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.

 

 

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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.

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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.)

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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)

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 quite flat, 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 is probably due to the shellac binder of this traditional India ink.

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 should be waterproof when allowed to dry in contact with paper’s cellulose fibers. 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 watercolor 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 difficult 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 if it weren’t obvious already … I can be more than a bit nerdy about art supplies but I do hope this hasn’t been overbearingly pedantic or preachy. I would love to hear what inks you like to work with too. Please 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

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?

 

 

From Chicago; Then Back Home Again …

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

Early Morning Shadow, Wrigley Building

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

Wrigley Building, Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North on Michigan, Towards the Tribune in

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

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

Charlottesville Rooftop View

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

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Working Westward to Chicago & the Urban Sketchers Symposium!

Westward.

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

Oak Street Cemetery Gate, Charlottesville

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

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

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

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

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

Unity Temple, Interior, 3rd state WEB

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Ink and Watercolor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Jefferson, at Beth Isreal copy

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

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

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

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

C'ville Open Air Mall WEB

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

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

 

 

Wish me luck!

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!

 

 

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