Cold weather? Who cares?

fountain pen and watercolor in hand.book Travelogue sketchbook 8X8″

Last week I went out to the point of Budd Inlet just beyond Swantown Marina, hoping to see the Olympic range in its full snowy glory. The cloudy atmosphere was too heavy for the spectacular view that day, so I took a brisk chilly walk and brought home a photo to sketch. The figure bundled and braced for a walk in the damp cold of a Pacific Northwest winter helps tell the story of the day. 

Another day I met up with my sketch friends who are always up for something. At the South Puget Sound Community College we found shelter in the Center for Student Success building, hoping to sketch busy students. It was all but deserted by student life, due no doubt to the tide of Omicron. I sat on the second floor balcony to attempt an architectural interior sketch with one actual student in the lower reaches. This involved numerous angle intersections which taxed my three dimensional perceptual capabilities to the limit.

Meanwhile I contemplated the building name and the cruel irony that with all the comfortable chairs and quiet study spaces, there were so few students taking advantage, I assume out of caution. A challenging formula to achieve success in studies.

Another day, having had enough of serious art making for a while, I found myself pulled into a project to help create an auto wonderland for a two year old car and truck aficionado. My own portion involved traffic sign and people painting. So since it fits in with the art-life theme of this blog, I decided to share the results.

popcycle sticks, wooden “knob heads”, styrofoam, mat board and Posca Pens

I know this probably sounds weird, but one day when the sun came out, at first I was thrilled. but then I realized that sun necessarily led to going outside and away from all these fun indoor art projects. Oh my, what’s come over me!?

A Month of Portraits

Scanning through the pictures on the Sktchy Museum app is something I enjoy doing at otherwise idle moments. Click! and my favorites are bookmarked for whenever the next moment time presents itself at my sketch table, which is generally about every other day, especially right after dinnertime.

It’s easy to get behind on sharing them here, so today will be a bit of catch up. I will try to share what struck me about each one that made me want to try it, and a bit about materials and approach. The models are people who have posted posed pictures of themselves for others to sketch.

fountain pen and watercolor in 7X10″ Field Watercolor Journal

It’s obvious why I wanted to sketch this goofy guy with the crooked mouth! The pose inspired me to draw directly with pen in the scribble-til-it-looks right method.

Again practicing drawing directly with pen in continuous line and then adding a rapid application of watercolor, using sap green, opera, and sepia with very little mixing, to design light and shadow shapes. 

pencil and watercolor

This time I tried the softer scribble approach of using pencil for the drawing (no erasing) and wet application of the watercolor. Painting the hair this way was a revelation! Descriptive without being fussy, and it took only a couple minutes, letting the water do the work with the pigment.

pencil, gouache

Such an expressive face! I tried “sculpting” the light and shadow shapes with gouache applied somewhat thinly like watercolor, so it’s hard to tell the difference.

fountain pen and watercolor

Another pen scribble portrait. I ended up wishing I’d been more careful with the drawing. It was such a great pose! Reminded me of when my son Ben used to carry his leopard gecko around on his shoulder!

pencil and watercolor

The he-man pose and the pompadour hair. How could I resist. A darker background might have been better, but then there was something about the little-boy-blue that also seemed to fit.

Derwent Linemaker pen 0.3 and watercolor

Using lots of pen lines here made it possible for the watercolor to go on in a less self conscious way.

pencil and watercolor

Back to a pencil drawing the next day! The alternation of materials is more entertaining for my restless mind.

white gouache on black toned paper

Such a soulful pose! A completely different process of drawing and painting with white on black. I had no strategic approach, except to keep adding and lifting off the white paint, adding a touch of black gouache when I needed to reinstate the darkest black. I couldn’t be bothered with making the applications smooth, and it wouldn’t suit the edginess of the subject anyway.

Derwent Fineliner pen and watercolor

Here’s another one I wish I had drawn in pencil so that the scribbly lines didn’t distract from the beauty of watercolor. Such an incredible pose! and the hair!

Humans in Action: Pedro Loureiro on Etchr

More of my student work today, this time from Etchr Studios workshops where a lot of my favorite urban sketchers are offering classes. I met Pedro Loureiro a few years ago during the International Symposium of Urban Sketchers in Portugal. He’s a master of reportage (visual journalism) and capturing people in lively scenes. One of his Etchr courses, which you can watch on demand, is Humans in Action: Figures and Gestures in Ink and Watercolor.

