Do you dream in color?

26 March, 2018. So, consider the question “Do you dream in color?” After many years of truly not knowing for certain, I can answer definitively “yes.” Here’s how I know for certain: Two nights ago I dreamed of sketching the upper portion of a building (not this one.) I could vividly see the loosely painted colors of Cadmium Red Light contrasted against Perylene Green. I recall thinking in my dream that the two colors were almost (but not quite) complimentary.

Upon waking Sunday, I told myself I needed to add those two colors to a similar sketch I’d made on Saturday morning in Eureka Springs to better recall the sensation of seeing color in my dream. Having done so, I realized almost immediately that the Perylene Green in my dream was slightly more of an Olive hue. So why is this important? I’ve no idea, really. But I felt there was some imperative and rather than question it I acted upon the imperative. I can still “see” those two hues in my head, so clearly that I am planning to mix a batch of the Perylene up and pollute it with some yellow or ochre just to get that specific color.

Architecturally, Eureka Springs is such an unusual town, with structures built right into the side of steep hills. It’s an interesting hodge podge of styles and it’s impossible – I mean, quite literally impossible – to find a point-of-view where one is looking directly at a building from anything resembling a “normal” perspective. You’re either looking up or down, usually at the same time. I like how I can find myself positioned in this town to see incredibly odd architectural angles.

As a kid we would visit Eureka Springs and I remember listening to my parents bitch about “all the hippies” in the town: long haired cats playing guitars and wearing beads and bell bottoms and blousy shirts, rather unkempt and generally followed by an equally unkempt and long haired little kid (or two). Regardless of how mom and dad felt about the place, to me it was a pretty cool scene.

Now, the town seems overrun with bikers, farmers, red necks, and bible belters – pretty much as different a population as you can imagine from the flower children I recall from my youth. (Although trust me: there are plenty of locals of my age who are remnants of those days.) All the same, it was a genuinely delicious moment to spot a couple of real live hipsters on the street, strolling about. Culture layered upon culture layered upon culture. I love this cool little town!

I intentionally kept my sketches loose and quick. In fact, it took longer to fill in the mass of black above  than it did to scribble out all three of the actual sketches, I think. These are each a combination of Uni-Ball and a Fude fountain pen.

St. Patrick’s Day Sketching

17 March, 2018. The day began quietly for us, at table in a local bakery. Something seemed missing to me and I couldn’t put my finger on it at first; only later did I realize it was the aroma of freshly baked bread that was absent.

We arrived at eight and there was a single car in the parking lot. Standing at the counter, debating our breakfast order neither of us were aware that the restaurant area had magically filled and there was a line of people patiently waiting behind us! Snagging a table, we sheepishly lumbered over and sat down to enjoy a meal of bread, bread, and more bread, along with a side of biscuits and sausage gravy. I pulled out my sketchbook and Sailer Fude de Mannen fountain pen and began to search for something to draw. Nearby was seated a family. Dad was nursing a cup of coffee, a plate of eggs, and absentmindedly tending to junior. I began by scrawling a single line: Dad’s forehead. That evolved into eyeglasses and a nose, and then a beard. It’s wonderful when a couple of lines seem to just take off, assume a life of their own, and become a drawing.

It is, after all, St. Patrick’s Day. This area has become a bicycling Mecca of sorts, and along with that designation comes the requisite cyclist hangouts of coffeeshops and microbrew pubs. The weather was cooperating nicely so I spent a few hours riding, with a scheduled meet up at one of the brew pubs at mid-ride. Far from the raucous crowds this holiday brings out in my hometown city, the pub crawl participants were decidedly sedate. In Downtown Rogers, outside another local brewery – the “crowds” of revelers could be counted on two hands. Using a Uni-Ball Deluxe with a splashy watercolor wash, I focused on the figure/ground relationship between the sky and the silhouette of the structures. This has proven to be a compositional strategy that I like, and the challenge of keeping things simple while only including a few defining details helps me to focus on “designing” the sketch rather than filling it up with meaningless minutiae.

Later on at dinner, the place we chose seemed dead to me – in fact, the customers outnumbered the help by at least two to one and the teen help was taking a break at a nearby table, I assumed, before the dinner crowd arrived. As happened in the morning, there seemed to be some unwritten agreement among the patrons about what constituted “dinner time,” and suddenly the place was teeming. Our order, even though it was first in, felt as though it had gotten lost in the chaos and took forever to arrive. Waiting patiently, we chatted and checked out the Motown artifacts hanging on the wall, and I loosely sketched out the boy. Finally finishing his soft drink, he glanced around at the crowd and appeared to be startled; he flashed an apologetic grin at his mom behind the counter, and began to serve customers.

One Week, 100 People, 2018

10 March, 2018. #oneweek100people2018 – that’s the hashtag for this past week, the one that signifies participation in what has come to be an annual sketchers challenge: Draw one hundred people over a five day stretch. Google the phrase “one week 100 people” and you’ll see it popping up on artists’ and sketchers’ blogs right and left.

My first sketches were a sort of montage of drawings made over a day or two on a section of watercolor paper that measures about 5.5 inches tall and 28 inches wide. As I’ve noted before, my favorite watercolor paper for urban and travel sketching is the lightweight Strathmore Aquarius II sheet. Cut into four equal segments 28 inches in length and then folded into an accordion-style pamphlet, it’s easy to carry and easy to sketch on just about anywhere, standing or sitting.

