Staying Simple …

Sometimes I love complexity. I can revel in the challenge of making visually rich images with multiple techniques, materials, and stylistically diverse elements work together.  I will even revel in bringing more than one design strategy into play in a single work. I do that pretty regularly in both my large drawing and my panel painting series.

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Grape Hyacinths, ink and watercolor, 7×5, April 2020

Right now though, I am craving simplicity!

Perhaps it is the stress and upheaval that SARS CoV-2 virus and the havoc playing out around the world. Or maybe the sudden separation from all my artist colleagues and students after a year of wonderfully intense sketching activity I’ve had locally and across the country.

Whatever it is, it seems that I am deferring more often to the practice of very direct, improvisational sketching. Notice too that I seem to be deferring to slightly wilder ink lines. My mark making with both pen and brush is nearly the freest, most playful and loosest that I tend touse.

My subject choices seem to differs a bit from my norms as well. In part that is because of the “stay at home” directives but I think think I may just want to keep everything on a basic level. So both of these two are sketches of view right around our house; pots on the front steps and flowers just a few steps down the walkway from the screened-in porch.

Pots on Front Steps, Spr. 2020, #2

Potted Plants and Sprouting Rose Bush, Ink & Watercolor, 5×11, April 2020

it might also be a reaction, a subconscious desire to concentrate the most local and very accessible objects and spend time being more engaged with the natural world. Is there some form of desire to retreat from the world’s complexity at work here? Is it a use of sketching as a salve for all the irritations of our current news cycles?

Truthfully, I don’t know. 

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Tomatoes on the Table at Lunchtime, Watercolor & Ink over pencil, 5×11, May 2020

I’m not sure that it matter right now if I can figure it out. I am just enjoying working with ink, color and my brushes; looking mostly for the sake of looking. I could talk about the joy of mixing color or the use of silhouettes and negative spaces in sketching. Normally that IS what I would do. But not today.

Staying simple.

 

PS:  To see a video of the Tomatoes being created, click on the link below. Fair warning, it is my first ever video so … it is VERY low tech, has poor timing/editing, and it is silent. What? me, silent?  Remember, I am trying to stay a bit simple for now!

Be safe; stay well everybody.

New Year, New Season; New Ventures

WOW, we are a full month into 2020 and I finally feel like I am getting up and running!

2019 was a monster of a year! It was jam packed with all kinds of energy; so many personal and professional challenges too. I can’t complain though. Most of the year went so very right. I sketched all around the country; on the East and West coasts, in the South, Midwest, and South-West and even in the Mountain West. Exploring watercolor, dry sketching media, and combinations of the two, I was pretty happily engaged almost every week. This year I was also invited to teach urban sketching classes and workshops locally, regionally, and in Chicago and San Francisco.

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Some images my from 2019 Urban Sketching workshops in San Francisco, Chicago, Richmond VA, Staunton VA, and Fredericksburg, VA

It was an honor as well to be in several exhibitions featuring sketching and/or urban sketching. The most recent was the exhibition One Sketch at A Time: An Exhibition of Urban Sketchers. It included sketchers mostly from around the Washington DC and the Northern Virginia region. The show was held at the Manassas Center for the Arts (you can see images below) just outside of DC.

New Ventures?

Ok, I am exploring some new places to show my sketches. And to be sure I am working on finding some new and scheduling old places to teach workshops and classes too. I am also really exited to be getting a two week artist residency in eastern North Carolina this coming fall. As for sketching trips, I am looking at venues in addition to already planned trips to central North Carolina, Florida, Salt Lake, Chicago, DC and a few others. I’m going to have a lot more info on all those very soon.

Right now?

Well, let’s see … Oh yeah, more types of sketching!

