Home again, home again …

Well, I’m mostly home again.

After some whirlwind adventures in San FranciscoChicago and Salt Lake, I am back to my home in Virginia. But within the week I was again teaching an urban sketching workshop.

This one was a weekend long Urban Sketching workshop sponsored by the Beverly Street Studio School (BSSS) in the small city of Staunton. The town, which has lots of Victorian and Edwardian era architecture in its downtown and older neighborhoods, is located near the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley.

My group was a lovely and lively bunch of folks; they weren’t afraid to push beyond some of their comfort zones. That makes teaching a real joy.

Mill Creek Bridge, Staunton Va WEB

My incomplete morning demo piece; I was using direct and blended pencil on paper.

On the bright and clear Saturday morning, we gathered next to an old commercial mill building and adjacent grain silos near the railroad. Our first round of sketches were all made using dry media. Below are two examples of student pieces completed in the Saturday morning session. I think the use of intervening organic and manmade shapes as well as strong value contrasts help make these two really quite good!

After a lunch break we reconvened in an older residential neighborhood, the historic Gospel Hill area, just a bit east of the downtown. Our goal was to use or to include soluble and/or permanent ink in this sketch. In the shade of century old trees, we worked on finding snippets of the architecture or landscape architecture to concentrate on.

Gospel Hill Steps, Staunton Va WEB

Gospel Hill Garden Wall and Steps, Staunton Va                                                                                            This is my very quick second workshop demo piece; I used permanent and water-soluble ink, ink wash, and brush pen, 5×7

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After working all afternoon, we had a productive critique there on the sidewalk as residents walked or drove by … probably wondering what we were up too. It was a good day over all.

The next day we worked with various combinations of materials and added color to our  sketching toolkit. We did have to compensate for some high winds and we worried a bit about nearby heavy storms. So we gathered at two locations that offered potential protection. Luckily the afternoon thunderstorms skittered by to our northwest and southeast.

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Gathering for our final critique under the protective covering of the train station’s platform.

The participants made some fine sketches, I had a lot of fun meeting these new folks, and … jiggidy-jig … it was nice to sleep at home both nights too!

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Many thanks to the wonderful folks of the BSSS ( http://bssschool.org ) who invited me to teach this workshop.

I also want to thank the students who signed up, and especially those who were members of the local sketching group known as Sketch Staunton. You can find the group online via Facebook.  ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/392125291370828/ )

All of them made the weekend really special.

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In Salt Lake; What Will I Sketch?

Salt Lake city is, for the most part, a flat city. But a very high mountain, the Wasatch Front, is so very, very close.

I am here to work evaluating art portfolios for ETS again this year. With that project, I’m staying and working near the center of the city, between the government, LDS Temple. financial, industrial/warehouse, and older residential areas. The week that I am here, my days are pretty full between 8am and 5pm … but it is summer and the light lasts until just shy of 9pm. Perfect for me.

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View south at Broadway and Main, Salt Lake City 5 x 11, ink and watercolor over pencil

The other evening, just before a cold front blew into town, a friend of mine and I went downtown to sketch in the center of the commercial and financial district. It was a good location with lots of foot, car, and trolley traffic! Before I was even close to finishing though, the colder air roared in with 50 mph+ gusts. I called it quits despite not having laid in all the colors or textures I had hoped to; the breaks of creating sketches outside.

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The A Street Steps, Salt Lake City 5 x 11, ink, ink washes, and watercolor over pencil

Earlier in the week, other friends and I went out after dinner to an older residential neighborhood, known as The Avenues, that overlooks the downtown. The low hills of the area have some steep sides and interrupt a road known as A Street. My subject was the “A Street Steps” that connect the lower section of A Street to the upper portion.

Tonight is my last full day in the city before returning home. I’ll try for at least one more sketch. I am hoping for a full watercolor actually. Maybe I’ll actually get a view of that mountain in this one!

If it works out, I will post that one once I get home.

 

 

Evening; Working in Fading Light

Sketching as the light wanes for the day is not easy for me.

I love images in half light and under dark stormy skies, night scenes and obscured interiors are wondrous to me.  In my youth I was entranced by the prints and painting of Rembrandt with deeply dark tones; the murkier the better. The inky blacks and deep contrasts of early German Expressionist prints and movies, as well as, later film noir almost enthralled me. I wanted to make images like that.

