Second "Design Recharge" Interview: April 1, 2015 In this second interview with Diane Gibbs at "Design Recharge" we focus on International Fake Journal Month. If you're wondering just what that is, I give a great description of it, and why you might want to participate. Also check out our earlier interview (below on this list) if you want more information about how I approach visual journaling.
First "Design Recharge" Interview: February 12, 2015 Diane Gibbs of Design Recharge interviewed me for International Fake Journal Month (2015). We get a little side tracked and talk a lot about sketching, visual journaling, and my creative process. It's a great interview.
Danny Gregory and I Discuss Visual Journaling Sadly a two part podcast from May 2008 made with Danny Gregory, author of "An Illustrated Life," is not currently available. We talked about journaling, art media, and materials…If this becomes available again in the future I will let you know.
Finding Bits of Time Ricë Freeman-Zachery, author of "Creative Time and Space," talks to me about finding time to be creative. (Taped October 23, 2009.)
Above: Sketch of a pug on Fluid Hot Press Watercolor Paper (8 x 8 inch block) using a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen. I was testing this paper for suitability with this pen (very suitable). And I was playing with various ways of scribbling hatching. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Left: Early sketch from this life drawing sesson. We'd warmed up with 1-minute and 5-minute sketches and went on to a longer pose of 10 minutes. This is on a 14 x 20 inch sheet of Stonehenge, so the figure is about 12 inches tall, and still I didn't have enough space for the feet! Click on the image to view an enlargement.
There are a gazillion reasons to draw, but I like to focus on the simple ones. I can go on an on about my love of drawing but sometimes images say it all.
I started with small gesture sketches using colored pencil and graphite (none of those got scanned). They were the warm up. Then I moved on to one of my favorite pens, the Faber-Castell Pitt Artists' Calligraphy Pen (used in the first two sketches here). I like to dive in with ink.
Left: This sketch was made in about 10 minutes. It was supposed to be a 15-minute pose, but I spent the first few minutes starting a very large drawing (upper left-hand corner) and a minute rethinking what I should do when it was clear that wasn't going to work.) Then I started over and did this sketch with a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen and added shading with a Pentel Color Brush. (Approx. 8 inches tall and yes the foot is again off the page.) Click on the image to view an enlargement.
But on the second drawing I added some shading with a Pentel Color Brush, fine point, watersoluble dye-based (fugitive) ink pen. And a no.10 round watercolor brush to add water.
Above: Final sketch of the day. It was meant to be a 25-minute sketch, but I actually finished in 20 minutes. Read about it below. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Then on the final drawing of the day I used the same brush pen and no. 10 round watercolor brush.
I was going to sketch in pencil. (If you click on the image to see an enlargement, look above the eye on the right just below the eyebrow. There you'll see a light pencil line peeking through my ink washes.) But the moment I put the pencil on the paper and made that line I knew I didn't want to spend 20 minutes with a pencil.
So I put the pencil down, picked up the brush pen, picked a new place to start (I restarted with the eye on the left) and sketched.
The moment I put that brush pen to paper I knew everything was going to work. The sketch isn't perfect (I should have used the watercolor brush on the nose tip where it turns up, instead of the ink brush—but sometimes you just get so excited in the moment—touches like that remind us to SLOW DOWN, you have 25 minutes after all!).
To me however, everything about the sketch says adventure, and documents a series of decisions I made leading to the final sketch. Run this shadow out here, reserve this white space over here, experiment with ink strength when showing texture in the beard.
There is a little bit that is cropped off the scan at the bottom. I have a bit more of the chest and shoulder in the actual drawing. There's a huge drop of ink there where I squeezed the pen while I was thinking, looking at the model's face and not the paper. I love that drop of ink and all the little water splatters that occurred when I reached over the large sheet of paper to my water source. There are also speckles on the page, spatters of ink, where I stroked the tip of the ink brush with my waterbrush so I could pick up some diluted ink. Sure, I should have used diluted ink on my waterbrush to lay in the upper lip line so it melded seamlessly with the form of the upper lip, and yes I waited too long and let the paper get too dry by the time I decided to darken the cheek on my right, to name just two more things. It's great to notice all those things and that's how we improve for the future.
