Rainstorms or not, Sketch!

We’ve had a very wet summer. And an astoundingly wet early fall too.

That has made dodging or finding ways to work around all the rain a bit pretty much the norm the last few months. This last week and a half has been more of the same … whether I was working on my own or when I gathered some fellow sketchers  to visually explore a 100 plus year old local landmark.

In the piece below, while it had stopped raining for a bit … I wanted the lowest vantage point; sitting on ground  However, our recent over abundance of “precip” has been further augmented by the previous hurricane which passing this way the afternoon and evening before …. so almost everywhere was a muddy mess.

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( Southside Harrisonburg Skyline, ink watercolor and pencil, 5×11 )

To avoid all the rain, I have sketched from under overhanging eves and even my car.  This one, done yesterday from inside a local fast food joint, was an attempt to dodge

IMG_3389_WEBthe remnants of our most recent tropical system (Hurricane Michael) as it slip up the east coast. Eventually, I had to get wet anywayEarlier in the week, I met up with members of the Charlottesville chapter of Urban Sketchers to draw the old Silk Mill building.

 

 

( From Behind The Glass Door , ink watercolor and pencil, 4×5 )

Silk Mill(2) WEB

Silk Mill Tower, Ink and watercolor over pencil, 5×7 )

It is a grand old structure, built about 1895. I think the original part of the building and the 1940s addition was restored and much of it repurposed just a few years back. The complex now houses a number of professional offices, new tech companies, and even a large co-op clay studio/teaching/exhibition space.

I started this piece thinking that I might just work it up with only ink … maybe partially in the spirit of October’s month long “Inktober” challenge (#inktober, #inktober2018). Despite my intention to use mostly a fountain pen, a brush pen, and perhaps a little ink wash, I soon found myself reaching for a bit of color. Autumn’s hues are such a lovely enticement; even when the changing leaves are, as they are here, mostly backlit.

That was not a completely smart choice as the blue grey clouds where quickly thickening and darkening. I really did have to race to stay ahead of the impending rain. I made it with about 9-10 minutes to spare.

Damp, but undeterred; I will be back at it again soon.

 

If you would to see more of my sketches you can check out:

http://www.instagram.com/hancock_john_a

or

http://www.johnahancock.com/photogallery/sketches

 

 

 

 

 

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Working Away from Home

I sketch, draw, or paint almost anywhere.

It has been a busy late April, May, and early June for me. These past eight weeks, I have made most of my images while working away from home quite a bit. Mostly it has been around Virginia but also out in Utah, and even some while actually traveling. It doesn’t hurt that I will happily work in the full view of others … almost as easily as I do in the privacy of my studio.

Lynchburg and Staunton

Abandoned Power Station, Staunton Va.

I was invited to participate in two plein-air events this spring, one in Staunton and the other in Lynchburg. Sketching in and near the urban environment has always been an interest of mine. It shouldn’t surprise my urban sketcher friends that I began to get serious about making art way back in my teens when I would go draw the “brownstones” of Wichita KS. I still like those Hopper-esque cityscapes.

For the Lynchburg event, I was even asked to do a demo while I was there. It was fun to do the demonstration and the onlookers asked some wonderful questions. I sure hope I was informative and maybe even a little entertaining.

Fredericksburg

Market Square Steps, Fredericksburg

After being invited to demo at the Lynchburg Plein Air event, I had the distinct privilege, a really rare treat actually, to be able to attend part of a workshop offered by the Urban Sketchers of Fredericksburg. The instructor/leader of the event was Shari Blaukopf from Montreal. I have followed her work for several years now and have even recommended her to some of my students. It may seem like something of a busman’s holiday to some but I have always found it interesting to observe how fellow artist-educators go about presenting ideas to students.

The artists of this urban sketchers’ chapter and those that traveled to the workshop did some really wonderful sketches and Plein-air paintings. They were also a nice group to get to know. 

And, to be sure, Shari did a marvelous job! I will definitely still be recommending her work and her workshops to students. 

