Reportage Sketching

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!?

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!

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! 

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!

Kettle View Park in the Rain

I waited too long to get out for a walk a couple days ago and by the time I was out the door an icy rain was just getting cranked up. I knew this day would come to test my determination. So I went back in, donned the rain pants I’d purchased for just such an occasion, and drove to a new (to me) park about a mile and a half from my house. The midday sky was dark and the park abandoned by all but a dedicated dog walker who looked miserable.

There wasn’t much to this suburban park and the puddles on the loop were getting deep. But there was a narrow muddy trail into the woods that looked more interesting. I saw chairs through the brambles and thought “homeless encampment” but saw no humans and was curious.

The scene looked more like a secret spot where three musician friends might come to jam on a summer night. It opened under the leaden sky, and bordered on one of those pond-like depressions in the earth one sees everywhere here in the rainy season, where birds flock and hold their conventions in the frigid water.

bamboo pen and ink, watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook

Home from my walk, I dried off and got a hot cup of tea in hand. . .and became totally absorbed in sketching the scene.

This morning the rain had turned to sleet when I went out to stock up on food for the week. Our son Ben arrives tomorrow, and we haven’t seen him in two years!

There’s an urgency to paint after being out in this weather, and a feeling of snuggling up with pens and paints, and no beautiful weather to lure me away! The silver lining of all these clouds. And a white Christmas is seeming more likely every day.

Capital Building Grandeur

Like all creatures that seek warmth in the coldest part of winter, urban sketchers seek out interiors of buildings with something inspiring to draw. We are fortunate here in Olympia, even though otherwise a small city, to have the state capital which is open to the public, and actually quite grand and stately.

But (speaking as a sketcher) something happens to the doors of perception when you are suddenly faced with the interior of a cavernous rotunda. The thought – where do I look first? and – what is my perspective/point of view? and lastly, what does my small and insignificant sketchbook page, all blank and flat, want from all these angles and lights and a thousand points of light? It took a while to calm myself down enough to begin to draw a piece of it.

For want of a better idea, I decided that somewhere in the middle was a good place to start, and found a spot on the 4th floor balcony, with as much of the rotunda soaring above me as spread out dizzyingly below. I pealed off the winter coat and hat and gloves I’d worn for the temperature outside, which was in the 30’s,  and settled down to draw. 

fountain pen, marker, watercolor, white gel pen in w/c sketchbook

. . .a series of curved lines meeting up with straight lines and then taking off in another direction and back again until I was quite dizzy, but happy with the effort . In the end I caught some of the “bling” of the Capital moment.

With the little bit of time left before sharing sketches with my friends, I found a quiet inner corridor with a visual story I could tell. The Senate gallery with a bright red protective STOP! sign at the door. Although the sign was related to Covid regulations, it conjured up visions of the January 6 insurrection and aftermath of National Guardsmen sleeping in the hallways in the capital buildings to prevent another breach of security.

That quiet weekday between sessions there was little activity to cause concern for safety, just couriers delivering mail and supplies to whatever government business was going on behind closed doors. I made note to come back again and tackle another bit of grandness, and definitely in the spring to catch the explosion of blossoms on the grounds. Is it too soon to be fantasizing about spring before we’ve even reached the solstice?

Downtown Oly: Spar Cafe

Another cold and damp day, but this time with sun, dazzling sun. That day there was nothing for it but to bundle up and brave the icy wind to sit on the sidewalk, with fingerless gloves and an intrepid spirit! And the blue sky lasted all the way until sunset, which arrived with a ferocious downpour as if to say “don’t get used to it!”

While sketching I couldn’t help but envy the fellow inside, imagining a warm bowl of soup and shelter from the wind. . .as the trucks and cars rumbled and screeched by. I made it through the ink sketch and did the rest of the paint and detail later in the comfort of my warm home. I guess that counts as only partial intrepid spirit.

Here I am, huddled and counting the minutes until I can have lunch with my friend in warmth! But oh how good it felt to have showed up.