But I'm happy with this sketch because all the care and attention I put into making decisions all evening long shows in this sketch.
Drawing led to something. It led to me taking risks, some of which actually paid off. It led to me observing more closely (so I could gather useful information which will help me the next time I sketch anything).
Things happen when you draw. (And I don't just mean a release of endorphins.) Things bubble up inside of you that I can only describe as "questions." These are the types of questions many people stop asking when they are between 3 and 8 years old. Someone (or several someones) in their lives tells them not to look, tells thems it's rude to look. They tell you it's impolite to ask "those questions," that come up when you really look at something. These are questions that can't even be fully articulated; these questions even vary from individual to individual based on interest and focus.
Still, I believe these are essential questions all humans must ask. We need to really look before we are in a position to ask them. Drawing gives us a free-pass to "really look." (You might also think of this as being fully present.)
When truly great artists ask these questions and get them right we, the audience, respond not just to technique, composition, color, line, and obvious subject matter, but because we sense that something clear has been tapped. That's a great thing to reach for.
But the greatest thing about drawing is that you don't have to be a great artist to experience some of this. Each day you can reach for the answers to those questions your "elders" have always told you not to ask, and you can provide your own answer. And when you're done you can enjoy the process and the product of that effort. You can enjoy it alone, without anyone ever looking at your drawings.
And even if your drawing didn't fully articulate what those answers were, didn't even get close to anything but the edges of those questions, you can still savor that experience. No one can take that experience away from you. Ever.
You'll bring that experience with you, out into the rest of your life, because now you'll always be looking. You'll understand there are questions that must be asked.
And you can have that experience again and again, every time you pick up a drawing implement.
Drawing is subversive. It leads to something—unimpeded questions, which all have answers if we are just curious enough to look.
Left: Sketch that is approx. 4 x 6 inches in an 11 x 14 inch Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media hardbound journal. (The sketch is only about 4 inches tall.) French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna Schmincke gouache. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I have three different images to discuss today. They may seem unconnected because two are portraits and one is a nude figure study from life drawing, but they all have one thing in common—they all rely on squinting. And that's the project for Friday: Squint while you sketch something so that you can better see the values.
For this project you can use a photograph of a friend, you can stop your TV at an image that you want to work on, you can set up a still life on your table, you can go off to life drawing. It doesn't matter.
Work on watercolor paper (or a high quality wet media paper like Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media paper) because you'll want the ability to lighten areas if necessary, i.e., lift off paint. Sizing on watercolor paper (or quality wet media paper) will allow you to do this.
Work with gouache in diluted applications (if you're using great gouache like Schmincke or M. Graham) or work with glazes of watercolor, your choice.
Work monochromatically. I tend to work with two complementary colors and use them to neutralize each other, and let one predominate. But you can work with any dark valued pigment alone, payne's grey if you have it (I prefer to mix my neutrals), or sepia. Sometimes I simply start using whatever is left over on my palette and mix as necessary. Whatever you do make sure you have paint that will allow you to get a value range from darkest darks to lights. Using a high key color like yellow isn't going to work.
Use a large round watercolor brush. (I like to use a number 12 round that comes to a good tip. Your brush should hold a lot of wash.) Don't use your Niji Waterbrush, use a real watercolor brush for this project because you want a brush with a great belly that can hold a lot of color and you want to work on managing your water.