Here is a link to her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harrisonburg

After attending a family friend’s wedding in the small town of Broadway recently, I stopped in the city of Harrisonburg to get myself an iced tea. I then settled in along a street that I have driven down many, many times since coming to Virginia. What was drawing my attention this day was the sweep of a low brick wall and the deep shadows that played in the trees and inside the walled area beyond the entrance. After three to four sketches to work out what interested me the most, I was able to execute a fairly fresh and simple watercolor of the scene.

Sketches, Liberty Street Harrisonburg

Ink & Watercolor Sketch, Liberty Street Harrisonburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late May on Liberty Street., Harrisonburg

Back when I was a professor, as spring would melt into early summer, teaching would wind down and a bit of a respite would settle into my routine. I am reminded that back then summers were often the time of year that I traveled most. (Truthfully, it probably also had something to do with being a parent as well.) As I have re-organized my life to be pretty much a full-time artist … I still find that I end up doing many of my major trips away from home during these three to five months of summer-like weather. And for the past few years, when early June comes around, I get to judge art for about a week. So it is back on the road I go! 

This year, I definitely had to travel to that gig. I will post more about traveling as an artist (on the road and in the air) very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning A Watercolor

Whether one is working up a large and complex piece or the smallest of watercolor sketches, getting started well can be one of the most important, even crucial, parts of the process.

Late Summer Pasture, Augusta County WEB

Late Summer/Early Falls Pasture, Augusta County

When I start a piece badly or in a confused manner, I end up having to struggle so much harder to get it all worked out, Now don’t get me wrong, getting lost in that struggle can be a wonderfully fertile process. I find that wandering about in a painting project and searching for a way through that visual disorientation can eventually open up new and exciting pathways in my work.  But starting a new work, staying focused on my original vision, and following through as best I can be a very productive path as well.

A good example of this can be seen in Shari Blaukop’s latest posting about her approach to watercolor sketching.. It is quite close to my way of working up a smaller pieces and she does a really great job of verbally and visually explaining her process.

via A step-by-step street scene

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a recent watercolor sketch by Shari Blaukopf

Shari is a Montreal based artist whose painting and blog I have known and enjoyed for several years now. I even had the pleasure of meeting her this past summer when we were both in Chicago for the Urban Sketcher’s Symposium. Take a look at her blog post. I think you will find Shari’s painting and writing to be fresh, evocative, and engaging.

 

 

From Chicago; Then Back Home Again …

As I promised, I have finally gotten around to posting some more of the sketches from my recent trip to the Urban Sketchers gathering in Chicago a few weeks ago. This first image was actually done in the morning of the last full day of the symposium. I was on Michigan Avenue just south of the Chicago River watching the morning light and shadows play across the tall buildings across the bridge.

Early Morning Shadow, Wrigley Building

After doing the watercolor sketch above, I shifted a few feet on the sidewalk and completed a second sketch using just ink (both fountain brush pen and fountain pen). Here again, I was drew the Wrigley Building but it was after the full eastern façade was in light. (As an aside, I’ll admit that I really like the light poles and lights I found throughout the Loop and Grant Park  parts of the city!)

Wrigley Building, Chicago

Earlier, during in the first full day in Chicago I participated in a session led by Lynne Chapman, an illustrator and urban sketcher from England. Lynn had us concentrate on using line and color separately … finding ways for them to harmonize or counterpoint one another rather than always controlling our color with line. It was an interesting experience; one that I have many times worked on with my adult students in classes … but which I need to remind myself to incorporate often in my own work.

For our first exercise we glued down several pieces of arbitrarily shaped pieces of color paper onto to our sheets of watercolor paper. Then, using inks and other materials (I chose to use dry color marks made with Caran d’Ache watercolor leads), we drew a view of the skyline across Michigan Avenue. Here is my 2nd exercise piece from that session.

