First of all thanks to the SktchyMuseum app participants who provide their inspired poses for us to draw! I’ve tried to include their names, though sometimes I think they post a picture of someone else that they took. I try different approaches to drawing/painting each one I do, which will be abundantly obvious here. Some are very quick sketches, others take longer, and none are really “finished”, because then I’m sure I would mess them up!
I just felt I owed myself a good watercolor surface to do some wet play on, so I switched to the Fluid watercolor paper which I love and kept it loose and wet, bleeding off edges across lines and charging more pigment into spots before the surface dried.
You can see the difference here as I went back to the Nova toned paper, which is not really made for those wet watercolor washes. The pigment settles in quickly and creates edges, just a different look.
Here I’m hardly focused at all on the surface textures, but trying out the idea of a quirky, unfinished or “vignetted” portrait.
And here’s another take on the unfinished theme, less aggressive and jarring.
Another unfinished one, more along the lines I’d imagined. The gray paper read as white, so I didn’t add any, and the ink made the most lovely wash on this paper, probably because I told myself not to muck with it, haha!
So if you have a minute I would love to know what is your favorite and which if any gives you the creeps or any other response. All reactions valid and welcome.
I thought it might be interesting to contemplate and document my loopy and sometimes treacherous path of art discovery in the area of portraiture and figura-ture over the past month. Discovery as in experimentation.
Starting with this one a month ago. I remember starting out with the idea that this would be a quick and expressive sketch. An hour later I was still correcting and laying in more layers of paint, which wasn’t at all what I had in mind when I started. I think I was distracted by the handsome fellow in the picture. Reminder to self: whether it’s a landscape or building or figure, don’t become too enamored with the visual subject matter.
After a break traveling and sketching scenery I resumed sketching portraits, mainly with the aim of discovering the personality of my own line making. I found that this is a lot more fun than trying to make a pleasing picture. I’ve never been partial to colored pencils, since watercolor is so much more fluid and immediately saturated. But since I’m not used to colored pencils there was more freedom expressed without the need to “get it right”.
So I turned the former sketch over, a loose sheet of unidentified paper I found in my drawer, and told myself I could just throw it away, so anything goes. And plunged in. Again, fun. I’d tapped into the secret I’d known and taught for years.
Reminds me of the paperweight I was given years ago on which is written “What would you attempt to do if you could not fail?” In this case, I could not fail because I wouldn’t ever have to show it to anyone. Then I realized that showing it to others would never result in failing either, because who cares!
So I go back to my toned paper sketchbook with more confidence in my ink line making, which is crude and scratchy in a way I am liking, and I realize that the shadow shapes in this subject are so fabulous that I can play with watercolor, running one color into another wetly. Soon I can’t stop painting, but at least I don’t hang out too long trying to make it “right”, so maybe I’m learning something.
So what the heck, now I figure I’m ready for a selfie, to celebrate my allowing the gray/white hair I’ve been coloring to emerge and help define the freedom of my senior status. Those of you who know me will say, oh that doesn’t look like you Susan, and in a way you’re right, but she’s there somewhere. . .and not least of all in the scratchy lines.
Next day I did this one of another older lady. Same materials and half the time. If I were smart and not so distractible, I’d do 10 more.
Instead I did just one more in the 15 minutes I had before the call to dinner. I think I used the Lamy Joy pen. Why in heaven’s name I sketched the pipe first I don’t know, except that I liked the shape and wanted to make sure to fit it in. But as you can see, the nose fit into it better than the mouth. So, big deal, I drew another pipe stem and made it darker. Problem solved. There was no time to add the white value with the gouache. and I don’t miss it at all in this one.
All of the portraits above, except for the selfie, were drawn from the excellent photos available for this purpose on the SktchyMuseum app I’ve been using. Gratitude for all these fine poses! Can’t imagine a better resource for us portrait artists. Check it out!
I’ll finish this post with some practice drawings, copied from the Spanish illustrator Inma Serrano, whose workshop I’m taking: Capture Your City in Motion.
And here I’m sketching from picture of figures in motion on internet sites like Pinterest. All warmups for the real thing of capturing the action live. Gulp.
As I said in my last post, I think another time I’d like to try white water rafting, with a solid guide and good crew of strong paddlers at least! The White Water Center in Charlotte would be my first choice. You could tell who the beginners were. Their rafts went wild in the rapids, tossing them shrieking into the air and occasionally, and very inconveniently into the swirling waters. Gulp. No one got hurt that I could see, making for a great show.
One morning Ben had to work, and I had time on my hands to venture into the city to explore. Asheville is well endowed with colorful, quirky cafes, so I ordered breakfast at one called All Day Darling, and got out my sketchbook.
Opposite from me was the perfect subject, an old guy (I later discovered exactly my age!) with a computer and lots of food and refills of coffee to work his way through. . . with a long wispy white beard and character-filled face. He chatted with everyone who walked by, none of whom were previous acquaintances, sometimes reading their palms and giving rather interesting, friendly advise.They all seemed to enjoy it. So when there was a break in the activity I joined him to show him my drawing and engage in conversation.
He was delighted, and with very little preamble, asked to read my palm, rather insightfully I must say. I introduced myself with the usual, and he introduced himself as a psychosocial cultural forensic anthropologist named Owl Bob or Sensei Owl Bob or Shaman and spent the next two hours adding onto that designation, at times detailing a roller coaster ride of a life that would make a riveting novel with science fiction overtones.
Turns out his history with Asheville and the Arts District goes back to the 1970’s. I took him up on his offer to give me a tour of downtown, wondering how that would be, since he is partially blind (note the magnifying devise he uses to read his computer!) and walks with a cane. But off we went exploring block after block, where he interacted with storekeepers and foreign tourists, cathedral hosts, chocolate shop staff and hotel concierges, reading palms and relating the historical underpinnings of this cultural magnet of a city, once known as the Paris of the South.
