Empty streets

28 February, 2021.

I drove down to the Country Club Plaza yesterday morning in search of people. The third of my four session Travel Sketching workshop is this coming Thursday evening, and our topic is creating a sense of scale by including human figures. People come in a variety of sizes and shapes, of course, but we generally understand about how tall a person is on average. In context with the surroundings, figures can convey a sense of size and distance.

The day was shaping up nicely, and looked like a perfect one for walking the streets and people watching.

So (of course!) the streets were nearly empty.

Almost like being there.

15 February, 2021.

A little bit of old timey jazz, a little bit of blues, and a whole lot of Tin Pan Alley classics, I enjoyed 45 minutes of live music and good humor of Max De Bernardino and Veronica Sbergia. The USk Liguria group meets up regularly for long distance sketching, in lieu of in-person outings. Despite seven hours difference in time, I’ve found the opportunity to join my Italian friends on more than one occasion.

I’ll be honest: I sure miss joining sketchers in person. This virtual sketch out is the next best thing to being there.

Travel Sketching: Drawing Groups of People in Space

13 February, 2021.

For the third of four Travel Sketching workshop sessions we’ll be learning to draw people in space. This is a good way to create believable crowds, as one is apt to encounter while visiting beaches, city streets, and places of interest. I remember the first time it was pointed out to me that my normal point-of-view is standing, and that if I was seeing a crowd of people on relatively level ground, their heads were all on the same level. That realization totally blew my mind!

The technique works regardless of whether your subjects are widely spread out, near and far, or in the foreground as illustrated here.

It even works to establish a canted eye level. Angling things appeals to me because I like the tension and drama it creates. Orson Welles used so-called “Dutch angles” in his films for a revolutionary psychological effect – if it was good enough for Orson, it’s good enough for me!

Plotting things out does get a little complicated, though, when you vary the eye level as I did in this example, by lowering your point-of-view.

Travel Sketching, Session 2

12 February, 2021.

For the second session of my four-session Travel Sketching workshop, I’ll be introducing the “one line” approach to starting a drawing of a place.

The concept, to me, is simple: Define one single continuous line that connects one side of the page to the opposite side. Usually, this is the edge that distinguishes the positive space of the subject from the negative space, as indicated in the yellow line above. Essentially, I try to start the drawing by tracing that edge from the left side of the sheet to the right (because I’m right hand dominant.) Just that one line at first. It makes me evaluate and compare angles and measurements in a super critical way. It’s kind of like the exercise of blind contour drawing in that regard. I like how it sets parameters for the drawing space from the very first mark. It’s also interesting how that dividing line tends to unify the entire drawing as verticals and details get added in afterwards.

Travel Sketching Workshop

11 February, 2021.

I’m teaching a four session Travel Sketching workshop this month. The idea is to use a pen as a means of capturing memories of those people and places and things we encounter while traveling.

For our first evening I asked participants to zero in on “stuff” – the stuff that defines our visit, like food and objects and food and architectural decoration and… well… food. I think croissants are fun to draw, so I used them to demonstrate constructs such as “picture-in-picture,” represented above, and drawing “in rounds.”

Drawing or painting “in rounds” means you start at your focal point and draw part of it, gradually moving out toward the edge of the page. Then you return – or “round” back – to the focal point and draw out to another edge of the paper. You keep doing this until the drawing is complete. I like the way it forces beginners to focus on process and not think about how intimidating the sketch is. It’s also an easy, direct way to create a strong focal point.

This was also an opportunity to demonstrate the use of a fude-nib fountain pen.

Super Bowl Sunday is no small matter in this city.

7 February, 2021.

The grocer was packed yesterday. All I wanted was cheese, but there were throngs of shoppers, and I stood in line in many places just to get from one section of the store to another. And even though I used the pauses to capture bits and pieces of the action, I was also nervous – anxious because there was very little in the way of social distancing on this day. More than once I debated abandoning my cart and fleeing the place.

