Oil Paint Sketching

Long ago I saw Cesar Santos, well-known oil painter, doing what he called “studies” in a sketchbook.  He’d apply a couple coats of gesso to the page and then paint gorgeous portraits, that should have ended up on a wall, but Cesar was in training mode, working on his techniques and he needed to organize painting, notes, color swatches, etc. into a book.

That was before I considered oil paints but I didn’t forget the possibility.  Of course, when I decided to try oil paints I had to try it.  You can see my attempt and discussion here.  At the time my thought was that all the gesso stuff would just not transfer well to street sketching.

But, as they say, “I’ve seen things that can’t be unseen.”  Like artists sketching with oil paints on raw paper, Kraft paper no less.  It’s being done as a way to augment a pencil value study, providing color notes for a painting to be done in a studio.  BUT, the results would be perfect as a sketching medium for quick landscape/urbanscape sketches.  The problem, of course is what I reported in the post I just mentioned – you’ve got to wait a couple days to close the book, not exactly what you want as a street sketcher.

I continued to think about this and here’s where my mind went.

  1. When we need to do watercolors on thin paper we do “light washes,” using less paint and water to do our sketches.
  2. Water-mixable paints can be thinned with just water and the water dries much faster (too fast for normal painting) than with typical oil mediums.
  3. Paper is more absorbent than gesso’d board which would help wick the water away from the paint film

Hmm…says I.  What if… and an experiment was born.  I had some paint mixed on my palette, not the right colors perhaps but they would do for an experiment.  How to get a sketch done in “no” time so that I could time how long it would take to dry?  Solution is to keep it small and not worry about the quality of the sketch, all emphasis on getting the area covered as quickly as possible.

I used a cheap Kraft sketchbook.  I create these by taking a generic 9×12 spiral sketchbook and run it through my bandsaw, creating two 6×9 sketchbooks that cost me around $5, less if they’re on sale.  The paper is 120g.  I’ve filled several of them and they’re good for “light washes.”  A Stillman & Birn Nova book would be far superior.  Anyways, this is the result of this test.

Just toward the end of my “sketch” (total time less than two minutes) I decided to add a bunch of white in the foreground.  Titanium white oil paint is very slow to dry and I thought it a useful addition to the test.  Sorry this isn’t a better sketch.  I tried to keep the paint thin and used only water to thin it.

And then I waited, but I’m not a patient guy so at 15 minutes I was sticking my fingers in the paint.  Most of it was dry, or dry enough that I wouldn’t worry about closing the book.  The white areas were still tacky though (no book closing yet).

Then I remembered Cesar Santos.  He puts waxed paper over his sketchbook oil paintings.  I cut a sheet to fit the book and used a tiny piece of scotch tape to hold it in place, and throwing caution to the wind, I closed the book.  I even placed the book in my sketch bag to simulate me carrying it to the next sketching location.  Throughout the evening I checked it and no paint moved or was transferred to the waxed paper.  This morning, everything is quite dry except for the thicker dabs of white, which remain just a bit tacky.  I suspect even this can be improved upon as I put the white on without thinning and purposefully put it on thick.  My understanding is that zinc white dries more quickly but I don’t have any.

This is starting to look like fun.  I really like the opaque nature of oil paints for sketching and the fact that I can prep 3-4 colors in a tin and be able to see the colors of my mixes before I use them in a sketch.  I enjoy investigating my subject by mixing some the dominant colors as I decide how I’m going to approach the subject.

I know that the majority of the three people who follow this blog are watercolor and pencil types but I hope at least one of you finds this interesting.  I’ve spent most of my art journey without much experimentation and it’s refreshing to do some.

Sketching With Graphite

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing with graphite.  Mostly this has been done in a 4×6 book I carry everywhere.  I have come to a couple conclusions:

1) I think I prefer using graphite IF I approach a sketch as a watercolor, not a line drawing.

2) I don’t have enough patience to use graphite as an end product drawing tool.

Let me explain these one at a time.  I started running down this road because Shari Blaukopf showed me what is possible if you allow watercolor and not ink pen lines to define the edges of a drawing.  Clearly she is right.  She’s Shari Blaukopf after all (grin).  Thus, I won’t throw my pens away and I’ll use them to do line drawings, but if I’m going to do color, I’ll switch to pencil so I can take advantage of the power of watercolor/gouache.

Ok…number two.  I’ve done a few drawings where I’ve used pencil work to tonally create objects.  To do it right, it just takes too darn long for sketching.  Throw on top of that the fact that the graphite gets smeared either during sketch creation or while it sits inside your sketchbook.  I don’t like it, not at all.

So, what are the alternatives?  Well, there’s not much that can be done about the second problem as long as you want to stuff your sketchbooks in a pocket or backpack but it is possible to simply be faster in the sketch creation.  This means speeding up the toning process and accepting the compromises it entails.  Everyone has their own thresholds for when these compromises are unacceptable.

