Just Randomly Sketching

I read a story on the internet recently in which the writer cited research indicating that doodling was not a wasteful activity. That really came as no surprise to me. Sometimes just putting pen to paper is cathartic for me, a form of healthy release and a means of coping when the surrounding world seems destined to fall into pieces. When things turn to shit, I am often glad to have a pen at hand, to randomly sketch ideas or to focus my scribbles on whatever is close at hand. The last few days have been somewhat trying, for various reasons. The sketches I share today are not the result of purposeful planning or intentional thematic subject matter. They are therapeutic doodles, the making of which makes the day just a little bit better.

The easiest gestures to capture with believability are those of people standing around, waiting on someone or something. I tell my students to keep their eyes open for instances of contrapposto, and to try to get that naturalistic off canter “weight on one foot” attitude in their sketches.

Fairyland? Maybe.

I went back to one of my sketches from last summer and simply drew it again using a different medium. I like this better than the original, frankly. The looseness, the leaving out of details that I included in the first sketch – this appeals to me. I wonder if it’s not a good idea to do this more often – y’know? Redraw from the original sketch? A lot of times I’ll draw the same scene and composition multiple times just to get a feel for the place and to “warm up” my drawing hand. Maybe this is an extension of that thought process?

People in motion are really tough to capture. They’re gone so fast that I wind up making up details and gestures.

Often my scribbles are not compositionally structured at all – at least not purposefully so. Things are sometimes just a conglomeration of stuff that I encounter, a sort of collage of imagery.




So why collect art?

Earlier this summer I was asked for my thoughts about collecting art. It’s an interesting question to ask an artist, and quite frankly one in which a little context goes a long way. Ask a young artist and you’ll likely get a lot different response than someone who’s made a career in and around the visual arts. For instance, more than a few of my students feel that all they have to do is paint or draw something and people will line up to buy their work. Successful artists eventually come to understand that everybody collects something. 

So why collect art? I tend to think that collecting in general, is something we learn to do as kids. I collected baseball cards; my brother hoarded football and basketball cards. In fact, we both still have those, along with the boxes of comic books and other ephemera that was the world around which my childhood revolved. As a collector myself, I found that the practice didn’t so much dissipate as it did undergo an unconscious evolution. With maturity came many personal interests and, I think, a natural inclination to collect ephemera or exemplars that dovetailed with those interests. Art is one of many legitimately and infinitely interesting passions of collectors. There tends to be a number of reasons people collect art:

  • Special interest subject matter. Whether the subject of a work is dogs, cars, trains, marbles, specific locations, etc., a work of art that represents one’s special interest is often a natural outgrowth of that interest. One of my uncles, for instance, was an avid outdoorsman and loved duck hunting and fly fishing. The walls of his enormous den were a testament to that love, decorated with limited edition reproductions and original paintings from various duck and trout stamp exhibitions.
  • A sense of posterity. When you collect an artist’s work, it’s a form of immortality. You perpetuate the memory of that person when you keep something personal, something they made, or a reminder of them. Many collectors altruistically think of themselves as caretakers of history.
  • A sense of time or place. Artworks can take us back to a time, a place, or a feeling. They can lift one’s spirit or inspire a sense of nostalgia. A collection of paintings of a particular location can bring about fond memories and recollections. For some collectors, artwork fills a void and provides some level of psychological security or comfort.
  • A sense of intimacy. Some collect art because they feel a need to be connected to art. My uncle made a point of getting to know the artists who created these works, making his pursuit all the more satisfying. I am fortunate to own a Picasso lithograph and an Ansel Adams print. Although I never met either artist, each and every time I enjoy those works I feel a profound sense of connection to two greats who’ve influenced artistic philosophies.
  • The quest. For some, collecting art is about the hunt. As a collector of rare vintage racing bikes, I confess to understanding all too well the pursuit of “unobtanium.”
  • Interaction with like-minded collectors. I believe there is also a desire to engage in social interaction with collectors of a similar bent. I love to go to auctions, and it’s often that we see and interact with many of the same regular auction goers. We’re all on the hunt, and often our hunting ground and prey overlap. Do we compete with each other? You bet we do!
  • Just because. For some, collecting art provides a platform from which they can engage in enjoyable research, knowledge, and learning about the artist, the art materials and techniques, the era, the driving motivations or causality of a work. Perhaps one’s interests come out of a pride of ownership or an appreciation for beauty and aesthetics.

