What’s The Virus Doing To Your Art?

James Gurney asked this question in a recent blog post.  He was talking to people who make a living doing art but it made me realize that COVID-19 is affecting a lot of us these days so I thought I’d talk a bit about what it’s done to my way of making art.

Quebec was very proactive in responding to the pandemic and so we got shut down pretty much the same time as the professional sports closed their doors.  So we’ve been spending a lot of time at home.  We did make one whirlwind trip to Montreal to retrieve our daughter because we didn’t want her to spend months living alone in a one-bedroom apartment.

Now I confess that before the virus came along I was dealing with winter and already trying to teach myself that drawing at home wasn’t a crime, though without much success.  Still, I’d drawn a bunch of stuff around the house.  But I started to get serious about this when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to go out sketching when the snow melted.

Here’s me, in my studio before the pandemic:

Ah, the good old days.  Will they ever return?

Here’s where I spend my time these days:

I built the little gizmo to hold my laptop above my drawing surface because I signed up for Skillshare and I’m watching some courses, mostly making different kinds of marks and color blotches in an attempt to learn how to wield a brush.  Not as much fun as sketching on location but fun nevertheless.

Not wanting to do a post without some art, here’s one of a bunch of floating head sketches I’ve done from Mr. Google people.  What are you doing to while away the time.  Remember when we wished we had more time to draw?  Maybe now is that time, though I’m distracted a lot by the news right now.  Stay safe everyone.

Along The Gouache Road

I’m continuing my experiments with gouache, trying to figure out how to use it effectively.  I’m also learning how many basic concepts of painting I don’t know at all.  Giving up my fountain pen approach to capturing objects makes me feel lost.  But I feel (unsure?) that I’m learning those concepts more quickly than if I’d stuck with a pen/ink/wash approach.  In the end I think my gouache experiments will improve my pen and ink drawing and certainly my watercolors.

When I posted a lemon portrait recently, my first real gouache painting, I said that “gouache is not opaque watercolor.”  A couple people took me to task about this statement and I should have clarified what I meant and what my motivation was for saying it.  The motivation came from the many watercolorists who have said (on the internet) that they tried gouache and had trouble and the fact that I got the same problems

People try to use gouache like watercolor.  Of course you can do this, but NOT if you want to take advantage of its opaque characteristics.  You can use gouache in thin washes as you might watercolor, but it’s not nearly as good as watercolor when you do so.  It doesn’t spread, blend or mix as well as watercolor.  It lifts previous layers more easily than watercolor.  So if that’s the way you want to use it that way, you’re going to use it as a poor substitute for true watercolor  Nothing wrong with that but it’s really better to use true watercolors and then throw in a dose of white gouache at the end.  Many people do this.

If you want to paint opaquely, however, you need to approach gouache more like oil painters do (I have never done oil paintingl but I’ve watched some on YouTube :-).  They don’t lighten tones by adding solvent.  They use it to control viscosity.  They mix colors to lighten/darken tones.  They also work in layers that start thin (lean) and move to thicker layers (fat).  We sort of do the same with watercolors because we use a “tea, milk, honey” approach.  So, using water to control viscosity and color mixing for tone allows the use of gouache as an opaque medium  Anyways, that’s what I was talking about.  I make no claims to knowledge of anything so if you disagree, that’s fine.  You’re probably right (grin).

When I do gouache I sometimes wonder whether I’m learning, floundering or just creating personal embarassment.  I am having fun, however, and with the current state of things, that’s enough.

I went off the deep end the other day and did a simple landscape painting in gouache.  There was no under drawing.  There was no planning.  And most of all, there was nothing to look at because we’re buried in snow here in Quebec.  I NEVER DO STUFF like that.  Maybe it’s the cold I have or maybe it’s the “self-isolation” and “social distancing” I’m doing but I did it and here is the result.

