Fresh Fruit

24 July, 2017. It’s hot, and just getting hotter still, so even shopping for fresh fruit at the local farmers market has become a chore. Painting on location? Well, sketching on location.  I don’t have to worry about pencil lines drying on the page as quickly as I place them like I do with watercolor. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I added color after returning home – where, incidentally, we managed to lose electricity and air conditioning for 30 hours during triple digit heat. Ugh. (Liberty, Missouri • pencil and watercolor, approximately 7 x 7 inches on Strathmore Aquarius II.)

Travel Sketching

22 July, 2017. Sketching while traveling is a unique experience in some ways. For one thing, one is encouraged to observe the world as though one has never seen it before because in all likelihood this may be the first time to encounter a place, people, custom, or event. I feel a degree of freedom to simply scribble notions of these encounters in the form of sketches which, often enough, tend to fluctuate between medium. Do I have time to sit and observe? Am I feeling rushed? Or wanting to move along soon to eat? Is the opportunity fleeting? Events of the moment predicate the tool I use to sketch.

Watercolors are like a puzzle. For me, they are spontaneous and less about planning than one might imagine. Instead, they are more likely to be an exercise in figuring out what to place where, and how much detail to labor over or ignore. I place a colored shape and then look at the page to figure out where to work next, repeating this approach over and over again, moving from left to right, top to bottom. It could hardly be described as a science because I work mostly from my gut. I do consider contrasts of cool to warm colors, as well as contrasts of value, but the approach is definitely a different mindset than when I use pens to sketch with.

Working on the thin, cheap paper of a sketchbook with watercolor can be challenging. You have to not work the paper too much or risk rubbing clear through the sheet! A light and restrained touch is better than overworking, and results in nice blooms of color that I especially appreciate seeing appear. During my recent travel to the islands of Hawaii, I found myself using this approach to capture scenes that were, for the most part, without motion or movement.

Pens are also a tool of spontaneity for me, but much more visceral than painting. Even when I add watercolor after the fact, the line tends to be the most important, most informing aspect of the drawing. Sometimes precious, but more often than not nearly schematic, my lines are the truest extension of my hand and the most comfortable means of expressing a visual that I know.

Pens work better for me to capture the gestures or caricatures of people doing whatever it is they are doing. I like incorporating “field notes” into my sketches as a reminder of the experience.

Pencils are the most basic of drawing instruments and the thing nearly every one of us learned before any other tool or drawing instrument. Although my curriculum determines that I teach the broad range of dynamic value one can generate with a pencil, my own pencil sketches tend to be quite loose and expressive. I have to make conscious decisions to do things a certain way so that if I wind up adding color later the sketch isn’t constrained too much by one media or the other. I don’t want the drawing to dictate the entirety of the painting.

Close to Home

22 July, 2017. I’ve been on the road so much this month that there’s been little opportunity to update this blog. There has, however, been ample opportunity for sketching, both close to home and while traveling. Thus, after neglecting the blog for the past few weeks I will be adding two posts in a single day.

Let’s begin with sketching in and around the small town I call home. Liberty is a community of something like 25,000 residents with a quaint town square and older neighborhoods and lots of green space. It’s really livable, and I bicycle the streets nearly every single day. People say hello to one another on the street and the square tends to attract interesting shops and eateries, one of which is Morning Day Cafe. If prompted, I would describe the place as a quasi-hippy/new age/Earth Mother/whole grain eatery and mixology center, and perhaps my sketch (above) hints at that just a little bit. It is a fun, friendly place to eat and chat, and the food is great.

The neighborhood streets in the older part of town are lined with large shade trees and houses dating from the fifties to antebellum, with the assorted range of architectural styles one might imagine that diversity to encompass.

I feel as though half the town is undergoing some sort of renovation at the moment.

The road, sidewalk, and street parking, along with some adornment on the square have been part of a massive restoration and improvement. The side streets are getting repaved and re-striped, and one is certain to see construction equipment throughout the town.

I enjoy the variety of architectural styles in evidence. I take particular joy in closely examining structures and discovering some neat little detail or ornamentation. It’s fun to keep my bike sketches a little bit loose and scribbly looking, to capture more of an impression rather than to draw as a true documentarian.

As many times as I’ve wandered down the street in search of an afternoon’s subject matter, I know if I look closely enough I’ll find plenty to draw close to home.

Sweatin’ some small stuff.

There’s a Blick art supply store right next door to the residence hall at MIAD, and right there in the window are racks and stands filled with sketchbooks. One that caught my eye was a sketchbook produced by Crescent, it’s claim being that the pages are bleed-proof. I was intrigued because I sketch on both sides of the page in my sketchbooks, and here, right in front of me, was a book designed to do exactly that. So I bought a small one to try out.

It’s a convenient size to carry around – not very thick at 60 or so pages, and easy to fit into a hip pocket at 3.5 x 5.5 inches. But despite their claim that the pages lay “flat,” it’s simply not the case. My usual commercial sketchbook, the Canson 180 is designed to lay flat, and does. The Crescent book loses real estate at the gutter, so useable width is actually more like 3.25 inches.

And the size, while convenient to carry, is a bit inconvenient to actually use. Drawing in a book that is only appreciably larger than a credit card requires a lot of awkward gyrations. Frankly, this smaller size makes me work too hard to work out a sketch. Thus, I’d recommend the next size up, which is in that middle ground of around 5 x 7-ish inches. I like that size for sketching. It is still small enough to fit onto a sidewalk café table or lap. I can tuck it into my waistband at my back. And I feel more comfortable working in the slightly larger size.

On the positive side, the small proportions forced me to work simpler, to focus on shapes and use of space, and to regard color as a graphic element – something I appreciate in the work of others, but don’t always do myself.

It’s not bad to work in, but watercolor absorbs into the paper very quickly and you must work fast if you wish to move it around on the sheet. Pause for a second and it’s already begun to dry, and your painted surface develops very obvious streaks. If that’s what you’re going for, it’s a great sheet. Me, I found that at first I felt safer keeping color to small spots.

As I began to treat the page and the color more graphically, I found simplifying the color and treating it as one of the primary graphic elements to be a satisfying strategy.

That approach also tended to change the composition pretty dramatically. I began to look for ways to leave a negative spaces that could be filled with color, and which would serve to focus a viewer’s attention.

When I was sketching the image of the woman and her dog (above), the emphasis was much broader than it is with color used to create a clear focal point. While still in black and white, the background was more of a tapestry of detail. Now it’s a unifying element.

Here’s another example of an image where the simplicity of black and white clearly works. But the addition of color (below) changes the complexity entirely.

When all is said and done, this is an interesting experiment as well as an intriguing experience. But I don’t anticipate forgoing my preferred sketchbook, sketching pamphlets, and – especially! – sketchbook size.