27 October, 2018. I am often moved by architectural structures. American ideas about what constitutes an “historically significant” example is often at odds with the rest of the world. Consider that we will refer to a building built fifty years ago as “old,” whereas I’ve walked French streets and found home after home constructed in the 1500’s, still in excellent condition and still in use as residences.

It’s perplexing to me that buildings with character are so often in peril of demolition. Places that would be impossibly expensive to replicate in terms of detailing and craftsmanship are allowed to fall into a state of sad disrepair. We tear such places down and leave empty lots or fill them with nondescript structures that aren’t intended to last more than a decade.

Wander through the town square in any small Midwestern town and look for a vacant bank from the early 20th century. Find an old post office, like this Beaux-arts decorated building. Look at the attention to detail.

Compare those buildings to those we’ve built near the main thoroughfares, the grey blocks. No ornamentation. No character. And try not to be just a little saddened by what you see.


25 October, 2018. I’ve recently been experimenting with the possibilities of the water soluble pastels made by Caran d’Ache. The creamy consistency of the crayons are impressive, as is the water solubility: marks simply melt into intense washes of color with a drop or two of brushed water.

So what I’ve been doing is toying around with color compliments. First, I figure out how my colors are going to be distributed. I begin with a scribbled underpainting of the contrasting colors. Those colors are hit with a sloppy wash and brushed around to create generalized blobs of soft edged hues. You can see the contrasting colors peeking through from underneath.

I haven’t had much success attempting to add marks onto a still wet surface. The crayons don’t seem to want to transfer, which surprised me a little. So you have to allow the surface to completely dry. Once it has, the colors are a beautiful matte that take additional layers of marks very nicely.

In fact, working loosely over the dried surface results in some pigments seeming to lay down with even greater vibrance and intensity than on pure white paper.

A combination of brushed washes of color along with marks results in an interesting effect that is somewhat painterly and sketch-like. It seems like these tools are best suited for working with shapes and masses rather than fine detail. I’m good with that, of course, but it’s important to understand not only the limitations of a material but also the things it does well.

I’ve yet to try mixing medias but I’m confident that an underpainting of watercolor or  gouache would be an effective foundation of color.

See what the scribbling started?

19 October, 2018. It started a week ago, when I just let my pens do whatever they felt like doing. Which as it turned out, was scribbling. Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself just enjoying the sloppiness of wet-in-wet watercolor.

Just a few houses down from mine there’s an excellent, unobstructed view of the Western sky. Having made several new accordion-fold sketchbooks last weekend, I found myself dedicating one to quickly painted skies.

Quickly painted?

Actually, super fast sketching.

It came about like this: I backed down my driveway, headed to the grocery store. Glancing in the rearview mirror I was stunned to see the swiftly fading glow of an incredible sundown. Hurrying down the street, my view blocked by trees, I rolled around the corner and pulled into the parking lot by a Chinese restaurant and whipped out my sketchbook and a pencil. The basic outlines took but a moment and I began to splash on a little water and a wash of yellow. By the time I had wetted the reds, reality had faded and I was working from memory. But a sketchbook theme seemed to have been formed.

Go figure.

Not to worry. I’ve still been scribbling this week.

Street Busker

11 October, 2018. The life of a street musician must be a tough one. I often wonder what’s running through their heads as they busk for a living. Do they feel invisible to the general public? Or perhaps there’s a sense they are on public display, not unlike creatures of the wild, penned behind bars in the zoo, a curiosity for passersby. In any event, I feel an obligation to these souls who put themselves out there. It seems only fair to treat them with sensitivity when they are the subject of a sketch, as they often are in my sketchbooks. Toss them a buck or two when you can, folks.

Hastily scrawled with a Uni-Ball Vision in a Canson 180 sketchbook. Color added digitally.

Inktober 2018

8 October, 2018. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of artist prompts or “challenges.” To be quite honest, I’m easily bored. I want to draw what I want to draw, and adhering to prompts makes sketching seem too much like work.

I’m just not interested.

A significant portion of my work is made using a pen, so you’d think a challenge like Inktober would be right down my alley. (You’d be wrong, of course.) Oh, I might jump in for a sketch or two at first, but frankly I’d be ready to jump ship at the first opportunity. All of which is a sort of caveat to the sketches I’ve made for Inktober 2018.

I’ve was talked into participating. I’m an unwilling participant, and I agreed under duress. Even then, I stated, I will only participate if I can do what I want to do, and not follow any prompts. Essentially, I’m drawing what I probably would have done anyway and adding the #inktober2018 hash tag. OK, I can live with that.

But don’t be surprised if I forget to add the tag after the first couple of days.

These random sketches are the result of my visual play this past week, and have been tagged as my grudging contributions to Inktober 2018.

And maybe I’ll remember or be interested enough to add a few more this coming week. Who knows… stranger things have happened.

Sketched using various tools: Uni-Ball Vision pen, bent-nib fountain pen, Pitt marker for fills, Caran d’Ache Neocolor II pastels for color.

Purposeful Placement: Thinking in “Threes”

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

7 October, 2018. It’s no secret that I believe a strongly designed composition is the very heart of what makes a sketch visually interesting. Ask me if I’m especially interested in creating a photographically “accurate” version of a scene, however, and I’ll always respond, “Not really.”

I’m perfectly happy to move elements around in a drawing if it makes the visual story more compelling. I’ll change the scale of objects, move them to create a different overlap or to emphasize a particular thing: to me, artists have a license to do such things, to organize a drawing with purpose.

I’ll often look for some element – the truck in this sketch, for instance – some element that I can bring to the fore. I tend to “think in threes.” So, three planes: foreground, middle ground, background. Or three main elements. Three points: purposefully arranging the masters of the subject to create a visual triangle.

I love to use the intentional placement of elements in such a way that overlap and scale create a sense of visual hierarchy. It’s interesting to me to have elements intentionally violate the edge of the page. Often in my own drawings it’s the main subject that does this, but it can just as effectively be a typographic element or something from the background. Does it advance the story? Create a heightened sense of space? If so, I’m interested.

These were all drawn on an incredibly wet four-day weekend using a Uni-Ball Vision pen and a Pitt marker for fills. The color was added digitally.