Location Sketching Equipment – Larry Style, Part 2

In my last post I described my modular system for location sketching.  I want to emphasize that there’s nothing unique about how I approach moving art materials to and from location sites and neither is there anything “best” about it.  It’s just what I do, so this is more of a “just the facts ma’am” report than a “Look what I invented” thing.  Here I continue the discussion by describing the three tool modules I mentioned in that first post.

Paint Module

This module holds all my paint stuff, or rather the paint stuff I take on location with me.  Home seems to overflow with palettes, brushes and tubes of color.  Why is a question more for a psychiatrist than myself.  Anyway, the case itself is a Lihit Lab Teffa Pen Case, or so says Jet Pens.  This is the second one I’ve owned.  I lost the first one, along with two nice Escoda Kolinsky travel brushes somewhere between here and there on Black Tuesday, at least that’s how I refer to it.

This case is mostly empty so for those who carry a lot of brushes and paint, there’s plenty of room for more.  I try to keep my paint kit simple because that matches my understanding of paint.  Here are the contents of this module:

From left to right: 30ml Nalgene water bottle, squirt bottle, messy paint kit, Rosemary pointed-round Kolinsky brushes (#6 & #19), waterbrush, small brush used when I want to do something that’s hard on brushes.

A few words on this kit.  First, the water doesn’t typically reside in this module, though it’s easy enough to include a bottle in the case.  But as I mentioned in Part 1 of this treatise, I carry water bottles like this in each of my bags.  I stole this bottle idea from Marc Taro Holmes and love it because it’s easy to carry a couple of them, exchanging a dirty one for a clean one when necessary.

The squirt bottle is indispensible.  I love my Kolinsky brushes but they’re expensive and scrubbing them around to pick up pigment off dried cakes of watercolor isn’t my idea of a good use for them.  But if I wet those cakes, and rewet them occasionally as I paint, it’s easy to pick up paint and a more saturated paint it will be.  I think this is good, at least it works for me.

The paints are all Daniel Smith watercolors.  Expensive yes, but I have a hard enough time with paint; I don’t need to be handicapped by cheap paint.  When I started out I tried several cheaper paints.  I thought it normal that my watercolors were all light and washed out.  Then I bought some Winsor & Newton paint, real Winsor & Newton paint, not their Cotman line of student-grade paints.  The difference was startling, even to someone like me.  I have found that Daniel Smith paints rewet better than do W&N paints, which is why I now use them.  This is not an endorsement as, to quote Sgt Shultz from Hogan’s Heros, “I know nothing” when it comes to paint.

Rosemary travel brushes:  Wow…I love these brushes.  I have limited experience with brushes I suppose.  When I started I was determined to use good quality and so I bought a couple W&N Kolinsky brushes.  I’ve mentioned the Escoda Kolinskys that I lost.  Those were replaced by a couple of their Escoda Versatile travel brushes (synthetic) that are ok but just not the same as sable.  I also own several Silver Black Velvet brushes which are a blend of squirrel and synthetic fibres.  These are very nice and I use them when I’m at home.

The Rosemary travel brushes shown above are, as my dad used to say, the cat’s meow.  I also like their short dagger brushes (#772) that Liz Steel loves but I’m more clumsy than normal when I try to use them.  That’s all I’m going to say about brushes because there are better, more knowledgable people to listen to when it comes to all things watercolor.

Pencil Module

The case is from Global Art.  They sell this case as a single and double-layer case but I keep my pencil selection to a minimum and thus use the single-layer case.  Mostly I’ve followed Cathy Johnson’s list of watercolor pencils and I limit myself to 3-4 graphite pencils (Tombow Mono 100).

My watercolor pencils are Faber-Castell Albrect-Durer, mostly because I can completely solubilize the line they produce allowing me to use them to replace watercolors when I’m working small and particularly when I work in a place where water bottles and such are not allowed.  I love working with them for everything but large washes but confess that I don’t use them as much as I once did.  Not sure why.  Notice that I carry a short waterbrush in this case.  It works well in museums.

