Friday, September 30, 2016

Blog Breakdown

Hello, all!

Just a quick note that thanks to my desperate attempts to overcome a sudden proliferation of my photos on Google Photos ( where 950 some photos suddenly became 3600 and climbing! and everything suddenly out of order too), I broke all the image connections in many of my blog posts.

So, well, I guess the weekend will be devoted to redoing an entire year's worth of blog posts.

No new drawing... but I guess I'll get to revisit my drawing for the year!  (How's that for looking on the bright side?)

Lesson learned:  upload every image directly from the computer and do not rely on Google Photos for stability.

If anyone has any tips about how to avoid such catastrophe (other than moving to Flickr), I'd love to hear it.

Hope to be up and back to normal soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tiny Sketches of a Favorite Road

One of the routes on which I walk my dogs is a dirt road.  At the corner of the main, paved road, and this seasonal two-track, stands a pair of broken up stone pillars.

Every time I walk by them I think, dang, I'd like to paint that.  But I'm not sure how.  That is a lot of stones.

It just seems like it would take a lot of time to do and do well, and me, well, I'm a scribbler.  An impatient sketcher.  I can spend a lot of time on one drawing, but I prefer to catch them with fast lines and lots of energy.

But recently I remember the Fifty Tiny Watercolors project I did last December.  Why not do a few tiny watercolors of that stone road?  No detail, really, but just capturing the shapes and the light.  And if I like it well enough, well, maybe a more detailed picture could come in the future.

I thought about composition and decided to do just the one pillar that often stands in the sunlight, with the road curving off into the woods behind it.

First, I started with ink, as I often do.  I just feel secure with my ink pen. This scribble is less than an inch wide.

 I dashed on some color to capture a sense of the light and dark, and away I went.... on to the next sketch!

Next, only watercolors, just to see what would happen.  I'm capturing composition and a sense of some of the values.  Kind of like a thumbnail sketch but with color.  This one is closer to 2x3 inches.

Next, I did a more careful watercolor, a smidgeon bigger.  Maybe closer to 4x6 inches.  Still wet in wet and not a lot of detail, looking at lights and shapes. 

I found myself stymied by what my eye saw as a space of very dark dark green behind and around the pillar.  I couldn't seem to represent it without getting a heavy dark blob in that area. 

I tried one more time, bringing back the ink, trying to capture the shape o the road and the blackness of the dark dense woods behind the pillar.

These were all a great challenge for me, and terrific fun.  I completed all four little sketches in well under an hour.   I got to try and try and try again with the challenges of representing the stones, the structure of the crumbling pillar and the highly sunlit areas against the shadows of the dense woods.

For me, in this time and with this place, this approach to sketching a favorite landscape was much more entertaining and satisfying that creating one single extensive work would have been.  My impatient scribbling self felt satisfied by the speed and energy with which I allowed myself to work and I learned a lot about the location and the challenges of representing it in the process!

I look forward to trying this technique again, here or elsewhere.  Multiple quick sketches of the same scene, just to see what new things you can see or depict each time!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Drawing the Scene Outside My Window

Recently I wanted to work on capturing my quick scribbly sort of style, the one I use so freely in my sketchbooks, on bigger 18 x 24 paper.

For some reason, when I work on bigger paper, I feel like I need a subject worthy of that size of paper.  So, instead of just drawing the thing in front of me, like I do all the time in my sketchbook, I fuss around trying to figure out what I will draw.

Well, a few weeks ago I decided to give it a whirl.  I was simply going to do a pen and watercolor sketch of whatever I could see looking out my window.  And I was going to create the piece in the same way that I work in my sketchbook--only bigger.

No fussing about doing better work because the paper is bigger!!

So, here is my direct pen sketch of two of the trees and a chair in my side year.

After I did this, I decided to add the split rail fence in my neighbor's yard.  Then I began adding watercolor--a first wash of colors, to identify the light and shadow shapes.

I liked this quite a bit, and had gotten this far in maybe a half an hour.   At this point, I walked away to let it dry (which didn't take too long).

Then I went back to add additional layers of color, to deepen the shadows and make the colors more vibrant.   Here is the final version:

This experience really pleased me.  I worked quickly and freely, without fussing, as I usually do in my sketchbook.   I captured the image of my side yard in late summer.  I practiced scribbling in a bigger format, which really has some delightful physical benefits!  I stand when I work.  I move my whole arm and my whole body in ways that I don't when working on a small page.

Yes, it took longer than a journal page because it required more paint and more water to cover the larger sheet.  But I certainly will do this again.  It's a great way to make everything feel different, and helped me overcome the mental blocks to working on large paper.

Beware perfectionism and anything that makes it come to life!  No need to fuss any more over big paper than on small paper.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Wonderful Pen and Ink Tips by Thomas Fluharty

I recently found this wonderful, informative, and fun blog post by Thomas Fluharty entitled, "10 Pen and Ink Drawing Techniques and Tips."

As he says:

The starkness and simplicity of pen and ink drawing can really challenge one’s artistic skills.

