Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Sketching with Friends...Finally!

A few days ago I met up with a couple of my sketching buddies for a morning of drawing and painting at the Greene County Historical Society in Waynesburg, PA. 

Ink & watercolor in a 6-1/2" x 5" Khadi sketchbook with 140 lb. rough paper

We all needed this, sitting together in the sunshine, painting, chatting, and venting about the state the world is in these days. Talking helps me to deal with things, and I've really missed having regular get-togethers with my friends these past few months. It felt so good to reconnect.

My sketching pals, Cathy and Carol

We got there early, before the museum opened, and walked around looking for some appealing subject matter. The antique Studebaker truck was cool...

If you love old trucks, you're welcome to paint this one! (Click to enlarge.)

but I really liked the rickety old barn, too, so I decided to draw the larger scene of barn, truck, foreground building and distant trees. 

I used a 6-1/2" x 5" Khadi sketchbook that has a fairly rough surface, blocking in the large shapes quickly with pencil, then drawing the scene with a Sailor Fude fountain pen and black ink.

Smoke from the California wildfires has blanketed our region lately, and I wanted to note that fact in my sketch, so I painted a smokey sky with pale yellow and orange, instead of the normal blues of a September sky here in PA. I painted on dry paper, allowing the colors to merge and blend. Moving across to the trees, I added yellow ochre, sap green, and ultramarine blue to indicate a variety of foliage in sun and shade. I dragged my brush across the dry paper in the foreground to leave some white sparkle in the grass. 

The barn is a faded yellow color, but instead of broadly brushing on one tone, I varied the colors to make it more interesting, adding pink and blue-grey to a base of yellow/burnt sienna.

The roof was painted next....

and some darks were added to the trees and the shaded interior of the barn.

The building in the foreground was a nondescript color that looked like someone had dumped all their leftover paint together to use it up, so I mixed up a warm, muddy neutral color and varied the tones by dropping in some blue here and there to keep it from looking too flat and dull.

The barn window was painted to show reflections of the red brick museum building behind me, then I drybrushed some texture onto the barn siding by dragging the side of my brush across the paper.

The truck was a challenge, because the dark blue color of it was almost exactly the same color and value as the inside of the barn that framed it. Why couldn't it have been red??? 

I was tempted to change the color, but I preferred to make a faithful rendering of the scene before me, so I tried to make the truck stand out by darkening the background and lightening the value of the framework in the bed of the truck. The ink lines and detail help a bit, too.

In my sketch kit that day, I carried a brand new palette filled with a set of 24 luscious QOR watercolors from Cheap Joe's. 

I especially like using the QOR watercolors when I'm working on off-white paper like I have in the Khadi sketchbook. The colored paper tends to mute the colors somewhat; the rich, concentrated pigments of the QOR colors help to compensate for that and brighten up my paintings.

I'm trying out a new set of brushes, too, thanks to the generosity of Cheap Joe's Art Stuff. (I'm a Cheap Joe's Ambassador!) It's the Princeton Neptune Series 4750 synthetic squirrel set. Round brushes in sizes 4, 6, 8, and 10 are included and they come with a cap which protects the bristles when they're tucked away in my sketch kit. The cap converts to a handle when painting. 

A handy carrying case is a nice bonus.

I painted most of the barn sketch with the size 10 brush. It holds a ton of paint, dispenses it evenly, and comes to a fine point for detail work. Usually squirrel hair brushes are too soft and floppy for me, but this faux squirrel, although softer than the synthetic brushes I usually use, has enough body to keep me happy. And the softer bristles work really well when I want to cover larger areas quickly and blend colors on the paper like I did in the initial stages of this painting. I'm finding I really like this set.

To finish up the sketch, I drybrushed some texture on the foreground building, painted the windows, and indicated some siding lines here and there. Rusty brown paint was brushed onto the metal roof. I didn't want to call attention to this part of the painting, so the dull colors of this nondescript structure worked to my advantage.

To finish off the barn, I indicated vertical siding and other detailing, then added lines to the metal roofing. 

Later at home, I added a title using a Staedtler Triplus Fineliner and brushed some more blue into the sky.

Click to enlarge for better viewing

Total time at the museum was 2 1/2 hours, but we spent the first half hour walking around, deciding what to paint, and setting up our stuff. If you subtract all the time we spent catching up with each other and solving the problems of the world, that probably left me with about 60-90 minutes of actual painting time. I didn't feel like I was rushing, but I'm glad I was able to finish almost all of the painting onsite. I don't need any more unfinished sketches! 

