Preparing For A Season Of Street Sketching

It’s -10C outside my window at the moment and the sidewalks here are full of ice, very lumpy ice.  But weather reports suggest that melting should commence in earnest starting tomorrow.  My daughter tells me that Montreal sidewalks are free of ice so that’s a hopeful sign.  Anyways, very soon I’ll be joining those of you who are currently scurrying about your cities drawing cherry blossoms and crocuses (grin).

I’ve been involved in learning to paint, or attempting to and because of that I haven’t been drawing much.  I decided that I should get some pointy sticks out and start pushing them about to see if I still can.  Also, in the recent past I made a comment about not posting my casual sketches and someone asked me why not and encouraged me to do so.

In answer to the first question I just don’t want my practice to feel like I’m “producing content.”  I confess that I sometimes think all the posting to the internet may be one of the worst things that has happened to artists though I confess to being addicted to look at sketches produced by others.  Those views cause me to keep a lot of what I do off the internet.  It’s also time consuming to scan/post every sketch I do.  In short, I’m lazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alvin Mark posts a lot of great vlogs on his YouTube channel and he was doing a sketchbook tour.  I took that as an opportunity to quickly sketch some of the people he had sketched on the Singapore trains.

 

While sitting in my studio/office I just started drawing stuff, using ballpoint pens.  The red pen was giving me a lot of trouble and I made a mess of the scissors trying to chase the intermittent lines it was creating/

Here’s a page from the small scribble book I carry everywhere.

 

Last and probably least, I was enjoying a snack and quickly moved this stub of a pencil around until the page resembled something.

I’ve found that my time hiding from COVID and making messes with oil paints have left my pointy stick skills rusty.  I’m hoping to get lots of miles done this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing The 100 People Challenge

This week many people are drawing, or trying to draw, 100 people in five days.  Run every year by Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel, this is a popular annual event.  It’s no small coincidence that the two people leading this charge are two of the fastest sketchers I’ve seen and a pair that place a VERY high premium on sketching quickly.  I don’t say that as a negative, just a fact.

I still remember the first time someone suggested that I draw people on the move.  I was sketching with a couple people, both my betters, and they said, “Let’s go downtown and draw pedestrians waiting for the light to change.  I didn’t see my face at the time, but I’m sure my expression was “Are you nuts?”  The thought of drawing a person, a whole person, as 15-20 seconds was so far beyond my comprehension that I knew it was a joke.  And it was a joke… when I tried it that first time.

Sadly, the people who do this stuff regularly think it’s normal and so they don’t talk much about how people who don’t find it normal can do it.  I thought, rather than just another rally cry for the event, I’d mention a couple solutions that some use to do this.  I should preface this with the important fact.  All of these approaches are done by people who, if they have the time, can draw very detailed people.  There’s an old adage that if you can’t draw something slowly, you can’t draw it fast.  I think that’s true.

I’m going to describe “capturing” a character with the full knowledge that the results aren’t going to hang in the Louvre anytime soon (grin).  You’ve got to be ok with that before you launch into the 100 People Challenge.

Draw the bare minimum

The first thing you have to understand is that you’re not doing Sargent-level portraiture.  You don’t have time.  Many add two things together to accomplish the task.  They draw their people very small and do little more than draw lines for legs and arms with a round ball for a head.  I’d call this the stickman approach except that most grab for drawing something a bit more complete, where the arms and legs are positioned, bent appropriately, and so you can easily see what the character was doing.  This is a really good approach if you’re happy with these simple results.

Loosy Goosy approach

Artists throw around the term “loose” a lot.  With no solid defnition of the word it’s said that we should all be this, so we’re not “tight.”  My guess is that a lot of the great artists of our past would take issue with this but that’s how the modern world rolls.

Anyway, a lot of artists, realizing that there’s little time for drawing leg and arm musculature accurately in the few seconds they have simply abandon the idea entirely, drawing arms and legs heading off in the right direction but not necessarily with proper geometry.  They keep everything “loose” and are ok with that, no matter how “tight” they might do their next studio portrait.

Sweat the small stuff later approach

This takes on different forms depending upon the artist.  Some will draw an action line defining the subject’s orientation and then add only a few points defining joints, clothing boundaries, etc.  Some will go over these drawings with more ink later, correcting errors.  Others will do a complete contour of the subject while thinking about how color will help them complete the figure.

Still others will do a continuous, or nearly so, pencil sketch, all the time thinking of what they’re going to do with color to bring the character to life.  There is no one better at doing this approach than Marc Holmes.  He is so adept with both pencil and brush that it’s a joy to watch him draw characters.

All of these approaches require that you’re planning on working on your drawings later, probably at home.  The hard thing for many is drawing while thinking color, light and shade, etc. placing lines to indicate shadow borders, etc.

Make sure you’re drawing someone who will stay put for a couple minutes (grin)

The master of this approach is Alvin Mark.  His targets are people eating, people on buses, people on trains, anywhere that people stop.  His ability to draw precise contour drawings of people, reflecting not only their personality but their weight and its balance, is uncanny.  But he chooses his targets wisely.

So, these are some of the ways that people accomplish the task.  What I haven’t said is that it’s a LOT of fun and the more you do of it the easier it becomes.  I’m still not good at it and may never be.  I’m the slowest sketcher on the planet and so my “skills” aren’t amenable to quick sketching.  When sketching people I guess I’m closer to a “loosy goosy” sketcher than anything else.  I’ll let you decide.  These are the sketches I did yesterday, during the first day of the event.

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 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.