Friday, August 3, 2018

Porto Symposium, Part 2: Bajzek Workshop

7/19/18 My finished sketch from the workshop

A discussion of Graphite is the Matter, the workshop I took with Eduardo Bajzek, requires its own post because I am so intrigued by the process he uses that I want to document it thoroughly as a reminder to myself.

As happened with nearly all symposium activities, Eduardo led us on a steep, lengthy hike to his workshop location. A relatively quiet, pedestrian-only alley had tables for a small café and, as always, tightly stacked buildings forming a canyon.

To begin the workshop, Eduardo encouraged us to relax and prepare for the work ahead by sitting in silence for two full minutes with our eyes closed. He didn’t call it meditation, but he said he begins his own drawing and work practice this way to relax and quiet his mind. After the physical exertion of hiking uphill, my mind buzzing with thoughts about the symposium and conversation with other participants, it was a surprising and delightful way to begin.

Eduardo’s method involves three aspects:
  • The technique of using simple tools – pencils, erasers and a blending stump – to build forms with the matter of graphite.
  • The approach of focusing on masses instead of contours and shapes instead of lines. (This approach brought to mind the #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 challenge that Marc Holmes recently initiated to encourage watercolor painters to work directly with paint instead of relying on line first. I didn’t participate in that challenge, but I read several blogs and social media commentary by participants, and as I worked in the workshop, I immediately saw parallels with some of the challenges the watercolor participants had struggling with. Eduardo even called this method a painterly approach to using graphite.)
  • The concept of working from the outside in – from larger shapes to progressively smaller ones.

Workshop location
Eduardo showed us many examples of this
technique in his sketchbooks.

Because his method can be time-consuming and he knew he wouldn’t be able to demo a complete drawing large enough for all to see easily, Eduardo prepared for the workshop in an impressive manner that I really appreciated. Several days before the workshop, he scoped out his location and then spent more than two hours on a drawing. Another day, he came back to the same location and started a new drawing of the same view, this time stopping after about an hour. 
Eduardo's one-hour sample
Eduardo's two-hour sample

For the workshop participants, he pulled out a clean sheet of paper and started a fresh sketch – again of the same view. The demo itself lasted only about a half-hour, but because he could show us two more versions of how he might continue working on the drawing, we could see his additive process of honing the work and shaping the matter of graphite.
Eduardo during his demo
At each stage, the drawing looked relatively finished, and the main difference among them was the level of detail added. If a composition is strong and the values read well, then a drawing can have very little detail and still look finished.

Before beginning to draw, he talked quite a bit about observing closely to select a strong composition, but defining the drawing’s focal point is not important early in the game. This surprised me a bit, as I always find myself honing in on a focal point almost immediately before starting a sketch, as it’s usually the first thing that catches my attention.

Several more things surprised me as I watched him demonstrate. I always view Eduardo’s finished drawings as being very tight and controlled. Yet he applied the initial scribbles of graphite very loosely and quickly. The idea is to cover nearly the entire page (except large areas like the sky that would be left white) with a light, even tone of graphite. At this stage (and for quite a while after), no “drawing” of lines is allowed – none! Do you know how hard it is to resist putting down a meaningful line to define the side of a building, for example, or a roofline?! This is when my head started exploding, because up to this point, graphite in my hand has always expressed itself as a line – not a mass or shape. (I think some charcoal artists work in this manner, but given my avoidance of all things charcoal, I hadn’t experienced using this method at all.)
Eduardo applying graphite for the initial tone

Another thing that surprised me was the very specialized material he used for blending large areas of graphite once he had scribbled on the initial tone: toilet paper! This tool hadn’t appeared on the supply list, but he laughed as he explained how handy it is. (If you’ll recall, I said in my workshop prep post that I already own so much of everything that I didn’t have to buy a single item for the symposium. It turns out that I was also prepared with this item! I’ve had enough experience traveling outside the US that I always carry a partial roll of TP everywhere for its more conventional purpose in public restrooms. I never thought I’d use it during an urban sketching workshop!) The purpose of this step is to blend and unify the composition by making the tone as solid and even as possible.

I was also surprised that he used a Staedtler 3B grade for this initial scribbled and blended tone. I would have guessed that a slightly harder, lighter grade would be used initially (with gradually softer, darker grades used later), but he prefers using softer grades to avoid making inadvertent indentations in the paper and to make the application of tone go faster.

The final surprise? After he finished putting on this initial tone, he started defining some of the lines – the edges where rooflines met the sky, walls, etc. – but not with the pencil’s point. He used a kneaded eraser. (Can you see the contents of my brain continue to scatter in the street? It took me quite a while to stuff all the pieces back in!)

After that, the process was continual repetition of the previous cycle: Add more tone, this time more selectively; smudge with toilet paper and, when a finer stroke was needed, the blending stump; use the eraser to sharpen edges and continue to shape the forms. In a half-hour, he had produced a sketch that wasn’t quite finished but that had enough clearly defined forms and values that it “read” easily. The one-hour and two-hour samples he had prepared previously helped us visualize how he might have continued many more cycles of tone/blend/erase with the addition of sharp details to provide the focal point.

