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.

Evening, May 21 WEB

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.

Evening, May 28 WEB

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monument – An Ink and Watercolor Sketch on A3 sized paper

Tofan Gheorghe is an artist living in Dublin, Ireland.  Perusing his blog site reveals some very nice loose watercolors/watercolours! Having just posted a very different watercolor and ink sketch showing part of a local monument here in the States … it was nice to see another artist’s very different take on a similar subject.

Hope you enjoy his work and blog. JH

 

Tofan Gheorghe's Creative Blog

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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.

winter-2017-foliage-in-lee-park

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!

coal-tower-blustery-day-web

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

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It has been a bit SKETCHY, so far.

It is a tad more than half over and it has already been a busy, busy summer in the studio! Yes, I taught a small drawing class, I took a break and judged art out in Utah, and there was that wonderful working vacation to look at galleries in Atlanta (see my previous posts about the Atlanta galleries and especially about Kevin Cole’s work). But making and prepping art work for two shows this fall is really keeping me hopping … and happy.

View S.W. from Old White Bridge Road, 2012

The first show is in Virginia, at the gallery of the Staunton-Augusta Art Center. Since I am hanging work in both their larger gallery and their more intimate small gallery, I decided to divide my show into two separate but similar bodies of work. For that smaller gallery, I figure on hanging about 25 sketches. My thought was that the small size of the works would fit the space and feel of the gallery nicely. These sketches will probably be quieter, simpler and perhaps a little bit more playful than their larger cousins in the main gallery.

For the sketches; I have been using pencil, ink, and wash drawings. A few of the sketches are done in full color. For those, I have worked in watercolor or water-soluble drawing media. When I am feeling visually playful though, I am apt to combine many of those materials in one sketch! There maybe another kind of surprise in this quieter show. I am including some sketches that definitely look like they are E. 20th Century Modern; others feel like they are just out of the 18th or 19th century (think: École des Beaux-Arts or Royal Art Academy). A few have elements of both; makes me a little bit giddy.

To get a nice group of sketches together, this year I have followed my own advice and kept sketchbooks at hand all the time. And I have been scouring the roads on both sides of the mountains … every trip, every errand.  I have been more likely to stop beside the road, wander down a creek bed, or scramble up a ravine than to get home on time. I hope I haven’t been to late to often, but the sketching has been wonderful. Relaxing and challenging all at once. Again, hopping … and completely happy.

I will have to write about the larger works … the paintings that will be in the larger front gallery in Staunton and the drawings in the Calhoun, Georgia show … a little later.  For now, it is time to get back into the studio.  And get another image started …