The junction of urbanization…and not.

17 April, 2019. This is the edge of town, the place where “rural” begins and the city ends. Beyond this point are farms and two lane blacktop roads, cows, corn, lakes and ponds, rolling hills of trees, and lots and lots of gravel lanes. But here, this is where they meet fast food and gas stations, shopping carts and car washes. Here is where there was a field not long ago, unbulldozed. There was a hill, in fact. And there was not an intersection, so complex and so filled with traffic signals that an instruction manual wouldn’t be out of line. This tree is the only reminder – and a faint one at that! – of what once was. It’s gnarly, and not especially beautiful – even had it a full coat of leaves – and one is left to ponder why, even, did those bulldozers leave this forlorn remnant alone?

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Pencil and watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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Even Creepier.

16 April, 2019. I shared the black, gray, and white version of this a couple of days ago. That iteration had a distinctly “comic book” sort of vibe to it, but I missed the vintage colors and beat up paint… those were part of what drew me in to this object in the first place. And to be honest, I’d planned to add spots of color all along. The highlights where what interested me most of all, and that’s where I’d left the drawing originally. However, now that the color has been incorporated it all feels much more complete.

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Fude tip fountain pen, Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen, and gouache in Stillman and Birn gray sketchbook.

A day without color.

24 February, 2019. The day is black and white – no exaggeration at all. I look around me in search of any glimpse of color, but there’s none at all. The snow is over for now, replaced by rain and a little wind and a dense fog. Whatever hues are out there, they’ve all been subject to a gauze-like filter. Shapes are indistinct; objects simply disappear beyond a hundred yards or so. In between, everything else is a graphic halftone: this tree is closer to me and I can make out 60% of the monochromatic values, that tree is a bit further off and perhaps only a quarter of the tones are visible. Beyond that is a milky nothingness.

I know there are houses and more trees. A muffled bark, soft in the distance… from what direction? And close or far? It’s impossible to tell.

The top layer of snow is melting in the rain. Tomorrow brings sun, so maybe I’ll pull on my winter cycling gear, stuff a small sketchbook into my jacket, and wheel down the road for twenty or thirty miles.

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Fude-tip fountain pen, Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen, Stillman and Birn gray Nova Series sketchbook; approximately 5 x 7 inch page size.

A tale of two cities.

22 February, 2019. A couple of days ago I shared some super quick pencil sketches I made while traipsing around downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

I’d already decided I liked one enough to use it as the basis for a color study, emphasizing a combination of washes, shapes, and the interplay of positive and negative spaces. What I didn’t expect was how dramatically different the watercolor would be from the pencil. Sure, it’s clear that they are compositionally of the same family: The subject and point of view don’t differ at all. But emotionally, expressively, the two sketches diverge. I feel like the pencil sketch has an energy emerging from the urgency of the marks. It doesn’t reveal much in the way of detail, yet I love how it has captured a sense of place. I love how the vague generalities, and maybe it’s me, but I even feel the winter season is credibly present. By contrast, the crisper edges of the watercolor have a sharpness to them, the color seems to demand a more immediate response, whereas there’s a tendency toward thoughtfulness in the pencil. To be clear, I don’t know that I favor one sketch over the other, I just find it interesting to make the comparison.

What do you think?

Suggestiveness

13 February, 2019. It’s no secret that I enjoy telling stories through the drawings I make. My scribbles are usually a response to a particular place and time and experience. Even though I feel no sense of obligation to record the sort of detail a photographer might value – in fact, I’ll often indulge in creative license to add visual interest – I seldom make up a scene entirely from whole cloth as I’ve done with these examples.

I do like to experiment and doodle, and sometimes my scribbles suggest ideas to me, concept emerges from the abstract qualities of a sketch. The pencil thumbnail below, for instance, began as playful experimentation with values. Very quickly, I began to see a rift – a river, perhaps? – and a structure. In front of the structure is the ending section of a wall. Surrounding these elements is a whole lot of nothingness.

Perhaps it’s simply an awareness of the current political discourse that makes the blob of graphite suggestive of a barrier to me. Maybe it’s simply a reaction to the chance placement of penciled marks… honestly, I’m not terribly concerned about the genesis. However, I’m always intrigued by the formal qualities of a work – especially when those qualities imply something greater than color or bold strokes or contrast – or whatever. At heart, I am a formalist I suppose… a formalist intrigued by narrative and expression.

I had an idea…

10 February, 2019. I had an idea, somewhat imperfectly formed in my mind, an image that I could almost – but not quite grasp. In a moment of nearly pure clarity I could picture each and every necessary and vital step of the process.

The colors and washes went down exactly as I’d imagined, but then the washes began to dry. I questioned myself and left alone that which should have been manipulated further, and worked further into that which should have been left untouched. The marvelous image I pictured disappeared right in front of my eyes and in what remained I could only see, glaringly, folly.

