The Scales Fall From My Eyes

I’ve watched Marc Taro Holmes smoosh color onto paper, shifting colors as he “built washes.”  I’ve heard Shari Blaukopf talk about creating mosaics of shifting colors on a surface.  And I’ve stared at hundreds of Liz Steel sketches (relevance later).  Apparently, I’ve got a pretty thick head because in spite of all this exposure to the concept, I didn’t get it.

No, it took a single comment in Liz Steel’s watercolour course (highly recommended) to get me to rethink watercolors.  I know little of watercolor use but the first thing shown in every watercolor book I’ve read is how to do a flat wash.  That’s how I’ve been applying watercolor…in flat, boring washes.  Apparently I learned that lesson well. But in a single statement, as Liz was discussing mixing on paper vs mixing on the palette, Liz said (paraphrasing), “I rarely use flat washes; I prefer adding texture in my washes.”  This simple statement somehow connected both of my neurons together and there was a flash of light, at least that’s how I remember it.

So, I started looking more closely and practicing the addition of variability into washes.  I still struggle with its application but I was pretty happy with this sketch.  It was an experiment to see if I could put a very textured, high contrast “wash” behind the focal point and sort of gradate both the texture and the color (lightening it) as I moved away from that focal point.  My table light was just an excuse for a background.

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

 

Cute Things Come In Small Packages

There are parts of Quebec City that were originally built in the early 20th Century but that have since been modernized, mostly by putting modern facades on the buildings.  The result is really boring.  But if you wander around in said neighborhoods you find the odd house that has been spruced up a bit but that retains its older shape and aesthetic.

Claudette found just such a house and we went to sketch it.  It was a bit cool but sunny but on the upside, we had a great place to sit as we sketched.  It was a small, simple house and didn’t take long to sketch but when I got out my watercolors I managed to dump half a bottle of water in my lap.  Suddenly it got very cool and I looked as though I’d wet my pants.  Life of a sketcher.

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

Back On St Vallier St.

We went back to St. Vallier with intent to sketch the Pignon Bleu, a building that I’ve always loved.  Only problem was that someone, some horrible someone, took a gorgeous building and “renovated” it into something they obviously thought to be an improvement.  Me, not so much.  Claudette and Yvan agreed so we ended up sketching a very unique building across the street.

My hand was not cooperating on this day.  Arthritis is an unpredictable thing but one thing is certain.  Having it in your drawing hand is frustrating.  Because of this I decided that I’d just draw the fancy balcony facade.  I still had some fun but I do wish you could buy replacement parts for old bodies.

Sketching Day In Levis, Quebec

Quebec City and Levis are separated from one another by the St. Lawrence River, which is a mighty river for sure, serving as the shipping highway between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.  It seems to be a considerable barrier for our sketching group as we rarely go to Levis in spite of it being a great place to sketch.  I could leave this description just the way it is, fully justifying our avoidance of that city, but the truth is, it’s only a 10-minute ferry boat ride so we really have no excuse.

We did go last Saturday, though, thanks to an invitation by Marie Gauthier, who owns/runs an atelier in Levis.  And we had a great time, though I spent way too much time talking to the new acquaintances.  It was a cold day and I was underdressed so there was a bit of shivering going on as I drew this scene.  I guess it’s my Arizona roots but I’m always underdressed for the cold.

Outdoor Sketching Has Finally Come To Quebec City

It’s the middle of May.  A couple days ago we had frost warnings and right now our kitchen table is covered with annuals (plants) because it’s too cold to put them outdoors.  But outdoor sketching season has started, though in fits and starts.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) softcover, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

We met on rue St. Vallier in front of an old house Claudette wanted to sketch.  I’d always thought it was a great subject myself.  So there we were, three of us in a line along the street, drawing this house.  I wonder if bears feel out of practice as they wander through the forest following exit from hibernation.  After a long winter and a string of health problems, I sure feel clumsy sitting on a stool, doing the sketcher up/down bobble-head motion that identifies sketchers.

Oops, I Did It Again

I’m hopeless when it comes to watercolor.  Partly this is because I don’t care enough about color but a heavy dose of ignorance about them adds to my problems with watercolor.  So, it’s not likely that I’ll be telling anyone how to do watercolors anytime soon, but I have lots of experience messing up a drawing with the addition of color, so I thought I’d show you an example and let you cast some stones in my direction.  Feel free to laugh.

Here is a sketch I did as we launched our “outdoor season.”  In fairness to me, it was a considerable struggle for me to get to the site and by the time I did my knee was throbbing and all I wanted to do was lay down (grin).  I did a simple drawing of a wooden statue resembling the front end of a ship.  Then, just for background, I did a really spartan outline of the building behind it for composition’s sake.  Then I proceeded to make a mess of the whole thing.

Note that there is no life in those colors.  Note also that I’ve covered the entire drawing with those lifeless colors.  This sketch would have been much better if I’d just left the background building white.  The principle subject wouldn’t have sunk so far into oblivion.  What a mess.  At least it’s an example of what NOT to do.

