Workshops

Vignette Workshop Postscript

This is a belated postscript about the 10 X10 Urban Sketchers workshop I taught May 26 titled “Sketch the Vignette”. I was drawn to this topic because I have a habit of getting carried away and taking on too much in my sketches. Designing the vignette keeps me disciplined by isolating the main subject and focusing attention on it.

I like Edgar Whitney’s definition: “A vignette is a piece of subject matter in a well designed piece of white space.”

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We started by warming up in my favorite way with continuous line drawing. Keeping the pen on the paper is the best way I know to track your subject without losing your place!

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For the workshop exercises we spread out in a one block area in Petaluma where there’s lots to sketch, both inside the Old Petaluma Mill and outside. Some sketchers picked the river and old railroad ties and bridge, to the right of this picture. The first exercise was to find at least five subjects to focus on, doing a quick capture sketch of each and naming them. This helps to commit to a focus so that you’re more likely to stick to the point.

Then students were encouraged to place the subject matter in context and design the white spaces around the subject by identifying interesting edges.

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Lastly we accented the sketch with color. I did a demo of this spot which I love for the colorful umbrellas (also the food!) while students observed, so we could also discuss watercolor application. Also we discussed rationale for what was left out of the sketch. This is often as important as what is put in. The name of the restaurant on the window was important, but I didn’t do any other detail on the window to not upstage the patio eating scene. The street lamp made for a more interesting white shape.

And then there was the final splatter! which everyone loves to do because it gets the eye moving and makes the scene more active. There was some interest in learning how to do it with control, but to me, control is antithetical to quick capture sketching! And I’m also not very good at it.

 

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30X30 Direct Watercolor Challenge

The 30X30 Direct Watercolor Challenge dreamed up by some of my Urban Sketcher buddies starts tomorrow! It’s one of these marathon commitments to paint something every day for a month, and in this case to use the direct-watercolor approach. I’m going to give it a go and maybe you’d like to as well. Put up your art sail and catch the wind of lots of folks who will be trying it and having breakthroughs this month.

I love to draw with a pen, but I’ve been playing around with drawing with my brush and not allowing myself to come in at the end to define shapes with pen line. The result is looser, messier even, and often more appealing. I won’t stop drawing with all my fun fountain pens, BUT will do at least 30 direct watercolor paintings this month. (Actually I already started, which you’ll see in some of the sketches from my Princeton/Brooklyn trip)

It’s a pretty simple concept actually. Practice anything for 30 consecutive days, and you’re guaranteed to get better at it.

You might want to check out these amazing artist/teachers’ blogs to get tips on how to approach the month:

Suhita Shirodhar, Uma Kelkar, Liz Steel, Anne-Laure Jacquart, and of course Marc Taro Holmes.

Marc laid out the ground rules for us to follow, with lots of wiggle room for fitting it into busy lives. Here they are:

What is #30x30DirectWatercolor2018?

  • PAINT 30 watercolors in 30 days, from June 1-30 2018.
  • POST your paintings in our new Facebook group: <HERE
    We’d like to centralize the discussion around this group, to spare our usual sketching clubs all the extra traffic this might create 🙂
  • HASHTAG your work on any other social media (twitter, instagram) with the hashtag: #30x30DirectWatercolor2018.
    This will help people find your work in the future. Here are some FAQs on how to use hashtags: FB | IG | Twitter.
  • Any size, format or subject is ok. I personally hope to paint on location, but it’s going to depend on weather and the situation at home.
  • I plan to paint in watercolor, working as directly as possible. But if you want to tint drawings, or add in some mixed media, we’re not going to be enforcing rules. I won’t however, have a lot of advice about techniques I’m not thinking about this month.
  • Our goal is experiencing sustained daily practice. If it’s better for you to do seven paintings on the weekend instead of one a day, that’s totally ok. Same with posting progress. One a day makes a good story – but do what works for you.
  • It’s also completely normal if you fail to make 30! Or to need a few extra days. Like any marathon, just participating is the first reward. Though I’m sure any of us can catch up with some super fast, super small sketches if we have to!

