A taste of things to come.

3 August, 2019.

Leaving Leiden was difficult. It’s an excellent hub for exploring nearby cities via train, and Leiden itself is a pretty wonderful, clean, and very walkable city. I had just gotten to the point where the pathways had become comfortably familiar.

But Amsterdam was the destination, and the Urban Sketchers Symposium the entire point of the journey. It was exciting to be a part of something like – like what? Frankly, I had no idea what to expect.

Along the way I’d run across a couple of other Urban Sketchers during my visits to the various cities and places of interest. Arriving in Amsterdam and settling into a hotel room, the next immediate step was to do a little recon. I followed my map to Zuiderkerk, the historic church that was to be the base of operations for the Symposium.

It was Monday afternoon; registration was still two days away but there were already sketchers milling about. Most were parked on benches, necks craned in order to draw or paint the impressive tower. Knowing I’d be sketching furiously over the coming days, I mostly took the day off from drawing and wandered on in continued exploration.

Tuesday morning dawned, a beautiful day. The courtyard outside of Zuiderkerk was starting to buzz. Groups of two, three, and four, all carrying backpacks or shoulder bags overflowing with art supplies were milling about. Many more sketchers had arrived a day early to chat and draw. I had little idea, however, how the following day would change the face of these quiet groups into a teeming throng.

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and Pitt “Big Brush” in Stillman and Birn sketchbook. Color added digitally on an iPad using Procreate.

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Weston Paint Out

14 July, 2019.

I arrived nearly two hours early for the Weston Paint Out, knowing in advance which locations I thought had the most potential. The point in arriving early was to allow me time to walk around and get my sketches made, then to sit on a bench to ponder which worked best and which one to begin with. The air was densely humid and my paper felt clammy and almost wet within the first five minutes. That made it tougher than usual to draw, and I had to take it easy not to dent the paper with my pencil point. So much for being a planner!

After scouting locations a couple of days earlier, the spot I was most excited about was an old mill at the end of the business district. No longer in operation, the place has been repurposed with a B&B, a popular bar, and an architectural salvage. The truck in the foreground was my favorite part and I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t have been moved by Saturday morning. Later on I met the owner and learned the truck was a very recent purchase.

I neglected to make good photographs of the sketches; hopefully I’ll get a chance to do so before they sell. Unfortunately, I documented these with frame glass over the paintings.

The strategy of working out the sketches first thing in the morning, then revisiting each location to paint was, if nothing else, incredibly efficient. I was able to complete each of these paintings in about forty-five minutes.

The second one completed was this view of the city park. What caught my eye was this small cluster of buildings peaking out from the foliage. I love white washed walls! The unusual roof on the left injected a touch of warm color.

After finishing the second painting, I took a break to go in search of a pastry: it was hot, I was really sweating, and breakfast had been five hours earlier – I knew I’d be getting shaky if I didn’t get something inside me quickly. Along the way I stopped to chat with Denny and Tammy, and to snoop at their work.

Sated, I strolled further up the hill to work on my third painting of the morning. The strong diagonals appealed to me, as did the repetition of the roofs.

As I was cleaning up I noticed some smoke drifting up from behind one of the buildings. The foremost structure is the Avalon Cafe and I wondered if they were firing up a grill for the lunch crowd. The paint in that area of foliage was plenty dry, but I hadn’t used a staining pigment: “Lifting” it with a damp paper towel leaves the area hazy and smoke-like.

Meandering back down the hill near the spot where I’d begun my morning, I stopped at this cool, restored Phillips 66. I don’t know if it’s because I was getting tired or if the angle was just wonky, but this one whipped me. By this time I was getting quite a few passers-by stopping to chat, and the pauses were more than welcome. Instead of finishing it, I tossed it in the back seat of my car.

After eight hours of standing mostly in direct sunlight, I was ready to crash and nap. It’s times like this that I am thankful for the gods of air conditioning. 🙂

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Watercolor and pencil on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

#30x30directwatercolor

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.

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

What a difference a couple of months makes.

