Drawing From Photos And Proud Of It

I just read a great post by Tina Koyama titled Practicing People of the 21st Century.  She presents some great drawing exercises to improve the ability to capture people in motion.  She also begins her discussion with the notion that “it wouldn’t be so bad…” if she drew from photos.

In my mind, this is THE biggest problem with the urban sketching movement.  While we’re ready and willing to tell everyone that drawing from life, on location, is very valuable as a learning tool, we’ve nearly turned our backs completely on all the OTHER ways we can benefit our personal learning curves or are at least apologetic if we do anything that’s not on location.  Copying master drawings, doing drawing skill exercises, visual memory exercises, AND DRAWING FROM TV, MOVIES, AND PHOTOS are all important to the development of an artist.

Truth is, you don’t learn much by going out and using your existing skills to draw something for the group throw down at the end of the day for the simple reason that you’re “using your existing skills to draw something.”  Just as a baseball player doesn’t learn to hit home runs by playing baseball games, sketchers need activities separate from “creating art to show others” if they are to improve.

I happen to know that Tina, who draws all the time on location, also attends classes at places like the Gage Institute, Daniel Smith store, etc.  She need not (should not) excuse herself for drawing from photos, regardless of her goal.  I’m sure that she, like everyone else who wants to improve their art, could benefit from trying to make a hyper-realistic drawing from a photo, and there’s no need to be apologetic about it at all.

Just to put a bit of drawing where my mouth is, here is a page from my own practice book.  That book holds pages of nothing more than me trying to draw straight lines in parallel or between two dots.  There are pages of ellipses, all poorly drawn in evidence of my need for such practice.  But since the topic here is drawing from photos, here’s a page of four 10-12 minute (sometimes I cheated on my 10-min limitation) faces.  The source for them was Mr. Google.  Are they perfect?  No, but I’m practicing stuff I’m not good at – if they were perfect there would be no point.

This stuff is practice and neither Tina or I would post any of it except  to talk about practicing, and maybe that’s the problem.  People wanting to be urban sketchers only see the stuff we’ve done on the streets, sitting on our tripod stools.  But, to improve, you need to be doing a lot of this other stuff and to feel proud, not guilty for doing it.

Sketching A Porcupine Fish In The Dark

For sketchers in Quebec City, the beginning of winter is marked with our migration from outdoors to the museums.  We’re now at the museum, a place that doesn’t seem able to pay its electric bill.  At least it seems that way as they decided a year or so ago to start “lighting” their exhibits with lots of dark.

Currently there are two exhibits in our Museum of Civilisation that are dark, one being a really nice exhibit on poisonous animals and plants, at least the parts of it you can actually see are nice.  There are some things where even putting your nose to the case glass isn’t sufficient to see the details of the object on display.  It’s said that museum clients spend mere seconds looking at any object.  Maybe this is how the museum is trying to slow them down.  I don’t think it’s working.

I decided to draw this porcupine fish.  I took the photo from a position that provided some backlighting of the fish so you could actually see it…almost.  While drawing it I had to make several forays up close to find out where the fins were.  Unlike many porcupine fish, this one didn’t have a lot of spines.  There were some short ones on his belly but otherwise his skin was smooth.  One thing was certain, however, I had to draw this sketch in a somewhat comical fashion.  This guy just deserved that treatment.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Wing Sung 3009, DeAtramentis Document Black

Quick biological fact of the day:  Porcupine fish (aka blowfish) are popular with suishi eaters with a death wish because blowfish contain a very toxic compound called tetrodotoxin.  This stuff is 1000 times more toxic than cyanide.  I’ve seen references to how poisonous the spines of a blowfish are but that’s not true.  The toxin is in the internal organs, specifically the liver and gut.  I think I’ll stick with salads myself.

Winter Sketching Has Arrived

“And so it begins…” has become a repeated phrase in modern parlance.  Some attribute it to Lord of the Rings and King Theodon commenting on the beginning of the war for Middle Earth.  The most popular meme seems to be references to Star Wars.  For me, though, it was when Kosh, an alien ambassador said it in Babylon 5, a 5 year TV saga that is still, in my view, the best scripted TV series ever.  It’s scope was huge for TV and I’ve watched it several times.

And so it begins, Quebec’s winter sketching season.  It’s a loooong season too.  We’ll come out of it sometime in May, six months from now [sigh].  That means I’ll be spending my “urban sketching” time in museums, sitting in the dark, drawing with the use of a book light.  I’ll spend time scribbling my way through coffee shops, trying to capture the people there just to break the monotony.

