In The Tunnel But There’s Light Ahead…

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… I just hope it’s not a train.

 

Hi guys, it’s me, Larry.  Really, I’m not dead.  I know it’s been forever since I’ve written a blog post but gosh a lot has happened since my last post.  I’ve been dealing with so many doctors I have a hard time remembering their names but the results have been really positive.

Except for all the snow and cold I’m, as they say in the military, good to go.  I can even walk up/down stairs again.  More importantly, except for really bad arthritis days, my drawing hand is cooperative, though it’s very out of practice which is frustrating.  I even think the steady drone of doctor visits is coming to an end (I had six of them in the last eight days).

I’m way behind in Liz Steel’s watercolour class but it’s fantastic.  I just have a LOT of homework to make up.

I wanted to post this update, though, to let you know that I’m still alive.  Here’s a quick sketch I did to see if I could “loosen up” as everyone seems to hold as the highest form of art.  I have a hard time looking at “loose” coming from my hand.

I’ll leave you with this sketch of an old window.  It shows my out of tune hand all too clearly but I’m getting back into the swing of things so maybe I can call myself a sketcher again.

Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook, Pilot Cavalier pen

The Struggling Artist

Hi everyone.  Seems like forever since I’ve done a blog post.  Maybe I should start writing about doctor visits.  That would give me more than enough to talk about (grin).

In the movies, a struggling artist is one who is destitute, often a drunk, or worse.  In the fine arts world the poverty remains but these struggling artists all remain pure to their art, not compromising anything for commercial success.  In the sketching world, more often than not a struggling artist is one who has a hard time remaining motivated.  I’ve never understood why that is.  Anyways, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not a struggling artist of a different sort, one beaten down by health issues.

I was supposed to go sketching on Tuesday morning.  I was excited because we were going to sketch in the Christmas store in old Quebec City.  This building used to be a multi-floor bookstore in the 40s and 50s, a gathering place for those who cherished the written word.  Sometime along the way, however, it became a year-round Christmas store that is filled to the brim with decorations.  With Christmas behind us, or well ahead of us depending upon your view, we were granted access to sketch within its walls on Tuesday.

On Sunday I decided to do a quick sketch of its exterior from a photo I had of the place.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on it and kept the sketch both simple and without a lot of contrast because I envisioned it receding into the background of a two-page spread of brightly colored ornament sketches.  Unfortunately, when Tuesday rolled around I was having what is now referred to at our house as a “bad” day and my knee limited my mobility and my left hand and wrist were nearly locked up and quite painful.  I couldn’t go.  I was a struggling artist.  I share with you the sad result.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5)

On the upside, I’m enjoying Liz Steel’s Watercolour Course which has just started.  Thus far I’m covering paper with blotches of color, spending time trying to create more texture in my washes, and even doing some small, horrible sketches using paint only.  I really do love Liz’s courses.  Her Foundations course is the course I wish existed when I started trying to sketch and this new watercolor course is causing me to investigate watercolors in a new light, and I definitely need some new light when it comes to watercolors.

A Sketch Of A Statue Of A Statue

Qin Shi Huangdi, who proclaimed himself the first emperor of China, built one of the wonders of the world when he ordered the creation of a veritable army of clay soldiers, horses, armaments, and a whole lot of other stuff.  And since these treasures were excavated from his tomb, statues of them have been created and sold to those of us fascinated by these relics.  I own one such statue, albeit it’s a small one.

It’s been a while since I’ve drawn in my slower-than-molasses style and I was feeling the need for it.  I didn’t really take as much time as I probably should have but it was nice to sit, comfortably, and draw with some Miles Davis in the background.  This sort of thing reminds me of the compromises we street sketchers make by sitting on tripod stools while juggling our materials in our laps (grin).

I start this sort of drawing with a mechanical pencil.  I started by locating key parts of the figure, thinking only of lengths, angles and locations.  Once I’m convinced that I’ve got the pieces and their locations on paper, I move on to fountain pen for the real drawing.

Some say “never use pencil..just go for it.”  That’s fine, and I often do that myself.  But it’s really liberating to know that the parts and their locations are defined because I can concentrate on drawing the arm without having to think about its relation to the head.

There’s another reason I like this approach.  The pencil step I outlined above requires cognitive functions as elements are compared, sized, and located.  Once done, however, I can let go, relying upon my visual cortex (that I work desperately to train) feed my motor cortex with info that guides my hand.  No thought is necessary; I just do.

Once I did the basic drawing I made a decision not to hatch the shading but rather to use watercolor for the darks and colored pencil for the highlights.  I was pretty happy with that decision.  The Stillman & Birn Nova paper handled both well.

A Sneak Peak At Stillman & Birn Nova Paper

Did you get excited when Stillman & Birn announced their new Nova series of sketchbooks?  I sure did.  Most people know that I’m a fan of S&B but, like everyone else, when I wanted to draw on toned paper, I was stuck with 60-80lb paper with little or no sizing.  This stuff was ok for line sketching but any attempts at watercolor and the paper buckled, pigments dulled as they were sucked into the paper, and you couldn’t manipulate the watercolors the way you can on a better paper.

But one day I got a call from S&B, asking if I’d like to try out their new toned paper line.  I pondered my answer carefully.  Microseconds went by as I came up with my careful worded response.  “Heck yeah!  Bring it on.”  And they sent me some single sheets of their tan, gray and black papers.

Which brings us to now.  These papers will change the way watercolorists think about toned papers for two reasons, both having to do with the fact that physically these papers are like S&B Alpha white and cream papers.

