training

Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business.  We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities.  This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing.  I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.

For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions.  Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’  The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.

I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski.  I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.

The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree.  Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw.  I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles.  Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details.  I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.

With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink.   It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be.  It’s very liberating and fun.

I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less.  The ink portion was more like twenty minutes.   Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate.  Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way.  Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it.  Besides, it’s fun.  Here’s the result.  It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.

 

 

 

Artistes Des Parcs Visit Domain Cataraqui

Denise Bujold is doing an amazing job of organizing events for us to attend.  While most art groups are held together by the love of a particular medium or way of working, this one is held together with smiles.  It seems everyone is working in a different medium, some carry easels, others tripod stools.  But everyone shows up with smiles on their faces and that’s all we need.

This week we assembled at Domain Cataraqui, which at one time was a huge estate.  I guess it’s still a huge estate but now it serves several purposes, most central of which is a cooking school.  For a sketcher, there is a large cluster of unique architecture and gardens that are all surrounded by forest.  Oh…and it’s quiet, one of my favorite things.

Yvan and I arrived a bit early and we chose an area to start sketching.  I decided to do a larger sketch of a view of the building complex and because I’m slower than molasses as a sketcher, it took me until lunch to complete it.

Everyone else had set up and were painting on the other end of the estate so I headed up there to take part in the smiles, some chit-chat, and maybe some lunch.  It was a gorgeous day and sitting in front of a multi-million dollar mansion just felt right.