Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tooth or Consequences (and Some Thoughts on Travel Sketching)

3/26/15 various inks, Caran d'Ache Museum
water-soluble colored pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
You’ve heard me complain about how the texture of my favorite Canson XL 140-pound paper has changed – it’s now rougher, especially on one side. That slightly extra toothiness isn’t a problem with watercolor or ink applied with a waterbrush; in fact, I prefer the additional texture with liquid media. But it’s not great with fountain pens, and it’s a particular nuisance when using my very soft and flexy Pilot Falcon nib, which sometimes snags on that textured surface.

I’ve discovered, though, that colored pencils, which I often use as a secondary medium to wet media, can really take advantage of Canson XL’s high tooth. A couple weeks ago I stood on the sidewalk near Maple Leaf Park to sketch the lower part of a tree (with the water tower in the background), and I liked how fast and easy it was to impart the tree bark’s rough texture using soft Caran d’Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils. Perhaps this change in Canson XL isn’t so bad after all.

This reminds me that I’ve been meaning to “think out loud” a bit about travel sketching. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve watched me identify and eventually resolve a couple of major “issues” related to sketching while traveling. In 2013, it was the sketchbook. In 2014, it was the bag. We’re going to France in May, and this could be my first trip abroad that I don’t have a substantial sketch-related issue to resolve in preparation for it! Two years of continually refining my materials and methods have brought me to the point of having a sketch kit that is just as ready any day to fly across an ocean as it is for awalk to Maple Leaf Park.

Still, there’s always room for improvement, and lately I’ve been thinking less about which materials to use and more about how best to use them to optimize my traveling time. Travel sketching often requires striking a balance between time spent sketching and time spent experiencing. In addition, conditions and circumstances always play a part: Is it too hot, windy or potentially unsafe?

From a purely material standpoint, the simplest and lightest sketch kit of all would consist of nothing more than a waterproof pen, a waterbrush and a tiny mint tin of watercolors. They would require so little space, I could shove them all into a jacket pocket and dispense with a bag altogether.

Sketching with my clipped-on watercolors.
From my perspective, though, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The single biggest complicating factor in using watercolors while traveling (or anytime on location) is not about the materials themselves – it’s about needing a more stable setup while painting. It’s difficult to paint standing up (although, as a last resort, I still occasionally do it with my clip-on setup shown at left). If I want to paint, I almost always have to find a place to sit or a stable surface to set the mixing palette and paint box. I’ve used some precarious perches (like the tops of railings or a flat rock), but that’s not ideal. Certainly I’m bringing my watercolors to France – who could possibly go to France sans aquarelle!? – but here are some related thoughts.

One thing I’ve been doing for quite some time is using materials that are easy to use while standing or in otherwise less-than-optimal sketching conditions. Ink applied with a waterbrush instead of watercolors is probably the single best example of such a compromise. Colored pencils are also easy to use in nearly any condition (and acceptable in places like museums that otherwise prohibit wet media). The other day at Maple Leaf Park, I had a comfy bench in the shade that would have been ideal for using watercolors, but I tried a sketch with other media instead. Although I sometimes miss the rich complexity of watercolors, in that case I liked the resulting sketch’s simplicity. When I can’t mix my own colors, I tend to simplify the whole composition, which is almost always a good idea. More important: I could have done it standing – and in a very short time.

Of course, lots of colored pencils and waterbrushes filled with inks take up space and add weight to my bag. I’ve always got one eye on minimizing even as I try to optimize.

(More thoughts on this subject later, I’m sure, as I get ready to pack my bag.)

1 comment:

  1. I know you have the materials down pat. I find I have trouble sketching standing up...I'm always juggling what I have with me and dropping something. I do bring along a folding tripod stool to sit on since I can balance things that way (usually).


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