Different Approach Brings Surprising Results

We can look at the world as a bunch of contour lines, a bunch of interlocking shapes, or a set of 3D masses as we create our art.   Many may view the world as a melange of these three points of view, but then emphasize one or the other as we put the scene to paper.

As a pen guy I have most experience with contour, but the more I sketch the more I envision the world as shapes and masses, converting them to line in my drawings.  I’ve tried, on a couple occasions to draw using shapes laid down directly with watercolor, but my watercolor abilities are very limited so, for the most part, these experiments don’t work out that well (grin).

But recently we were in Rimouski, Quebec and I took some photos, one of my daughter sitting on a pile of rocks exposed during low tide.  I decided to sketch that photo and tried to capture it as color shapes, adding some pen lines after the fact.

At the outset I believed this would result in a much looser sketch than my typical pen drawing but I was mistaken.  Seems I look at shapes as having the same hard edges as a typical contour drawing.  More surprising, though, was that my ‘calibrator’, the sense of the size of things, is a bit off when I pick up a brush and everything in this drawing is larger than it should be.  My daughter looks huge, as does her hair.  I found that interesting because I thought I was being very careful with proportions when laying down the shapes of this sketch.  Silly me.  I wonder why.

A Bit Of Quick Sketchcrawling

People say that getting “out of your comfort zone” is a good idea.  So, I drive twice the speed limit, drink excessively and pick fights with NFL players.  Just kidding…maybe that isn’t what they mean, though in the art world these catch-all phrases are ill-defined and hold little real meaning.

But this week seems to be a week where I’m doing things different from my norm and a couple days ago Yvan suggested that we do a ‘real’ sketchcrawl, where we go to a spot, sketch something quickly and then move on to the next spot, repeating until the day got too hot to continue, or until Larry got completely frustrated (grin).

And that’s exactly what we did.  We hopped a bus and headed to a neighborhood where we’d never sketched and decided that we’d walk until one of us (took turns at that) decided it was time to stop.  There, we would choose a subject and spend only a few minutes capturing the scene.  Easy peasy, right?

For Yvan it was.  He’s a superb sketcher and with decades of experience, he’s also really quick when he needs to be.  Me, not so much.  I’m still vying for the “slowest sketcher on the planet” award and I think I’m still in the lead.

When I start sketching quickly all sorts of things go wrong as I lose control of linear perspective, proportions, and relationships.  These things cause my sketches to be barely recognizable as the scene before me.  But heck, I was out of my comfort zone.  That has to be good, right?  These are three sketches I came up with during our quick-sketchcrawl session.

Playing Through The Pain

In sports there are regular references to athletes who play through the pain.  I feel like I’m trying to do that right now with my sketching.  I’m at a point where I can walk and stand but doing so requires a lot of energy because of my pronounced limp.  Then, when I get on site, I further abuse my knee by sitting on my tripod stool.

At the same time, a star finally appeared over planet Quebec City, or at least that’s what the astronomers call it.  The result has been that we’ve got these things authorities are calling shadows and a lot more light than normal.  It has also gotten warm enough that we can sketch outdoors.

A fairly large group of us were downtown sketching.  I learned later that everyone thought I’d gone home, I suppose, because of the grimace on my face when I walked, but actually I’d limped down to the south side of city hall and drew a street view.

Normally I lose track of time when I sketch but on this day I knew every minute because my knee kept sending out tweets screaming about being harassed and abused.  But eventually I did finish the sketch.  I didn’t notice, until now, that I didn’t draw any of those shadow things I mentioned.  I guess I’ll get used to those in time.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

When I finished I limped back to where everyone else was sketching.  They were finishing up sketches and starting to talk about getting coffee.  I sat down and with a couple minutes to fill, I started drawing some of the roof lines.  Then we went to get coffee and reflect on the day.  I think it’s going to be a long summer.  I think I should be on the disabled list but don’t tell coach.

The Scales Fall From My Eyes

I’ve watched Marc Taro Holmes smoosh color onto paper, shifting colors as he “built washes.”  I’ve heard Shari Blaukopf talk about creating mosaics of shifting colors on a surface.  And I’ve stared at hundreds of Liz Steel sketches (relevance later).  Apparently, I’ve got a pretty thick head because in spite of all this exposure to the concept, I didn’t get it.

No, it took a single comment in Liz Steel’s watercolour course (highly recommended) to get me to rethink watercolors.  I know little of watercolor use but the first thing shown in every watercolor book I’ve read is how to do a flat wash.  That’s how I’ve been applying watercolor…in flat, boring washes.  Apparently I learned that lesson well. But in a single statement, as Liz was discussing mixing on paper vs mixing on the palette, Liz said (paraphrasing), “I rarely use flat washes; I prefer adding texture in my washes.”  This simple statement somehow connected both of my neurons together and there was a flash of light, at least that’s how I remember it.

So, I started looking more closely and practicing the addition of variability into washes.  I still struggle with its application but I was pretty happy with this sketch.  It was an experiment to see if I could put a very textured, high contrast “wash” behind the focal point and sort of gradate both the texture and the color (lightening it) as I moved away from that focal point.  My table light was just an excuse for a background.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

 

Cute Things Come In Small Packages

There are parts of Quebec City that were originally built in the early 20th Century but that have since been modernized, mostly by putting modern facades on the buildings.  The result is really boring.  But if you wander around in said neighborhoods you find the odd house that has been spruced up a bit but that retains its older shape and aesthetic.

Claudette found just such a house and we went to sketch it.  It was a bit cool but sunny but on the upside, we had a great place to sit as we sketched.  It was a small, simple house and didn’t take long to sketch but when I got out my watercolors I managed to dump half a bottle of water in my lap.  Suddenly it got very cool and I looked as though I’d wet my pants.  Life of a sketcher.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black