Zoned out.

27 January, 2017. I had to laugh. During my painting class yesterday, I noticed one of my kids had zoned out. Wasn’t watching videos. Wasn’t causing any trouble – as a rule, he’s a pretty great kid. But he was just stationary, unmoving, solid as a rock.

I’d been at an adjacent table giving one-on-one assistance, so my drawing tools were already sitting out and at hand. I opened the sketchbook to a fresh spread and quickly sketched him using a Kuretake No. 40 brush pen (the color was added later in the day.)

Finishing the sketch, I drifted his way and tapped him on the shoulder to see if anything was wrong. With a startled look he snapped right out of it. He said he was just day dreaming and asked how long I’d been watching. I told him he’d held still long enough that I had been able to make a sketch of him. Big grin and an honest laugh!

It was a real teachable moment… no recriminations whatsoever. He was very interested in the drawing and wanted to take a cell phone photo of the sketch to send to his mom. I showed him how the brush pen worked and let him try it too. He’s very interested in becoming a better artist and really is quite diligent. No idea why he zoned out on this particular morning, but it turned out to be a solid opportunity for making a solid connection with him.

And this is why I teach art.

(Kuretake No. 40 brush pen and gouache in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

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Escape.

20 January, 2017. Thank goodness for good weather and an opportunity to get outside on my own to ride for a couple of hours. I needed to be away from the three ring circus that is our political system, broadcasting from every media outlet 24/7. Never in my memory have we been so divided as a country as we are at this moment. Social media is fuel on a raging fire, too. Had I left my iPhone at home I’d have escaped the lunacy…but no. I heard it ping, letting me know I had a message, and made the mistake of checking it. I wish I hadn’t. I was getting trolled on Facebook by a smug “why can’t you live and let live, get over it because we won it all” nutball.

Sad. Just sad.

(Quickly sketched from a photo on my treacherous iPhone using an Omni-Ball Micro pen)

Objects of Desire

20 January, 2017. This past week I began to introduce gouache to my painting students. It’s a media that seems to be remarkably unfamiliar to students, and surprisingly even to many art teachers of my acquaintance. Essentially, gouache is an opaque watercolor. Practically speaking I see it handling somewhere between traditional watercolor and tempera. I know a lot of classroom tempera paint is really crude stuff, so I don’t mean to sound disparaging. Good quality gouache is far and away superior to the gloppy tempera paint that comes in gallon jugs.

Normally I would be teaching acrylic right now, but I’ve grown weary of replacing brushes and scrubbing out palettes crusted over with dried paint – not to mention the annual ritual of having a plumber come out to fix the pipes under the sink, clogged with glops of acrylic. Gouache is a good alternative for teaching opaque painting that is far more gentle on brushes, palettes, and pipes. A plus is that while acrylic tends to intimidate my students for some reason, they are taking to gouache quite naturally.

I plan for my art students to complete two paintings before we transition to watercolor. The first prompt is “Objects of Desire,” in which learners are asked to create a painting of a luscious, tempting, scrumptious dessert of their choosing. We’re working in a relatively small size – the example I made in yesterday’s class (above) is the same size and support specified for students (10 x 10 inches, on illustration board.)

I don’t know how many different ways there are to approach painting in gouache. As always, I stress that there will generally be more life and vitality to a painting if it’s done from life rather than a photographic reference. (It’s fun to look around the art room and see that some kids have done as I did in the example above, and brought in something yummy to draw and paint.) In any event, I always begin with sketches on scrap paper or in a sketchbook to work out my general composition, then very lightly transfer a drawing onto the support. I find I’m more successful keeping the construction lines less detailed rather than more to allow for a more fluid application of line or color.

Gouache is a good way to introduce a valuable concept to students interested in moving into painting with oils: painting gradually thicker layers over thin. The reality of oil requiring this approach to ensure proper binding of layers isn’t relevant to gouache, but I find that subsequent thicker, more opaque layers of gouache lay down more easily when brushed over a light underpainting. The underpainting also helps me to visualize how local colors harmonize and to consider ideas about value placement. It’s quite a bit different than how I approach watercolor.

The end result has an interesting matte quality, with what I would describe as a sort of “pastiness” where the opaque white mixtures are built up. I enjoy the ability to work with flat colors that are more design-like than some other medias might naturally turn out.

Out of the Ice

17 January, 2017. I’ve heard that timing is everything. When we scheduled a three day weekend in Florida a couple of months ago, we figured it would be a welcome respite from our normally cold January weather. What we didn’t realize is that we’d be fleeing the Midwest just ahead of a big ice storm. Great timing!

So for three days I hung out on Cocoa Beach, just me, a bag full of Tommy Bahama shirts, and my sketchbook. My travel kit is small, so these are pretty much all brush pen or Lamy Safari fountain pen.

Cold ride.

2 January, 2017. I sketched this out with a brush pen a couple of days ago. I’m not even sure if I like it or not, so on a lark I scanned it in and added color layers in Photoshop. (Kuretake #40 brush pen in Canson 180 sketchbook. Color, courtesy of Adobe.)

There’s a time and place for this sort of thing, I suppose, but it feels a little too much like a magazine illustration for my tastes…too much contrast between the looseness of brushed lines and the hard, mechanical shapes of color, I think.

This is my story.

1 January, 2017. I had fun working on an illustration this afternoon. This sketch is my donation to the HALO art auction. The auction is emphasizing the power of story this year, which I think is a nice fit for my approach to sketching. As I said, this was fun. I enjoyed using the fountain pen to scribble, and then allowed the watercolor to pool and bloom and “melt” the line work. The more I experiment with limited color, loosely drawn and painted elements, and simply leaving some areas completely unpainted, the more I enjoy the direction my sketching has traveled. (Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen and watercolor wash on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper; typography was added in Photoshop.)