Gnarly Tree

15 February, 2016. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful afternoon, especially for the middle of February! It’s President’s Day so no school today either, which made it a perfect opportunity to head out for a couple of hours of bike sketching.

I really enjoy inking trees and limbs entirely freehand, without the safety net of penciled construction lines. My greatest difficulty was simply choosing which trees to draw. It seemed like every bend I’d ride around would yield an abundance of subject matter! I finally stopped to sit and watch for eagles at the end of a particularly pleasant point on the lake. I’d spotted a single bald eagle right less than five minutes from my car earlier, but there were no more to be seen after that. I satisfied myself by using my break to sketch out this gnarly tree, then hopped on my bike and continued on my merry way. (Just outside Smithville, Missouri; Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

Valentine’s Day at Jax

15 February, 2016. We sat at the bar in Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar for Valentine’s Day. The place was already hopping at 4.00, despite our early evening/late afternoon arrival. Jostling through the crowd, we found a couple of stools at the end of the oyster bar and nestled in, ordering libations and – of course – oysters on the half shell. The fellow shucking oysters moved to the gumbo station almost as soon as I’d placed a few lines on the page, so my sketch is a composite of him and two other guys shucking. Out of four pages of sketches, that was the only one I used graphite to lay down construction lines on – the others are my favorite way of sketching: direct ink, without the security blanket of pencil lines.

The oysters and a platter of calimari quickly consumed and a second chilled glass KC Bier Dunkel at hand, I began to use the wait time for dinner for sketching the bar area. By the time we came to realize the order had been misplaced, I’d literally run out of ink and had resorted to a sort of dry brush technique. And because they had lost our order in the melee, our meal was comped and I had an extra 40 minutes of sketch time. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

A tale of two sketches

14 February, 2016. Sometimes when I try a new drawing tool I find that at first I work overly cautiously as I acquire facility and grow familiar with its mark making characteristics. With familiarity comes a change in confidence, and the marks become looser and more fluid. It’s funny how the pendulum swings from one extreme to another, because that very success renders me just the tiniest bit paralyzed. I don’t want to make mistakes and attempt to mimic those drawings that made me happiest only a few days earlier. And when that happens I find that my marks become too precious, too contrived. So it has been with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Case in point: the two sketches I share this morning.

Consider first the sketch at the top of the page. This comes close to the gestural line I prefer. Although it’s observational, I kind of like the flirtation with drawing an exaggeration of “type” rather than likeness. The marks are casual, almost to the point of carelessness. They feel as though they fell from the brush tip; rather than the more “accurately drawn” example below, the lines are gestural. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in 5.5 x 8.5 Canson 180 sketchbook.)

When I made the pencil sketch last summer, I’d originally planned to finish this as a watercolor. The inked lines are too cautious and a little too tight for my tastes. The detail is not as restrained as I would prefer. As much as I have enjoyed working with brush pen recently, this sketch would benefit from a little lighter touch using a fountain pen instead. Right now it feels too much like a coloring book.

Compositionally, I rather like the layering of people, so my original plan still stands, and I plan to rework this in a slightly larger format using my Lamy Safari fountain pen and a loose watercolor wash. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in 5.5 x 8.5 Canson 180 sketchbook; pencil was made last summer, inking done out of boredom yesterday.)

Sketching at the library

13 February, 2016. Man, sometimes the sketches just seem to work and other times they simply don’t happen at all. The last couple of pages show line work that really flows, and I’ve been feeling pretty good about using the brush pen. And then all of a sudden I hit a patch where my hand is too tight, I know I need to loosen up and can’t, and the line work seems labored. So it was on my library visit, with only a single page that seemed to work…well, it kind of worked. The first page (seen on the left) was initially rushed when it shouldn’t have been, the proportions were all jacked up and I wound up continuing to scribble until there was nothing left to “fix.” The lady carrying the dog around the place loosened up a lot more, but there’s no “energy” in the drawing – I like the composition enough though, that I may redraw it to see if I can pull out some of the verve that’s missing. Another two page pencil that I thought had a lot of promise went totally dead in ink. I’m not even sure what happened: the lines have the sort of restraint that I strive for but as a whole the pages just fell apart. No continuity or harmony. In an attempt to save it, I added some watercolor wash but now it feels too much like a page from a coloring book. Consider that attempt some sort of lesson, forget about the drawing, and move forward. (I’m too embarrassed to reproduce it here, but you can see the wash bleeding through the reverse side of the sheet. Ugh.)

