Thursday, May 7, 2020

360 South (Plus This Old Dog’s New Trick)

4/29/20 4th Ave. NE & NE 85th St., Maple Leaf neighborhood (facing south)

It’s the same traffic circle again, this time facing south. I admit I had been putting off this direction; although I like the arch of trees, there’s nothing else in this view except one dang vehicle after another. I spent way more time than I wanted to on those, then saved the trees for “dessert.”

Technical note: It’s not something you’d notice, but in this sketch I used something that made me whack myself upside the head for not thinking of it sooner. Possibly the single most frequently used pencil in my urban sketching palette is Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle’s Payne’s Grey (508). It’s a cool, dark gray that works beautifully for pavement shadows as well as cloudy Seattle skies. The softness makes it easy to lay down large shadows quickly. I also use it constantly for the initial blocking and outlines of things like cars. For this task, the color is neutral like graphite, but unlike graphite, the line will melt away if I want it to.

The issue I’ve had time and time again, however, is that the soft Museum Aquarelle will lose its point almost immediately (like right after I’ve laid down those large shadows), and if I’ve made the point wet for clouds, it’s too soft to draw with. Details are almost impossible once the point is gone, so I end up sharpening on the street frequently. All these years, I’ve just lived with that, since the benefits of the softness far outweigh the drawbacks.

One day recently when I was digging around among my Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, which I don’t use much because they rub me the wrong way (they feel “sticky” when I apply them; I have nothing against the pencil’s quality, but it’s just an idiosyncratic “feel” thing), I came across Payne’s Grey (181). Despite my idiosyncrasy, one major benefit of Durer pencils is that they are significantly harder than any of the Caran d’Ache watercolor pencils, so they are ideal for details. They hold a point well for a long time.
Top: my favorite Museum Aquarelle; bottom: much harder Albrecht Durer
It suddenly occurred to me: Why don’t I use a Durer Payne’s Grey for blocking, outlines and details, leaving my super-soft Museum Aquarelle for everything else? They are nearly identical in hue, and I’d waste a lot less time sharpening. Even in my very compact pandemic-edition sketch kit, there’s room for one more pencil.

Such an obvious solution, its another case for the necessity for both hard and soft pencils.

It’s possible to teach this old dog a new trick after all.

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