Working Away from Home

I sketch, draw, or paint almost anywhere.

It has been a busy late April, May, and early June for me. These past eight weeks, I have made most of my images while working away from home quite a bit. Mostly it has been around Virginia but also out in Utah, and even some while actually traveling. It doesn’t hurt that I will happily work in the full view of others … almost as easily as I do in the privacy of my studio.

Lynchburg and Staunton

Abandoned Power Station, Staunton Va.

I was invited to participate in two plein-air events this spring, one in Staunton and the other in Lynchburg. Sketching in and near the urban environment has always been an interest of mine. It shouldn’t surprise my urban sketcher friends that I began to get serious about making art way back in my teens when I would go draw the “brownstones” of Wichita KS. I still like those Hopper-esque cityscapes.

For the Lynchburg event, I was even asked to do a demo while I was there. It was fun to do the demonstration and the onlookers asked some wonderful questions. I sure hope I was informative and maybe even a little entertaining.

Fredericksburg

Market Square Steps, Fredericksburg

After being invited to demo at the Lynchburg Plein Air event, I had the distinct privilege, a really rare treat actually, to be able to attend part of a workshop offered by the Urban Sketchers of Fredericksburg. The instructor/leader of the event was Shari Blaukopf from Montreal. I have followed her work for several years now and have even recommended her to some of my students. It may seem like something of a busman’s holiday to some but I have always found it interesting to observe how fellow artist-educators go about presenting ideas to students.

The artists of this urban sketchers’ chapter and those that traveled to the workshop did some really wonderful sketches and Plein-air paintings. They were also a nice group to get to know. 

And, to be sure, Shari did a marvelous job! I will definitely still be recommending her work and her workshops to students. 

Here is a link to her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harrisonburg

After attending a family friend’s wedding in the small town of Broadway recently, I stopped in the city of Harrisonburg to get myself an iced tea. I then settled in along a street that I have driven down many, many times since coming to Virginia. What was drawing my attention this day was the sweep of a low brick wall and the deep shadows that played in the trees and inside the walled area beyond the entrance. After three to four sketches to work out what interested me the most, I was able to execute a fairly fresh and simple watercolor of the scene.

Sketches, Liberty Street Harrisonburg

Ink & Watercolor Sketch, Liberty Street Harrisonburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late May on Liberty Street., Harrisonburg

Back when I was a professor, as spring would melt into early summer, teaching would wind down and a bit of a respite would settle into my routine. I am reminded that back then summers were often the time of year that I traveled most. (Truthfully, it probably also had something to do with being a parent as well.) As I have re-organized my life to be pretty much a full-time artist … I still find that I end up doing many of my major trips away from home during these three to five months of summer-like weather. And for the past few years, when early June comes around, I get to judge art for about a week. So it is back on the road I go! 

This year, I definitely had to travel to that gig. I will post more about traveling as an artist (on the road and in the air) very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Urban Sketches; Color or Not

This past week or so, I have been working on sketches, lots of sketches … and yesterday I executed a very quiet one.

I had walked through town, past the shops and restaurants along the pedestrian mall, across and under the railroad tracks a few times, and even as far east as the old coal tower. I visually explored, looking for new ways to see the familiar sites. I tried to look deeply; I sketched and even took a few photos to perhaps use as reference for later in the studio. The one image that most intrigued me was far from the obvious. I even worked it up in a manner that I only rarely use.

Stopping in a small public park near my old studio, I began, and almost completed, the piece on site. The park is dedicated to the memory of a regional war hero and it has a traditional and quite handsome equestrian statue in the middle of the park. What interested me though was the sunlight bathing the delicately carved white stone base as well as the winter shrubs surrounding the statue.

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Winter Shrubs in Lee Park (pencil w/ink and ink wash, 5″x11″)

Using the thinnest of graphite lines, I began laying in the divisions of space. As I did so, I also began to create light but articulated lines to describe edges of bare branches. While I was doing most of the pencil work, I decided to create a pale grey ink wash. In a very old fashioned manner, I layered the wash many times … very slowly building up pretty subtle value shifts as each layer of wash dried. To add contrast to the nuanced values of pencil and wash, I added a lot of fairly small black ink marks using the fine point of a cartridge brush pen. Though I might touch up some part of the sketch later, for now I believe it is done. (If you have an opinion about it being done or not, do let me know.)

As I said, this little ink and pencil piece is quite a bit different from most of my current sketch work. A more typical piece is the one I did a building just four blocks away or the one of the coal tower.  Most often, I add watercolor over pencil and sometimes I will add a touch of ink … either with pen or brush. I tend to work fairly quickly once the drawing is “blocked-in” to my satisfaction. I usually strive to keep the end result loose and painterly as you can see below. This time, for the piece above, I was using aa much slower and more patient process.

west end of the cville mall, 2016West End of the Mall (watercolor and ink over pencil, 5″x7″)

 

 

 

I am always a bit surprised at the variety of the stylistic choices I see in my sketches, the wide array of strategies I employ as I begin working with an image. Loose vs highly controlled; rich color versus open space and limited hue or tone. As a much younger artist I worried that my work was “all over the place” or too “unfocused.” Eventually I learned to look to one of my heroes,  Richard Diebenkorn, as an example. You can see some of the variety within his sketches at the following address:
[ http://hyperallergic.com/231403/a-lifetime-of-sketchbooks-from-postwar-painter-richard-diebenkorn ] So, I don’t worry about that issue any more.

For me, it is time to get back out there and make some more images. Well over half of my studio pieces are begun with the research of urban sketching or plein-air studies!

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Coal Tower, Blustery Day, watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 11″

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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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Sketches!

It has been a busy Spring.

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

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

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline

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

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

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

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

It grounds me.

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

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

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

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap

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

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

 

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Respite on a West Coast Beach …

This past March, while it was still snowing and freezing here in the mountains of the Mid-Atlantic, we visited our son out in S. California.  When we arrived it was in the 80’s … but dropped back into the lower 70s and even the 60s. It was a welcome interlude, and on one of the warmer days we explored the area around Point Dume. We trekked over the rocks and, after getting to a less visited side of the outcrop, we settled down for a respite on the beach. Everyone else soaked up some sun, sat around relaxing and chatting … or played a bit at the edge of the water.

Me, I needed some quite time. So I walked over to and climbed up into the next set of rocks and relaxed. Looking back across the sandy beach, the rocky point, and up the coastline, I was quite happy that I had brought a small set of sketching materials and my camera. Quietly drawing and laying in a few quick patches of color was a really enjoyable way to spend my time. I could have spent several hour making a few more sketches … but it was almost time for lunch. So, after shooting a few dozen photos of the surroundings, I packed up my gear and went in search of seafood and some more delicious family time too.

Point Dume, Zuma Beach
(a watercolor and pencil sketch, 5 x 11)

When we returned home I decided that I wanted to do a three to four foot multi-panel piece based on this experience. I even promised my son that he could have the piece if I felt really good about it when it is completed.

Well, this week I made the one of the first steps in that process, a larger study using the sketch and the photographs I created three months ago as resources. So far I feel pretty good about it … though it looks a bit more like a “tinted drawing” than the “painting” that I had envisioned. It may also be a bit to timid in comparison to the sketch. The first sketch had at least a few subtle hints of Demuth’s delicate control and something of Marin’s energetic brushwork. But that is why we do studies, to work out the kinks in our ideas ahead of time … to get back to some of the fearless joy of our first encounter.

Here is the study I finished this Saturday. I will keep posting the progress over the next few weeks.

(watercolor on panel, 12 x 12)

Point Dume, Santa Monica
(watercolor on panel, 11×14)