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.

Cold fog at dawn

9 February, 2019. If nothing else, this week of miserable weather has served as something of a muse.

_________________
Watercolor on 300# Arches Cold Press, 7 x 7 inches.

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.

Intersecting with life

2 February, 2019. One of the interesting things about Urban Sketching is the way that the act of drawing can sometimes very unexpectedly intersect with unsuspecting members of the general public. Let me give you an interesting example from this morning.

Today is the first Saturday of the month, the day our chapter congregates and descends upon a prearranged location. Our group of sketchers arrived at an unusual eatery called The Parlour with the intention of drawing what we eat, as well as those eating around us. The Parlour is a very casual, leisurely place comprised of several food vendors and bars, each with their own specialty product. Spread out over two floors in a sort of food court fashion are tables and arm chairs – exactly what the name implies, a place for patrons to “lounge” and visit. It’s definitely a “no pressure” vibe.

Our group was large today, with maybe forty of us dragging around bags full of sketching and painting supplies. We arrived early and claimed one end of the second floor, staking out numerous tables and arm chairs. Then we ordered food and proceeded to sketch our fare.

A couple in search of seating wandered through, not realizing we were all together. Sitting across from me they suddenly noticed everyone had sketchbooks and they made a move to leave. Before they could rise, one friendly member of our group greeted them and asked them to stay with us. They learned much about our chapter and Urban Sketchers. And within minutes they both had pens out and were making Artist Trading Cards with others in our band.

And while they sketched, I drew them drawing and munching on empanadas.

Passing Thoughts


27 January, 2019. Ah yes, another pleasant hour toying with my watercolor kit while the wind howls, fierce with cold. All the while, I dream of warmer times, perspiration on my back and the comfort of a cool breeze. The chill I feel isn’t from the evaporation of that trickle of sweat, but from the hard, cold wood floor of my studio space; the windows rattle and leaves fly past traveling on the gusts of wind. I return my attention to the half sheet of watercolor paper, the first wash almost dry enough now for the glaze that follows. I ponder the technicalities of painting something so much larger than the page of even my largest sketchbook. My discomfort translates into an exploration of an approach I’ve seldom embraced these last several years, that of working large. And though this is far and away much smaller than those enormous canvases I once smeared with thick layers of oil – still! This is bigger than the hand held sketches I churn out as I wander through life. To do something new and uncomfortable is the artist’s way.

This is the second painting I’ve made of this subject. Does two constitute the start of a series, or is it simply the continuation of a passing thought?

Watercolor on 300# Arches Cold Press, approximately 20 x 13.5 inches.

August Watercolor Reveries

23 January, 2019. The botanical garden wasn’t huge. Divided into many small sections and organized thematically, it was a pleasure to explore the many varieties of plant life on display.

It was last August, I think – or at least so my field notes and references indicate. I distinctly recall the day was very hot. Moving quickly out of the sun and under the different canopies of green provided some respite. Gradually – even somewhat quickly – a slight breeze became evident, and the perspiration running down my back evaporated, my damp shirt dried out. And ironically, was immediately wet again as the skies opened up and it began to rain.

It was far from a deluge – a gentle sprinkle only, and there was no longer a need for shelter – not from the sun, and not from the rain either. Meandering, I entered one enclosure of foliage, a Japanese-influenced water garden. There, among the lily pads and green stems and fronds was a school of gold fish. Idly, they hovered in place, inches below the surface. Everything was calm, everything seemed perfect. The moment was golden and I was charmed enough to make a few quick sketches while I stood there.

_____________________________

Today is cold and icy. Schools are out because the roads are too dangerous for students to travel, and I am daydreaming – not about snow, but about August days and t-shirts and walking shorts and cool shade over a pool of still water.

These daydreams call for a large sheet of watercolor paper and paint freshly squeezed from tubes. I take many liberties along the way, deviating from my summer references so that colors are the important things this morning. I don’t consider myself to be a watercolor technician, but I get out a bottle of liquid frisket, an idea in mind as to what I’d like to accomplish. Who knows? Perhaps the liquid just old and spent, or – more likely – I simply don’t know what I’m doing with it, but to my chagrin I discovered it wouldn’t release from the paper.