By the time I finished that sketch I was exhausted, but from the same location one could see the spire of what was a downtown fire station so we decided to draw it.  I was still in blah-color mode but I like this sketch anyways.  Most exciting of all is that we’re finally sketching outdoors.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) softcover, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

 

Going To See The Vampire Lady

I’ve mentioned the frequent relationship I’ve had with the medical profession over the past few months and one of those associations has been with the vampire lady at the hospital who insists on poking me to suck blood from my arm. She then hands me some vials in which to pee, a situation wrought with performance anxiety.

And so it was on Monday morning.  I had an appointment but that typically means that I end up sitting in a waiting room for 20 minutes or so before being called.  This is called sketching time.  I sat down to wait, got out my Emilio Braga (4×6) notebook and started scribbling poor facsimiles of the people doing the same thing I was… waiting.

But just as I was getting into it they called my name.  My response to this is something only a sketcher can know.  Most would be thrilled that they didn’t have to wait and I was too, sort of.  But a part of me was also saying “Hey, I’m sketching here” and I had to abandon my sketching almost before I started.  This was all I could accomplished so I wrote some words to fill up the holes (grin).

Sketching In A Garden Center

In Quebec City we have to use our imagination to identify places where we can sketch on location.  I don’t have any of that imagination stuff but I have friends who do and they came up with the idea of sketching in garden centers.  We’ve done it a number of times and it’s lots of fun.

Sadly, even as we entered May it was still too cold to sketch outdoors so we headed to the garden center.  I didn’t create any masterpieces this day (never do) but I sure had fun.  It was the first time I’d sat on my tripod stool in a long time.  That was something of a challenge as my knee becomes very unstable when I try to get my butt low enough to find the seat.  Getting up is a similar challenge.  I’ll have to do something about that.  I did get to try a taller stool (20″ WalkStool) and I may buy one as that made this simple task much easier.

Anyways, I started with a simple, and quick sketch of a garden gargoyle.  He (she?) was about a foot tall and without much detail but very proud.

I spent a lot of time wandering around the garden center, looking at the plants, the bright flashes of color and I even spent time looking at garden tools, bird feeders, etc.  The koi pond required that I watch the fish going round and round too.  Eventually, though, I got back to drawing and I immersed myself in a cloud of leaves that most would call a bonsai.  If I were a real artist I would have gotten out a brush and just indicated all those leaves but I’m in love with fountain pens and the lines they make so there I was, drawing leaves… lots of leaves.  I love the feeling of coming out of the meditative stupor induced by this sort of drawing.  It makes me want to do it again.

Are You Bugged By Bugs?

I’m not, but I am bugged by people who call insects bugs (grin).  I spent a good part of my life studying insects so I’m very comfortable around them and them being around me.  I just don’t see them the way most people do.

That said, it wasn’t always so.  Long before I became a biologist my dad moved our family from Ohio to Arizona.  It was great being away from snow, only having to own one set of clothes and not having to worry about what the weather was going to be like every day.  But when the monsoon season, the time that Arizona gets the majority of its very limited rainfall, something happened that upset this bliss.  Derobrachus hovorei appeared.  These “little” guys feed on the roots of Palo Verde trees as larvae but the adults are beetles (3″ long) and they’re powerful flyers.

I’ll never forget my fist encounter with them.  I was a just-barely-a-teenager, minding my business, when one of these things flew right into me.  It fell to the ground and immediately started buzzing.  It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen.  Now, a bunch of years later I know that they are harmless nectar feeders with only one thing on their mind – finding a mate, but at the time…

So what does this have to sketching?  Well, Derobrachus hovorei is a Cerambycid beetle, one of around 40,000 species of the Family Cerambycidae that share our planet.  This makes it the largest beetle family and they exhibit a correspondingly large degree of variability, providing an endless set of opportunities as sketching subjects.

See…you knew I’d get there, didn’t you (grin)?  Not only are their sizes and shapes quite varied, many of them look like tiny Christmas tree ornamets because of their bright, often metallic colors.  I just love them, so I drew one just for you.

Will It Be Worth The Wait?

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
into the future — Steve Miller Band

It’s the middle of April and I’m still waiting for spring to begin.  Baseball games all over the east coast have been cancelled due to snow, rain and worse. We’ve had a freezing-rain storm that finally blew out of town this morning.  I’m tire of it, aren’t you?  Sketching time just seems to be slipping away.

It’s hard knowing what to write in this blog because, well, the sketching opportunities are few and far between right now.  I’m heading to Montreal this weekend for the USK Montreal monthly sketchcrawl.  That’ll be fun.  In the meantime I thought I’d share with you the latest ten pages from my “scribbler.” This is Marc Taro Holmes’ term for the little sketchbook that every sketcher has (right?), where we doodle constantly.  My current scribbler is nicer than my habit as I’m using the Emilio Braga notebook that I talked about not long ago and I love it.  Scribbler sketches don’t generally see the light of day but maybe they should.  What do you think?  I guess that’s a subject for another blog.