Gouache (3×7), Stillman & Birn Beta

I also wanted to work on my ability to manipulate gouache to render an object so I painted this soup cup using only burnt umber and titanium white.  I sort of messed up the top rim of the cup but, as I said, there’s a certain amount of embarrassment that goes along with trying new things.

Hope all of you are safe and have settled into your own self-isolation.  At least we can draw.

 

Painting A Lemon In Gouache

More baby steps down the gouache road today.  I’m trying to figure out how to mix proper (and to understand what proper means) viscosities/tones/hues to achieve results.  I’m learning that gouache is NOT opaque watercolor.  It’s a different thing entirely.  Lightening colors with water is a non-starter because too much water results in lifting of existing paint.

Rather, you must lighten colors using white or yellow.  I calculate that I only need to do a thousand more paintings to come to some understanding of this.  Anyways, my goal with this simple painting was to explore how I could achieve the lumpy appearance of a lemon.  While far from perfect, I was pleased with the result, though it took me approximately forever to achieve it (grin).

Plunging Into Paint

I’ve spent a few years simply drawing stuff, trying to figure out how to draw something I’m looking at in its proper proportions.  I’ve done thousands of sketches with this as the singular goal.  I love lines and my passion for fountain pens has driven me forward.  When it came color and paint, it has been done as an afterthought and mostly like a kid using crayons to color in the shapes.

More recently, though, I’ve realized that I’ve separated, too much, my drawing from my painting and that I need to think more about the paint as I draw.  I’ve found this hard to do because I get into the process of making lines and forget completely about notions of color.

I decided that the only way to break through this was to go to start with paint, try to figure out paint, and maybe then I could integrate it into my sketching.  Just for good measure I decided that I should set aside my watercolors, at least for these experiments, and use a medium I’ve never used before.  Here is the first, and only acrylic painting I’ve ever done.

Of course I had no idea what I was doing but I used acrylic’s fast-drying ability, its opacity, and its laying ability to scrape together a paint brush.  Oh…and a big dose of YouTube how-to videos about acrylics helped considerably.

My real interest in mediums other than watercolor, though, is gouache.  I like that it meshes well with watercolor, that I can carry it with me, and that it’s easy to clean up.  So, I painted the same brush in gouache.  I had a harder time with the layering, suggesting I need to get a better handle on water control.  You sure need to use less water – a lot less water.  If you don’t previous layers will lift and mix with the paint you’re putting down.

I had fun doing both of these paintings.  I felt way out of my element due to the lack of outlines but that has its redeeming features as well.  In addition to these paintings I’ve covered half a dozen sheets of watercolor paper with blotches, mixes, blends, and value scales.  I guess this is the equivalent to when I used to draw lots of cubes in perspective (grin).

 

Road Trip To Montreal – Part Two

I met Marc Taro Holmes on day two of my Montreal trip at the Pointe a Calliere.  This is primarily and archeology museum, built on top of a large excavation of early Montreal habitations.  We were there to sketch in a natural history exhibition that’s going on now.

I admit that I was tired from the day before.  Now that I’m officially old I don’t hold up like I used to but I was excited to sketch some animals. We wandered around, looked at everything and then I started drawing this spoonbill.  It was a magnificent specimen.  I tried the ‘draw fast’ approach and that cost me some accuracy but I was pleased by the result.

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

I was getting tired and Marc graciously agreed to walking across the street so I could sit, drink some coffee and have a muffin.  That was fun and I needed it, but eventually we headed back to capture some more of the museum.

I decided to press the ‘draw fast’ method even more and tried to capture a bunch of birds on one page.  I felt I’d went too small and I certainly drew too fast, but I had fun doing these quick captures.  Maybe this will help me sketch pigeons on the street this summer.

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

Unfortunately I was running out of gas and just couldn’t bring myself to start another sketch.  I decided at that point that I was done for the day and so I said goodbye to Marc and headed off to meet my daughter.  I’m not sure that ‘draw fast’ is for me.  Maybe I’m destined to forever be a slow sketcher.