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.

 

 

Ink Pens, Brush Pens … Oh my!

I recently had the privilege conducting my newest mini-workshop for the San Francisco Bay Area Urban Sketchers as part of their USk 10×10 series for 2019. I had a gloriously fun time. The Bay Area USk chapter was completely welcoming, helping me with getting the word out, logistics, and organization. They couldn’t solve my silly confusion of the north and south entrance to the Palace of the Fine Arts … but that was all me!

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My Ink Pen & Brush Pen USk SF Bay Area workshop  @ the Palace of the Fine Arts

Our gathering at the wonderful Palace of Fine Arts was on a sunny, cool, and breezy Spring Sunday and we sketched for three hours. I enjoyed the location quite a bit and the participants were a joy to work with!

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The participants and their final sketch at the USk SF Bay Area workshop 

The focus for my workshop was on using ink pens and brush pens; that is the subject of this post too.

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the final stage of one of my workshop demo sketches                                       (5×7, using ink pen, ink brush, and water brush) 

 

First let me tell you that I think sketching and drawing with ink is an adventure!

Yes, I know some folks worry; even get anxious about drawing with ink. If you are using a dip pen, you might get a bit uneasy about where your elbow is in relation to that open bottle. When using a permanent (non-water soluble) ink, do you worry about making a terrible, uncorrectable mistake? Using a re-wettable, water soluble ink, we might fret over the possibility of destroying some great lines with an errant drop or smudge of water.

All those are valid, quite reasonable, concerns!

I think it’s ability to be one step away from those disasters may just be part of ink’s allure!  That, ink’s luscious value shifts, and its ability to be bold, fragile, subtle, and sensuous by turns add to the jeopardy and joy of working with ink.

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Fountain Pen Inks

Over the years, I have experimented and used just about every type or classification of pen and ink. that artists have made or bought. I have even made my own pens and my own inks on occasion. Those have been great experiences to learn from.

At the same time, I can not pretend to have tried every single pen, fountain pen, or brush pen; there really are thousands manufactured and offered up for sale every year. So, I am going to concentrate on the basic types of pens and a few inks that I keep on hand and use regularly.

Above you can see the marks of four of the five types of fountain pens that I have in my sketch kit. From left to right are marks of a Sailor Fude (De Mannen), a Waterman Phileas (equipped with a medium nib), a Pilot Varsity, and a Platinum Preppy.

The Sailor pen is designed with a 55 degree angled/bent (Fude) nib that makes creating varied thicknesses of line quite easy; a real advantage if you want to write calligraphy. It also makes this Sailor a wonderful drawing pen as well. I have it loaded this Japanese pen with a cartridge of Sailor’s own Jentle Ink, a soft black ink that rewets easily with water. When re-activated, the ink flows easily and produces a fairly even grey wash that seems to lean a little towards a slight blue-ish cast.Fountain Pens, Sketching WEB

The Phileas, made by the French Waterman company for about 20 years, is my favorite writing pen and I carry another one in my sketch kit as well. My Waterman Phileas is currently outfitted with a medium nib though I also have back-up fine, wide, and extra wide nibs too. The ink is also by Waterman, their Intense Noir. It flows readily and when it comes in contact with water you can see that it will quickly break down into it’s violet-blue and yellow-brown components. When I use the ink to create a wash from lines I have laid down while sketching, the ink puddle ends up drying to a slightly uneven purple grey toned wash.

The inexpensive Varsity and Preppy pens both have much finer nibs but they are also of the short, stubby nib style so they are not very flexible. A more flexible nib makes a fountain pen have a greater range of line width/quality when you press lighter or more heavily as you move the pen across the paper. I would say that the disposable Pilot Varsity, has almost no flex to its nib but you can get a thinner line by turning the pen’s nib upside down. The refillable Platinum Preppy has just a minimal flex in the nib’s thinner tines.

The Varsity’s ink is a fairly standard writing pen ink; it is totally soluble in water. Like the ink that I have in the Phileas and the Sailor, the Varsity ink lines can be nearly obliterated if submerged in water or touched by a wet brush. The Preppy, I have loaded with a nearly permanent ink, Platinum’s Carbon Black. Only a tiny bit of the ink is reactivated with water and a brush. The lines will stay in place and the small amount of ink that dissolved into the water allows for the creation of subtle grey washes from the ink lines.

As a sketcher, I love the portability of fountain pens. And, I have to admit that I have been a devotee of the  fountain pen ever since the 60s when I was in 2nd grade. That is when we began to learn cursive writing, penmanship, and the use of the old Sheaffer school fountain pen.  (Mine had a clear red barrel; by the 3rd or 4th grade I was trying to do even my math homework in pen!) Most of us don’t write with fountain pens anymore but they have had a resurgence among sketchers and other artists.