Here’s one such compromised drawing where I’ve added tones more quickly in a scribble fashion.  This produces a sketch more quickly but I’m not happy with the messy results.  And yes, I know that with practice I can get better at this but, why bother when watercolor over pencil layout brings so much more to my sketching.

I can always wield the pencil the way I do my fountain pens.  In my opinion, however, the results are not as nice as if I’d done them with a fountain pen.  Not bad, not good.  But if I’m going to do a line drawing, I will pick up a fountain pen.

Relaxing In St. Simeon

Late in August most of the lockdown stuff was over.  We’re still wearing masks because we’re not idiots, but back then we were like bears poking our head out of the cave, unsure if we wanted to come out.  Being a bit apprehensive about traveling anywhere, but also feeling like most and wanting a change from being sequestered at home, we decided to take a trip.

We didn’t need or want a big “see the sites” trip and most tourist things were shut down anyway, so we decided to go somewhere and sit, without our computers, without TV, and without an agenda.  I even made the decision to limit my sketching during the trip.

We chose St. Simeon, Quebec because there isn’t ANYTHING in St. Simeon except a coastline along the beginnings of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  When I say there isn’t anything I really mean it.  No good restaurants, no coffee shops, no nothing.  But we did have a hotel that looked out on the water and it was quiet enough.  We drove up a valley that holds the Black River and did a bit of sitting by the river.  I spent half an hour making a sketch of the tree-lined roadway.  I had a lot of fun doing it but I can’t show it to you.  I’d forgotten what a spiral-bound sketchbook can do to a pencil drawing and the sketch has become a cloud of smeared graphite.

On another day, however, we went to “Port au Persil,” which is a small town with a gorgeous cove area and a pier where you can sit and watch whales.  I got to see my first beluga whale which was exciting.  Actually, we saw lots of them during our trip.  By whale standards they’re quite small but they’re snow white and gorgeous.  My sketchbook came out around the cove though.  The cove is full of rounded sandstone rocks and I couldn’t resist.  This reflects those formations.

Mostly, though, we sat on the balcony of our hotel, or walked along the beach.  This involved a lot of whale watching, some beer drinking and a lot of salsa and chips.  It was delightful.  I decided that I should try to paint the coastline and I’m afraid I let the paint get away from me a bit but I’ll share it anyway.

The trip was a big success.  It seems that doing nothing appeals to both of us and we felt great as we headed for home.  I need to spend more time doing nothing.

I’m A COVID Victim… Sort Of.

Today is Sep 22nd.  I’m supposed to be in an operating room, getting my bum knee overhauled.  It’s not happening.  The reason it’s not happening is that some Quebecers felt that having Karaoke night at a bar while others were having large group parties was more important than keeping the COVID case numbers low in Quebec.  We even had a bunch of anti-masker idiots protesting in Montreal just to add some spice.

The result?  We’ve got a couple hundred cases a day of COVID in a province that had successfully suppressed COVID transmission (lockdowns, slow_openings, and mask mandates were doing the job) to almost nothing.  We were having day after day of zero deaths…and then the parties began.

How does this affect me?  Well, I was supposed to have surgery in the spring, but COVID came along and the province shut down all elective surgeries.  That was understandable – they needed the bed space.  But we “flattened the curve” as the media are fond of saying and, just a while ago the surgery troops started working again.  My operation was scheduled, until it wasn’t.  The province has shut down surgeries again and thus I will continue to hobble my way through life.  I take some solace in the fact that those who believe that masks are too much of a bother and cancelling a party is hard on their libido have now given me nowhere to go either.  What is wrong with humans?

But it was apple-picking time here in Quebec and Chantal and Jodie like to pick apples every year so we went last week to pick some.  I confess that I find it a bit odd that you pay a premium to pick your own apples, but they tell me it’s fun and so I go along.  I don’t pick apples, however, I draw them.

What’s A Pencil?

When I came to sketching I’d been using fountain pens for all of my writing for decades.  It never occurred to me to use anything different to draw stuff.  So I’ve spent years using fountain pens for sketching and rarely have I tried anything else, though I’ve spent a bunch of time with watercolor pencils in museums when watercolors weren’t allowed.  But with the COVID scurge going on I’m doing more experiments.  I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with me doing more art in isolation rather than going out with friends to sketch some location.

I was at an Artistes dans les parcs event last week.  Even here I’m mostly by myself because the language barrier prevents a lot of interaction between myself and the rest of the participants.  Anyways, I was out on the shore of the St. Lawrence River sizing up some rocks to draw.  For whatever reason I got the idea to draw them with a pencil.  I dug around in my bag and came up with a short hunk of Blackwing 602.  Here’s the result.  Another result of this experiment is the realization that I’ve never learned how to draw with a simple, graphite pencil.

Strathmore 184lb Toned Tan paper, pencil