Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Watercolor Sketching Coyotes

During my July focus on watercolor, I travelled to Gaylord, Michigan and got to sketch in one of my favorite places, The Call of the Wild.  If you are ever heading north in Michigan on I-75 and want to draw taxidermied animals, this is the place to go!

Also, and I mention this because you won't really see it in the photos below, this is an old-fashioned 1960s style attraction.  Small and friendly.  A terrific gift shop with something for everyone.  Kind of cheesy, super fun.  And bonus:  all of the backdrops to the taxidermy exhibits were hand-painted decades ago by members of the family.  Truly a cool place to visit.

Anyhow, for this particular scribbling session I wanted to focus on coyotes because I want to get better at drawing my dogs, and they are only still enough for me to draw when they sleep!  I thought this could help me learn basic canine shapes in some different positions.

The first coyote I chose was positioned in a snarl.  That seemed like a fun challenge.  I began sketching and though I was using watercolor paints, on auto pilot, I went in as if with a pen, drawing lines.

I struggled to capture the snarl, the curve of the flesh around the nose, the twist of the tongue.  So I decided to focus on negative space and bigger shapes and see if that could help.

Here you see my start with the big negative shapes.

I wish I could say I was doing this blind, but I wasn't.  For whatever reason, my hand/eye coordination was off this day!   But I kept going, trying to use color to mark out the spaces around the lips and eyes.

It led to an interesting and lively--if not entirely accurate--result. 

But actually, I kind of like this sketch.  There's a fierce energy to it.

Here are the pages scanned, with the images a bit more clear.

I decided to try a different coyote model for my next sketches.  Still using watercolors, I picked one I could draw straight on.  Below you see the sketch in front of the model, and then a clearer scan of just the sketch.  As you can see, I continue to struggle to capture the perspective of a nose pointed toward me!

I very much enjoyed feeling my way around the subject with my brush and colors.

For my final sketch of the day, I kept the same model, but took a giant step to the right, just changing the angle that much.  And I switched up my media.  I wanted to keep with watercolor tools,  so I used just one watercolor pencil, and did a monochrome scribble.

Because by this time (a good forty-five minutes into my session) I was well and truly warmed up and familiar with my subject, this sketch happened very quickly.  I felt confident and loose.  When I went back over the sketch with a waterbrush for shading, I felt like I knew exactly what to do.

This reminds me a bit of my earlier work with the skeleton model.  It took me several drawings of the same subject (two different models of coyote) to get enough familiarity with the animal to begin to think more about what I might do with it.

If you can find taxidermy in your area, I recommend scribbling sessions!  No matter the media, you can have a lot of fun and learn a lot by drawing the same animal model.  All you need to do is change your angle slightly and you have a new drawing challenge!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Painting from a Snorkeling Photo Is Like a Mini Vacation

More working big in my July watercolor class--I decided to tackle an underwater subject and work from a photograph.  Both of these are things I have very little experience with.

 I chose a photo I took while snorkeling in the U.S Virgin Islands a few years ago.  Since I love snorkeling and underwater photography, I have literally thousands of wonderful photos I could work with, if I could develop my skills at painting from photos.  It's not as easy as it seems.

You can see here from the picture of my workspace in the art studio that I worked pretty simply.  An ipad (for a large version of the photo), two water containers, a 1.5 inch flat for the entire painting, my small palette with eighteen or so colors, and my paint box, with the same colors, so I could get more paint for bigger areas if I needed it.

There's a pen there on the table, but I didn't use it in the painting at all.  I was probably taking notes with it...

One of the big challenges for me was to continue to focus on shapes and volume.  So I decided to use only that big wash brush for this painting and see how I could do.

Pretty well, actually!  It kept me more loose, kept my arm moving from the shoulder, and I think resulted in more expressive work with the paint and the animal.

This took me remarkably little time--maybe about a total of 30 minutes of painting time, not counting the time it took for each layer of paint/water to dry.  Overall, it took me closer to two hours, but I spent the dry time on this painting working on other things in my sketchbook.

I am not entirely sure what I think of the background hues, but I am quite pleased with the fish and the angle.

