Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Travel Sketches in an Old Journal

Trip journaling is something I've done for nearly my whole life. Not long ago I unearthed a journal of our first trip to Rome, twenty years ago, and leafing through that half-forgotten book found a few watercolor sketches. The entries and sketches brought back vivid memories of the trip, and I'm glad I found it. Keeping a trip journal is fun, but it's even better to find an old one and refresh fond memories.

Back then I "won" a trip to Rome on Alitalia. (I foolishly bid on the trip during a fund-raising silent auction.) On the other hand, it was our first visit to Rome, our first opportunity to stand, mouths agape under the dome of the Pantheon, in the shadow of the Colosseum, and to simply savor the life of one of the world's most ancient cities. Our son and his wife gave m a trip journal suitable for watercolor, so although I had never done such a thing I kept a coherent (mostly) up to the moment series of entries about our visit.The journal went into a bookcase long ago, and was nearly forgotten.

Roman courtyard, wc & ink, 9x5
Entries begin in the Alitalia departure lounge, and continue until our flight home. The actual Roman entries begin with a view out a window just below our room at the Hotel d'Inghilterra. Jet-lagged, I had managed to sleep a few hours but then rose early to wander. The little courtyard wasn't visible from the street, but it got a lot of morning light. The potted plants, closed shutters and ever-present ochres of Rome caught my eye. I sketched this 5x9 page in the journal before breakfast that first morning in the Eternal City.

Bernini's Elephant, wc & ink, 4x2
Later that first day we wandered through St. Peter's, then over toward the Pantheon, using our guidebook. Wandering through the narrow streets of the quarter, we found ourselves in front of the church Santa Maria Sopra Minvera (St Mary's over Minvera), built over an old Roman temple. Whimsically, in the little piazzetta in front of the church is an elephant sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped with a small Egyptian obelisk. And just beyond it we found the backside of the Pantheon. I sketched this odd piece of the city before we moved on to visit that astonishing building.

The rest of the day included a visit to the Pantheon, the Galleria Doria Pamphilij and a quick stop at the Trevi Fountain. Any one of those deserves a single, separate entry, but I made no sketches in either place. They were mesmerizing and involving but this post is about drawing.

Temple of Saturn, wc & ink, 9x5
The second day we visited the ancient city--the Fora, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, mostly, with a tiny dose of Trajan's column. The most ancient part of the city, the Forum is nearly all ruins, some of them leaving nothing but foundations or outlines. I did sketches on the spot and scattered them through blank pages of the journal, then went back to complete the written parts. Some of these sketches were full page (5x9) and others only a tiny corner or foot. The sketch of what remains of the Temple of Saturn.which stands at the western end of the Forum, below the Capitoline Hill is to the right. It was probably a temple even in the early centuries of the Roman Republic, probably 6th century BCE. In that early temple (these are ruins of the third) was the Republic's treasury of gold and silver. These columns are all that remain.

Ruins of Castor & Pollux Temple, wc & ink 2.5x6
Other ruins do have a few standing columns, like those of the Temple of Castor and Pollux which was built originally about 500 BCE as a gesture of thanksgiving for victory in battle. It burned during the time of Tiberius and was restored but may have been at least partly ruined by the end of the Empire.

Literally everywhere you look in the Forum is ancient history, from the Curia (where the Imperial Senate met) to the Rostrum, where speakers like Marc Antony harangued the mobs, to the melted mass of brick that had been the Temple of Julius Caesar. There wasn't much time to spend delving deeply into each. On a first visit we had to be satisfied with a quick overview. Details would have to wait.

Arch of Septimius Severus, wc & ink, 4x3
Not far from the Temple of Saturn (and the Rostrum and Curia) is the Septimius Arch, erected in about 200CE commemorating military victories by Septimius Severus and his sons over the Parthians. It was heavily decorated but has been badly damaged over the centuries, including effacement of the name of Geta, who with his brother Caracalla, initially ruled as co-emperors. Caracalla had Geta murdered and removed his name from all Roman monuments. Their arch is astride the main east-west street in the Forum, the Via Sacra.

