Be cool.

(Number five in a series of ten ideas I have about sketching.)

3 September, 2018. It’s Labor Day weekend, I’ve been incredibly tied up with the business of teaching all week and, frustratingly, there’s been no opportunity to sketch. Traveling down to Northwest Arkansas to bicycle, hike, and explore, three days were blocked out on my calendar to remedy the dearth of drawing activity.

A very pleasant afternoon diversion came about through a visit to the small, but very diverse Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks. There we strolled under canopies of local and exotic foliage, through beds of strangely wonderful plants, flowers and fruits coming in an assortment of sizes, shapes, and configurations. And the color!

All weekend long I’d been sketching with pens. I love playing with positive and negative shapes, and the drama of the figure ground relationship can be a very playful visual tool. And color can benefit from that visual trickery and mind play as well.

I love to separate space, not just through the juxtaposition of positive and negative shapes but also by contrasting cools against warm colors, and brights against muted, neutral tones, compliments of color temperature, compliments of hue. Chromatics are important to me – contrary to what I do with a pen, my paints never include black. Shadows are cool, as are far away objects, which also tend to be grayed and muted. Highlights are warm; objects closer to the viewer are not only warm, but also very crisp. It’s a very simple recipe for color that serves me well when I sketch.

As with my drawings, placement of elements are given additional thought. I don’t hesitate to move objects around in my studies, neither do I worry about making a photographic documentation of the colors. If it suits my purposes to “bounce” the eye around a little, I’ll make a note to myself to create focal distractions that break up the flow. You’ll notice in my color study (above) that I’ve indicated which lily pads I thought should be yellow by marking them with a penciled “Y.”

All of which is sort of academic, really, because the viewer is ultimately drawn to the brilliant warm orange of the goldfish, which contrasts beautifully against the deep cooler complimentary violet shadow of the water. That violet blends into a muted blue-green at the termination of the shadow, contrasting values of shadow against the reflection of sky.


Incidentally, this particular study was done on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper using my kit of Nicholson’s Peerless Transparent Watercolors. These are unique dry pigments, bound to pieces of paper – I’m doing a terrible job of describing them, I realize, so just go check them out online – but which are amazingly transportable. I almost never carry them with me because I’m so handcuffed to my travel kit. This weekend I wanted to travel as light as possible and carried the Peerless stuff with me… well, just because.

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