Archives for category: Art Practice

image

image

At long last, work on the restoration project to restore and relandscape the grounds at Cliffe Castle is under way. As I’m often prowling around up there with a sketchbook and do love watching what’s going on, I seem to have become a sort of unofficial Works Artist. Not that I can in any way do it justice – but I’m going to try to record as much as I can, and it’s wonderful drawing practice. Watch this space, and I’ll put up bulletins when I can.

Advertisements

Permanent waterproof ink for a fountain pen is an essential part of my sketching kit. For a long time I used just Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, which is a good waterproof ink – and then I discovered De Atramentis Document Inks that are available in black and a series of colours. These inks are a pleasure to use because they flow so well, never seem to clog or dry up in the pen, and are reliably waterproof.

Now there’s a third choice, Rohrer and Klingner Document Ink stocked in the UK by The Writing Desk. These inks state that they are ‘Permanent and waterproof inks suitable for all fountain pens, certified to ISO 12757-2. Water, light, alcohol and bleach resistant.’ I’ve been testing them against Noodler’s Black, and De Atramentis black and coloured inks.

Cat drawing, ink and wash

Cat; Rohrer and Klingner Black Document ink in a Lamy Safari fountain pen, with watercolour wash.

image

Toadstools; Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink and watercolour

Teddy Bears Picnic, ink and wash drawing

Teddy Bears’ Picnic; De Atramentis Document Ink Brown with watercolour wash

I decided to run tests to compare:
a) how the blacks vary in colour,
b) how resistant they are to water,
c) how well they flow in the pen and if there’s any tendency to dry or clog, and
d) how they feel in use – how freely they flow on the paper.

image

Testing for resistance to water on ‘challenging’ paper where I knew the ink would tend to lift

a) Colour: De Atramentis and Rohrer and Klingner are both rich intense blueish blacks; of the two I’d say the R & K is slightly darker. Noodler’s is warmer, more of a charcoal black.

image

Testing for water resistance on ‘reliable’ paper where ink seldom lifts with a wash of water – though Noodler’s can be unpredictable! Plus a test of a mix of R & K mixed grey, Light Blue with a drop of black.

b) Water resistance: both Noodler’s and De Atramentis achieve resistance to water by reacting to the cellulose in the paper, and I believe that Rohrer and Klingner inks use the same chemistry though I haven’t been able to find any technical information to verify this. Although all three inks are waterproof, this varies according to the paper so I did the first tests on paper I knew would be challenging, and a second set on paper that usually accepts the ink well. I did tests applying water over the ink immediately (the right hand columns on my test diagram) and then after about an hour (the columns on the left). Of the three the De Atramentis came out top, with R & K a very close second and Noodler’s third. On the ‘challenging’ paper you can see the ink has lifted and bled a fair bit in some cases; on my regular ink-friendly paper the Noodler’s still lifts a bit (OK, actually it surprised me and bled a lot – it’s more unpredictable than I’d thought) and the Rohrer and Klingner pretty much stays put, and so does the De Atramentis.

c) Flow in the pen: a lot of people report problems with Noodler’s ink drying in the pen or with it not flowing well, and although in my Lamy Safari I’ve never had this trouble I have found it a problem in a Sailor pen. (I now use De Atramentis in this and it’s a huge improvement). I tried the R & K in a Preppy pen as well as my Lamy Safari and found the black tends to dry in the nib a bit, so that when I came to start drawing after not using the pen for a while the ink wouldn’t flow until I got it going. (Rohrer and Klingner do tell you always to replace the cap of your pen when not in use, and I always do this anyway, with any pen). The coloured inks don’t seem to be so inclined to dry in the nib – the Light Blue in my Preppy pen behaved impeccably.

d) Flow on the paper: the Rohrer and Klingner inks are a joy to use. Like De Atramentis Document ink they feel wet and smooth as they slide onto the page and flow consistently so that drawing with them is a real pleasure and they performed well in all the pens I used to test with – the Lamy Safari, the Sailor with fude nib, and a Preppy.

imageI painted a quick colour chart of the R & K range and was able to compare the brown with the De Atramentis Document brown (which I use a lot); the Rohrer and Klingner is darker and cooler, the De Atramentis warmer and more orange (which I like, for drawing).

image

Finally, I realised that the Light Blue would make a lovely soft blue /grey with a touch of black added to it. From the colour charts online this Light Blue looks paler and slightly cooler than the De Atramentis Blue. I wonder how this mixture would compare to De Atramentis Fog Grey – (which I don’t have but would like to get). I’ve now mixed a small amount of black into the blue so I can try it in a pen.

image

Trying my mixed grey R & K ink in a Preppy pen – drawing some little bottles of liquid acrylic and then painting with watercolour. I wanted an even paler line colour than this – I overdid the amount of black I added to the ink mix – an easy mistake to make!