(The artwork posted here is my student work)

Humans Action with Pedro Loureiro: fountain pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed media sketchbook

This is a scene I probably would never have tackled, but Pedro breaks it down into foreground, mid ground and background; simplifying, suggesting rather than detailing, and sticking to more neutral color choices to unify. No pencil here. Students were asked to just pretend we were actually on location with all the movement and visual/kinesthetic/auditory/aromatic inputs and keep the pen moving! Watching his pen move across the paper in flowing motions was ample inspiration to give it a try!

Urban Sketching, Painting Crowds with Pedro Loureiro: fountain pen and watercolor

In another workshop with Pedro I discovered my achilles heal. My perceptual capabilities break down when I have to switch from foreground figures to tiny people in the distance. (Only part of that can be attributed to my poor distance vision, haha!) Surely it’s a matter of practice. I didn’t recover from the urge to toss this paper in the trash until I added watercolor. Focusing on patterns of light and shade on the figure is the speediest way to render a figure in motion.

Urban Sketching, Painting Crowds with Pedro Loureiro: fountain pen and watercolor

This scene is the sort I love to sketch. With such a clear figure as star of the show the question is how to include figures in the background as supporting actors.  By simplifying them with simple line, no detail and neutral color washes they add interest without distraction. 

Some other watercolor teachers I enjoy on Etchr are Eleanor Doughty from Seattle and Bianca Ryala from Phillipines. But there are so many intriguing short workshops to try!

More Sparks Lit on Spark!

A busy city scene is probably the most challenging subject for an urban sketcher, especially for one like me who has lived in the countryside for the past two decades. But oh, I can’t resist the challenge. It would be marvelous to go out each day and practice in a busy location, but winter temps here in the Pacific Northwest are not amenable to on location sketching, especially in the time of Covid. So what better time to learn some new skills, sketching along on Zoom with people who excel at capturing the lively city! 

(The art shown here is my student work.)

Jedidiah Dore is a New York City artist and passionate urban sketcher/reportager who teaches a series now on Sketchbook Skool’s Spark platform called Creative Urban Sketching

Creative Urban Sketching with Jedidiah Dore: a street scene in New Orleans

One lesson was about editing a complex scene – deciding before putting pen to paper what should be included and what left out. And the scene was one I remembered well and loved from a sketch trip to New Orleans almost two years ago now!

Let’s Figure it Out with Jedidiah Dore

In another class titled: Let’s Figure it Out: Drawing People, we were timed and coached in a way to simulate live action scenes and draw decisively. Continuous line gestural drawing, while looking more at a subject, who will move at any moment, than at the paper. This is from Jedidiah’s photograph, but in the spirit of live action.

We all want to “get it right” and know we can’t possibly succeed at that with a moving scene. So it takes a certain practiced surrender to let go enough to set the hand loose from the thinking mind.  A lifetime of practice surely. Works for me, because it’s such a high to be able stop the mind for a while. Most sketchers would agree.

And I took another fun urban sketch class on Spark with someone whose style many of you will recognize instantly – Ian Fennelly! Lots of patterned pen work and zany watercolor washes which I dutifully tried. It’s not my style, but I wanted to play with different pens and was happy to go wild with it and even get tangled up in all the patterns. Such a fun way to tell a story of a time and place!

In the Home of the Beatles with Ian Fennelly

So much of what I’ve learned about drawing and painting and dancing and playing music has been a process of imagining myself in the body of the master . . . trying to hold a pen or leg or hand in the same way, watching and feeling and listening from the inside. Almost an Alice in Wonderland leap into another perception.

One of my current master teachers is a two year old boy across the street who soaks up everything in his environment, interacts with it, seeks to understand it with all his senses, and never seems to worry about getting it wrong. So I’ll take my cues from him, and above all keep it fun!

On Being a Student

For the past month or so I’ve given myself free reign to try out new things, practice skills, take online courses and enjoy a new kind of online art comradery. This has been encouraged by the proliferation of art courses taught by teachers in the comfortable hominess of their studios, often with no videographer, just their computer and a cell phone hooked onto a simple arm over their art table. You can watch and participate either on Zoom with student-teacher interaction or stream them on Youtube live or on demand. Many are of course free and others available for a nominal price. A veritable candy store of delights for the lifelong learner!

My student works have been piling up lately unseen, but I wanted to share with you some of the things I’ve learned or simply found as a kind of preschooler delighting in making art. I’ve stumbled onto things I’m good at and others that I suck at and need practice with. My hope is you might find something you want to try, and then tell me about it!

