Man, it’s cold!

28 December, 2017. Cold, and getting colder. A couple of people I know went riding, but me? Nope. I stayed in the car and sketched as quickly as possible. Color? Nope, just quick lines with my fountain pen. I added the washes from the comfort of home, where it still seemed cold to me.

Frankly, I can’t imagine they rode around for any length of time. I’ll ride down to about 30 degrees, but below that mark I’m a big sissy. I may sketch or paint in colder conditions, but not much. Water and ink freeze quickly, and my fingers get really stiff. I can’t draw wearing gloves. And I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone about how tough a location artist I am.

I got to thinking about an idea for an assignment for my drawing students and began digging through some of my old travel photos for added inspiration. I dunno – maybe some sort of poster illustration? I kind of like the sketch, but I’m not sure it’s got legs enough to make it as starting point for a class assignment. I’ll think on it some more.

A day later I found it too miserable to go outside, even to sit in the car and draw. I decided to use my time productively by making some new sketchbooks. One houses my favorite watercolor paper, Strathmore Aquarius II. The other is made from Fabriano Artistico. It’s a 140 lb. paper and was pretty tough to score and fold – normally a signature would be four folded sheets, but this stuff only allowed me to do two.

I check the thermometer. Yikes! It’s too cold to be outside sketching this week. So I start thumbing through my sketchbooks in search of unfinished sketches to ink and plop some color onto. That color is a bit arbitrary since some of these were penciled in three or more years ago… I don’t recall what the original colors might have looked like.

I’m heading to Arkansas tomorrow where it’s supposed to be a whole lot warmer – at least for a day or two. The New Year is supposed to ring in around 10 below zero, so I’ll be looking for indoor places to sketch. 

Thinking small.

25 December, 2017. It’s been especially difficult these past few weeks to find time to draw or paint. Wrapping up the Fall Semester, collecting and grading finals, preparing for family and the holidays – it’s all been one great big time suck. To the rescue came my USk friends Peggy and Liz, who organized an Artist Trading Card swap with USk Mexico.

Artist Trading Cards, or more commonly “ATC’s,” are a small format art form. At 2.5 x 3.5 inches in size, they are the same size as a standard baseball card. More to the point, they are small. Squeezing in time for a fifteen minutes sketch was easy, and just a bit of a life saver for a time-strapped artist.

Even though I abandoned large format painting years ago in favor of sketchbooks, ATC’s are a decidedly teenie-weenie format as the example above illustrates. It’s nice having something small to carry, and it’s also attractive being forced into super quick sketching.

All of these were inked directly (no pencil) using a Sailor fountain pen with a Fude de Mannen nib, and the color is quickly painted gouache on pre-trimmed Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper. It’s challenging to work so small and not every subject works neatly with the baseball card size of the artwork. Some of my “street portraits,” for instance, really screamed out for a little larger size.


Over a couple days time I sketched out about a dozen, discovering along the way that too much detail was just too much detail. It seemed important to approach composition as if I was designing a postage stamp – to think small. The ATC’s I feel worked the best seemed to follow that principle.


December Sketch Out

3 December, 2017. Yesterday was our monthly Urban Sketchers meet up, and what is really exciting for our group is how much things have evolved and grown in the ten months since we first decided to organize. Case in point: Our group simultaneously met in two locations Saturday morning – the Family Tree Nursery in the north part of the metropolitan area, and the Family Tree Nursery many miles to the south, on the Kansas side of the border.

I think it’s remarkable that USkKC has the interest, motivation, and numbers to support a split event in this manner. Much of the credit for that goes out to a couple of caring group administrators, Peggy Wilson and Liz Vargas.

The nursery in Liberty is literally just down the street from my home and studio, so that’s where I found myself sketching. While many of the others were indoors, developing sketches of the various flowering plants and vines I took advantage of a rare warm December morning to focus on the exterior.

As I thumbed through my sketchbook to the next blank page, I came across this drawing from the previous day and realized I’d neglected to scan and include it with yesterday’s post. Whoops!