However, I could tear the piece up and never see it again and the time spent would be well worth it!  I so enjoyed focusing on just this one photograph and just this one animal.  During the entire painting process, I felt transported back to the sea, floating in the warm water, watching the astonishing and busy life that occurs just off shore and out of my "normal" landlocked sight.  Snorkeling is my most favorite thing to do (and I sure wish I could find a cheap way to do it, so I could do it more often!), and to use my art to bring it back to life is just bonus.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Working with a Skeleton

As part of my July watercolor class, I had the wonderful experience of working with a skeleton for the first time.  He or she (no one in the class knew or could tell) could be posed, so the instructor had him/her sitting in a chair up on a riser so that the ribs were about even with my head.

That led to the interesting angle of having to draw the skull from below.

Since the subject felt so complicated and strange, I added a bit of comfort to my experience by drawing contours first with a Pentel Pocket Brush pen.  The upper scribble here resulted from my first attempt.  The lower was my second.

You can see that in the first one I attempted to show some shading with the brush pen but it wasn't working for me that day.  I didn't have the patience.  So I mixed a lovely gray watercolor and went in with that.  Much better.

Also, I enjoyed seeing how much the second attempt improved!  A reminder that whenever learning a new skill, I shouldn't judge myself on a first attempt.  Or probably any single attempt, as a bad day, or a bad drawing, can happen at any time!

You would think at fifty-three years of age I'd have learned this by now.  I know that it is true.  But why do I need constant reminders?

Anyhow, I tackled it again with a dip pen and some purple ink, just to see how I could do with the shading, now that I felt a bit more comfortable with the subject.

I tried it again a few days later, with some new Daniel Smith sepia watercolor.  My goals here were to test out the new color as a monochrome paint, work with the skeleton some more, try out some new rough surface watercolor paper I had purchased, and attempt to draw shapes instead of contours.

I did three drawings on one piece of the paper.  You could probably guess that the upper left came first, then the upper right, then the lower sketch.  Each one gets better with the structure and the shadow shapes.

I really like this page, this set of sketches, because it shows the progress that can be made in just one hour (or so) of trying, then trying again, then trying again.  I think I might frame it just to use it as an example for my creative writing students.  

Next session, I decided to try the sepia paint (which I completely love for monochrome work!!) and do a "heroic" study--a painting of the skull bigger than life.  Again, I wanted to try to represent shadow shapes and volume instead of starting with contours (like I do when I sketch with pen).  This is on 18 x 24 Strathmore 400 watercolor paper.

I am super pleased with the results of this.

My last work with the skeleton is a piece that took me several days.  I took a photo of him/her sitting in the chair in the art studio.  The walls behind are gridded with artwork by former students.  I wanted to play with color and big shapes and aim for a sketchy, scribbly feel and just see what happened.   This is on 22 x 30 rough paper. 

Okay, that was a lot of fun!  And super hard.  The ribs and the grid on the wall came pretty easily, mirroring each other, I thought.  But holy cow I couldn't render the skull to my satisfaction.  Not nearly as well as I had in earlier sketches.  Like I said, no matter where you are in the process, there's always the bad day or the bad drawing.

So, while parts of this piece are overworked (because, frankly, I just wiped down and started again on that skull, knowing it would end up murky, but attempting to learn something from the practice), I like the colors and lines and general composition.  And I really like the idea.  I may try to do it again some time in the future.

I wonder if I can gain access to this or another skeleton if I'm not in a class?  I have to investigate that.  If you've never drawn from a skeleton, or even just a skull, I recommend it.  The subtleties amazed me!

And once again, scribbling has led me to a new appreciation of all the beauty that is around--and within--us!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Back to Going Big with Watercolor

As part of my July "Going Big" watercolor class, I decided to try a portrait of my Dutch Shepherd, Nikolaas.

I sketch him all the time, as you've seen if you read this blog, so I am familiar with the subject!  However, in this case, instead of working from life, I worked from a photo.

This is on 18 x 24 Strathmore 400 watercolor paper, with Daniel Smith paints.

First I sketched the main shapes in lightly with pencil.  Then I washed in the spots of quinacridone gold.  While that was still wet, I started the blue wash, because I wanted the colors to blend at the edges.

Still, I wound up with many harder edges than I had anticipated.  Probably I didn't soak the paper adequately before I started!  Live and learn!

Because of the strong cast of sunlight on the right and the strong shadow on the left, I planned from the start to only detail one of his eyes.  However, I couldn't get it placed right, not in the initial drawing or the initial washes.  I measured and measured, but it just didn't come out right.

