Urban Sketching In Isolation

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.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black ink, gouache

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.

 

Along The Gouache Road

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.

Gouache (3×7), Stillman & Birn Beta

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.

 

Road Trip To Montreal – Part Two

I met Marc Taro Holmes on day two of my Montreal trip at the Pointe a Calliere.  This is primarily and archeology museum, built on top of a large excavation of early Montreal habitations.  We were there to sketch in a natural history exhibition that’s going on now.

I admit that I was tired from the day before.  Now that I’m officially old I don’t hold up like I used to but I was excited to sketch some animals. We wandered around, looked at everything and then I started drawing this spoonbill.  It was a magnificent specimen.  I tried the ‘draw fast’ approach and that cost me some accuracy but I was pleased by the result.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black

I was getting tired and Marc graciously agreed to walking across the street so I could sit, drink some coffee and have a muffin.  That was fun and I needed it, but eventually we headed back to capture some more of the museum.

I decided to press the ‘draw fast’ method even more and tried to capture a bunch of birds on one page.  I felt I’d went too small and I certainly drew too fast, but I had fun doing these quick captures.  Maybe this will help me sketch pigeons on the street this summer.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black

Unfortunately I was running out of gas and just couldn’t bring myself to start another sketch.  I decided at that point that I was done for the day and so I said goodbye to Marc and headed off to meet my daughter.  I’m not sure that ‘draw fast’ is for me.  Maybe I’m destined to forever be a slow sketcher.

A Trip To The Hunting & Fishing Museum

Quebec’s hunting and fishing organization does a lot of wonderful work.  In addition to maintaining a large nature reserve and conducting several conservation programs, they maintain a fabulous museum filled with spectacular taxidermy specimens, all waiting for sketchers to put them to paper.

Several of us went there last week and spent several hours enjoying the place.  I started with this coyote.  He had a somewhat sleepy left eye that could have been real or the result of the taxidermy.  In any case, I think he has a beautiful face.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), DeAtramentis Document Black, Platinum Prefounte pen

We stopped for lunch, taking advantage of their well-equipped eating area. It looks out on the surrounding forest, which is now deep in snow.  I confess that with coffee in hand and good company it was a bit hard to head back to sketching.

When we did I decided that I’d draw one of the many deer heads on display.  I chose this one and did a very relaxed drawing of him and his wonderful antlers.  I love drawing antlers, though visually I find them hard.  When I finished everyone was packing up to head back to town.  I’m sure, though, as the winter bears down on us, that we’ll be back.

Fishing In The Dark

As a kid I remember fishing from a dock in front of a motel we stayed at on a lake in Michigan.  This was great excitement for a little six or seven year old kid.  Stars above, lily pads and the occasional plop of a fish jumping.  Those were the days, when catching a small catfish meant the world to me.

Now I’m fishing in the dark again, at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City.  There, we wander through dark rooms, filled with horribly lit exhibits, forever wondering what idiot decided that museum-goers wanted to experience a haunted house atmosphere while trying to see the displays.

But on a day in December, there I was, with a couple of my sketching buddies, sitting in the dark with book lights on our sketchbooks, trying to draw the few objects that were lighted well enough that we could kinda-sorta see them.

I was drawing an extinct sea bass that must have been 12-15 feet long.  It was massive.  It was less than eight feet away from me and yet I couldn’t see it.  Repeatedly I had to get up, walk over to the fish and look hard to find where the belly of the fish was and to find the pectoral fin.  And, of course, the most pressing question of all required another walk – what did the tail look like?  After all, it was only three feet tall so how could I expect to be able to see it from eight feet away (grin)

I tell you all this because I’m going to show you my sketch of this giant fish but I can’t vouch for accuracy whatsoever.  But I did capture a fish, in the dark, on that December day.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3008