I should point out that I use the graphite pencils only if I’m going to do an actual pencil drawing, including rendering, which is rare.  I’m a smeary kind of guy and always have trouble with that approach to drawing because of it.

Pen Module

This module is central to what I do.  I’ve always said that I’m not an artist and that I just draw stuff and most of what I do is drawn with fountain pens.  I just love them.  I’ve used fountain pens since me and Alley Oop attended school together.

The case is one of those squeeze-to-open sunglass cases.  It’s ideal because the metal squeeze mechanism allow pens to be clipped to the case on both sides.  I cut a double layer of Bristol card that separates the two sides, keeping the pens from rubbing against one another.  Note that I also sewed a couple half-rings to the case so I could have a shoulder strap.  When on site I can hang this thing around my neck and my pens are always accessible.

Mechanical Pencils

I don’t “draw” with mechanical pencils but I do use them for organizing a drawing.  During this stage of my drawing I’m concerned with proportions, locations, orientations of objects, not the actual objects themselves.  In this way, when I pick up my pen, I know where the pieces are, what size they should be, and it gives me the freedom to concentrate on the drawing because the organization is already done.  For this job I could use any old mechanical pencil but I love pointy devices and enjoy using good ones.  I use a a Pentel Graph Gear 1000 (0.7mm) and a Pentel Kerry (0.5mm).  The former has a retractable tip while the later can actually be capped, like a pen.  Both are superb performers.

Fountain Pens

This is the most dynamic portion of my kit.  I own a lot of pens and I like to play with them.  The photo reflects what’s in the case right now.

From left to right:  Duke 209 (fude), Pilot 78G F, Platinum 3776 SF, Pilot/Namiki Falcon EF  

I guess this set of pens reflects several views I have about pens.  The first is that a good cheap pen is as good as a good expensive pen, and I don’t buy pens costing more than $200, period.  I think I paid $6 for the Duke 209 and the Pilot 78G was about the same.  While I grumble a bit at the Duke 209 on occasion, the 78G works flawlessly.  Yes, my ‘go to’ pens are the 3776 and Falcon but mostly because I love using them, not because they let me draw stuff any better.

Another thing this cadre of pens reflects is my approach to inks.  You can’t talk about fountain pens without talking about ink.  I’m lucky because I don’t get excited about drawing with colored inks and because I insist on my inks being able to withstand watercolors once they’re dried.  This limits me to only a few inks on the market and most of them are black, or thereabouts.  That said, drawing with dark, dark, black ink is sometimes useful, sometimes not so much so I mix it up a bit.

The Duke 209 is filled with DeAtramentis Document Black.  I’m not the fan of fude pens that a lot of urban sketchers are and I confess that’s mostly because I’ve never been able to get use to them.  I do like the Duke, however, because it’s very light.  The black ink supports the fude role, where I can get fairly thin lines, but its real value is for creating shaded areas, thicker lines and more expressive sketches.

My Pilot 78G produces a very fine line and it’s filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  This produces a light line that is great when I want edges to be less pronounced and when I work very small.

My Platinum 3776 is filled with Platinum Carbon Black, still one of my favorite inks.  It serves to provide me with a thin, black line and the gold soft nib gives me enough line variation to make me happy.

My Namiki/Pilot Falcon is filled with a mixture of Noodler’s Black, Noodlers Polar Brown, and water in equal proportions.  This serves two purposes.  It lets me use up the Noodlers inks, neither of which work for me by themselves and I end up with a brown-black that flows beautifully because of the addition of water.  Another way I’ve gotten this sort of result is to mix DeAtramentis Document Brown, Document Black, and their Dilution solution.

Realize, however, that tomorrow this kit may have a Pilot Prera, Pilot Metropolitan, Platinum Plaisir, Platinum Carbon Pen, Kaweco Lilliput, or any number of Hero, Sailor, or even vintage pens.  No, I don’t use Lamy pens, though I own a couple.  No, I don’t use Noodler’s pens (I threw those away).