I did this working in a tiny space, actually.  Just a portion of the table at my friends' house during our weekly Open Studio.  Best part of my week.

After I got home and things dried completely, I went back in with some glazing to darken the darks and warm up some of the gold.

I think I only used four colors in this work--quin gold, indanthrone blue, burnt sienna, and a second blue--maybe phthalo?--for his bright blue tag (and a bit of variation in the lake.

After spending so much time working with the flat photograph (which I think probably was what stymied me about the placement of that eye), I grabbed my trusty brush pen and journal and went outside to scribble Nik from life, while he played with his ball on a hot day.

I want to bring some of this scribbly liveliness into my bigger work!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hot Dog Cart at the Farmer's Market

A few weeks ago, I headed to the local Farmers Market to scribble a food cart and the people around it.

I took with me my handmade sketchbook of hot press Caonson watercolor paper, a travel palette of Schminke watercolors, a waterbrush, waterproof pen, two Neocolor II watercolor crayons, and a wrist band for wiping off the brush.

 At the market, I snagged a seat near the best hot dog stand I have ever experienced (man, the toppings!!!).

I captured the general outlines of the people as fast as I could, figuring I could fill in the cart more slowly, since it didn't move and the people did!

By the time I painted, by original human subjects were long gone, and I couldn't remember what colors he had worn.  So I picked what I wanted.  

Great fun!  Great hot dog.  This time, I had mine with chili.  But next time, I'm thinking sauerkraut and celery salt...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sketching at the County Fair Part Two

After a wonderful three hours sketching at the Ottawa County Fair on Thursday afternoon, July 28 (see those sketches here), I returned for another three hours on Friday morning.

The sky looked ominous.

But no rain came.

I met with my sketching friend, Julie, and we went straight to the goat show in the pavilion.  There, I not only drew a lot of goats, but I got to learn about showing goats from a proud grandmother of some competitors.  Notes about what I learned from her add to the fun of the sketches, I think.

From there we went from bunnies to birds to cows and eventually, when I realized I only had two journal cards left, I went back to the rescue donkeys, Bowie and Red.  They had been my first sketches when I arrived the day before, and I wanted them to be my last sketches of the event.

All in all, it was a terrific experience!  I learned that I have the stamina to sketch for over three hours straight.  I loved working with the journal cards.  It was definitely worth it to carry water, even though it is heavy.  The tiny amounts of paint in the Richeson child's palette (filled with my own selection of 8 Daniel Smith paints) lasted through about seven hours of sketching, no problem, with plenty left.  So it is the perfect lightweight palette for an event like this.

Below are the 16 cards I did on day two, in order.

If you ever have a chance to sketch out at a local county fair, I really recommend it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sketching at the County Fair Part One

Last week I attended the Ottawa County Fair to scribble.  I attended both Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

I prepared "journal cards," something I learned from Roz Stendahl's blog post on "unbound journals."

I bought one 22 x 30 sheet of Strathmore 500 Gemini cold press watercolor paper because it is super stiff.  I tore it down to 16 pieces roughly 5 x 7.  I pre-painted them all with abstract shapes using Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet.  I wasn't sure how this would look in the end, but Roz suggested it would eliminate fear of the white page and help the resulting sketches look more like a set.

I prepared my tiny Jack Richeson's child's palette with 8 colors--two red, two blue, two yellow, burnt sienna and a green--all Daniel Smith colors.

I included two permanent fineliners, wrist band (for brush wiping), waterbrush, paper towel, hat, water, pencil... and I was ready to go!  Very excited to meet my sketching friend, Julie, for an afternoon of discovery and drawing!

I didn't really know anything about the fairgrounds so I just wandered into the first barn.  There I found Red and Bowie, two abused donkeys who had been rescued and were there to get used to people.  Seemed a good option for a first subject.  They stood very still, until Red decided that perhaps a journal card might make a lovely snack.

It was super hot, and my sketching friend was about to arrive, so I sat in the shade near an outdoor duck and goose enclosure.

After Julie arrived, we investigated each barn, stopping to draw, and to plan for our return trip the next day.

Julie became great friends with a calf.

So, I sketched for just about three hours.  My goal was to produce sixteen sketches in that time, focusing on speed with accuracy in balance.  The sketches, four of which I completed after I got home, are below in the order I did them.  You can see what a delightful result came from that pre-painting I did!!

Be sure to check out the Part Two post for the rest of my sketches.