I used to be so afraid of drawing people. Paralyzed, even. As soon as I made a mark on paper they would move and then I would erase what I had done and start again. But I can say with certainty that daily drawing practice has helped me so much. It’s like practicing scales for a musician. You just keep hitting those notes, or in my case making the marks on paper, and eventually it gets better or easier or both. Drawing is work. But with practice your sense of proportion gets better, your lines more expressive and if the whole expresses the essence of what you see, then the details don’t matter as much. My point is that a year ago I might have spent 10 minutes getting his hood just right but today in that time I had the whole thing drawn and coloured. It may not be a perfect drawing but the essence of the surveyor on a cold sunny day has been captured.
I went out this morning with two ideas: I wanted to work on sky and I was going to tackle it wet-in-wet. The closest place to my house with a good sky view is at McGill’s Macdonald Campus Farm where I have painted many times before. But do you know what it is like to paint wet-in-wet in a really cold car? The paper never dries and everything goes all soft. The composition is a little dull, the subject matter conventional but I was happy with my sky. Now I just hope my toes warm up.
I sketched today with my friend Marc Taro Holmes at an excellent exhibition of Samurai armour and objects at the Musée Pointe-à-Callière in Old Montreal. It’s the private collection of Richard Béliveau and among the objects are 19 complete samurai suits. I confess that I don’t know much about the history of the Samurai (although Marc has done some amazing Samurai drawings) so it was fascinating to see these suits up close and be able to examine the detailing in the helmets, the masks, the metalwork in the armour, the fabrics and the laces that hold them all together. The helmets were the most fun to draw because of their unusual shapes and the decorations that adorn them, like this dragon. The room is quite crowded so we only drew with pencil but I would have loved to add a vibrant red to the flames around the brass ornament.
This just in: Urban Sketchers now has a print shop on Society6 where you can buy fine art prints of many of your favorite correspondents and contributors (me included). The proceeds go to supporting Urban Sketchers and the annual symposium, so all for a good cause. All artwork is printed on 100% cotton rag, archival quality paper, available in different sizes, and you can even order them framed. There are some amazing sketches in the collection and it will be updated often, so please have a look.
I waste a lot of time driving around trying to find the perfect place to sketch. So my new tactic is to have my book with me and sketch if I am in a waiting room, or on my lunch hour or in the case of today, in the grocery store. One thing I can tell you is that the butcher and the fishmonger were a lot more interested in what I was doing than the students in the lunchroom. I had to show everyone my sketches and in the case of Muhammed, the butcher, I had to promise to bring him a photocopy of the sketch (especially since he insisted on posing so nicely for me with his filet mignon.)
Here’s another view of the students in a lounge at my school at lunchtime. Looking around the room I realize almost everyone is on some sort of device. That makes them pretty good drawing subjects because usually they sit still for a long time, giving me the chance to capture their gestures. And being a teacher, I am virtually invisible to them. They look around occasionally to see if any friends have shown up but a teacher in their midst outside of classroom time is of little or no interest to them. Perfect!
I was drawing students on my lunchtime break today and I decided to paint this with no pen or pencil lines to start. Straight to paint!! Working this way requires that you look at only the big shapes and that you pare them down to the essentials. And it helps if you can lose some edges. For example, have a look at the way I treated her left arm and hands. One white shape with no lines in between. This is the first page of my 11th watercolour sketchbook, a book that will be used exclusively for working this way. No pencil. No pen. Just painted shapes. I’ll keep you posted.
Any drawing practice is time well spent, even if you only have a few minutes. Taking the time to look at an object in space, or the shadow it casts on a surface or how its planes catch the light are all valuable ways of training the eye. Even if you realize later that part of the power cord leads to nowhere, you have at least learned to look a little better next time.
Maybe I was thinking of Valentine’s Day when I headed towards this little chocolate shop in Pointe Claire village, although now that I look at the final painting I think it might have been Hallowe’en instead. I painted this same building last year when there was just a sprinkling of snow on the ground. It was hard to find contrast in the overcast light today: white house, light sky, snow on the ground and no shadows, so when I added the tree I think it gave it a little drama.
Painted from my car on Fabriano Artistico cold pressed paper, 140 lb, 9″ x 12″.
…can someone sketch it? In winter?
Apparently you can if you are wearing mittens, a hat, a warm coat and a double layer of socks. Since the colours today are primarily duotone, I used a black and two blue water-soluble pencils and a Pentel brush pen for this, adding the water to the shadows once I returned home.
I missed an opportunity for some good car painting today. Only realized after I had done this from my kitchen window that I was missing a spectacular winter day with great long shadows on fresh snow. There’s always tomorrow…