(Sailor Fude De Mannen fountain pen with Noodler’s ink and Faber-Castell “Big Brush” Pitt Pen for the large fills. Page size is approximately 5 x 8 inches in a Canson 180 sketchbook.)

Everyday Life

1 December, 2017. Sometimes teaching art is a busy, move-around-the-room-and-get-pulled-in-eighteen-directions-at-once, constantly in motion thing. And sometimes it’s a sit back and watch, try not to hover too much affair like it was Friday. My Design Team is comprised of four high school kids who were competing with kids from other schools at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in the culminating activities of a Design Challenge. A Design Challenge is an interesting competition that blends the art of the design world with timed, creative problem solving of a real world design assignment. Students often have only a few hours to analyze a design problem, ideate, prototype – and then be judged. My role was to encourage and cheer on the process of ideation, but to keep my fingers out of the pie. The design problem had to be entirely owned by the kids. Rather than immersing myself in ennui I used my pen and sketchbook to stay connected to my surroundings. The everyday life of museum staff, rounded up to act as judges for the event, created the opportunity for me to observe and try to capture body language.

The act of capturing body language holds a particular interest for me. I like drawing people and I like to establish just enough additional detail to suggest a location, without getting lost in the weeds of unnecessarily sketched out minutiae. Frankly, it can be tough to get a good sketch unless I situate myself someplace where I have a good line of observation of people who are moving around a lot. The Rock & Run Brewery and Pub, located on our town square and perhaps only a twenty minute walk from the house, is such a place and I’ve taken advantage of the welcoming sketch environment on several occasions. The challenge for me is to not get distracted by all of the movement, the hustle and bustle, and to focus in on what’s really catching my attention at that moment. Essentially, I feel most successful when I “crop out” the rest of the world and treat my subject as a close up.

In my last post I wrote about the pen I’ve been trying out, a Sailor Fude De Mannen fountain pen. Both of the sketches here were done entirely with that pen, and drawn directly – in other words, no pencil. The solid area of black was filled in with Faber-Castell “Big Brush” marker, which is loaded with India ink. I picked up the Faber-Castell marker a few weekends back when my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen ran dry and I realized I had no extra cartridges with me. I was out of town and to my dismay, the local Michael’s stocked no Pentel products at all, let alone the cartridges I needed. Searching the shelves I came across the Pitt pens and noticed the “Big Brush” model. Figuring what the hell, I paid for the pen and gave it a whirl. And boy, was I happy to have done so! First off, it’s a great fill pen: the nib is large, but comes to a point and makes blocking in against detail very easy. The ink has a ready and generous flow without pooling up. And wonder of wonders – the ink doesn’t bleed through the page like a permanent marker does. It sits on top of the page (It’s India ink, remember?), where it dries without saturating the fibers of the paper.

I continue to enjoy the Sailor pen as well. What I’m coming to realize as I continue to experiment with different drawing tools is that finding “the one” drawing instrument is something of a fool’s errand. But some tools pair together better for my sketching approach than other couplings. For instance, the pairing of a Uni-Ball and a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen has worked very well for my needs. A Varsity Pilot and a loaded water brush are equally great partners, and create a very different look to a sketch made on watercolor paper. Despite the differing stylistic results, I find both pairings of tools to have the right characteristics for me to sketch freely and loosely.

Add to that mix the pairing of the Sailor and Faber-Castell pens I’ve used this week. The Fude tip of the Sailor fountain pen is proving to have a lot of appeal to me, sharing characteristics of both a pen nib and a bouncy brush. And because in order for one to take full advantage of the nib’s properties of line variation, one must be aware of the angle at which the nib is placed on the page, I find myself being a more active participant in the decisions about line weight. With a pen point that has one line weight, it’s too easy to grow complacent and simply rely upon the fluid motions of one’s hand and arm. And while those are important considerations, I know myself well enough to understand that complacency can quickly evolve into a sort of drawing laziness. Actively having to keep my hand angle moving back and forth seems to have a positive effect on line dynamic.

I’ve said it many times before, but it bears constant repeating: Perfection is not the goal of the artist. Evidence of the artist’s hand, along with all of the imperfections that come with it, are of far greater visual interest than a perfectly consistent inked line.