We wandered east, along the Via Sacra, to the Arch of Titus (dating to about 82 CE) but I had no chance to sketch it because it was shrouded in scaffolding and fabric, undergoing restoration. The arch was erected by the Emperor Domitian to commemorate his elder brother Titus' victories, including over Jerusalem. We went up the slope just south of the arch to the top of the Palatine Hill, which is said to be where Rome originated. When we visited many of the attractions of today were yet to open. So the site of the House of Livia, for example, could be seen, but there was no access. Instead the hill was a cool and welcome respite from the hotter Forum. We spent some time wandering there but in the end went down again to the Via Sacra, and thence to the Colosseum.

The Colosseum, wc & ink, 3x5
The Colosseum is more properly the Flavian Amphitheater, that having been its original name. I sketched an exterior view in ink and watercolor on the bottom of a journal page, based on our visit and on a reference photo. The Colosseum is probably the most famous structure in Rome. It was built by the Emperor Vespasian on the site of an artificial lake made by Nero. Nero's palace was nearby and a colossal statue of Nero stood in the space in front of the lake. Hence the name "Colosseum." The arena was big enough to hold around 70,000
people and hosted gladiatorial events, shows of many kinds, probably executions of criminals and Christians. It is as blood-soaked a spot as there is in the history of the world. During our visit there was talk of renovation and of re-flooring the oval arena inside, but nothing had yet been done. ("Arena," by the way, is the Latin word for sand.) So the maze of under channels was visible and the walls still harbored all sorts of vegetation. I did a full page sketch of the interior. You can see how the Roman bricks, flatter and longer than ours, were used to form arches and how those multiple round arches were employed to add strength to the very thick and high walls. Roman engineering is still amazing.

We spent the following day visiting the Galleria Borghese, surely one of the top museums in the world. This particular museum is in the Villa Borghese, set in the enormous Villa Borghese Gardens on the Pincian Hill in the north of Rome. The gardens and villa were begun in the early 17th century, the brainchild of Scipione Borghese, a wealthy cardinal and nephew of a pope. He used the villa for a country place and to house his art, including works by Bernini and Caravaggio. The
Borghese Garden Temple, wc & ink, 3x3
collection there is simply superlative. In those days, and probably today, you needed a reservation time to visit. We set up a time after lunch, and spent the time before going into the gallery wandering the gardens. I did a small sketch of a neoclassical"temple" on the grounds in one corner of my journal. The gallery contains gobsmacking work by Bernini, including a beautiful bust of Borghese himself. It was two hours well-spent, though I did almost no sketching inside the gallery, except a tiny one of the face of "David," the sculpture by Bernini showing the Old Testament hero in the act of slinging a stone. The face is said to
David, wc & ink, 2x2
be a self-portrait.

The next day we visited the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, but I made no sketches, partly owing to the intense crowds and partly because there simply was no time to sketch. And my own sketches would never do justice to some of the works held in those amazing galleries. I did write several pages of text in my journal, but this entry is about sketching.

Our final day in Rome was in some ways most enjoyable. We spent the morning and part of the afternoon walking about in the old city, soaking up the ambience and flavors. We went up to the Porto Pinciana (which fronts onto the Borghese Gardens), then strolled down the Via Veneto, scene of la dolce vita in the 1950s and 60s. We stopped in a sidewalk
Roman Street, wc & ink 6x5
pizzeria on a side street and had a sumptuous dinner of prosciutto, artichokes, salami and pizza with fresh tomato sauce, then made our way quietly back to our hotel.

The journal brought back a flood of memories of a first visit to a city we've returned to several times. Rome is indeed eternal. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Spring at Last, Spring at Last...

People who live in the northern reaches of the United States spend much of March and part of April wishing fervently for warm weather, for green foliage, even for a splash or two of dandelions in an otherwise greening lawn. A person begins to thirst for it, mull it over, and strengthen those wishes. People who know better want to set out tomato seedlings on the first warm day--never mind the looming horror of an April blizzard. But at last, grudgingly sometimes, the weather turns and the world goes green.

