To study, perchance to dream.

11 November, 2018. Why do color studies? I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, although I know the intention of the practice is to prepare oneself for the execution of a larger, possibly more formal work. Speaking for myself, however, the making of a color study is play time.

Opportunity time. A time to dream a little about the interaction of colors and shapes.

I tend to reside with one foot in each of two different worlds – a world of sketching, and a somewhat contrasting place of painting. My sketches live through a search for energy and freshness, achieved when I’m on my game through the use of line. Color is often important to those sketches, but generally subservient to the pathways described by marks.

When I paint I enjoy the interplay of shapes and color, the orchestration of colors striving for a visual harmony. With paint, I tend to have a more introspective focus; I get lost in my work, whereas with sketched line the marks are free and come naturally. I would love to combine the two camps more often, and celebrate when they do – but for the most part I find myself working as muse and whimsey dictate, in one world or the other.

Line or color.

Two worlds. So closely related, and yet for me there is a chasm separating the two.

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Diners

10 November, 2018. Dinner. Drinks. Atmosphere. I really enjoy sitting in restaurants and bars, drawing the people around me. People are interesting, aren’t they?

You know what I mean, right? Faces, body language, expression.

It’s a little voyeuristic I know, using pen and paper to spy on my fellow diners.


 

So, I recently stumbled upon another sketchbook with paper I like. Made by Canson, ink and washes of color sit on top of the paper without bleeding through the page. The water-soluble pastels I’ve been drawing with recently seem to like the surface as much as I do.

I picked up two sketchbooks – they were on sale for half price at a local art store, so I figured “what the heck.” I’m working my way through the pages fairly quickly, and so went shopping for a couple more, only to discover no more on the shelf at the shop. No sign of them online either. And – frustratingly! – Canson informed me they’ve been discontinued. I’m waiting to hear back from Canson, to find out if the paper is available in sheets. Heck, I’ll make my own sketchbooks out of the stuff… I do it all the time with the other paper I really like to use, Strathmore Aquarius II.

 

Handmade marks

9 November, 2018. I’ve recently been experimenting with the water-soluble wax pastels made by Caran d’Ache. Fun and interesting as they are, I feel like they’re worth keeping around. I’ve been pushing them a bit further each time I get them out and in fact feel like I’m starting to overwork the washes (below). To my eye, the scribbled lines in the example above has greater energy and feels less static. It’s also visually richer because the layering is more visible.

Plus, I simply like it better when you can see the marks. When I say “overworked,” what I mean is that the marks have been smoothed out, and what pleases my eye more is evidence of the artist’s hand, the handmade mark.

 

Kansas City Architecture

8 November, 2018. The neighborhood surrounding the 1910 Beaux-arts style Kansas City Museum is a place I bicycle through fairly regularly. Overlooking Cliff Drive, this must have been quite a location back in the day, and frankly it still is, though a little more worn than it was a century ago.

The museum itself is currently undergoing significant renovations, but the grounds and buildings are easily seen from the street.

 

Demonstration

5 November, 2018. In much the same way as when I introduced gouache to some of my students and fellow sketchers, I’ve had numerous questions about the Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels I’ve been toying around with recently. This short video demonstrates a couple of things I’ve realized about working with this media. It is by no means a comprehensive approach, however. These pastels are entirely new to me and as I’m beginning to realize, they are a much richer drawing/painting/sketching tool than I initially gave credit for.

Tweedy People

4 November, 2018. I really look forward to our annual Tweed Ride. A “tweed ride,” for those unfamiliar with the phrase, is a glorified excuse to get dandied up in garb reminiscent of a bygone and genteel era in England. Families and friends would dress up, pull together a picnic luncheon, and head for the countryside on bicycles. Tweed ride participants come in all shapes and configurations – old and young, urban and suburban, professional and blue collar.

For me it’s doubly fun. I have restored vintage racing bicycles for many years and this gives me an opportunity to ride my old bikes with others of similar bent. It’s also a terrific gathering for sketching. Once I finish the leisurely ride, I lean up against a column and pull out my sketchbook.

Not everyone brings a vintage bicycle, and that’s fine. The emphasis really is on the fancy dress up. Some attempt is made to emulate the look of a bygone era, but the fashions are all over the place, from something sort of resembling a flapper (no idea how a flapper would have ridden a bicycle back in the day, but what the heck!) to Victorian-ish/steam punk-ish attire. It’s all good. And it’s all fun to draw.

People mill around before the ride, so the secret is to sketch after we return, when folks are preparing to eat their lunch on the lawn and are, thus, a bit more stationary. Even still, one must sketch quickly – blink, and the little social butterflies tend to be gone.

Because that is true, I keep my sketches quick and very loose. Color gets added later. For yesterday’s ride I kept the application of color true to the nature of the scribbled line drawings by using water-soluble pastels diluted with sloppy washes.

The world is a color wheel.

3 November, 2018. Almost overnight the colors depicted in this sketch have changed. The color of foliage has rapidly emerged from the olive green of summer into a cacophony of autumn hues: oranges, reds, violets, and yellows. The ground is littered with fallen leaves. This morning dawns, chilly and wet and I realize the choice of color on my palette will have to evolve today as well. In some ways, the actual color of the world is reflective of the rather arbitrary colors I’ve been using to experiment with Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels these past couple weeks: As the chlorophyll saps to near nothingness, what remains is a compliment of color.