Conclusions:
I’m impressed with the Rohrer and Klingner inks. They’re smooth flowing, very resistant to water and the colours are lovely. I particularly like the Light Blue because it mixes with black to make such a nice pale blueish grey. The black is beautifully luscious, rich and dark and flows nicely in the pen, and my only concern is that it doesn’t always start to flow straight away when the pen hasn’t been used for a while. I don’t know what would happen if you left a pen unused for several days or even weeks – I haven’t had the inks long enough to try this out.
Will I be using them? I certainly want to go on drawing with the light grey mix I’ve made, so the Light Blue is on my shopping list. The other colours are probably not really useful for me personally, but they’re tempting. As for the black, apart from mixing small quantities of it with Light Blue I’ll probably stick with De Atramentis Document Black, as it does everything I want it to do – but I’d happily use the Rohrer and Klingner Document Black as a replacement, and from now on Noodler’s Bulletproof Black is a fall-back, and going into reserve.

image

Inspired by Liz Steel’s latest post ‘Lightening My Load’ I just sketched my all time most successful mini-sketching kit. I’m always trying to keep the tools and materials I use down to a minimum. I made this little bag some time ago as a prototype and meant to make a better one more carefully from superior materials (this is blue cotton needlecord) but it’s worked so well I’ve still not got round to making another. I carry it everywhere I go. It’s just big enough to carry 4 pens, a pencil, a brushpen, a waterbrush and a tiny homemade palette – 6 watercolour pans made from bits of an empty Rennies blister pack, filled with Winsor and Newton tube paint and stuck into an empty bit of plastic packaging with a folding lid (origin unknown – I think it originally had interdental brushes in it).

image

I wear this small bag slung across me on a long (detachable) strap but occasionally change this to a shorter one so the bag hangs round my neck at chest height. Perhaps the best part is that pens can be clipped onto the strap that runs across the front, so they’re ready for a ‘quick-draw’ (no pun intended) – and this also solves the problem of where to put the top of the pen when drawing, if like me you don’t like the balance of a pen with the top stuck on the other end.

Having a small and simple piece of equipment that does exactly what I need it to do in a reliable uncomplicated way makes me strangely happy.

image

This summer I’ve been drawing people more than ever before, whenever I’ve had the chance – and athough I find it compelling (it’s becoming addictive), I still find it quite intimidating, particularly when I’m sketching in a crowded place. I’m always anxious that someone won’t like being drawn and I don’t want to make anyone uneasy or uncomfortable, though I have to admit that actually this seems to happen fairly infrequently.

I thought the Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Cliffe Castle this week would be full of sketching opportunities, and I certainly found plenty of unselfconscious children (both with and without teddies), alongside a lot of slightly less comfortable adults (also with and without bears).

image

I’d also hoped to find interesting subjects amongst the bears themselves, but especially at first they proved to be elusive as many of them were small and the picnicking groups were spread out, so to begin with I warmed up by drawing the first group I could watch unobtrusively even though there were no visible teddy bears.
I wasn’t feeling terribly well that day and this made me even more nervous, but as usual once I’d started drawing I stopped being aware of anything else.

image

Feeling more relaxed I wandered over to a spot that was dotted with picnic blankets spread on the grass where families and bears were having lunch, and I sat myself down under a tree.

image

I’d imagined that I’d have the chance to do some studies of individual bears, but I quickly discovered that teddies don’t stay in one place for long when they’re accompanied by their owners. However as the afternoon wore on tiredness set in, and I was able to find one or two interesting characters who’d been left to relax on their own.

image

The party was gatecrashed by a few non-bears. Just in front of where I was sitting a couple of soft fleecy dinosaurs spent a quiet half hour dozing, and I spotted several fluffy individuals that looked to me as if they might be rabbits. No-one seemed to mind. I wished I’d brought my rat.

image

I’ve been sketching people quite a bit lately and mostly while they’re moving about, which is a challenge, to put it mildly – but it’s what I want to draw more than anything else at the moment.

image

I find it irresistible and at the same time frustratingly hard. I realise that I’ve forgotten much of what I knew about figure drawing and it’s such a long time since I attended a life drawing class – which I’d love to do again – but in the meantime I want to understand more about how bodies move – what really happens for example, when we walk? There’s nothing like direct observation – watching and drawing as much as possible is the best way to improve – but I don’t have enough opportunity.

