Today is Remembrance Day. Typically I write a post about Remembrance Day. For some reason, prepping to write this post during a very contentious election I found that it was almost too emotional to write about this topic.
You can read a past post here with a movie recommendation that will focus your thoughts.
There is a recent movie about Vera Brittain, and it’s a lovely movie, but it didn’t touch me as much as the 1980s “Masterpiece” depiction of her life, or reading her book “Testament of Youth.” I urge you to read that book.
Today I’ll follow my typical ritual for Remembrance Day, but I’ll also follow my typical ritual for all my days and do some sketching. So today on a lighter note I’m sharing a sketch from the Bell Museum.
Left: My 9 x 24 inch (two board lengths) gouache sketch of the Otter at the Bell Museum. I'm seated on a micro stool about 6 inches above floor level. I've left a slight gap where the two boards end and begin in the scan. After the underpainting I did the finish down to the forelegs. See additional comments about this piece in the post. I used Schmincke Horadam Gouache on Canson watercolor board. The board was left over from the Minnesota State Fair and the tape was still on the borders. Since I'd already discovered that this board didn't like even my Nichiban Artist's tape for 30 minutes I knew I'd have tearing when I removed it—it wasn't horrible, that's all I'll say. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
The Bell is closing on December 31, 2016. In the fall of 2018 it will reopen at the new St. Paul campus location. I have a lot of emotions about this closure and reopening because the Bell has been a big part of my sketching life.
At the beginning of October I started a 13-week project to sketch at least weekly at the Bell. (I’d been off all summer because of eldercare, the Fair, and back injury.) I don’t feel regret that I haven’t used the Bell resources enough—I just realized that the last days were upon me and I wanted to get in a healthy dose of usage.
The project is going great. I’ve been working on 9 x 12 inch papers or boards. All of which then fit into an archival box as a loose page journal.
One of my favorite subjects at the Bell is the Otter. It stands in the small display, with an almost Narnia-like depiction of the Minnehaha Falls background. (Winter Narnia). It’s a lovely setting painted by Frances Lee Jaques. Since the exhibit is set in one of the side halls you’re also typically out of the heavy traffic, so it’s easy to sketch without interruption.
On Sunday I met up with the Metrosketchers for a sketch out there. (The December Metrosketchers will also be at the Bell in honor of the closing—December 4, noon to 3 p.m. Free admission on Sundays.)
I arrived late because of family commitments but got right to work with my warm up. Then I moved on to my painting.
My project has a couple “aspects” on which I’m moving forward. The obvious one is just to get to the Bell and sketch, even if the week is jammed with too many obligations. The second aspect is to spend some trips there really savoring an exhibit. In other words slowing down from my speed-sketching mode and not worrying about a quota because to me at this point a quota is meaningless as the time is running out. What is, is already in my books stretching back for years, and this is really just an exercise in letting go. (It makes sense to me, it’s the only way I can describe it.)
Left: My warm up page—a 9 x 12 inch sheet of Stonehenge white, on which I did quick gesture sketches of my subject using a thick Pentel Brush Pen—dye-based, water-soluble ink. I kept this propped up against the wall at my feet. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
On Sunday, keeping with the last aspect I decided to take gouache, real brushes, a container of water (instead of just using the Niji water brush) and sketch something more or less finished (given the constraints of time; which actually got tighter because of other commitments and my delayed arrival).
I started as I always do with a warm up. I love the larger second sketch and it’s free, loose aspect. I love that it’s pretty much what I ended up painting. I tried when I started the painting, beginning with a Faber-Castell Pitt Calligraphy pen, to make the eye smaller and get the animal on one 9 x 12 inch board, but hey, lately when I’ve sketched this subject it always ends up on two pages!
When I saw the animal wasn’t going to fit on one board I pulled the bottom masking tape off the board I’d started on, and pulled the masking tape off the top of another board and held them together in my lap (I was sitting on my micro stool about 6 inches up from the floor) to finish the sketch. Then I only held one board at a time.
I did the under-painting starting at the top and working down. Then because I could tell I wouldn’t have time to finish the entire painting to the state of finish I’d like, I did the shadow work in the snow so that when I removed the masking tape on that board there would be some color at some of the edges.
Sadly that’s where things went a bit awry. My shadow is in the wrong place. I was thinking fuzzy and not looking at the mound which hid the otter’s feet. Rather than bother me, it makes me laugh and reminds me that I have to breathe more!
Left: Underpainting stage completed. Palette of fresh gouache at the right, with two "real" brushes and a Niji water brush (the last used for the warm-up). I had a little water container with two sections and a "spill proof" cap on each and used one side of it. You can also see my micro stool at the bottom left of the photo. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I then went back to the first board and started working down the figure from the head. In case you're wondering I didn't add the whiskers to the face because I didn't have the right brush. I had that information of placement in my second warm up sketch (they fall at the nose and back of the mouth). Mostly I worked with a 3/4 inch flat. Final touch up on the eye and nose was with an 8 round. I didn't have anything finer.
I got to the forelegs and it was time to pack up. I could have stayed longer (the museum was going to be open for another hour) but my butt and knees were tired of my sitting position (even with breaks), and my eyes were fatigued from working in the dim lighting.
Also I was really tired of listening to “Muskrat Love” which everyone who stopped at the next small diorama would sing—because it was muskrats.
Left: Detail view of the blending on the head. Originally I had placed the ear too close to the eye and actually committed with some of the ear fur, but because of the beauty of gouache I was able to work over that and move the ear back. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Because I was at a critical point of finishing the underpainting when it was time for the 2:50 p.m. meeting I missed it. I did get to see some great sketches by others when they stopped by for a moment to chat, and also on my walk in (because everyone else had been on time).
It was a fun, energizing, and at the same time, relaxing afternoon. I walked home in the post-daylight-savings-time growing dark, grateful for the day, for the Bell, and for my life. But please don’t ever even hum a few bars of “Muskrat Love” in my presence. Thank you.
I'll share pieces from the project as the year continues and put a video flip through of this project up on the blog in 2017 after the Bell closes and I have time to scan all of the pages.