Getting out in the sunshine and spending time painting with friends was the highlight of my week!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

June 2020 Painted Calendar

Get ready for a mammoth post! June was filled to the brim with activities, and I captured them all on one 9" x 12" calendar page in my American Journey Journaling Sketchbook.

9" x 12", ink & watercolor in an American Journey Journaling Sketchbook

(Click on this larger image file to see all the details)

Let's take a look at how the month of June shaped up for us here in Prosperity, PA....

Week 1 had us gardening, cooking, and spending time with our grandson.

My favorite sketch from week 1 is this one. I like the bold design and happy colors.

My favorite activity that week was having what we call "Special Grandma and Grandpa Time" with our grandson, Nicholas. We bring one grandchild to our house for two or three days (no siblings allowed!) and do all sorts of fun activities with him/her, and, more importantly, give him lots of one-on-one time, love, and attention. During this visit, we went for a bike ride on a local trail that runs alongside the Monongahela River.

During week 2, I added a border to the page. It was inspired by the purple clematis that blooms in June in our backyard. I had planned for the border from the beginning, leaving space for it when I laid out the page. What I hadn't thought of is how tiny those thirty little squares would have to be to accommodate the wide border. It certainly made the daily sketching challenging - the boxes were less than 1-1/4" square!

I the found it was much easier to draw the border while standing outside, looking at the plants, than to try to do it from a reference photo. Photos tend to make a jumble of foliage. I lightly penciled in the border then inked it with the same Pigma Micron pen (size 01) that I used for the sketches.

My favorite sketch that week was the Baltimore Oriole. That orange color is just luscious, isn't it? This is the first year we've ever had orioles at our feeders, and we've really enjoyed watching them scarfing down grape jelly and oranges.

My favorite event that week was an outdoor sketching get-together at my friend Teresa's beautiful garden. I almost felt like I was in England - fragrant old-fashioned roses, wisteria in bloom, picket fences, a koi pond, deep blue larkspur....it felt like heaven! And being with my friends for the first time in months was even better.

I got a little behind with my painting during week 3, but I managed to keep up with the drawing, which requires the most time and effort for me.

Coming up with an idea each day and figuring out the design of the square then drawing and inking it - that's what takes time. Painting can be done quickly, because all the decisions have already been made.

I caught up with everything during week 4...

My favorite sketch for week 3 is this one:

I like the design of the square and the rich colors on the purple flowers (which, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of!)

My favorite activity that week was our inaugural camping trip with our new trailer, which we bought last October and never had a chance to use until now.

Week 4 brought a haircut (yay!), gardening, grandkids, and home improvement projects. My favorite activity that week was taking my granddaughter to visit my mother for the day. I hadn't seen my mom for weeks due to the pandemic, and she's really been missing the family.

We finally got to the point where we had all been isolating long enough that we felt we weren't a risk to each other, so Isabelle and I spent a day at Alpine Lake with her.

My favorite image from week 4 is this one of me getting a long-awaited haircut. It says so much about the times we're living in.

And those times aren't always the happiest, are they? My sketch for the 27th represents one of those days when I just felt sad and on the verge of tears from the time I got up in the morning till I went to bed at night. Most days, I stay busy and upbeat, but occasionally it all gets to be too much. Then I give myself permission to cry and feel sorry for myself ... and everybody else, too.

Usually, after a good night's sleep, I feel more like my everyday happy self. I'm grateful that those dark days don't happen too often.

After I finished all thirty days of my June calendar, it was time to tackle the clematis border. I first painted the leaves using various combinations of Sap Green, Leaf Green, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, and Cobalt Blue.

I allowed the yellows, greens, and blues to mingle on the paper, giving me varied values and a wide range of natural-looking colors.

FYI - While I was working on the border, I protected the rest of the page with a sheet of plain paper.

I did this throughout the month, too, while I was working on the individual squares. I would isolate the one or two squares that I was working on that day and protect the others with scrap paper temporarily. It prevented any skin oils or dirt from soiling the sketchbook page, and protected it from inadvertent paint drips, etc.

After the base wash on the leaves was completed, I masked out the stamens using a ruling pen to make nice, thin lines.

Then I applied the first washes to the flowers.

I was able to get a wide range of values with that first wash.

All that was needed in the next step was to add darker shadows and detailing.

When I was ready to paint the centers, I removed the masking fluid.

Then the stamens were painted with Yellow Ochre and touches of green.

The next step was to finish up the leaves by adding veins, shadows, and detailing.