My 2nd exercise piece from the Lynne Chapman’s workshop USk-Chicago

I had lots of fun with this … it felt good to be back in “student” mode a bit, It resonated with how I imagine my adult student feel when I push them to try a new type of project. After several more related exercises, we all went off to try and incorporate some of this idea into a piece on our own. I worked up a watercolor sketch using a different part of that skyline viewed through some of the bushes and trees of the arboretum in Grant Park. I worked very loosely, applying color and lines … sometimes together, often separately; trying to define forms using both line and color … but rarely directly conjoining the linear and color shapes.

stage 2 of  my watercolor sketch of the Chicago skyline across from the arboretum

Chicago Skyline (as completed in my USk-Chicago workshop w/ Lynne Chapman)

One of the last pieces of my time in Chicago was again down along the river on Michigan Avenue. This one is in some ways my least successful piece of the symposium. I was working on a large-ish (1/4 sheet, 7.5 x 11) watercolor paper. It is a sketch of an icon of early modern architecture in Chicago … the Tribune Tower.  It proved most difficult. The building is a soaring mass with an ornate gothic style top; it  is so distinctive and so very impressive. This sketch had big shoes to fill; it needed to feel solid and yet leap towards that intensely complicated and powerfully graceful beauty that graces the upper portion of the building. My sketch feels too overworked: I should probably have diminished the visual weight and attention it gave to the dark building immediately behind (to the left) of the Tribune. Those shadows along the road and bridge are a bit necessary to ground the building and were also real … but they also seem a bit heavy handed to me.

I guess it an honest attempt … that just falls a bit short.

North on Michigan, Towards the Tribune in

Frankly, like trying to sketch the Tribune building, everything about the experience was SO very intense. There were many, many fine folks there; right at 500 or so talented and committed sketchers from all around the world. I worked with several great teachers and workshop leaders. Besides Lynne Chapman, I also had wonderful sessions with Uma Kelkar (the beauty of mystery) and Jane Blundell (she spoke on one of my favorite topics, the permanent watercolor pigments). And I got to meet some favorite artists, Marc Taro Holmes and Sheri Blaukopf … both hailing from Montreal.

And I must not forget to mention the friendly, gracious, and magnificently helpful members of the Chicago Urban Sketchers chapter (including Paul Ingold) all of whom worked tirelessly as volunteers.

Charlottesville Rooftop View

We did make it home of course. And I have returned to sketching between and in the cities and towns near where I live. It feels really good to re-acquaint myself, to re-adjust, to be back into my more normal practice.  And if I struggled a bit with the immense height that the central core of Chicago presented me with … my hope is that some of what I saw, did, and experienced in Chicago will rub off on my work as well as my teaching of sketching.

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Working Westward to Chicago & the Urban Sketchers Symposium!

Westward.

Earlier this summer I was exploring sites just east of the Blue Ridge range. In old neighborhoods and part of towns that I seldom cross through much less actually see.

Oak Street Cemetery Gate, Charlottesville

I was also up on the the Blue Ridge, south of Afton Mountain, and back into the Shenandoah Valley. Meandering a bit, both northward and to the south, I kept finding old places I wanted to re-explore and new ones that tweaked my interest … everything from old walled cemeteries entrances to beautiful vistas viewed from between road signs.

… an unfinished sketch of farmland in the Shenandoah Valley viewed from behind two road signs

But then, it was time to head to Chicago for the International Urban Sketchers Symposium.  And when I got there, what can I say …

Wow! Three days of non-stop sketching, working with a few hundred other artists … all sketching in pencil, ink, and/or color! I think they may be part of my tribe!?

I took a couple of workshops and watched lots of demos. These took me out of my sketching routine; a big help actually. (Besides revitalizing my work, it is a great reminder what my students sometimes feel when I ask them to do something new!)

Unity Temple, Interior, 3rd state WEB

Interior, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, Oak Park Chicago IL
 Wabash Street L, Chicagom WEB
Under the “L” at Wabash and Congress

The first two sketches I made, I kept them pretty low key and simple. One, the interior of F.L. Wright’s Unity Temple done with a fountain pen and a fountain brush pen. The second, of the “L” seen from Congress and Wabash, I started using a light, loose pencil underdrawing but quickly substituted the pen to continue the line work. As I neared completion of the lines, I began to use the pen to lay in areas of dark. Before the ink could dry, I applied a wash to unify most of the linear elements into a cohesive whole. This wasn’t my only sketch of Chicago’s elevated train tracks, but I think it was one of the most successful.