But today we’re having a heat wave.  Our temperature hit 1C today (grin).  We went to the museum for the first time in months and drew a new, small display of fire fighting paraphenalia.  It was nice because it was in a hallway and not in the two major exhibits, where many of the exhibits are too darn dark to see, let alone draw.  At least it’s practice and goodness knows I need that.

Moleskine watercolor book (5.5×8.5)

 

Winter Has Come To Quebec City

More than anything, this post is an X on the calendar to indicate when it got too cold to sketch outdoors in Quebec City.  It’s snowing these days and not very friendly to street sketchers, particularly an Arizona-bred sketcher who hates being cold.

I take the bus everywhere and our system is great because I can sit at home and know exactly when the bus will get to my stop which means I don’t have to stand in the cold.  But, for reasons I can’t explain, the other day I headed to the bus stop without checking my app and sure enough, just as I arrived, the bus was pulling away.

That meant I had ten minutes of standing around.  As luck would have it there was a small bulldozer sitting on the corner of the street so I decided to draw it.  I did this quick sketch of it and nearly finished when the bus came along.

This was done in a cheap 4×6 notebook and so wasn’t suitable for color but I added some anyway.  The end result looked like this.. my last outdoor sketch of the year.  It’s museum time for me.

Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, when I stop to sketch, it just doesn’t work.  I don’t know why.  What I feel is that I just can’t see in the way an artist sees things.  Everything is a struggle and I can’t engage with the subject.  In particular I have this problem when I try quick-sketching but also, sometimes, when I’m trying to do a more normal sketch.  Anyways, in spite of my embarrassment to do so, I thought I’d share one of these failures with you.

Our main library is closed for renovations right now but there’s a small branch library not far from my house.  I was walking by the other day and decided to stop in for a few minutes of people sketching.  The views aren’t great in this library but, frankly, it didn’t matter because I couldn’t draw a person to save my life.  These were 30-60s sketches and all tentative and horrible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I gave up in frustration and continued walking.  About 15 minutes later I saw this old guy waiting to cross the street so I tried again.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out.  I suppose the moral of the story is not to give up but I’d sure like to know why my brain won’t engage with my inner artist on occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

Still Drawing Pumpkins

Pumpkins are still everywhere I look, so I drew another pile of them.  I suppose, now that Halloween is over, that Christmas decorations will be all over the place.  The retail world has spread “celebration” (buy stuff you don’t need) of this holiday over two months and, for me, this has completely diluted the joyful atmosphere of the holiday.  I’m not sure I’ll do many Christmas sketches.  Maybe some cash registers (grin).

Sketching Over Coffee

I was at our farmer’s market the other day and one of the nice things about this place is that on one end of it there is a great coffee shop.  Great to me doesn’t mean the best coffee in the world because as long as it’s brown and hot, coffee is good enough for me.  No, I assess coffee shops based upon the seating arrangement and what is available to sketch when I’m sitting there.  This shop qualifies as great because of the view of the vegetable stands and the stream of people moving through.

This blog post smacks of ‘here’s a way to do it’ and I’m certainly not really qualified to teach art.  In this case I’m particularly not qualified as I’m really bad at sketching people on location.  First, it’s not my favorite subject and second, I draw too slow to keep up with moving targets.  BUT (Warning, warning, warning), I had an opportunity to take a couple photos of one process I’ve used with some success and I thought I’d share it.  It’s not a process that improves my drawing ability but it does provide a bit more time with the subject.

The process starts with me frantically drawing short line segments to capture the shape and position of the moving subject, in this case a mother and son.  The son is excited by the pumpkins and wants to pick up every one.  I had, maybe 15 seconds to do this:

Excuse the poor photos but the lighting was not great and I was in a hurry.  A good artist has great visual memory and can fill in all the details from the scene they’re trying to capture even if the subject has moved on.  I’m not a good artist.  This photo was actually taken after I took this one:

The mother and son continued along the row of pumpkin baskets, the mother doing her best to keep the son from grabbing pumpkins.  While she’d moved to the right from where I drew the lines above, I was able to quickly pick up my phone and snap her picture as she and her son looked at pumpkins.  This, and my quick gesture let me complete this:

Notice that I hadn’t drawn any background info until I’d captured the moving subject.  But having the photo of the two people let me judge their heights relative to the background of the location where I was drawing.  I could see where her purse hung.  I even noticed that I’d drawn her head too large in my gesture.  You can see evidence of that error in the final sketch as I corrected it.

