Confused Weather Makes For Confused Sketchers

“April showers bring May flowers.” – Thomas Tusser (1557)

I have a question.  If you get showers in April, and they continue through May, will there be LOTS of flowers in June?  I sure hope so because Quebecers’ moods, will need a boost.

By date and temperature, we have finally gotten to spring and we sketchers are chomping at the bit to get out sketching.  In fact I witnessed a bunch of them, including myself, wandering around in the rain, looking for stuff to draw.  It was quite a sight.

We were attending the first of a series of plein air painting gatherings organized by the great Denise Bujold – great because she’s done this and because she’s so darn good at it.  There are 16 events scheduled, one a week, throughout the summer and fall.  But for this first one, surprise, surprise, it rained.

It was held at an apple/vegetable farm on Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City.  When Yvan and I arrived we found a gaggle of sketchers huddled in a large space that houses an art gallery during summer tourist season.  Eventually this group spilled out into the garden adjacent to the building and we literally wandered in the rain, pointing at things we could sketch if the rain would stop.

Eventually we made our way to a place where there was an overhang and a few picnic benches and everyone set up shop to sketch.  Across a field there was this scene and I confess that I didn’t have my heart in it and it shows.  But I did get to sketch, outdoors, and with other people.  That has to count for something.  There was supposed to be another event today but it’s pouring rain so it was cancelled.  I’m in desperate need of some flowers.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document diluted black

 

Is It Spring Or Is It Summer?

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the US and all day I heard the US press saying that this day, unofficially, marks the beginning of summer.  Here in Quebec City we had a frost advisory and the trees are just now deciding that they might as well put out their leaves.  It’s sunny today and feels very much like spring.  So, is it summer or spring?  Weather this year has been hard to take for many parts of North America.  I’m hoping we have a really long summer, or is it still spring?

In any case, the squirrels are out and about and I even saw a bumble bee this morning.  In honor of this change of weather, I drew a squirrel with a smile on his face. Like me, he’s happy that things are warming up.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), DeAtramentis Document Brn/blk

Memories From Old Toys

We’re still waiting for spring to come to Quebec City.  It’s quite unbelievable that it’s mid-May and the best we can hope for is a rainy, dreary day.  But until things warm up a bit (we had a frost warning last week) we’re sort of stuck going to indoor venues to draw.

We were provided with a new one, though, as the Quebec Historial Society opened a small exhibit of old, mostly tin toys from the 40s to the 60s.  As a kid, I was playing with those produced in the 50s so some were quite familiar to me and brought back memories.  I love tin toys, mostly for this nostalgia I suppose, but they were always so brightly painted to mask their simplistic nature.

I spent much of our session viewing the exhibit and reading all the description cards.  It’s not every day that you get to see and Easy-Bake Oven after all.  But eventually I sat down to draw and I did a poor job of sketching an old wind-up race car from the 40s.  I really need to slow down as the quality of my sketches is directly correlated with the speed in which I do them.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), DeAtramentis Document Brn/Blk ink, Daniel Smith watercolors

Hopping Down The Bunny Trail

I’ve been experimenting with using paint before I do any ink, using a brush and paint to do the actual drawing.  This is mostly as a way of getting my brain to realize that there’s value in color.  That’s probably an odd statement to most artists, but I’ve always been more enamoured with using a fountain pens/inks than I have been with “art.”

Anyways, I’ve decided to do more of this paint-first approach and as I also got a dose of drawing my daughter’s collection of stuffed animals with my recent sketch of Dudley the Dragon I grabbed a large rabbit with oversized feet and ears as my subject for the day.

