The “Forgot About It” Experiment

Outside the scientific community the most commonly executed “experiment” is the forgot-about-it experiment.  The experimenter places leftovers in the refrigerator and then forgets about it.  Alternative approaches are ignored pieces of fruit or vegetable.  Weeks later someone, finding the item, pulls it from the fridge with the exclamation of “Ewwww….yuck.”

We’ve all done these experiments and they don’t lead to much insight,but we’re prone to do it again…and again.  Today, however, I want to talk about a forgot-about-it experiment that did yield some interesting results.

First, an aside.  As reported here, my leg problems caused me to shut down my street sketcher activities and COVID resulted in multiple postponements of knee replacement surgery.  BUT, it finally happened and I have to say I’m thrilled with the results.  I’m regaining my energy levels and starting to walk, climb stairs, etc. like I haven’t done in years and to do it without pain.

Ok…what’s one got to do with the 0ther?  I started digging through my sketching stuff, trying to get things in order.  What I found initially scared me – my own forgot-about-it experiment.  In this case it was two of my fountain pens (my daily users) still sitting in my sketch bag.  They’d been there for SIX MONTHS.  Surely they were dried up beyond use.  These pens were:

Platinum 3776, fed from a Platinum Carbon Black cartridge

Wing Sung 3008, fed from its piston-filler with DeAtramentis Document Black ink

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled about how pigmented (ie waterproof) fountain pen inks require lots of maintenance.  I’ve always argued that this was not true, citing the fact that the only time I clean my sketching pens (with these pigmented inks) is when I’m going to store them or if I’m changing colors.

The rebuttal has always been “Well, you’re using them daily and that’s why you have no problems.”  That was true  and I was defeated by their logic.  Today I present some evidence to contrary.  I have two pens that haven’t even seen the light of day for six months and each carried one of the two most popular waterproof fountain pen inks used by sketchers.  And while only a quick scribble, here are the results when I opened each of these pens.

No dipping water or shaking was required.  Both of these pens just wrote.  How can that be?  There are two reasons, I think.  The first is that all the fears of using pigmented fountain pen inks are exaggerated.  I do think people have become less concerned about this than back when they were first introduced and so I’ll talk about the second reason.  Both of these pens seal VERY WELL.  Unlike pens that us a simple rubber washer seal, each of these pens have an inner seal that wraps around the nib.  In addition to that, the cap itself sports a fine-thread (screw on) attachment to the body of the pen.

I know we live in a “facts don’t matter” world and only opinions/beliefs are important, so take this observable evidence in whatever way suits you, but I want to make one more point.  You CAN buy pens that work like this.  These two pens cost me $150 and $4 respectively.

 

 

A Blog Without Blog Posts???

My last blog post was just before Christmas, more than four months ago.  I kept meaning to write but since I wasn’t sketching it seems to take a low priority in the things to do queue.

In that last post I talked about how COVID work loads on our hospital system cancelled the knee surgery I was supposed to have back in September.  Since then, every once in a while (during a lull of COVID cases) my surgery was rescheduled and then cancelled again when another spike of cases came along.  Seems that postponed cancer operations and such have a higher priority than a knee operation on an old man.  Go figure (grin).  And so, my knee has just gotten worse and worse and I can’t do much walking at all.

So my decision to spend time learning music (and attempting to learn how to play classical ukulele) was a good one.  I can sit and study, play and generally be sufficiently distracted from the world so this pandemic couldn’t depress me… too much.

Anyways, these have been my tools for the past few months.  I now own three ukuleles and these are the two I play most.

I split my time between coming to grips with music theory and teaching my fingers to play what I want them to play.  My old, arthritic fingers are winning the battle but it’s a  battle that’s really fun.

The good news is that my surgery is actually going to happen next Wednesday.  This should mean a few weeks of post-op physiotherapy and then I’ll be walking again.  Eventually I may even be able to get back to sketching on the streets.  Hope so.  Sorry about the lack of posts.

Am I A COVID Victim?

A follower of my blog recently wrote to wish me a Merry Christmas, which was very nice of them to do.  But included was this question: “Have you been a victim of COVID?”  The question was asked because they’d noticed that I hadn’t posted on the blog or on Instagram for quite a while.

My first answer was simply “no,” but suddenly I felt guilty for not thinking about what some might think if I stopped posting.  And so, my second response idea was to explain that I just hadn’t been sketching much and thus had nothing to post.

Then it occurred to me to reflect on the question itself.  I’ve considered myself one of the lucky ones during the COVID pandemic.  I’m retired so staying home isn’t a heavy burden.  My wife and daughter are home with me so I don’t even have the angst of not seeing my family through the holidays.

But upon reflection, like so many people, I am a victim of COVID, not as someone who got the virus but in other ways.  For instance, I was supposed to have knee surgery back in September.  It was cancelled as Quebec hospitals cancelled all “elective” surgeries to free up staff to deal with COVID victims.  This has relegated me to the limp around the house crowd and limited my ability to go for long walks, something I was doing during the early phases of the pandemic.

But maybe the biggest impact COVID has had on me is my sketching, something I used to do every day and now do almost never.  I tried drawing food, kitchen utensils, and sofas.  I just don’t like it.  For me, sketching is about going out, plunking myself down on a tripod stool, and drawing something.  Take that away from me and I simply stopped sketching.  I’m sure I’ll get back to it once I can go out again but until then, I’m really having a hard time being interested.  In that sense, I am a COVID victim.  I suspect most people have simliar “victim” stories.