Art Before Breakfast: Movie Characters with DAnny Gregory

One of the themes I’ve been exploring with many teachers is quick capture sketching. It helped that I told myself I wouldn’t have to show these to anyone. Haha! This was from an hour long Spark event with Danny Gregory. Five minutes to sketch each movie star while listening to Danny’s coaching. The challenge was to immediately zero in on what makes that character uniquely recognizable and leave out the rest.

Drawing with continuous fountain pen line and swooping in with ink and brush for the last minute.

This one of Golum scared even me!

By the last one I was warmed up and could have gone on all day. That frothy delight in the act of drawing.

Art Before Breakfast with Danny Gregory: New Years selfie (with Posca pens of course)

Maybe I should have warned you that not all of these pieces are easy on the eyes! Once again, time with the gentle coaching, challenging, encouragement from  the author of The Creative License, Danny Gregory. [You have this book, right?] This is another one I wasn’t planning to show anyone, but shoot, it’s a great illustration of getting out of the comfort zone. Who knows, it may may be a statement of how it felt to start the year with a lurking Omicron.

Art Before Breakfast: Fast and Slow with Danny Gregory – fountain pen, Prismacolor pens, Posca Pens

And today I enjoyed another Art Before Breakfast session. Using Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting as reference to do a 1 min drawing in light pen (barely visible now) and then a 30 minute more detailed drawing over it to see what could be learned in the process. Meanwhile we were encouraged to imagine what it was like for the painter to set up his easel on the dark street in the town where he lives. Van Gogh, an urban sketcher!

I admit I added about 10 minutes to the time so I could play with my Posca Pens, but stopped way short of “finish”. After all, that’s what sketching on location is like. Quick and lively.

I’ll be sharing more student work from Sketchbook Skool’s Spark program. It’s a rich diet of art making, with skills building in a large variety of media, a lively community of great teachers, coaches and fellow students. It’s enough to keep you busy and engaged in art all day, so don’t sign up until you have a month with some open time!

I’ve also been enjoying online demos and classes on Etchr Studios. You might want to just jump right in and try it out yourself! and let me know what you like.

A recent memory. . .

fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ hand.book w/c journal

At this writing the rain has melted all our lovely snow, and luckily the ice that made the grocery store parking lots dangerous and walk-taking impossible.

But oh the snow! There’s something so cozy about being in a neighborhood and imagining the nice neighbors across the street snuggling in with the winter white wrapped around so peacefully. I wanted to try a night scene so I chose this one from the living room window after the birds had gone to bed [where do the birds go at night??} 

So I made a diluted mixture of thalo blue and sepia and painted the entire scene with it, except for where the light shone. Then came back in with darker shadows of the same mixture and bright yellow for the lights. Just that, and then lifted a bit of color off the trees to show patches of snow. Ten minutes and I was done! Memory fertilized and archived for years to come. And without the reliance on cell phone picture captures which are handy, but capture only part of the story.

I apologize for the quality of my pictures of the art lately. For now I am left with going to a window (where there is not that much light coming in these winter days), holding the sketchbook up to the light coming in, and snapping a picture of it with my other hand. I hope it will improve when I move into the studio in a month.

Being more housebound lately I’ve had time to indulge in taking online workshops. I’ll be sharing my student work along with resources you may not know about. Stay tuned! 

Precarious

Precarious is the word for the season. It’s how we feel about our health with a new variant blasting its way through our illusions of safety. It’s how I feel when I go outside and encounter the slippy-slide-y snow and ice. It’s the extreme-weather-economic-social angst and a million other things in the news every day.

And it’s what I feel for the birds in their frenzied visits at our feeders.

One day when the birdseed supply had almost run out, I noticed a particular pattern of bird prints in the snow at the edge of our front door portico. Had they seen me emerge from there, even though it’s not visible from the feeders? I got the message and filled the feeders directly. They didn’t wait for me to depart before they started eating.

15 color medium point Posca Pens

So when I finished trying out all the flavors of Posca paint pens in my gift set, the birds outside my window jumped into the picture along with their tracks!

The problem was the hummingbird feeder, which froze solid so the Annas were out of luck. I should have melted it down each morning, but it was so cold I thought it would just freeze back up.

But then I saw a couple Annas on the feeder and realized I’d better try a little harder. Next morning was sunny and when I put the feeder out again with fresh nectar, I had a couple customers.

Next day though I found a one tiny body in the snow below. The heart gone from its 1263 beats per minute to 0, wings no longer beating 80 times per minute but now motionless.

