I’m Back In The Game…Sort Of

Slowly but surely I’m getting back into sketching.  It’s amazing how out of practice once can get at normal walking after spending nearly four years with a limp (grin).  Yesterday I went on my training walk by walking with my daughter to an appointment she had not far from our home.  While she was doing her thing, I did this quick sketch, using a fude pen.

I sketched very quickly (some my say sloppily) and so I had time to throw a bit of color on it before she returned.  I suppose this is a landmark sketch for me as it’s the first in a very long time.  Hopefully I can get back to a daily routine.  If there’s one thins COVID and my bad knee has taught me it’s the power of routine to keep your skills up.  Mine are way down right now.  Feels real good, though, to click on Location Sketching as a tag for this sketch.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Pointy Devices Do Weird Things Sometimes

As a street sketcher I feel more than a little lost in our modern COVID world.  Our plein air group had to cancel its season of outings and the portrait group has moved to Zoom (my French isn’t good enough for that), and cancelled their outdoor sessions as well.  I try, very hard, to get excited about drawing at home but I guess I’m just not built for it.  Mostly I’m dabbling with watercolor, gouache and even oils, trying to learn something about paint while largely not producing anything of significance.

The portrait group decided to do monthly prompts just to get us doing something and this week the prompt was “chair.”  Most of the time, when one of my pointy devices gets near paper, I draw something that is in front of me.  Somehow, this time, this dripped from my pen.  Maybe it was because I was using my Kaweco Lilliput that has a high cute factor.  This was a lot more fun than I thought it would be so maybe I should do more of it.

Hahnemuehle Cappuccino sketchbook, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

Drawing Leaves In The Park

I had fun at the park this week.  I sat down to enjoy the fresh air and all the greenery and noted that in spite of the end of September date, our leaves have ignored the day length changes and had not started to change colors yet.  It has, indeed, been an odd weather year.  It was 25C as I sat in the sunshine.

But I noticed a couple red leaves on the ground.  There must have been blown there because I couldn’t see where it came from.  It gave me a leaf to draw so I put it on the bench next to me and quickly sketched and painted it.  This motivated me to look for more and while I did find a couple more red leaves on the ground, what caught my eye was a tiny little maple tree, sticking out of a garden area.  I decided to sketch a few of its leaves and add a splash of red to them as well.  If I were a real nature journalist I’d write stuff on this spread.  I guess I am not a nature journalist (grin).

I’m becoming quite fond of the Hahnemuhle Cappuccino sketchbook.  It’s definitely not a watercolor sketchbook but it’s a dream to draw on with pen and as long as I don’t get carried away with the water, adding watercolor works pretty well.  I suspect I’ll buy another when this one is full.

lHahnemuehle Cappuccino sketchbook, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black