Left: Sepia watercolor on Arches hot press watercolor board. I cut a 16 x 20 inch board in half to get a 10 x 16 inch board. I did this in a figure drawing class with Stephan Orsak at the Atelier. The goal of the class was to sketch the figure directly in the 2 hour and 45 minute class. Everyone else was working in oil paints but Stephan let me work in gouache. I ended up using dilute washes because they were easier to try and erase from the board. I slowed myself way down and focused on the shapes and values. This wasn't always successful. The first attempt is the horizonal sketch that is just above the date at the bottom of this board. Then, disappointed with that, and knowing no amount of additional washes could save it, I started the upper body view on the left. Towards the end of the session the instructor told us that we should prepare to draw this week's and the next two week's poses on a single "canvas" so I turned my board on its side again and quickly did the full stance at the top. (The model was doing something odd with his foot and I wanted to have some sort of note about that.) Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Left: Here is a detail of the figure study. I didn't get very far with the darkest darks before I had to abandon it and do a second full-figure image. You can see where I wanted to go however. My outline around the figure was made with too dark a wash and it isn't blending out so if I want to make it disappear in this instance I would have to go darker on the background. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Set up your light source so that there are strong shadows and a range of values in your subject. (If you're working from a photo or TV choose appropriately: "Perry Mason" is a great place to start for strong lighting, and it's already monochomatic!).
1. Look at your subject and squint. Close your eyes tightly so that color recognition begins to disappear and what you see are shadow shapes.
2. Look at your paper and draw those shapes with your brush and a diluted wash of paint.
Note: You can elect to go in with a dark wash and get the shadow areas as dark as possible, but not all papers will allow you to lift off watercolor easily so you might prefer, as I do, to work lightly and build up. This also allows me to correct for placement, shape, and proportion.
I tend to start with an eye, and work outwards, if it's a face. On a full figure I tend to do light painted lines for the contour, to start, then I go in and look at shapes. Over time your memory will hold the shapes in your mind better.
Don't forget that you can work around negative shapes with your brush and leave your highlights.
3. Once I have an overall aspect down I go in with darker washes and refine wash shapes and values. I work all over the sketch at that point, because a dark value in one area will inform the dark value in another. Keep squinting when you look at your subject.
Note: When you lay in your washes load your brush so that it is full of the strength of paint you want to use. (Test a dilution at the corner of your paper if you're not sure.) Apply this wash to all areas in your sketch where you see that value—with one big long stroke, adjusting the shape of the shadow/value, by the movement of your brush. That's the goal. Don't worry if you don't do it each and every time. Don't worry if you have to go back and glaze in a darker value when portions of your lighter wash have dried. That's why it's practice!
Many people find it helpful to do a background tone against which they can judge the values in the subject. This is obvious in a still life, but in a portrait or figure sketch it might seem less obvious. I tend to leave the backgrounds of my portrait studies the color of the paper, but recently I've been adding background washes. Try both and see which works best for you.
Left: Direct brush sketch with French Ultramarine Blue, Magenta, and Burnt Sienna on Strathmore 300 Series Watercolor paper, 9 x 12 inch sheet. (I wrote about this watercolor paper at the link provided.)
If you need to lift up color (and your paper allows it) I recommend you use a stiff brush, like a scrubber. Wet it with clean water and gently rub on the area you wish to remove color from. Blot the paper to remove the lifted color. Rinse the color from your scrubbing brush. Repeat as needed with a couple caveats:
i. Some papers won't take rubbing, but pill and fall apart.
ii. Some colors stain and are difficult to lift. Switch to non-staining colors (manufacturers label colors for you so check their website if you don't know).
iii. If you need to lift a lot of color and it doesn't come off in one go it is sometimes best to let the paper dry completely in that area after blotting. Return to lift more when the paper is dry there. (Over time you'll get a sense of what your paper can tolerate and you'll behave accordingly.)
5. Stop before you find yourself fussing. (This is not as easy at it seems so don't beat yourself up if you find it impossible to stop in time—just stop as soon as you notice you're fussing.)
Note: Over time you'll learn to control your water/pigment mix, and be able to judge drying times. If you add more glazes of paint over an already wet area you'll get blending and dilution and quite possibly some ballooning and other water after effects. Remember the conditions that applied when you went in to that wash and you'll learn to avoid it or seek it out, depending on your preference.
Remember to slow down and take your time while working on this project. You can always increase your speed later.
