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.

Weathervane Sketching Is Fun

I should be writing blog posts about how life would be for a snail trying to do location sketching.  Movement from point A to point B is so slow and energy-draining for me these days that I have to make decisions based on how long it will take me to get there.  I suppose that’s true for everyone but I’m talking about how far I have to walk in a museum.  Distances measured in feet have become important (grin).  Weird that.

But I am starting to get out and about and it feels really good.  I went to the museum on Tuesday.  I used to walk there (about 45min).  Now I take two buses and when I get there I’m exhausted.  Once I’ve hobbled up a couple flights of stairs I have to sit down and rest before I try to sketch.

The significant thing about all this is that the majority of my sketching time isn’t spent sketching so I have to keep the subjects simple and just try to get as much enjoyment from the short sketching fix as possible.  There’s a row of weathervanes on display right now and they fit a snail-sketcher’s approach really well.  Hope you like this one.  The original is made of sheet metal.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot/Namiki Falcon

Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 3

I’ve talked about how I carry my stuff and what pointy devices I use.   What remains to be discussed are the substrates and supports for them, or more simply paper.  My early thought was to discuss how I make my choices, but quickly that idea became more book-size than blog-size and so I’m limiting this to a more simple presentation of what I use.  Maybe, in the future, discussions of why can take place.

Sketchbooks

I like to have several sizes of sketchbooks available to me but this conflicts with my desire to not have too many of them ‘in progress’ at the same time so sketchbook management is a constant struggle.

This photo represents the size variation I like.  The large one in the back is a Stillman & Birn 8×10 Beta, the small red one is a Field Notes notebook, the landscape 9×6 is Stillman & Birn Alpha, and the other one is a 4×6 book, also from Field Notes.

Single Sheets

When it comes to convenience at the drawing stage, there is nothing better than working with single sheets as it allows me to switch paper types and sizes, work without the constraints of sketchbook covers, and single sheets are very light.  This approach is less useful when you want to hand a sketchbook to someone who comes up to you on the street and is interested in what you do.

My approach to using single sheets takes two forms.  The first is to use a magnet board.  The base of mine is very thin plywood and the metal surface came from a small magnetic board sold at the dollar store.  All I did was remove the frame from the dollar store board and glue the metal sheet, with contact cement, to the wood.  I rounded the corners to make it easier to slide in/out of my bag.  The magnets are rare earth magnets.  This approach allows me to quickly attach any paper and, because it’s very light, it’s easier to hold than any sketchbook.  It has the added advantage that I can attach my palette to it with magnets too.

The other way I use single sheets is an idea from Marc Taro Holmes and one I use when I want to use first-class watercolor paper (Fabriano Artistico).  I take sheets and tape them to Coroplast, sometimes on both sides.  Coroplast is so light that I can carry 3-4 sheets without any appreciable weight added to my bag and they’re a dream to work on because they are so light.

Both of these approaches are great for sketching while standing because there’s no weight involved or pages to have to clip to keep them from blowing in the wind.

This brings me to the end of this series.  I do have a sense that I’ve left a lot out of the discussion by not spending time talking about why I use what I use so if you have questions, feel free to ask.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into location sketching – Larry style.

 

Life Of A Sketchless Sketcher

I made another trip to our museum.  I’m still amazed at how tired I can become just getting there, but got there I did.  It’s the last week of the Hergé exhibition and I hadn’t actually viewed it seriously.  The exhibit emphasizes the process of creating Tin Tin, Herge’s famous comic series and so there’s lots to read and look at.  Not much to draw.

I hobbled around the exhibit, reading everything and studying the artwork.  It’s a really good exhibit in my opinion.  But finally I had to sit down, completely exhausted.  It must be the weight of the cane that’s wearing me out (grin).

After a while I decided that I needed to draw something, so I combined getting a cup of coffee with drawing one of the weather vanes on display in the cafeteria.  It’s not much and like eating a single Gummi bear, not quite enough, but it formed a satisfying end to yet another sketchless sketcher day.

Good Advice: Do Something Different

You hear it all the time.  Try a new medium.  Draw something different.  Use a different approach.  Sometimes this advice is given to help kick start an artist who is struggling to find motivation.  Sometimes it’s give in the name of developing new abilities.

