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.

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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.

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.