Friday, February 26, 2010

Sketch Anywhere

One of the greatest places to go in Los Angeles is the Hollywood Bowl. Pack a picnic supper, take the Park and Ride bus, arrive early so you have time to eat, find your seat and relax for a great evening of jazz or classical music. Of course you will want to bring your sketchbook in order to do some drawing before the concert begins. And there are many things to capture your attention. This is the view from our seats. I did a quick sketch in pen and ink while waiting for the show to begin, and I took a flash-off digital photo with my pocket camera for later reference. I did a location sketch at the event, but I painted it later in my studio.

Light glowing from the stage illuminates the first few rows where the patrons are indicated by dots of color that become silhouetted shapes as the brightness fades. I painted a series of gradated washes beginning at the center with Gamboge Nova and added Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Deep as I moved away from the stage. After these washes had dried, I added loosely rendered splashes of color and shapes suggesting the architecture and people and finished it off with a dark wash for the trees in the background.

Pen and Ink

Many times I enjoy working with just a pen, without watercolor. Most of my sketchbook sketches start out that way - just a pen drawing. Because of time constraints I will usually add color later. And sometimes I will leave the sketch as is.

I actually started my art career with the goal of drawing Pasadena with pen in my sketchbook. Gradually I started adding color accents and pale color washes, basically tricking myself into learning how to paint. I found it much easier to add color to an interesting drawing than to face a faint pencil drawing on a sheet of watercolor paper with a loaded brush. The pen sketch gave me confidence to try anything. Consequently, it has become my favorite way to start a painting and as I said, sometimes its how I finish it too.

I usually don't use a pencil either. I start with a pen right away. If I make an errant line, I just correct it with another in the right place. I find that the mistake lines add life and energy to the sketch, and it keeps me interested in seeing what's going to happen next. The times when I block out the sketch with a pencil first, the drawing ends up looking forced and fussy.

This is a scene of downtown Los Angeles from a little pocket park just north of the city.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Painting Night Scenes

Night scenes are moody and dramatic. Everyday subjects become exciting, unexpected and unusual when the time of day changes. This is a painting of the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles before a summer evening performance. Crowds mingle on the plaza in front of the glowing concert hall. While this is a convincing night scene, I actually used a daytime photo as my research.

I started with a pen and ink sketch done on Arches hot press watercolor paper. Then, starting from the center of the paper (where the people are entering the building), I paint a series of gradated washes moving toward the outer edge beginning with light yellow and continuing with light red, crimson, purple and finally blue. I am trying to paint the fluid qualities of light with a smooth transition of color.

With the gradated wash as a background I can then add building details, tree shapes and abstract touches of color suggesting the crowd.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Working From Life

I think it is important (for me at least) to draw, sketch and paint from life whenever possible. There is something about translating a subject from 3-D to 2-D that engages the brain and develops eye hand coordination better than working from a photo, where I am just going from one 2-D image to another 2-D image.

One of my goals as an artist is to work from life whenever I can, but when I have to use photo reference, I want to make the sketch look like it was painted from life.

I have no idea how to technically do this, other than to say that I do it all the time. My sketchbooks are filled with real images: 3-D images captured from real life. In fact, that was one of my rules: if it was in my sketchbook, I had to actually be looking at it - no working from photos. Consequently, the majority of my entries are quite commonplace: my art supplies; my lunch; the dashboard of my car while stopped in rush hour; my seat on an airplane. . . all very ordinary. And yet, as I document these things, I am practicing my skills as a draughtsman and developing my ability to see and capture the 3-D and express it in 2.

This experience of producing thousands of life sketches has the ultimate result of giving me confidence when working with photos, being able to make them say what I want them to say, and make it look like I was actually there.

Remember, you don't have to wait to go to the Grand Canyon to be inspired to work from life. Do it today. Set up a still life with the stuff on your studio table or ask your cat to pose for you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Mancave

Now, of course we want, and need, a place to paint. It should be a dedicated area where we can set up all our art supplies, lay out our brushes and paint tubes, and do some real work. (My original garage studio was shown in the last post.) Every now and then however, the serious artist needs to relax and spend some time not painting. Remember, everything in moderation, including moderation. That's where the Mancave comes in.

