Brush Pile

31 January, 2016. There’s not a lot to say about this: I rode out to Martha Lafite Nature Sanctuary, hiked around a bit, got plenty muddy, and made this sketch of a brush pile. (Actually “brush pile” is a bit of an exaggeration. More accurately, this was just several dead limbs tossed up onto a truncated corpse of a tree.) All of the initial line work was done with a Lamy Safari Medium Nib, then supplemented to add linear contrast with a Pentel Brush Pen.

Bike Sketching and Pub Scrawling

30 January, 2016. It’s unseasonably warm and I’m taking advantage of that unusual situation to get outside, ride, sketch, and visit my favorite pub. I recharged my Pentel Brush Pen with a fresh cartridge of ink and sallied forth this weekend with no other purpose in mind except to enjoy myself.

While out bike sketching, it’s seldom that I find a location with a convenient rock or bench to sit upon while sketching. My bag makes a halfway decent table, so I wind up standing astride my bike and scribbling, and sometimes wind up with a quick sketch that has some movement and energy as this one of trees does. That’s the sort of thing that makes me very happy!

It’s much warmer than it should be for the end of January, but the pond is still frozen quite solid.

I far prefer to keep the line work loose. The lines are cleaner, but lack energy when I find a bench to sit upon and draw as happened in this sketch.

Last night, I grabbed my brush pen – not realizing it was almost dry – and rode down to the pub for a burger and a brew and a bit of “pub scrawling.” Pub scrawling is what I call sitting at the bar and drawing the patrons as I enjoy a cold glass of Rylie Porter. One fellow caught my eye and I think perhaps he “made” me doing so – probably because the people around me weren’t shy about looking over my shoulder as I sketched. I’d suddenly become so popular that I felt a little like a celebrity!

I rather enjoyed working with the almost dry brush pen.

Direct painting demo

26 January, 2016. This may have been the best 30 minute investment of time I’ve made all year. I had a lot of fun today, painting in front of my students and intentionally making a couple of very subtle errors as I did. As I painted I would ask the group to tell me if there was anything wrong with the chin or the nose or part of a shadow shape. It was great! Students would come up and point out some very detailed observation. Using their finger, they would trace a line in the air to show me how and where to correct the sketch. Honestly, this felt like a really teachable moment – perhaps  I need to do this type of thing more often because they were thinking and looking more deeply than I have seen them do in months. And how cool is it to get to critique the teacher?

I think the direct painting approach also blew a couple of people’s minds… “You mean you can start a painting without doing any drawing whatsoever?”

One student just purchased a small kit of oil paint over the weekend. He and I sat down beforehand to discuss what he wanted to accomplish. After sharing the Zorn Palette concept with him, he decided to go that route. (And after all, four tubes of paint are reassuringly more economical for a thrifty art student’s budget than eight or ten.) 

Our AP Studio Art class is comprised of design, photography, drawing/painting, and sculpture students, so it’s not often that I’m able to do a demonstration that is of interest or relevance to everyone. But today worked out well because we used the first few minutes to discuss form in the round, composition, along with the concept of chiaroscuro and lighting/modeling. Even my sculpture students hung around to watch as the paint was “sculpted,” the edges carved, and a likeness appeared. (Gamblin Oils on tinted hardboard.)
I’ve also been stressing the sketchbook the past couple of classes. Too few of my students are using the pages of their sketchbooks to resolve visual problems, to journal, to make notes or comment upon the world around them. I shared this recent scribble just to make the point that it’s ok to do exactly that now and again: to scribble. Getting hung up on the “preciousness” of a sketch is paralyzing at best.

Feeling a little Zorn this morning.

24 January, 2016. I’ve been interested in a limited palette for years. Typically, my paint kit includes a warm and cool of each primary, a green for mixing neutrals, and white. That’s eight tubes of paint. Sometimes I’ll even limit myself to one of each primary, plus white. In watercolor I don’t use white at all, but still rely on mixtures coming out of the circle of color. My approach to color has always come out of the triad, so I always found the Zorn palette interesting, but a curiosity more than anything else. Interesting, in that it’s just four tubes of oil, and curious because it’s not a triad at all: Vermilion, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, and White. No blue whatsoever. Cool colors come from black.

Anyhow, I thought it might be fun to finally explore the Zorn palette a little bit and perhaps introduce it to my painting students as we begin to learn about color theory and color mixing. So here’s my thirty minute oil sketch testing the boundaries of this weird-to-me palette of paints.