In fact, I’m currently working on two strands of sketching. (I guess I like to make things complicated; it keeps me on my toes and experimenting!) Most of you know my normal sketching with watercolor and/or ink. I’ll of course be continuing those, I have to feed my soul. This year, I will also be foregrounding my sketching on toned paper. Working on toned surfaces is something I have been doing for a long, long time but have only rarely shared with anyone. Below are two very recent toned paper sketches!

Drawing on toned paper has a long history and can be taken down many new and old paths. A very traditional method, the “trois crayon” technique was quite popular in the Renaissance and Rococo periods. I have usually confined that three color technique and most other toned-paper methods to large (22×30+) preparatory studies for my Mylar based drawings. For now though, I am also going to sharing my experimentations with these wet and dry variations of toned paper techniques in my sketches!

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A Winter Evening View of the Beverly Street Studio School Building, inks w/ touches of dry pigment on toned paper

My plan is to work with and show you pieces on both warm and cool papers. I’ll start by posting works with fairly tradition media, either wet and/or dry. I’ll also use watercolor and maybe even a bit of gouache as well. Then, I might just get a bit more jiggy with it.

Now, if you have a favorite technique for sketching on toned paper/surfaces or you have an artist you know of that works on toned papers, I would love to hear from you. I am happy to share your faves (artists or techniques) with everyone here!

 

More Sketches from my Autumn Color Workshop.

I love the light during Autumn. During my career as a full-time art professor, I would sometimes lament that I didn’t get enough time to draw and paint outside in the Fall. Classes, tons of grading, mentoring/advising, meetings, and the earlier and earlier setting of the sun as we moved into late September and through October just made it hard to be outside in the glorious light and the amazingly rich colors.

Yes, I am still teaching a lot … but I now I am somewhat more in control of my schedule and can get more time to explore this beautiful season.  And, I can now teach students classes or workshops centered on our mutual visual excitement … Autumn’s beautiful colors. In my last post, we looked at some images as I began my latest workshop, Sketching Fall Foliage w/Watercolor.  Here, I am posting my final two demos from that workshop

I pointed out to my students that when we are sketching, many of us tend to jump in and begin making an image right away. That spontaneity can be so very refreshing, even exhilarating. But for our last morning, I suggested that student stop and think, even if for only 2-3 minutes about their composition; about staying true to what it is that excites them about the subject matter. I even suggested that, especially when they are not sure how to begin, that they might do one or more thumbnail sketches. I demonstrated and we talked about a line/shape studies, value studies (above left), and color studies (above right). We even discussed some of the virtues of doing a Notan study.

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After I made the thumbnail studies I jumped into actually creating the first new image of the day.

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unfinished: East, Towards The Blue Ridge On Rte. 254,  watercolor over pencil, 7.5 x 10.5

As I began my demo, I talked about combining the two approaches we had explored the day before, wet into wet and wet on dry. As you can see in the unfinished sketch above, the left side is mostly done in wet-on-dry and the shaded trees on right is executed with wet-into-wet painting. Below, is the more finished version of the sketch.

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East, Towards The Blue Ridge On Rte. 254,  watercolor over pencil, 7.5 x 10.5

For our last sketch of the day, we work in a field surrounded by lots of different trees. None were majestic, eye popping examples of Fall’s stunning displays of color. Instead, as the clouds grew thicker and greyed the sky, I tried to focus students on “finding” excitement within the normal. I also discussed a use of color that many of you may remember if you ever took a look at Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie. For this sketch, I asked students to incorporate at least a limited use of some soft, subtle (chromatically contrasting or complementary) hues to accentuate and enrich the boldness of the colors that we did see.

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Trees Behind the Bleachers, 12th & Oak Streets, watercolor over pencil, 5×8

All in all, I think we had a good workshop!

And … my students and I got to be outside making images surrounded by Autumn’s color. For me, that is real treat for the eye and heart!

 



 

One Place; Two (very different) Sketches

How often do you return to sketch a location? Do you ever try a very different way of sketching the same place?

