Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Harvard Square Sketching Meetup

Yesterday I took the plunge and went along to a sketching meetup group in Harvard Square.  Turnout was a little light - 14 people registered but only 4 of us turned up.  It was a little odd to be honest.  Not a lot of chat and we all sat in Starbucks and sketched the people/surroundings for 90 minutes or so.  Then, mostly without saying anything, everybody left.   When I'm the most garrulous person in the room you know you have some serious introversion on your hands.  Having said that I did really enjoy it and will try a few other meetups.  You can feel a little self conscious on your own sitting around drawing people when they're only 6 feet away from you.    I've been perfecting being able to draw without bobbing my head up and down when looking from subject to paper which is a sure fire way of drawing attention to yourself.     Counterintuitively when you're in a group it doesn't seem as intimidating to people.

So onto the drawings.  Was in two minds whether to post these.   As I've said countless times before drawing people is hard even when they're well behaved and keeping still for you.  When they're in a coffee shop and moving around you have very little time to catch things.  Even when people are sitting reading or studying they shift an awful lot so it's a challenge to say the least.

Even though the quality is (ahem) variable I'm pretty pleased with these.  There are glimpses of proficiency coming through.

Girl with scarf and boy with hoodie waiting for coffee.   Usually I'm tapping my foot impatiently when people are making coffee.  This evening they seemed to be on triple speed.

Man in glasses and two girls talking.

More girls talking.

Waiting for the coffee.  As I mentioned in my airport post it's a lot easier drawing people from the back than the front as (unlike my mother) they don't have eyes in the back of their heads.

Making coffee.

From a point of view of getting a likeness these were my most successful of the night.  You have to be quick to grab the essentials of a face and to know what to look for.  How the nose is angled,  are the eyes wide open or narrow, the brows high or low etc.   And then once you've grasped the essentials in your head you then have the harder task of making the pencil recreate them.  Not easy.

That's enough sketching for now - more painting needed I think.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

30 Minute Lincoln


I've been spending a lot of time in the sketchbook lately and haven't given the brushes much of a workout.    Here's a 30 minute sketch of Abraham Lincoln done from a photo.   I think it came out pretty well - made me think about doing some famous scientists.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Travel Sketches - Airports

Last week was a work trip which involved much loitering around airports.   As I had my trusty sketchbook and pencil with me I could easily get my quota of 30 minutes drawing in.    The first sketch is of a lady who was sitting in front of me on the opposite side of the aisle.   People tend to move about a lot but she stayed put long enough for me to get the essentials in and its a pretty good likeness.

There are many good things about drawing in airports - some more challenging than others.     First of all there are the planes.    These are fun to draw as they have nice curvy shapes but with lots of interesting twiddly bits.  Also I don't come across them very often on a day to day basis so sketching them is something of a novelty.   These two were done at the beginning of the trip before I'd taken off from Logan.  I was still getting to grips with how everything is put together so these are a little shaky.  I got better at the shapes as the trip progressed.



People are the next good thing about airports.   There are lots of them and they are pretty distracted so you can easily sit and sketch without them cottoning on.  These were also done at the start of the trip while waiting for the gate to open at Logan.

The downside about people is THEY KEEP MOVING AROUND!!!  Even when sitting down they're fidgeting and changing position constantly.  However, this is good for training you to memorize quickly the main shapes/postures.  After you have the basics down you then have to improvise the details when they've disappeared from view.   Sadly it doesn't make for very good drawings but does sharpen up your observational skills in short order.  These were mostly done within a 2 and 30 second window to get down the essentials.  

Note how most of the moving ones are done from the back.  People get a bit disconcerted if they're walking towards you and see you staring intently at their body parts.

More planes.  I was getting more into the swing of things by now.   Here's one from Edinburgh and one from Dublin.   I also discovered the blindingly obvious thing about planes in airports.  THEY KEEP FLYING AWAY!!  Even though I was only spending 5-10 minutes on each sketch every time I found a plane in a position that was interesting to sketch the doors would shut,  the elephants trunk would retreret and it would taxi away.

These were on the return journey at Edinburgh.   The first is a view of the other side of the terminal and a few sketches of 'planes from different angles'.   Planes are nice to draw.  I could get used to this.

More planes - all flew away.

These were right at the end of the trip waiting to board to go back to Logan.    These were the most successful figure sketches.  I managed to get more of the 'gesture' in these with the fewest number of lines.  Quite happy.


More pre-boarding waiting.     Everyone has these HUGE backpacks as well as the wheely trucks - what do they put in them?

Finally on board and on the home stretch.    A couple of the cabin crew and a view from the window.

My tools.   My drawing implement of choice right now is something a little more exotic than usual.   I usually like to keep things simple but I'm currently favoring a water-soluble graphite pencil made by Derwent.   I like this even if I'm not using water because it looks and handles like graphite but doesn't rub off on your hands.  And, if you're me, rub off on your face,  your neck, and any other exposed skin that I happen to touch.   I do also carry a nifty niji waterbrush.  You fill the handle up with water which seeps down into the brush so you can paint with it.    

The paper is nothing special but the pad was made by the Bee Paper Company and who doesn't like bees?   It's also fairly small and not too thick so I can carry it in my bag at all times without it getting in the way.

The big grey thing is a pencil sharpener.  I'm a sucker for a new style of pencil sharpener and have collected a lot of sub performing sharpeners over the years.  This one is one of my faves.    It has 3 different shaped holes and 2 sealed compartments for shavings.    Shavings is another reason why I like the water soluble pencils - graphite shavings get EVERYWHERE every if you use a sealed sharpener.   Unless you seal everything up in a ziploc (and sometimes not even then) the shavings escape and everything gets grey - your bag,  your hands,  your phone, your earbuds - everything.