Here is mine. It is still my garage, and still my studio, but now it is better organized and is dedicated to an additional purpose: savoring life, taking it easy and spending time with my boys and my friends (and my girlfriend). A bunch of us can gather in the center area and in the off chance that we might want to smoke a cigar or two, the garage doors open wide to allow for maximum ventilation. It looks crowded but it easily seats five on director's chairs.

To the left you can see my primary work area consisting of an Ikea work table with a small hand made shelf on the end to house my collection of watercolor boxes. I built the large workbench at the far left. It was originally for wood working but it got readapted for art. Peg board panels line the walls and are used to display sketches and paintings.

My dad gave me the green steamer trunk that I mounted to a wooden wheeled cradle. Industrial shelving holds my art books, notebooks, records, micro sound system and cabin models. My friend Dennis gave me the saw horse table along the far wall which I use for framing and other tasks.

My Studio

When I am not painting outside, I am working in my studio. I live in a 1909 California Bungalow and the detached garage makes a perfect painting retreat. It is a short five-second walk from my house and is one of the centering vortexes of my life.

The inside is unfinished: open studs and black tar paper with peg board on the walls. The floor is concrete with area rugs. The space is dedicated to comfortable utility. Director's chairs, sawhorse tables, Ikea tables, industrial shelving and some handmade wooden shelves provide an excellent workspace for minimal expense.

It is important to have a space in your life dedicated to your art. For years I worked on the dining room table in my house, and while I still had to clean-up when I was finished with a painting session, it served the emotional function of being my art place. From the dining table I moved to take over a part of the living room, and was able to finally set everything up permanently.

After a couple of years I out grew that space and moved out to the garage. It was a little intimidating at first: it was cold, dark, cluttered and dusty. But I started in one corner and made it my own. Soon it was clean, well organized and well-lit thanks to a few clip-on lights from the hardware store and a couple of used Luxo's. Gradually, I cleaned out the rest of the garage, getting rid of everything I hadn't used in a year. I was striving for Zen simplicity and that mindset helped me say goodbye to a lot of useless items.

Now it is a fully functioning art studio, man cave, lair, cigar hangout, and retreat.

My Sketchbook

I hold a new sketch-book in my hands. It is wrapped in clear plastic that stretches tight along the spiral spine. I unwrap it and leaf through its pages. They are crisp and new and feel expectant. I write my name on the cover and stamp my address in the inside. Then I paint a series of color swatches on the inside front cover: usually the twelve colors from my small paint box.

I am outside now, walking the streets of Santa Barbara, California. The air is warm and the place bustles with shoppers and tourists. The first marks are the hardest. I draw a large border just inside the edges of the paper and divide it into nine squares: two horizontal and two vertical. The pen makes a scratching sound as it moves across the page.

The big shapes are drawn first: the cool blue and purple shadow angling across the wall and onto the ground; and the bright white wall. I suggest people, umbrellas, flags and trees, all with loose scribbly strokes. It is an abstract drawing.

I get out my paint box and brush and pour some water into the cup. I mix up some blue and touch it to the page and sky appears. Ultramarine Blue with a touch of Alizarin Crimson makes the shadows. Tiny spots of red, yellow, green and blue suggest a busy market scene. Trees appear when I add Gamboge to Thalo Blue. The colors mix together and creep down the page, causing the pen lines to bleed and smear. The page is suddenly full of moving colors trying to find their place. I nudge them along but mostly try to stay out of the way.

As the warm breeze dries the paint, the paper flattens out again.

The Sketch

I have always liked looking at an artist's sketch more than their finished work. To me there is an essence of spirit that occurs when the artist first commits something to paper: colors are fresh and pure, the line work is rough and unresolved, and the image is full of energy.

That is my goal as an artist: to communicate what I see with simple raw clarity. I see the sketch as the purist form of artistic expression. It is what I want to see framed beautifully and hanging on the wall in someone's den, loose and sloppy with notes in the margins and pencil lines showing through. You can see into the mind of the artist and see the real show. It is like a live concert with all the audience noises, chord mistakes and guitar feedback between songs.

It is like a short story compared to a novel. There is no room to waste words. The author has to get to the point quickly. The ironic thing is that it sometimes takes me four or five times to get a painting that looks fresh and unplanned.