Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Charcoal Portrait Sketch Demonstration

For today's post it's back to the weekly drawing sessions. These are in-process photos of a charcoal drawing from a live model I sketched at one of the sessions a few weeks ago. It was done in a 12" x 9" sketchbook. Here's the initial sketch-in:

After indicating a few more darks, the entire sketch was rubbed with a paper towel to soften lines and give an uneven gray tone to the drawing which I like to work into. The paper towel came from the paper towel dispenser in the men's room. It's been used on a lot of charcoal drawings so it's full of charcoal dust which helps give that gray tone. Who says art supplies have to be expensive? Just be sure you get your paper towel from the appropriate restroom.

Here's how it looked at the end of the first twenty minutes:

During the break we walk around looking at each others work or sit and eat homemade jalapeƱo jelly on crackers and yak. After break I work up some of the darks and correct some drawing problems, especially in the lower face.

Continuing to work up the darks and beginning to put in some of the light tones:

Doesn't look too happy, huh? That will change. Wrapping up this evening's drawing session, I corrected the eyes, deepened the darks and brought everything together, I hope. This sketch took about two and a half hours. I forget how many breaks we took, but you can do the math if you'd like. Here's the finished sketch:

Sorry I forgot to get a photo of the model. She really was gorgeous - JUST KIDDING! He really was an older gentleman in a baseball cap! That was a joke!

For more about drawing sessions, go to "Labels" on the side bar and click on "sketching" or "drawing".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

First Coyote

Book Cliffs Butte 18" x 24" Oil on Canvas Panel
The painting leading off this post was painted last summer. Although the season is different from the following story, this scene was painted in the same general area that the winter painting trip took place. The trip this story is about happened a year ago.

Heard my first coyote of the new year last Friday.

A place in the Book Cliffs near Price in Utah is becoming a favorite place of mine to paint. A road there I like to explore parallels some spectacular geologic formations, and crosses the heads of a number of small canyons.

I've been itching to do some desert painting in spite of the cold, and last Friday seemed like a good day to try. The Book Cliffs are relatively close, so I headed out of the Utah Valley haze and into a clear sunny day in Spanish Fork Canyon. Then it was down Price Canyon and into the desert. My aim was to visit a small canyon southwest of Helper that I had visited last year, but snow had changed the appearance of things and months had faded my memory of the place, so I walked down the wrong canyon. It didn't take long to figure that out, but it seemed like a good place anyway, so I kept hiking.

This canyon isn't quite as deep as the one I had originally wanted to go to but is mostly typical of relatively small desert canyons. At least the ones I'm familiar with. Sandstone cliffs and jumbled boulders form the sides of the canyon. Pinion pine and juniper trees grow in loosely bunched forests and scattered stands in typical p&j fashion, from the canyon rim to the edges of the canyon floor. There are a few scrub oak thickets and the sharp, pointy leaves of the occasional yucca could be seen poking up through the snow. The unusual thing about this canyon was that the canyon floor seemed to be mostly marshland. Luckily, the marshes were frozen, and the ice supported my weight. If not for that this canyon might have been nearly impassable. I still had to push through stands of cattails and whippy little willows. The willows would occasionally whip me in the face or hands, and the cattails' fluffy seeds stuck all over me. I also had to push past the occasional russian olive, which might then rudely remind me how sharp and pointy they can be. There was more snow than expected, varying in depth from half a foot to halfway-to-the-knees. The snow was dry and grainy and surprisingly tiring to walk through.

Walking past several sunlit sandstone walls and outcrops, I had a feeling I should soon set up and paint but I kept on hiking, looking for better subjects. The usual "what's around the next bend" curiosity also kept pulling me farther down the canyon. Eventually I found a place and set up on a sagebrush bench. That's when the sunlight became impatient and abandoned me. The small scattered cirrus clouds thickened into a solid gray overcast, showing little sympathy for my attempts at a visual art career, and also showing the usual disrespect toward weather forecasters who said this wouldn't happen that day. So much for paintings of sunlit canyon walls. I decided to paint anyway. A successful landscape painter I know of has said that every time he goes out to paint, he comes back with either a painting or a lesson. Adopting that philosophy I set to painting, accompanied by only a few passing ravens or small flocks of raucous jays.

