In The Tunnel But There’s Light Ahead…

aasdsdf

… 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.

Sketching Ain’t Easy These Days

It’s now 2018 and I’m hoping there will be fewer doctor and physio appointments this year.  I’ve tried to doodle my way through the last few months of 2017, working on using my elbow and shoulder more and my wrists less.  I draw small, though and find that transition to be tough sledding, particularly for drawing small-size curves that my wrist just won’t do.

Nevertheless, if I made any resolution for 2018 it was to get back to drawing.  This morning I decided to draw a scene from a photo.  My wrist was feeling “pretty good” which is my shorthand term for “it’s not locked up and doesn’t hurt constantly” and so I grabbed a Platinum Carbon pen and a 5×7 piece of Fabriano Artistico CP and tried to capture a photo I had of Quebec’s Finance Building.  The pen isn’t flowing like it once did, probably because I’m being too careful about how I’m moving my hand, but I did produce a sketch and I share it with you here.

Hopefully things will improve as I get back into it.  I sure hope so because Liz Steel’s new watercolour course starts January 10th and I hope to do a lot of fuzzy stick practice ‘real soon.’

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 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.

 

 

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.

Sketching Without A Net

I’m used to working with the subject in front of me.  I rely upon it to provide me with proportions and relationships.  When I leave that world and rely only upon my imagination, I feel lost, needing something to grab onto that is simply not there.

This morning I sat down with a piece of hot-press watercolor paper.  I’m trying to figure out how to use it so I thought I’d doodle a bit.  This sketch started with an eye.  Then I added some hairs around it.  This led to the addition of a nose and I was off in never-never-land, trying to figure out how to draw a mouse.

I don’t know how to draw a mouse.  I’m sure I got the proportions wrong but my serendipitous road took me to needing a mouse all scrunched up while trying to hold onto something.  Where are a mouse’s feet anyways?  I don’t really know.  I was just doodling.  Anyways, here it is.  Mice, even poorly proportioned mice are cute.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I needed to spend more time drawing from imagination.  According to him, if you do this you will never look at the world the same because you’ll always be building a vocabulary so you can draw from imagination.  I think he’s right.  I need to go look at some mice.