I hope you have fun this evening (or weekend if you can devote the time—and it would be good to work a couple hours everyday for three days in a row on this exercise, hint, hint, hint) with this Project Friday.
Left: A page from one of my 11 x 14 inch Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media in-studio Journals. (Come on—that's way too big a book to carry around all day when you're out and about.) Gouache direct brush sketch at left and Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch on right. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Last week I had a few moments (well it was rather longer than a few minutes) to scan some of the drawings I did with paint brushes (the purple guy) and brush pen (on the right).
I've enjoyed sketching larger and larger in these 11 x 14 inch Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journals. The downside is that it takes two scans (if I do one page) to get the top and bottom scanned, then I have to merge them in Photoshop. WIth all that "busy" work ahead of me of course I simply put it off, and I scan the portion of the page I like and leave the rest off. But you get the idea.
I did these sketches one night while watching "Endeavour," which is a pre-quel to "Inspector Morse." I hope they make more episodes—I enjoyed it. It has been so long since I saw "Inspector Morse" that all I really remember is that I enjoyed it as well. Faulty memory won't allow me to comment on whether the pre-quel does the Inspector justice.
When I do a sketch like the one on the left I typically use a rather large round, a number 12 with a good point. A couple years ago Laura Frankstone drew my attention to the Loew-Cornell 7020 Ultra Round 12 and I'm still a huge fan. I can really beat them up and they retain a great working point for a long time. You can read about the brushes I use regularly here.
I'll have more to say about direct brush sketching at a later date, I have to catch up with some more scanning first.
Left: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal. Judy Dench circa 1990s. I love Judy Dench. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
If you draw something you love over and over you learn more and more about your subject; and you fall deeper in love with it.
If you draw something you don't know or understand over and over again you learn more and more about your subject each time you draw it; and you fall in love with it.*
Drawing is love.
___________________ *OK. This doesn't apply to ticks. I've drawn lots of sketches of ticks in an effort to understand them; I haven't thought so far ahead as love—baby steps. I have yet to fall in love with them. I do, however, have a respect, mingled with awe, for them, but this doesn't keep me from dropping them into the rubbing alcohol dish!
On Sunday I stepped out of the role of co-ordinator of the MCBA Visual Journaling Collective. It's been five years since I started this group. I've seen it grow into a wonderful collection of journal keepers of all types who share their work and insights.
For the past year Suzanne Hughes has been co-coordinator, helping more and more with all aspects of running this group. My attention needs to be with my family right now and I'm grateful that she has agreed to take on the role of coordinator. I can't thank everyone who's been involved enough for making this one of the most interesting and fun experiences of my life.
I'll still be attending meetings and when Suzanne has to travel I'll be available to run a meeting, so I'm looking forward to still seeing everyone on a regular basis.
I'm particularly excited about Monday's meeting, 7 to 9 p.m., when Briana Goetzen will be coming to demonstrate the Gelli Arts Printing Plate.
I hope you will bookmark that blog and continue to check it for exciting news about the Collective and posts about upcoming posts. If you forget, when you go to this blog's page on the Collective you'll find a link to Suzanne's schedule page announcing the Collective's upcoming meetings.
Usually I begin my blog posts with an image, but I wanted to embed a video and that didn't work. There's a three minute and seven second video from Tom and Ed at Monsieur Notebook that I think is worth a look and you can see it at the link I've just included at indiegogo where they are trying to raise funds for their expansion.
Tom and Ed make Monsieur Notebook (that's a problem for the US market because everyone here has had enough difficulty pronouncing Moleskine—now here comes a company with a French noun in its name). They are a "real leather notebook" recognizable and similar in shape and sizes to the Moleskine I've just mentioned. But if you watch the video you'll see why these two young guys think their product is superior. I think so too (with some reservations listed below in my review.)
Personally I think you should watch the video just for the joy of hearing someone with an English accent say the word "pleather," but that's just me remembering a long history of publishing jokes.
Go and see it and decide if you want to pledge money to their expansion. You've got 11 days left to help them.
