An unexpected companion.

13 March, 2019. Hiking along wet trails with a notion to sketch as I walked, I encountered an unexpected companion emerging from the woods, a curious and talkative soul. And while I made far fewer drawings than originally planned, I learned a lot about the 1834 stop Joseph Smith made over the adjoining hill and the cholera graves near the adjacent gully; about Jolly Wymore, the first victim of Jesse James in the first daylight bank robbery; and the train that had once run across the rail bed on which I now trod. Arrowheads and glaciated boulders, wounded veterans, and a hidden well spring, the depths of which are now cemented over. I saw many interesting trees as we strolled along a muddy path, but none – save this one – found their way into my sketchbook.

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Brush pen loaded with Noodler’s Bulletproof Ink and Uni-ball Deluxe in a Canson 180 sketchbook.

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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.

There’s a stillness here.

20 February, 2019. Cool colors puddle, then spread, traveling through a clear sheen of water, landing with the softness of cotton. Paper, rough to the touch, is white – but not a pure white, there’s an honesty to the “off-ness,” a nod to the organic nature of fibers from which it comes. Still, hues glow a bit, transparency allowing the surface below to redouble a sense of saturation. There’s a stillness here, and I like it.

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Watercolor on Arches 180# Coldpress.

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.

 

Childlike Simplicity

5 July, 2016. The extended road trip is just about over for the summer. One more short visit to the Ozarks in a couple of weeks, and then I’ll be stationary for a while. Stationary – but definitely not idle: I’ve got a book project in the works, a return to academe, and an exhibition coming up in September. Selecting, printing, matting, framing…

Meanwhile, the journey has been a productive one and I’ve made a lot of sketches. Never nearly as many as I think I’ll make, of course. It’s always the case that I plan to draw more than I actually do. But I’ve got a lot of reference material and ideas for new work.

Traveling is fun and exhausting. I like seeing different people, and I really enjoy trying out new tastes while continuing to relish old favorites. Smith’s is an old favorite and we stop nearly every time we pass through that part of Missouri in which they’re located. Like all good country diners, they’ve got an amazing selection of made-on-site pies, their pork tenderloin is (literally) the best on the planet, and a Friday night visit means a short wait for fried catfish and sweet potato fries. We weren’t the only people biding our time either – fellow travelers and local folk alike are seated in this humble setting, knowing that a hot platter of catfish is only a few minutes away. Time enough to drink a little iced tea, make sure the bottle of hot sauce was adequately filled, and get in a quick sketch of one local patron.

The last few days of travel have been remarkably wet, so most of my sketches have been made from underneath a porch awning. I’ve worked small and simply, focusing on shapes more than detail, which allows me to consider compositional arrangement. I like this approach now and then to keep the work from getting too stiff or too precious. This is especially important right now because I’ve got two commission pieces that need to be executed this month for a regular patron.

The work illustrated on this blog will, as it tends to do every summer, evolve a little bit as I transition from the field and back indoors to the drawing table. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the childlike simplicity of this style of sketching. (Watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.)

Idle thoughts.

23 May, 2016. While cycling through the countryside this morning I conducted a very informal test in color acuity: How many colors could I spot that could be recreated from a nearly raw pigment, and does blue actually exist in nature? Not surprisingly, the world is an abundance of greens at the moment and I found myself identifying Sap Green, Windsor Green, even Pthalo Green. Certainly nothing resembling Viridian though. Lemon Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow, Magenta, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna. A few instances of pure red were noted, but mostly hues with cooler notes of Quinacridone or warmer flourishes of orange. Fewer still were the cool colors. Some floral accents of violet. But no blue at all. Nothing. Nada. I read an article recently in which the premise was that “until relatively recently in human history, ‘blue’ didn’t exist.”How silly, I thought. But read the story yourself. The writer makes a pretty compelling argument. And while I won’t rehash his points here, I will say that his article has made me take a new look at the world around me. Perhaps I’m not as observant as I thought myself to be. And perhaps an hour or two of idle thought will lead me to reconsider how I approach color in my sketches.


Friday marked the last day of the semester for my students and me. Winding down the school year always leaves me with far less time to make art than at any other time. The silver lining is that I’ll have the next several weeks to indulge myself with drawing and painting, and to recharge for my next group of young artists. A few days ago I visited Jax Oyster Bar for a beer and small plates. The bar was full and although still a bit cool, I requested a table outside. The patio was pretty much all mine and while nursing a glass of KC Bier Dunkel I put together a two page sketch of the cars and structures that overlooked my table. From time to time patrons would venture outside for a few minutes fresh air. One group of women – fellow teachers as it turned out – saw me sketching and came over to chat and rubberneck a little as I scribbled lines in my sketchbook. I’ve grown accustomed to the curiosity of others, and occasionally curiosity crosses over to brazenness. (Is that even a word?) This was the situation with one woman in the group, who chatted me up and eventually gifted me a sketch of her own.

