Can Shari Teach Me To Paint?

While the COVID pandemic generated a bunch of negatives, there have also been positives.  For instance, because Shari Blaukopf couldn’t travel or do her in-person workshops, she decided to produce a series of video watercolor workshops and made them available on her website.

I bought several of them and will probably buy more because the pricing makes them irresistable.  There’s only one problem.  Buying them didn’t make me a better painter.  And while watching the videos taught me a bunch of stuff, this didn’t improve my painting abilities much either.  Surprise, surprise.

Seems I’ve actually got to move a fuzzy stick around… a lot, if I’m going to improve and I’m not good with fuzzy sticks.  My approach to “painting” has been to do a complete pen and ink drawing and then to quickly add local color, being sure to stay “inside the lines.”  Most of the time, my paint detracts rather than enhances the original drawing. Painting Shari style isn’t like that at all (grin).

Shari starts each of her workshop studies with a pencil, drawing outlines of the major components.  I’m not much of a pencil-driver either, but a pointy stick is a pointy stick and so I have no trouble with this step.  Here’s my first attempt at painting a Victorian window:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not horrible, but it’s not even close to Shari quality.  My brushwork is sloppy.  I expected that (see above about my fuzzy stick management), but it’s the other stuff that suggests I wasn’t paying attention.

  1. Shari explains how to mix paint to the right consistency.  I was anything but consistent.
  2. Shari showed me how to create the dark red shadow color.  Mine isn’t dark enough cuz I got caught by the watercolor “drying up.”
  3. And oh my goodness.  Shari talks about painting linework with a rigger brush.  I couldn’t get a paint mix that was dark enough and yet wet enough to do it at all so I resorted to a fude pen instead.

I love how she presents these workshops, though, and with more time with my fuzzy sticks, I just might figure out how to do it.  Hope so.  Thanks to Shari for making these workshops available.  With my help I bet Shari CAN teach me to paint.

The Sketching Path We Travel

I’ve been pondering where I want to go with my art and thus, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the path I’ve taken to get where I am.  It’s funny, and maybe a bit odd, that I’ve been trying to get better at sketching and I haven’t done much of this kind of reflection.  Instead, I’ve plodded along as a guy “who draws stuff” and most of that drawing has been as a pen and ink guy who uses color to tint sketches, as so many urban sketchers do.

When I look back, though, I recall the early stages, where I was trying to draw things.  I would choose those things based upon what I was capable of drawing.  This is the stage where new sketchers say things like:

“I can’t draw buildings because I don’t understand perspective.”

“How do you draw a car?”

“Gardens are hard because they are complicated.”

“How do you draw trees?”

Eventually, sketchers learn that what they’ve been told over and over is true.  Everything is just a shape.  This changes things forever once we adopt this view.  It takes some time (for me it was counted in years), but you shift from looking at things and start seeing and drawing shapes.

The draw shapes path causes a change in what you try to draw because now, anything is a good subject, not just things you know how to draw.  A nose is no different from a can of soup to a shape sketcher.  For me, this didn’t come easy (maybe I haven’t even completed this shift) but it’s so liberating.

When it does occur, however, you need a new criterion for choosing a subject.  We all like to believe that we choose subjects based upon some high-art goal but in my experience that’s rarely the case.  In fact, I’d say that most sketchers, once they work with shapes, more often choose a subject based upon how much time they have, can I see it from a shady spot, and with a dose of “what’s my style?” mixed into the analysis.

And this is where we come back to me.  I’ve always been a guy who loves fountain pens and who worries a lot about proportions and relative sizes.  Translate that to mean, I’m not good at “loose” or “simplification.”  Marc Holmes has chided me into trying to draw loose and quickly a number of times.  I’ve tried.  Maybe I’ll get there some day but my sense is that I  simply like the process of capturing proper proportions, angles, etc.  All of this in spite of the fact that I’d love to be able to draw in the loose, “painterly” (his word) style he uses.

And so when I choose my subject, largely according to how much time I have, I have to choose a smaller, more simple subject than Marc would for the same amount of time.  I’m just not good enough to do it any other way.  Not a bad thing and to quote Clint Eastwood, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Here’s an example where I didn’t choose well.  Heck, I didn’t choose at all.  We were out on a walk, wanted to sit in the shade and I found myself looking at the butt end of a large statue of Simon Bolivar on his horse.  At most I’d have five minutes to draw it as we rested.  In reality, given my sloth-like approach to sketching, it would have taken an hour to do a decent sketch.  BTW, this will be the last of my 5-min sketches that you’ll see.  This one was a good example of what I am talking about here but I won’t abuse your sense with any more of them (grin).

How do you make your subject choices?  Are you lucky enough to have moved beyond all this and so can draw anything in no time?