Exploring Black Inks

I love working with inks. Whether I am sketching outside or creating larger pieces in the studio, ink is one of my favorite materials.

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Like many of you, early on I began working with India ink. It’s rich deep darks provided a boldness that was, and still is, alluring. I know, sometimes it was a little scary too! Over the years I’ve tried lots of other types of ink and grown fond of quite a few. So, I thought that I’d explore the attributes of some inks that have I used, share a bit of basic info about them, and see what you like about them as well.

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Below you can see a page of ink tests that I made today. With each of the inks, I have kept my testing pretty basic, using four simple steps. In order to see how each the inks look and behaves on a dry paper surface surface, I applied a large brush-mark of each ink to the paper. Then I added a few parallel lines using a small brush. Because I also want to know how the inks interact with water, I conducted two additional tests; first I heavily wet a small area of paper and dropped a tiny bit of full strength ink into that wet paper surface. And, because I’m interested in the re-wetting of the inks, after those short parallel lines were completely dry, I brushed a liberal amount of water over parts of the lines to test test the ability of each ink to resist the effects of water.

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[ Note: When using ink, the substrate (or ground) will likely have a profound effect on how the ink performs. I do employ inks in my large mixed media drawings on Mylar (my Natural-Family-History series) and occasionally on large sheets of various Arches, Rives, or Fabriano papers. Since I use inks a lot for sketching, I conducted these tests on a Canson 140 lb cold pressed watercolor paper. (I also use Fluid Easy Block papers, Canson Multimedia sketchbooks, and Pentalic watercolor journals for sketching). I chose to use the Canson because of its subtle texture and the fact that it isn’t too heavily treated with a sizing. This would allow both water and ink to penetrate the surface at a moderate rate.]

 

IMG_4606 copy, edittedAbove is a strip of inks that I have tested in this manner. Now let’s get a bit closer look at the results.


To the left you can see a close look at three of the first inks I tested in this way. The Winsor Newton and Higgins (#4415) are both traditional India inks. When dry the large areas of ink where pretty even and flat (the Higgins a slightly less flat, a tiny bit less dense) and were only barely transparent. Both also had that “metallic carbon in shellac sheen” we associate with India ink.

The Higgins (#44041) Eternal Ink was very different; in fact it may be a renamed versions of a Higgins ink I remember from my college days. You can see that it is bit less dense than the first two and in the re-wetting test, it obviously isn’t water resistant … much less waterproof. This ink displayed something I used to associate with all black Higgins inks; it is definitely made with a non-black pigment. When younger, I was always aghast (and secretly a little intrigued) that Higgins would often break down into a violet and a yellow brown or olive green) when exposed to water. Here, in both of the water tests, we can see some of the warm and violet casts of the ink. On the plus side, it being labeled “Eternal” should mean it is archival (Ph neutral and fade resistant in light). So it is a good ink; just do be aware though of the visual surprises it may provide you when in comes in  contact with water!

In part because of the Higgins pigment issue, I have tended to use the Speedball Super Black India ink as my “go to” ink in the studio. The Speedball company has been creating art supplies for over a century (Hunt-Speedball-Bienfang) and they make some fine products. This ink definitely uses a black carbon pigment and has a very dense pigment load. Washes made with this finely ground ink tend to be a quiet flat and very even grey. Opaque at full strength, it flows readily in water but when dry it is very permanent. When using this ink during drawing or painting sessions, I have also noticed that at full strength, it also seems to repel/shed any water (or watercolor) that is laid over it. This may be due to the shellac binder included in this ink.papers

Another black ink I use a good bit now is the Yasutomo Sumi Ink. Sumi inks are derived from the same Chinese ink traditions that gave us India inks. I enjoy the velvety look of this one a lot; it is a rich, intense ink black ink. There is much less of a “shellac” shine to this ink and it makes a luscious grey wash too.

Everything I read on the bottle, in commercial descriptions, and on the product website says that Yasutomo Sumi is permanent. But, as you can see, re-wetting it produced a beautiful dark grey wash!  I re-did my experiment and waited six hours to allow the inks to cure more. It still re-wet producing a wash. Now, when reading about inks, you will often hear the term “bullet-proof” in reference to an ink that bind permanently to the cellulose fibers of paper. So, “bullet proof inks are waterproof when allowed to dry in contact with the cellulose fibers of the paper. Perhaps the Canson watercolor paper’s sizing kept the ink from coming chemically into contact with the cellulose … or maybe my ink application was so dense that the upper layers of ink where unable to reach the paper fibers? So, I have to wonder if claims for this inks permanence were negated by the way I was conducting my test with a sized paper. Maybe on an unsized Sumi paper, this ink is permanent as soon as it is dry?