To provide some guidance with respect to proportions and relationships I penciled in the locations/sizes of all the major masses and then started with paint.  Any self-respecting artist would chuckle to watch me sneaking up on the shapes and color patterns.  I started very light, improving the shapes as I went.  In this process I also started identifying tonal variations, trying to figure out how to create them in color.  I’m woefully ill-equipped to do this but I plowed ahead as if I were.  Eventually I added some ink lines just cuz my drawings need ink lines.  Hope you like the result.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), Daniel Smith watercolors

Sketching Session At My House

We’re on the verge of actual spring and I can’t wait for it to happen.  My excitement is tempered only by the fact that my bad knee is getting really bad, as in I can’t walk at all some days.  Anyways, my buddy Yvan felt sorry for me and agreed to come over so we could sketch together.  He’s got the best studio a guy could want but I’ve got some stuff to sketch that he doesn’t.  Even the king can get bored in his castle.

On the morning of his arrival I realized I didn’t have a cookie or cake in the house.  One must have sketching snacks.  A few days earlier we’d discussed me making biscuits and we realized that we didn’t know what you call them in French.  You see, ‘biscuits’ in French are cookies.  A day later, Yvan came up with biscuits à la poudre à pâte.   The word galette could also be used but this is a very broad term that includes a lot of sweet biscuits/scones/cakes.

All that is the lead up to me quickly whipping together some biscuits as a snack and so he could actually see what I was talking about.  While the idea was to eat them (we did), we took advantage of them as sketching material too.

Yvan got the bright idea to start with paint rather than my typical ink first approach.  Talk about walking out on a thin limb.  I admit that I struggled with this, a lot, but I also had a lot of fun and think it may be the way to get my brain to believe that watercolor is as important as line work.  Here’s my result:

We took a break and he showed me a copy of the classic book Nature Drawing by Claire Leslie Walker that he picked up for only $5.  What a gorgeous, but out of print book [face turning green with envy] this is.  So, I showed him my copy of Living History by Cathy Johnson, one of the gems of the book world.  And we ate another biscuit and admired the great drawings in both books.

Conversation led to me cutting up some sheets of paper for Yvan while he grabbed a stuffed animal (Dudley the Dragon) and started drawing it.  When I finished I decided to quickly sketch the same animal but he had the good view so I drew the side view.  Apologies to Dudley as I didn’t spend enough time organizing and blocking in the drawing.  This was done ink first with watercolor as an afterthought, my typical way of working.

At the end of this fun day, I’d experienced a new way of sketching and I plan to do a lot more of this paint-first approach.  It’s confusing as can be to think of outline, tone, form and color simultaneously but I like a challenge.  Thanks to Yvan for a great day.

Careful What You Wish For…

 

…you just might get it.

It’s all my fault.  For weeks I’ve been wishing that the snow would melt in Quebec.  Until a week ago, we Quebec City was still having below freezing temperatures so, I guess, my wish was more a dream than a real wish.

And then it came…the rain..the temps that got downright near reasonable and our record levels of snow started melting – QUICKLY.  Too quickly it seems because now we’ve got people in western Quebec being evacuated from their houses due to flooding.  The military has been called in to supply manpower.  I’m not proud of my selfish wish and I never wished it would all melt at once, but in a matter of days the 10-foot high snow banks that have surrounded my house have all but disappeared.  Today it’s 12C outside and the bright yellow ball has returned to our sky.

My task this weekend was to draw something “nature,” a task handed out by the Sketch With Me Facebook group.  I guess dirty snow banks are nature but the truth is, in the middle of a city just coming out of winter, there’s not a lot of nature to be found.  So I got the bright idea of drawing a small stick from a maple tree.  The maples are waiting for spring too.

So, I crunched up the snow hill in my backyard (major improvement over the mountain that used to be there) and clipped a branch.  Being a street sketcher, I’ve never done this sort of thing before and I was ill-prepared.  I found two problems.  First is that I was drawing too small, which caused the second problem, my tools were too big.  The smallest brush I own is a #6 and even my fine fountain pens were a struggle because my ‘stick’ was being drawn too small.  Nevertheless, it was fun and I’m going to do more of this, just as soon as I get a smaller brush.  With spring on my doorstep, I should have lots of subject matter available.

Fisherman Wood Carving

Canson XL Multi-media (7×10), Wing Sung 8008, DeAtramentis Document brn/blk, DS watercolors.

