Friday, June 23, 2017

Doodles of the Day

Last week I posted some digital drawings--doodles really--done during morning warmups. These are quick, simple to do with Sketchbook and a pressure-sensitive Wacom Cintiq tablet. The pressure sensitivity allows the artist to vary line weight and thickness or provide very very soft edges, and so on, with the added usefulness of a Undo button.

This month's morning drawing practice has been focused on the central face, and on expressions. The one below resulted from an image of an elderly lady who seemed irritated. I didn't read the accompanying story, preferring to think about the woman herself and study values and anatomy.

The face below belongs to a Chinese internet billionaire who made the news recently. His unusual facial structure provided the impetus for this sketch.
In the case of this final sketch of a male fashion mannequin, what I saw was defiance and an almost hostile expression. The hair was interesting, too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Artfest Midwest

Coming up this weekend June 24 and 25 is the largest annual art exhibition in Iowa, Artfest Midwest, with more than 250 artists and crafters. The show takes place in the giant Varied Industries Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds here in Des Moines. Best of all, unlike many summer shows this one is indoors, in dry, air conditioned comfort. Not getting drenched or blown away by sudden thundershowers and no furnace-like midwestern heat.

This year I will again be showing my work. Come and visit. I'd love to see anyone who reads this blog.

The work will center on city streets and the people you see there. Included will be "Sarge's" posted not long ago, and a number of others, including "1903" (right), and "One Way" (below). I will also have a limited selection of silverpoint drawings and prints available.

"1903," oil on panel, 12x9, 2017
This is a cascade of rooftops, beginning with an old one, then a few more in the same style, giving way to a shining, abstract city in the distance. Running through my mind was the idea of how cities reflect the times and its changes, how the old is often neglected or abandoned in favor of the glittering and the new. I suppose if you live in a city where gentrification is a trend, an image like this might trigger a thought or two.

"One Way," oil on canvas, 20x24, 2017



People in the city are generally more interesting than their surroundings. Here an elderly couple tries to cross a one-way street. They're stooped and frail, seen only from behind, but they're looking the wrong way to avoid being hit by a car. Although the narrative is interesting, I was also drawn by the problems of shape, space, color and composition. Giving the figures personality without showing expression was another challenge.

"Paris After the Snow," oil on panel, 20x16, 2016
Many of my cityscapes are depictions of cities I've visited or lived in. Des Moines of course figures prominently, but paintings of New York, Paris, and elsewhere have also made their way into the work. This one is a street in Paris, after a snowfall. It's based in part in the work of Edouard Cortes whose work has a kind of inner light. "Paris After the Snow" is 20x16 on panel. 

In total I will be showing about thirty paintings of cities and people over the two days of Artfest.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Digital Doodles

Sometime when academic meetings got boring over the years, I doodled my way through. Although fiddling with drawings during meetings might seem inattentive, I never found it so. Now it turns out that research confirms that doodling is a good thing at least according to one small project. The researchers studied artists and non-artists and found that doodling is not only pleasurable but seems to unlock creativity. That was true for me, in meetings anyway. Doodling actually didn't mean I wasn't paying attention to what was being said; drawing engaged a different part of my mind. It made the meetings go more quickly, too.

Nowadays I have to attend fewer meetings but doodling is still an important spontaneous activity. The urge to draw often gets the better of me. Sometimes as I page through news sites in the morning an an idea surfaces or an image strikes me, and I'm off into doodleville. A number of those doodles do become part of my morning drawings. Most are consigned to the recycle bin. I've posted a few doodles in the past, both virtual and tangible, and here are a few more. These are digital doodles.

The first one, right, was done using Sketchbook. I used the "dip pen" tool first, added whites using a tool that simulates the texture and look of Conte crayon and then another that imitates an airbrush. The subject is a news photo of the fellow in Kansas who killed a man from India whom he mistook for a Muslim. The low angle of viewing, unusual lighting and his somehow malign but unreadable expression all attracted me. In doing this small digital sketch I was also mindful of it being a bit of a caricature too.

Speaking of attacks, the next is from another horrific episode. Not too long ago three men attacked crowds on London Bridge by driving a van through them at speed, then slashing and stabbing people.
The young woman in this image was there but escaped injury. She was interviewed later on one of the television feeds--perhaps BBC--where I happened on her. Her expression hovered between pain and a kind of bemusement at her escape, which was the attraction of the image. In color she has a rather ginger complexion, as the British call it, with auburn hair and fair skin. I used the pencil tool in Sketchbook plus a red-brown color to make this drawing. Seems to me she looks amused, in an odd way, but also as if she might burst into tears.

