Thursday, August 23, 2012

Urban Sketching - More or Less

I have been filling up sketchbooks for a handful of years, sometimes working from direct observation, sometimes from imagination, often from my own photos. I admire people who boldly sit outside drawing in public, especially those who have no problems rendering buildings. bridges, and other man made edifices.   I'm not so confident.

Anyway, there is a group of dedicated direct-observation sketchers in an online group called Urban Sketchers.  The original group was in Seattle, but now there are Urban Sketchers all over the world, and they travel to meet one another.  These folks are good, really good. I decided to join in, even though I am shy about drawing in public (I draw lots of sleeping people in airports and libraries), and my buildings mostly look like they are about to fall down.  So be it.

Last week I drove over to Delavan, WI, to meet my sister for lunch.  Afterward I sat in a park drawing a larger-than-life fiberglass giraffe, erected in the park to commemorate Delavan's history was winter headquarters for several circuses.  My poor critter has legs too short.  I must have been worried I wouldn't fit him in my notebook.  Since I was using a pen there was no going back, only forging ahead. The park also has an elephant and a clown, but they will have to wait for another time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Report from Figure Drawing

14x17 inches, Tombow marker on Strathmore drawing paper pad - 20 minutes

Since 2007 I've been working on my direct observation drawing by attending figure drawing classes.  I started out with evening sessions at UW Madison, but eventually quit after a series of dates where the model never showed up.  There was that, and the fact that I drive 40 minutes each way to get to the university, have to pay for parking, and then get out very late for me.  Summer is also road construction season in Wisconsin, so it often meant long dark drives filled with alternate routes, or the need to negotiate a maze orange construction barrels.  I often didn't get home until about 11:00 PM.

I finally discovered a non-instructional community figure drawing group that has been meeting at UW Whitewater since the 1970s.  It's twenty miles closer, and the sessions are very affordable.  While each session runs from 6-9 PM in the summer (schedules vary during the school year), I typically leave at 8:30 PM and get back home with enough time to put away my gear and settle down a bit before bedtime - even if there is road construction, as there is this year.

My early drawing were a sincere effort to be as accurate and beautiful as possible, but most of the drawings just look pallid and tight.  I have learned that the longer I work and rework, the less interesting the results are to my eyes.  So my preference is for a series of quick warm ups and shorter poses.  The majority of people who show up to draw at Whitewater seem to prefer longer poses, which occasionally puts us at odds.  They want to study in depth; I want to collect shapes and experiment with materials and color.  So usually I just move around, or attempt two drawing during an extended pose.

 14x11 inches, pastel on 93 lb. Bee Paper notebook - 25 minutes

I have used watercolor, acrylic, graphite pencils, ink pens, all sorts of media.  But this summer I've been using exclusive dry media, charcoal, conte crayons, pastels, or brush tip markers.  I'm fond of a Golden pastel medium that I brush on the paper ahead of time to create good tooth, and I bring along pieces of plastic to put between the pages to keep things neat until I can get the sketchbooks home and spray fix the pages.  I've been trying to be bold and bright, focusing on shapes and the way light plays on the figure, rather than trying to make a technically perfect rendering.

11x14 inches, pastel on 93 lb. Bee Paper, "Aquabee" - 45 minutes

The other experiment I tried last night was using a lightweight portable easel for drawing.  I don't like to drawing while standing, so instead of using the heavy duty easel the school provides, I typically sat at a drawing horse and worked there, often with my sketchbook clipped to a portable drawing board.  I got a good deal at University Bookstore recently on a Norcross Steel Tripod Easel. It's very light, has a nice carrying case with a shoulder strap, and is quick and easy to set up.  My notebooks sit securely on the easel, and I found it to be perfect for comfortable drawing last night. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vintage Series, Continued

8x8 inches, acrylic on canvas board

The past couple days here in southern Wisconsin have been pleasant, in the 80s, and the result for me was a feeling of enthusiasm and energy that I haven't experienced in weeks.  Encouraged by results on the old photos from my stash, I decided to take a stag at this boy on a pony.  The tiny black and white photograph was obviously snapped on our family farm, and since my grandfather saved it until his death in the 1970s, I assume the child is a relative, I'm guessing Grandpa's older brother John's son.  It looks to me like the boy's outfit is from the 1920s, which would be about right for that family.

I decided to do a series of these photos, all the same size, on inexpensive canvas board from the local hobby store.  I gesso the boards first to fill in the rough texture a bit, and to just get over my hesitation at making a first mark.  Then I drew in the figures, and built the images up layer by layer.  This time I experimented with a slow dry medium added in to the acrylic.  It seemed to give the paint a bit longer before it dried, and gave me the ability to thin each color a bit, improving the application, and allowing me to glaze.

I intend to apply gold leaf to the background, just as I did with the panting of the girl with the rabbits.  I may also go into this with some colored pencil, perhaps add some shading in blues or violets.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


5x7 inches, acrylic on paper

It has been such a hot summer, I find myself combing through old photos of people sunbathing, swimming, in boats, and fishing.  I certainly haven't been doing these things.  These two girls were high school friends of my mother's, and I decided to try to depict them.  This was supposed to be the under painting, with color added later, but I think I'll leave them as they are for now.  Or maybe I'll try another version in color later.  I suppose there's no reason to rush a decision.  In the original photograph, which is small, in black and white, they sit in front of dark foliage, so that their hair blends into the background.  I decided to eliminate the trees and just emphasize the young women.  Somehow they speak to me of pleasant summer days spent with friends.

by Joyce Sutphen

This was when my daughters were just children
playing on the rocky shore of the lake,

their hair in braids, their bright-colored jackets
tied around their waists. It was afternoon,

the shadows falling away, their faces
glowing with light. Whatever we said then

(and it must have been happy; it must have
been hopeful) is lost as I am now lost

from that life I lived. This was when nothing
that I wanted mattered, though all I wanted

was happiness, pure happiness, simple
as strawberries and cream in a saucer,

as curtains floating from a window sill,
as small pairs of shoes arranged in a row.