I will have to explore that more at a later date!

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The next ink I tested, Pen & Ink Sketch, is also an India ink but of a quite different kind. It is made by Art Alternatives out of the UK. They make this black India ink and sell it bottled and in the smaller international size fountain pen cartridges. As soon as you know that it is for fountain pens, it is obvious why it is different from standard India ink. It has to be. Inks with shellac can dry and stubbornly clog the tiny ink channel inside a fountain pen and/or the nib very quickly. It isn’t a nice way for a fountain pen to die.

This ink is lovely though. A soft satin black, not made shiny by any shellac or super sticky gum/sap based binders, it flows beautifully into water. As you see to the left, it re-wets a tiny bit too. Most of the black ink stayed in the paper’s fibers or on the paper surface; only a small amount became active when I added water and gently rubbed the surface of the ink marks. This could make it an excellent candidate for sketching when you need or want to spread only a tiny bit of light washes from previously applied pen or brush drawn lines.

(PS.  Art Alternatives also makes some nice and fairly inexpensive fountain pens for artists under the same brand name as well!)

My next three inks are Holbien Special Black, Liquitex Professional Carbon Black, and Royal Talens Amsterdam Oxide Black. All are dense rich blacks. They all handle well in the brush and the pen. While they seem to react slightly differently when dropped into water or onto wet paper … the Holbien seemed to break down a bit and both the Liquitex and the Royal Talens ran pretty freely … they were equally permanent when I tried the re-wet test. This shouldn’t surprise us though. Each of them is in fact an acrylic polymer emulsion based ink.  Of the three the Hobien seemed the most opaque to me. The other two came close when seen as a mass of color, less so when in thinner applications.

The fact that all three are not re-wettable means they are great for using under additional wet mediums. The Talens and Liquitex seemed to flow well but I must admit am a little leery about using the Holbien to create washes.

These last four inks are really fun. Those first two are specifically made for use with fountain pens. Manuscript Black and Noodler’s Lexington Gray. The last two were both made locally. Fleagall, in the brown bottle with the dropper cap, is made by an artist/graphic designer who teaches at a local community college. The other ink, the Iron Gall is made by a local artisan/craftsman who makes a lot of his own artist’s materials .

As the names imply, Manuscript Black is a bit darker and more densely pigmented than the Lexington Gray. The Manuscript ink spread easily and pretty evenly in the water drop at the top of the test where as the Noodler’s reacted a bit oddly in water. Despite being lighter, in the re-wetting process the Lexington Gray appears to be more permanent than the Manuscript Black.

The last two inks are both iron gall inks. Iron gall inks were the primary inks used in European countries since about the 4th century and were only supplanted by other forms of ink in the 20th century. One of the reasons they were so popular is because they are easy to make and darken with age. Another advantage they have is that once they are thoroughly dry, they do not re-activate with water and hard to scrub off a surface.

Notice both the Flea Gall and the Iron Gall inks are slightly violet when they are diluted. That is a characteristic that I like a lot. The slight transparency of both when applied even at moderate applications make both excellent candidates for ink wash drawings and paintings.

There are two issues that limit the use of iron gall inks in the modern age. One is the tendency for them to be acidic. If not made properly they may be too acidic and can slowly “eat” through the paper. The second problem is they don’t play nicely with closed system mechanical pens. The iron-gallic particles that make up the ink’s pigment can slowly accumulate in a pen’s ink feed and clog it with a hard to clean mass of hardened ink. This isn’t a problem in a brush or a dip pen which are easier to clean.

In the Upper Canopy, a 5×7 brush sketch using India ink

As you can see … I can be more than a bit nerdy about art supplies butI do hope this hasn’t been pedantic or preachy. I would love to hear what inks you like to work with too. Also, tell me if there any inks you think that I ought to try out …. for sketching or for using in the studio? And if you disagree about the qualities of a specific ink that I have talked about here, that is  cool too; please do let me know. I am always open to re-evaluating materials … and to changing my ideas, my opinions!

Now, it is time to get back out there and do dome sketching! There is a 30%-50% chance I will use some ink. Wish me luck.