Lost in my August watercolor reveries, there are no worries though. I simply leave the frisket in place and incorporate it into my finished work.

I didn’t want to labor over details. The fish is a simple silhouette, wetted with clear water, then Cad Red Light dumped onto the wetted surface. I dragged a touch of Cad Yellow Medium into the center while still wet, and one of my blues – I forget which – along the wet edge of the wash. Then left it alone.

The sun has come out and glances across my drawing table. For a few minutes on this frigid day I feel warm.

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.

Proportion and Continuity

(Number seven in a series of ten ideas I have about sketching.)

“Proportion” is a word that gets used a lot in art, but seems to me to be largely misunderstood. So let’s begin with a bit of common ground by establishing what I am referring to when I talk about proportion in sketching, which is the relative size and scale of the various objects appearing in your drawing.

In the observed world (see my reference photo above), a sketcher might consider various proportions. For instance, when I draw something is the width of an object proportionally accurate when compared to the height of that object? Is the size and shape of that entire object proportionally accurate when compared to other objects within the motif? What about the space between objects? Or the scale of objects appearing closer vs. further away? If one’s objective is to make a photographically accurate rendering, proportionality becomes a very important factor.

So does that mean proportionality is no longer important if one is making a sketch that is purposefully not photographically accurate? A drawing in which exaggeration is intentional? I would argue that proportionality is, in fact, of even greater value to the artist if one is hoping for a degree of authenticity or believability.

My sketches are nearly always exaggerated in some manner. I choose to use line and shape as a means of expressiveness. Compare the shape of my buildings above to the photograph – there are significant differences in the forms themselves, not to mention the placement and spacing. But while the drawing couldn’t be placed over the photograph on a light box with any degree of accuracy, I feel like it is true to the place. Artists make decisions about what to include and what to leave out all the time. So too do we make decisions about proportionality.

In fact, I find that continuity is much more useful in a drawing than photographic accuracy. Whether your shapes are drawn in a quirky or cartoonish way, or very accurately, the goal is to shoot for consistency throughout the drawing.

To make my point, I’ve shared four images of the same subject this morning: two are variations using line, one is a loose watercolor sketch, and the other is a photographic reference of the location I sketched. The line art and the watercolor are stylistically different; neither are “accurate” to the photograph. But I feel like both are “truthful” representations of the place and time. You’d probably recognize the place from the sketches. Proportionality has been used to “stretch” the otherwise squat vertical objects in a very horizontal motif. Perhaps this exaggeration of proportion helps to communicate the personality of the structures and place and time better than photographic accuracy might.

To pull this off, sketchers must be consistent in the way that proportions are exaggerated. To do otherwise risks creating a sketch that, while perhaps quite skillful, is somehow less believable, less convincing to a viewer.

Decorative lighting

10 December, 2018. Near Lafayette Cemetery Number One in the Garden District of New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to encounter decorative Art Nouveau and Beaux-arts wrought iron railings, gates, and lamps. This is one of a pair of lamps that emerge from a tall hedge which itself – I presume – further envelopes an equally tall iron fence. The twin to this was fifty yards further along the walk and in disrepair, the housing long gone and the strut all that remains.

I was childishly delighted to notice many of the lamps along the street, in yards, and on homes were in full working order – rather than electric, the ones that caught my eye sported a flickering gas flame.

Sketching while walking and exploring can be challenging when one is with companions. The simple fact of the matter is that companions seldom want to hang about while one makes marks upon a page. Out of courtesy, I will often make a very quick sketch, jot down a few notes, and add color later – perhaps from the comfort of a bar stool or while we wait on lunch.

My notes are usually very light pencil marks that get erased later, but my thinking is beginning to evolve. Those marks are as much a part of the process and story as the finished sketch, and perhaps should remain visible to document those initial observations.