|4/11/21 Our backyard, Maple Leaf neighborhood
It’s that time of year when the forsythia in our backyard blazes in the early-afternoon sunshine. Almost exactly a year ago, I sketched it out of “sheltering-in-place” desperation. This year I looked forward to its brilliant yellow blossoms and waited for the right day. It was a bit too breezy for comfort on Sunday, but the light was perfect, so I sketched it through the window in our back door.
Carrying my bag out to the kitchen to make this sketch, I was still thinking about my recent grisaille experiments. Although practicing concepts with tomatoes is a useful way to experiment, ultimately my intention is always to learn techniques that I can use on location. Those experiments had already shown me that I’m not inclined to use a grisaille if I must wait for it to dry, one layer at a time, before moving on with the rest of the sketch. But what if I didn’t have to wait at all? What if I used wax- or oil-based (not water-soluble) colored pencils for the grisaille and watercolor pencils for the finishing layers – basically turning the Hollender method on its ear? The proverbial light bulb switched on above my head.
I ran upstairs to look for a hue that would complement that dazzling forsythia yellow: Caran d’Ache Luminance Violet Brown (129), which is neutral enough that it’s a nice shading color. Squinting to see the forsythia’s pale shadows, I used the Violet Brown as the grisaille. Then, with no waiting at all, I went in with two yellow Museum Aquarelle pencils to color the blossoms. I spritzed as usual to activate the yellows, enabling those watercolor pencils to do what they do best – burst forth with pigment. Using a non-soluble pencil as the grisaille prevented muddying, which can sometimes occur when I inadvertently over-spritz.
As I worked on this sketch, I remembered that years ago, I had tried using non-soluble pencils and watercolor pencils together on location with the intention of reserving the non-soluble ones for areas that I didn’t want to get blurred by spritzing (such as utility poles or houses behind foliage). But carrying a range of both types of pencils in the field became too much, so the phase was short-lived. But if I limited the non-soluble pencils to hues suitable for a grisaille and nothing more, I wouldn’t need more than two or three – easily carried on location.
The plot thickens! This deserves further experimentation, especially with more than one tone for the grisaille.