I trawled the internet, and after a few red-herrings and blind alleys I came across this tutorial from Elfwood, called Figure Drawing: Basic Pose and Construction.

It’s really designed to help animators and graphic artists but it’s a good step-by-step workout to help you understand how the body is constructed and connected, and how it moves, and it’s all about using stick-figures, or what we used to call pin-men.

image

This is where it all became a lot of fun. I hadn’t drawn stick-figures for years, and I’d forgotten how expressive they can be. But this lesson takes you further than just those rather stiff little pin-men everyone loves to draw, and introduces an advanced species of figures that have shoulders and pelvises, who have all the major human joints and a bit of spring and curve in the spine. Before long they’re capering about across the page and doing things you recognise but would have struggled to draw. I was hooked.

image

The next step is to flesh them out and give them a bit of substance, and here I’ve departed a bit from the tutorial which sticks to a more geometrical approach with simple cylinders for the trunk and limbs, but I was in a hurry to get my little tribe looking a bit more lifelike. They took on a life of their own remarkably quickly.

The question of whether all this helps when drawing real people from life was answered for me when the boiler repair men came and I drew them surreptitiously from behind while they were working. One of them was stretching and peering and grappling with the boiler while the other watched, and I realised I could sum up each movement rapidly in my head as if I was looking at a stick-figure with clothes on.

image

This is them, on the left and right of the page (though not at the top left – they didn’t arrive holding a flag on a pole or hopping on one leg -) and although baggy combat trousers don’t help show off what the legs underneath are doing, stick-figures really helped me see what his whole body was doing as it moved – even if I didn’t have any idea about what he was doing to the boiler.

image

Not too much time for sketching – as I was too busy taking long slow looks at the selected artworks, but I couldn’t resist doing a ten minute drawing of a detail of Anna Lambert’s ‘Hedge Candlestick’.

Cliffe Castle was the only venue in Yorkshire to put on a Slow Art Day event, and one of only a handful in the UK – two of them being the Ashmolean in Oxford and Tate Modern – so we felt among distinguished company. Exciting to think of people all over the world participating on the same day, in a total of 205 galleries and museums in Australia, Africa, Europe the USA and Canada.

There’s something deeply pleasurable about taking a long slow look at a painting or sculpture and it was especially good to be part of a group doing it – we had a lively discussion afterwards and are looking forward to next year!

image

Outside the weather was not what it was two days earlier when I sat on the grass near the playground and then on the bank above one of the fountains (yet to be restored), and sketched in the sunshine.

image

image

One of the things that impresses me most about Urban Sketchers is the way so many will draw just about anything they see in front of them. I’ve seen lovely sketches of feet, of corners of bedrooms and living rooms, even drawings of full garbage bags. It’s taken a shift of attitude for me to see the attraction in this – I used only to want to draw when I found something excited me, but increasingly I’m discovering the addictive pleasure of just drawing what’s there, wherever I am.

image

The whole of one afternoon last week I found myself sitting in a hospital outpatient waiting room, waiting for far longer than I’d expected and with nothing more interesting to look at than a not too healthy plant in a large pot, in front of the usual paraphernalia of office and reception desk clutter. Computer screen, keyboard, files, papers, electrical wiring, and notices on bits of paper stuck randomly here and there informing us and warning us of things. (I didn’t read them.) But after a while I thought that here was an opportunity to draw something that didn’t interest me much, purely as an experiment, so I spent the next half hour doing just that and found after 5 minutes that it did interest me after all.

However as the seats in front of me in the waiting area filled up, things appeared that appealed to me much more and I spent the remaining part of the afternoon sketching the backs of people’s heads.

image

These are just some. There were more husbands (or sons) waiting for wives (or mothers) than there were wives or daughters, so I had a whole series of back views of men to look at, keeping still for several minutes at a time. (It’s interesting that people move far more than they probably think they do when sitting in waiting rooms.) Do men’s ears grow bigger as they get older? I’ve often wondered because from observation I’d say they do, but it seems rather odd that they should. One of the younger men was a translator who had come to keep an appointment with a patient who needed an interpreter, only the patient never turned up. There was an attempt by the receptionist to contact him by phone – it’s impossible not to overhear things like this even if you try not to listen – but with no success. I wondered if he had mistaken the day, or the location, or simply forgotten, and I’ll never know. I was hoping I’d hear the translator speak on the phone as he offered to help, and I wanted to hear what language he’d speak as I couldn’t work out from his appearance or his accent what it might be, but I never got the chance. He got his papers signed and validated so he could claim his expenses, and left.