This isn’t a master sketch by any means but I was happy with it.  Sometimes I don’t have to take a photo like this.  Sometimes I don’t even have that chance.  I do lots of quick-sketches that are terrible and others that are incomplete because the subject walks away.  But sometimes the photo trick helps so I thought I’d mention it.

 

Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere

Our Grand Marche is awash in pumpkins.  I’m sure there are more apples in the building but pumpkins are a close second.  Not drawing some of them is simply out of the question.  Doing this drawing along with a cup of coffee made for a fun, even relaxing morning.

Then I added some color.  Pumpkins need color..lots of color

Stillman & BIrn Alpha (4×6), DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3009, Daniel Smith watercolors

Rushing Into Winter

We were having some wonderful late summer weather this year but when Quebec decides to head toward winter it does so in rapid fashion.  It seems that even the trees have a hard time keeping up as they try their best to turn bright colors and then lose their leaves.

The year change of seasons has put me into near-frantic mode.  I’m trying to build up my bad leg, having lost much of the muscle mass of my right leg.  That means walking all the time, or at least as much as I can.  Often I do two walks a day and this eats a lot of time but once the snow starts falling, long walks will be out of the question.

At the same time I’m in ‘it’s almost winter’ mode with my sketching.  Happens every year as I realize there are only so many days when I can sketch outdoors.  Honestly, this part of frantic is coming to an end as it’s becoming too cool for this ex-Arizona boy to be outside sitting on a stool.  Museum season will begin soon.

Because of this I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit.  Some of the neglect is because I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting rather than sketching for display.  My garbage can is well-fed, though.  I’ll probably talk about some of that stuff as we drop into winter.  My apologies.

Chantal made a pie the other day and I decided I should paint it.  This was one of those wacky experiments as I’m not much of a watercolorist.  I’d like to be but mostly I just color in the spaces of my ink sketches.  I was happy with my pie experiment though.  The pie was good too.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3009

Artistes Dans Les Parcs Visits Parc des Fondateurs

It’s turning cold here and our outdoor location sketching season is nearing an end.  The last Artistes dans les parcs outing took place at the Parc des Fondateurs, which is a gorgeous park near Stoneham, Quebec.

The Huron River runs through this park and I was looking forward to drawing some rocks and rapids.  I was disappointed to find that the steep descents to the river kept me and my bad knee from fulfilling that goal so all I could do was look down and imagine it.  Denise did give me some photos she took so maybe I can draw from them this winter.

Instead I decided to draw the barn, which used to be a barn but it now seems to be a building where the nearby church holds banquets and parties.  It’s where we all gathered to eat lunch and to stay warm.  The large door openings are now large viewing windows and several people did their drawing from inside.  I should have because it was cold for a guy who grew up in Arizona.  I have to confess that I rushed this sketch because of this but here it is.  I hope to draw this building again some day, maybe when it’s a bit warmer.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black, Wing Sung 3009

I’d spent so much time wandering the park when we arrived that by the time I finished this sketch it was time for lunch.  We all gathered inside, sat around a big table and chatted.  Eventually, though, it was time to brave the cool, wet day and head back out.  I decided to walk out of the park and set up in a parking lot of some sort of municipal building so I could draw the church.

I was making good progress when it started to rain.  I persisted.  The rain continued, plopping drops of water onto wet ink.  I was using Platinum Carbon Black for this sketch (in a Hero fude pen) and PCB dries more slowly than DeAtramentis Document inks, particularly when it’s cold.  The combined slow-drying and wet water was creating little bomb-craters on my drawing, to say nothing of the discomfort I was beginning to feel while standing there with no protection.

Moleskine 5×8, Platinum Carbon Black, Hero 7 Horses fude pen.

So, I packed up walked to the parking lot and swapped my big sketching bag for a small ‘scribble’ book and a pen and I went wandering, looking for places to stand out of the rain and sketch.

Eventually the rain stopped and I sat down to quickly sketch this odd structure.  It was small and part of a children’s playground.  Its total height couldn’t have been more than eight feet and all it had available for kids were two shallow tables.  I assume that there are some toys to play with on those tables during the summer but none were in evidence when I was there.  Still, it was cute as could be so I did this quick sketch.

  All in all, it was a great day in spite of the cold and rain.  We talked about trying to do a couple indoor events this winter but since a lot of the members of this group are oil painters with easels and such it’s unclear what will happen.   I’m just thankful that Denise Bujold is such a nice person and willing to organize these events.