I have taken on some new teaching responsibilities at school that require me to teach all day Friday so I only had time to do a quick sketch in the faculty lunchroom. But after yesterday’s disturbing experience on the street I thought it would be kind of nice to sit in a quiet room and draw this guy eating his sandwich.
I haven’t had time to respond to all the comments from yesterday but I wanted to thank everyone who sent advice and wrote about similar experiences. It was much appreciated!
When I first started urban sketching it took me some time to feel comfortable (as in not self-conscious) sketching in public. Attending the Urban Sketchers workshop in Santo Domingo pretty much cured me of any residual reticence about standing and drawing in the middle of a crowd. I am always careful of my belongings as I sketch because sometimes I get really absorbed in what I am doing and am not too aware of what people are up to around me. It struck a chord when I read about how USK blog correspondent René Fitjen had all his beloved sketch gear stolen at the Brussels train station. And then while I was sketching today I had a bit of unpleasant incident of my own. I was in the middle of a fairly busy street, sitting on a bench, when a man appeared suddenly and stood in front of me, blocking my view and acting a bit confrontational. I think anyone who sketches outside ends up talking to people who come to peek over your shoulder and have a look at what you are doing. But this man was clearly aggressive and although he asked me a lot of questions about what I was doing, he stood too close and at one point he even tried to grab my sketchbook. In the end nothing came of the incident. I kept on sketching, trying to ignore him and eventually he moved on but it did leave me with a bit of a chill and it wasn’t only because I was sitting outside in 5° weather.
There was a great debate in the comments section of yesterday’s sketch about the educational value of posting an unfinished or unsuccessful work. I was very torn about what to do, but in the end the teacher in me won out.
A few days ago I started this street scene but never completed it. My first wash was wet-on-dry and I wasn’t very satisfied so I tried to wash it out and paint wet-in-wet. This turned out to be a disaster because the pigment I had used in the sky stained the paper. My intention was to have a gray mix in the upper right corner but when I attempted to rinse it, the blue washed away and I was left with a horrible brown stain in the sky. No matter. I persisted to add colour but the underpainting gave a dirty glow to everything. I abandoned mid-way through.
A few days later I made a colour sketch to clarify the direction I was going to take and posted that yesterday. Below is the finished painting. This time I chose a 300lb Winsor Newton paper and proceeded with caution. It is easy to get overly excited when you are starting a painting and jump right into adding colour to the paper. But in this case, planning the values first and the colours second helped me to know where I was going.
A few days ago I posted a value sketch that looked something like this (but monochrome) for a painting I was planning to work on. Well, I turned it into a painting and it was a disaster. And the reason was that I had thought about the values but not the colours. So when I went to put some pigment on the paper it was a huge mess. Plus I added a first wash on dry paper and then decided I wanted to work wet-in-wet so I tried to rinse out what I had done. Yikes! Some of the pigments were staining and they left an unpleasant glow on the paper. It goes without saying that it will never be posted. This new sketch is my attempt to figure out the colour first so I don’t mess it up a second time.
This post should really be called “The stuff I haven’t done ’cause I’ve been sketching”. Transferring these perennials to a hole in the ground before winter really sets in is one of many chores on a long list in my head. But who wants to do that stuff when you can paint instead? I know I have painted these pots before — there are spring and fall renditions — but the long winter shadows were too beautiful to resist. And the chores, well, they will get done eventually.
I don’t do much painting at dusk but today I was near the lake at just the right time so I did a quick sketch in the car. It was harder than I imagined. The winter light changes so fast! In the span of 15 minutes (the time it took to put most of the information down) I went from being able to see my colours on my palette and on my paper to practically working blind. I had to darken the branches when I got home. It was a great exercise in speed painting.
Every time I go to the Jean Talon Market I notice these back alley structures — mostly houses with sheds and garages, and some gardens in between. But the most interesting one, by far, is a two-storey shed with an outdoor walkways that leads up to the house. I hope to paint this sometime soon so I have been working out the values for it.
Doing these little value sketches helps me immensely to clarify what I want to do in the painting. At the same time I can eliminate unnecessary shapes that I feel will detract from the composition. And as always, if it works out, I will post it.