Watercolor Simplified in Sonoma

On Saturday I met with 13 sketchers at the historic Barracks in Sonoma to teach the day- long Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop. The weather was warm and lovely and the sun kept dipping behind clouds and then re-emerging. I figured I better get in the demonstration of the “one-two-punch” sketch while the sun was casting lovely shadows.

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fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal 7 X 10″

It was also a chance to put in a “sky dash”, which is a juicy blue sky wash that leaves a bit of white for occasional clouds and doesn’t get all fussy when there’s not time to get the particular sky “right”. The one-two-punch goes in layers of darkening values, the last one of which pops out the sketch, rescuing it from ho-hum.

Of course by the time I’d finished my demo, the sun ducked behind a light cloud obliterating the shadows for my poor students, who were then supposed to paint the shadow shapes!

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When you’re learning watercolor it’s important to find a way to have fun with it so you don’t get bogged down in trying to get realism in your application. So I demonstrated the spritz-splatter method of creating a colorful sketchbook page and then drawing/painting some detail on it to tell a bit of the story. Since it is spring and the Sonoma Plaza was filled with blooming flowers, this was a good bet. And it turned out to be the most popular technique of the day.

Sonomafountain This fountain went into/behind many of the spritz-splatter floral displays!

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Some of the sketchers were putting people in, and this fellow sitting around the fountain was so still as to be an ideal model! He seemed in fact to have perfected the art of doing nothing! I used this as an example of anchoring your subject to the context and leaving out unnecessary detail.

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Then the ducks in the pond became a favorite subject! Honestly I could sit all day and watch them and the children shreeking with delight at their antics.

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I managed to work them into my spritz-splatter floral!

And then suddenly it was time to call it a day, and such a good one it was!

Sfumato, Fumage, Smoke Painting

Whatever you call it, it happens when you touch a flame to paper, just enough to let a ghost of ashy, charcoal-y gray/black touch the paper. It’s hard to stop once you get started.

You can fix it with acrylic spray, workable fixative, and then paint over. You can take an eraser and remove it in places, as I did with the teardrop shapes here. You can burn the edges of the paper or even burn wholes in the middle. But watch out! The firebug may take over.

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candle smoke, collage, stainless steel acrylic, screen and paper collage on w/c paper

Smoke alarms! The embers dance a crazy dance of not caring.

It is so very thrilling, this dance of life and death.

But only when you are perched on the high wire

Or immediately after when you’ve survived and can see that your feet are still there,

Hands still clutching each other.

You’ve just seen the spirits.

That will haunt you forever.

Expressive Drawing/Painting

We painters all need to get over ourselves and take a break from trying to get our paintings to “turn out”.  Every now and then anyway. So on a Monday when the class was small I moved the Muse Group out to the garden for some expressive drawing and painting with abandon and without technique or rules, on big paper and and holding the sticks, pencils, charcoal, and ink droppers loosely by the end, and in the stance of a matador, lunging forward and back. It was really too much fun!

Here’s a couple of mine.

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pencil, ink (dropper), watercolor crayon and gesso on 20X30″ paper

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When we’d run out of steam we brought our paintings inside and used mat board corners to see what abstract gems we’d unwittingly produced and were impressed with ourselves.

A few days later when I was in dire need of an art fix (I’ll spare you the details) I thought I would play around with “finishing” this one and see what it had to tell me. With some cutting and pasting and more paint the above painting became this. . .

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. . .and as I kept trying to make sense of it, a little demon slipped out!

The Self Critic puts her foot out to trip me.

Then as I fall, screams LOSER!

Aha! So the A is for A Loser!

I drew in the word Loser and knew I was done.

Do you know an artist who doesn’t feel like a loser sometimes?

 

Texture+Paint+Cut+Paste

Sometimes the greatest successes in mixed media painting are repurposed “experiments”.

