Oatmeal and berries

29 June, 2019.

I’m faced with a dilemma. Before me is a bowl of my world famous cinnamon oatmeal and berries, drizzled with fresh whole cream.

The quandary? Do I eat it, or do I sketch it?

The answer: both. Dilemma solved.

Sketched directly in gouache in a Stillman and Birn Nova gray sketchbook. Y’know, I nearly always sketch directly when I work with a pen, but I often forget how liberating it is to work directly with paint, unburdened from the constraints of an underlying pencil sketch.

Street life on a hot morning.

28 June, 2019.

It’s the end of June and normally we’d already be well into the summer heat. But lots and lots of rain has kept the Midwest cooler than usual and we’re only just now beginning to encounter Missouri temperatures (and humidity.)

The morning was already warm and the world was more than a little sticky. She strolled down the street, a scarf around her neck in a full length dress and a full length sleeveless cape, a thick, wool hat perched on her head. I was struck by the contrasting patterns of her garments and it didn’t occur to me until I tried to reconstruct what I’d seen that she didn’t exhibit the slightest discomfort. Chin up, 5th Street in the River Market was her runway.

Not even a block west, I encountered another interesting person. Her hair was huge and seemed to be moving in all directions at once.

These are the two most recent studies in my Moleskin journal, drawn with my bent-nib fountain pen. The sketchbook has taken on a life of its own, dedicating itself to the downtown and surrounding area of the city, and further committing itself to a particular media and drawing style. I’m not fighting it: I wonder how long this thread can sustain itself though.

Bent-nib fountain pen in a Moleskin journal.

Hey! Someone tell Shel Silverstein I found out where the sidewalk ends…

27 June, 2019.

…turns out it ends on Pleasant Valley Road, between bedroom communities outside Claycomo, Missouri.

I think of Silverstein’s book of poetry every time I drive past this sign. For once, I decided to entertain my self amusement and pulled over to capture the view. (Only after I had already scanned the resulting sketch did I happen to notice that I’d been in such a rush to letter the caption that I wrote “some” instead of “someone.” Oh well… embrace imperfection, right?)

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook.

30 x 30 Direct Watercolor Challenge

25 June, 2019.

The challenge is to create thirty watercolor paintings over thirty days, working directly. Translation: no under drawing in pencil – just start painting, working wet-in-wet for the most part and avoid lots of “after action” touch ups such as multiple layers of glazing.

I decided to do thirty small (2 x 2 inch) paintings on one sheet in one day. I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly in the spirit of the challenge because the idea is to develop the work over consecutive days, but it’s a rainy day today and I was bored, and this kept me entertained for a while. And besides: I already work on consecutive days constantly.

These little paintings were the perfect interlude for a couple of longer term project I’ve been working on this month. And naturally, as I painted I was mulling over a new project idea: a series of small watercolor paintings in a grid like this, each focusing on a single subject. What I really like about doing this is the discovery I go through doing the “same” thing over and over, and trying to find new ways to say that thing differently each time. Meanwhile, the small size forces me to be restrained – which if you read this blog with any regularity you already know is an important characteristic to me.

Watercolor in a … what the heck? I have no idea what kind of sketchbook this is… it’s something unmarked that’s been on my shelf for years and I noticed there’s some empty pages in the back.


Steamy night for some street music.

24 June, 2019.

Make Music Day is a world-wide, free celebration of music that takes place on June 21. Our town has been so enthusiastic about participating that this year the decision was made to spread things out over two days, Friday evening and all day Saturday.

The concept is simple: musicians set up at various places around the community and play. In my mind, it’s a throwback to the days when neighborhoods were filled with kids running up and down the street, folks gathered on front porches, and in my family my dad would be comfortably seated on a metal yard chair playing his accordion.

Often, our imaginations wander and we reminisce about a day and age that maybe didn’t really exist anywhere else but in a film or a television show. The small town I live in is a lot like Mayberry. Take a stroll along the streets leading up to the historic town square and you’d be forgiven if you thought you’d somehow wandered onto the set of one of those shows. So encountering a pair of guitar players under a yard umbrella really isn’t much of a stretch.