Imagine that – the world is a color wheel!

I sketched the top image specifically to document a process. The second image in this post summarizes the developmental stages. Here’s what’s going on between this medium and I:

  • After making a very general 5 x 5 inch sketch on scrap mat board, I thought about the colors and tones I’d like to generate. This is a very purposeful approach for me that hearkens back to my days as an illustrator in the 80’s and 90’s. These days, a much more freewheeling style is comfortable to my hand, so I had to pause and think about what I was doing. My thinking was to begin the color with an underpainting of opposites: I want to see what happens when I begin with the compliment as a base over which I’d work additional layers of color.

I rather like using scrap mat board with this media. It takes it well and I have so many scraps stored away unused.

  • After going over the base layer with a brush and clean water to create a painterly foundation, I began to add the compliment. In the second image you can see where some of the second layer has been added. I knew I wanted to create a lavender sky, hence the base layer of lime green.
  • As the layers of complimentary color got added, I also began to vary the values to represent depth and modeling. These crayons don’t do well with great detail; it’s a better approach to generalize as I sketch/paint with them. The resulting style differs from my more linear and graphic way of drawing, and looks a lot like something one might encounter in a children’s book. As I noted earlier, it’s a little reminiscent of what I did earlier in my career as an illustrator.
  • Finally, I added more scribbled lines to round out the tones. I never wanted to eliminate every vestige of the foundation color and intentionally allowed some of it to peak through. My thinking was this might create a little extra visual energy. To exemplify the effect, compare to my followup experiment illustrated below.

I worked hard to really cake the color on in this abstraction of a building. I sort of like the effect in an academic way, but it feels lacking in charm and emotion. Weird for me to say, I know, because I am profoundly influenced by the geometry of design in my work, but I feel this is probably only an interesting experiment – ¬†a dead end street, artistically – one that doesn’t allow me to tell a story. It “tries” too hard to be something it’s not.

Conclusion: don’t overwork this medium. Keep things looser and less opaque.

Sad.

27 October, 2018. I am often moved by architectural structures. American ideas about what constitutes an “historically significant” example is often at odds with the rest of the world. Consider that we will refer to a building built fifty years ago as “old,” whereas I’ve walked French streets and found home after home constructed in the 1500’s, still in excellent condition and still in use as residences.

It’s perplexing to me that buildings with character are so often in peril of demolition. Places that would be impossibly expensive to replicate in terms of detailing and craftsmanship are allowed to fall into a state of sad disrepair. We tear such places down and leave empty lots or fill them with nondescript structures that aren’t intended to last more than a decade.

Wander through the town square in any small Midwestern town and look for a vacant bank from the early 20th century. Find an old post office, like this Beaux-arts decorated building. Look at the attention to detail.

Compare those buildings to those we’ve built near the main thoroughfares, the grey blocks. No ornamentation. No character. And try not to be just a little saddened by what you see.

Possibilities

25 October, 2018. I’ve recently been experimenting with the possibilities of the water soluble pastels made by Caran d’Ache. The creamy consistency of the crayons are impressive, as is the water solubility: marks simply melt into intense washes of color with a drop or two of brushed water.

So what I’ve been doing is toying around with color compliments. First, I figure out how my colors are going to be distributed. I begin with a scribbled underpainting of the contrasting colors. Those colors are hit with a sloppy wash and brushed around to create generalized blobs of soft edged hues. You can see the contrasting colors peeking through from underneath.

I haven’t had much success attempting to add marks onto a still wet surface. The crayons don’t seem to want to transfer, which surprised me a little. So you have to allow the surface to completely dry. Once it has, the colors are a beautiful matte that take additional layers of marks very nicely.

In fact, working loosely over the dried surface results in some pigments seeming to lay down with even greater vibrance and intensity than on pure white paper.

A combination of brushed washes of color along with marks results in an interesting effect that is somewhat painterly and sketch-like. It seems like these tools are best suited for working with shapes and masses rather than fine detail. I’m good with that, of course, but it’s important to understand not only the limitations of a material but also the things it does well.

I’ve yet to try mixing medias but I’m confident that an underpainting of watercolor or ¬†gouache would be an effective foundation of color.

See what the scribbling started?

19 October, 2018. It started a week ago, when I just let my pens do whatever they felt like doing. Which as it turned out, was scribbling. Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself just enjoying the sloppiness of wet-in-wet watercolor.

Just a few houses down from mine there’s an excellent, unobstructed view of the Western sky. Having made several new accordion-fold sketchbooks last weekend, I found myself dedicating one to quickly painted skies.

Quickly painted?

Actually, super fast sketching.

It came about like this: I backed down my driveway, headed to the grocery store. Glancing in the rearview mirror I was stunned to see the swiftly fading glow of an incredible sundown. Hurrying down the street, my view blocked by trees, I rolled around the corner and pulled into the parking lot by a Chinese restaurant and whipped out my sketchbook and a pencil. The basic outlines took but a moment and I began to splash on a little water and a wash of yellow. By the time I had wetted the reds, reality had faded and I was working from memory. But a sketchbook theme seemed to have been formed.

Go figure.

Not to worry. I’ve still been scribbling this week.