Carts were loaded with bags of Cheeto’s, potato chips, chicken wings, and all manner of things to be smoked and barbecued. This is, after all, Kansas City, home of traditional barbecue. You cannot drive too many blocks without driving through the smell of meat smoking: Gates, Joe’s, Arthur Bryant’s, Slaps. Some say Kansas City barbecue is unique in that the sauces are sweet and thick. I’d argue that the variety is much greater, that there are lots of spicy sauces, hot sauces. Indeed, smoking meat seems to be a bit of a religion for many backyard barbecuers, and today is Sunday – Super Bowl Sunday, in fact, and the Chiefs are the defending champions. The cloud of smoke that typically hangs over the stadium on any given Sunday is absent today: the team is in Florida for the big game. But small matter! It’s early morning and the smokers throughout the city are puffing away, and ribs are already bathing in the first stage of smoking. There is snow on the ground, and the temperatures are hovering just above zero, and still: small matter! By game time this evening, succulent ribs will be ready for consumption.

Those grocery carts were also loaded with flats of beer, spirits, mixers. Those libations will make their initial appearance by mid-morning as backyard chefs shiver next to their smokers, tending to the low heat. Indoors, cookies and brownies and odd desserts of all kinds are being prepared. There are, in fact, no flat surfaces to be found in kitchens across the city because dough is being rolled out across all of them.

Hardcore fans? Everywhere. Team flags fly from cars, from poles, from the eaves of houses, and are draped in the windows. There are always those who will disingenuously claim, “The Super Bowl is today? Really? I don’t actually pay much attention to professional football.” In this city we tend to ignore them, they are few and far between, and besides – most of them, if pressed tomorrow morning, will claim with undisguised enthusiasm “what a great game!”, or they’ll grimace at the outcome.

Today’s game is no small matter in this city.

Frozen fingers

5 February, 2021.

Good gravy, it was cold! Last weekend I got fed up being in the house. The dog and I headed out for a long walk in the country.

I knew it would be too cold for my fountain pens – the ink would likely not flow, or even freeze on the tip. So I brought my iPad and Apple Pencil instead… it didn’t even occur to me that the electronics might be endangered by the cold!

The iPad fit perfectly into the side pocket of my LL Bean field jacket. All I had to do was reach down and pull it out, and I’m immediately ready to draw.

I had to remember to stomp on the dog’s leash while pausing to sketch. And it’s tough to do with gloves on, so they came off, and… dang, the wind was cold on my fingers! These were definitely speed sketches! I couldn’t get my gloves back on fast enough.

Is it real, or is it – ?

4 February, 2021.

My sketches have been actual, digital, and a combination of both over these past several months. My initial foray into the world of Apple Pencil and iPad and Procreate was unsatisfying. The results were filled with artifice.

There are times when I actually prefer a mechanical look with ultra-clean edges and sharp shapes. But when I sketch I’m generally more interested in imperfection and happenstance.

I’m glad I didn’t lose interest in these tools because I’ve gradually learned to use them for a more organic approach to drawing than I thought possible in a digital environment.

Food, technically.

2 February, 2021.

Yesterday evening was the first of four weekly sessions of a Travel Sketching workshop I’m teaching. I don’t draw much distinction between Urban Sketching and travel sketching, personally. Both are products of “being there,” and both – to me, anyway – are narrative forms of art making. I conflate both with a form of visual journaling.

I love to travel, and when I travel I love to experience foods of the place. Beignets in New Orleans, croissants in Paris, Parmagiano-Reggiano in Italy. Wines, of course! Street vendors, and sidewalk cafes. Breakfast along a canal in Amsterdam. Eating is one of the most ubiquitous characteristics of travel, and it’s one of the four “chapters” of my workshop: Stuff we eat, places we visit, people around us – and bringing it all together is the stories we share. So, for the first workshop session we drew food.

The irony of this particular workshop at this particular time isn’t lost on me. We are not, in fact, traveling anywhere at all at the moment. Sadly, we are working from our photographs: the memories have already been made. In many ways that makes this workshop a purely technical experience.

This isn’t a terrible thing, by the way. Everyone who signed up is a beginner, and when you are learning something new it can be intimidating. A safety net provides cushion when you fall. And so it is here – we are working from photographs, rather than from life. My new sketchers are enthusiastic and already showing great promise, and when things begin to return to normal they’ll all clearly have acquired some of the skills and confidence to get out in the world and draw it.