PS Coming soon, A review of other colors of ink. …. and some ink pens & brush pens too!

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View South On US 11, Mount Syndey, Ink brush sketch, 5×11

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Working up a Watercolor Sketch … or is it a small Watercolor?

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I was supposed to be teaching a plein-air watercolor workshop at a regional art center. That plan didn’t quite gel; I took the now unscheduled time to work unfettered as a gift from the universe and I painted outside in the wondrous fall air! I even had some extended time to paint some in the studio. It was a nearly perfect compensation!

While working on one smallish piece, I assumed that I was creating a watercolor sketch.  Soon, I began to question if that was what I was doing. You see, I am not always sure when a watercolor sketch really becomes a small painting. I have been drawing, working with sketches, making paintings, and sometimes a lot of other types of art as well, for many years now. But I am still not sure where, or even if, there is a line somewhere between those watercolor sketches and watercolor paintings. ???

Let me back up and set the stage. Earlier in the week I had been helping some adult students with techniques and processes used to work with watercolor on wet paper … what many call wet-on-wet or wet-into-wet watercolor. If you have looked at my work, you know that in my pure watercolors, I mostly utilize what is known as the wet on dry techniques.  But as I do every so often, I responded to all the wonderfully rich and soft colors that Autumn has served up this year by making room for some wet surface painting.

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Beginning as I usually do, with a brief pencil line drawing … I was soon adding some delicate layers of color … mainly to the slanting ground of the hillside, the bushes along the “ridge-line” of the hill, and the foliage and trunks of the most forward cluster of trees. These forward trees’ trunks, branches, and leaves cover almost two-thirds of the top tier of the watercolor.

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As this completed my initial mapping of the image, I quickly moved on to adding some rich golden yellow color into background on the upper left side.

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Before the thick golden yellow dried, I moved in with two very dark green, one a bit blue and more neutral … the other a bit darker but a “purer” green.  As I watched this new rich green-yellow mix began to set up and dry, I turned my attention back to looking at and working all around the image, finally concentrating on the far right side of the image … especially the deep background visible under the canopy of main “central” trees as an area of shadowed blue and violet-blue.

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At this point I wasn’t yet sure if:  #1) I wanted to make the dark bright trees at the center as bold as the ones to the left … or #2) if I wanted to paint a deep blue violet into the now bright wet blue on the right side of the composition. NOT making a nearly instantaneous rational or intuitive decision was my first hint that I might now be painting rather than sketching.

Instead of tackling that decision … choosing one of those two major options … I once again began to “play” some more all over the image, making small tweaks to the  composition. I also spent some time working on the small bushes that appear out from under the central trees, descending along the hillside in front of/below the still extremely wet dark yellow-green mass that I had painted just a few moments before.

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I scrubbed out most of the dull rose hue I had started with in the main clump of bushes. Next, I made a darker mauve-burgundy blend that I pushed into the other reddish plants along the edge of the swelling line of the hill. Finally, I scraped and scuffed the paper of the main bush before applying a purer, warmer red … as well as a few touches of the burgundy.

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Well, as so often happens … life and many other tasks intervened in the process of finishing this piece.  Dinner finally called. The next day, my students, doing necessary work out in the yard, a few household tasks, visiting with family … even another painting or two begged for my attention!

A couple of days passed before I returned to work on this little image. Luckily for me, I had made a photo or two of the location … as well as having a clear memory of my slightly agonized struggle to clearly see and process the image on location.  I carved out an hour or so to reconnect with all that and spent a bit of time looking at what had started as a simple sketch. It was time to finally commit and finish it!

Above the Rockbridge Line, watercolor w/pencil on paper, 6.25x9.75

Above the Rockbridge Line, watercolor w/pencil on paper, 6.25×9.75

About 20 minutes of painting spread out across an hour and a half or so of evaluating … as well as drying time between new color layers and it was done!

As I said at the beginning, I am not sure when a watercolor sketch crosses some type of delineation and becomes a small painting.  In this case, I am sure of two things …

… 1) This was excruciating and deliciously fun …

and …

… 2) I would rather know which one YOU think it is, a sketch or a small watercolor?

Please let me know!

 

 

Below this line there may be adds of some kind. I don’t pick them or sanction them or their product or services they advocate. But WordPress has to make a living too … so we all smile and cope as we will.

 

A trip to Water Colour anyone?

It is SO nice to get a note or postcard in the mail, especially if it has some fun or exciting art image(s)! And while I can’t pin it to my studio board … I can savor an e-message or even a digital post about art almost as much.