In August Tom wrote to me and asked if I'd like to try one of their notebooks and while I usually turn down such requests I was so taken with their upbeat attitude in the video and the real leather aspect of it that I said yes. So in a couple weeks a small black leather covered Monsieur Sketch Notebook arrived.
Left: Test page spread in my small Monsieur Sketch Notebook. I don't have it in front of me (and I'm clearing out the storage room so I can't put my hand on it but I think it was about 5 x 4 inches.) Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Daniel Smith Watercolors. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Before I posted about the sketchbook I wanted to test the pages, but I was involved in a labor-intensive project and my arm was injured so I couldn't get out with it until October's Sketch Night at the Bell. There I found a Blue Jay mounted specimen to sketch from.
Left: In the detail shot you can see how the toothy paper takes the ink and the watercolor. This notebook is sold as a sketchbook, but of course we all know any visual journal keeper is probably going to try and paint in it, so I did. The paper takes light watercolor washes but as you can see in the full image the washes will not move across the paper in a pleasing way because the paper isn't sized for watercolor. But the watercolor doesn't bleed through the paper so that's a good thing. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
The test sketches are all quick—I was still injured, I don't like to work in landscape format, and one of the other attendees talked to me the entire first 30 minutes while I sketched—I was constantly interrupted while trying to concentrate on the Blue Jay and the paper qualities. So in other words this notebook got a real field test!
Left: I did another version of the Jay focusing on the back. I was working with a Staedtler Pigment Liner .3. While you may get a little dot of ink where you stop the pen and make a decision about where your line is going, the ink doesn't seep through to the other side of the page. If you look carefully at this image you'll see ghost images behind each page and these are not bleeding through they are showing through—which happens with most drawing paper of this weight when you draw with pens which leave dark, saturated lines, like the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. There is a slightly cream colorcast to the paper. The paper doesn't have an offensive smell dry or wet. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Left: In this detail from my second sketch you can see the variation of line possible from this pen on the slightly toothy sketch paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Above: I switched to a Uniball to do this sketch and it's one of my favorites from the evening. Not only do I like this pose, I enjoyed the way this pen felt on this paper. If I were going to use these notebooks all the time I would change the pens that I use and rely more on the roller-ball type pens. They bite into the paper with a bit of fun. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Left: another view using the fun Uniball. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Left: My final sketch of the evening—the head of the Albino Deer.I used a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen that was drying out a bit. It was fun to sketch with it on this paper, but it wasn't as fun to sketch with on this paper as on my favorite papers so I probably would stick with the Uniballs. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
While I wouldn't recommend this sketchbook for people who like to use wet media I think that artists working with graphite and colored pencil may like the slightly toothy texture of this paper. Ink artists will find at least one pen that they can enjoy on it (though it might not be their favorite pen). If you're an ink artist who needs smooth papers then this probably isn't the book for you.
I didn't test a fountain pen on this paper because I don't like to use fountain pens on toothy paper.
The cover is as bendable and pliable as you'll read or see on their website and in their promotional materials. I did open the book back on itself all the way, as their site says you can, and it all held together. (I didn't do this until the book had been handled a little and "warmed up.")
The thin leather covers are sturdy and stiff. There was no over-powering tanning smell so whatever process they are using it's something that isn't leaving a residual reminder for the scent-challenged folks like me. (There is a slight leather smell that is less noticeable than if you were to carry a leather handbag. And the overall smell profile of this product is less offensive to me than a Moleskine as their fake leather covers and their yellow paper have odors which bother me more.)
The book was sewn and constructed solidly. Their site makes mention of fair wages, or so I thought, I can't seem to find the reference again.
All in all it's a nice little book. If you aren't doing a lot of wet media you might want to check one out (though whether you can or not may well depend on their expansion plans, so be sure to check out that link at the beginning of the post). (And while I did receive this book free, they made no insistence on what I could write about it and took a risk. I'm not linked to them in any other way. Though I think their mothers should be proud as they seem very clever.)