As I usually do with my plein air work, I tinted the surface with a burnt umber and used a thin dark wash to roughly block in the key information. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that using a tinted ground of Yellow Ochre might harmonize a bit better with the Zorn palette. I’ll give that a go next time.

I tend to work from dark to light, locating the shadow shapes using pretty general marks. These are generally located as well, and will get corrected as I work.

Shapes get “carved in” as I work from the general to the specific. At this point I began to realize some of the potential of this palette.

Half an hour later, here’s the 8 x 10 inch sketch. (Oil on panel.)

Not your usual book illustration…

23 January, 2016. Nope. Not your usual book illustration. Not at all.

It began when my fellow drawing teacher and I were brainstorming ideas for studio lessons using pen lines. It’s January, art students are already sick of nasty winter weather and growing more and more stir crazy by the day. A boring lesson in cross-hatching or stippling simply wasn’t going to cut it. One of us stumbled upon the work of Cheeming Boey, an artist who makes charmingly arresting and inventive drawings upon disposable coffee cups.

Meanwhile, I was mulling over where to fit book illustration into this year’s curriculum. It’s become something of a tradition for my students to become immersed in a book, to illustrate it, and then publish it. Here, for instance, is Poe’s dark tale of The Raven.

And the even darker story of Macbeth.

These books are completely designed and illustrated by our students. This year we’re creating a children’s book of nonsense rhymes. Could we somehow bring together the very disparate threads of those narratives with the concept of drawing on cups? Well, that’s the idea anyway, and we’re going to find out.

The three views of the cup depicted here today is the example I created as an experiment to find out what marks work best on the styrofoam surface of the cups my kids are using. Using a fine line Sharpie, the surface is remarkably accepting of the ink. One must avoid using too much pressure though, or risk plunging the pen point right through to the inside of the cup! Stippling, hatching, line – all of those mark making techniques work well.

Each student selected a nonsense rhyme originating from the mid 19th century. Several thumbnail sketches were generated, and a tight sketch made of the most promising composition. They are in the process of transferring the tight pencil sketch to the surface of the cup using the same style of Sharpie pen I used in these examples.

Two things became immediately clear: One – we hit a home run with this approach, because kids are really getting into this project. Two – out of all the various drawing techniques that do work, we discovered right away that the “scribbled mark” doesn’t. Thus, we’ve stumbled across something that students enjoy doing, that also forces them to slow down and make intentional marks (without it seeming to be a laborious punishment!) That’s a win in my book!

I haven’t figured out exactly how we’ll reproduce these cup illustrations in the resulting book of rhymes, but I’m intrigued by how the cups are affected by light when photographed. One thing is clear to me: I doubt there’s ever previously been a children’s book quite like this one will be! (Styrofoam coffee cups, Sharpie marker)

Taking care of old business.

18 January, 2016. It’s a cold day in January – damn cold, in fact. I have absolutely no desire to be outside, despite the fact that I’ve no classes scheduled for today. I wanted to – correct that: I needed to be drawing this afternoon, but there’s simply no way I’m heading out to find people to sketch when the thermometer is thirty-two degrees below freezing. Zero, man! This is Mother Nature’s way of reminding me how it felt when we lived in Alaska. (Another correction: despite what the thermometer might indicate, Missouri always feels colder than Alaska.)

To keep myself from going stir crazy, I’ve pulled out my sketchbooks from last summer’s trip to France. Several pages were roughly penciled in, so I decided to ink them today. (Pentel brush pen, Lamy Safari medium nib, Canson 180 sketchbook.)

I distinctly remember coming around a corner in Burgundy and seeing this couple sharing coffee. I still couldn’t tell you what indicated to me they were tourists, but I was immediately convinced of the fact. Even more, I was certain they were on their honeymoon. Hey – I frequently imagine such things about people I’m sketching: I imagine their back story and even their character. It was fun revisiting these people I never saw again, recalling precisely “who” I imagined them to be: back then, as I quickly sketched them out in pencil; today, as I inked those lines. (Approximately 4 x 4 inches)

Surprisingly, there were few other artists to be seen in Alsace, Burgundy, and even Paris. Curious, huh? On this day though, I was not the lone traveler armed with pen and sketchbook. (Approximately 4 x 4 inches.)