But I grew up in Florida and Kansas; places blasted by intense and almost unrelenting sunlight. In term of light, my art is usually closer to images by Tiepelo, Homer, and Thiebaud than to Carravaggio, Daumier, Kollowitz, Hopper, or Kline.

But every now and then I do try to make an image in the dark or the fading light of dusk. When I do, I am reminded about how much I enjoy the dark images. I also reignite my affinity for rough brush and pen marks; hints of Japanese calligraphy, Zen brush painting, and the rough lines of Franz Kline seem to lurk in my pens and brush pens.

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Pedestrian Mall, Evening of May 21st                                                  4×5, inks and watercolor

A little over a week ago I was sketching on the pedestrian mall as the sky faded from a soft blue grey into black. The trees and buildings along the street had already rendered the space very dark, only pierced by lights from the shops and lamplights among the cafe tables. Inks that are not permanent; actually rewettable with water, make lovely and irregular washes in the barely visible leaves of the trees.

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Rooftops and Chimneys, Evening of May 28th                                     5×7, inks and watercolor

This past Tuesday, I was hurrying to catch some of the last few rays of light on the roof and chimney’s across from the art center. With each passing moment, more of the shingles became hardly distinguishable and the white trim of the eaves took on a duller and ever darker grey tone. The pale sky dimmed as the objects in front of me were being swallowed in darkness.

Well, it Friday evening and this weekend, I am in Chicago to participate in and to teach a workshop for the Chicago Urban Sketchers 2019 Seminar. Here, in a much larger city, I find myself thinking of cityscapes and night scenes by John Sloan and Robert Henri, George Bellows and George Luks.

The Line at Mario’s Italian Lemonade, Evening of May 31st                                   7×5, inks and watercolor

So tonight, when I found myself drawn to the lively mix of residents and businesses, vendors, customers, and passers by in little Italy, I jumped on in. Taylor, near Racine Avenue, is especially busy where “Mario’s Italian Lemonade” is in business. The crowd lined up, ebbed, and flowed as they placed their orders. Afterwards many milled about, enjoying their frozen treats as darkness overtook the sky. With the little natural light fading, the stand and it’s illumination provided me with ample color and contrast. I even got to practice and incorporate a bit of direct painting in this piece. (Could this be a warm up, a precursor to next months 30×30 Direct Watercolor?)

These sketches are not my most regular type of imagery; they are fun though.

Last Sketch of the Day

I make images, a lot.

And I do like the surprises that come along when I am creating.

Saturday I awoke a bit later than expected but pretty quickly adjusted and started off for a healthy day’s work. Soon I was making images and coaching some of my sketching students. We all seemed to be working well and they made good progress. As the class was closing in on its last hour, I began my final demo of the day. I wanted to reiterate the theme of this portion of the course, simplification of materials and design can still produce visual excitement. So, for this sketch, I switched from using ink and watercolor together to a simple watercolor approach.

As I sat down on the ground to paint a riot of trees and colorful bushes behind a wooden fence line lit by the 3pm sun, my eyes caught sight of tree limbs overhead moving across a breezy blue sky. When the wind stopped for a moment, a faded peachy-orange chimney was visible, framed by the darkly shaded leafy branches that stretched upward. It was a lovely surprise and I immediately and happily changed my visual focus.

 

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Chimney Top, Wine Street,  4″x5″, watercolor on Fluid watercolor paper

The piece is small, only five inches wide and four inches tall. I began with a quick loose pencil sketch; only spending time with a few proportions and details at the top of the chimney and the adjacent satellite dish. Next, I applied color with a #16 soft sable round and occasionally slowing down to rewet and blot a few edges. As I neared completion, I stopped for a moment. I didn’t want intuitive painting to slide into mindless picking at the image. I selected a #8 round with a firmer synthetic-sable blend and I added some very small dark leaves, pulled out just a few lights, and crisped up a details in the roofline and bricks.

Yes, there are times when it is hard to get to the work of putting my hands on my trusted tools and favorite materials to create images that excite me. Major life commitments, even the more trivial flotsam and jetsam of existence, interrupt forward momentum.  But, working our way through and perhaps with a bit of bobbing and weaving, we can get clear of all the distractions and let ourselves be; be the creative selves we most desire.