After 30 days and countless hours of drawing and painting, it was finished!!!

Or was it??????

I decided the page looked so crazy busy that it needed something to tie it all together. I considered all sorts of possibilities, but finally settled on adding a pale blue wash of Cobalt Blue around the entire page. It was tricky painting around the vines while simultaneously feathering out the paint, keeping a soft edge, and not having any hard edges or overlapping lines in the wash.

I think the effort was worth it. I love this page, with its glimpses into the life of our family. The exuberant border might be a little over the top, but I think it, along with all the fun, colorful sketches, represents the richness of my life and the happiness I feel in my little corner of the world. Even though things might not be the way we want them to be right now, life is still so very, very good.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Camping, Sketching, and Some Really Big Fish!

We went camping for a few days last week at Pymatuning State Park in northwestern Pennsylvania, and I managed to squeeze in one quick sketch before our grandkids arrived.

Two-page spread in a Khadi 5" x 6-1/2" sketchbook (Click to enlarge)

And I do mean quick! I spent about an hour on it, start to finish, except for the lettering which I added after we returned home. 

This was (sorta kinda) the view from our campsite. I was inspired by the morning light shining through the towels hung on the clothesline across the road from us. 

The sky and trees were painted first. I worked my way across the two-page spread, alternating between the blue of the sky (a mix of Phthalo and Ultramarine) and the yellows and greens of the trees (Sap Green, Nickel Azo Yellow, Ultramarine, and Phthalo Blue). I wanted some soft blending of the foliage with the sky background. 

I used a Sailor Fude fountain pen with Platinum Carbon black ink, a fun little set of QoR watercolors and a new travel brush set by Raphael. The brush set includes a mini mop brush that was perfect for painting the sky and trees. It holds a generous amount of paint, so I could cover the paper quickly before the paint started to dry.

I kept things loose and indistinct on the left side of the sketch, since I wanted most of the focus to be on the laundry, but I like how the splash of color from the wild orange daylilies brightens up that side of the page. The undulating curve of the blooms adds some movement to the image and repeats the curve of the clothesline.

The arrival of my grandchildren was a blessing, because it forced me to stop before I overworked the sketch. Later, at home, I added a touch of spattering in the trees...

and dug out my old Speedball calligraphy nibs to add the title lettering. I like being able to load the nib with watercolor, so I can perfectly coordinate the color of my lettering with the painting.

A Staedtler Triplus Fineliner was used for the green lettering. I love having the set of 48 colors on hand. It makes it easy to find the perfect color to use with any sketch, and the fine nib enables me to write small, if needed. The ink is not waterproof, however, so I always use the pens after all the painting has been completed.

Completed sketch

Our stay at Pymatuning was a nice break from months of being cooped up at home. Our whole family has been isolating for so long that we felt we didn't pose any risk to each other, and while we were camping, we were a world unto ourselves.

It was a great way to have a vacation while staying away from other people and avoiding the risks that might be associated with staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.

We kayaked, biked, and sat around the campfire. (One or two s'mores may have passed my lips, but I have it on good authority that calories consumed while camping don't count.)

The kids caught fireflies in the evening.

We played games like Life, Dominos, Quick Cups, and Rummikub. And we made an excursion to the spillway that Pymatuning is famous for.

Years ago, people started feeding bread to the carp that gather there, and the park service still allows it because it's a "cultural tradition". Canada geese and ducks compete for the bread people throw...

and the huge carp, with their gaping mouths, are so thick that the birds walk on top of them.

I'd heard about Pymatuning ever since we moved to western PA forty years ago, and I finally got to see what everyone was talking about. Those slow-moving fish with their big round mouths opening and closing - it was so creepy and weird!

We saw bald eagles every day. If you zoom in on this photo, you'll see that there's one sitting right in the tippy top of the tall pine tree on the left. We watched him for awhile from our kayaks, then held our breath as he soared off across the lake. It was thrilling!

(Click to enlarge)

Wild daylilies bloomed in clumps all around the lake. I'm so glad we were there at peak bloom.

The last day, we rented a pontoon boat and motored around the lake, stopping to swim once in awhile and just enjoying the scenery.

One-on-one time with the grandchildren is one of the best things about camping. Conversations come naturally and you have all the time in the world to just be together.

Mini vacations like this are helping me get through these challenging times. Being in nature is a soothing balm for the frustration I've been feeling.

It may not be Provence or Tuscany, but a state park in Pennsylvania offers a pretty good way to make lemonade out of lemons.

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