As the next three days progressed, I was constantly pushed and pulled by the workshop leaders and by the shear vertical scale of Chicago’s buildings in the central loop and at the lakeshore. The camaraderie was great; folks were intensely supportive too. The local Chicago chapter did a marvelous job as hosts as well. assisting all the 500+ participants in so many ways.

Well, I have to go do some work in the studio now; I will post a few of my more color rich Chicago sketches as well as some from the trip home pretty soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Ink and Watercolor

We have lots of contrast based pairings in our verbal and visual vocabularies. In our heads … and in our popular culture … we use or hear a number of them pretty regularly. It is common for us to hear references to iron and velvet, leather and lace or fire and ice. Some of them are used as cultural icons, as trade or service marks, as well as tag lines in advertising, books, movies.

We have stories within which we associate these pairing; we have truism that play over and over in our heads as soon as we hear them uttered. “Oil and water may not mix.” They convey a sort of tension, a tension that drives drama, fear, or even an ironic twist – all kinds of excitement.

It even occurs in the world of art. In fact, I had a lovely conflicting duality that played out in my head for years. As many of you have figured out, I really enjoy many forms of mixed media … and I can also be a bit of a purist at times as well.

In the past I found myself thinking that using watercolor and ink together was too often the last resort of someone who could not make watercolor work without ink as a crutch. And I mused that an ink sketch or drawing really shouldn’t need some weak color washes to make it more appealing. We didn’t need to be in the business of gilding lilies.

On the other hand, I LOVE mixed media. I have been exploring mixed media drawing and painting myself for over forty  years and lately I have been doing a lot of aqueous and mixed media sketching outdoors. Somewhere along the continuum between urban sketching and plein-air, these sketch have usually been done with either watercolor or ink. The ink has been with fountain pens, Japanese style brush pens, as well as ink washes. And, of course I continue to create watercolor sketches in monochromatic, limited palette, and even sometimes a full range of color. But quite a few have been fully hybrid pieces, straddling the line between watercolor and ink.

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So, YES, I have been using ink and watercolor together. Actually pretty frequently.

For this one I worked up a super loose set of pencil lines to get the visual movements I wanted in the piece and the barest indication of relative sizes and locations. From there I quickly started laying in ink line in the upper right corner where sky, rooflines, and the chimney meet laid. Realizing  that I was using a water-soluble ink, I stopped using my ink, got out a brush to put the lightest values of the middle areas of the paper. These were the hues of the sun lit portion of the building that I could see being the poles, trees, and bushes.

Once those initial washes dried, I added addition ink lines and color layers pretty freely. I paid attention to what was dry and what remained wet so that everything didn’t run together. However, if you look, you can see that I did allow some mingling of ink and pigments.

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Now, my initial idea was to showcase the brightly lit space around the synagogue’s front steps seen through a gap in the dark foliage. As I worked on the sketch, I soon realized that my fairly high key colors were dominating the composition … and the darks were really nowhere to be found … except in the ink line work.

On Jefferson, at Beth Isreal copy

On Jefferson, View Towards Beth Israel                                                                                                                                                     Watercolor and Ink over pencil, 5×7, July, 2017

This one ended up being a relatively strange little sketch, an odd angle and odd vantage point … looking at a tree, hedge and bushes while focusing (but not to much) on the color of sunlight on the bricks and steps that are just visible between/behind them all.

Here are two others, both from yesterday, that combining multiple materials. I was working with one of my sketching classes and, once I got them started, I made quick little pieces. The first includes watercolor (Caran d’Ache watercolor leads) and ink (both fountain pen & brush pen).

The second one, below, is just a detail of an unfinished sketch combining water-soluble graphite and ink (again my ink brush pen).

C'ville Open Air Mall WEB

As you can see, my tendency to be a purist is only partially evident. In practice, the duality … the dichotomy over combining watercolor and ink in my head leans towards the inclusivity.

PS These are probably the last two sketches I will be getting in before              I head to Chicago later this week to participate in the Urban Sketcher’s International Symposium. I do hope to post about that experience… maybe even from Chicago itself. I am a wee bit excited!

 

 

Wish me luck!