14 June, 2019.

It was late in the day, and between thunderstorms – although I didn’t realize it at the time: I thought the first downpour was the entirety of the weather and I’d headed off for a long ride in the country. The sky was still pregnant with potential though, and I stopped atop one rise to quickly record the dense wash of sky and the long shadows. A little later, I realized the rain was a sandwich and I was the filling. For the better part of forty minutes I pedaled through showers, enjoying the breeze and the feel of rain on my face, and hoping the kit on my back remained dry.

I’ve been working almost exclusively in my Stillman and Birn sketchbooks recently. I like the paper in these books for sketching with pens quite a lot, and they are better than acceptable for adding watercolor. Strathmore Aquarius II also does an excellent job with this particular combination, and excels with pencil and watercolor. It’s why I make “sketching pamphlets” from that paper – accordion-fold booklets that are light and easy to carry with me for watercolor sketching. On this day I selected a pamphlet that was nearly full: One small spot remained untouched, and today I would finish it with my impression of the post-rain/pre-rain farmland I encountered.

Those sketches of houses were made in March, and wow! What a difference the world has undergone in that short time! And wow! What a difference my color selections have undergone as a result!

Greens fight me when I toy around with gouache, and I feel like they are overworked. The same colors are more readily accessible to me in watercolor, which I think it is likely due to their transparency of pigment.

I’m drawn to dramatic skies, and that looming rain holds more visual appeal for me than the clearest and bluest of atmospheres. I’ve a vivid recollection of swiftly laying down the grays of the sky in that house sketch to the left of yesterday’s scribble. It was so satisfying to capture some essence of that day! Each stroke was deliberate and intentionally restrained, intentionally leaving some parts of the white paper untouched. And suddenly, in a matter of seconds, it emerged. Sometimes, watercolor is infuriating, and sometimes it’s just magic. I live for those latter moments.

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Watercolor and pencil on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

Sloppy brushstrokes

11 May, 2019.

I don’t paint in gouache a lot. In fact, I tend to go “in batches,” it seems… I’ll indulge myself for a couple of days, make several sketches, then put my kit away until I get the itch again.

I’ve learned one thing about myself in the process: I’m not terribly interested in painting hyper-realistic images, nor do I find it appealing to spend a lot of time “crafting” the brush strokes. In fact, I much prefer to strive for a bit of sloppiness so that the energy of an image isn’t lost in the technique.

This little painting came out of a quick and very loose sketch I made a week ago at the Guadalupe Center. A lot of liberties were taken here, mainly because the sketch was very loose and my memory of clothes and colors are limited to a few margin notes in the sketchbook.

I do enjoy contrasting warm and cool colors, and this was no exception.

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Gouache on Bristol board.

Like a root.

29 April, 2019.

It’s a blustery day, and for the moment warm. But clouds are predicted to march in on these terrific gusts of wind and the temperature drop quickly this afternoon. The dog and I walk along a mountain bike trail, following a meandering track through dense wood, up hill and down dale. The trees surround us like a loose sweater, providing a shield from the growing squall. Overhead, the boughs are swaying though, and every now and again there is a sharp snap!as a large limb breaks, then tumbles, smashing its noisy way through lesser appendages to the ground.

Stopping to study and admire a particularly mad tree, I pondered how I might go about making a sketch. Like people, every tree has it’s own unique personality. Whereto begin a drawing of a tree is a decision fraught with choice – in fact, the starting point is seldom a random one for me. The process is a lot like a road map, branches tracing a route stretching away from home. And it occurs to me – not for the first time, either – that a tree often looks like an upside-down root system. 

This particular tree is wild and uncontrolled, frenzied arms stretch out frenetically. There is nothing symmetrical about the chaos, and yet, after all, there actually is

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Fude bent nib fountain pen and Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

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.

So impatient.

4 April, 2019. Everyone was impatient and wanted to eat the stuff. I understood: I hadn’t made it to be the subject of a sketch. Nevertheless, the fresh colors of green and salmon and rose and violet were captivating, and as always, I had a pen and sketchbook close at hand.

Yet still, everyone was impatient to eat. And thus, I only had a very limited time to sketch. I suppose enough extra should be prepared and then set aside to allow for both nibbling and sketching…

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