Many times an image in a movie or television video moves the doodler inside, so much so that I stop the program to draw and study the image and the cinematographer's composition. That's what I did with this head of a woman, taken from a movie I streamed online. I can't remember the film, but it must have been set in the 1930s, given her hat. Here again Sketchbook was the drawing program, but I used a redder color for the pencil tool and pushed the chroma on the lip. Since the central face was the only point of the drawing I left her hair, hat, and remainder of it unfinished.

Finally here's one more head, this time a man, drawn from an online video still using Sketchbook. The subject was a university professor, I think. The angle and lighting were particularly interesting and prompted the sketch. Here the result is reminiscent of something by Lucien Freud, seems to me, although that wasn't the intent. 

Doodling is amazingly simple with digital programs, even those using a desktop computer, like Sketchbook. I'm going to concentrate on the various iPad programs this summer, primarily because of portability. I've already mentioned a number of iPad programs that will come in for trial. More in later posts.
Related Posts
Digital Delving
Digital Sketching

Friday, June 09, 2017

Sarge's in Oil

While casein is an alluring mistress, I remain married to oil paint as a primary medium. And as mentioned a few posts back, cities and the endless variety of the streets and buildings is one of the most interesting subjects I've found. Cities are like people in some ways--they have different personalities, different sizes and shapes, and very different appearances. You would almost never mistake a Paris street for a street in New York.

"Sarge's," oil on panel, 20x16
There are painters whose works are intended to remind the viewer of specific cities, especially when the city depicted is frequented by visitors who might want a souvenir. But on the other hand, the picture may not depend on the identity of the city nor on any perceived or stated narrative. Instead, despite being a more or less realistic representation, a painting might be more about shape, color, value, and interplay than about love, death, or taxes.

That's the case with "Sarge's," a new oil I finished a few weeks ago. It's a city street, possibly in early spring or perhaps in fall, but there's no identifiable city. The sign for the bar was based on an actual sign in another place, modified for this piece. It was interesting to attempt to show depth in a short depth of field, and it was doubly interesting to contrast value, color and shapes. This is 20x16 on panel, and will be showing with other new works in about two weeks here in Des Moines at ArtFest Midwest.
Related posts:
Cityscapes Redux
Cityscapes (4-1-2016)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Inking in the Railroad

Pen and ink is a medium that seems to be fading into antique. Digital drawing is often quicker, easier, and less likely to stain one's hands, drawing board, or studio. Still, drawing with a dip pen or technical pen is a worthwhile trip into the past. Ink drawing usually means careful planning, strict attention to ink handling and and a set of skills that aren't always translatable to digital media.

Several years ago I put together a portfolio of drawings done using an old-style dip pen and ink, intended for a railroad nostalgia organization. They gave me access to photos from their archive as source materials. Many of the photos were made by the railroad for various purposes. The images are all from the early to mid-20th century. I posted a handful of these about a year ago. Here are a few more of those drawings. They are all about 7x11 on 2-ply Bristol board.

"In the Station"
The era that railroad buffs call the age of steam ended in the middle of the 20th century in this country, and pretty much everywhere else. China did continue to build steam locomotives into the 1980s, but so far as I know no new steam engines have been built since. Steam power now is generally relegated to museums, although the third world does continue to use coal-fired locomotives. This is one of those locomotives standing at a classic, victorian-era station.

"Highballin', Winter"
Steam power was overthrown by diesel in the first half of the century. Diesel engines had a more streamlined silhouette, a more modern look that seemed in keeping with the designs of the times, emphasizing sleekness and speed. This kind of locomotive was a common sight in the latter half of the 20th century. Here the train is passing by in winter, pulling a really long passenger train, which of course is also a thing of the past in this country.

"Setting the Watches"
The next two are figurative drawings done using reference photos from the historical organization. The ink is a kind of sepia-colored compounding called "iron gall ink," an old formula that has been used at least since the Middle Ages. It tends to have a sepia color when dilute, but is black at full strength. The engineer and conductor are synchronizing watches--trains run on a strict schedule; the strictness was originally for safety's sake. Watches used by railroad men had to be the most accurate ones you could buy and had to adhere to strict standards of accuracy to ensure separation of trains. (There was no other way to do it in the days before universal and instantaneous communication.)

"In the Yard"
Finally, here is a switchman, moving a track switch in a rail yard. Switches allow rolling stock to move from one track to another, such as a siding. Today rail switches are moved electrically or hydraulically, but a few require manual operation even now. This was drawn using iron gall ink, but a bit less thinned, so it looks darker. Incidentally, in all of these drawings I used ink with a small round brush to fill in dark masses after making an initial pass to set up line details.