Finally, and this isn't essential but I like it,  I insert my pencil in a pencil extender so I can use them down to the nubs.   They're cheap but somehow make me feel like a professional :-)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

People Sketching - Nantasket Retreat

James,  me and several others from RC/Informatics went to the Conte center retreat in Nantasket yesterday.   There were lots of great talks and we had great views of the sea and the sun was shining.  What's not to like?   As if this wasn't enough this also gave me an ideal opportunity to do some people sketching.   Over the past couple of weeks I've been trying to hone my people sketching skills by drawing people on TV.    This is extremely hard as shots are rarely more than a couple of seconds long and people keep moving about.  You have to be quick and have a good memory.  Needless to say this has resulted in pages upon pages of appalling drawing.

However - once you get into a situation where people are relatively still (say a bunch of people listening to scientific talks) things get a lot easier and somewhat of a luxury.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More Baubles

As the red ball came out so well - and looked pretty good when printing onto card I branched out into different colored balls.   I'm especially pleased with the gold one.

Shelburne Falls - View from the Flower Bridge

The plan yesterday was to take the painting sticks out and paint on location.   The weather didn't play ball however and so we only took photos and this was done back at home.   Strictly speaking it's not quite finished but I was getting to the 'I'll just do this' stage and quit while I was ahead.   Not the most exciting of subjects maybe but fun nonetheless.

I even started with a value sketch.

And the original photo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Christmas Card Exploration

I know it's early but now we have a half way decent printer I was thinking about Christmas cards.   This came out pretty well and it prints well too.   It's based on someone elses photo so I'll have to either invent my own or procure some decorations from somewhere as models.

Here are some test prints.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cape Porpoise - Studio Version

So I wanted to see whether I could improve on the sketch I did outside yesterday.    I think it's better (James likes the first one).   The sea is not so garish and there is more color variation in the land masses.

Here I am in action.  This was a nice seat hidden away from people.  We should have brought sandwiches.

This is the panorama shot that James took (see my hat in the left hand side).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zbukvic Practice

I've been watching my birthday painting videos and have been painting along with Joseph Zbukvic for the past week or so.  Wowza!   This is tough - I haven't produced such bad paintings in such a large quantity for a long time.   His technique is fantastic but very different to what I would do naturally.  He often paints almost in monochrome with many neutrals and a lot of calligraphic very dark lines.   It's beautiful to watch but boy oh boy is it tough to emulate.

The two paintings in this post are the most recent and the least bad of the dozen or so I've attempted.  They're both coincidentally from the 'Watercolor in Rural France' DVD.  When I've recovered from the shame I'll post the complete failures.

So what have I learned?    Good question.   Let's see if I can make a list.

1. A good drawing is a must.  Not necessarily detailed on the paper but the process of moving through each part of the picture with the pencil enables you to get to know what you're going to paint.   

2. When you put brush to paper you need to know where you're going to put it as you have to move fast.   Mr Zbukvic often works with 'the bead'   - wet paint that collects at the bottom when you are painting at an angle.   If you keep this bead there you can move down the page adding pigment to it and create smooth transitions of color.    This is not something you can create, wander off and come back to.

3.  As he says many times  - if you can do it in less than one brushstroke do.   Get the paint on the brush, take a deep breath and dive in.  This means you have to have the right amount of pigment *and* the right amount of water on the brush to start with.

4.  This is blatantly obvious but having watched him paint I've come to a better appreciation of this.   Different amounts of pigment with different amounts of water have different effects.   A relatively wet wash (see the sides of the buildings in the top picture) will create a good bead and enable you to add pigment into it after the first application.    A slightly thicker mix will move less on the paper,  not create such a big bead and not fade so much after drying (see the roofs of the buildings).    A *really* thick mix can be added to either of these previous mixes and it will spread but not that much (see the shadow under the roof on the building on the left).

5.  Leave white bits.  Especially useful when you want to emphasize regions with very dark darks which is counterintuitive.   See the separation between the roofs in the top picture.    

6.  Calligraphy is important  - those little twiddly dark pieces that create chimneys and fenceposts and branches that suggest things.  Combined with the white pieces these also create visual sparkle.

7.  Plan where your tonal values are going to go.  And make sure the darks join up.

8.  Painting is hard.  It's also fun.

Cape Porpoise Maine

In my Joseph Zbukvic videos he is constantly saying that we have to paint outside if we want to be better painters.   As James and I are now not going to Canada (about which the less said the better) we took a trip up to Maine to find some coast to paint.

We ended up at Cape Porpoise near Kennebunkport and we were lucky that it was relatively quiet compared to Kennebunkport itself.   After lobster rolls by the sea and few boat sketches we sat down and I did my first painting outside for quite a while.     It wasn't the most relaxing of painting sessions as James (helpful though he is) decided that video would be taken and helpfully provided a running commentary.

The result above (30 minutes) I'm quite pleased with with only one really bad mistake.   If I had my time again I wouldn't have made the sea an unadulterated cobalt blue but otherwise I'm pretty happy.   As we were finishing a couple came up behind us and were very complimentary and actually offered to buy it.   

Oh - and the really bad mistake is the red boat.  It looks fine by itself but it's completely the wrong scale and looks like a toy.  Never mind.

Boats viewed while consuming lobster rolls.

More boats - always good to have reference photos.

What is this?  A pier?  Jetty?

More boats.

Nice rocks.

And a few more boats.