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Tunnel at Mary’s Rock, 6×9 (this is a demonstration a layered wet on dry watercolor technique and of limiting the image’s area of interest/focus.)

Well, on the Skyline drive about an hour away, there is a really neat locale known as Mary’s Rock; a peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The road cuts 600+ feet through the granite outcrop via a tunnel. This is the site that I chose as the subject of these two rather different sketches.

Today I was conducting my Painting and Sketching Fall’s Foliage workshop and I was demonstrating two alternative ways to approach a watercolor. For my first image (below), I worked atop a wet sheet of paper, loading color into wet color passages and employing a good deal of color lifting too.

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Tunnel Beneath Mary’s Rock, watercolor 7×11 (This is a demonstration of a wet-into-wet technique with scraping and lifting of color.)

While I love the richness and spontaneity of this approach, I don’t usually work this way across an entire painting’s surface. I tend to like to contrast the fluidity against a bit more concreteness; anchoring the loose and free flow of color to few more solidly placed passages of color or line.

My workshop students seemed to enjoy the excitement of pushing very wet color around and adding extra water, color  splattering, soaking up excess liquid, and other tasks to manipulate their images of the tunnel under Mary’s Rock.

For my second demo of the day, I returned to my more normal painting process, a mostly wet on dry approach. I also suggested and attempted to lead them to limiting the area of greatest color and value detail to the section they most wanted to have us focus on. For mine, since I was intrigued by the trees growing to the left of the rock face and the opening of tunnel, that is where I concentrated most of my color and value manipulation … only hinting at the red trees to the far right. I could have painted even less detail and may still erase some the pencil lines delineating the upper edge of the tree line to the right but I will admit that I mostly pleased with this one..

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Tunnel at Mary’s Rock, watercolor, 6×9

 

I’ll post a more the workshop sketches in a day or so; you can find them by clicking here.

 



 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

 

Wishing for Warm Weather Sketching?

Today was one of the last days of the 2018-19 winter.  So in tonight’s Intro to Watercolor Sketching class, did I celebrate the passing of Winter … or embrace the arrival of Spring?

No, I pulled out a photo of late summer and proceeded to create a demonstration piece. Now before my sketching colleagues tar and feather me, let me assure everyone that we have been working for the past few weeks from real objects, objects that were right there in front of us.  This evening, I needed to prep them for a bit of landscape-based sketching homework.  So, by having them do a landscape from a photograph in class, I avoided them going out into the breezy, cold, and dark outdoors tonight.

Each of the student picked a rural or urban landscape image photographed during the winter or spring. (I have a trove of old images that I have made over the years while I was out sketching or painting.)  But me, not really thinking, I just grabbed a photograph and started my demonstration.

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a detail of tonight’s class demo piece

With my photo, I showed them several alternative ways that I might consider cropping it. Next, I demo-ed how they could avoid doing a detailed drawing and instead just lay in a few quick lines to get a sense of where the major shapes would be placed.  We then created very quick images with large blocks of colors. Besides my demo, I shared a blog post by Mari French Early Autumn Sketching At Thornham Roadbeds and links to several more of her posts that I thought would inspire their efforts ( Burnham Overy Marsh , Reed Beds and Tidal Mud ).  I really like her work and find her approach to sketching to be just wonderful.

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Sea Lavender Sketch, Thornham Saltmarsh, by Mari French, 2018

After that I let the students develop their images with as little or as much detail … and in any direction as they wished.

As I moved through the class, coaching, encouraging, and occasionally stopping to do mini demos beside the students, I returned every once in a while to my demo piece and took a few minutes to continue developing this watercolor sketch too.  This is the way it appeared as the class session concluded; all of preliminary pencil lines still intact.

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Summer Fields, Valley Pike,  5″x 7″ watercolor w/ink over pencil,  2019

Here it is. A bit out of place. Late summer’s golden light on mature foliage and a sky thick with milky humidity. Maybe it is wishful thinking?