Thursday, May 14, 2015

France, Here I Come!

5/10/15 Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolors, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
We’re off to France!

I used to glue a small map of the place I’m going in the front of my travel journal. But taking a cue from several sketchers, this time I drew a map of France on the first page of my travel sketchbook. The map shows the cities we’ll be visiting, starting with Paris and moving south until we fly home from Nice.

I won’t be blogging while I’m gone, but I plan to post photos and sketches on Flickr and Instagram, so I hope you’ll follow my adventures there.

Au revoir and happy sketching! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

More Values

5/12/15 India ink wash, Zebra Comic G dip pen, Fabriano 140 lb. hot press paper
Original drawing by Rembrandt

Remember the values lesson I talked about last month when I took the intro to ink drawing workshop? Yesterday’s class was another reminder of that all-important concept as we again copied masters, this time with varying dilutions of India ink.

Although it was somewhat of a relief to get away from all that hatching, halfway through my first exercise (below, copied from a master whose name I’ve forgotten) I actually found myself missing all those tiny ink marks. Without the structure of initial lines, painting in shapes with nothing but ink washes can be almost as tedious. I had a fairly wide range of brush sizes in my arsenal, but somehow none seemed small enough for some of the tiny details apparent in the masterwork. But I tried my best to at least capture the range of values correctly.

The second exercise, a drawing of a lion by Rembrandt (above), was somewhat easier because we could use both line and wash, taking the best parts of both hatching and washes. 

5/12/15 India ink washes, Strathmore 400 140 lb. cold press paper
Original masterwork

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Colored Pencils Are Taking Over

Why do I have so many water-soluble colored pencils? Obviously,
the devil made me do it.
For most of the time I’ve been sketching, I’ve been loving Kuretake Zig Clean Color Markers for their “real” brush tips (as opposed to hard felt or other compressed fiber tips) and wide range of colors. Zigs have been on my Top 10 product lists for 2014, 2013 and 2012. As far as markers go, I still favor them over all the many other brands I’ve tried. The brush tips impart a more painterly texture than most markers (which tend to produce a hard-edged, streaky “marker” stroke). But I’ve been using them less and less in sketches the past year or so – about the same length of time I’ve been increasingly using water-soluble colored pencils and waterbrushes filled with ink. Since my trip to France is the first travel opportunity that I am not packing any Zigs and am bringing more colored pencils instead, I thought I’d talk about why I’m now favoring the latter.

Applying water-soluble marker to
water-soluble ink
resulted in the muddy headband.
Markers of any kind are definitely more efficient than pencils for filling a small space with intense color quickly. That’s one of the main reasons Zig markers became part of my basic arsenal.

Efficiency isn’t the only factor to consider, though. I find that the times when I most often reach for Zigs is when I am making a mostly monochrome ink sketch that I want to add a touch of color to – and in that type of sketch, I tend to use water-soluble inks. (If I use waterproof ink, it’s probably because I’m planning to use watercolor, and then I wouldn’t need the markers.) Being water-soluble themselves, Zig markers will smear and reactivate water-soluble ink, sometimes resulting in a muddy mess (see left). With careful application, that’s a minor consideration, but it’s not a problem at all with colored pencils, which go on dry.

Red and yellow colored pencils are easy to apply quickly to small areas.
I think the main reason water-soluble colored pencils are supplanting markers in the role they used to play is that pencils are more versatile. I can spot-apply pencil to a small area and then activate it with a quick swipe of the waterbrush to make the color more intense (this doesn’t take much longer than the stroke of a marker). I can use colored pencils to make a lot of scribbly marks (see below left) with light pressure to indicate the background, mid-value foliage or anything else I don’t want to call too much attention to. And I can also run the side of the soft pencil lightly over cold-press paper to impart a subtle texture to tree bark or a gravelly ground (below right). These last two techniques are definitely things I can’t do with markers, which make bold marks of strong color every time.

No Zig markers will be in my bag in France. We’ll see if I miss them.

Scribbling the trees at left pushes them into
the far distance.
Rubbing the side of a soft colored pencil on cold-press paper
imparts the texture of tree bark.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Neighborhood Hatching

5/11/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi and Fuyu-syogun inks, Pilot
Falcon fountain pen, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
I have to miss two ink-drawing classes while I’m traveling, so I wanted to practice one more hatched sketch before class tomorrow. Between errands, I stopped in my neighborhood where a very tall and graceful fir tree stands. I didn’t hatch quite as thoroughly as Van Gogh would have, but the size of the sketch (6 by 9 inches) was small enough that it took me only a little longer than my typical ink and wash/watercolor sketches do. The only place I couldn’t resist using a wash was the sky (which is dark gray and overcast today, on the verge of busting open), because I don’t like the way Van Gogh hatches clouds. (By the way, that car in the driveway isnt mummified; its covered with a tarp.)

