Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Quest for Looseness: Limited Palette

12/8/16 water-soluble colored pencils
Further examining the question of achieving looseness, it occurred to me that when I was using watercolors, my palette never exceeded eight colors because that’s all that would fit in my Trader Joe’s mint tin. I found eight to be a good balance between too many (when I spend too much time deciding which colors to use) and too few (the ideal three watercolor primaries elude me). But another benefit of having a relatively limited palette is that it forced me to simplify, which also encouraged looseness (a brush pen with black ink is perhaps the epitome of simplification that encourages looseness).

The limited palette used on today's pear. 
With those thoughts in mind, I grabbed the remaining comice pear from the counter again before it got eaten and decided to sketch it with a limited pencil palette. I typically use as many as 15 or 20 pencil colors to sketch a pear because it’s fun to mix all the subtly different hues (and OK, I admit, I have so many at my disposal, it’s hard to resist). I thought four or five colors would be a productive limit, but then I started to waiver. . . which four or five of my hundreds of pencils to choose?

I decided to go the easy route. I had just received my December box from *ArtSnacks, which included five Caran d’Ache Supracolor water-soluble pencils: scarlet, orange, lemon yellow, yellow green and cobalt. Four of the five hues were good for my pear anyway, and the cobalt would be an interesting challenge.

Instantly I felt constrained and a bit frustrated – on my desk in front of me were dozens of variations of yellows and greens that would be warmer or more subtle or somehow better for rendering this pear. And I wanted several shades of brown for those scars and stem. But that frustration was almost immediately replaced with the realization (as in “Duh!”) that I could easily mix varying browns from the red, yellow and blue. Using the slightly off hues (by that I mean colors I wouldn’t have chosen if I’d had the run of my entire pencil collection) was fun – and dare I say it? – somehow looser!

Although spending less time was not necessarily the goal, it took me about half as long to finish this sketch compared to my typical pear still lifes because I had fewer choices to make. I also simply stopped sooner because I wasn’t trying to achieve precise color matches, so I fussed less. Does it look looser? You decide. But I must say it felt looser because I wasn’t trying so hard to emulate reality.

What I learned today is probably very basic to painters – I don’t have to try to emulate the exact hues I see in reality! That is, after all, one of the prerogatives of being an artist. And yet, unless I’m deliberately trying to be abstract, I find it immensely difficult to paint or color something in a hue that isn’t “right.” I see so many sketchers use unreal colors with aplomb, but I struggle immensely.

Maybe I’m onto something here . . . a limited palette as a path to looseness! Stay tuned.

Here's what came in my December ArtSnacks box.
* If you’re curious, ArtSnacks is a subscription service that sends a selection of several art materials each month. It’s a good way to be introduced to products that might otherwise be off your radar. I’ve only been subscribing for a few months, but it’s been a mixed bag in terms of products being new to me or that excite me. My favorites so far are the Copic Gasenfude Brush Pen (which I like a lot and will be buying more of) and the Plumchester brush marker (not yet available for individual purchase, but it came in my November box). Most of the other products have been markers, paints and other things that I doubt I’ll have much use for. The colored pencils I used today made me happy as all colored pencils do, but they weren’t new to me (and, in fact, I have a large assortment of Supracolors already). I admit, though, it’s fun to get a surprise box of art goodies each month. And in the case of today’s limited palette, it was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Growing into Looseness

12/6/16 colored pencils
Every now and then, especially when I use a brush pen to sketch people, I receive compliments about the fluidity or looseness of my sketches. I really appreciate those comments because that elusive quality of looseness is something I’ve long aspired to without knowing how to practice or achieve it.

When I first started sketching, I used to view and admire the works of certain sketchers known for their “loose” styles (Suhita Shirodkar, Inma Serrano, Melanie Reim and Eduardo Salavisa are just a few favorites that come to mind) and wonder how I could do what they do. My sketches always looked stiff and lifeless by comparison. When I tried for the seemingly casual, imprecise methods I thought they were using, my results were just messy – and even the messiness seemed “tight.” When I complained about this to more experienced sketchers, I was encouraged to “just loosen up,” which seemed like reasonable advice – but how?
10/6/16 brush pen

I never actually learned the how, and frankly, now I’m convinced that it’s not something that can be taught. And yet somehow, after five years of daily sketching, I have managed to achieve a certain level of looseness – sometimes, not predictably, and certainly not with ease. It must be something I’ve “grown” into over time, an outcome of gaining confidence. Or maybe it’s something even more basic, like improved eye-hand-brain coordination. I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of looseness lately as I’ve been focusing on using colored pencils as my primary coloring medium. Since working on location is generally not the best way to get to know a medium, I’ve been practicing in the comfort of my home on small still lifes. Although fruits and vegetables are not my favorite sketch subjects (though they do have color going for them!), my intention is to study with them at home and eventually apply what I learn in the field.

I love the gradual build-up of hues and shading possible with colored pencils, but I’m not always happy with the results. The pears and squashes look OK, but they seem “tight” and overly controlled. Although I know a dry pencil isn’t the same as a liquid brush pen (or other liquid media), I think it must be possible to create a loose impression with colored pencils. After all, looseness is not defined by the medium; it’s certainly just as possible to make stiff, lifeless sketches with a brush pen (I’ve certainly made my share) as it is to make graceful, fluid ones.
12/3/16 brush pen

I’m not impatient or in a hurry; heck, if I were, I’d never use colored pencils in the first place. I know I have to grow into looseness (or outgrow tightness?), which takes time. But I wish I knew that I was on the right track.

