What’s Up With Larry?

My last few posts haven’t generated a lot of comments on the blog itself but there’s been a flurry of msgs via email.  All but one have been from kind and gentle artists and most from people I’ve known, though never met, via the internet.

Most were of the nature of “if you’re having fun, that’s great” type, but others asked questions.  A couple wanted to know how oil painting could fit into urban sketching while others asked why I was leaving urban sketching.  Maybe those are all the same question (grin).

Anyways, I thought I’d clarify things a bit.  I am NOT leaving urban sketching and still expect to sketch on the streets to the extent that I can (more later).  All I’m doing right now is trying to learn some aspects of art that can’t be learned while concentrating on contours of objects.  Yes, you can do this with watercolors, but I felt I needed to get away from my pens AND watercolors because the two are currently tied together in my mind.  And no, I’m not selling my pens and won’t be ditching my watercolors anytime soon.  I love both too much.

As for whether oil painting can be done as an urban sketch, my interest in oils comes from an urban sketcher, Alvin Mark, who does watercolors, draws people with a fude pen, and does oil paintings, often during the same session.  He’s in the Singapore and I’ve followed him for years.

I’ve been playing with the idea of doing small, quick paintings too, either with gouache or oils, experimenting with the idea of replicating what I would normally do with watercolors but doing the paintings direct with paint.  Here’s one, based upon a watercolor done by Whee Teck Ong.   I did this one by drawing, with paint, a single line along the back of the two sheep to position them and then I jumped in with oils to complete the sketch in less than 10 minutes.  Not a milestone but this, and others, has convinced me that with red, yellow, blue, burnt sienna and white I can sketch on small panels once I gain better control over the medium.

I hope this clears things up a bit.  Oh…as for me continuing to be an “urban sketcher,” I’ve never completely understood what that meant as the definition has slipped and slided along, evolving to include pretty much anything done outdoors.  I remember watching as Marc Taro Holmes produced a two-panel 11×14 masterpiece while standing on the terrace in old Quebec.  As we walked I asked him what the difference was between plein air painting and urban sketching.  His response?  “I guess it’s Plein Air if you have a stop to pee.”  He nailed it.  These distinctions are mostly meaningless and questions about them even more so.

But on a more serious note, my operation was wildly successful but I am 73 years old.  I used to walk at least 45 minutes, each way, to do my urban sketching.  I’m getting to a stage in my life where that just isn’t going to happen every day as it once did.  So, I suppose I WILL be doing less urban sketching.  Maybe I’ll paint roses and onions more.  In any case, I’ll be putting pointy and fuzzy sticks to paper as often as I can.

One last thing.  I mentioned there was an exception to the nice bunch of emails I got.  Can you imagine someone feeling the need to call another person nasty names for “abandoning” urban sketching and for me suggesting that you can’t learn everything while drawing in pen?  Neither could I.. until I received that email.  Our society has gone mad.  I wonder if it will ever regain its sanity.

Oil Painting Is Just Peachy

The thing I remember most about my dad was the expressions he used to describe his universe.  When something was good it would often be “just peachy.”  Oil painting may 0r may not be an ideal medium but, for me, it’s just peachy.

Like any new medium, however, the early stages are filled with “how do you do…” about it.  For me, that’s a lot of fun but I can see how it might be frustrating for some.  I can draw stuff but everything I’m doing these days is about getting the medium to work so what I’m painting doesn’t really matter much.  I’m also facing a lot of stuff of nature that I haven’t had to think much about before as an urban sketcher.

Texture is one of those things and I was flipping through a book I own called “A Garden Eden,” which is a Taschen compilation of a bunch of botanical drawings and watercolor paintings.  It’s cover-to-cover eye candy.  Anyways, I came across a watercolor of a peach and I was taken by how fuzzy the peach looked.  I’m always surprised by what botanical artist can accomplish and I started thinking about how to do that with oil paint, or any paint for that matter.

In spite of being a complete beginner with oils, I decided to try it.  I drew the peach and its associated branch and leaves onto a 9×12 piece of MDF that I’d primed with gesso.  I was off and running.  The painting?  That was more like being at the 20 mile point of a marathon only rather than hitting a metabolic “wall”, this wall was because I had no idea how to make oil paint fuzzy (grin).

I worked, and worked, trying everything I could.  Mostly what I learned was that patience and stubbornness can go a long way to overcome a lack of skill.  I worked on that peach for at least two hours, but I think it actually looks fuzzy, though not as smooth as I’d like.  Then I had to paint all those leaves.  “How do you do…” Because oil paint dries slowly, that was ok and this is why I have to say that oil paint is “just peachy.”