Yep.  True for me.  I love pen and ink and how fast I can capture things, like this capturing my napping pets.

But I want to continue to get better with my fast scribbles.

I've bookmarked the page, as well as sharing it here, so I can study those tips again!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Using TV Sports to Practice Humans in Motion

I love the Olympics.

Lots of reasons.  I enjoy watching a bunch of sports I know nothing about.  I like watching elite performers do their thing.  I love the fact that I can turn on the TV at any time and find something to watch that won't scare the bejeezus out of me.

This past Olympics, I found another reason to enjoy the event:  an opportunity to practice sketching people in motion.  Fast motion.  FAST!

But, the great thing about most sports, I learned, is that if you watch long enough, most athletes return to the same basic stance over and over.  Maybe not in a 10 second run, but in heat after heat leading up the final 10 second run, you see a lot of the same movement.

So I decided to give it a try.  I used my pen, watched, looked for repeated movements, and tried to capture those.

Each one of the figures in these little sketches is a composite of multiple moments when a particular athlete--or in some cases, several athletes--assumed a position.  I'd try to memorize one or two things, and angle of the head, or the negative shape between the arm and the body, and get that with my pen.  Then I'd sit and wait and watch until I saw the position again.

I only added color and shadow shapes after I had completed the basic outlines of the figures.

This is a marvelous and relaxing way to spend some time, though it does take a lot of time to get a complete image.   It also felt like a fine use of quality watercolor paper scraps that are too small for much of anything else!

This is a completely different way of observing and drawing than my days of very fast scribbling at the county fairs and the zoo!

I hope to get much more practice sketching athletes in motion this fall, watching my nephew play college soccer!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

My First Sketching Trip to a Zoo

Not long ago, I took a half day trip to a nearby zoo with my visiting nephew.  I haven't been to a zoo since I started drawing live subjects in public (thanks to a wonderful class by the magnificent Roz Stendahl).  And I felt emboldened by my recent county fair sketchouts, so I thought I'd take along some stuff and sketch.

My goal was to move at my nephew's pace, and not to stop and thoroughly get to know an animal before I sketched it.  I viewed this as an exploratory outing: what animals live at the zoo?  Where are they?  What is the viewing like?

So we moved fast and I sketched and painted fast.  I was able to completely twelve 8x8 pages, in a homemade sketchbook using Aquabee Super Deluxe sketch paper, in about three hours.

In this first page, I specifically left a space to glue in the ticket when I got home.  I noted the date and arrival time.

Then I started with the first animals we encountered.

The spider monkeys moved very fast, and I quickly realized that I wasn't going to try to get any details or paint down.  I just grabbed gestures, noticing the way they used all five limbs to hang and sit and flop.  Then one monkey spent a long time examining something at the bottom of a bucket, so I was able to do a bit more detail on that.

I also decided at this point to mark each drawing with a time mark.

Next we went into a "tropics" building.  Sloths!!  Sloths are very nice zoo animals to draw.

It turns out that nothing in the tropics exhibit moves very fast, so I was able to take a bit more time with close-ups and paint application.

We had noted the penguin feeding time when we walked into the zoo, so we rushed over there to watch.  This proved to be a great sketching opportunity because the birds stood fairly still watching the feeder and the crowds stood fairly still watching the feeding.  I realized that, for me at least, penguins are really hard to draw.  I think this might be because I have strong image in my head of a penguin, and it is based largely on animation!  Anyhow, this was a great exercise in observation.

 Next we wandered through the big cat section, but none were out.  However, we did find a grizzly bear, asleep in the shade except for its head, which was out in the bright warm sun.  Because of the angle and distance, I found the mouth area particularly challenging.  I feel like what I sketched was quite accurate, but my brain couldn't make sense of what it was seeing.

As we meandered toward the tiger exhibit, which is up a bluff higher than the rest of the zoo, I was able to look down on the camels waiting to be saddled for camel rides.  I grabbed the opportunity to sketch from this unique angle, and in a few minutes completed what might be my favorite sketch of the day!

A wallaby exhibit came next and I don't know if I was getting tired or if wallabies just aren't my thing, but I couldn't get a fair likeness.

Things settled out when we got to the lemurs, however.  This minimal sketch really appeals to me because I feel like I got the body weight distribution, and the head and tail just right.  You can see from my lines it took me a few tries!

Perhaps the greatest challenge of the day for me--drawing-wise--came with the chimpanzees.  I am not sure why.  Maybe because they are the closest to humans, but so very different.  I caught myself just using the pen to explore shapes and angles, which is why these look so very scribbly.  I was getting to know the subject with the pen.

At our last stop on the way out we passed an area of flamingos and tapirs.  Flamingos, like penguins, proved super hard for me, I think because my brain believed it knew what a flamingo looked like, and kept trying to draw what it knew instead of the animal in front of me.  It proved a really interesting exercise in letting go of pre-conceived notions and dealing with reality!

Unlike the flamingos, the tapir was easy to draw, maybe because I'd never really looked at one before!  So I was not fighting my brain's idea of what a tapir should look like.