"Spring in Redmond," watercolor, 5x9 2009
Here along Druid Hill Creek the honeysuckle is out, narcissi are in bloom, birds are in song. To commemorate the changing of the seasons--at long last--here are some spring watercolors from this year and a few past years, too. As with most of my watercolor work, these were started with a bare suggestion of composition using a B or HB pencil, then painted and accented afterward with a technical pen. Sometimes I draw directly with the pen, then paint.

Spring makes all of the greens, even the cool greens of spruces, more yellow. The sun on the tops of these trees in Redmond, Washington were the inspiration for this little watercolor. After I finished with the branches of the two tall evergreens the rest of the scene was less interesting so I merely noted the skyline of the surrounding trees. Of course, in a finished painting you'd have to consider what next.

"Ancient," watercolor, 5x9, 2017
This is an ancient, moss-encrusted lilac that was just about to burst into leaf one spring. Its twisted, riven branches and great age were the attractions. I sat outside in a misty rain and sketched this one.

Although flowers aren't generally part of my practice, sometimes a particular blossom or flower type attracts me. I've done any number of silverpoint drawings of roses, for example. But in watercolor, flowers haven't spoken to me very often. Nevertheless, here are a couple from this spring. The first is some dark crocuses that opened about three weeks ago and the second is a group of narcissi that have only faded in the last few days.
"Crocus Blossoms," watercolor, 3x5, 2019

These tiny beauties come up so early in spring that if you don't pull away any leaves or mulch in the garden beds you could miss them. Every year I welcome these guys as harbingers of the season, along with another minor bulb, Siberian squill.

These narcissi form part of a much bigger group in one of our front gardens. Their bright white petals and yellow cups are accented by their striking orange-red pistels. When the springtime weather is cool these will last for as long as two weeks. But if the temperatures climb once they're open they fade faster than a schoolboy crush.

This year one of my artistic goals is to spend more time outside, so perhaps I'll do more flowers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Classic Cars

Restored Chrysler Airflow
The first streamlined cars were made in the 1930s to look like airplanes instead of boxes on wheels.  The Chrysler Airflow was one such, a design said to have been based on wind tunnel testing with the assistance of Orville Wright. Although the car wasn't a marketing success, it led the way to the sleek cars we saw at the end of the century.

Boys in the mid-20th century commonly spent hours dreaming of their first car, ogling beautiful machines on the highways, and drawing them in the backs of their notebooks. In those days we drew hot rods, mostly, but sometimes one of the new, sexy assembly-line cars like the Corvette or the Mustang made it into our dreams.

"Bugatti," digital drawing, 2018
Carrying on that tradition, as part of my daily digital drawing routine I sometimes draw vintage cars from the 1930s. The drawing, left, of a 1935 Bugatti is a typical example of one of my studies. The drawing was done in Sketchbook with a coppery background. The car itself was one of the early streamlined models, this time from France, despite the Italian name. The car in the drawing is a 1935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante. The Type 57 was introduced a few years after the Airflow. Unlike the Chrysler, which is actually a transitional form between boxes on wheels and aerodynamic, the Bugatti simply looks like a fast, graceful car. This design with variations sold through the beginning of World War II.

"1958 Corvette," digital, 2018
During the 1950s, American auto makers produced the Corvette, the Thunderbird (originally a sports car), and eventually the Mustang. Our love affair with fast, streamlined cars became an obsession during the 1960s and 70s, and the car designs show it. The drawing to the right is a 1958 Chevrolet Corvette, one of the cars my generation of boys lusted for. This one is also a digital drawing, done with Sketchbook. The Corvette is still made, of course, but the newer designs don't attract me.

"1954 Isetts," digital, 2018
This final drawing is an Isetta, a quirky but streamlined, egg-shaped microcar that has been manufactured in many countries. It was originally an Italian design. Built for economy, it had three wheels, a quirky, front-opening door, a motorcycle engine, and achieved more than 75 mpg. When it was introduced in the early 1950s it was a sensational addition to the automotive world, and an immediate success.