Precarious. . .the life of such a small creature in the frozen world.

one male Annas hummingbird from three angles

Found you,  my tiny iridescent flasher

Beneath the feeder on a pristine pillow.

Did a snow clump fall and knock you out?

Did the cold stop your heart?

Did you, desperate with hunger, drink too much too fast?

Or did it the nectar come too late, after days of starvation and freezing?

My grieving took the form of an afternoon of study of this miraculous little body with the tiniest iridescent feathers that shone electric when in just the right light, but otherwise had become a dull gray. I hoped with my attention to unlock some secret of bird survival in a kind of artful homage to a valiant life.

Or was it a contemplation of the precariousness of life. 

Snowed In

And the snow keeps coming! draping us in a pristine white silence. We walk around the neighborhood in the fresh snow, taking care to avoid the layer of ice underneath. Today our neighbor Margo and I brought our two year old friend Ellis along for a sled ride, then helped older kids build a snowperson family of four on a front lawn. Memories of my childhood in Canada and Connecticut came rushing back. Hours spent absorbed in play and unconcerned as the fingers and toes grew numb with cold.

There’s the backyard discoveries of tracks in the snow – deer and rabbits – and Quon Yin sporting new winter garments. On a walk around the block the discovery of a street-side Christmas tree, labeled “free”, adorned with white and unclaimed. We live in Christmas tree heaven here where all the cut trees in the lot are full and perfectly shaped, with 6 or 7 species to choose from. Bob and I bought the first one we saw when we arrived in the big barn at the Hunter Family Farm.   

With temps in the 20’s the sketching is happening in the upstairs room where my watercolors and sketchbooks live.

It’s a cozy spot with a carpeted floor, a temporary art roosting spot until the garage studio is completed. Yesterday we had the electrical inspection, so things are moving along in spite of the fact that no roads around us are plowed. 

The windows on the left are being enlarged and there’s a door on that wall which looks out on the back garden.

And here’s the opposite view, with a sink going in where the black pipe comes down. And while the work is happening, the majority of my studio supplies have been stashed and unavailable in the rest of the garage. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. Being “snowed in” is highly conducive to art play!

Wishing you a joyful new year with an abundance of creative inspiration, tantalizing art materials, and fellow art lovers to share it all with.

Our First White Christmas

fountain pen, watercolor, Posca Pens in hand.book watercolor journal

No this is not a vacation cabin in the mountains. It’s the view out our dining room window the day after Christmas. . .a white one! And yes, it’s the first white Christmas I can remember since childhood. And the first snow this coastal California girl has seen in over a decade. At this writing there are about 6 inches and more on the way with this Arctic blast of weather lingering for a few days. 

Yes there’s been a certain amount of anxiety about what to expect, but we’re just staying home and so far I find it enchanting. The teens have skied down our street and you can hear the little kids shrieking with delight as they go down the hill across the street on their saucers. And yes, this is unusual for here in the Puget Sound area, about 20 degrees colder than usually this time of year. But my ski jacket from (ahem!) 30+ years ago does the trick to keep me comfortable. I’m so tired of hearing “there’s no bad weather, just bad dressing. . .” from everyone here, but it’s true.

So Andrew was folding paper and making sketchbooks across the dining room table from me and I was gazing out at the birds and playing with my new Posca pens, while Bob and Ben were working on a programming project.

I figured the Posca pens would be opaque enough to draw in the snow over the watercolor-painted foliage. But every watercolor artist knows the truth that the whitest white is the white of the paper. Lesson learned. But it worked for the snow in the shadows! More on the fun of Posca pens and painting snow next. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Christmas (in our new home)

Merry Christmas to all of you! I hope you are able to be with the ones you most care about this year, one way or another. Last year we were able to be with our son Ben on Zoom, a blessing but a rather pale one compared to having him with us this year after not seeing him for two pandemic years. He had never seen our new home, his family home now, and has quickly settled in to enjoy some days with us before returning to North Carolina. 

Ben works hard as a software engineer, and also knows how to chill, and often with guitar, and often after occupying the most comfortable spot in the house – in this case our new Stressless recliner. I don’t know how many times now I have sketched him in this position in previous years. A lot.

Andrew will be joining us soon. The 1000 piece crossword puzzle is out on the coffee table and will need all of us to tackle its complexity. But first I got an interior scene sketched, to be able to pass along the holiday cheer. We must all snuggle in a bit more now, for a while at any rate, as this pandemic rages on.

Sending love and blessings and heaps of gratitude to all of you who have been joining me here. May you experience all warmth and good cheer on this holiday!