Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Battling the sketching

Dear Diane,
I loved to see your sketching kit. I imagine you out there in the Californian sun, with your plein air hat on, all serene, painting with your kit sorted in perfect ergonomic alignment. Like a surgeon,
" Number six brush!"
Your hand goes out and there it is. I imagine it to be peaceful and restful. Even the 'urban' in your sketching looks semi- bucolic with the greenery all around.
Me? Ha. Less urban sketching and urban warfare. Battling against my lack of perfect kit and the psychological warfare that goes on in my head.
First, my watercolours. (And yes, there is a U in colour. Don't even try to tell me otherwise or I shall shoot you with my spray bottle. Or I would had I not left it at home, not having a perfectly organised sketching bag yet. ) I listened to your advice. Student paints will be trouble. Invest in artist quality ones. So I ordered this set of Windsor and Newton Artist quality half pans.
It was not cheap. So I was a little foxed to find that if you unwrap the 24 half pans there is a ton of space left at the end of each line. So I budged them all up, added a white and an empty pan from an old Cotman student grade set and folded some paper up and stuffed it at the end of the row where there was still a gap but not enought of a gap for a half pan. Why would they make a 24 pan box that holds two rows of thirteen and a half half-pans?
I got over that annoyance soon enought and made a paint chart. Watercolours in a pan don't always look like they come out on paper so a reference guide as to what was where in my box seemed like a plan.
Would have worked a treat except, look what happens when you actually take your sketchers box out to sketch and open it up! What drongo designed this thing? I am not pleased. The saving grace is that the paint in the box costs a lot more if bought individually than in this piece of *$$%.
Ahem. Sorry about that. Any recommendation for an empty pallette that will hold half pans in nice and snug?
So anyway. The rest of the kit is a motley assortment of pens and water brushes in a pencil case and a Filofax. Currently an A5 Amazona. This is filled with proper Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper as recommendedby Ed from Mostly Drawing and I have so say that I like it. It takes watercolours without difficulty but still feels like paper not card. And the genius of the Filofax as sketchbook is (a) no wated time self binding books. Punch and go. Yeah! (b) No need to always carry a dedicated sketchbook. Slip a few pages of this paper into the A5s I use most often including my work ones so I always have paper. Then the kit can roll about the bottom of my handbag.
So, that is adequate, although I can see how it could be improved upon.
I am still struggling to use my kit though, mostly because I am inexpert and therefore hate the results. This weekend I went on two sketching opportunities. The first was to Cheetham Hill in Manchester where there is no semi-buccolic greenery. I actually went because wanted to take some more covert photos of people in the community for use in quilt work. Covert is not easy with a camera, especially when your skin and dress already make you stick out a mile. I was also mindful that the Asian communities are suffering increased attacks following the Woolwich murders and that they may be a bit twitchy about people photographing at the moment. So I first treated myself to a shop in the wonderful supermarkets which are remarkably cheap and stocked with exotic foods. I love to be in these shops. I thought a bag of guava jelly, arabic flat breads, paneer and spices might give me some legitimacy. Then, I sat in the sun on a low wall and looked across this road and attempted to sketch the shop. Then, whenever a saw a woman who caught my eye I would take some snaps, thinking that I could justify them as references for the sketching if anyone asked.
I had not long started when a young man came past pulling a large wire trolley full of fruit and veg. He stopped,
"Are you drawing it?"
"Trying to. I've only just started learning to sketch."
He looked across at the shop. " Oh, you picked it for the colours and stuff? Show me when I come back."
By the time he came back I had produced an excorable mess. I am not showing you. He looked at it,
"It's a good start. In a couple of months you'll be really good."
Bless him!
But isn't it funny how you seem to instinctively draw buildings and I much prefer people. Todays outting was to BocBoc where the staff tolerate me messing up their tables.
This guy was enjoying his eggs on toast.
You know how we have been talking privately about finding an artistic voice? Well, I feel that my people all look like I drew them and I can see myself improving so I am not unhappy with them even though I'd like to get better still. But my buildings and travel sketches look like they were drawn by a camel with a pen in its mouth. They make me very unhappy.
So. I have decided to treat this sketching lark as if it were a compulsory college course. It is something I should learn and I accept, like Latin, it may benefit me in indirect ways later even if I don't make it my life's passion. I am open to being suprised and hooked by it and am willing to work at it and not give up so I can give myself a passing grade. Rather than messing about in ignorance I am going to educate myself. I will persevere until the end of the year and then I will review whether I will continue or not.
I have ordered some books on basic techniques and have made a list of more advanced ones to progress through. I narrowed those down by only choosing the ones where the examples were in a style of watercolour that made me excited. (i.e not your average insipid country landscape). I did look at online courses but rejected them on cost/ unsuitable starting date/ really irritating voice and accent of instructor and the fact that watching a video makes me impatient and I tend to drift off and do something else. I prefer written instructions. Much quicker. In the process though I found many free online tutorials to work through and some short youtube clips. I am compiling a collection of journal page images to emulate. I have set out my objectives and goals so I am clear what it is I am trying to attain. And of course I wrote it all down on an assortment of nice paper in my wine zip Holborn Filofax which is just lovely to touch and makes me happy to use and which therefore offsets that useless paint box!
And, I am adopting the attitude that there are artists who use watercolours in a way that gets me interested and inspired and that if they can do it then it can't be so hard that I cannot do it, if only I decide to learn how. Then, when I feel I know what I am doing and what I use most I will address my kit again.
The books should arrive at the weekend. In the meantime, I am off to scrape orange and yellow screen inks on to fabric for a wholecloth quilt background. That I know how to do!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Welcome to my Travel Sketch Kit