Back to the lady with the dog. Okay, I get it that one of the librarians gave me the evil eye when I whipped out my watercolor kit. (I also put it away after about 90 seconds to avoid what appeared to be a near confrontation.) But what the hell? The dog gets carried around the library with impunity? Guess I’m just chopped liver. (Pentel Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

Sketching people in the field

11 February, 2016. So this blog seems to have generated a lot of email about sketching people in the field. Let me first state categorically that I take a lot of liberties with my subjects, poses, and locations. In a very large sense, every person I sketch is a composite of several people that pass by as I am drawing.

Many of my sketches aren’t made to “faithfully” represent reality (I rather enjoy a loose, sketchy quality to a drawing, quite frankly.) But to address the recent questions I’ve had about creating a likeness, I’ve put together this process graphic.

First: Unless I’m sketching directly with ink (which I do a lot), I’ll make very, very quick and rough gestural sketches. Most of those are crap, take just a few seconds to scribble out, and a lot of times I never look at them again. I’m very unconcerned about detail at this point. Why? Because I’d never get beyond a nose before the subject wandered off. Instead I focus on gesture and very basic structure. The tilt of the head, the angle of the jaw line, for instance. Maybe a few rough indications of personality, like the glasses or the “poofiness” of the hair. I’ll get as much as I can while the subject is within sight.

Once they disappear from view I’ll often try to tighten up some of the details while the subject is still fresh in my mind. To be honest, I may spend more actual drawing time at this stage than at any other, simply refining the overall structure. I use shorthand that I understand and can interpret later on, and don’t care at all if anyone else can do so. The lines are my own personal visual language.

If a sketch resonates with me I really do like to complete it in the field in ink. Life being what it is, however, it’s not uncommon that dinner comes to an end to quickly, that transportation is too bumpy to draw, or I’d simply rather join the locals for a glass of red wine than draw at that moment in time. So inking may or may not take place in the field, and I’m good with either. Inking, by the way, is often nearly as quick as the gesture sketch. As long as I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the construction and structure, I enjoy working quickly and loosely, varying the line quality as I go. (Approximately 5.5 x 8.5 inches, Pentel Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

No customers, glad I have a pen with me…

10 February, 2016. Parent teacher conferences tonight. Yes, as a matter of fact I would sincerely love to conference with a parent or two. I’ve cleaned the art room. Graded artwork. Returned email messages. Organized a couple of storage shelves. Turned on my Louis Armstrong Pandora station. Practiced drumming on the table with my finger tips. Ate a chocolate chip cookie.

Because – as usual – no parents are actually showing up.

Over the past three hours I’ve had one single “customer.” Thank goodness I had the foresight to throw one of my France sketchbooks into the satchel, along with a brush pen. Otherwise time would be passing by incredibly slowly. Page by page, I’m inking the most promising of the rough pencil sketches I made last June.

Now, if only it were 8:30.

(Pentel Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)


Market sketches

10 February, 2016. I love sketching at farmer’s markets because one encounters so many different people. Usually – as was the case when I roughed in a likeness of this woman – the pencil rough was incredibly rushed. (While it’s not apparent after inking, the pencil was a few blocked in lines and some gestural marks.)

Maybe there’s a few seconds, or if one is lucky a few minutes, to capture a very general likeness before the subject is gone, disappearing into the crowd. Sometimes they notice you sketching them and they disappear even more quickly and entirely. The real difference between a market location and a restaurant is that I usually have the luxury of sketching in ink at the restaurant, because my subject is stationary for the length of dinner. Market sketches like these get inked later, the details get filled in from a very faulty memory – so thank goodness for having a decent understanding of facial anatomy… that way the blanks get filled in believably!

I penciled this in very roughly last June, and then nearly as roughly inked it last night as I sat in my armchair and ruminated about warmer weather, farmer’s markets, traveling, and cogitated an excellent glass of Bordeaux.

Normally my page notes tell me the date and location where this was sketched, but somehow I neglected to include that information. So this is somewhere in Burgundy, sometime in June 2015. (Ink was with a Pentel brush pen; pencil was done last summer in France. I’m just getting around to inking some of those sketches during these months of January and February.)

All systems are down.

6 February, 2016. I knew immediately something was up in the diner. The serving staff was grumbling under their respective breaths, something about pissed off customers and down computer systems. For my part, it took nearly two hours sitting at the counter to get my burger and onion rings. The counter staff were trying to maintain as best they could in a difficult situation. So we joked around and kept the mood light. I sketched, and the bus boys looked over my shoulder and grinned at the pages. (Lamy Medium Nib fountain pen, Pentel Brush Pen in Canson Sketchbook.)