Ah…The Meditation That Is Pencil Drawing

I’ve pulled these books from my library and they now rest on the table next to my reading/TV chair.  The Guptill and Harding books are still the best in my opinion but I like all of these books.  Harding has a great book on drawing trees too but I don’t have that one.

So here I am, pencil in hand, drawing stuff.  While it feels like a new road for me, I have done some pencil drawing in museums during winter, because many museums don’t like the idea of watercolors being sloshed about near the exhibits.  This is when I work with watercolor pencils too, using a water brush. That was back in 2013-2014 though, and mostly I was still trying to figure out how to deal with basic proportions.  Light and shade was mostly foreign to me.

I was walking the other day and found some mushrooms on their last legs I did some tiny sketches of them.  It was hard because they were old and falling apart.  Somehow I related to them (grin).  Anyways, the highlight was that I found some milkweed pods and I brought some home with me.  This was done in my S&B Epsilon 9×12 sketchbook.

Drawing this was… well… peaceful.  I’ve mentioned that I draw slowly regardless of medium.  That’s how this kind of drawing is done.  Pencil books don’t spend time telling you to draw quickly (grin).  The time flew by, however, and I felt refreshed at the end.  On to the next page.  I hope you find my stumbling around with new media at least casually interesting and that you’ll laugh along with me.

Baby Steps Down A New Road

In my last post, I mentioned that I was laying down my pens (almost) and picking up a pencil.   I’ve taken a baby step or two down this different road by breaking open a hardbound, 8.5×11 size Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, wrote name and address in it and began.

I did this on the day that Chantal was chopping down our flock of Cup plants.  These are very tall, sunflower-like plants but with many smaller flowers than your typical sunflower.  They get their name by the fact that each branching of the plant creates a “cup” that collects water and the plant absorbs it through soft tissue.  Pretty cool they are and we enjoy them every year.  Anyway, I took the top of one of them and drew it on the first page of my new sketchbook.  A pencil drawer am me.

Out Of My Comfort Zone

It seems that the art world is full of people saying “get out of your comfort zone” as a way of saying something, though I’m not sure what.  And for a decade I’ve pretty much ignored that advice.

When I came to sketching I was holding a fountain pen.  These days I’m still holding a fountain pen for most of my art.  Talk about a rut, but it is my rut and I like it.  Heck, everyone says that using a pen is the ONLY way to learn to draw.   I’ve never quite followed the logic of that claim, within limits, it has worked for me.  It’s those limits I want to talk about today.

Sketching with pen places a lot of emphasis on line and contour.  That’s ok, because we’ve always got watercolors to provide color, right?  The problem with all this is that the pen sketch becomes an end product.  You might think about watercolor while making a pen drawing but it’s still all about edges and contours.

Pencil drivers are different.  They shade their drawings.  In doing so they have to think more in three dimensions more than do pen drivers.  They discuss things like “turning the form” and other stuff like that.  So do all painters, including watercolorists, who don’t lay down lines as THE thing that defines their drawing.  Shari Blaukopf’s workshops taught me just how big a switch in mindset takes place when you to a pen and wash sketch but with a pencil instead.

I’m not talking here about right or wrong but rather about me “getting out of my comfort zone” for a reason, and that reason is to walk on the wild side of light and shade, turning forms, and gaining a better sense of creating 3D images.  It’s going to be a long and somewhat clumsy road for me I’m kind of excited about the prospects.

I did this rather quick (10 min) sketch of a basswood tree (3×5) while on a walk.  It was fun to scrumble in masses rather than drawing my typical Brillo pad trees.  I like the result and plan to draw a bunch more trees, though Quebec trees are dropping their leaves en masse right now.

I decided to draw a portrait.  I don’t draw portraits which is something of a Catch-22.  I don’t know how, they are never very good and so I don’t draw portraits.  More getting outside my comfort zone I guess.  I also learned something about pencil.  Stillman & Birn Beta is too textured to draw with pencil.  See…already learning.  Oh, and I can’t shade to save my life.  Guess that’s why I’m out here… out of my comfort zone.

A Wonderful Summer With Less Art

Summer is struggling to hang on here in Quebec City and I’m grateful.  Very few leaves have dropped and the trees are still mostly green.   So we’re continuing to do our walking regime, while talking about what we’ll do when it finally does snow.

My summer has been less “sketch filled” than ever before and you know, I don’t feel bad about that.  I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t been posting here but I’ll try to catch up “real soon” because a number of things have occurred with my art over the past few weeks and it’ll be fun to share those with you.

I promised not to bore you with my stream of 4-5 minute sketches but I think sharing a few of them might give me a chance to mention what I actually have been sketching while out on our walks.  First are the people.  I’ve drawn a bunch of them, mostly as we sit, taking a break in one of the local parks.  These are typical of those efforts.  Nothing to write home about but I really like the little girl, with her large head and big hair, perched on her frail body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t do portraits but who could resist sketching this guy, who sat down across from me in the park.  I did take advantage of my wife’s patience as this one took more than five minutes, but not more than ten.

If you do quick drawings in parks, you draw plants.  I did and this is one of them.  I think it’s some sort of hibiscus and I added the color while sitting at home.

Then there are the rocks.  Our parks are full of them, placed around as little statues.. or something.  I’ve documented a bunch of them.

I’ll throw this one in as my “teaching moment.”  Chantal started bring her sketchbook with her and found the 5-minute routine as frustrating as I do.  At one point we were discussing how to grab a scene quickly and so I showed her how I would grab a scene in a minute or two.  As I’ve said, I’m not good at this but then ability has never prevented artists from giving advice to someone else (grin).

Those are some examples of the sorts of things I’ve been doing while out on my daily walks.  All were done in 3×5 or 4×6, dollar store sketchbooks.  My new knee is serving me well.  It’s the best joint in my body and the others are straining to keep up.  I’m afraid getting old isn’t pretty and it’s beginning to limit my overall ability to urban sketch but as time marches on, so do I.

Again, I apologize for my lack of blogging activity and hopefully you’ll see more from me “real soon.”  Hope everyone is doing well.

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?