Monday, March 27, 2023

Advice I Would Give to My Newbie Self


3/23/23 Le Pen Flex brush pen, Moleskine sketchbook
(all reference photos by Earthsworld)

Back when my primary drawing tools were fountain pens, one of my techniques of choice was the ink-line wash. For years, I made line drawings with water-soluble inks, then washed the lines for shading. It was a low-maintenance technique on location – all I needed was a fountain pen and a waterbrush.

Using that technique with Marvy Uchida Le Pen Flex brush pens reminded me how much fun it is. It also made me realize that it may be a simple technique in terms of tools, but it is not necessarily easy. In fact, it’s quite challenging to make subtle modulations in tone, and controlling water flow is finicky with a waterbrush. In addition, paper sizing and texture affect the results significantly. All of that explains why I spent a lot of time and research back then trying to find the best combinations of inks and papers.

Perhaps most important from my then-newbie-self’s perspective is that it’s almost impossible to get a good range of values using nothing but a washed ink line. My darkest values were always relatively wimpy. (I recall vividly a sketch I had made of Fremont’s statue of Lenin during my first urban sketching workshop nearly a decade ago. I had washed the lines made with a gray fountain pen ink, and I thought I had done a decent job of bringing out tones and shadows. Squinting at the sketch, workshop instructor Frank Ching had remarked on the absence of darks. I recall thinking, “Oh – those pale gray marks aren’t dark enough?”)

In retrospect, I think it was a simple technique for a newbie to use – but not necessarily a good one to learn with.

3/24/23 Le Pen Flex, Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook

I thought a lot about this conflict – ease of use vs. ease of learning – during the weeks that I was taking Kathleen Moore’s Winter Sketchbook + Watercolor class (I have some comments on it in my summary of the last session). When I first began sketching, I looked around at all the other urban sketchers (online and in person) and saw that the vast majority used watercolor, so I thought I should, too. Easily cleaned and mostly non-toxic, watercolors seemed friendly – even kids use them.

Watercolors give the impression of being an easy-to-use medium. In fact, they are: All you have to do is wet your brush and stick it into the paints. But as anyone who has ever used them knows, they take a lot of practice to get good results and many years to master.

Thinking about everything beginning urban sketchers have to learn, all at once – how to draw, what to sketch, how to compose, where to stand or sit, what to bring – no wonder learning to sketch with watercolors was challenging, and my results were often disappointing.

3/23/23 Le Pen Flex, Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell my newbie self to skip the watercolors and maybe skip ink-line washes, too. My newbie self would hate me, but I would recommend something that would aid my learning instead of impeding it: How about a single soft graphite pencil? It’s easy to carry, and I can use any paper. With it, I can learn form and values while studying composition, and I can still sketch any subject matter I want. Gain a little confidence and skills with that before I add color.

A single graphite pencil??! Boooring! Noooo way!

Well, I tried.

1 comment:

  1. Love the Le Pen washes in these! I don't think there is a perfect medium. We are all looking to improve what we are sketching with.


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