I do not have to explain to you how important it is to have the right supplies for being able to do what you want to do.  And now that I'm trying to sketch and paint out in the world, I needed to find the right travel kit.  And I think I have it!  I know you want the details.

First, the bag.  I've used various containers over the last few months, often one of my African baskets, But while those worked adequately for some situations (say, hanging out at Starbuck's), it wasn't a good option for sketchcrawl sort of walks.  (Well, the one I did.)  So, I did extensive internet research, and came upon this bag by Tom Bihn, a travel bag company in Seattle.  This is the large Cafe Bag, a style of messenger bag that suited my needs perfectly.  (I agonized between the medium and the large for some time, then figured that there was only a few inches' difference and I'd rather have a bit too much space than too little.) It comes in all sorts of colors.  Mine is actually somewhat darker than the way it shows up in this picture.

Stunning green interior, isn't it?  So, you see the big zip pocket on this side, and the main compartment opens on top.

On the back side, there's another pocket -- stylishly slanted. 

 Oops, I forgot to take a picture showing the inside side pockets, but here's a picture from the Tom Bihn website that shows the handy side pockets.  There are also some tether straps that hook to rings inside -- one I use for my car keys, another for a little zipper pouch in which I put money and driver's license and a credit card.  I have a third pouch which I might use for colored pencils when I want to bring them along.

Here's what I carry inside, at present:

 Water bottle
Plastic deli container for water
Spray bottle with water
Watercolor palette (Schmincke metal with 12 half pans of color)
Tube of white gouache (as yet unused)
Pencil/Pen/Brush case 

Here's the palette open, by the way.  It's a very handy little size.

Oh, and I carry my sketchbook, which at present is one of these -- a Canson spiral-bound journal with watercolor paper.  It's about the size of my Ipad. 

Plus there's room to tuck in the personal Filofax that I use as my wallet if I want to bring the whole thing. I am totally in love with the little pencil case. 

I found it at Jetpens.com, and it's called a Lihit Lab Teffa Pen Case.  I decided I wanted one container to put my pens, pencils and brushes in.  The fabric roll I made has just proven to be awkward when I'm sitting on a park bench somewhere.  So I figured that something that zipped and had a flap or two to hold items would work.  Those

Here's how it looks when you first open it, and here are the pens and pencils.

I'm finding my essentials are:
Two Preppy Platinum fountain pens (fine nib), one with black ink and one with brown (these pens are really inexpensive, about $4 each, but they're great.  I'm planning adding two more to this kit, for green and gray inks)
3 waterproof pens of varying point sizes
2 mechanical pencils, one of which is a new favorite sketching tool- a Faber Castell "clutch" pencil

On the other side of that flap, there's this, with some mesh pockets and more room for tall items:
Here's what I've got on this side:

Erasers (one regular, one kneaded)
A bit of sponge for texturing purposes
Rubber bands (to hold pages down in wind)
2 water brushes
a white opaque ink pen
a few sticks for scraping
3 travel watercolor brushes (size 8, 6, and 3) 

This set up holds everything I need, it's easy to use outdoors and holds things securely, AND there is room for more.  

Have bag, will travel.  And sketch.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Wet studio tour

The bad news is that Dennis says he is contemplating cancelling your standing invitation on the basis that you are a bad influence on me. It was all those photos of pallettes that did it. I suddenly wanted me one too :) and some good watercolour paper to boot. At the moment I am using a pencil case set of Aquatone which I tend to use by lifting the colour off with a wet waterbrush rather than 'colouring in with them' and wetting the paper. I like the ease of this and the portabilty but the downside is that they don't come in a pallette and so I tend not to carry one. That in turn means I tend not to mix colours and if I want to dilute them I end up doing it on the back of my hand. Not recommended practice I am sure!
Well, I say I am using them... Very occasionally! I know that you will say that it need not take very long but there are too many creative things I want to do all at once which individually do not take very long but together take more time than I have. But I am trying. Last week, rather than trying to beat the rush hour home I waited it out in Cafe Nero. My plan had been to do some urban sketching of buildings but of course five minutes before I left work the heavens opened. And anyway,my instinct - rather suprisingly- has been to go for people. And people sit relatively still in cafes. So this was the result.
I think it was probably better before I added the colour:

And you have seen my Tayto crisp packet.
But in reponse to me showing you that you asked was I now seeing the point of drawing ordinary things. Well, yes and no :) I get flashes of understanding then they go. I remember when we were in Kaikoura New Zealand it was tipping it down with rain with wind and, as the only thing to do there is go on the sea, all the activities were cancelled and we holed up in our flat reading. At one point the rain stopped and as I got up I saw, from the balcony a whole mountain range a short distance away that simply had not been visible through the greyness. I grabbed the camera, took a few shots, the clouds closed in again and that was all we saw of Kaikoura. Its a bit like that!
So as of the moment you asked the question, the answer was, well I have some vague recollection of why it was of vast importance that I learn to paint snack foods, but I seem to have forgotten :) I think the answer might be as simple as: its important to allow time in life to do ultimately pointless things because they renew your resources to do the .. whats the word?Pointful?.... things. But them we come back to posisble activities competing for time.
Just do one picture a day! Just a small sketch page. Thats the advice I have read so often. And it sounds tempting. Just a half hour. A quarter hour even. Trouble is, I read a lot of well meaning advice and so I know that I am also supposed to be reading, journalling, running, doing yoga, meditating, organising my cupboards, eating with my spouse ( and mindfully cleaning up afterwards),keeping in touch with friends and community and blogging. For just half an hour a day. On top of a full time job. And I'like to actually do some textile art now and again please. And maybe have a bath. ( Admittedly I cam multi task there and I do read or even meditate in the bath. But watersoluble media and baths do not seem like a plan to me! Unless, can you marble in bathwater maybe?)
So, I cannot see sketching being something I habitually do every day or even most days. But, that does not mean it cannot be done regularly. I am contemplating, now it is summer waiting out the traffic maybe once a fortnight. I do have motivation to learn:
  • I trust your view that it will benefit me
  • I would like to be competent enough with the media to make nice travel journals when I am off work and have time to sketch. I particularly want to sketch with you when we visit
  • I like the process of learning new things and having a 'project'
  • I want to own a box of colour. Thats cool!
So I have added that to my new Studies Filofax.. But thats a post for another day! For now I have to go and wrap this breakdown printed fabric in plastic to cure. I have to say this took priority over a sketch today:) I'll let you know how it turned out.

PS You can now see the result of the breakdown printing over at My Down the Well Blog.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Which palette? Which colors? Which brushes?

Remember the immediate thrill and attraction when you discovered the Philofaxy blog?  Well, yesterday on a watercolor journaling facebook page I visit from time to time (The Artist's Journal Workshop), someone posted this photo:

Yes, it's her collection of watercolor paint palettes.  I was amazed (and stunned) when I saw it ... like we used to be at those pictures of stacks of filofax binders in all colors and sizes.   

But of course I had to look closer at all of the different palettes -- what sizes, configurations they are.  Because the questions of what palette to use, what assortment of paints (wet or pan? What brand?), what colors, is as engrossing and instructive as are the personalize-your-planner entries I know you love.

So that photo led me to a group on Flickr, "Sketch Kits," where people post photos or paintings or sketches of their sketching gear. I was (to use a british expression) gobsmacked, but in the most delightful of ways.  And guess what?  There are other similar groups on Flickr:

"Sketching Gear
 "What's In Your Art Bag?" for photos and drawings of what's in your art bag, of course
 "Paint Palettes" for photos of paint palettes only
"About My Studio/Sketch Stuff" for pictures and drawings of all sorts of art stuff

There are people blogging about their watercolor palettes and color choices and palette hacks and paper and pen options, like Cathy Johnson here, and Roz Stendahl does here and all over her blog...

And you will not be surprised to know that there are people posting videos to show what they keep in their sketch kits, as Carole does here. There are probably tons on Youtube but I haven't ventured to look yet. My head is swirling with enough as it is.

I find it endlessly fascinating.  The visual delight of all that color, for one thing.  Looking at how people arrange things, and come up with clever solutions for little problems, and sort their colors... It is artistic voyeurism and education all at once.

After several happy hours cruising through all of these, I was thoroughly inspired and did a bit of painting with my sister, with this as the result:

I think I told you I'm trying to do a painting every day in connection with a Facebook group called Every Day In May , and yesterday's topic was a pine tree.  I set out to focus on the cedar tree in the corner of the backyard with the chair in its shade, and the flowers sort of carried me away.

 This is a very deep rabbit hole indeed.  I went to bed with visions of palettes and paint colors swirling around in my head, and I woke up this morning feeling almost hung-over with thoughts of colors and palette configurations and such.  For some strange reason, I'm feeling the need to rethink my paint palette set up...