Perhaps I wasn’t attentive enough. After a while they moved on to claim a table of their own. Having finished my first sketch, I managed to make a hurried drawing of a couple of them.

The next day we drove to the house at Table Rock Lake. Sitting on the dock, I read for a while and sketched out a loose interpretation of the trees across the cove. The only kit I brought with me was a brush pen and lead holder.

I’d been sitting at the end of the dock, with a view of the cove and the main channel, rolling hills of green surrounding me, turkey buzzards and a couple of bald eagles hovering above. I don’t enjoy sitting in the direct sunlight. It forces me to squint, which makes reading and sketching more difficult. So as the shade from the roof of the dock moved, so did I. Under cover of the roof, I turned my chair to the boats sheltered beneath. I suddenly realized the scene in front of me was a medley of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines. Not my usual cup of tea, but one draws what one sees. (Kuretake No. 40 brush pen)

Accordion-fold sketchbook

20 March, 2016. Well, it’s Spring Break. No school for ten days and I plan to not waste this opportunity to get some sketching and painting in. I cut up a full sheet of 180# Arches Cold Press watercolor paper to make some accordion-fold sketch pamphlets. I was curious to see how the brush pen worked on this surface in the field.

I’m really not crazy about the brush catching on the surface, without the typical economical line work I prefer. This surface that I like so much for watercolor painting simply isn’t “slick” enough for my style of brush work. I’d far rather let the point of the brush slide around a lot more casually, instead of having to work back and forth over the same line, over and over and over again just to make it apparent. I don’t like how much this feels like a coloring book instead of the gestural nature of a sketch.

But – of course! – the watercolor washes lay down nicely on this paper. I’m going to give things another try tomorrow with hot press paper instead. There’s got to be a way to get nice washes and still have a velvety surface for the lines. (Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and watercolor wash on 180# Arches Cold Press.)

Brush Pile

31 January, 2016. There’s not a lot to say about this: I rode out to Martha Lafite Nature Sanctuary, hiked around a bit, got plenty muddy, and made this sketch of a brush pile. (Actually “brush pile” is a bit of an exaggeration. More accurately, this was just several dead limbs tossed up onto a truncated corpse of a tree.) All of the initial line work was done with a Lamy Safari Medium Nib, then supplemented to add linear contrast with a Pentel Brush Pen.

New Year’s Day Sunrise

1 January, 2016. This is a lightning fast sketch – man, the light was changing fast! Nevertheless, the dramatic shadows across the snow caught my attention as the sun crested the horizon this first morning of 2016. The sketch doesn’t do the location justice: it’s just a fleeting glimpse, but I was happy to be there to see it happen.

By the way, I go through stages where I simply do not have the patience to paint in watercolor on location. This morning was one of those times. Despite the chill, water dried too fast on the shadows leaving them with a sketchy appearance – which bugs the living hell out of me. Also, those blues are a little too blue – they should have the tiniest bit of violet in ’em and that also have me reacting in an OCD sort of way. I know it’s silly to get hung up on a fifteen minute sketch, but there you have it folks: I sometimes do.

For some reason, painting in oils – well, oils never affect me the same way. I know up front when I’m painting en plein air with oils that I’ll be on location for about an hour or so, start to finish. Perhaps because I’m already working on some sort of internal timer to begin with, I’m more self-forgiving.

OK, enough with the psychoanalysis already. Time to check the forecast to see if I can spend more than fifteen minutes outdoors painting today. (Watercolor in Moleskin watercolor journal, Clay County, Missouri.)

Yes, winter has arrived.

28 December, 2015. Outside, the wind blows microscopic particles of ice across and over the roof tops, clouds of the stuff surging and dancing and puffing like a live animal, wildly free. The mercury has dropped on the thermometer, snow covers the ground and decorates the topside of boughs, the crooks and crannies of tree limbs. The world is mostly white and black, with a bit of gray thrown in for good measure. Whatever few leaves had been left clinging, futile effort that it was, are now gone. Winter has arrived.

The dog whines and begs to be released into this world blanketed in white, while the cats snuggle next to the heating vent, cuddled into a furry ball for hours on end. Yes, winter has definitely arrived.

Christmas break is half way over – or is it that I still have half of my time left before returning to school? It sometimes depends on my mood whether or not the glass is half empty or half full. I opened a new Canson sketchbook today and soiled the first pages with ink. I’m toying around with a new tool, a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen – it’s about time, too: I’ve carried the pen around with me for a month now without having put it through its paces.

The pen is fun and forces me to further restrain my marks, limiting me to choose only the most important lines to place on the page. I rather enjoy the Zen-like requirement, even though it also forces me to modify my more natural free-flowing line quality. I could see this being a tool for drawings informed by Chinese brush paintings. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, Canson 180 degree Sketchbook; Liberty, Missouri)