On a good day I might be in the studio or outside happily making images for six hours to ten or more hours. Other times, like today, I get about four hours engaged with imagery. Often most of that time is working with my wonderful students and their art work. In the end, even though I thought I only was creating a demo for the class, I got to make my image too.

Surprise!

Sketching, Under the Canopy

Saturday started out mostly clear but the sky here along the Blue Ridge filled by noon with low, threatening clouds, drizzle, and fog. So I took shelter under a local music pavilion’s ample covering and prepared to sketch as the rain began. Gently at first, soon the shower became a storm, the wind grew more blustery, and the temps dropped pretty significantly.

Through the Charlottesville Pavilion's Proscenium Arch
“Through the Charlottesville Pavilion’s Proscenium Arch” Fountain Pens, Ink Brush Pen, and Watercolor, 5 x 11

Escaping the worst of the storm, I was entranced by the visual conversation between the variety of opposing curves and the repetition of parallel lines. With no desire to escape the protection of the canopy, I had a good stretch of time to work out the complicated structures of the pavilion: the massive curved steel supports for the pavilion’s fabric shell, the brick archway under the road to the right behind the stage, the rows of seats and chairs for the currently absent audience, and the huge black curtains behind the stage area.

Those layered sheer curtains act as baffles for sound and light; they where a real challenge. I have made a few previous sketches on this site on the east end of the pedestrian mall before, even here at this pavilion. I have never tackled those curtains though. How do you draw single and multiple layers of loosely woven, rough textured sheer fabric? Especially when it is black and in shadow?

The process of working out the arrangement of shapes and how best to combine and manipulate watercolor and multiple inks was fun. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a definitive sketch for the Pavilion; probably not even my best sketch of the site. That will have to wait for another visit.

 

 

Winter Sketch w/Water-Soluble Inks

Sometimes you just want it to be as simple as B&W.

That was what I had in mind when I stopped along a rural highway on the way home and began sketching. It was a raw day … cold, wet, and grey as I pulled behind the local convenience store onto the side road. It wasn’t a grand or striking landscape, certainly not a pretty one. I was intrigued though by the scruffy roadside melange of signs, utility poles, foliage and winter weeds. I was confronting a normal image; I wanted to embrace the complexity yet distill it somehow and finding something interesting. Perhaps beauty.

Grey and scruffy; yeah ink seemed to be the perfect choice.

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First starting with a pencil layout (above), I was soon using both a Waterman fountain pen and a Pentel brush-pen; working the major shape contours along with some areas of value/texture.

Soon, to take advantage that I have this fountain pen loaded with a water-based and soluble ink, I had a water brush in hand and was manipulating, modifying the marks into small grey washes. The Pentel brush pen’s ink is pretty water resistant when it dries but, while is was still freshly applied, it too was soluble. Taking advantage of that … I dragged softer greys almost anywhere I wanted in the composition.

I liked the sketch as it is above but I didn’t get the sense of overcast light. It felt as if I had  turned on some bright light and cleared away the gloom, robbing the place of its subdued, even, wet light. My grey day wasn’t here yet.

So I continued on, adding a more blacks marks, dry brush, and washes. I even decided to include a bit of dry and wet color (using Caran d’Ache watercolor leads and wet Daniel Smith watercolors) to the image. It was beginning to feel a lot more like like the dark day and sodden day that it was. As I applied the bits of color, I was trying to integrate them into the greys and darks.

I wasn’t being quite as simple as B&W and while I was ok with that … the color was becoming a little too strident, too prominent.  As with the earlier, “lighter” version, I actually enjoyed the piece quite a bit at this point but I really felt I had deviated too much from the grey of the day.  So, with the aid of water, a touch or two of gouache, and of course … more ink, I reasserted the dark grey-ness by softening, muting, replacing, and overpainting some areas of color.

Off the Valley Pike, Winter 2019

No, I don’t think this piece is pretty. It wasn’t a pretty day. The damp air was bitting cold, the ground was a slippery, oozing, wet mess … and the sky was deep dark grey; it was gloriously miserable. I think the sketch pretty much got there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 )

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!)

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Interior, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, Oak Park Chicago IL
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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.