(Also I'm a little confused because if you go on Amazon you can find some A6 notebooks that are 5 x 8.25 inches for prices ranging from $14.16 up [way up]. I don't know who all is selling those. BUT I WOULD BE CAREFUL because the word SKETCH is not in the title of the item and it may contain their note paper and not their sketch paper.)
If they make it to the US in their expansion and they bring out a watercolor sketchbook I think we should check out what quality of paper is used.
Above: The lower half of an 11 x 14 inch page in a Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Yesterday I mentioned the Pentel ColorBrush with PIGMENTED INK, the gray-bodied brush pen. You can go back to yesterday's post to remind yourself. Well the ink stays water-soluable for a short while on most papers and in the bottom left corner of the image you can see a sketch I did of William Windom as Dr. Seth Hazlitt (sp?) in "Murder She Wrote." I love that you can pull a lot of different shades out of this pen. (That green mess on the right is a very weepy Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pen.)
At this time of year I get up and find the previous night's weather report has been way off. It's too cold to ride in shorts, or maybe it's raining but won't be later. I eat breakfast, start working, and then some time in the morning when I take a break I may set up a still life to sketch or watch a little TV and sketch (as I did above), just to warm up my hand/eye/brain. Then I will work on drawing projects. And finally, before it's time for lunch, I will jump into my cycling clothing and hit the road—able to wear shorts because it's warmer now.
Left: a detail of the Dr. Seth portion so you can see the different layers and wet on wet, etc. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
This plan also allows me to ride more days each season because I don't have to worry about the lack of light in the mornings as hours of daylight decrease.
All in all it's a pretty good plan. But activation of this plan reminds me that I'm riding on borrowed time because soon it will be too cold (which I define as 32 degrees if it's windy; even wearing tights, my feet get cold) no matter what time of day I ride; and of course there will be ice and snow—I only ride when the roads are completely dry and clear.
Even though this drawing is partially over another drawing (the weird line down the center) I love it because it was so much fun to move the brush across the paper, stroke on the water, build up the layers.
Maybe you don't work at home and can't just take off at lunch to ride your bike. (I'm grateful everyday believe me.) But don't tell me you can't break up your day so you can work a little practice time in. You can. Be sure to take some notes to remind yourself what worked and what didn't, and what you want to try next. Then the next time you get to take a break do some more drawing. You'll be glad you did.
Left: Sketch of Chef Tom Colicchio using a pigmented black ink Pentel Color Brush—watersoluble for a little bit on most papers—in a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal. (Those are spatters on the right side of the head not paper flaws.) Click on the image to view an enlargement.
After the last season of "Top Chef" I told a friend I wouldn't watch it again, I actually didn't watch a season of "Top Chef Masters" because there was a sous-chef component that my friend explained to me and my eyes glazed over so I gave it a pass. It might have been great.
My DVR seems to have a mind of its own so because I've recorded "Top Chef" in the past it recorded it again. (Now why it ignored "Top Chef Masters" with the sous-chef component we'll never know, but maybe it knew something.)
Since the first episode was recorded I went ahead and watched it. I felt myself being sucked in. I really do like cooking shows. Perhaps because my own kitchen is still under construction after years of being torn up.
I don't know that I'll watch beyond episode two of this season. The descriptions of the food aren't as enticing as in past seasons. And there seems to be a lot of crying. I'm not a fan of crying.
But I am a fan of Chef Tom Colicchio so I took a moment and did a fast sketch. I'll sort out my television viewing another day.
Note: I thought I'd written about this brush pen already, but see I haven't. The wrapper for this product reads "Pentel Arts Color Brush" and then says Black Pigment Ink. The plastic barrel is gray. The cap is black (though I believe there are different brush sizes with different colored tops).
If you want this type of ink—pigmented and watersoluble—you don't want a regular Color Brush shown in this linked post which compares the Color Brush line to the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. That Color Brush has a BLACK plastic barrel and the cap is the color of the ink. Also the ink in that Color Brush is DYE and it is fugitive. Well you can read all about it at that link.