Hatching is really growing on me. It occurs to me that if I could get into shading with only hatching instead of having to wash the ink with a waterbrush, I could probably use just about any commercial notebook (as long as the paper didn’t bleed or feather too badly) and be liberated from making my own small catch-all notebooks. (Hmmm. . . can you hear my wheels turning?) 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bag Dump and Travel Prep: Ho-Hum

My bag dump!

In a few days, I’ll be on my way to Paris and other parts of France! Compared to previous “big” trips, I’ve had almost nothing to do to prep my sketch kit – it’s nearly identical to the kit I carry every day (and to the one I brought to Brazil last year). Ho-hum – no exciting changes. In fact, almost nothing about my travel prep is different. But in the case of travel, I’m all for ho-hum: It means I spend less time thinking about and rearranging my stuff and more time learning French (theoretically!).

First, I’ll identify the kit contents, and then I’ll talk about the few minor changes I made: 
  1. Three Kuretake waterbrushes filled with ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun (cool gray for shadows and dark clouds); Iroshizuku Chiku-rin (grass green); Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa (sky blue)
  2. Six colors of Caran d’Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils (including red and blue for the French flag. J I’ll probably refine the specific color selection during the remaining days and switch out one or two for the rusty rooftop brown of Arles or the warm stonework of Sarlat.)
  3. The “Stefano” sketchbook cover
  4. Hand-stitched, 12-page signature of Canson XL 140 lb. paper (I’m packing seven of these, which is how many I filled in Brazil last year on a trip of the same duration.)
  5. My clip-on watercolor box and mixing tray
  6. Water spritzing bottle
  7. Brushes and pens (left to right): Escoda travel brush; three Kuretake waterbrushes; Sailor fude pen containing Diamine Chocolate Brown ink (I might change the ink to a bright blue); my new Sailor 1911 Naginata Fude de Mannen containing Sailor Doyou ink; Platinum pen with music nib containing Diamine Eclipse; a second Sailor fude pen containing waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink; Platinum brush pen containing Platinum Carbon Black ink.
  8. Pencil sharpener
The items I took out of my everyday kit were a couple ink-filled waterbrushes, the Zig markers and two fountain pens.

Top view of my Rickshaw bag (including sketchbook signature only, not the cover).
Now the changes:

  • I’m still bringing my Stefano sketchbook cover (No. 3), which is essential as a support when I want to sketch across the page spread while standing or use my clip-on watercolor box (No. 5). It’s been with me on three continents, and it still meets almost all of my sketchbook requirements. The only difference this time is that in most circumstances, I’m planning to carry only the signature (see photo at right) and not the leather cover. This cuts down significantly on the bulk and weight in my bag. Although I still prefer the support and protection that the cover provides, it’s a good compromise for travel. (I carried only a signature the other day at the zoo, where I rarely use watercolor or make full-spread sketches, and it was ideal. I did the same thing Friday in Pioneer Square and even used watercolor on a full spread because I found a place to sit.)
  • Instead of using converters, ink in all the fountain pens will be contained in reused cartridges, which hold about twice as much ink as converters. I’m hoping I won’t run out at all, but. . . 
  • Instead of bringing a spare fountain pen containing waterproof ink, I’m making sure that my writing pen (for jotting notes and writing in my journal) is a technical pen with waterproof ink (probably a Copic Multiliner SP or a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen, both of which I used extensively for sketching before I discovered fountain pens). I’m trying to avoid bringing “spare” materials; every item in my bag has to earn its keep by having at least one primary function at all times.
  • I put more dividers in my everyday Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag (yes, of course it’s coming with me – it, too, has been with me on three continents so far!) to make it more functional. I need all my pens, pencils and brushes to stand up vertically in my bag for instant visibility and access. The problem with the main central compartment is that it is wide enough to allow all the pens and other materials to fall horizontally into a heap at the bottom. Last year I sewed a fabric divider into the main compartment with the intention of keeping things upright, but some items still slipped to the bottom.

    I recently made two improvements to the bag (see below): The transparent pink plastic thing on the left originally contained Mary Kay samples; it now holds my colored pencils upright. The yellow and green thing on the right is a
    Kokuyo Neo Critz Mini Transformer Pencil Case. It “transforms” from a flat pencil case to a self-standing pencil cup by folding over the top. I keep it unfolded, but the fabric is stiff enough to keep my pens upright. (If I need extra security, I could even zip the case closed, but I always keep it open for  quick access.)
Bag compartment dividers to keep my pens, pencils and brushes upright.