Autos are one of the important human artifacts of the last century and a half. It makes sense to sketch them.

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Drawing Expressions

Studying and drawing facial expressions is one of my artistic interests. You can study expressions by drawing from life, although extreme expressions (anguish, severe pain, and so on) can't really be posed. Surprisingly, reference materials dealing with expression aren't that common, but one of the most useful books about faces is by Gary Faigin, The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression, which I posted about a few years back. In that book, the author discusses the structure of the head and facial muscles in detail, then delves into what makes each of the six "standard" human facial expressions tell us the mood of the sitter. For anyone interested in making images of human beings, a thorough understanding of the information in Mr. Faigin's book is fundamental.

Since my first reading of Mr. Faigin's book I've gone back several times to refresh my visual memory and to seek out nuances for more practice. For me such practice drawings are a daily ritual, a way to practice drawing, seek out new information, and study heads and faces for possible oil paintings. So today I'm posting a few recent drawings of facial expressions.

"Louis," charcoal on laid paper
This is a charcoal sketch of Louis Armstrong, the jazz superstar of the 20th century. It's about 16x20 on laid paper. The idea was to show the serious face of Mr. Armstrong, who was so often shown laughing, smiling, mugging for the camera, or otherwise happy. It made not sense to me to think that he was always happy. My hunch is he was a considerably more serious person than the character he played while on the bandstand.

Drawing faces gives me an opportunity to meditate on the person being rendered--what is the person thinking? what does their expression say? what is unique about her or him? The mind explores all sorts of ideas while the hands move busily in wordless meditation. 

"Anna Scher," digital
This digital drawing is Anna Scher, whose expression of pure joyfulness captured my interest one morning a year or so ago. She founded the Anna Scher Theatre fifty years ago as an after school drama club. From that beginning, her work with students grew and expanded so that she has become something of an icon in the UK. She is well known for her upbeat, positive attitude and for promoting love, peace and understanding through both learning and professionalism. In photos she is often seen laughing. This particular open-mouthed smile was a challenge.

Anguish, severe emotional pain and distress, is an evanescent facial expression associated with grief, injury, death, and all manner of negative circumstances. This particular digital drawing arose as a study that came out of a news report of the death of a young man. His brother was shown grieving for the loss of his brother and for the senseless brutality of war.

This digital painting of a woman in a war zone also came from a news item online. In the news she was shown in a head scarf, her eyes tear-filled, as she discussed how much of her family is now dead or missing because of rebellion, conflict, bombing and shooting in her home country. Her expression seemed to me to be not only sad but hopeless as she mourned for her family and her country.

Drawing expressions from life is one way to advance skills in rendering heads and faces, but sometimes those looks are fleeting and nearly impossible to capture. Although life studies are one standard for rendering the human, using online sources--especially news feeds--can provide considerably more material for daily study.

Favorite Art Books Part 7
Expressive Faces
More on Expressions

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Inestimable Loss

Cathedral of Notre Dame in flames (BBC News Online)
The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris caught fire a few hours ago. By all current accounts a large amount--perhaps all of the wood frame and interior, the roof and the spire--have been lost. The two towers seem to still be standing. The extent of the loss, which of course includes all sorts of art and hundreds of years of craftsmanship won't be known for quite a long while one suspects. The cathedral has been undergoing renovation, so perhaps that's the source of the fire.

Regardless of its source, the fire in the cathedral has wiped away nearly a millennium of history. Contemplation and mourning are the orders of the day. Making art can wait.

