There’s not much to paint in my neighbourhood these days. Let’s see — there’s either snow, or more snow, or objects with snow on them. And then good luck trying to find a place to park to sketch these snow scenes, since the snow hasn’t been cleared everywhere. It took some searching but I finally found a parking lot at the boat club where a plow had passed by. When the snow is falling the lights and darks are closer together on the value scale, but this little arrangement of ghost boats provided some interesting shapes and contrast.
Last week at life drawing I found the half-hour poses difficult. Not enough time to really complete a quarter-sheet painting, and too long for a quick sketch. Today I decided to pick a focus for the thirty-minute poses. Marie has amazing hair — thick and curly — beautiful both piled on top of her head, or flowing over her shoulders. And the purple feather earrings in the first pose just added to the drama.
After spending a few hours this week watching Marc’s course “Sketching people in motion” on Craftsy.com, I decided to try his process in the field (which was in fact at a senior’s home). I had a small Moleskine in my bag, along with some pens and pencils and I spotted this man at a table. I started with a gesture pencil drawing, moved from there to a loose line with ink, added some contact shadows with brush pen (all in about 10 minutes) and filled in with colour at home. Now normally I would probably be thinking that the man might get up and walk away, and that might discourage me from starting in the first place. But the rough pencil lines allowed me to capture a lot of information — even if my model got up to change the channel on the tv —and I was still able to fill in a lot of the rest from memory. I think with practice you train yourself to look for where the contact shadows are right from the start. Marc’s method is clear and easy to follow and I’ll be using it again.
It was a good change today to dig into my painting bag and pull out my drawing pens. I haven’t used them for a while and was relieved to find that they haven’t dried out. I have to admit it’s a different type of looking that goes on when you do this kind of sketch. Instead of comparing and contrasting shapes, you think more about different types of wiggly lines to describe the wires or the stone or the metal fence. In my case, the line always goes down before the wash. That’s because if I paint first, I tend to outline the contours of the paint shapes, but if I draw first, what I hope to achieve is a little offset between the line and the wash that makes the sketch more dynamic.
I had only three-quarters of an hour to sketch today on my way to school so decided not to be overly optimistic about what can be accomplished in that time, in a cold car. The value (the relative degree of lightness or darkness) of a light object or structure in shadow is always a fascination for me. In other words, how dark can you make something (in this case the car in shade and the dark side of the light building) and still have it be perceived as a light object? I’ve sketched this scene many times but the snow always adds a more interesting aspect to it. It’s even better when I’m able to see a sliver of the red side door of the stone church, but there was a car parked in my usual spot today so all I had to draw was snow and stone.
Last summer when I was in Anacortes, Washington, I often passed a sign on the road for Lovric’s Sea-Craft, Shipyard and Marina. From the elevated road it’s hard to see the marina itself because it’s down a steep slope and obscured by trees. But the bits I saw were intriguing — a tangle of boats, big and small, as well as a massive structure that seemed to be a shipwreck covered in trees. One evening when I had a bit of time I parked nearby and went down to investigate. Turns out the shipwreck is an old schooner that’s been turned into a breakwater, but what I found incredibly beautiful was the end-of-day light on the other boats. I finally have a bit of time to work on a painting of the mysterious Lovric’s.
The planning stage of a painting is always the most exciting part of the process for me. When I have the time I like figuring out the values and the colours in advance so that when I get to the bigger painting, the direction has been set. I started with a small pencil value sketch where I blocked in the lights, darks and mid tones. What’s unusual for me in this particular sketch is that the lightest areas are the sky and the water instead of the boats themselves.
The second part of the process is often to go straight to a bigger painting, but for this one I want to be sure that I get the colours right. The boats are all in cool shadow but the setting sun is warming up the buildings in the distance, so the play between warm and cool is important. The colour sketch isn’t much bigger than the value sketch — it’s about 8″ x 10″ — and it isn’t very detailed, but I hope it will be my roadmap for a bigger painting sometime soon.
I also want to add a clarification to my post from yesterday about Arches paper. My disappointment with my sketchbook paper was only with the stock in the book. I use single sheets of cold-pressed 140 lb. Arches, both Natural White and Bright White, and it’s a very high quality paper. No complaints about that!
It’s really to cold to paint outside today — even in the shelter of my car —but despite that I packed up my gear and ventured out. With a pre-warmed car you can last about thirty minutes if you turn on the heater every ten minutes. To force myself to work quickly, I brought along a small Arches field watercolour book like this one. I’ve given this paper a second and third chance to perform but each time it disappoints. No matter how wet the washes are, it soaks up the pigment like a thirsty sponge. Here’s a detail to illustrate what I mean (makes an interesting abstract, doesn’t it?). This book will now be officially retired from my pile of sketchbooks.
Life drawing is addictive. At the end of three hours, I feel I could go on for another three. I guess it’s because no painting is ever really right, so there’s always the possibility that the next one will be a little bit better. There are so many variables to master while the clock ticks away. The pencil drawing, the skin colour, control of wetness.Today’s model was Christian, and although he did some very expressive short poses, he’s not an easy man to draw. He has a dancer’s physique — long arms and legs — as well as a narrow face and deepset eyes. When the afternoon session was over I looked around to see what everyone else had done. Some people had decided not to tackle the legs at all and instead focused only on the upper body or did portraits. As you can see, the most relaxed person in the room was Christian himself.
You don’t always have to go far to find something to sketch. Sometimes it can be in your town, on your street, around the corner. This is the view in my neighbourhood this morning. I had one goal in this exercise. I wanted to get the colour and the values of the shadow areas of the snow. Instead of the usual Cobalt Blue I use for the shadows, I tried a mix of Cerulean, Verditer and Indanthrene blues and a touch of Permanent Alizarin Crimson.