Afterward I headed back up canyon, once again pushing through whippy willows and cattails, and through tiring snow. Back out of the canyon I could see some low sun was temporarily getting through the overcast and casting a golden glow on the Book Cliffs. I drove to an open area, a place thick with deer, and started a sunset painting. I finished up this painting after dark by the light of my head lamp.

That's when I heard the coyote.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Yesterday's Drawing Session

12" x 9" Pastel on Paper
Today is Friday the 13th, but casting aside all superstitious fears (knock on wood) I'm going ahead with this post!

In contrast to the drawing in the last post, which was drawn I-don't-know-how-many-years-ago (maybe I should write the dates on my sketches?) The drawing pictured above is from last night's drawing session. It's pastel on paper that has a colored abrasive coating. The paper's sandpaper-like surface is designed to firmly grab and hold pastel pigment.

The earliest layers of a drawing on this kind of paper are blended with an inexpensive and ever-shortening 1" bristle brush. Later layers are not blended. The paper's grit is so rough that if If I use my fingers to blend like I do on normal sketch paper, I'd be leaving too much of myself on the drawing. I want my fingertips to stay on my fingers.

Rarely do I know who the model will be or what medium I'll use before I arrive at the drawing session.  I just arrive with my stuff and roll with the flow. Whether I use pastel on toned paper, break out the oil paints and canvas panel, or simply sketch with charcoal in a plain sketchbook depends on what I think I need to work on, what kind of model we have, or sometimes even how tired I am. One thing is for sure - even if I'm so tired all I can do is scribble a likeness in a sketchbook, I'm going to be there.

For more about drawing sessions, go to "Labels" on the side bar and click on "sketching" or "drawing."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charcoal Sketch - Korean Woman

Charcoal on Gray Paper
Here's an older sketch of mine of a young Korean woman. Its a simple sketch, done from a live model in a drawing session a few years ago. There's a lot of hard edges in this drawing but I think it still has a certain quality to it. Nowadays I tend to soften more of the edges in my sketches.

For more about drawing sessions, go to "Labels" on the side bar and click on "sketching" or "drawing."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ice Bow

Lakeside Marsh in Winter, 8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
The painting above was done in the same area mentioned in an earlier post, "Sporting Art...Sort of". This plein air painting shows a small inlet through a marsh into frozen over Utah Lake. Across the lake are weather shrouded mountains of the Basin and Range. The stories that follow took place on this same lake on cold but sunny days. These are some of the kind of "gifts" mentioned in an earlier post. I wish I had a camera with me then, but I didn't. All I have are these stories.

Utah Lake often freezes over in winter. When it does, the ice can be a foot and a half thick, although that can vary near inlets and underwater springs. I do my best to be certain the ice is strong enough to hold my weight before venturing out onto it, but there aren't any guarantees. The lake ice gives me a new place to walk and even hike when the season is cold enough, a place not only different in location from my usual trails, but different in kind. The expansive flatness is in extreme contrast to the steep and dramatic mountains that surround the valley. Windblown patterns of snow, feathery formations of frost, jumbled ice blocks of a pressure ridge, are only a few of the things that draw me out onto the ice. The frozen surface of a big lake is a very different place.

The frost and ice crystals on the frozen lake refract light more brilliantly than any place on land I’ve seen, and I’ve been treated to some wonderful displays of colored light. On a day in January of 2004, my walk on the ice took me northward for a mile or so. The sky was clear, although some haze could be seen along the base of the mountains. When I turned to walk back, the brightness of the early afternoon sun was strong, so I put on a hat to shade my eyes. Then I saw the colors. It looked as though glitter of all colors had been spread all over the ice! The most intense area of color was centered six or eight feet from me in line with the sun. From there, the “glitter” extended from me in two directions for thirty or forty feet, in bands approximately thirty or thirty five degrees from the direction of the sun. As I walked, the colors sparkled dazzlingly. The most intense area of color followed me around on the ice, always keeping between me and the sun. I was fascinated by what I saw that day.

But a few years later, it got even better!