Sketching with a brush pen

16 January, 2016. It’s Restaurant Week, a particular favorite time of year for people like me who enjoy fine cuisine. Kicking things off right, we began the week closer to our Northland home with lunch in the bar area of Trezo Mare. Over the years I’ve made quite a few paintings of diners and dining. Joining me for a meal, conversation often goes quiet as my sketchbook and pen emerge and I begin to ignore my table and begin to draw the people and place. Getting engaged in the process, I make little attempt to disguise the fact that I’m sketching. Aside from curious servers I find I’m seldom aware of any attention, but I’ve been told that other patrons are generally curious to see that I’m drawing and sometimes make poorly camouflaged detours to casually look over my shoulder.

The past couple of weeks I’ve given my Lamy Safari pen a break from duty and have been drawing with a Pentel brush pen in its stead. I’ve always liked the look of brush drawings but have never found a brush pen that I liked very much. The Pentel is my favorite so far, but nevertheless it’s still somewhat strangely dissatisfying for some reason – not the drawings themselves, but the actual act of using the brush pen.

I’ve no reason to replace the Lamy in my tool kit, nor any desire to do so. Rather than the Pentel getting used as a solo drawing instrument, I’ll very likely use it to supplement the Lamy in sketches that might benefit from having a greater variety of line weights, or to quickly block in shadow areas. I don’t lightly consider adding anything to my kit. I’ve no desire to haul around a bunch of drawing crap – a pen and book are already cumbersome enough.

Later in the day we found ourselves in the Northeast, dining at Ophelia’s on the Independence Square. The place was quiet as a church due to the fact that the Chiefs playoff game had pulled regular patrons away to sports bars and game parties. A few tables were occupied, and a piano provided soft background music. The place was kind of dark, and I had made an awesomely poor choice of tables: the line of sight to the piano was far from a clear shot. Oh well. (Pentel brush pen in Canson sketchbook, Kansas City and Independence, Missouri. Approximately 6 x 9 inch pages.)

Shadow play.

3 January, 2016. My new toy is a Pentel brush pen. Until now, none of the brush pens I’ve used seemed worth a good goddam. This pen hasn’t been used enough to render an opinion one way or the other, but I haven’t tossed it into a drawer yet – and that’s more than I can say for all previous comers. To be clear, this isn’t as handy as my Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen or a Pilot Varsity, either of which I will carry for daily use in my sketchbook. I’m pretty leery about adding anything whatsoever to the small kit I carry with me in the first place. Honestly, a black ballpoint and a pencil are more than satisfactory; the fountain pens are my first string team though.

I’ll play with this Pentel a bit more and perhaps – but only perhaps – I’ll consider it for special purpose duties. Drawing or writing with it forces me to modify my strokes, pressure, and even the angle at which I hold the pen pretty significantly. Thus, it isn’t nearly so intuitive to use as the Lamy, and therefor the line work isn’t nearly as fluid. But there are some nice qualities to the halftone areas that intrigue me a little, and that’s a plus. We shall see. (Pentel brush pen in Aquabee sketchbook, approximately 5 x 7 inches.)

Quick sketching

2 January, 2016. Quick sketches. ’tis the season – for shopping and gift wrapping and lots and lots of family gatherings and meals… but not a lot of time for drawing or painting. It’s catch as one can, and I’m briefly on my own in those early minutes as the sun comes up, providing an equally brief respite before another arduous day of whatever it is that has been planned out. So, quick sketches. (Pilot Varsity fountain pen in 6 x 9 inches sketchbook.)

New Year’s Day Sunrise

1 January, 2016. This is a lightning fast sketch – man, the light was changing fast! Nevertheless, the dramatic shadows across the snow caught my attention as the sun crested the horizon this first morning of 2016. The sketch doesn’t do the location justice: it’s just a fleeting glimpse, but I was happy to be there to see it happen.

By the way, I go through stages where I simply do not have the patience to paint in watercolor on location. This morning was one of those times. Despite the chill, water dried too fast on the shadows leaving them with a sketchy appearance – which bugs the living hell out of me. Also, those blues are a little too blue – they should have the tiniest bit of violet in ’em and that also have me reacting in an OCD sort of way. I know it’s silly to get hung up on a fifteen minute sketch, but there you have it folks: I sometimes do.

For some reason, painting in oils – well, oils never affect me the same way. I know up front when I’m painting en plein air with oils that I’ll be on location for about an hour or so, start to finish. Perhaps because I’m already working on some sort of internal timer to begin with, I’m more self-forgiving.

OK, enough with the psychoanalysis already. Time to check the forecast to see if I can spend more than fifteen minutes outdoors painting today. (Watercolor in Moleskin watercolor journal, Clay County, Missouri.)