One other travel-related improvement and a few keepers from last year:
  • The biggest failure of my Brazil trip was using the wrong backpack. (I use a backpack for carry-on transport only. Once I arrive at my destination, it stays in our hotel room.) I liked the slim profile and dimensions of the Rickshaw Velo, but ultimately, it was a little too slim, and I was constantly struggling with jamming everything in. For France, I’m taking the L. L. Bean backpack Greg had purchased last year for his own use but ended up rejecting. The Rickshaw fits inside with plenty of additional space for on-board essentials.
  • A simple fabric tote bag will again function as the catch-all for my water bottle, sunscreen, hat and other essential miscellaneous items during the day.
  • I got another Rhodia Rhodiarama pocket notebook to serve as my travel journal and impromptu sketchbook. This little notebook was a surprise win last year. The paper is a delight to use with a fountain pen and even takes a light wash. It’s small enough to fit in the passport case that stays on my person at all times while flying, so it’s easily accessible when my Stefano might not be.

Sitting on these stone steps in a Paraty cemetery was
more comfortable with a self-inflating cushion.
Optional but nice to have:
  • Whether my self-inflating cushion comes with me to France will depend on whether it fits in my carry-on rollerbag after everything else is in. It’s not essential, but last year it sure was nice to have that bit of padding between me and the hard, grimy pavement.
  • Another last-minute throw-in, depending on whether I have space, is a landscape-format watercolor sketchbook (probably a half-used Pentalic I still have lying around). I don’t have need for this format very often, but if there’s any place it might come in handy, it’s the scenic Dordogne Valley.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Laziness at the Locks

5/9/15 Diamine Eclipse ink, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
We’re busy getting ready to travel, but the day promised to be so warm (77 right now at 4:30 p.m.!) that we couldn’t resist sneaking out to the Ballard Locks for an hour or two for some sunshine. (The last time we were at the locks, we shivered as the Christmas ships passed through.) 

5/9/15 Sailor Doyou ink
On our way there, I was thinking I could be ambitious and try tackling the always-challenging wide view of the locks, the ships, the water and all manner of other difficult subjects that can be found there. But once I arrived, I felt as lazy as the day and brushed aside all ambition. I spotted two couples picnicking and reading in the grass. But more fun to sketch were the gulls below us as we crossed the locks. I don’t get many opportunities to sketch a gull from above! I wanted to sketch a few more, but just after I made these sketches, water came rushing through the locks, which sent the whole flock flying and squawking in a whirl of madness. 

5/9/15 Diamine Chocolate Brown ink, Canson mixed-media paper

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Horse, Some Cranes, Firemen and a Waterfall in Pioneer Square

5/8/15 Sailor Doyou and mixed gray inks, Caran d'Ache
Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Although the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (actually a small museum) was the main destination for the Friday sketchers, the “good weather contingency plan” was anywhere in Pioneer Square. I decided the day was too sunny to sketch indoors!

While waiting for others to arrive just outside the Klondike museum, I sketched the three-dimensional horse sculpture that used to be the sign for a saddlery back when there were as many horses as vehicles going through Pioneer Square. The building owner had the good sense to save the horse, which now stands over the 88 Keys Dueling Piano Sports Bar.

With my warm-up done, I moved on to my objective for the day: The construction site for 200 Occidental, destined to be “155,000 square feet of office space, underground parking for 68 cars and 15,000 square feet of retail” next to Occidental Square. OK, OK, I know progress marches on, but I’m saddened that this view of the Smith Tower, one of my favorite Seattle buildings, will soon be blocked. Someday I’ll come back and sketch the “after” view.

5/8/15 various inks, Museum pencils
A short distance away is Waterfall Garden Park, a little gem of an urban park that you could easily miss walking by if it weren’t for the sound of rushing water from the 22-foot waterfall. I used to eat my brown bag lunches there during the summer when I worked downtown a long time ago, but I hadn’t been there in years. Wouldn’t you know it – the same construction cranes from 200 Occidental were visible behind the waterfall.

After the meetup to share sketches and after lunch with Kate, I still hadn’t gotten enough sketching on this gorgeous day (70 degrees by then!). I went back to Occidental Park to sketch the Fallen Firefighters Memorial made up of four life-size bronze figures (the dude at left is not made of bronze). Erected in 1998 for the four firefighters who died in an International District warehouse in 1995, the memorial honors all Seattle firefighters who have died in the line of duty. And ha! – there are those same cranes again! (Even when I’m not sketching them, I’m sketching them.)

5/8/15 Platinum Carbon and mixed gray inks, watercolor, Museum pencils
5/8/15 various inks, Museum pencils

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