Summer Can Be Easier For Sketching

The open ground and fields are alive with color; the hills, cliffs, and peaks bounce brilliant light over the surrounding landscape, clouds create deep dancing shadows across the forested piedmont, and the sky alternates between an intense blue and a creamy summer haze. Those of us who love to sketch outside might easily be forgiven if we responded with an ever more raucous assortment of paints at our disposal. You have to know that we are just SO visually excited.

To be sure, like any other season … the weather can still cause a problem in our attempt to get out there to sketch. For me, it is the typically intense heat and humidity of our Southern summers that will sometimes hold me at bay.  And in the middle of the day, it is my abundance of caution that fuels an attempt to avoid the aggressive predation of UV light … especially with my once red haired/now just fair skinned self.  Thankfully, I’ve worked around all these the past few weeks.

Oakmont Cemetery Gate WEB

Oakmont Cemetery Gate

I have been working with adult students who are interested in exploring the practice of urban sketching so we have been seeking out all kinds of sites in and around town.  Above is a sketch I made two Saturdays ago when we had gathered on a large plot of land divided into three cemeteries. All three where all founded in the mid 1800 and have a wide range of vistas and types of cemetery architecture to sketch. When everyone had settled into their locations, I began this 5×11 piece; using a view up the slope and through an old stone gate that leads to a narrow lane.

I started with an extremely quick pencil sketch and quite soon began working with several pens to apply both permanent and soluble inks. As I neared the mid point of the sketch, a point that I most usually take out a brush and water to apply a few washes … I stopped. Completely.

Instead of that usually successful and satisfying strategy, I reached for my Caran de’ Ache watercolor leads and applied a mix of dry color; most of it beyond the wall. I even pulled back from wetting these rich pigments with a brush to unlock their waiting clear color washes. Rather, I left the soluble pigments dry; blending them a bit with a paper tortillon. Then, as I moved to finish the sketch, I did lay in some more intense solid blacks with a brush pen and even used a few drops of water to sneak in touches of a soft grey wash.

This wasn’t the first sketch of the summer that I approached this way either. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself flying through a sketch of an architecturally complex  pedestrian underpass with multiple pens, inks, and a water-brush.  At the time, I did intend to add a few hints of dry local color to that sketch but I got distracted from doing so while I was still on location.  To be sure, the idea of supplementing the inks with some quiet color is still pretty tempting; I could still persuade myself to do that. But I frankly like this sketch with all of it’s scruffy and unfinished qualities … just as it is!

Staunton RR Underpass copy

Pedestrian’s RR Underpass Arches, Staunton

For the time of year that almost always calls for so many of us to take out the watercolors for sketching the season’s light and color … it seems that I have been drawn to at least pepper my more colorful sketching this summer with a few starker and darker pieces. It doesn’t make sketching any easier but it has been rewarding … and quite fun.

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