Misc. Pens

I carry a few specialty pens for special uses.  These are:

From Left to Right: Prismacolor fine brush pen, Uniball UM151 white gel pen, Kuretake brush pen

The Prismacolor pen is new to me.  I bought it because someone mentioned that they liked them.  I haven’t used it much but it does seem like it might be fun for quick-sketching when you want thick lines.  I’m not a fan of nylon-tipped pens though.

The Uniball white pen is a staple when I’m working on toned paper.  Nothing special here but I’ve found these to be more reliable than the Gelly-Roll equivalents.

The Kuretake #33 brush pen is one of my favorite tools, though it makes a fool out of me more often than not.  For those who have used the Pentel ‘real brush’ pen, consider the Kuretake as a classy equivalent.  It does have a real, soft, nylon brush and I can feed it with Platinum Carbon Black ink cartridges.  It’s ideal for adding dark accents but these real brush pens will test your ability to control tip pressure.  Marc Taro Holmes claims it was using these a lot that taught him how to draw directly with paint and I can believe it.

If your eyes haven’t glazed over by now you must be heavily caffeinated or a die-hard art stuff afficionado.  In any case, I applaud you.   Next time I’ll talk about paper, sketchbooks, and paper supports.

 

 

The Trials Of Creating An Urban Sketch

Many artists never do their art on location.  They’re happy sitting in a studio, laying out drawings, tracing the layout onto their watercolor paper, and then painting from a photo, or some such approach.  For me, sketching is all about the chase.  I have to go somewhere.  It might be just down the street or even into my backyard but I’ve got to actually ‘discover’ my subject.

There are compromises in this approach.  Anyone who does it knows them.  Time, weather, interruptions and sitting on a tripod stool balancing your sketchbook are among them.   Some times are better than others, however, and I’d like to share a couple “oops” sketches with you.

The first is a train engine.  I’ve wanted to sketch this small switch engine for a long time.  It’s tied to our large grainery and is responsible for moving the grain cars around.  I saw an opportunity to draw it and sat down to draw.  It was going pretty well until…well…it drove away.  I could follow its tracks (pun intended) and did, which allowed me to complete, sort of, the engine but the mood was broken.  I became disinterested in completing the sketch by including some entourage behind and in front of it.  So here it is, as is.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Last week we were supposed to meet on the Plains of Abraham for a group session.  Only three of us showed up because it was raining.  We ended up huddled under the overhang of a building with only a single subject, the realty business across the street. So we drew it.  It was cold and I had a hard time keeping my mind on drawing and I worked fast – too fast.  Sometimes urban sketching isn’t what it’s cracked up to be 🙂

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776

With urban sketching you sometimes win and sometimes lose when it comes to the end product.  When it comes to the fun, however, it’s always more fun than sitting in a studio.

Editor’s note:  I’m getting behind in my posting.  I apologize for that and hope to get a bunch of sketches posted in the upcoming week. 

Sketching Ottawa Statues

There are a lot of “old dead guy” statues in Ottawa and while interesting, I was looking for something different when I wandered around evaluating  statues for sketching.  I found two that I liked a lot.  Hope you approve of my choices.

This statue sits in a small triangle of dirt/grass with cars whizzing by on all three sides of it.  It’s near the National Art Gallery and while I’ve been there several times, I’ve never even noticed it because of its location.  But heck, there it was and there was a large tree under which I could sit while I sketched it.  Like the streets surrounding it, the statue is a 3-sided affair, though you can only see two sides of it in my sketch.  It’s Haida, I think and quite beautiful.

 

2016-06-23haidastatue

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I was walking from Parliament towards Confederation Park and as I passed the post office on Spark Street I noticed a couple of large lions protecting the doors.  In truth, they themselves were caged by large fencing put up to protect people like me from construction going on around the facade of the building.  This made it hard to find a place where I could sit to draw.  I walked around the building and found there are actually half a dozen of these guys standing around in the sun.  They’re enlarged heads make them all the more majestic and I had to draw one.  I found a place where I can climb up on some large concrete blocks, set up my stool and draw.  I only fell off once.

2016-06-24Lion

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

New Tuesday Museum Sketchers Group???