My hands were working Friday night so I decided to sketch a small wood carving we have.  The actual carving is of a grumpy old man like myself but decided to draw him younger.  In the end, it made me smile.

I was sketching while watching the Blue Jays so I was drawing in a Canson XL multimedia book that I use for scribbling during TV time.  This is not watercolor paper but if you go easy on the water, you can add some color.  I used a Portable Painter filled with Daniel Smith watercolors that I keep available for these purposes.

Sketching My Stuff

Yvan and Claudette came to visit this week and we spent the afternoon sketching my stuff.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff, mostly obtained at flea markets for purposes of drawing and we put some of it to good use.  As is too often the case, my hand was hurting me but we nevertheless had a great day.

Yvan drew the front of a plaster rabbit so I drew the back and found it hard to make the foreshortened ears sufficient to give the rabbit a real rabbit look.  Some views are better than others I suppose.  Claudette did a really great drawing of a large Japanese woman’s head and it turned out great.

Arches cold press, DeAtramentis Document Black,

We took a break, had coffee and the obligatory talk of drawing and watercolors.  We decided to draw something else.  I have two really nice Japanese figures that I’ve drawn several times and Yvan chose to draw the male figure so I grabbed the female (that didn’t come out right).  I’d never drawn her from behind so I decided to do so, drawing in pencil in a Stillman & Birn Nova.  In the end I wish I’d used ink but this is the result.

Stillman & Birn Nova, mechanical pencil (2B)

Some Fun Museum Sketching

I was at our civilisation museum the other day and my joints were bothering me.  It was hard to draw and, even more, it was hard to concentrate because of the pain.  But I sat, stared at, and drew an Inuit stone carving of an Inuit stalking a seal.  I loved how a complete scene was captured in the rock.

Book Review: Shari Blaukopf’s Working With Color

If you’re a sketcher you know something about the Urban Sketching Handbook series.  These books look like a 6×9 Moleskine sketchbook, complete with the elastic band holding its covers together.  There were five of them.  Now there are six, the latest written by Shari Blaukopf and titled “Working with Color.

If you’re a sketcher who uses watercolors, you probably also know that it would be great if you could spend time talking with Shari and asking her questions about watercolor.  Most don’t get that opportunity, so she’s written Working with Color and  owning a copy is the next best thing (grin).

I binge-read my copy, which means it took me three days to get through it.  No, I don’t read that slowly but Shari’s book is written, as are the other Urban Sketching Handbooks, as a bunch of small sections full of guidance and tips.  It seemed that each one had me doodling and pushing paint around, trying out the things she talks about.  Not only did I have a ball, I learned a lot.

Like most books on watercolor, the early pages cover materials.  This book emphasizes materials that facilitate sketching on location.  I confess that I rarely get anything from such sections but it was interesting to see Shari’s palette choices.

Very quickly, however, Shari moves on to color mixing and color and value in general.  Subjects covered include: mixing darks, mixing greens, shadow colors and a discussion of values.  Each of these subjects are supported by sketches that illustrate each subject.

There is a section on limiting your color(s), from selectively choosing a single color to discussions of the use of a limited palette.  This later subject was time-consuming for me as Shari suggests several triads and, of course, I had to try them all (grin).

There are a couple different sections on using color to express mood and atmosphere and I have to read them again as there is much to think about in these sections.

There’s also a large section on mixing and using neutrals.  This is an area that is important to the watercolorist, but an area where I understand very little.  Mixed into this section is the notion of using warm and cool grays in an urban setting and it all seems like its the core of what I should know.  Wish I did.  This book is helping quite a bit.  I need to do a bunch more doodles and neutrals mixing though.

I do think that if you just read all the tips and look at the pictures, very little will change in your art.  This is stuff that you have to do if you’re going to begin to incorporate the ideas and methods into your art.  But heck, that’s the fun part and I can’t recommend Working with Color enough to anyone wanting to better understand how watercolors work and how they can be used in a sketching environment.