Sunday, July 24, 2011

Last Page In My Old Sketchbook/ First Page In My New One

I rarely get to the last page in my sketchbook for some reason. Once I see that I have just a few pages left I put it down and begin a new sketchbook. It maybe that I was disappointed with my efforts and wanted to close that book and move on. The sketchbook I have been carrying for Spring- Summer 2011 has been a lot of fun to work in since I made a commitment to somehow everyday draw or paint in it.
I actually had three going at the same time- a smaller one in which I sketched on the train and a larger pad of watercolor paper. The one I had just finished I mostly used to paint in Battery Park on my lunch breaks at work.The last page is on the left. It was based on a drawing I did in the smaller pad which I use to sketch on the train.The page before it was my last, (for this sketchbook), of Battery Park.

A hot day with temperatures in the triple digits I had to tear myself from an air conditioned room to sit out in the heat. Luckily I found a good shaded spot. It was still hot but once I started sketching I didn't feel the heat as much till I stopped and had to head back to work.

The first page in a sketchbook always intimidates me. I want to keep at a certain pace where I try to out do what I did last, to keep getting better, so I want to start strong. I decided on doing a self portrait. I used a photo I took of my self for an illustration assignment. I posed as a sinister character in a short story which explains the strong, dramatic lighting and the evil look on my face. I remember that Rembrandt would draw these self portraits with different facial expressions so I didn't think it so odd. I think Rembrandt did those drawings to practice how he would do people's expressions in his crowd scenes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Painting Watercolor On Plate Finished Bristol Board

When I attended the High School of Art and Design in New York City I learned to paint in watercolor on plate finished bristol board. The instructor, Irwin Greenberg taught how to paint on this non traditional surface after examining the works of David Levine and Burton Silverman.  I believe there were also some students who had taken a class with Burton Silverman and had begun to paint on this paper in Greenberg's class.

The slick surface allows for paint to be lifted up with a brush and clean water so that its easier to push the paint around and make corrections that would otherwise be impossible on traditional watercolor paper.

Its been a long time since I painted on this surface. I had wanted to explore the watercolor medium and make personal choices about the equipment I used.  I spent money and time on different brushes, paint surfaces and paints, as well as continuing to learn about the other artist who use the medium.  I decided to start from scratch and learn to paint on traditional watercolor surfaces. This gave me a chance to better understand the medium from the place Greenberg, Levine and Silverman would have started from.

There are so many kinds of brushes that behave differently according to the surfaces you use.  I like using squirrel hair brushes because they hold so much paint and water and they can make very broad washes as well as fine lines, but they are too soft for rougher surfaces.  I began to build up a collection of brushes; sable, squirrel, synthetic.  I also tried different surfaces; rough, cold pressed, hot pressed.

Recently I purchased a pad of smooth bristol board, ( I realized later I should have purchased some Strathmore plate finish 5 ply bristol board), and got to play around with the surface again.  The result was the painting on the upper left and the self portrait below.  I did them so I could get reacquainted with the paint surface.
On the left is the start done with a large squirrel hair mop brush made by Isabey. The right is a detail of the initial lay in.

On the left there is a point in the painting where I began to push the paint around and lift the paint up (not too much lifting because the paper surface wasn't exactly the same as the Strathmore plate finished bristol);  below is the finished painting.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

From Sketch To Finished Painting

Sketching outdoors is fun and challenging.  Eventually I want to put these bits of information I’ve been collecting together.  I actually dream about it.  I remember my favorite teacher, Irwin Greenberg, used to tell his students "go to bed thinking about what you’re going to paint the next day".  In my mind I want to somehow take the sketches I’ve done and put them together on a large canvas.  I began thinking about what I wanted to paint this past weekend.  I started on a little watercolor trying to gather up the information from sketches I’ve made on my lunch hour. 

I’ve done several sketches of Bowling Green Station. I like it because it’s a great backdrop to arrange figures-coming in and out and walking around the station.  Using this sketch as a starting point; references from my digital camera; as well as the quick sketches of people I've been doing the past couple of weeks, I can put together what I hope would be a decent painting.

The sketches on the right were made today. I had made the preliminary sketch below over the past weekend. I will add more figures to the final painting. More importantly, for right now is working out the perspective. I’m going to have to do a lot of straightening out with drawing the structure and the building's but at least I have an idea of what I would like to paint.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sketching People In The Park/ Developing A Shorthand

On my last outing in Battery Park I decided to spend that lunch hour sketching the people in the park. This is not an easy thing to do since no one is standing still for me for a great length of time.  I’m sketching part from observation and part from memory. This was something I used to do a lot of and felt a little out of practice to start, but it’s a lot of fun to do and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s a great way of developing a short hand in watercolor, trying to put things down quickly with just a few washes of paint over a quick gesture sketch in pencil.

These first two pages on the left, I sketched in the park; the other two pages I used photos I had taken for reference for other work. Painting out in the park was more fun, however, using the photos still remained a fun exercise. I tried to not get into rendering any details so that the sketches would have the same freshness and spontaneity as the ones I did in the park.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Quick Watercolor Sketch

Detail of sketch page
I think I’m going to get a sketchbook just for sketching in City Island, it’s such a great place. It really feels as if I left the Bronx and arrived in some other state- it feels like I’m on vacation. In my previous post I said I planned to make more trips there.

These sketches are very satisfying because I’m not trying to do too much, or trying to be too careful. I take more chances with them since I’m not worried about messing them up.  This is something I haven’t done a lot of lately, mostly because I’m just now settling in to the good habits of painting daily and pursuing the things I had let go.  These sketches are not only serving in arranging the elements in the picture, but I would also like to bring into a finished piece the same energy and spontaneity that these sketches have. More often something that’s meant to be a finished piece would fall flat because it becomes too controlled and stiff. I like both extremes, a well rendered painting or drawing as well as a confident and loosely rendered image. I have yet to strike a balance, my pictures could be one or the other. I think doing more of these quick sketches would help strike that balance.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Painting From Photos / How To Use Photo Reference

I started these watercolors at the park. Sometimes it’s hard to pack up and head back to work since I only have my lunch hour to do these. The only reason I was able to carry these park sketches a little further was because I took a few photos with my digital camera and finished these watercolors when I got home.  I have nothing against using photo reference, especially photos I’ve taken myself, but it’s not as much fun as having what you are painting in front of you.
Painting from nature you are interpreting your subject in your own shorthand. You are making decisions in what to leave in and what to take out, what emphasize and what to subordinate, how you make your marks on paper, what colors you chose, the things that makes your point of view unique.  
When you work from a photo you are actually working with less information because the electronic eye of the camera has already made those decisions, so you are reinterpreting the cameras interpretation. It is better to rely both on memory as well as the photo to get at what you want- using the photo as a reference and not trying to be a copy machine.

 The photo references couldn't save this sketch at left because I initially tried to finish it off in that short lunch break. I tried to do to much and I paid for it. But at least I have both the sketch and the photos to use as reference if I want to develop this into another painting.