29 November, 2020.

True to the stereotype of the taciturn Swedes on my father’s side of the family, it’s a rare instance when I come across a photo of myself in which I’m smiling. I’m pretty sure I smile and laugh a lot, but when I look in a mirror the face staring back at me is a serious one, and that’s the subject I have readily at hand as I consider what to sketch. I see a beard that needs to be trimmed back and hair that in spite of combs or brushes, absolutely refuses to stay in place. And then there’s those devil eye brows! Those things are a gift to me from mom’s Celtic lineage, a pair of brushy caterpillars that if I didn’t mow them back from time to time would have me in a serious competition with Lloyd Bridges and Andy Rooney.

It’s only a few short minutes, but it feels good to just scribble, to let my lines do what they want, to wander around a page, to meander across other lines, and ultimately to end, leaving me oddly satisfied with the process.

Change of focus

22 November, 2020.

Last week I tried to join my Italian friends from USk Liguria for a virtual sketch out. “Tried” is the operative word here. Although I could see the musicians the group was sketching on my computer screen, I never successfully joined the platform. This makes me sad, because what I miss most about our urban sketching get togethers is the camaraderie and fellowship.

The musicians, broadcasting from a live feed, did me a great favor by using a single, unmoving camera. They were largely stationary, and it was easy to sketch them performing.

The original composition left me feeling oddly ambivalent so I wound up cropping it after scanning. I’m not sure which version is “better,” but it’s interesting to see how the narrative has changed when the focus is on one, rather than two figures.

Almost, but not quite.

21 November, 2020.

I’ve quite often realized I’m finding myself sketching faces these past couple weeks. Eight days ago my beginning watercolor class was introduced to the subject – briefly, mind you, because it’s a topic that can be studied for years, and two hours can only touch on the briefest of brief introductions. But sharing what little I know led me to a several practice sessions with a cool vs warm technique for modeling forms. I’ve also wound up experimenting with a couple different watercolor papers, including my two favorites – Arches CP and Strathmore Aquarius II – as well as the Fabriano Satin HP used in this example.

I was unhappy with the Fabriano paper for this approach. The smooth finish reacts so much differently than the cold press surface of Arches, and I definitely prefer the tooth of the Arches in this particular instance. Weirdly, the paint seems to dry to the touch more quickly on the hot press surface, while at the same time reconstituting more than I like when rewetted. In contrast, I’ve enjoyed using this paper for sketches that get completed in one pass: i.e., sketches that aren’t glazed. I also find it quite useful for sketching very loosely in situ.

But not with this multi-pass approach. Definitely not.

I added some loosely scribbled marks and lines with a couple NeoColor II water soluble pastels. Those marks result in a sort of flattened style, parts of which are oddly reminiscent of one of my favorite illustrators, Richard Amsel.

This study feels just a little too overworked – the marks feel forced and lack the subtlety I had hoped for. It’s one of those sketches that almost works, but will always bother me because it falls short of the target.

Continuous line sketching

18 November, 2020.

If you happen to have access to one of those three mirror outfits that were once popular and furnishing such as a little girl’s dresser or what I think is called a “beauty mirror,” you can see straight ahead and sides all at the same time. It makes for an interesting exercise in drawing a selfie too, by the way. My purpose was to do a (mostly) continuous line drawing. For me, it’s the most freeing way to sketch, keeping the pen in contact with the paper for as much as possible.

This also made me realize it was time to trim my beard, so I put away my kit afterwards and headed in to mow things back to a much shorter condition.


17 November, 2020.

This is the kind of image I absolutely LOVE drawing! Lots of verticals, exaggeration, strong blacks and whites, overlapping shapes – and yet, still simple when it’s all said and done. Is it a cartoon? A sketch? Fine art?

Who cares?

Sunday morning sketching

16 November, 2020.

Sunday morning rolls around. It’s chilly and the winds are incredibly gusty. As if I need an excuse to stay indoors, I dig out my watercolor kit and try to stay loose and somewhat juicy. I have an idea for color. That’s it. Just color. Subject matter only happens to be apples because they’re readily at hand.

I’m not a portrait painter.

15 November, 2020.

It’s mid-November, and not only have I finally gotten used to typing out “2020,” I’ve also come to the close of my final workshop of the year. This past Thursday, the watercolor workshop lesson was portraiture.

I was excited to share this technique that begins with washes of cool color, followed by warm colors to create a little warm glow and some interesting neutrals. The approach appeals to me academically, but I sometimes forget that my students needs to be comfortable with those things that come before the technique. In this case it was structure and facial proportions, and I wound up easily dedicating double the time I’d budgeted to drawing the human face. My fault entirely – frankly, I should have devoted an entire class to the drawing so that we could focus entirely on the painting technique the following week.

I really don’t consider myself a portrait painter, but I do enjoy drawing and painting people.

Our last session is this Thursday evening, followed by a break to work on my own stuff for a while. Perhaps I’ll develop a series of portraits while I’m at it. I’ve started working on a series of places, as well as another series of hay bales. And I’d like to get back to my book of thick, sloppy black line drawings too. Meanwhile, I’ve been outlining an online course I’d like to produce about sketching people, as well as another I have been thinking about for sketching people in places.

My first workshop of 2021 will be a return to “Travel Sketching,” and will begin in February.

Complimentary Colors in a Portrait

10 November, 2020.

My Thursday evening watercolor workshop group asked for a portrait lesson this coming week, so I’ve been looking out for something fresh and different to share. This approach was brought to my attention yesterday. It’s easy enough that a beginner could have success if they were to craft a proportionally accurate drawing – yet at the same time, there is still a lot of choice-making going on, with a few technical challenges along the way.

Essentially, the approach is to work with compliments or “almost” compliments. I began with a really light wash of greenish blues to rough out the shadows and to add some basic modeling. Allowing the paper to dry, I added a second wash to define things a little further, then wet the paper to add some orange-reds. Those are handled initially as wet-into-wet brush marks, which lends a sort of glowing blush to the sketch. Afterwards, a mixture of warmer and cooler reds define the forms further, followed by a layer of Ultramarine Violet with a small brush.

Convergence of roads

9 November, 2020.

Rails-to-trails: The paths are built on top of the beds of former rail lines. Generally flat and straight, they meander through rural areas, past towns and through spaces that were once home to small communities. Often enough, little or nothing remains of those places other than a marker or a sign – if that, even – at a crossroads. Cyclists and hikers tread these gravel byways, enjoying nature as they venture forth, giving little enough thought to those places that once gave a valiant effort to thrive. Or at least to establish a name before slipping into the mists of time.