It is SO hot, so humid, and just too sunny. It is the time of year I love to sketch outside before 10 am and after 5pm.
The light and shadows are so beautiful in the summer but I will do most anything to stay out of the relentless UV saturated midday sun. To sketch between 10 am and 5 pm, at least in pre-Covid 19 days, I might have ducked inside a cool bistro with big windows or a restaurant with a shaded patio to sketch. I have also looked for old country stores that have a kitchen and sketched from the inside next to a window while sipping a very cold iced tea.
Even with those strategies in place, I still take the precautions of wide brimmed hats, long cooling sleeves, and SPF 90+ sunscreen. Hey, I have so many appointments with my primary dermatologist and dermatological surgeon that their phone numbers of are nearly etched into my memory!
Despite that reticence though, twice this past week and a half, I have sketched in the middle of the day. To do that today, I popped back into and drew from inside my car. It is strategy I use far more often to avoid foul winter weather but today ‘s heat, humidity, and blazingly intense UV index were just too much for me to sit outside.
Above you can see an early stage in this sketch. I was working on a warm, slightly speckled, paper made by Stonehenge. Here, I have made a fairly light and loosely drawn pencil sketch of the major land and sky elements and included the largest human made artifacts in the scene as well.
Rather than wait until I had all my possible proportion decisions made or my pencil drawing completed, I quickly decided to begin adding white gouache to the surface. In fact, as I was laying in the white, I was actually continuing to work on finding the proportion, scale, and the basic shapes that I had been searching for with the pencil. In other words, painting was actually a continuation of the basic observation and design process!
As I added more white gouache and eventually the first layers of watercolor, I was soon brushing in watercolor around the contours of shapes (I love the power of negative space!). I also broke color through some of the lines that separated one shape from another in an attempt to integrate shapes into their surroundings.
Now, if you have seen my sketches, watercolors, or drawings before … or have been one of many, many students, you may have noticed that I might have broken one of those major design “rules” so often touted by those of us who teach about making art. Can you guess what I am talking about?
Yes, I allowed a major element (that pole) to be at nearly dead center of the picture. True. But I was content to see if I could get away with that without the dark linear shape dividing the image; I was striving to let it became a shape that the rest of the composition elements pivoted around. I may be deluding myself but think I was pretty successful with that.
As I worked towards completion, I found myself switching back and forth between watercolor and pencil, adding and modifying contours, shapes, colors, and value. I realized that it was almost a dance as my brush and pencil alternately worked across the surface bringing some areas into clarity and leaving others much more tentative and a bit more mysterious.
As I said above, this wasn’t the first of my toned paper sketches these past two weeks. Two weekends ago, I walked down to a railroad bridge that crosses the South River near the city’s core. Taking refuge from the sun beneath a covered section of the pedestrian walkway, I set up my sketching gear, pulled out a medium grey toned paper, and worked for almost an hour on the sketch below. If you would like to see a video of my work on this RR Bridge sketch you can click HERE. (There is no audio on this version of the video.)
I don’t always work on toned paper. When I do, it is often just with pencil and/or ink, and often with white/near white. I almost never sketch with toned paper and transparent watercolor.
It IS summer and I seldom sketch on toned paper during this time of year.
But, every now and then, I like to push my own boundaries and maybe even break a rule or two along the way.