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.)


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.)