Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's a Jungle Out There

A musician first learns the notes, then the scales, and then more complex principles of music. For watercolor, I think, I am beginning to learn the scales. I want to learn techniques that I can employ at will, and then by instinct.

So yesterday and today I have tried a few new things, including painting and scraping in watercolor with a palette knife and consciously lifting color. I practiced at home and then decided to set myself outside at a picnic table and paint en plein air while humming these new scales. I took the palette knife and even some brushes beyond my Koi waterbrush. I have gotten a bit too used to using the Koi rather than regular brushes. I also decided to use a strip of my Fabriani rough watercolor paper rather than the Moleskine. I had about an hour and a fifteen minutes to paint, and I felt rushed. In the end, the result was about what you'd expect. But that's okay. That is how we learn, right?

So I got home and stared at it for a while. I had only one choice, really, and that was to ink it. So I did something else that is new for me, and that is apply the ink after the watercolor, which is of course a perfectly legitimate thing to do. And it looked better after that.

So I've embarked for parts unknown - it's my paint safari through the jungle (city). I have my shotgun (paint brush), my machete (palette knife), my mosquito net (paper), my camouflage (paints), my binoculars (eyes), and my tour guide (new books on watercolor technique and on color).

What wild, hairy animals might we see? Who knows?

If you come along, be careful. It's a jungle out there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And That's How it Goes

Here's how it goes when you are sketching live. The man playing with his blackberry who seems like he will be there forever gets up when a group arrives. Luckily he hangs around talking to them, since your drawing is as yet headless. So you have time to sketch his head.

Then you begin sketching the woman next to him and just as you are about to sketch her forearm and hand, another lady sits down where the man had been. She places a big manila file on her lap and blocks your view. So you sketch the manila file.

But since the man didn't have anything on his lap and you've drawn his lap already, by the way, the manila file is now floating in thin air. So you have to put a box under it.

The other woman is a doll and stays put.

That's how it goes when you are sketching live.

So every now and then, even when you are in Einstein Bagel's surrounded by interesting people to sketch, you just don't feel like exerting the effort. So you sketch the rack holding the cream and to-go boxes for coffee instead. And it is a pleasure to do (except when people get cream or sugar for their coffee. The nerve of them).

And I intend to color this one. But I kind of like the line drawing just as it is, so I thought I'd share it this way too.

Today I faced one more challenge. I was at an outdoor cafe when a very small neon green lizard hopped on my hand while I was painting. He seemed quite content to stay, but I eased him onto the ground anyway.

So it's true what they say: you never know what might happen when you get out of the house.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beyond the Blue Blotch

5" x 7" watercolor on Fabriano 140 lb. rough

My father-in-law grew up in Havana, Cuba, although he has been in Miami since 1955. In other words, he came to Miami before Castro came to power. Sometimes he is nostalgic for the Cuba that no longer exists. So a few years ago someone gave him a book that contains photographs of hundreds of postcards of Cuba from the years 1902 to 1962.

He lent me the book because he thought in might contain some good subjects for paintings, and it does. There are beautiful photos throughout the book. I believe it also has this added advantage: while the book is copyright protected, I don't believe that old Cuban postcards would be.

This watercolor painting is derived from a photo in an old postcard of Balneario Rancho, San Vicente, Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The postcard is undated.

To develop skill in watercolors, I feel the need to sometimes abandon ink and to practice traditional techniques. That is my goal here. So suggestions are more than welcome. I can't just paint blue blotches forever, right?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sketching to Go

In that other Moleskine, the Moleskine that doesn't take watercolor - the poor stepchild of my Moleskines - I am free. I can scribble, I can experiment. I do calisthenics with the pen, "zen and ink". Sometimes I just push the pen around without the mind getting in the way, like meditation or sleep, and create zentangles without angles, I guess.

So in this Moleskine I produce mostly, to put it mildly, garbage. And that's okay. Someday I may slather opaque paint on the pages over most of it in a delightfully creative way. But not any time soon.

Every now and then, though, something happens to bring it all together despite my best efforts to the contrary. One day, when I was aching to draw and had no time, while stopped at a traffic light, I drew the head and hand of a motorcyclist. Then the light changed. Now what? I decided to just do quick sketches of things I see (yes, at other stops and then anywhere else I happened to be). Unrelated things. Then on a whim I decided to box each of them, and suddenly the whole page came together as though it were a narrative for a story. Counter intuitive for sure - you would have thought that boxing the drawings would separate them!