For me, at this time, it’s good advice on both counts.  I’m starting to get back on my feet, though some days are better than others.  Drawing at home is a possibility but I’ve talked about how hard it is for me to be motivated to do that as I’ve spent five years doing most of my drawing on location.  But I have other struggles, one of which is that I tend to use watercolors as crayons and my color applications flatten, rather than enhance the 3D nature of my sketches.

I started with this light pen drawing, done with a Kaweco Lilliput and Kaweco Stormy Grey ink.

So…I give you something different…really different.  There are no such worms in Quebec City, though worms in my head is believable.  This one was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and a steady stream of fantasy characters that emerge from the brain of Daniel Potvin when he picks up a brush.  My goal was to try to use watercolors to generate 3D surfaces and while far from perfect, I was pleased with the result.  While it’s not urban sketching, it is certainly a new kind of fun and I’ll do more of it in my attempt to figure out watercolors.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Daniel Smith watercolors

The Return: Baby Steps With A Limp

I’m embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without a blog post, not much sketching, not much of anything.  I’m beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though.  My leg is no longer the size of a telephone pole and my knee bends again.  More important, while I’m not completely pain free, the pain is not constant so I can begin to think about other things.

I’m still lacking in energy but I went sketching for the first time last week.  It wasn’t a successful trip by most measures but it was nice to see the gang and the trip made me feel as though I was on the mend.  We went to the civilisation museum where their main exhibition right now is from France and presents the works of cartoonist, Herge, a Belge cartoonist best known for his Tin Tin character.

I got on the bus and headed to the museum. The trip, one I used to walk in 40 minutes, seemed more like a crossing the Alps adventure than a simple trip across town.  By the time I got there I was exhausted but also excited to see everyone.

Some wanted to draw character images glued to the side of the building.  We could see some of them from a large window and people set up to draw.  Honestly, it seemed sort of silly to draw these simple characters but the truth was, they fit my energy level and ability to engage with a subject very well.  I spent about 15 minutes drawing these.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

This quite literally wore me out and I spent the rest of the session sitting around, talking and looking at a bit of the Herge exhibition.

This week I found myself better able to walk and with even less pain.  I’ve started doing some doodling at home and even managed to get some winterizing stuff done on the weekend.  Still lacking energy but even that had improved.  On Wednesday I hopped a bus to the library where we were going to draw from comics.  Seems there’s a theme developing here.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

It was a wonderful session, though my lack of energy, and probably my hiatus from drawing, showed when I tried to draw some of my favorite cartoon characters.  I began drawing Corto, a very famous Hugo Pratt character.  Pratt is an Italian cartoonist and one of my favorites.

As I look at this small sketch I can’t help but reflect on how tired I was when I finished it.  I spent the next half hour just flipping through comics, mindlessly looking at the graphics.

Ultimately, though, I decided to draw Obelix, one of the main characters in the Asterix series of comics that taught most French kids early European history.  Asterix and his buddies are Gauls and the bad guys are Romans.  Obelix was Asterix’s super-strong friend, his loyal sidekick.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

We ended that day with a cup of coffee and the sketching banter I have so missed over the past six weeks.  When I got home I took a nap, but I’m getting there…taking baby steps with a limp.

Trying To Get Out With My Friends

Several weeks ago I got to meet a new sketcher.  She and her husband had moved to Quebec City and she wanted to hook up with local sketchers.  We met for a sketching session and had a great time.

Then I started having mobility problems and time after time, we couldn’t manage to get together for another session.  I was both frustrated and embarrassed by this and so when she asked if we could go sketching last week I said yes and we agreed to meet near the large fountain in front of the Quebec Parliament.  Yvan came along as well.

I limped my way to the site and sat on a bench.  It was really great to be out in the fresh air and to get to talk with friends but I was hurting so much that sketching didn’t seem important.  Still, there I was and so I started by drawing three young children who are part of the fountain.

I spent more time just sitting than I did drawing but I just kept adding small sketches of things I could see from my position.  No rhyme or reason to it; I was just sketching, or trying.  It wasn’t urban sketching at its best but it was urban sketching I suppose (grin).  For what it’s worth, the guy in front of the lamp post wasn’t actually leaning against it; he was part of the fountain too.  The lamp post was actually across the street from the fountain.  While he is shirtless, we were wearing jackets.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black