It’s a bit of a silly thing to draw — the natural sponge that was sitting on my drafting table — but after I drew it, I realized it might be a symbol. A symbol of freedom, for a little while, from teaching and grading and preparing for classes. A symbol for the next few weeks of drawing and painting and soaking up whatever I see. And of getting back to posting more regularly. Can’t wait.
I’ve thrown caution to the wind. Chucked the rule book out the window. For years I made greens from various blue and yellow combinations but now they come straight out the tube. And because I don’t have to add lots of water to make the mixes I can get purer and more saturated colour. Don’t know why I waited so long…
As a reward to myself for finishing classes yesterday, I decided to paint a snow scene before attacking the pile of student projects that need to be graded. With several storms hitting Montreal in quick succession yesterday and today, it was probably a prudent idea to stay at home and capture a view from my window.
I haven’t had much time to do any planning before I paint these days so I thought it might be a good idea to do a value sketch first. It didn’t take much work to figure out the placement of the whites and the darks. The big tree out my window provided all the contrast.
The next step was the pencil drawing. Nothing too complicated, just the big shapes on a quarter sheet of Fabriano Artistico. No need to add all the details like the texture in the trees. That will be done with a brush later on.
The big darks of the trees were the first shapes that I painted, all with a two-inch flat. In this step I was thinking about edge quality — hard edge on the right and textured on the left where the snow overlaps the tree. I wanted to put those down first so I would know how dark to make the midtones.
The second step was the big mid tone shapes.
The last step: a bit more texture in the bark, and then the wall of trees behind the house.
And now to the grading…
Outdoor painting season is over. There’s snow on the ground and the temperature on the thermometer is way under the zero mark. So why would I think that I could paint a watercolour outside? Denial of winter perhaps? Eternal optimism? Yesterday I packed up my easel and set it up in the snow, in the woods near my house. I even added some vodka to my water bottle to prevent freezing. Had I thought about it a little bit longer I would have realized that at -9C painting outside would be impossible. No need to describe what happened to the paint and water mix on my palette. You can probably imagine. Today I sketched from the warmth of a window view at school, baseboard heater warming my feet.
A few weeks ago a friend recommended that I try a field sketching technique from painter Edward Norton Ward. Instead of using sketchbooks, Ward tapes down a number of quarter sheets of watercolour paper onto a support board. When one sketch is finished, he removes the tape and under that he has a new sheet of paper. I was curious about this painter whose work I had never seen so I ordered his book “First Impressions: Sketching Nature in Watercolor”. He paints in a wonderfully loose way and many of the sketches in the book are painted in less than thirty minutes. What??? Less than thirty minutes. Sounds like a challenge if ever there was one. So armed with my taped quarter sheets, and knowing that I had to be at school in less than two hours, I set out on this rainy, slushy and snowy day to find a place to paint. The sketch below is what I managed to do (in my car) in that amount of time. No lines added after, no work done at home, and mostly painted with a 1″ flat brush. It’s a great exercise that forces you to look at the big shapes and also to try to get the values right the first time. And as the name of the book suggests, it really is about capturing that first impression. It’s something I will definitely be trying again.
Do you have a favourite pen? One that feels like it was made for your hand, for your way of drawing, for the types of lines you want to make. I don’t. I have given my Lamy Safari (a favourite of many sketchers I know) plenty of chances to perform, but for me the nib on that pen is just not flexible enough. I’ve also used many different weights of Micron pens, especially the 005 but the nibs wear out way too quickly, even before the ink runs out. Sharpies are a little too fat. Pitt pens are too stiff.
Yesterday during a clean up of my studio, I spent a bit of time refilling pens and in the back of a drawer discovered the Tradio Stylo by Pentel, a pen I’ve only used once before. It ended up in my bag, followed me to school today, and made an appearance while I was drawing on a break. I’ve been looking for something that has a line that can go from thick to thin, depending on the pressure, and I think this one fits the bill. I tried it while drawing the girl (on her phone) and the boy (on his phone) and I love the flexibility of the angled nib. As you can see, the ink it comes with is water-soluble and very black, and I can get a more expressive line with it than with the stiffer nib on the Safari.
To fully put it to the test I stopped on my way home from school and did a little drawing of the church and presbytery in Pointe Claire. I was using cheap sketchbook paper but I was able to draw right on top of the wash areas after they dried. For me, this pen is a winner. So what’s your line?
I’ve never been much of a fan of using masking fluid in watercolour. I tried it many years ago (it was thick and greyish), probably ruined a few brushes in the process and threw out the bottle. It always seems so obvious that an area in a painting has been masked and besides, I’d rather just paint around the whites. Despite my hesitation about using the stuff, I bought some recently to use on a freelance illustration job that I’m working on. I have to save a light area in a large, gradated wash and I’m pretty sure it will be quite impossible to paint around it. I tested out the masking fluid (Daniel Smith brand) on this apple sketch (in the apple highlights) just to see if the stuff is any better than I remember it. Fortunately it is. It’s a lot easier to apply, much thinner, transparent and very easy to remove with a rubber cement pick up. And now that I’m older and wiser, I also remembered to wash the frisket out of the brush before I ruined it.