Update April 16, 2pm CDT. The fire has been extinguished and the towers and stonework seem to have survived. Of course the stone may have been damage by fire, but the truly ancient wood trusses and other members were centuries-dry and burned fiercely. The famous rose windows have survived so far, as well. Several news outlets have posted images showing the damage as well as the firefighters battling the blaze--some from inside the cathedral, beneath those huge towers and stoneworks. Brave and dedicated men. Hats off. They saved the cathedral, reduced the fire to a mitigated tragedy instead of a total loss. It is still a tragedy for France and for humankind.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Quick Sketch vs. Finished Drawing

Here are two recent drawings. Coincidentally, the references I used were posed in a similar way. One of these took a few minutes and one took something like six times as long. Is one better?

The first is a sketch of W. Herbert (Buck) Dunton, a very successful illustrator and western artist whose name I ran across online. This sketch of Buck Dunton was done from a studio portrait you can find on the Dunton site, linked above. He was originally from New England but spent time in the West of the late 1890s cowboying and living the rough life. Eventually he attended art school and became a successful New York illustrator. He finally settled in Taos and turned to western art.

This drawing of Mr. Dunton is a mere sketch, tentative and searching in many spots, clearly wrongly drawn in others. It was fairly rushed, taking maybe 15 minutes on a touch screen monitor. The important thing was that this sketch did what I wanted, which was to study his interestingly long face, magnifying spectacles, and expression. A more finished version might be more interesting, but that wasn't the purpose of this particular drawing.

The second drawing is of Ms. Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned as Secretary of Homeland Security, is considerably more finished, and needed to be. It took about an hour, using a digital program and a touch-screen monitor. The idea at the time was to explore the complex emotional state that the Secretary must have experienced. I wanted to study her expression but also document what seemed to me to be the physical effects of the stress. High office in difficult times takes a toll. Although it isn't a complete drawing (not every detail is drawn) it is a finished drawing in the sense that doing anything further would be unlikely to add to my original intent So it is finished. This image goes beyond a sketch, in several ways. There is clear attention to critical details--the central features mostly--and only cursory attention to less important things like the shoulders. Nonetheless, it lacks even a nod toward a background. Nonetheless it's finished.

Which is "best"? Neither is really better than the other, in my mind. It's silly to make a value judgment when the two images were made for different reasons. It's all drawing. It's just drawing.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Drawing and Art

A recent book about drawing suggests that every person can draw. The premise of Stick Figures: Drawing as Human Practice, by D.B. Dowd, is that drawing is actually embedded in our human makeup. In his thesis, drawing is more than simply "art." Drawing began as communication. Consider that following the development of spoken language, drawing was humanity's first important way to share information. Well before writing, drawing was employed in a way that can only be interpreted as communication, regardless of content. Perhaps cave drawings were simple communication of animals seen or conquered. Cave drawings probably were also magical/ritualistic. Someone was trying to say something. Drawing can be art, certainly. One only has only to look at any number of surviving masterpieces. But a scrawled map on a piece of notebook paper is a drawing, too. So is a stick figure denoting a public toilet, or a traffic sign forbidding a left turn. We all draw, with varying degrees of facility and frequency.

Many insist that they can't draw at all. "Can't draw a straight line," or "never could draw," and so on. Mr. Dowd's central premise is that drawing is a human capacity. We all can and do draw. We draw for a lot more reasons than to make art. We draw to learn, we draw to explain, we draw to remember, and sometimes we draw for no reason at all (and call it doodling).

Hoff, "Fold studies," graphite, 2016
Mr. Dowd's book is not about how to draw. It is a book about why we draw. Mr. Dowd is a professor at Washington University in St Louis where he teaches Art and American Culture Studies, and he is also a veteran illustrator. He has background in both the theoretical and the practical side of drawing, and his illustrations, along with many others, illuminate his book. The book is beautifully organized, with each chapter's major sections listed at the beginning and all illustrations in color.

Mr. Dowd takes us on an intellectual journey from his basic premise that drawing is an essential part of humanness through comparisons of drawing and painting, exploring how "graphic" and "painterly" are distinct terms but still can overlap considerably. And he makes the point again and again that much drawing is a learning tool--to see how things work, where things can be found, how to accomplish various tasks. In each succeeding chapter he drives home the point. Although he employs somewhat obscure terms (glyphic vs. vedutic e.g.)when discussing some of his concepts, in the end his arguments for drawing as distinct from painting and distinct from art are persuasive.

