What Did We Do To Offend Little Miss Nina?

This spring and summer is rivaling COVID lockdowns for disrupting the flow of outdoor life.  Spring and summer for those of us living in a certain northern latitude continues to be a steady stream of rainy days.  We’re trying to get our garden planted, some house repairs done and, for the most part, we sit watching the rain.  The worst part is that weather has become completely unpredictable so it rains when sun is predicted and it’s sunny when it’s supposed to rain.  So, while we’re making some progress, it comes from saying “It looks like it’s not going to rain for the next few hours, I’m going to…”  Weird that.

Anyways, I sat on the deck, watching the rain (very pleasant) and decided to sketch one of an army of Impatiens that are destined to form a defense against grass invaders to a flock of hostas.

It’s been raining all day so I thought I’d write a blog post.  Hope you like the plant sketch.

Sketching Without Lines

I continue to try to use watercolors without an underpinning of a line drawing, mostly without success.  I can’t seem to figure out how to draw crisp edges with watercolors and, for complex drawings, I lose control over the drawing itself.  This is a good example of both of these problems.  This is a drawing (??) of a new pedestrian bridge over my river.  Great bridge, not so great sketch of it.  I added some pencil line buildings after the fact just to provide context.

Urban Sketching For International Nature Journal Week

I grew up in Arizona.  The standing joke there is that you don’t need weathermen.  All you need is a daily announcement of “Sunny and hot.”  I didn’t discover seasons until I moved north where I had a lot of difficulty dealing with the demands of “dressing for the weather.”  More than one kind of clothes?  Who’da thunk it?

Lately, though, our Quebec weatherman has had a limited offering of “It’s about to rain,” “It’s raining,” and “The rain is going to stop for a couple hours.”  So I’ve done little sketch wandering lately.

But yesterday we got a whole morning without rain so I headed out to to do a bunch of walking on my river.  It’s also International Nature Journal Week and I thought I might do something in honor of it.  Mostly, though, I wanted to spend time in nature, sitting on a rock or walking.

It occurred to me, however, that I was an urban sketcher and thus it seemed appropriate for me to select this common urban flower as my subject.  So, I sat on a rock and drew a dandelion.

It was very relaxing and enjoyable and after completing my walk I headed home my walk culminating in an old-man run/jog/slog.  It had started raining.

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.

I Visited The Montreal Botanical Gardens

A couple weeks ago our daughter came to spend the weekend and rather than have her take the bus back to Montreal I drove her there, giving me an excuse to visit the Avenue des Arts, a wonderful art store.  I spent way too much money there but gosh, what’s a guy to do when a store has DeAtramentis Document inks, Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, and a bunch of other great stuff that isn’t available in Quebec City?

The next morning I headed off to the Montreal Botanical Gardens where I spent half a day sketching stuff, including this place that’s part of the Chinese pavilion there.  l had a great time but was quite tired when I headed back to Quebec City.