11/30/16 colored pencils

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Signing and Drink & Draw

12/3/16 brush pen (Gabi and Stephanie)
Stephanie Bower and Gabi Campanario gave a book signing and presentation last Saturday at Daniel Smith in celebration of Stephanie’s new book in Gabi’s Urban Sketching Handbook Series:  Understanding Perspective: Easy Techniques for Mastering Perspective Drawing on Location. It was fun as well as illuminating to hear them talk about their urban sketching processes. I feel very fortunate and proud to have so many talented urban sketcher authors right here in my own home town!

The signing party was followed by a drink & draw at nearby Schooner Exact Brewing Company. We were seated at two long tables, so I couldn’t sketch everyone around the table, but people switched seats often enough that I had plenty of victims right across from me.

Kate was wearing a button that said “Never apologize for your art,” so I won’t say I’m sorry about the unflattering sketches here! 😉 I’ll just say “Turnabout is fair play” – you can get back at me at the next drink & draw!

12/3/16 brush pen, colored pencil

Photo by Kate Buike

Monday, December 5, 2016

Drawing Jam – Bigger and Better! Part 2: Urban Sketches

12/3/16 ink, colored pencils (Tangletown String Band)

Unlike last year, I spent more time this year drawing costumed models at Drawing Jam than anything else, and I think it was because the models were in a much more comfortable, large space instead of a small, hot studio. It was also a wonderful treat that Gage put more performers into the same large auditorium. I noticed that while some participants saw the entertainment as an opportunity to rest, the urban sketchers in the room rejoiced that there were unposed people to draw along with the posing ones!
12/3/16 brush pen, colored pencils

Here are my sketches of some hula dancers, belly dancers and the Tangletown String Band. The last sketch of St. Mark’s Cathedral next door to Gage was one I made while waiting in line for the jam to open. The temperature was in the low 40s on that drizzly morning, and sketching distracted me from the chill.

12/3/16 brush pen

12/3/16 brush pen, colored pencil (back side of St. Mark's Cathedral)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Drawing Jam – Bigger and Better! Part 1: Models

12/3/16 brush pen, colored pencil
The past four years that I’ve participated in Gage Academy’s Drawing Jam, I thought it was the most fun a sketcher could have while remaining indoors. I was wrong – this year it was more fun than ever!

For their 17th annual event yesterday, Gage made some changes that were major improvements to an already great event. The highly popular costumed models were taken out of the small studio and moved to the large Skinner Auditorium. Since that’s my favorite attraction at the jam, I was thrilled to have a more comfortable space, and the models were up high on scaffolding, making it easier for everyone to see them.

In addition to having live music in the studios as they always do, Gage also brought in more entertainment, such as a local hula dance group and belly dancers. For some artists that meant they could rest, relax and simply enjoy the entertainment between drawing sessions. But of course, the urban sketchers in the room just kept on sketching the entertainment, too!

12/3/16 brush pen, colored pencil

Somehow I managed to make more sketches than last year even though I spent less time there, and I still had time to see all the art exhibits and even buy a lovely ceramic mug by a local artisan. I wanted to have my portrait sketched in the “Analog Photo Booth,” another new activity, but the line was so long that I decided to have a chocolate croissant instead (they upgraded the pastries). Bigger and better all around!

This post shows all the modeled sketches; tomorrow I’ll show the non-model drawings. Here are my posts from previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Warming Up at Zoka Coffee

11/23/16 ink
I’ve been itching to get back to life drawing sessions at Gage, but the school takes a long winter break between Thanksgiving and New Year. With no other nearby options, I’ve been going to the second-best life drawing opportunity: Zoka Coffee in my neighborhood.

Noticing that my coffee shop sketches tend to lean more heavily on male “models,” I made a conscious effort this morning to give equal time to women. During actual life drawing sessions with nude models, I find female bodies easier to draw than male models, but for portraits, it’s the other way around. The softer facial structures and more delicate features of women’s faces are much more challenging for me to draw than those of men. Another difficulty is that women seem more aware of their surroundings and look up more often, so I have to work harder to avoid being caught when I’m sketching them. (The young man, below, working on his laptop was so oblivious to his surroundings that I managed to sketch him twice – and he hardly changed twice either time!)
12/2/16 brush pen, colored pencil

It was fun sketching at Zoka Coffee this morning, but that was just a warm-up for the main event: tomorrow at Gage Academy’s 17th annual Drawing Jam! It will be my fifth consecutive year (here's last year's post) attending Seattle’s biggest art-participation event, and I’m looking forward to it as much as ever!

12/2/16 brush pen

12/2/16 brush pen

12/2/16 brush pen

12/2/16 brush pen

12/2/16 brush pen

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Charlie Brown Maple

12/1/16 colored pencils, ink

I’ve shown you many traffic circles in and around my neighborhood, but I’ve never shown you this one – the one closest to my house. It’s only half a block away. The reason I’ve never sketched it before today is that it has such a small, spindly tree growing in it that I always think of it as a Charlie Brown tree. For the longest time, I wasn’t even sure what kind of tree it is as it hardly had enough leaves to identify it.

It turns out it’s just a late bloomer. This past spring and summer it leafed out fully, and now that most of the other trees have dropped their leaves in a soggy brown mess, this little maple is just starting to turn. It’s lovely to see the bright spot of color at the intersection where I turn every day.
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