I prepped the sheet by lettering it ahead of time, followed by adding sketches of people I observed one and two at a time. The process was pretty organic, which is not unusual for the way I approach most of my sketching.

Taking me up to 99 people, my Art I class served as captive models: I sketched them while they painted and finished up adding their assignments to a digital portfolio they owed me. I stopped at 99 on purpose, in hopes that number 100 would be something special.

As I did with all one hundred and one in this series, I drew with a Uni-Ball Deluxe. I playfully splashed washes of color onto the panoramic sheet with which I began my week, but this second drawing was made on brown Canson paper. I debated adding gouache but decided instead to use hatched lines from a white gel pen to define the negative spaces and clarify the figure/ground relationship a little better.

Number 100 and 101 didn’t turn out to be a spectacular or dramatic drawing. It happened, appropriately enough, in a rather spontaneous fashion: On the last day of the challenge I found myself eating lunch at a Chinese buffet. The place is popular with a blue collar crowd and I enjoy being shoulder to shoulder with people from all walks of life, chattering away in a diversity of languages. I think of it as a sort of miniature “everyman’s” United Nations.

The play of figure/ground relationships are borne out through the contrast of black and white. It’s a favorite graphic ploy of mine and I like the way this visual strategy allows me to keep a composition interesting without the need to add unnecessary detail.

Urban Sketching in Kansas City

4 March 2018. No, even though it might look like it, this is not the cast from the Murphy Brown reboot! Urban Sketchers Kansas City has been all over the media this past week, making broadcast appearances on two different networks, hanging art in prestigious galleries, and welcoming an influx of new members. Yesterday morning Liz, Peggy, Ivan, and I were up at the crack of dawn and hanging out in the Fox 4 Green Room in preparation for a segment that kicked off a fun and intense day of group sketching.

Behind the scenes, we got a chance to hang out with the news anchors and see what goes into the making of a news show. The television personalities walked on and off camera incredibly nonchalantly, engaged in conversation with us one second, abruptly stopping to do a promo, then picking up the chat again without missing a beat.

Our segment was a great opportunity to share with a larger audience just what in the heck an urban sketcher is, and to invite folks to come out and join us for the sketch out taking place later in the morning.

Living in Kansas City, I sometimes forget about the Country Club Plaza. The architecture of the area, inspired by that of Seville, Spain, is just about as far from a “Prairie-style construction” as you could possibly imagine.

I chide myself for neglecting to really look at an area that is for most residents a ubiquitous part of the city. I drive through the Plaza. I shop there. I dine there. But have I ever stopped to just examine the complexity and visual interest of the silhouettes that create the distinctive “look?” The answer, it seems, is no, I have not.

So, for our Plaza-themed sketch out, I used the lion’s share of my time to focus almost entirely on that part of the scene where the sky meets the architecture, filling in only enough detail along the way to generate a sense of space.

One thing I purposely try to do is include street signs and light poles. These ever present elements are not only part of the environmental tapestry, but they also help to establish a sense of scale and space.

It’s interesting to me that the light poles add so much to a composition.

I also appreciate how well this approach reinforces my personal goal to simplify, simplify, simplify. Focus on the line and shape breaks my compositions down into only those most important elements that define a scene. And from there I feel that the viewer can more easily take it upon herself to ponder what story is being told.

I extended the approach to a closer up view of some road construction. Once upon a time I read that Andrew Wyeth considered himself to be something of an abstractionist. Although his paintings look very “real,” he leaves out much that would have been observable, simplifying the elements of his composition and thus thinking in larger “shapes.” It’s a lesson I try not to take for granted. Leaving out things is just as much an artistic decision as is what to include.

The morning was wrapped up with this quick sketch of a small group of guys, leaning against a wall, arms folded across their chests in a “guy-like” conversation. They looked bored and patient and I wondered if they were waiting on partners who were in the adjacent store, shopping. Whatever the story might be, there’s definitely a story here.

Today’s tools included a water brush, Uni-Ball Deluxe pen, touches from a Sailer Fude de Mannen fountain pen when the mood hit me, and watercolor. I sketched in a 5 x 7 Canson 180 sketchbook, and carried more crap than I needed to have done in my backpack. Like a goof, I forgot to carry my pack stool though (it was in my trunk), so I stood to sketch all morning.



Touch of Color

4 March, 2018. It’s “double post Sunday!” Because I’ve two different things to share today, I’m splitting my journal entries into separate posts.

Earlier this week I sketched in a local pub while sipping a Rylie Porter and enjoying plate of their Cajun Shrimp Special. I’d already forgotten that Monday is the start of One Week/One Hundred People, an annual sketching event I really look forward to, so I didn’t realize my sketch was sort of a warm up for the coming days. I was just scribbling with a pen.

I enjoyed creating a sense of depth with the overlap of figures observed in the pub but felt it needed a little more punch. A couple of days later I tossed a sloppy wash of Opera Pink and some violet over the faces, with no thought about detail at all. I simply wanted to engage in a little “push/pull” with the cool vs. warm hues.

A touch of color was all that was needed to make me happy.