I sometimes enjoy trying to draw a plant by carefully drawing each leaf while capturing the relationships between them. It’s a real challenge in relationships and proportions but it’s good training for my visual cortex. This was my attempt to do just that with a basil plant.
Recently I decided to work in a different medium, in fact a couple of them. Now that my arthritis is kinda-sorta under control we’re doing more gardening this year and it was time for me to restore and old, rusty wheelbarrow we have. It got sidelined with a broken wheel and it was left outside our cave.
Here’s the result. I painted with most of it with Rustoleum, but used Minwax oil-stain on the wooden parts. Once I fashioned a new axle it was smooth sailing. Much easier than watercolor.
Most urban sketchers know Shari Blaukopf, or at least her art and most of those people know about her wheelbarrow sketches. Most of us really enjoy them and I was quite disappointed when she announced that her wheelbarrow had broken. Funny how you can get attached to things you’ve never seen in person.
Anyways, now that I have a wheelbarrow it seemed only proper for me to lean it against a tree, Shari style, and draw it. It was fun to sit in the back yard with a pen in my hand. It’s blistering hot here right now but the breeze kept it tolerable as I drew. Urban.. + Sketch…, yep, this is a real live urban sketch (grin).
For many one result of COVID isolation has been housing reorganization and behavioral adjustment. Some households have seniors who have been moved home by the kids while others have adjusted their family situation by having kids move home with us seniors. Pro and con, adjustment is the best descriptor of what we all must do in such situations.
When the virus hit Quebec and we shut down our activities, the first thing we did was a rapid drive to Montreal to pick up of our daughter. Given that Montreal is the hot spot in Canada for COVID right now, we’re feeling pretty smug about our decision.
The result has been a social adjustment to having a 22-year old living with us. Truthfully, it’s mostly positive but it means spending more time talking, cooking, baking, and generally doing family stuff… and fewer alone activities like art.
My daughter wasn’t the only thing we brought back from Montreal though. We crammed the car full of her plants and together with our plants they turned our house into a jungle. Every flat surface is covered with plants and we rarely eat dinner at our dining table because it’s just too darn much trouble moving all the plants (grin).
I see this as a good thing because I have new sketching subjects. One of her plants was a sad little Fiddle Leaf Fig. It only had two leaves, hanging onto a single short stem. But, we’ve been in isolation now for nearly forever and so it’s grown. It now has four leaves and a fifth is beginning to sprout. I decided I should draw it. I probably did it too quickly but heck, it only has four leaves. Here she is, in all her youthful glory.
Aside from isolation, how has your family life changed? We don’t talk about that enough. Has it affected your art in any way?
Many of us have lamented that our urban sketching lifestyles have been disrupted by COVID-19. We sit in houses thinking of better days when we sat in public places drawing the scenes before us. And some of us have reported our “solutions” to this. Tina Koyama talks about standing in a street circle and drawing what’s around her. I’ve mentioned my 2-min sketches while on walks. Others have succumbed to looking out their windows for subjects.
I may have found a way to up my game as an isolated urban sketcher. Maybe you’ll think I’m not urban sketching at all, but it feels like urban sketching to me. Here’s what I did.
1) I went for my daily walk and found a scene worthy of sketching (are there any that aren’t)?
2) I stood, leaning against a tree, while I studied the scene, thinking about drawing it. I noted the relative locations of all the major objects and ‘saw’ the major angles and proportions that related the objects to one another. I thought about what I’d eliminate from the scene, where the center of focus would be. I even mentally traced around one of the cars and some of the major tree branches just to etch them into my mind a bit. I probably spent 5-min doing this, just as though I was actually going to sketch the scene.
3) Then I took a couple photos and rushed home.
4) I cropped a photo to reflect what I’d been thinking while on the street and drew some organizational lines and blobs to organize the paper and then started sketching from my laptop screen. This is what it looked like when I finished the ink.
5) I’m still experimenting with gouache and still stumbling over myself with it. Nevertheless, I decided to use gouache on this sketch and had some fun trying to move back and forth between transparent and opaque approaches. Very confusing but lots of promise. I got James Gurney’s new course yesterday and, shazaam, that’s exactly what he starts the course talking about. Can’t wait to try some of the things he talks about.
BUT, excepting that I was sitting at a table rather than on my stool, it felt like urban sketching because of the immediate translation of a scene I’d just looked at and the one I was putting on paper.
I won’t split hairs whether this is “real” urban sketching or not as I don’t much care. But if I can repeat this process during my isolation, I’m going to be a happy camper. The only thing I miss is meeting up with friends after the sketching session. I have to settle with bugging my wife and daughter with “Hey, look at this.” Give it a try. You just might like it.
I’m continuing my experiments with gouache, trying to figure out how to use it effectively. I’m also learning how many basic concepts of painting I don’t know at all. Giving up my fountain pen approach to capturing objects makes me feel lost. But I feel (unsure?) that I’m learning those concepts more quickly than if I’d stuck with a pen/ink/wash approach. In the end I think my gouache experiments will improve my pen and ink drawing and certainly my watercolors.
When I posted a lemon portrait recently, my first real gouache painting, I said that “gouache is not opaque watercolor.” A couple people took me to task about this statement and I should have clarified what I meant and what my motivation was for saying it. The motivation came from the many watercolorists who have said (on the internet) that they tried gouache and had trouble and the fact that I got the same problems
People try to use gouache like watercolor. Of course you can do this, but NOT if you want to take advantage of its opaque characteristics. You can use gouache in thin washes as you might watercolor, but it’s not nearly as good as watercolor when you do so. It doesn’t spread, blend or mix as well as watercolor. It lifts previous layers more easily than watercolor. So if that’s the way you want to use it that way, you’re going to use it as a poor substitute for true watercolor Nothing wrong with that but it’s really better to use true watercolors and then throw in a dose of white gouache at the end. Many people do this.
If you want to paint opaquely, however, you need to approach gouache more like oil painters do (I have never done oil paintingl but I’ve watched some on YouTube :-). They don’t lighten tones by adding solvent. They use it to control viscosity. They mix colors to lighten/darken tones. They also work in layers that start thin (lean) and move to thicker layers (fat). We sort of do the same with watercolors because we use a “tea, milk, honey” approach. So, using water to control viscosity and color mixing for tone allows the use of gouache as an opaque medium Anyways, that’s what I was talking about. I make no claims to knowledge of anything so if you disagree, that’s fine. You’re probably right (grin).
When I do gouache I sometimes wonder whether I’m learning, floundering or just creating personal embarassment. I am having fun, however, and with the current state of things, that’s enough.
I went off the deep end the other day and did a simple landscape painting in gouache. There was no under drawing. There was no planning. And most of all, there was nothing to look at because we’re buried in snow here in Quebec. I NEVER DO STUFF like that. Maybe it’s the cold I have or maybe it’s the “self-isolation” and “social distancing” I’m doing but I did it and here is the result.
I also wanted to work on my ability to manipulate gouache to render an object so I painted this soup cup using only burnt umber and titanium white. I sort of messed up the top rim of the cup but, as I said, there’s a certain amount of embarrassment that goes along with trying new things.
Hope all of you are safe and have settled into your own self-isolation. At least we can draw.