In disgust, both with myself and my sketch, I documented the work and walked away.

And time passes. It’s another day. I still see a ghost of what might have been. I still cringe a little looking at the parts that made me shudder yesterday. I can place my thumb over some places in the sketch and see where I strayed. Mistakes are there, painful tools of learning – but I also see things I like, marks I overlooked yesterday masked by my chagrin at having missed the original target.

I’ll probably always cringe just a little at the amateurish strokes that mar an otherwise acceptable sketch. Such blows soften over time, this I know well.

Over and over again.

28 November, 2018. I think I could just keep on working with this subject over and over again, and continue to find new ways to look at the same view I’ve been sketching for the past couple of days.
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Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels on Stillman and Birn Nova Series paper, approximately 5 x 7 inches.

To study, perchance to dream.

11 November, 2018. Why do color studies? I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, although I know the intention of the practice is to prepare oneself for the execution of a larger, possibly more formal work. Speaking for myself, however, the making of a color study is play time.

Opportunity time. A time to dream a little about the interaction of colors and shapes.

I tend to reside with one foot in each of two different worlds – a world of sketching, and a somewhat contrasting place of painting. My sketches live through a search for energy and freshness, achieved when I’m on my game through the use of line. Color is often important to those sketches, but generally subservient to the pathways described by marks.

When I paint I enjoy the interplay of shapes and color, the orchestration of colors striving for a visual harmony. With paint, I tend to have a more introspective focus; I get lost in my work, whereas with sketched line the marks are free and come naturally. I would love to combine the two camps more often, and celebrate when they do – but for the most part I find myself working as muse and whimsey dictate, in one world or the other.

Line or color.

Two worlds. So closely related, and yet for me there is a chasm separating the two.

Handmade marks

9 November, 2018. I’ve recently been experimenting with the water-soluble wax pastels made by Caran d’Ache. Fun and interesting as they are, I feel like they’re worth keeping around. I’ve been pushing them a bit further each time I get them out and in fact feel like I’m starting to overwork the washes (below). To my eye, the scribbled lines in the example above has greater energy and feels less static. It’s also visually richer because the layering is more visible.

Plus, I simply like it better when you can see the marks. When I say “overworked,” what I mean is that the marks have been smoothed out, and what pleases my eye more is evidence of the artist’s hand, the handmade mark.

 

The world is a color wheel.

3 November, 2018. Almost overnight the colors depicted in this sketch have changed. The color of foliage has rapidly emerged from the olive green of summer into a cacophony of autumn hues: oranges, reds, violets, and yellows. The ground is littered with fallen leaves. This morning dawns, chilly and wet and I realize the choice of color on my palette will have to evolve today as well. In some ways, the actual color of the world is reflective of the rather arbitrary colors I’ve been using to experiment with Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels these past couple weeks: As the chlorophyll saps to near nothingness, what remains is a compliment of color.

Imagine that – the world is a color wheel!

I sketched the top image specifically to document a process. The second image in this post summarizes the developmental stages. Here’s what’s going on between this medium and I:

  • After making a very general 5 x 5 inch sketch on scrap mat board, I thought about the colors and tones I’d like to generate. This is a very purposeful approach for me that hearkens back to my days as an illustrator in the 80’s and 90’s. These days, a much more freewheeling style is comfortable to my hand, so I had to pause and think about what I was doing. My thinking was to begin the color with an underpainting of opposites: I want to see what happens when I begin with the compliment as a base over which I’d work additional layers of color.

I rather like using scrap mat board with this media. It takes it well and I have so many scraps stored away unused.

  • After going over the base layer with a brush and clean water to create a painterly foundation, I began to add the compliment. In the second image you can see where some of the second layer has been added. I knew I wanted to create a lavender sky, hence the base layer of lime green.
  • As the layers of complimentary color got added, I also began to vary the values to represent depth and modeling. These crayons don’t do well with great detail; it’s a better approach to generalize as I sketch/paint with them. The resulting style differs from my more linear and graphic way of drawing, and looks a lot like something one might encounter in a children’s book. As I noted earlier, it’s a little reminiscent of what I did earlier in my career as an illustrator.
  • Finally, I added more scribbled lines to round out the tones. I never wanted to eliminate every vestige of the foundation color and intentionally allowed some of it to peak through. My thinking was this might create a little extra visual energy. To exemplify the effect, compare to my followup experiment illustrated below.

I worked hard to really cake the color on in this abstraction of a building. I sort of like the effect in an academic way, but it feels lacking in charm and emotion. Weird for me to say, I know, because I am profoundly influenced by the geometry of design in my work, but I feel this is probably only an interesting experiment –  a dead end street, artistically – one that doesn’t allow me to tell a story. It “tries” too hard to be something it’s not.

Conclusion: don’t overwork this medium. Keep things looser and less opaque.