Collecting small, intimate art.

I have an exhibition coming up in September. I’m putting a lot of thought into what I should hang, and this includes giving due consideration to my patrons. My work has evolved considerably since the long ago days when I was all about making very large oil paintings. This will be the first exhibition I’ve ever done that focuses entirely on sketches, and the idea came about because I got to know and listen to those who have collected my paintings, drawings, and designs. As an artist, I learned:

  • Although many people enjoy large paintings, I was repeatedly asked about smaller works and limited edition reproductions. Such works are a great way for someone to begin a collection. One is seldom introduced to collecting art through the acquisition of a major work: Small works are baby steps and help the beginning collector to become more familiar with an artist.
  • Sketches demonstrate the way that artists think; they show the artistic processes. They are intimate and tend to “invite” a viewer into the world of that artist.
  • Typically, smaller “less important” works and sketches are also a less expensive way to get into collecting. (Not always, but you get the point.)
  • Sketches are kind of personal too. A shared sketch is a shared experience.



Let it bleed… some more…

13 July, 2016. It was a rainy early afternoon, so I played around some more with the “bleedy” characteristics that happen when Noodler’s Beaver ink gets re-wetted when used to draw on Aquarius II watercolor paper. In yesterday’s blog posting I shared how I’m experimenting with an ink that reactivates when wetted – in other words, it’s not permanently fixed once the line is placed on the page. I’m just a little bit smitten with everything about this – the color of the ink, the softened lines when wetted, the combination of wash and line, and the charming “sketchiness” of the whole darned thing. And I really like that it takes advantage of two things I already to with my sketches. Specifically…

I enjoy keeping my line work loose and interpretive. This combines surprisingly well with…

…simple watercolor washes of color.

The two approaches combine to create a nice, loose drawing. I hate it when sketches feel “too precious” or overworked. This has the potential to leave a lot up to the imagination of the viewer. I’d really consider myself a success if I could master that essence. (Watercolor wash, Noodler’s, dip pen on Strathmore Aquarius II paper. Sketches are approximately 5 inches wide.)

Let it Bleed!

12 July, 2016. Today I dedicated my afternoon to experimentation. I need to do this now and again just to stay fresh. Rather than perfect black lines, I wanted to draw with more of a sienna-toned ink that would bleed when re-wetted. I like how this sort of thing tends to compliment a more organic approach to drawing.

After visiting the Pen Place at Crown Center  to research colored inks, I found that Noodler’s met my objective. When inked onto Aquarius II paper, a damp brush and washes of watercolor reactivate the line work. It’s also easy to get a little “heavy handed” with the washes, which happened in my second sketch (below). To avoid that “coloring book look” I’ll remember to leave some key areas of white – “unfinished” looks has more energy than filling the sheet with color.

I’m preparing a couple of commissioned sketches at the moment, which rely on black inked lines and more carefully applied washes of color (above). My drawing pens are loaded with black Noodler’s at the moment and I am not going to buy another pen just to “test the waters” with today’s ink bleed experiment. So while I’m using my Lamy for the commission work, a dip pen is being employed for the playful sketching exercises. I don’t use dip pens very often and I was concerned that the fountain pen ink might be too thin for the purpose. But I needn’t have worried: it flowed perfectly. It was also fun to use the dip pen and will likely try to do more with it.

By the way, none of today’s sketches technically count as “urban sketching.” (And I’m perfectly fine with that.) I pulled some of my reference photos from last year’s trip to Alsace and used them as a starting point for today’s experimental sketches. (Meaning, of course, that I sketched at my drawing table in the comfort of an air conditioned room rather than the 99% humidity/95 degree temperatures outside today.) Today’s tools included a 513EF Hunt Globe bowl point steel pen, Noodler’s “Beaver” color, Koi brush pen, and watercolor.


Brilliantly Colored Black and White

10 July, 2016. I’m riding through an older neighborhood in our small town this morning. The area is a little rundown, but not profoundly so. When the morning sun crests the roofs of the homes immediately opposite my location just enough, the porch on the house to my right simply lights up. The visual is striking enough that I’ve been compelled to stopped and photograph it several times in the past. Sooner or later I knew I would need to scribble down my impressions of the place on a piece of sketch paper. I guess today was the day to do just that.