That was why I was happy to get a post from Mari French today.

Mari is an English artist whose blog I follow. Her quick sketches are forcefully simple, very direct, and often really spot on; joys to see!

Old landing stage and channel markers. Sketchbook, Mari French 2016

Old landing stage and channel markers. Sketchbook, Mari French 2016

Mari’s more extended works seem to flow out of her mode of sketching and making studies. To me the larger pieces are rich and sophisticated in terms color and design.

Salt & sand series,#2. Mixed media on paper, 70x50cm. © Mari French 2016

Salt & sand series,#2. Mixed media on paper, 70x50cm. © Mari French 2016

Ms. French’s blog today showed some of her pieces and other’s works included in the 2016 Royal Institute of Painters of Water Colour exhibit. She focused on several artists, especially those working in minimalist or boldly conceived abstraction; styles which she obviously enjoys/has a deep interest in … her work show an obvious affinities for those approaches. [Get a look at her post by clicking here: Mari French’s most recent blog ]

You might also consider linking to the exhibition of that show’s website too. [a link to the 2016 R.I. WC Exhibit]  There you can peruse the other watercolour (watercolors), gouache, and acrylic paintings that members of the Royal Institute are displaying this year.  It was a wonderful treat for me to see some very exciting new work by folks that frankly, I never meet … even if I travel to Britain again any time soon.

Now, any group show has a few works that are completely and totally respectable efforts, but sadly … way too predictable.  However this is a really fine show; there really are large percentage of works that are absolutely exquisite in their craftsmanship, design, or handling of content.  And a few are so amazingly simple in their execution that they astound.

Sails across the Marshes, Norfolk, by Fred Beckett

Sails across the Marshes, Norfolk, by Fred Beckett

Mountain Village, by Ralph Dalzell

Mountain Village, by Ralph Dalzell

One or two (look for pieces about topiary prisons by Karen Charman) are even funny; beautifully fresh takes/touches on the best visual traditions in early and mid 20th century illustrations, comics, and cartoons. That type of work intrigued me as a kid; Ms. Charman’s pieces do the same today.

Ultimate Humaliation Topiary Prison, Charman-Karen-

Ultimate Humaliation Topiary Prison, Karen Charman

Take a digital trip, Fares are low. The rewards are really high!

 

The Showers of April … Have Brought Opportunities and Gifts in May!

Better news!

My last post talked about how the winter and early spring had been rough … with all the demolition in the studio and the storage areas.  Well, my tiresome kvetching … and the demolition process are done and the major reconstruction is almost over too!  When the space is all new and fresh, I’ll gleefully post those images.

Now, as April has wrapped up and the rains have brought us into May, I seem to have a lighter heart and and a less frenzied head.  Frankly, it didn’t hurt that I’ve been having some fun and some good luck as well. Many of you know that I really love to go sketch outside. Working with pencil, inks, watercolor, or gouache … I make lots of small pieces.  It always feel so good to get lost in that work.

Sometimes I will even whip out a panel or a larger sheet of paper and complete a whole painting on the spot.  Working that way reminds me of my Saturday forays into downtown Wichita (yes, I lived in Kansas for a few years) to draw the stately brownstones … or of the watercolor classes that I took back at Valdosta State.  I used the “plein-air” process for ten years as my primary painting strategy.  And while today I mostly use it to help prep for studio pieces, I still get a kick out of making a good small sketch.

 

View North, Spring, WEB

A recent quick watercolor sketch, 11×17

Well, I participated in a couple of Plein-Air Paint Outs and Quick Draw events in our region recently.  Painting while dodging the frequent rain showers … and meeting and talking with new colleagues was a joy.  The energy and camaraderie were really nice too.  Of course it didn’t feel bad for the old ego to hear a few nice comments and get a little recognition from one’s compatriots after a long day out making art!

 

 

Lynchburg Quick Draw

the artist Grey Dodson and I at a Quick Draw event

 

As I said above, I use these types of sketches, studies, and small plain air works as references for my studio pieces.  I am exhibiting some of those more involved studio works this coming month too.  The exhibit is happening at The Gray Gallery, a fairly new venue in Winchester, VA.1459915120

It is a two person exhibit, titled Structured Environments ( http://www.the-gray-gallery.com/exhibitions ) featuring Kung Chee Keong’s and my work.  I have about a dozen pieces in the show, all from my Shaped Landscape series.  The newest piece … finished just a few days ago … is actually a reworked triptych that I started over four years ago. In my eyes, it has always been only “almost” right since I stopped working on it.  I recently had a few ideas for how to improve the design and to make it a lot better.  I am pleased with the new version and I am really happy to see what others think.