I never mind waiting as I don’t think of it as time lost, even when I’m just sitting still. Getting into the habit of sketching anything, anywhere, makes me look forward to the next time I have a good long time to wait.

image

I have a new brush, unlike any brush I’ve ever used before because it’s a brush that thinks it’s a pen – it fills with water like a fountain pen fills with ink, and the brush is where a nib would be. It’s called a Water Brush (this one is made by Pentel) and it’s quite weird to use. I need practice.

I decided to try it out by doing a small quick sketch of my neighbour’s front garden, full of winter pruned bushes all hunched and huddled in the dusk on a cold afternoon.
image

The more I draw every day, the more things I see that want to draw; everyday things that I see all the time. Suddenly my seeing sense has woken up again after a period of hibernation. Colours jump out at me. Shapes catch my eye. Pattern, texture, light and shadow have my attention before I’ve even realised it. Today this patch of garden is full of dark colour; tomorrow it may well be transformed by snow.

Sketching spontaneously when I see something that grabs me is not always easy to do and I’m out of practice, so it’s a good opportunity to experiment with new tools and materials that open up new possibilities.

image

Back to the Water Brush – if you squeeze the soft plastic body of the brush, the water flows out more fully into the bristles and you can pick up colour straight from a watercolour pan; then when you apply colour to the paper you can soften this out as more clean water flows into the bristles. It takes a bit of getting used to, but for sketching on location it would be really helpful as you could manage without a water pot – which is what these brushes were created to do. Big, graded washes are not going to be viable but overall the possibilities are huge. Lots of artists use them with water soluble pencils and I haven’t tried this yet.

Being more like a pen to hold, quite a lot of the time I find myself using the brush more like a pen. It comes back to a fiendishly sharp point as the bristles are sturdy nylon, though at the same time it’s soft and responsive enough to do a lot of the things you’d want in a painterly sort of way (though it’s very unlike using a sable watercolour brush).

So this exciting – more learning, experimenting, looking at new possibilities and hopefully changing the way I do things.

Note: this post appears in a slightly different form on another WordPress blog of mine. If you see it there there’s no plagiarism – or at least only by me!
Wordpress has weekly writing and photography challenges – but how about a regular drawing challenge?

image
Given the drab greyness of the landscape at the moment, and the way winter drags on here without showing much sign of spring, perhaps it’s not surprising that to counteract all this my head is full of vivid colours. Blue, yellow, red. I want to bask in memories of blue-green translucent seas, golden sands, and the sudden exclamation of brightly painted boats.

I can’t keep away from this digital drawing thing. It’s taken me by surprise because I found it clumsy and frustrating at first and I’m still struggling and way out of my depth, but this is probably why its so compelling. I can’t use it to draw the way I do on paper – I can’t control it the way I’m used to when I’m handling a pencil or a brush – so I’ve stopped trying to make the same sort of marks that I’d use if I was working in any conventional way, and instead I’m drawing in a way that I probably haven’t done since I was a child, most of the time using my fingers. (I’ve tried all kinds of different apps, and different styluses, but nothing works as well as a finger – and strangely this does make it a sensuous, tactile experience which I would never have believed possible. When you’re rubbing or stroking on colour you really can have the sensation that you’re applying rich creamy oil pastel, or crumbly chalk…)

The one thing I really haven’t mastered yet is using layers in the Artflow app. If anyone can offer me any helpful tips I’d be grateful. (I tried to put the boat shapes in using a layer after I’d put down all the sea and sand, but whatever I drew on the layer was invisible – except on the thumbnail icon thingy of the layer itself. What am I doing wrong?) Also I must remember to save things – I’ve already lost I don’t know how many drawings. But when all’s said and done, I love learning – even if sometimes it’s a lot of trial and a great deal of error!

image

I used to draw a lot from imagination and memory, but that was a long time ago and I’m completely out of the habit.

Something else to rediscover.