In my own work, many drawings are for study. I most commonly draw in pencil or with a computer, studying ways to represent various real world items. In the sketchbook drawings above (Fold studies, 2016) the intent was to truly study--observe intensely--the sort of folds known as "half-locks". They are often seen in clothing at a bended knee or elbow, as above, and I wanted to understand how to draw them. The idea of course was to expand my visual vocabulary. These are not art. They are primarily drawings made to understand something.

Hoff, "Virginia," digital, 2019
Sometimes drawing helps me to study the medium itself and learn more techniques. For example, during the past several years I've worked hard to learn computer art programs, most notably Sketchbook and Painter. Drawings that I've done digitally were mostly studies--studying the medium itself, or the particular program, or the various tools offered by each. In other words, no matter how accomplished, these were for intended as personal instruction and not to stand alone. But once in a while a detailed, stand-alone piece happens. The drawing of Virginia Woolf (right) is an example of a stripped-down, graphic drawing in only three major values. It was done in Sketchbook with no intention of adding much detail, a truly graphic approach. The main idea was to capture Virginia Woolf's expression, the shapes of the eye sockets, nose and central face. This is not a finished drawing, but a sketch. It isn't only a study though. It stands as is, unfinished but satisfying in itself.

Hoff, "Shimon Peres, RIP," graphite, 2016
People do produce a drawings that are a) originally intended as art and b) more finished than a simple sketch. At the turn of the 20th century, John Sargent made many full-fledged portraits in charcoal, for example (and received handsome fees for them too). With this digital drawing of Shimon Peres, done on the occasion of his death, my intent was art--to draw a memorial to a great man who did much for his country. This graphite and chalk drawing was intended to show an expression of sagacity while providing a true likeness of the man himself. In short, it was a portrait from the first.

In sum, it seems to me that Mr. Dowd is spot on when he says that art is a human practice, and not necessarily fine art or even art at all.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Favorite Artists 8 - Nicolai Fechin

Nicolai Fechin, "Self Portrait," oil, ca.1949
Nicolai Fechin is a particular favorite artist of mine. Born in Russia in 1881, Mr. Fechin was trained in the Imperial Academy of Art in St. Petersburg, where he had the good fortune to study under Ilya Repin, the great master. He later emigrated to the United States at the insistence of his wife (1923) where he remained until dying in 1955. Because of tuberculosis, he and his family settled in Taos, New Mexico. After he and his wife divorced, he settled in southern California.

Nicolai Fechin, "Woman With a Cigarette," 1917
Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin was a realist painter, his works encompassing figures, portraits, still life and other genres. In particular, his paintings of Native American subjects are compelling. In Taos, the Pueblo tribe and their culture were rich sources. He had been criticized in his native country for painting the peasantry but their lives and the situations of similarly placed American natives were fascinating to him, reminding him of the Tatars of his native country.

Mr. Fechin lived in New York during his first few years in the U.S. and while there had a busy painting and teaching practice, doing portraits and other work, including Willa Cather, the famous novelist. Unfortunately, he developed signs of tuberculosis, and in that era of no antibiotics a therapeutic stratagem was to move to a more arid climate. Hence his move to New Mexico.
Nicolai Fechin, "Corn Dancer," ca. 1928

Mr. Fechin's portraits of Native Americans are more than simple images or ethnography; like the best portraiture, they penetrate beyond the surface to give the viewer an intimate sense of the sitter's personality and attitude. In his "Corn Dancer," for example, he gives us a fascinating, challenging and direct expression. Many of his works, seen in person, make us appreciate his fascination with brushwork that shatters color and scatters it like confetti. He was also a master with a palette knife and is said to have used whatever other tool or material that gave him the effects he wanted, including spit. Moreover he was no slave to strict representation but abstracted large portions of his compositions (note Woman with a Cigarette, above), to dazzling effect.