In February of 2008, on a sunny day after a strong and fast moving snowstorm had passed through the area, I walked out on the frozen lake as I often do in cold winters. There I saw a show of light and color such as I’ve never before seen on the ice! What I saw could be described as an upside down rainbow on the ice! To my right, the ice bow extended miles away to the west shore of Utah Lake, near the Lake Mountains. Off to the left, the ice bow stretched to the jetty at the marina. The part of the bow closest to me was full of bright sparkles of clear color: violet, blue, green, yellow, red – all the colors of the rainbow! By comparison, the snow-covered ice seemed a dull blue-grey. As the bow stretched off in both directions, the colorful sparkles became diffuse color, like a normal rainbow. The “warm” colors were on the inside of the ice bow and the “cool” colors were on the outside of the bow, all the way to both shores. This was as clear and bright and colorful as any complete rainbow I’ve ever seen, only it was upside-down, and on the snow covered ice of a big lake. Besides this complete bow, there was a less brilliant partial bow closer to me. The ice bow followed me around on the frozen lake. I couldn’t help myself – I walked back and forth on the ice several times just to see it follow me, my shadow on one side of me and the ice bow on the other. This was amazing! I had never seen a complete bow on the ice, nor had I ever heard of one! For a few days following this, I went out on the frozen lake hoping to see the ice bow again. The weather conditions seemed the same, and there were some colorful sparkles on the snow, but no more than usual. The ice bow was there only for a day, and I haven’t been able to catch one out there since.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Young Thai Girl

charcoal pencil on paper
This is another sketch from one of the drawing sessions I've attended over the years. It's a simple sketch done with charcoal pencil in a 9" x 12" sketchbook. Sometimes I'll work on toned paper with charcoal and white, using the toned paper for a middle tone. Sometimes I'll use a large set of pastels and pastel pencils, often on paper that has a sandpaper like texture to take and hold pastel pigment firmly. On a few occasions I've brought along a pochade box for a portrait sketch in oils. But sometimes a simple sketchbook, charcoal, and kneaded eraser is everything necessary for a productive drawing session. Any one of these mediums would have worked well for portraying this exceptional model, but a simple sketch in an ordinary sketchbook seemed the thing for me to do that evening.

For more about drawing sessions, go to "Labels" on the side bar and click on "sketching" or "drawing."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Stop a Windbag

No, not that kind of windbag. This kind:

An obstreperous trash bag.
Plastic grocery bags are perfect places to put those oily paint-smeared paper towels used for wiping brushes, cleaning off the palette and wiping the occasional unsatisfactory painting passages. On very windy days that same grocery bag can get a little out of hand, to say the least. When that happens painting life can become difficult. It can be hard to catch a trash bag that's whipping around to try and put trash in it. Sometimes the plastic bag will parachute open allowing the wind to spin paint rags out of the bag and strew them across the landscape. Then you're chasing down speeding paint rags instead of painting. On the most windy days the plastic grocery bag can whip around so violently that it repeatedly flips up into the paint on the palette and then all over every thing else, including your hands and the painting panel. It's as if it's trying to paint before you do. If you allow that to happen you might as well sign the painting "Trash Bag" and contact the MOMA if you're so inclined. It's enough to make you want to toss your painting gear off the mountainside in frustration! (It's not a matter of loosing your sanity. If you're a painter you lost that a long time ago!)

But there's a way to prevent all of these unpleasantries. Get yourself a rock.

No, we're not going to chuck it at the painting gear. Try and find a rock that doesn't have sharp edges. Carefully drop it INSIDE the unruly plastic grocery bag.

If no suitable rocks are available, use several small stones, a heaping handful of sand, a snowball or what ever will weight the bag and make it behave.

A compliant trash bag.
This will make the plastic bag hang straight down (for the most part) and keep it out of your paint, out of your solvent and out of your way. Now you can relax and focus on painting - and keeping the wind from blowing your entire setup over! Be sure the rock you use isn't too heavy and doesn't have sharp edges so it doesn't tear the bag. Also be sure the rock is heavy enough. Otherwise a strong wind can still whip it around like a mini wrecking ball banging into your painting gear and your knuckles! Not that that sort of thing has ever happened to me. 

When you are finished painting, the rock can be worked out of the bag and returned to the ground no worse for the wear. Make sure the rock's not brightly painted. If you are painting in a State or National Park be absolutely sure you leave the rock behind when you go. Park rangers might not be too happy if they find you leaving with part of their park.

A few years ago I was with a group of painters who were having a difficult time with the wind. I showed them this trick. It seems none of them had heard of it before. There was a brief pause as they realized how simply the problem was solved. One of them said, 

"That's worth the price of admission right there!"

As for the other kind of windbag, I can't help you. You're on your own there.