It seems odd to describe a subject that relies almost entirely on color by using black lines to tell the visual story. But my pen is the tool readily at hand, and to be frank I’m enjoying my ride. I’m hesitant to interrupt that enjoyment for any length of time, and a brush pen makes short work of the basic composition. Meanwhile, my iPhone Notes app records my observations of color. If I decide to pursue this further then I’ll be inventive.

All of the siding everywhere on this house is a sort of medium Indian Red color that contrasts against bright white trim – everywhere except the porch. The porch is a luminous Lemon Yellow Light that glows in the morning sunlight. This morning’s sky is an intense Cobalt Blue, a color that is also reflected in the windows. The roof is a dark slate color, but it’s a warm hue rather than the very cool I typically associate with slate…perhaps a Van Dyke Brown? The shadows are warm, but I would possibly paint them with a cool cast of Quinacridone Violet. The cane chairs are Yellow Ochre, and the small sliver of grass that constitutes the front “yard” is a brilliant green which is a bit cooler than, say, Sap Green. (Liberty, Missouri. Approximately 5 x 7 inches on Aquarius II, using Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.)

Country Roads

8 July, 2016. Sometimes as I cycle along a country road I’ll come across a location where the time and place just sort of “speak to me.” This is one such place. Standing pretty much stationary, I could (and did) turn and view 360 degrees of imagery that made me somewhat nostalgic for the country roads of my youth. Within that 360 degree span there literally was no lack of subject matter or compositional fodder. This is where “keeping it simple” with a tiny watercolor kit, a water brush and pencil, and a lightweight, folded sketch pamphlet beats most other kits.

This location intrigues me. I stood at the confluence of a couple roads, a bluff on one side and fields on the other, grain storage, a few fading road signs – essentially a world of simple, graphic shapes. Perfect!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m trying out a few new and different combinations of colors in my palette. I don’t yet feel confident that I can intuitively reach for the “right” combination yet as I do with my standard palette, but the pigments aren’t fighting me either. I’m happy to discover some interesting hues that are at the same time both raw and subtle. The mixture below combining Cerulean Blue and Perylene Green in the middle ground resulted in an unexpected turquoise. Increasing the Perylene and adding a touch of Quinacridone Magenta created a subtle and rather beautiful medium cool gray immediately above that shape. I’m so easily pleased: These are the sort of simple surprises that make me very happy.

All four of these sketches were done on one side of a single cut and accordion-folded page of Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper. A full sheet of the paper can be trimmed into four horizontal strips, then scored and folded to a 5.5 x 7.5 inch size pamphlet. It’s light and easy to carry, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite papers on which to sketch and paint.

Individual sketches are approximately 5 x 5 inches. Painted in rural Clay County, near Missouri City, Missouri.

Childlike Simplicity

5 July, 2016. The extended road trip is just about over for the summer. One more short visit to the Ozarks in a couple of weeks, and then I’ll be stationary for a while. Stationary – but definitely not idle: I’ve got a book project in the works, a return to academe, and an exhibition coming up in September. Selecting, printing, matting, framing…

Meanwhile, the journey has been a productive one and I’ve made a lot of sketches. Never nearly as many as I think I’ll make, of course. It’s always the case that I plan to draw more than I actually do. But I’ve got a lot of reference material and ideas for new work.

Traveling is fun and exhausting. I like seeing different people, and I really enjoy trying out new tastes while continuing to relish old favorites. Smith’s is an old favorite and we stop nearly every time we pass through that part of Missouri in which they’re located. Like all good country diners, they’ve got an amazing selection of made-on-site pies, their pork tenderloin is (literally) the best on the planet, and a Friday night visit means a short wait for fried catfish and sweet potato fries. We weren’t the only people biding our time either – fellow travelers and local folk alike are seated in this humble setting, knowing that a hot platter of catfish is only a few minutes away. Time enough to drink a little iced tea, make sure the bottle of hot sauce was adequately filled, and get in a quick sketch of one local patron.

The last few days of travel have been remarkably wet, so most of my sketches have been made from underneath a porch awning. I’ve worked small and simply, focusing on shapes more than detail, which allows me to consider compositional arrangement. I like this approach now and then to keep the work from getting too stiff or too precious. This is especially important right now because I’ve got two commission pieces that need to be executed this month for a regular patron.

The work illustrated on this blog will, as it tends to do every summer, evolve a little bit as I transition from the field and back indoors to the drawing table. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the childlike simplicity of this style of sketching. (Watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.)