Evening; Working in Fading Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Sketch of the Day

I make images, a lot.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Surprise!

Sketching, Under the Canopy

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ink Pens, Brush Pens … Oh my!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

All those are valid, quite reasonable, concerns!

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

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Fountain Pen Inks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papermate Flairm Pentel Brush Pen WEB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palace of Fine Arts, detail WEB

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

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

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

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

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, 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?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melting Snow, Draw Quickly

Some days it is just simple.

Stand inside the window and look through the steamed up glass; trying to peer through all the reflections and refractions.

Or step outside for a few minutes into the nearly freezing air, take off the gloves, and draw. Draw; very quickly.

And that is what I did. Laying a tiny open palette of colors, a nearly full water brush, a Waterman fountain pen, and a Pentel Ink Brush Pen on the table, I opened my Canson spiral bound sketchbook to a page with a pre-drawn 5×7 format. I sketched just a few pencil lines and in just about a minute, maybe less, I switched to the Waterman. Soon I was using the brush pen as well … actually alternating between the two.

Half way through, I began adding water. A few touches with the water brush and the fountain pen ink would blur, the crisp lines softening. When it started to run, I used the same water brush to pick up the inky water and swept it across the paper to create a wash or scrubbed it into the surface to get a dry-brush grey.

It surprised me that I had waited so long but as I closed in on the end … I finally added a few, tiny touches of watercolor to depict the limited hues just barely discernible through the late afternoon/almost evening light and the wispy veils of fog rising from the snow. At last, a touch or two with the brush pen’s fine point and sides; I am finished.

As The Snow Melts of the Mountain Slope WEB

As The Snow Melts Off The Mountain Slope, 5×7, ink and touches of watercolor

Back in the warmth of the interior, beside the beaconing fireplace, I waited to let everything dry. Feeling that I had developed a fair likeness of the snow covered slope, the banks of trees climbing ever closer to the ridge … as well as some semblance of the misty, hazy light rising off of the snow, I packed up my sketch bag and started the drive home over the mountain.

I saw so many other places to stop and spread out my bigger palette and to paint, maybe to sketch, or to just take out my camera and make reference photos for later work in the studio.  But the light was fading fast on this eastern side of the mountain and  … a dinner date with my wife awaited me!

Sometimes, it is a simple decision.

 

Autumn, From Overcast to Sunny

I love fall; I think it might just be the most visually intriguing time of year.

The changes from late summer are subtle at first. And, if like this year, there is ample moisture and the chill doesn’t come on too abruptly, the shift is almost imperceptible. Well, this weekend ended all of that. The first hints of frostiness began to take over the local terrain as the temperatures dropped into the 20s/30s range.. The color balance has begun changing in earnest too.

Chilly Morning Near Lower Sherando Lake WEB.jpg

Chilly Morning, Near the Lower Sherando Lake, inks & watercolor in a Canson sketchbook

On Saturday, it was over cast. The clouds were stacking up on the west side of the Blue Ridge all morning. Those hoping for a sunny sky would have to wait ’til well past noon. That meant that at the lower Sherando Lake (in the George Washington National Forest) everything was sheathed in a grey light. Perfect for a little bit of sketching with ink!

I had to work quickly though, so after a really quick and light gesture drawing with a mechanical pencil, I continued to create gesture lines with a Waterman Phileas pen. Not the most flexible of nibs but richly bold at times unless, as I often do, I turn and draw with the nib upside down. If I want a richer variety of line, I might pull out a Sailor Fude fountain pen; it gives me beautiful transitions between thick and thin lines and it can also produce rich broken ink lines if turned just right and pulled across the page quickly.

But not this time. Instead I opted for my Pentel Brush Pen. Back and forth, alternating between the two, pen and brush pen, I worked up the 5×7 sketch. Next, I took out a water-brush. The Waterman is loaded with a water soluble ink; the Pentel’s ink is only re-wettable for a few minutes. I rapidly moved water around, re-activating, softening, and redistributing some of the fountain pen ink to create a few small ink washes.

Even before the paper began to dry, I had out some watercolor and began to mix up a few subdued, even chromatic grey, tones, Soon I was adding these to the areas of pale grey ink. And as these and paper dried, I added a few more pen and brush marks to hint at the mass of the stones (in the stream and foot bridge) as well as the swift water racing down to the lake.

But today, is a very different experience. I am on my way to drop off posters and to teach a watercolor class later this evening, I am enjoying the brightest and clearest of cool autumn days. Only the smallest wisps of cloud have slipped or skittered through the breezy and intense blue sky.

I have been thinking about ditching the distribution of all those adverts for my next, late fall, class and spending the whole day painting … and maybe even doing some reference drawing and photographing too. But I figure that I should compromise with myself; still make my rounds but stop and make at least a sketch or two. The last sketch of the day, the one below, is still wet and I haven’t even gotten most of the unneeded pencil lines out of it yet!

October 23rd, into Basic City copy

a quick field photo of Autumn View, mostly watercolor over pencil

Like most of us, I wish that I could draw and paint most of the day, almost all of the time. It is autumn after all and the season’s visual possibilities are almost unlimited … even if my time is.

 

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 )

Silk Mill(2) WEB

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