|Don Colley demo'ing for his urban sketching students.|
Mixed media artist Don Colley uses a wide variety of materials and tools (his favorites being the ones attached to the ends of his wrists!) to create extraordinary drawings, but one tool you will never see him use is an eraser. “Erasing is a step backwards,” he says, because you’ve just removed the mark that can show you where to put the right one. He believes firmly that the purpose of his sketchbook is to document his thought process, and by leaving all the marks in place – even the ones he later corrects – all the steps he takes to arrive at the final drawing are fully visible to learn from.
Sunday at Daniel Smith was my second opportunity to participate in the Chicago resident’s urban sketching workshop (the first was almost exactly two years ago). Representing Faber-Castell, he was in town to demonstrate products at Daniel Smith’s annual Vendor Day, and we were lucky enough to get a workshop out of him, too.
Don, a guitarist, began the workshop by explaining how developing a variety of drawing marks is similar to having a repertoire of strumming and picking techniques to play the guitar. The more types of marks you can make, the more you have to choose from, and the richer your drawings will be. He encouraged us to explore all types of tools and materials and the marks they can make and not limit ourselves to the way something is supposed to be used. As he is famous for doing at his popular demos, Don showed us how he uses all parts of his hands to smear, smudge, print and stamp marker ink onto paper.
|See the line drawn on his left bicep? That was Don's demo|
of a cross-contour line.
Don is one of the most process-oriented artists I know. We all watched with amazement (and some horror) as he would randomly choose a beautiful portrait in his sketchbook and proceed to mark all over it to demonstrate the answer to someone’s question or show the angles of the facial structure. The finished drawing (if “finished” ever exists for him) isn’t the point; the way he gets to it is.
Although some of his favorite art materials, such as Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens, are modern products, he teaches classical drawing principles and techniques. Things like using cross-contour lines to model a form and a strong emphasis on values reinforced concepts I’ve been learning and trying to practice in all my Gage classes (which always focus on classical drawing concepts).
The big difference with Don (compared to Gage’s studio lessons) is that whether his model is nude in the life drawing studio or unaware of him drawing them in a coffee shop, he uses the same techniques. Instead of laboring for hours at a desk to create a certain effect, he practices what he calls “efficiency” – he finds ways to make a variety of marks quickly, easily and at hand (literally!). For example, instead of tediously drawing individual blades of grass or strands of hair, he makes a broad line of Pitt marker ink and immediately gives it a swipe with a finger before the ink dries. (See my post from two years ago for more of his finger-based techniques.)
When sketching on location, he develops a strategy for his approach by answering three questions: 1. How much time do I have? 2. Which elements of the composition are static (furniture, buildings, trees) and which are dynamic (people, cars, light)? 3. What am I doing (which part of the composition do I want the viewer to focus on)?
Other tips he gave us were the kind one would never learn in a studio class: To keep from being caught by his “models” in a public setting, he avoids moving his head up and down as he looks from sketchbook to model back to sketchbook again. Instead of on his lap, he holds the book at a more upright angle and closer to his head so he can move only his eyes up and down.
|10/1/17 south Seattle street (workshop exercise)|
After a thoroughly engaging and entertaining morning in the classroom hearing about Don’s drawing philosophy, watching his demos, and viewing his remarkable sketchbooks, we hit the streets in Seattle’s industrial southend near Daniel Smith. Although we could use any materials we wanted to, I decided to use Pitt Artist Pens in a range of gray tones and a toned sketchbook (my Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook) as he had recommended. Using gray-toned pens on toned paper is an effective way to practice seeing and understanding values. The paper tone is value 2; 3 and 4 are successively darker grays. White is value 1 for highlights, and black is value 5 for the darkest spots.
For my first workshop exercise, I picked a view full of my favorite street scene elements: utility poles and wires and their shadows. Following Don’s advice, I started with a light gray Pitt pen (value 3) to block out the composition’s main elements. Suddenly the sun came out (a dynamic element that forced my strategy!) and shadows appeared, so I quickly put them in with a black Pitt pen. (Good thing I did – the sun immediately retreated behind clouds again.) If I hadn’t been under those light and time constraints, it would have been better to use value 4 next before going in with 5, as he had advised, because once you put in the darkest value, you can’t make it lighter. If you begin lighter, you can always darken it later. For the white clouds, I first tried the white Pitt marker we had been given in class, but while I like its thick opacity, the ink doesn’t smear or spread the way the other markers do, so the clouds came off looking too plastic. For clouds, I prefer the softer look of the white grease pencil Don lent me (or my usual white colored pencil).
Another thing Don had demo’d was how the sizing on different paper surfaces greatly affects how marker inks and other materials respond or can be manipulated. I found that my Stillman & Birn paper is sufficiently sized for using a waterbrush with watercolor pencils, but it doesn’t have as much sizing as some of Don’s preferred sketchbooks. When I tried smudging Pitt marker ink, it moved a little, but I wasn’t able to get some of the interesting smeared effects Don creates so effectively. I probably also wasn’t fast enough; Pitt ink dries quickly on most papers, so you can’t dawdle.
|10/1/17 Sue and a car. My drawing is in warm brown; Don's marks are in cool gray.|
For my second sketch, I spotted Sue sitting next to a parked car, and I liked how small she looked in contrast to the car. It started raining, so I left the sketch unfinished, but I find it to be more instructive unfinished anyway: After I’d made my first blocking-in lines with a warm, light gray Pitt, Don came along to give me feedback. Using a cool gray marker, he made a few corrections to the lines in my car that improved it immediately. And the coolest part? Here’s a close-up of the marks he made on the pant legs to emulate the fabric’s texture as well as the contours. He did that by drawing a line the length of the leg onto his finger and lightly using the texture on his skin to make the curved marks – cross-contour lines made in a couple of seconds!
|Detail of the texture Don put on Sue's pant legs.|
In the short time remaining after we walked back to the Daniel Smith classroom, Don critiqued our sketches and gave us more feedback. I wish he could have stayed in town for a few more workshop sessions; I learn more and more from the man every time he shows up here.
|Many thanks to Faber-Castell for the fantastic swag bag!|