This winter it has become a habit for five or six of us to meet at the museum for a sketching session on Thursday mornings.  I really look forward to it.  I go on other days as well but it’s fun to meet and talk with some fellow sketchers.

Field Notes (3x5), Pilot Prera F, Noodlers Polar Brown

Field Notes (3×5), Pilot Prera F, Noodlers Polar Brown

Claudette suggested that we meet on Tuesday this week as well, and while some of the ‘regulars’ couldn’t come on Tuesday, she managed to get a couple sketchers I don’t see often to show up so there were seven of us sketching this morning.  Why is it so exciting for sketchers to gather together only to ignore one another for extended periods of time?  Don’t know myself but it sure is fun.

I started the day with a little five-minute (maybe?) sketch to try out the yellow Field Notes book that comes with the blue and red books I’ve reported on recently.  It’s a small wooden statue and I guess the yellow notebook passes the suitability test.  I’ll probably do more in this book, though I prefer the red and blue books.

After wandering around a bit I headed to the new nanotechnology exhibit to draw a Mayan 3-tube flute.  It’s made of clay and I haven’t a clue why it’s part of the nanotechnology exhibit.  Maybe I should have read the plaque.

I’d filled my Falcon with Noodler’s Lexington Gray which I haven’t used in quite a while.  I’d forgotten how much its “water-resistant” nature doesn’t work on papers with lots of sizing.  I applied some color with watercolor pencils and a waterbrush and everything acquired a gray overcast from the ink.  Back to DeAtramentis Document Black for me.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Pilot Falcon, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Pilot Falcon, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Museum Sketching Fatigue

As the internet brings me sketches of cherry blossoms, crocuses popping out of the ground, and various pronouncements of spring, we’re bracing for a foot of snow tonight.  Spring will come to Quebec but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to live long enough to see it.

We were back at the museum again, a place I’m really tiring of this year.  In the past the exhibits have been very interesting and full of variety but the main exhibit this winter has been Egyptian Magic and, well, there are only so many times one can sketch another stone statue of a mummy or the favorite Egyptian god, Bes.  To make matters worse the exhibit is very dark.  You can’t even see many of the display items it’s so dark and after a while it becomes downright depressing.

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8x10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8×10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Yvan and I sketched this guy because he was outside the exhibit and there was decent light.  It’s not a real artifact, however, as you can buy one at the museum store 🙂

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

After that I decided to go to the Australian aboriginal exhibit.  It’s mostly tapestries and such but I found these guys fun.  Meet Mimih, who is something of a jokester god.  They’re tall (8-feet or so), thin and they hide in the cracks between the rocks in Arnhem land.  It took forever to put all those dots on him with a Uniball white pen but at least there was light in the room.

The snow is starting.  Maybe I should trade in my sketchbook for a snowboard (grin).

They Say It’s Spring

They say that this is the first day of spring.  It must be true but from where I stand, it doesn’t seem like it.  It’s currently -15C outside.  It looks like mother nature is going to tease us with a warm up this week, though, and we may actually get above freezing so there is hope.

During our Thursday sketchers gathering at the museum last week, I got in the mood to challenge my abilities to draw stuff and I chose subjects that weren’t all that photogenic but that I thought might be difficult for my brain to get my hand to move in the right direction.

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I started with this headrest.  I saw it as a challenge because it was both handmade from wood and also centuries old.  Thus, in addition to having odd, curved surfaces, it was also somewhat asymmetric and the top was a bit askew.  It was a fun subject.

There’s a new exhibit all about nanotechnology and they’re got a series of microscopes, showing their development history.  I chose this early, somewhat simple microscope as an ellipse/alignment challenge.  It worked out ok but I really should have drawn it larger and taken more time with it.  Baby steps.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

 

Those Egyptians Really Liked Bes

Here’s a couple small  vessels (shot glasses?), each different depictions of Bes, the dwarf god.  They’re part of the Egypt exhibition at our Museé de la Civilisation.  Maybe these were intended to ward off evil spirits from their spirits.  I don’t think the top squares on the green one were intended to look like a hat but they sure do, making it quite funny.