People parked their cars all around the Square, pulled out folding lawn chairs from their trunks, and set themselves up in the shade of buildings to enjoy the music. While I was sketching, one fellow stood, rolled up his sleeves and wiped the sweat from his forehead, and meandered over to the players. He stood close to the group tapping his foot, then began to sing along. It was a remarkably convivial moment, one that I truly wish existed every single Friday evening.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook.

I wonder…

23 June, 2019.

As I wander around the little residential neighborhood bordering the eastern edge of downtown, I wonder if it’s “neighborly” or if it’s just a place where outsiders have come in and gentrified. Clearly, these blocks look more lived in than they did a decade ago. The houses are no longer in disrepair, and are, in fact, quite nice looking. But I don’t see anyone on the street on this morning. Where are the people?

Comparatively, this industrial lot directly across the Missouri River, shows exactly as much human activity. Interestingly, this area is also experiencing new growth. Only blocks away, old buildings are turning into barbecue restaurants, numerous microbreweries, pubs, etc.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook. Spot color added digitally.

Big truck.

22 June, 2019.

Y’know, I know absolutely nothing about big trucks. Frankly, they’re a little intimidating and the few times I’ve driven a moving van I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the cab. It’s hard for me to imagine the skill it takes to drive a loaded trailer, let alone to back the thing up as precisely as these guys seem to do. Me? My middle name is “Jack Knife.”

But they’re fun to draw. All of the weird little industrial details and the purpose-specific bits and bobs – I’m sure I’ve gotten 99.989% of those details wrong. I don’t care though! There’s a structure here and I love using simple inked lines to define it.

Bent-nib fountain pen and Pitt “Big Brush” marker in Moleskin journal.

What should I call this approach?

21 June, 2019.

So, I’ve gotten a lot of questions, both from readers of this blog and on Instagram, about my “one line approach” to starting a drawing of a place. (And yeah, I’ve called it a couple of different things. And yeah, “one line approach” is kind of a crummy name. I dunno – any ideas on what I should call it?) Anyway, here’s how it works for me…

You can see the finished sketch at the top of this post and compare it with my starting point, illustrated here (above). Beginning on one side of the page I will loosely sketch out the silhouette of my subject, tracing from one side to the other. The continuity of the line is important to me because it creates a unifying structure. Compositionally, I’m happy beginning with a simple, abstract quality that helps me to think through the balance and flow of a drawing without, y’know? Overthinking it?

Next, I’ll add a few “big picture” details. In this case I wanted to use those details to create depth. I don’t know why, but vertical poles always seem to catch my attention.

The silhouetted line gives me a point of reference for adding in other details like windows and verticals and indications of decoration. I also start to think about solids at this point. For the record, I wish I’d stopped here.

But I didn’t stop there (obviously!) I use a Pitt “Big Brush” marker, which is loaded with India ink, to fill in the important solids.

About solids: I will often leave “imperfections” – dots of white paper that aren’t entirely covered by ink, or areas that are loosely filled rather than 100% solid. I prefer to see a sketch evolve that demonstrates a “hand drawn” quality rather than precise perfection.

Bent-nib fountain pen and Pitt “Big Brush” in a Moleskin journal.

3rd and Oak

20 June, 2019.

I’m more than a little fascinated by how graphic line and shape becomes when an image is delivered entirely in black and white. So many abstract qualities are revealed!

The exploration of alleys and side streets keeps revealing interestingly overlooked detail.

Bent-nib fountain pen in Moleskin journal.

Group supervision.

19 June, 2019.

Apparently – and this is just my opinion, of course – it takes an entire group to oversee the task of one person. In this case, it was a truck driver who I’m certain was very appreciative of the various conflicting input he was getting while backing a trailer into the loading bay.

Duke 551 Confusius bent-nib fountain pen in Moleskin journal.