I like Keong’s images a lot too, they have lots of movement and energy.  It is an interesting pairing.  These bodies of work will likely create a neat visual dialogue for the viewers; they do for me.  The exhibit is now open and the reception is on Friday, May 6th. The show will run through May 28th. If you are in the northern Shenandoah Valley this month, please do stop by the Gray Gallery and take a look.  The gallery is on Cameron Street in Winchester’s Old Town district … a beautiful and very walkable downtown.  Enjoy the art and, if you have time, maybe grab a bite to eat while you are there.  Make it a day!

works from The Gray Gallery Exhibit Structured Environments

“Autumnal Abundance”, one of my pieces (left), a work by Kung Chee Keong (right) from The Gray Gallery exhibition                               Structured Environments

As you see, a few weeks have gone by and life turned another corner. This corner, this turn, has lots of spring showers, thunderstorms, and even downpours to dodge … or to dance in. Whichever approach to dealing with the rain, it is a hopeful season. More later!

 

 

 

Sketches!

It has been a busy Spring.

Winter hung in there and made it a longer chilly start to the spring season than usual. That means the garden and plants need some extra care, some extra work this year. I have not gotten all the gardening tools properly prepped for the season yet either.

Instead, I have made lots of changes to my classes at the college. (I do so hate to get stale in the drawing class studio!) At the other end of the professional duties, my exhibition schedule and speaking engagements have kept me hopping. The traveling was fun, even as we dodged the worst of the snow and ice storms!

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline, watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Now, at the core of my artist life, the making of artwork, things have again settled into a pattern. Yes, a slightly a-rhythmic pattern … but one I am trying to keep moving along. Not in the studio very much; I have been working outside whenever I could … wielding pencil, ink-brush pen, and watercolor. So much so that my students have remarked that they have seen me along the roads close to campus and further afield. They think it is quite funny (¿amusing or weird?) when they spot me sitting on the cold ground in 40 F/5 C degree weather; standing at my sketching easel in 30 mph/50 kph winds.

But it is part of what I do to prep for new work; my version of hunting and gathering … seeking out new images, interesting visual material.

I have other ways of generating visual “primary sources”, but working alla-prima, en-plein-air … is so mentally refreshing.

It grounds me.

preliminary sketch for "South, Off Jarmin's Gap Road

preliminary sketch for “South, Off Jarmin’s Gap Road

Sometimes the work comes out totally fresh and clean. Almost sparse/spartan in its finished state. Other times they are labored, even overworked. Unclear. Those are not as exciting, but they still teach me something, challenge me to think, re-think their source and what it is I find engaging and exciting about it.

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap, ink & watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Whichever one it is, clear, clean, and well executed … or overthought and overly fussy … I am happy to be seeing, reacting, and thinking about images outside. Just pass me my hat and my sunscreen!

 

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Quick Color …

While I often draw and paint monochromatically outside, I also like to do small color studies. Many have a full range of color. Others, like the first and last one below, have just a few hints of hue … not enough to carry the full weight of the original scene … but just enough to give me a hint when I take it back to the studio. Or maybe enough to send me back to the location later to work up a painting on site!
For my color sketches, the work is done with pencil and watercolor. In some sketches, I rely mostly on the watercolor, in others the pencil work is more important. Usually though, I let them play pretty much equal roles. That isn’t the “accepted” way to work with watercolor. But it is the way I like to work.

This, of course, this is just a preview of a few pieces that will be in my upcoming exhibit in Staunton, Virginia. Let me know if you liked one of these. It is great to get a little feedback.

This, of course, this is just a preview of a few pieces that will be in my upcoming exhibit in Staunton, Virginia. Let me know if you liked one of these. It is great to get a little feedback.

More than twenty of these sketches (and to be sure … the larger paintings too) will be viewable from September 14th (reception 5-7 p.m.) at the Staunton Augusta Art Center. I hope you can come … I would certainly love to see you there!

For more exhibit info … check out:  http://saartcenter.org

Landscape Revelations: Watermedia Paintings & Watercolor Sketches”, (John A. Hancock, Watermedia Paintings and Drawings)