Captain Elaine once accused me of Driving While Sketching (DWS), a ticketable offense no doubt. No Captain, not true - I was stopped at the light, honest. (And, well, look at Barbara Week's recent post!)

I like Wil's motto, "If you're sitting, you're drawing", and when I'm in the car I ain't standing, right?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reflections and Confessions

Legal Warning: This post contains personal reflection which is in part self-congratulatory. It is understood and acknowledged that this is ordinarily not permitted in our society and is often misunderstood. The writer takes full responsibility for any distress that this may cause. Moreover this post reveals errors in the process of creating the above picture and therefore will serve to destroy any illusion, however ill-founded, that art is infallible and that every stroke of the pen of this blogger is intentional.

Confession no. 1: I believe that this picture, with its great many flaws, shows that I am progressing. Since I started this blog with the aim of improving, this makes me happy.

When I started this blog six months ago and for several months thereafter, those of you who followed saw a lot of "floating heads" scattered around my pages (pictures drawn in public of people's faces and nothing else). There were three reasons that I drew floating heads: (1) It has always been the face I was most interested in and because of this, it was what I knew best how to draw. (2) People move. (3) I just couldn't figure out how to draw a body in public - the face would always end up disproportionately bigger than the body, like a cartoon. (I drew many cartoons as a kid).

You can see that I still made this mistake on one of the figures in this drawing. The face on the man facing the viewer is too big. This is because when I drew him I forgot what I have learned: Whenever I intend to draw a figure, I must never draw the face first. I must have the torso completed before I draw the face. Then I can mentally measure how big the face must be, as compared to the rest of the body. I always have a tendency to draw the face first because it is virtually always the character of the face that attracts me to the individual.

Actually, in this drawing I made this same mistake twice. I will get to that in a minute. First, back to the floating heads. When I first began drawing in public, I would never have been able to cohere all of the miscellaneous heads into a whole scene. I am pleased that in this instance I was able to take various figures in proper perspective, and add elements to the drawing to convey a sense of place. This is new to me.

I am also pleased that I didn't let reality get in the way of this. The guy holding the paper is sitting at half a floating table, and the guy in the front is at another half of a floating table. Bet you didn't notice this 'till I told you (let me know if you did). This is because it does not matter (at least in a sketch) and I am just beginning to understand this.

Confession no. 2: The reason the two sitting figures are sitting at half floating tables is because I drew the face of the closest figure before I drew his body, and it ended up too big, so he had to be closer. I was too infatuated with the character of the face. I am actually happy that this happened since I believe it is a more interesting picture because of the placement: there is more perspective, and a fuller sketch of the surroundings was made possible. And, again, nothing appears to be missing. There are no accidents if I can create a final drawing - only serendipity.

Confession no. 3: I am rather pleased with the coloring though I know I have much to learn. What I find interesting is that I will start rather timidly with rather traditional shading, but as time goes on I seem to go into a zone and operate on instinct and throw blotches of color here or there where I think it will look good. Watercolor allows for layering, and that's pretty neat. I'm starting to intentionally optically mix by laying down subsequent dry washes (although I have to admit I am still more comfortable premixing).

But here's the foolish thing I am pleased about that no one but me would even care about, I think. If you look at the pant leg on the middle character and that blotch of blue. That is what I am happy about. I can't tell you how much I have wanted to create that kind of wet-on-wet effect and it has been elusive.

So I confess to being happy with my progress and being happy about the long road ahead because I know - in large part from viewing the blogs I've listed on this site, and others - that I have a long, long way to go. And I'm excited about making the trip.

This is Serious!

Well, well, well. To catch you all up, Raena of Raena's Sketch Journal did a post about playing with her kneadable eraser one night while watching tv, and creating a cartoony but dignified gentleman's head. (A kneadable eraser, for those of you who don't know, is soft and can be kneaded into any shape, like clay.) You can see the gentleman here.

I then made the mistake of commenting on her post and telling her that my wife and I have been trading small "sculptures" made from my kneadable eraser for weeks now - leaving them for the other to find. I said that the one we have now is so bizarre that I would try to take a photo of it and post it as a response.