Previously on this topic:
Working on the Railroad

Friday, May 26, 2017

Windowsill Works, Too

One of the best ideas I've been heard is actually a slogan used by a footwear manufacturer: "Just do it." Don't think, just do. For an artist, it's a powerful piece of advice, since most of us go through dry spells when ideas and work seem sparse. And if you're like me, then you rack your brain for ideas, and too often they just don't come. There's a need to keep up the momentum of work, whether drawing or painting or whatever. Writers use the strategy of stopping their piece while knowing where the story is headed so they can start seamlessly tomorrow. Depending, painters and other artists also benefit from knowing what goes into the next segment of a work or layer or what part of the painting to finish next, and so on. But when I run a little dry--no work in progress, ideas not coming--it can be helpful to simply do a sketch of anything, whatever is at hand. Small paint sketches encourage daily discipline, careful observation, and quick and accurate paint handling. And since the work is a sketch, you don't have that much of an emotional investment. If the finished piece is attractive, wonderful. If it isn't, you've learned something not to do. And overall, sketching keeps the juices flowing.
Magnifier, oil, 6x8

For a long while I did a small daily oil sketch, adding each to a group I call Windowsill Works because the object of interest was generally perched on a windowsill in the studio. All were 6x8 or smaller, so they could be finished in a single pass--alla prima.

This is a magnifying glass I've had for years and use in the studio to study detail. It was important to me to capture the greenish look of the thicker parts of the lens. When you look at most glass you can see that green tint. It comes from the iron impurities in sand that went into it. This on a hardboard panel prepped with gesso. I gave it an initial coat of gray, then painted the glass with a muted palette in around an hour. This is a 5 inch magnifying lens.

Table top, oil, 6x8
Sometimes instead of the windowsill I just used the top of my work table, which is covered with a piece of brown butcher paper. Here, I grabbed one of my small panels and painted these two objects. The scissors made a nice contrast to the ochre of the paper. Again, this is on a 6x8 gessoed hardboard panel, and took perhaps 45 minutes.
Morning Joe, oil, 6x8
And last, here is a picture of my morning coffee cup, partly full. The fun here was to try to capture the uplift of morning--energy, optimism, warmth--using the coffee as metaphor. The palette was mostly mixed grays and dark warm burnt umber with added burnt sienna. The surface is actually a sheet of glass.

As a way to keep working when the doldrums hit, as a way to keep the creative juices flowing, doing a small sketch every morning works for me. Although I admit that sometimes I do digital sketching (quick, clean, no fuss), and other times I draw with graphite or charcoal, oil sketching in the morning is a great warmup ritual.

Previous posts on this topic
Windowsill Works
Windowsill Works 2
Windowsill Works 3
Windowsill Works 4

Friday, May 19, 2017

1000 Yards With Sketchbook

"1000 Yards" digital drawing, from an encountered photo

Sometimes an image on the internet is so striking it makes me want to draw--maybe to understand an expression, or the gesture in a figure, or perhaps work out how various values and shapes interconnect. Regardless, because it's so simple to start, Sketchbook is my handiest tool. It's easy and quick to load in my desktop computer, so if I want to sketch, all I have to do is open the program, set a few parameters--portrait vs. landscape orientation, image size, drawing tool and so on--and off we go.

Drawing with Sketchbook and a pressure-sensitive tablet lets you make an image that has variation in line weights and darkness with the unparalleled advantage of having an Undo button. Unlike real life, you don't have to erase and you can always Undo and remove the offending marks. And like video games, you can touch Save at a critical point in the drawing before going further, then if need be return to the place where your work departed from desired. So to me it's worth it to learn these programs, even if it's hard to teach an old dog.

Sketchbook provides all sorts of creative possibilities. The drawing above is a combat soldier in the Middle East who was photographed after coming under attack. As is the case with so many, he has acquired what veterans call the "thousand yard stare," a nearly vacant expression that says while he may be physically here, his mind is far far away, likely still under hostile fire. It's a compelling look, and not an easy one to capture, for me at any rate. Sketchbook allowed me to focus on the drawing and forget the medium. The face--eyes and mouth mostly--are what set the tone for me in doing the drawing. Using the pencil tool I was able to vary line weights and darkness but I added volume mostly by cross-hatching in a similar way to graphite or hard charcoal. I ignored most of the helmet and almost all detail besides the central face.

If it's only a study you're doing you can always draw just the portion of the object or feature of interest, then print the result or view it on a computer screen while you translate it to paint or ink or charcoal. This is a study of the central face of another combat veteran, drawn from an online still frame again using Sketchbook. The blue color is completely arbitrary and the tool used was a "watercolor brush" set to relative transparency. I varied the value and chroma of the blue color from light to dark and from higher to lower using the controls in the program. Again it seemed to me that the eyes and mouth were what made the expression work, and that was my focus. If this sketch were ever translated into oil paint the other details, the helmet and its straps, etc, can be added from other reference materials. Sketchbook has a lot of versatility.

It's a different situation with my iPad. In that case I've begun using various sketch apps in addition to Sketchbook. More on that another time.