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.

Advertisements

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.

Tonight, I painted quickly.

6 February, 2019. No school tomorrow – again. For three weeks in a row, Mother Nature has elected to hurl ice and snow and sub-zero temperatures our way, only to briefly rebound, then turn around and hit once more. For three weeks in a row, I’ve only taught four days out of five; today, in fact, I only led one single art class – and that for only thirty-five minutes: barely time enough to get out, then put away supplies.

Perhaps I was feeling the urgency to produce fast today, an urgency that was a reflection, no doubt, of my students scurrying around an art room and making a valiant, if somewhat doomed attempt at progress on this, day two of a four day assignment. The urgency I felt, therefore, was artificial. In fact, I had all evening to myself, and all day tomorrow, and the evening that follows. There was little need to rush through anything. Why not savor the opportunity, languish in this moment of unexpected freedom?

But I did not. There was an urgency to place paper on the board, quickly wet it, and just as quickly drag washes of color across the moist surface, haphazardly – but carefully and intentionally, mind you! – placing slightly differing hues of blue in such a way as to allow color to bleed softly into color.

I remember once in college being so affected, so overwhelmed by the beauty of a sudden thunderstorm that I painted in a near frenzy. My roommate thought I’d gone mad – and in a sense I suppose I had. My ability to use paint expressively was nil at the time, and the frustration I felt at an inability to express what I felt in that moment was keen. It is a frustration that to this day I can recall vividly.

Tonight, I painted quickly. The sketch took only minutes to express, and it seemed important that it happen in that way: quickly. To labor over the sky would be tantamount to sapping the life from the sketch.

Tonight I chose to let the sketch live or die by its own energy.

Or lack thereof.

_____________
“Sky before the rain and ice,” watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II, approximately 6 x 6 inches.

Visceral Reactions

13 January, 2019. I’m finally getting around to scanning some of the past week’s sketches. This is from my kinda-sorta on-again-off-again sketch series of skies.

To be perfectly clear, these little sketches are not intended to be anything other than a quick impression. I’m making little attempt to be realistic and only barely representational. It’s just a fun way to play around with color – a little playfulness without getting too serious about doing so. Even with my more representational work I always look for the abstract in a scene and this is a fun way to do that.

My sketches are often a narrative response to a place or time or event. These sketches of skies are more visceral. The start and end of a day can be more of an aesthetic experience, and if I really explore my intentions here I’d probably find it’s aesthetics driving me. But frankly, I’m not thinking deeply or analyzing my motivations…I’m simply tossing paint on the page for the pure pleasure of doing so.

Watercolor on Arches rough, 7 x 7 inches.

A tale of two medias.

22 November, 2018. Have you ever purchased a kit of paints? For the life of me I cannot imagine what the marketing department must have been thinking when they selected the combination of colors to bundle together that they did. And honestly, I’m thinking of just about every kit I’ve ever seen being the most useless collection of colors anyone could imagine. It must be terribly frustrating for a novice to get started and I imagine their struggles with color – which they no doubt attribute to their own lack of mixing experience – well, I have no qualms tracing the actual blame back to the ridiculous color kit chosen for them.

So, it’s safe to say that I’m no fan of “color kits.”

Which is why I find it remarkable to eat my own words. The neat little kit of 40 colors that Caran d’Ache selected for their Neocolor II set is something of a unicorn in the art supply world. Every time I use my kit for sketches or color studies, I marvel not only at the range but at the combination of hues.

Colors harmonize, neutralize, invigorate, and blend well with one another. There’s little frustration that one color is completely atonal when used with another in this kit. True, there are some pigments I use more than others; some may never have been used by me at all. But that will be true even in kits of colors I’ve customized and selected myself.

I am particularly fond of the olives and secondary colors in the kit.

In my earlier experiments with this media I appreciated a tendency for the pigment to act a little bit like watercolor. As I continue to uncover different ways to handle the material I am discovering the possibilities of creating more painterly effects. It’s interesting to me to see how those effects combine with mark making.

My own impatience can stymie the process of discovery at times. It really is important to allow the surface to dry naturally until it is cool to the touch with a satin sheen before adding additional layers. But that impatience also aids in unexpected discoveries as well: the white flecks (above) happened when I accidentally touched the crayon to some moisture. When I applied the dampened point to the paper, the pigment easily transferred and was much more opaque than if I applied it dry.

My watercolor studies tend toward a more hard edged and graphic appearance, even when working wet-in-wet as I’ve done recently. They are also more easily transported into the field. I’ve yet to figure out how best to carry the pastels along as an urban sketching kit, whereas I’ve turned the task of compact transportable water media into a personal science.

Due to the transparency of pigment, watercolors have more of a glow to them than the wax pastels, which are themselves quite opaque. Which is not to say that brilliant color cannot be achieved with either media; the look of that color is what is different.

Scribble, then scurry home.

21 November, 2018. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to wrangle a small sketchbook, a pencil, and two wiggling Black Labs while trying to make a quick sketch? 

The weather made an abrupt change about ten days ago. Autumn, which was wonderful this year, disappeared and the days are truncated, the sky overcast. The end of each day is the only real color, and that is not especially abundant. What caught my eye on this short walk was a dark bank of cloud cover forming a sort of shelf that allowed a glimmer of sunset to peek through, between a gloomy sandwich of sky and land mass.

I scurried home, there to add the color before the memory faded.

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.

 

See what the scribbling started?

19 October, 2018. It started a week ago, when I just let my pens do whatever they felt like doing. Which as it turned out, was scribbling. Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself just enjoying the sloppiness of wet-in-wet watercolor.

Just a few houses down from mine there’s an excellent, unobstructed view of the Western sky. Having made several new accordion-fold sketchbooks last weekend, I found myself dedicating one to quickly painted skies.

Quickly painted?

Actually, super fast sketching.

It came about like this: I backed down my driveway, headed to the grocery store. Glancing in the rearview mirror I was stunned to see the swiftly fading glow of an incredible sundown. Hurrying down the street, my view blocked by trees, I rolled around the corner and pulled into the parking lot by a Chinese restaurant and whipped out my sketchbook and a pencil. The basic outlines took but a moment and I began to splash on a little water and a wash of yellow. By the time I had wetted the reds, reality had faded and I was working from memory. But a sketchbook theme seemed to have been formed.

Go figure.

Not to worry. I’ve still been scribbling this week.