That’s not to say that I’m not doing well or that I’m unhappy.  I’ve taken to playing my guitar again.  I bought a ukulele.  I’m getting in touch with music again.  It’s all good.  I hope others are responding to these disruptions in their life in similar ways.  I hope all of you have a happy holiday season in spite of circumstances.  I apologize for not making a statement about why I wasn’t posting before.  I know there are at least three of you who follow my stuff and I should have thought about the potential for misreading my lack of presence.  We’ve all got to be like the two kids in my sketch.  We’ve got to keep that ball rolling regardless of the ups and down of the terrain.

Book Review: Adebanji Alede’s Addictive

Here’s an interesting fact.  One in five Africans are Nigerian.  Nigeria is a big country. Its most lucrative export is oil, but they’ve exported something even better in the creative dynamo called Adebanji Alede.

Adebanji says he’s addicted to the creation of art.  He is fond of oil painting on location and loves sketching people on the streets and in trains.  He’s had a YouTube channel for many years where he presents his art and artistic ideas as well as energetic attempts to motivate others to be as addicted as he is to sketching.

Early in 2020 he published a book titled The Addictive Sketcher which is a superb text for anyone wanting to learn how to draw quickly and in a loose, but accurate style.  I’ve read it twice so far and highly recommend it.

This month he’s followed up with a second book titled Addictive.  This isn’t a traditional how-to book; it’s better.  Addictive is 275 pages (8.5″ x 8.5″) of Adebanji’s blood, sweat, and tears.  It’s the entire contents of his over-stuffed sketchbooks.  What makes it so useful, at least to me, is that he works with several mediums (ballpoint, pencil, fineliners, oil pencils) and adds color and shading using a small set of Tombow markers.  Studying the gazillion sketches in this book is a treat.

In true Adebanji style, though, that wasn’t enough.  He’s done a series of a dozen or more videos associated with the book where he takes an example from it and recreates it right before your eyes, discussing the order of events as well as the whys and wherefores of his creations.  So, if you’re even slightly interested in gaining the ability to draw people in the wild, you need this book.  Here’s some examples from his book.  Each of the 275 pages is like these.

In Art, Paper Is Everything

Sarcastic sports nut standing behind a sketcher: “How far can you throw your book?”

Sketcher responds: “That depends on how bad the paper is.”

I’m here to report that I could throw my Clairefontaine sketchbook pretty darn far right now.  Given that I’m old and likely to pull a muscle if I tried, I just slammed it shut and put it on a shelf.

When I started sketching I seemed to be buying a new sketchbook every week, searching for the right format, the right binding, and the right paper.  It’s a problem for beginners because we don’t have the skills to modify our approach to suit the paper and don’t know how to evaluate whether it’s “us” or “the book.”  Most of all, though, back then we didn’t have good choices.

Then Stillman & Birn released the Alpha series sketchbooks and my life changed.  I filled one, then another, and another.  I started buying them 3-4 at a time.  Later they released the Beta series, which quickly became my favorite.  Things got confusing for me only when they started releasing a bunch of different sizes.  Nevertheless, I didn’t worry about paper quality.

But recently I had only one Beta series 8×10 softcover book available and these are my “go to” street sketching book.  But with COVID lockdowns and such, I can’t do much street sketching these days, so while at the student-run coop associated with the art school here, I bought a Clairefontane sketchbook.  It seemed nice enough, but that was deceptive.  Contained within its covers was a pile of paper where one side was “ok” when exposed to water, the other side was less so.  Neither were very good, at least when water was involved.

I struggled with it and had done about a dozen sketches in it, all on the “front” side of the paper.  But yesterday I tried painting on the back side of one of the sheets (two of them had already fallen out of the book) and what a mess.  For what it’s worth, others have reported problems with this sketchbook too.  Here’s the results of my sketch.

These are part of our tomato crop this year and no, the tomatoes are not that red.  My sketch got that way as the paper started pilling when I simply applied a bit of water to get my initial wash to flow.  And every time I put paint to paper, there was more pilling.  I chased it by letting it dry and adding more paint.  Each time I had to go a bit darker to cover spots that formed as a result.  It’s just impossible to work with crappy paper.  The surface of this sketch feels like 80-grit sandpaper from all the pilling.

Artists constantly plead with students to use good paper.  Students constantly say they don’t want to use good paper because they’re “just getting started.”  I say throw the crappy stuff away and buy good paper.  Use cheap paint, cheap brushes, cheap paper towels if you must, but don’t use crappy paper.  BTW, this sketchbook cost me $20 so money isn’t always the object here.  For the same money, though, I could have bought a good, Stillman & Birn sketchbook, but the coop doesn’t stock them.

Today, though, I wanted to redeem myself and grabbed my one blank S&B Beta sketchbook off the shelf and set up three tomatoes to draw.  This was soooooo much more fun.  Just for kicks I grabbed a cheap box of Munyo watercolors, a $4 Princeton synthetic brush and a napkin left over from a Subway sandwich from the day before.  That’s what I used… with good paper.  I was stuck with the same limited skill set I had the day before but the enjoyment and, I think, the results were much better.  I’ll let you decide.