But before I could even pick up the camera, Raena turned around in her next post and actually created the most amazing little character. You actually could call it a sculpture! You can see it here. And then she had the nerve to say, "Dan, I'm still waiting to see yours!!"

Well, Raena, here it is. .. Yes, we dressed up our turtle.

But just you wait. Serious sculpting is on its way!

Later on in the day: Okay, Raena here's as serious I can be (and he looks mighty serious):

So, fellow art bloggers, here is the challenge - grab your kneaded erasers, sculpt a masterpiece, and post the result on your blog! And don't blame me. Blame Raena!

[Raena, can I draw now?]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quirky But Handy

I was back at SuperTarget in Davie, Florida the other day, sitting in the small cafe and looking for someone who'd be interesting to draw, when I glanced out the window.

I saw the parking lot. .. And it was beautiful!

Perhaps my euphoria was from the bite of the chocolate chip cookie that I had purchased solely as an alibi, or maybe I was in a kind of image-induced haze, knowing as I do now that art can be found everywhere in everyday matters. But beautiful it was. The architectural features at the storefront are very attractive, almost too attractive for a retail store, including a wood panel overhang, and columns with scattered and uneven brickwork. And of course there are the trees.

The final picture, if you look carefully, is kind of quirky. There are large cement spheres in front of the building as a kind of decoration and grown people tend to sit on them. I caught half of one such playful adult in my drawing. And then there was the man examining his engine. And in the lower right - that large box - yes, that's a dumpster, I think. And that's a pigeon in the rafters.

But I just painted what I saw.

I have a profound respect for folks that draw architectural structures well. I had some trouble with the perspective (the columns were supposed to be the same height) but I don't think the inaccuracy affects the drawing. After all, it is my world once I put it on paper and the real scene then becomes irrelevant.

All in all, I'm fairly satisfied. But no applause please. Permit me to give you a hand instead:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wrong Holiday - Right Backyard

Well, I have to say that after many years of failed attempts, this Labor Day Weekend we finally got it right. We had a picnic yesterday, and we barbecued today. The weather was wonderful every time it had to be.

Our picnic was at a beautiful little park in Coral Gables named "Merrie Christmas Park". I don't know why it's called that.

As anyone who has been here knows, South Florida is flat. No hills whatsoever. None at all. (Nada in Miami-speak). Everywhere you look -- flat.

Merrie Christmas Park, though, is a valley in a flat land. How is this? I did a quick Google search, and didn't find much - but it seems the park may once have been a rock pit (perhaps for limestone, like the locally famous Venetian pool.)

For whatever reason, then, you have to descend a small mound to get to this park. And at the side of the park, there is an even higher hill for this valley, and at the top of the hill is a two-story house.

So in between eating and throwing Frisbee and kicking a ball around with Matthew (my son) and Lauren (my niece's daughter) and having an all around grand time with them and with my wife Liz, I had bouts of unsociability as I drew and painted that house, surrounded by singing birds and banyan trees, in the house's vast backyard, Merrie Christmas Park.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Best Things in Life are $236.00.

Once again getting my car repaired, I was waiting this morning at the dealer. Nowadays it's one of my favorite things to do, because there are tables on one side of the large room, and couches and chairs all the way on the other - prime drawing territory. I was able to both draw and paint at the scene without being noticed by the people in the waiting area, and it only cost me $236! What a deal! On the other hand, my car was repaired for free. [Incidentally, for this drawing I used a different pen than usual, one that I had all along and hadn't realized was waterproof, the Faber Castell Pitt artist pen (size S). I like it!]

We are in a recession, I know, and I must be more frugal. So for the cost of a bagel and a coke, less than $5, I was able to sketch (with my Lamy Safari) three guys having a lively conversation outside the Einstein Bagels and Starbucks. Later, when I colored the drawing, my challenge was to create the illusion of plate glass in front of them without weakening the attention to them (heavy concerns for such a light Moleskine). To do this, I tried to use purer colors for the inside than for the outside. Then I placed streaks across the outside scene and rubbed the outside scene with my finger (which may have been a mistake - I don't know.)

So there you have it. $236.00 vs. $5.00. Dollar for dollar a good value either way - don't you think? Who says the best things in life are free?