2016-03-10EgyptThese were drawn in an 8×10 Stillman & Birn softcover Alphas series book.  I’m just starting to use this size book but I think I’m really going to like it.  Bigger than the typical 6×9 but much easier to scan than a 9×12.  The softcovers are also so much lighter than hardcovers that it actually weighs the same as a 6×9 hardcover.

Sketching My Pet Fish

Winter persists.  Attempting to maintain a stiff upper lip, this urban sketcher watches TV, reads art books and longs for warmer days.  Yesterday, I was watching a spring training baseball game, an indication that I won’t have to wait much longer.  I grabbed my small S&B softcover Alpha sketchbook (4×6) and looked around for something to draw.

I decided to draw my pet fish, Oscar.  He’s not a real fish; he’s made of plaster.  That means less to feed but he doesn’t wag his tail as much as live fish do.  Nevertheless, he’s great at posing for a sketcher.  Handsome little guy, don’tcha think?

(4x6) Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils

(4×6) Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils

Cancelled Concert – McDonalds Fun

This little guy was munching on a hamburger and fries. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

This little guy was munching on a hamburger and fries. Stillman & Birn soft-
Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan and I were going to sketch at a musical event in downtown Quebec City on Saturday morning but a blizzard was in progress and it was hard to get around town.  Schools and offices were closed and even the buses were having a hard time.

As I trudged through snow on rue St. Jean I couldn’t help but think about how silly it was for someone, someone I resembled, to be expending this much effort to get somewhere to sketch.  It was ‘free coffee’ week at McDonalds and I met Yvan there.  We got coffee and looked out the window at the storm as we drank it.

Rather than be completely defeated, we both got out our small sketchbooks and did some quick sketches.

This plow was sitting down the street from McDonalds. The view from our second-story window was a bit odd but it made for a fun quick sketch. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

This plow was sitting down the street from McDonalds. The view from our second-story window was a bit odd but it made for a fun quick sketch. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan's last name is Breton and this sign was hanging about half a block up the street. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan’s last name is Breton and this sign was hanging about half a block up the street. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

In many ways the storm and cancelled event could have soured the day.  But we had some great conversations about art, did a bit of sketching and, like most sketching days, it was a good day.  I’ll stop here as otherwise I’d have to start talking about the hours I spent the rest of the day clearing snow.

 

Kids, Kids, Kids…Kids And Me In Egypt

Yvan and I agreed to go to the museum Tuesday morning.  Both of us knew that it was spring break for the kids of Quebec but neither of us knew that this particular Tuesday was also “free” day.  When I arrived there were hundreds of people in the lobby.  So many, in fact, that I didn’t even wait to check my coat because the line was too long.  I just headed upstairs to the Egypt exhibit.

Realizing that the place would be crowded, I found a place where I had the side of a glass case at my back and a clear view of a statue and set up to sketch.  I spent the next hour or so in that one place, sketching one statue.

But the sketching was the least important activity; I talked to kids.  I love kids when I’m sketching.  It’s hard to concentrate on drawing and my sketches sometimes suffer, but I still love them.  They’re so inquisitive and I never have to listen to them tell me that they wish they had the talent to draw or that they’d love to draw but they just don’t have the time.  Kids are the opposite of adults.  For them, drawing is KOOL.  They do it too.  They’ll tell you what they like to draw.  They’ll tell you that they like your drawing.  They ask about my pen.  A couple asked how long I’d been working on the sketch.   But mostly they just stood around watching, at least until their parents came land hauled them away.  Many of them dragged their parents over to see my drawing.

And on this day there were kids everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many people at the museum.  There were at least half a dozen kids around me at all times and I spent more time chatting than drawing.  It was a lot of fun.  As I packed up to leave I got to see what was really going on behind me.  The exhibit room looked like a rock concert.  People everywhere and as Yvan and I left we found there were lines of people waiting to enter the exhibit.  It was extraordinary, but I had to wonder if I could have found a place to sit if I’d wanted to draw something else.  I’ll never know as we left with smiles on our faces.  Here’s the sketch I did during “free” day.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, watercolor pencils