The highlight of this short but eventful N.C. trip was spending time with Ben, getting to see some of the places I’ve only heard about from him, and discovering new ones together with him. An unanticipated delight was the experience of deja vous I had repeatedly as we drove around the countryside. I spent the first years of my life, up to 13 years old on the east coast, living in Virginia, Maryland and Connecticut, and again in my 20s and 30s for 11 years before returning to California. So there was a kind of “I’m home!” experience that was a constant echo.
Playing with my new inks here! These document inks by DeAtramentis are insoluble when dry and they don’t clog your fountain pen. As you can see here, sometimes when diluted the red pigment separates out in a lovely way.
I used this as an exercise in speed sketching with fountain pen and brush, trying to just capture the features that struck me the most about these poses. Working from right to left (cause I’m left handed) in order to not smear wet ink, it turned out that the ones on the right were the warm up. It’s hard for me to exaggerate features as I intended. I just get so lost in the joy of putting down line and shape and color to paper and my brain shuts off. Guess that’s why I’m so addicted to figure drawing!
Slowing down here and trying out some other ideas. My favorite is the guy in the lower left, done in about 5-10 minutes but with the experience of the others to teach me what to avoid, like over working!
Such an adorable pixy face and that bird’s nest hair! No rushing this one, I just kept putting on layers and let the watercolor blossoms do the work of the “nest”.
Sometimes watercolor really doesn’t work well on this toned paper, so what you get is frustration and unwelcome texture (not to mention curled paper!) I’ve thought I might paint over this in rich creamy gouache and see what happens, but it’s probably smarter to just start over or move on. Not much point in using the toned paper if you’re going to cover it all up with paint!
Looks like Sktchy has a 30 day April watercolor portrait challenge going on. I’ve done a few of these and always loved them. They helped me get in the habit of finding time for at least a quick bit of sketching every day, even when there’s a hundred other things begging for my time!
Time to catch up on posting portraits from the past couple months. It’s my way of archiving and maybe getting ideas for new directions or more practice on old. All of these portrait subjects are from the Sktchy Museum free access archives. Many thanks to the folks who offered these great poses!
Here we go! This fellow above has the kind of face just made for portrait artists! Life experience chiseled into every dip and turn of the physiognomy.
I’m beefing it up here with lots of watercolor texture, splatters, wet crawl-backs and the stuff watercolor loves to do, if you let it.
As always though, bouncing back and forth between the quick-and-simple to “clear the palette” after getting so detailed.
Started this one with a fine liner pen, adding w/c textures in layers.
Can you tell that my main interest here became this fellow’s black hair and beard, the texture and color – blues and indigos. I never got back to finishing the rest in similar detail. Best to stop while ahead.
It’s really about the hard working hands here. What is she doing with this lapful of herbs? I imagine the simple hard working life of my ancestors. Rising before dawn, in bed by nightfall, and all those hours with no screens to lure the mind away from the tasks of the moment. . .like sorting herbs.
I wanted to try out my the new colored inks I bought for my fountain pen sketching, and ended up using them in dilutions as paint as well, and even mixing them with white gouache for pastels.
If you got this far, thanks for coming! Questions and comments welcomed.
My address is Olympia, WA, but we live right near the border of Lacey, another city rich with natural beauty, known by me for its parks, Amtrak station, suburban neighborhoods, grocery and big box stores. But last weekend I got to enjoy some of it’s rich cultural diversity at the Lacey Cultural Celebration 2022 with Taiko drummers, Irish dancers, bagpipers, dancers and musicians from Thailand and Alaska Kuteeyaa Dancers!
Since I never got around to joining the #oneweek100people challenge this year, I was happy to at least get some practice sketching the moving performers!
In general the musicians were a bit easier to capture. I added dashes of color at home at home to finish some of them, still trying to keep the energy of the quick sketch.
This dancer was sketched later from a picture. Can you tell?
I had to stop sketching when this tribe came on stage and the elders invoked prayers and blessings for the land and its people, so many of whom were lost to Covid. When I later painted these two elders I hoped to convey my experience of this moving event.
Jane Wingfield was there also, finishing up her week of 100 people sketches – You can see her sketches from this event and earlier in the week on Instagram
(thanks to Julie Kim whose picture is on Sktchy Museum)
Why is it so hard for many of us to “stay loose”, especially when drawing and painting the figure?
I’ve been seeking the cure for tightness for many years. Here’s what generally helps:
Speed for one. Set your timer and go for it.
Splatter for two. Load your brush with juicy pigment and fling it across the paper, or tap the brush handle on your finger to knock the drops off the brush.
Willingness to dirty up the page for three.
Spritzing the paper with water so control is lost. (Of course often that results in messes, but sometimes they are messes that work!)
(thanks to E.W. Parris whose pose was on Sktchy Museum)
And painting outside the lines! You can always go back in to delineate shapes with value. And often I’ll glaze the background color into parts of the figure to get color bounce.
This pose was the source for Bianca Rayala’s Etchr workshop– my copy of what she demonstrated. To get the wonderful splatter background you splatter the colors used in the figure and then spritz with water so that they run and the paint dissolves into parts of the figure, creating lost and found edges. It’s one of those easy techniques that looks hard.
More messy drama. Wet on wet background drama and some spicy bounced light for this lovely Guatemalan lady.
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.
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-looksright 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Using lots of pen lines here made it possible for the watercolor to go on in a less self conscious way.
Back to a pencil drawing the next day! The alternation of materials is more entertaining for my restless mind.
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.
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!
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)
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!