They are much heavier than other toned papers.  I don’t have any data on these papers, but they are the same thickness as Alpha paper, suggesting they are around 100lb (150gsm).  In any case, the extreme buckling I’ve experienced from other toned papers just doesn’t happen.

The papers are properly sized, so you can actually work watercolors on them.  Those who have experienced Alpha papers know that large-scale wet-n-wet is probably not the idea approach but these papers can handle a fair amount of water.  The pigments can be moved around.  You can charge into another color. You can lift pigments from these papers.  The colorsl remain bright on these papers.

I started testing by doing what I typically do with toned papers, draw with pencil or fountain pen.  Very quickly I realized that  this was lots of fun but not really a challenge for these papers.  They were almost screaming “put some water on me,” and so I did.

I’d like to provide a detailed, blow by blow on the process of getting used to these papers but, for me, it was like working on my typical Alpha and Beta papers.  If anything, I might have used a slightly thicker mix to achieve the results you see but I’m not even sure that’s true.

Above you can see a bit of buckling. I soaked the area inside the building outline and applied the color wet-n-wet. Because the exterior remained dry this small amount of buckling took place. What I did here simply would not be possible with other toned papers I’ve used.

 

 

 

Stillman & Birn says that actual sketchbooks with Nova papers will be available sometime in August.  I don’t know if that means softcover, hardcover, or both but I know I’m going to get in line to get some.  Stillman & Birn will shake the world of toned papers with these sketchbooks.  Thanks, S&B.

 

 

 

 

 

The Virtues Of Sketching With A Pencil

People who follow my blog know that I’m a pen guy.  I used fountain pens long before I started trying to draw so it just seemed natural that I should use one as my drawing tool.  In fact, I was told that this was THE way to learn to draw by those who hung out in sketching groups.  Working with pen, it was said, would make me see better, make better decisions, improve my hand-eye coordination, and a whole slew of other great benefits.

Five years later I’m still using a fountain pen as my principal drawing tool.  More importantly, I can better assess all those well-meaning people who were advocating the use of ink to learn to draw.  And you know what?  I don’t think they were talking about ink at all.  They were talking about erasers.  They were talking about being sure about where you wanted to put a line before you put it.  They were talking about not spending a lot of time erasing and replacing lines.  When they said ink would improve my ability to see, they were really saying “If you know you can’t erase, you’ll pay more attention before you make a line.”

I suppose, they were right, BUT that is not the whole story.  There is room for pencil in the drawing process, even if you ultimately use fountain pens as your primary drawing tool.  For instance, I use a pencil when I start most drawings.  I use it to generate layout lines, to evaluation locations, major angles, and object sizes BEFORE I start thinking about drawing actual objects.  This is a step that pro artists may do in their heads but they are nevertheless doing it.  Less skilled folks, like me, need the pencil lines to evaluate those relationships and correct those they got wrong BEFORE they actually start drawing the outlines of the objects they’re trying to capture.  Most beginners skip this step completely.  I might talk about this at a later date but today I want to talk about a more fundamental reason to use a pencil to actually draw.

Using ink causes people to concentrate mostly on outline.  Whether it is buildings or people, basic lessons of contour drawing are very evident and, for the most part, that’s where the process of drawing ends for most people.  They may follow up with watercolor or maybe even hatching but these are done as after-the-fact processes once the contours are all drawn.

But if you draw with a pencil you start thinking more about form and less about outline.  Folds in clothes become areas of tone rather than a single line.  Curves become gradients of tone, or they should as the surfaces change their angles with respect to the light.  If you’ve ever tried to turn a circle into a sphere with a fountain pen you know how difficult this is, but with a pencil it’s a quite natural thing to do.

Because of this, drawing with a pencil will teach you more about seeing and creating tonal variation than will using a fountain pen.  You’ll concentrate more on 3-dimensional form rather than outline.  In short, you’ll start seeing in a different way and in doing so, even your fountain pen drawing will improve.

Because of this, I try to draw something in pencil every once in a while.  I always find it a struggle because I’m a left-handed sketcher who drags his hand across the drawing as I draw.  The smudging that results is not pretty.  The fact that I don’t do it as much as I should also limits what I can achieve, but each time I get a little bit better and I see just a bit better.  I also gain a keen appreciation for the pencil as a sketching tool.

Here’s a drawing I did of a statue in our museum.  I did it with a 0.5mm mechanical pencil which is a convenient tool, but probably not optimal for doing pencil drawings.  Please excuse my smudging; I’m just a lowly pen driver afterall.  Do you ever draw in pencil?

Mother Nature Continues To Tease This Sketcher

It’s already May and so far I’ve only been able to do three outdoor sketches.  We’re getting some borderline warm-enough days but we’re also getting a lot of rain and wind which has made outdoor sketching difficult at best.

But I was out walking through a light mist, trying to get some exercise when it stopped raining.  I bought my raincoat extra large so that I could wear it over my art bag, so I had that with me.  The concept of sketcher desperation may be foreign to people who live in places with reasonable weather but for me, an ex-Arizona guy living in a place that stretches the truth by saying that we have five months of decent weather, it’s a very real concept.

Anyways, with water dripping from my raincoat, I decided to draw.  I was near a small chapel in Victoria Park and so it became my subject and I quickly drew it on some toned paper I had.   As I drew I realized that this chapel isn’t being used as such anymore as windows and doors all have plywood inserts in them.  I drew it that way and I didn’t add any color until I got home and even then kept it as somber as the day was when I sketched it.  Not my best but it was really great to be breathing outdoor air while moving a pen around.