Nicolai Fechin, "Boris Karloff," charcoal, 1934
Besides his undeniable talent for paint, he was a fine draftsman too. After moving to Hollywood he did portrait drawings of celebrities like Boris Karloff (right), but he also drew many other subjects, particularly Native Americans. Those drawings today comprise an astonishing and instructive body of work, as well.
Nicolai Fechin, "Head of a Woman," nd.

Surprisingly, there are few books detailing the career and work of this outstanding artist. A very useful volume is Nicolai Fechin, by Mary Balcomb, easily located and still in print. Highly recommended.

Favorite Artists
Favorite Artists 2
Favorite Artists 3--Grant Wood
Favorite Artists 4--Diego Velazquez
Favorite Artists 5--Andrew Wyeth
Favorite Artists 6--Wayne Thiebaud 
Favorite Artists 7 - Edward Hopper

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

March on Druid Hill Creek

Another spring journal of Druid Hill Creek wasn't in my plans, but the convenience of the view and the harsh end of winter led to enough watercolor sketches to put one together. These several views are from last month, the transition month between snow and daffodils.

March started slightly warmer than February had been, but the ealy month still featured days below zero. Even so, you could feel the season beginning to turn and Druid Hill Creek started running dark and open. The last deep snowfall still clung to the banks for quite a few days, though, and some branches and the skies were grey--pewter to silver.

These sketches of March days were all done in a 5x9 sketchbook I keep on the sill in my studio at home. I start by laying in the overall composition in graphite or sometimes in colored pencil. Then I put in big washes of color, usually trying to keep the effects very broad and not detailed at all. Strengthening of the darker passages is next as a bit more detail comes in. Although I used the creek for my subject, it's important to me not to be a slave to the actual view and instead to attempt to make each picture a stand-alone piece, not an overly detailed technical drawing. When I'm satisfied with the darks I add line work in ink, place color accents, and sign. I've used old-style dip pens but the most common pens I use are tech pens.

The thing about spring, regardless of any other factor, is how ambient light becomes warmer. Looking through these sketches, the change is obvious. Here and there in this sketch (left), last year's yellowed grasses are peeping from the snow. The creek is flowing smoother as the thaw sends more water downstream, reflecting a cloudy grey sky. Even with clouds, the warm light filters in. As in other sketches it simply felt right to leave the branch-work on the right bank vague and relatively darker in the sunlight falling from right to left.

By late in March the trees on either bank began to look more dense somehow--perhaps their bud and branches were swelling with rising sap. Whatever the reason, the wood seem more dense and shadowy and sometimes the creek becomes a slash of bright bluelue reflecting the sky above. By the third week of the month, after a few days of high temperatures in the 50s most snow had melted by the time of the sketch to the right. Here and there dark soil showed and the yellowed grasses from last year looked more brown than yellow. It was important to me to emphasize the bright sky reflection in the creek, so I darkened the distant undergrowth more than in actuality. Also, this sketch is a bit larger--about 5x13--to emphasize the height of the trees along the creek. Again quite a lot of tree trunks have been omitted. The value pattern is quite different after a thaw because light-reflective snow on the ground provides a considerably lighter environment. Like the other watercolors, I enhanced edges and some other details with ink.

The last sketch was done primarily to study ways to render reflections in watercolor. Only a few days after the last sketch above, this one shows the grasses looking lighter, the sky more grey, and the undergrowth lighter too. The creek surface is very smooth, and the distant trees reflect as dull olive-green. In this one, the composition includes some of the trees at the near bend in the creek, but distant ones are edited out.

For anyone who wants to sketch in watercolor, my advice is to take the "Nike approach." That is to say, "just do it." For me, sketching is about a number of things--a way to try out new idea, a way to practice certain drawing and painting techniques economically, a way to satisfy curiosity about seldom-used materials or media, and more.. These kinds of quick, loose sketches in watercolor, or in pencil or ink or whatever are incredibly useful. And you never have to show them to anyone.

Similar posts
February Was Frigid
The Calendar Turns
Sketching Druid Hill Creek Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
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