We were doing the gesso texturing method called “decalcomanie” in Muse Group. Slather gesso on the paper, put another paper over it to “pull” the wet texture out to create a rough painting texture when dry. Then paint wetly over it.

shroomsr2 acrylic over gesso texture with collage on 10 X 11″ watercolor paper

A rush of golden energy punctuated with silver whisperings. It’s not time to lie down. This is the ‘shroom dance of spring, the spores rising and settling in a fine mist. It’s time now to wake early and watch the birthing of these golden days.

This painting was not the beginning. It started with various textures painted on two pieces of paper. The first (below) was a class demo/sampler of different acrylic textures, with pumice and sand and molding paste. It got very confused the more I tried to “finish” it.

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See what I mean? I liked the mushroom (‘shroom) theme and cut this painting up.

Can you find the mushroom (later modified somewhat) that landed in the first painting when this one (above) was cut to pieces?

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Now I have such an abundance of choices to collage into yet another painting in the series.

I also went through my collage file to find other elements that could be added.  Can’t wait to work on this some more. It’s an invitation to “build” another painting with the most interesting materials.

Visitors From Denver!

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I had a blast this week sketching with my friends and fellow teachers from Denver, Colorado, Judith Cassel-Mamet and Carol Ann Waugh. I met them last spring when we were all taking an urban sketch workshop in New York city. I was honored that they wanted to come and take a workshop from me to get some sketching tips to add to their already considerable repertoire. I had all kinds of plans for on-location sketching in this gorgeous California spring weather. You know, sunshine and blossoms and happy people congregating in public areas!

Instead they got to experience the Pineapple Express weather that flooded roads, drove everyone indoors and kept us in coffee shops and restaurants sketching people. But since PEOPLE sketching was what they were after, it worked out fine! And apparently wet weather and dampness is a novelty to folks from Denver!

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We started in my studio with continuous line drawing to warm up, then adding color, letting the wet paint edge bleed to connect shapes. As time goes on I become more and more convinced that when you are sketching quickly from life, the continuous line improves not only accuracy but also expressiveness because it keeps your mind (and therefore your mind’s eye) from wandering off.

What’s that in the bottom right hand corner you ask? It’s my troll doll made of grasses and seed pods. I was also going with the idea that you overlap shapes to connect the images, and the Troll wanted in on the action.

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We had planned to go down to the foot of my road and sketch the goats in the green grass after lunch, but the rains had started. So they talked me into sharing some of my strategies for skin tone and painting shadow shapes of figures. I’m not a portrait artist, but I had a willing model and needed a subject to demonstrate on. Yellows and reds with a touch of blue for the skin tone with the green from the background glazed over in parts to show reflections. And here you can really see the limits on this Stillman and Birn Beta Sketchbook paper which doesn’t do well with wet applications!

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Next morning we met at one of Sebastopol’s favorite coffee shops, Taylor Maid, and invited the person who was sitting alone at the table we needed, to join us in sketching! Luckily it was Linda Kammer, who happens to be a watercolor artist friend,  who seemed happy to share her table and sketch with us.

Judith and Carol had asked for ideas to get their figure sketches to capture the uniqueness of the people as opposed to the stock figures. As the rainstorm raged outside, we worked on getting the gestures of specific coffee drinkers and practicing skin tones.  I guess the tech-y people were upstairs with their computers in the loft, because there was actually a young man reading a paperback book! And at another table a fellow engaged in deep conversation with another and no phones/tablets/laptops in sight. And then there was the fellow at the window writing. . .on paper with a pen. What is this world coming to?!!

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When it got even stormier there were fewer people to sketch so we stood up to try to catch the baristas in action.

Like I said, we had a blast, and even though I was the ostensible teacher for the days, I learned as much as them. They do mixed media workshops together and separately all over the country and even in Europe. They share a passion for teaching and exploring the creative process. They began collaborating a few years ago, combining Carol’s love of contemporary fiber arts with Judith’s focus on mixed media, sketching and art journaling. They have stitched, painted, sketched and dyed together….and now give workshops together called Mixed Media Adventures! They both have Craftsy online courses you should check out.