The view I selected.
Now it was our turn. I chose a relatively simple composition of the main canyon of buildings on either side of the pedestrian alley for its lack of detail. I thought this would keep me from being tempted to fiddle with too many lamp fixture curlicues. I also avoided identifying a focal point.

As I mentioned, resisting the impulse to “draw” the building contours was similar to resisting gravity – it felt very physical! I had planned to photograph my sketch at each stage as a reminder, but I don’t have a photo of that initial laydown of tone because I was too busy fighting my own arm, hand and pencil point. By the time I thought to take the photo below, I had already begun defining the shapes with the eraser and later the pencil point (that’s allowed, but only after the eraser has done the initial job).
Early stages of my sketch: Tone applied; shaping with eraser and pencil point begun.
When Eduardo came by to check on me, he encouraged me to use the TP more often to unify the composition. I said I didn’t want to smear the areas I had already started darkening, but he said not to worry about that until I was ready to work on fine details toward the end. At this stage, it’s still all about value and tone, and the nice thing about graphite is that the darker areas will always remain darker, even if TP’d, because of its layered, cumulative nature.

Smudging with TP begun.

Some darks picked out.

Eduardo suggested more use of the TP to unify the composition.

It was this late in the game that I finally decided to put in a lamp fixture with fine detail as the focal point.

Using nothing but a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 3B (which is slightly softer than a Staedtler of the same grade), I worked for about an hour and a half on this drawing. (I meant to switch to a softer grade as I worked on darker areas, but I forgot.) I stopped before the end of the workshop because I was afraid I was going to start getting fiddly if I kept going. Perhaps more important, I really liked the way my sketch was at this point (top of post). I mentioned in my previous post that I often don’t like work I produce in workshops because it tends to feel like exercises or reflect the instructor’s vision more than my own. In this case, I was using an approach and technique that are distinctly Eduardo’s and not my own, yet I ended up pleased that I could follow both and still end up with a sketch that I like.

The challenge with learning a distinctive technique that is clearly associated with an instructor who teaches it is that I don’t want my sketches to simply be bad imitations of Eduardo’s work. ðŸ˜‰ That remains an issue for me – I want to find a way to use this technique and make it my own. 

7/19/18 Torre dos Clerigos
Once I finished stuffing my brain back into place, I went out immediately and tried using what I had just learned on a very small sketch of the Torre dos Clerigos (at left). This is exactly the type of building that I would normally draw with a fountain pen, initially enjoying all the tiny details but then getting lost in those same details. Using this tonal method, I was forced to focus only on the broad shape first. On this small sketch, I used the stump to blend, and I also used the fine edge of the Tombow Mono Zero eraser to define lines instead of the kneaded eraser.

A couple of days later during a sketch walk in the Vertudes neighborhood, I was attracted to the light on some trees that looked like it would be just right to practice the technique again (below). I used nothing but the 3B pencil again, but in retrospect, I should have used a softer grade later to bring out the darks more.
7/21/18 Vertudes
 Several days later in Coimbra, I made a sketch that turned out to be my favorite of the entire trip (below). You’ll see this sketch again later when I talk about my trip highlights (and lowlights), but I wanted to show it here because this time I remembered to take a photo of the initial toning step. 

7/25/18 Coimbra

Initial toning for Coimbra sketch at left

You can see how scribbly and loose it is and how I’ve resisted (though barely) “drawing” the buildings. This time I remembered that I had several other pencil grades in my bag, so I used a Hi-Uni 6B on the darkest spots. I erased out the white umbrellas with the kneaded eraser (and successfully resisted “drawing” them first with the pencil point! Wahoo!). When I posted the sketch on Instagram, Eduardo commented as follows:

Wow! That’s great Tina!! The buildings on the background are just perfect. You know, once one very experienced artist said to me: connect the dark shapes... make a path with them. Maybe this suggestion could be apply here, connecting the tables/people marks with a shadow on the ground. Hope you don’t mind 😉

The workshop was long over, but I got free feedback from Eduardo! You can bet I considered his suggestion. I put in a quick shadow exactly as he suggested, and it made a big difference. (It’s that unification thing again that Veronica Lawlor mentioned.)

I don’t expect many of you to have kept reading through this lengthy post, but if you did, I hope you found this process as fascinating as I did! Thank you, Eduardo, for a mind-blowing workshop!


  1. How facinating! It's like sketching backwards, isn't it? I tried Marc Holmes's challenge privately (not posting) and I can see why you felt the struggle. But the last sketch is really good."If a composition is strong and the values read well, then a drawing can have very little detail and still look finished." I love it!

    Guess what?! I don't get notifications from my own blog anymore. It's weird. Anyway, James did plan to drive pass Seattle originally but our time ran out :( I can only show you the sketches on Flickr and may later slowly showing them in context on my blog. We are flying to Taiwan and should stay there for a while when James learns Mandarin. If you are flying to Japan or Asia, we might chatch up there ;)

    1. Oh, I was hoping that we'd connect again before you went far away! :-( Keep sketching and posting. . .I'll keep following you online, wherever you go!

      - Tina

  2. I can't imagine doing a drawing without my hand doing lines. lol That must have been hard to resist. I enjoyed reading your description of his method and seeing all your sketches where you practiced this approach. Great job! I think having the time to practice the method immediately is an important part of incorporating it into your mind.


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