When I studied drafting, as well Fiber-tip Pens, Sketching 1 copyas commercial art (the predecessor to graphic design and visual communication design) we used highly crafted mechanical pen to create consistently fine or bold lines. They were called technical pens and these beautiful tools have mostly given way to the computer stylus. Now, almost all artists today have switched over to the very much simpler and far less expensive mechanical pens equipped with a roller ball or hard felt/fiber tip.Pitt Pen B,,Micron 5, Sharpie Ultra F, WEB

These modern substitutes for the technical pen do not produce quite as crisp a line but are far easier to use. Most are disposable rather than having complex and sometimes messy refilling and cleaning processes. Brands that are popular among sketchers today are the Pitt Pen, Sakura’s Micron Pigma, and Multiliner by Copic. Younger artists, and those who can not as easily access more prestigious pens, may also decide to use the Ultra Fine Sharpie.

The line work that each of these pens create is pretty regular and consistent. When you want a larger or thicker line, you have to choose a pen with a wider nib/point. All of these pens use inks that are highly water-resistant or even permanent. Above you can see that when I added water, very little ink was dissolved from either of the two samples of Pitt Pen line work. Even less of the Micron Pigma ink was reactivated; the Sharpie appears to be completely permanent.

Papermate Flairm Pentel Brush Pen WEB

There are a few pens in this category that are exceptions to rule of line regularity. The Pitt Pen with the Bold tip is large enough to be turned off of the point and to make a slightly wider mark on the side/edge of the nib. The mark may be larger but it is often not as “clean” and crisp (almost like a dry brush type of mark) because the flow of ink will be slightly less than even. That is the same thing you might get from another hard fiber tipped pen … the old Flair pen.

The Flair, has an ink that is quite readily wettable. So it can give you smooth lines, dry brush/broken lines, and a wash when activated by water. That is a pretty versatile ink and pen!

Fiber-tip Pens, Sketching 2 WEBAnother type of fiber tipped pen is out there … the brush pen. Instead of a hard fiber tip, it employs a long soft fiber tip formed into a brush shape or a group of longer polyester fibers that are an actual brush. Some of these pens use a sealed ink source and a disposable; others are refillable with ink cartridges. Depending on the style, they can deliver a much broader range of marks; all the way from the finest line work to large bold areas of ink and dry brush. The refillable nylon fiber brush version of brush pen have become one of my favorite ink tools because of their great variety of line quality!

The brand that I like most right now is the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, It is a very portable, pocket sized brush pen and, after it dries, its ink seems to be highly water resistant. The manufacturer says it is completely permanent but, as you can see above, mine ran a quite bit the first time I dropped some water on it. Many permanent inks, those known as  as “bulletproof” inks, are dye-based and are made with special chemicals that cause the dyes to bind permanently with the cellulose fibers in the paper. Because I was using a watercolor paper, the paper’s internal and external sizing may have kept the ink’s chemicals from coming completely into contact and fully binding with the paper’s fibers.  (I’ll experiment with it on more standard drawing papers and post those results soon.)

There are a number of other excellent brush pens out there; Copic, Pilot, Zebra, and Kuretake have all gotten good reviews. I have also been seeing a lot of my students starting to use the new Arteza Watercolor Brush Pen in black.

(By the way, if you like the idea of using a brush pen loaded with watercolor based color inks, there are lots of interesting brush pens out there now. My first experience with these was the Tombow (dual end) brush pen. It has a hard felt marker tip on one end and a larger, more pointed and somewhat softer “brush-tip” on the end. A year or two ago I also ran across the Winsor Newton Watercolor markers; they are shorter and stubbier than the long Tombows. As I suspected with a long time watercolor manufacturer, these have excellent color in a range of deep rich hues. Here is a link to the Jet Pen website which has a really good comparison of watercolor based brush pens. They don’t seem to have tested the new Arteza yet but the site has great info and a larger list of brush pens than I was aware existed.)

Palace of Fine Arts, detail WEB

the final stage of one of my workshop demo sketches                                                                              (5×7 using ink pen, ink brush, water brush, and dry watercolor leads) 

Well, I think that I’ve rambled on a bit long today. I hope you have gotten some good and helpful info about ink pens that are suitable for sketching. Please give me some feedback, even some insights about new materials you are trying out or are using.

Until next time … try to keep you fingers from getting too inky!

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Waiting at the DMV, Waterman fountain pen and Pentel brush pen over pencil,  3″ x 4.75″, (created in a Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project sketchbook)

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.