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.
The title of this post is probably a misnomer, but I can’t think of a better one. Truth is, I’m comparing what I’ve done as a field sketcher to what I’ve tried to do as a neophyte oil painter. Sort of apples and oranges but the apple and orange were both done by me and they’re both apples. Does that make sense (grin)?
Ok…it was September of 2020 and a lull in COVID lockdown was in the air. We went apple picking at an orchard on the south side of the St. Lawrence. Everyone was enjoying being outdoors, climbing picking ladders and filling bags with apples. I relied on my family for the picking while I wandered around looking for just the right view of apples and a mix of leaves. I’m sure people thought I was nuts as I walked around and around trees, moving from one to another without picking a single apple. But I found the spot. So I sat down on my tripod stool and drew this with my fountain pen (S&B Beta sketchbook).
Fast-forward to 2022… and we’re in lockdown (again) because of Omicron. I wondered what would happen if I tried to replicate one of my sketches with my very limited oil painting skills. So, I applied a couple light coats of gesso to an S&B Beta sketchbook and went to work, using pencil to draw the closest replica I could from the original watercolor.
I’ve got to say that my limited abilities reared their head when it came to replicating the original. Also, my pen and wash style relies so heavily on the pen lines to convey their msg that I struggled more than a little bit without them. Still, the result kinda sorta looks like the original, though the watercolor apples look better to me.
This was an interesting experiment. Painting in a sketchbook with oils works pretty well except you can’t close the sketchbook for a couple days. This might slow me down as a street sketcher (grin).
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.
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.
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.