A guy I follow on Instagram (@lefthandeddrawer) posted a graphic showing tiny, daily sketches he did for the month of January. That looked fun to me so I started doing it for the month of February. Being the lazy sort I did pick the shortest month of the year and it worked out nicely. Each square is 4cm. I’ll say no more except that you can see a larger view of this by clicking on the graphic.
I am Canadian, but unlike every other person living in the frozen north, I don’t like hockey. I suppose that reveals my American roots but the bottom line is that the only sport I watch is baseball and since coming to Canada, I’ve been a Toronto Blue Jays fan.
It’s that time of the year when spring training starts and a few spring training games (in Dunedin, FL) are broadcast for those of us willing to watch, for the most part, Blue Jays wanna-bes play the game.
The first one was last Friday and I decided to celebrate the event by sketching some baseball faces. Baseball is a slow sport; how hard could it be? I learned that a sketcher’s view of baseball is different from a fan’s view. Indeed, for a fan, the game is slow with lots of time spent watching seven guys stand on a field while two other guys play catch and a tenth guy, from the other team, tries to spoil their fun. From the view of a sketcher however, this same scene is a frustrating series of camera switches between players, between views, and there’s rarely more than a few seconds on any one player.
I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d wanted to draw full-body players. The pitcher stands in one place and is on camera more than anyone else. The catcher is equally stationary, at least in the sense of returning to the same position regularly. But I was interested in drawing faces shaded by ball caps and 1) they are rarely shown and 2) they are rarely in repeatable positions.
Sketchers are tough, however, and I managed to get a few, stitching together brief looks at the player and faking it when necessary. Here’s my meager tribute to Blue Jays spring training opener.
First it was arthritis. Then it was atrial fibrillation. Then my leg blew up to the size of a telephone pole (slight exaggeration for effect). That turned out to be osteoarthritis in my knee and a long set of physio treatments. Then it became a steady stream of doctor’s appointments. This torture just would not end, but it has, sort of.
As long as I fill my gut with pills twice a day, my heart is under control, my arthritis is only problem on really “bad” days, and I’m getting used to not walking as far as I’d like and doing so with a limp. Things are looking up.
It got better when my doctor informed me that I have type 2 diabetes. I guess that was the dessert after my months of dining on medical treatments. But you know what? That’s good news. For the past half a year I’ve been very fatigued, having less and less energy. Initially I attributed it to all those doctor visits but eventually concluded that it was just cuz this was what “old” felt like. It wasn’t an encouraging prognosis. But, eliminating the cookies (my favorite thing) and adding a couple more pills to my diet and I’ve gotten my energy back. I call that a win.
So enough about health, let’s talk about my new toy, the Pilot Cavalier fountain pen. When I got mine I couldn’t find one in North America so I bought through a third-party vendor via Amazon. But Jet Pens now stocks them in several colours.
I bought this pen because I enjoy quick-sketching with my Kaweco Lilliput but find the screwing and unscrewing its cap to be sort of annoying when I’m wanting to quickly sketch someone in the food court. One thing I like a lot about the Lilliput, however, is that it’s got a pencil-size diameter and it’s very light.
The Cavalier has both of those attributes associated with a standard length pen. The cap snaps in place nicely and seals well. It also posts well, something I have to have in a sketching pen or I’d lose the cap. Because it’s a Pilot pen, the steel nib provides a smooth feel.
This pen accepts Pilot cartridges but one problem is that the barrel of the pen is just narrow enough that you can’t use Pilot’s CON-50 converter so I have use a syringe to get waterproof ink into empty Pilot cartridges. It’s said that you can use the CON-20 converter (the rubber bulb-style converter in it but I like syringe filling so I haven’t tried that. This pen has found a place in my pen quiver, mostly for quick-sketching food court people. Here’s a sketch I did while test-driving it. This was also the beginning of a new Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover (5.5×8.5). I haven’t used this format in quite some time and thought it might be a good idea.
… 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.