This one delighted me because it was snoring away during a deep nap, with its nose mushed against the ground, and so twisted at an angle to the rest of its face.  Its teeth showed.  Its lips burbled as it snored.  Really fun to draw.

By this time, we had to leave.  I had a wonderful and tiring time scribbling at the zoo.  If I were to go back, I would plan to go alone and do it differently, perhaps picking only a few animals to watch and draw over and over.

I have to confess, the zoo sketching experience was not nearly as fun for me as scribbling at the county fairs.  The animals at the fairs seemed relaxed and interested and interactive.  The zoo animals seemed bored and maybe unhappy.  I could get much closer to the animals at the county fairs, and really observe details, while at the zoo I had to draw many animals from quite a distance.  Finally, the overall visiting experience at the fair matched my mood more.  In the animal barns at the fairs, people respected the animals, moved with purpose, watched out for other people.  Adults spoke quietly to their kids for the most part, pointing out things about the animals.  They also kept their children contained, not allowing them to run and scream at the animals and bang on cages and so on, which I saw constantly at the zoo.  It horrified me to see so little respect for the animals in the people there.  Not the workers!  The visitors.

I'd love to see a sort of "adult swim" instituted at the zoo, when adults only can go--no one under 18 admitted.  I wonder if that would be better?

Have others had similar experiences at other zoos?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sketching with the iPad

One day, when I returned to my favorite sketching place--The Call of the Wild in Gaylord, Michigan--I decided that instead of taking pen and paints and paper, I would take my iPad.

I have an iPad pro, with the Apple Pencil, and I do LOVE it for creating art, even though I don't spend nearly as much time with it, learning it, as I wish I could.  The iPad is my go to for drawing sketchnotes of events or meetings or videos or articles, but I don't use it so much for practicing sketching.  So I decided to give it a try today.

First, I revisited some of the animals I have drawn recently.  I tried mimicking the effects (and process) of using pen and of using watercolor.

That was super fun.

I felt warmed up, but really aware of how unfamiliar with the iPad drawing tools I am.  So, I decided to do the rest of my drawings with familiar animals--white-tailed deer.  I see these animals frequently near where I live.

Well, I don't know what I was thinking.  I may see deer all the time, but I never draw them.  So, heck, I might as well have been drawing something I'd never seen before.  Because as I often note, I see a lot of things in my world, but don't really pay attention to them until I draw them.

I learned quickly that deer are kind of hard to draw!

It hit me only after finishing these drawings that on the iPad, I can instantly make duplicates of my drawings (yes, sometimes, I am slow).  So I made a duplicate of the buck and used some of that white space to journal.

In call of the wild there are a few animatronic exhibits chronicling the story of one particular early settler.  His speech plays over and over on a loop, and I hear it dozens of times while I draw.  Today, this one struck me anew, and I copied it onto the drawing.

So I have to say I really liked the experience of sketching with the iPad.  I liked the portability, not having to deal with water or sharpeners.  I liked being able to duplicate and journal on a drawing without "ruining" the drawing.

What I didn't like was the weight of the iPad on my arm.  It outweighs my small journals and after an hour my wrist was quite sore.

And, of course, it wouldn't work in many sketching situations, like in bright sun or in any sort of wet weather, or in the dark like at a concert.

Glad I tried it though.  And I'll try it again.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sketching a Canadian Lynx

Still working from a taxidermy specimen at Call of the Wild in Gaylord, Michigan, I spend some time studying a Canadain Lynx.

For this set of scribbles, I started with a blind contour drawing.   You can see that at the top of the first page below.  A blind contour is a sketch of just the outline of the shape of the object, drawing with your eyes locked on the object.  You never look at the pen on the paper once you start drawing.

Blind contour drawings often result in goofy scribbles that don't look much like the object--but then again, somehow, they do.  They pick up interesting energy and shapes that while not technically accurate, often have a "true" life of their own.

After the blind contour, I finished out the page with a close-up of the animals's facial structure.  Two really different types of drawings to warm up my eyes and brain and hand and heart.

Then I tried a portrait of the creature with just watercolor.  I wanted to use an unrealistic color, but also approach the painting a bit like a drawing, just to see what it would look like.

You can see how the warm-up ink drawings, the contour and the facial structure study, helped me create this portrait.  I really like the variation of line weight and color, which adds, I think, a liveliness to the viewing experience (at least to mine!).

Consider scribbling something in unrealistic colors and see what you discover!


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Watercolor Sketch of a Barred Owl

Did this quick scribble of a barred owl from a taxidermy specimen at Call of the Wild in Gaylord, Michigan.

You can see that I started with quick contour explorations with a pen, mostly to place the eyes and beak.  Then I went back in and filled out the sketch with watercolor.

I completed this in less than five minutes while standing in a mostly dark corridor.

I enjoyed letting my eyes and the brush follow the patterns of colors in the feathers.  I am a fan of this owl in particular because I have them in the woods surrounding my home and I hear them most evenings when I walk my dogs.  I rarely see them, but I know they are there.  So somehow, this felt a bit like getting to know my neighbors better.