This was an attempt to speed up my from-life sketching. I’m not sure exactly how long it took as I lost track of time, but by the time I finished the sun was going down and my legs had gone numb, so more practice needed.
Painted in acrylics, from a photo. I wanted the flower tips to be glowing bright, and relied on the titanium white paint to create the highlights instead of letting the paper show through as with watercolour.
Scanning and displaying onscreen makes them glow even more. These paintings often look better on screen than they do held in the hand. The luminous glow of the screen can boost the highlights and hide the imperfections. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
You’d have thought I would have learnt from a previous sketch that using heavy applications of a drawing ink that contains shellac could end up with the ink bleeding through the paper, glueing a number of pages together. My ink experiments on the other side of this gouache leaf sketch involved running together big blobs of ink in an attempt to get some interesting colour blends and ink effects (which didn’t really work).
I thought I would get away with it this time as I was using good quality watercolour paper (Fabriano Artistico HP 200gsm) in this homemade sketchbook. However, the large quantities of pooled ink I was using resulted in it soaking through the paper and glueing the leaf to the opposite page.
Of course I couldn’t use water to help separate the pages, so I carefully prised them apart with a plastic ruler, but the paper still ripped slightly and had to be glued back down. I tried to cover the ink stain with white gouache with only limited success; it was impossible to restore the natural tone of the untouched paper.
The pictures above, both painted in gouache from life instead of the usual photo, were taken before the ink farce.
This buddha statue was partially overgrown by the box hedge, which led to the problem of how to represent the foliage without describing every leaf or drawing attention away from the main subject.
Following advice given in Barrington Barber’s The Complete Book of Drawing, only the leaves overlapping the shoulder were drawn with any detail, the others being abstracted into areas of light and shade. The theory is that one area of detail is enough to trick the brain into filling in the rest.
A sketch from a photo of Alan Watts using dilute Lexington Gray ink in a waterbrush, which enables shading to be quickly added as layers of ink are built up in to different tones.
This ink made by Noodler’s is usually only available in the US, but recently supplies have been available in the UK.
Distilled water is best for diluting the ink as it keeps an even flow through the waterbrush, though tap water is fine.
The great thing about Lexington Gray is that it’s suitable for fountain pens but is also permanent once it contacts the cellulose of the paper. This means a wash or watercolour can be added to ink drawings. This would usually only be possible if Indian ink was used. Indian ink contains shellac which sets hard and makes the ink waterproof on paper but can destroy a fountain pen if left to dry.
I decided to copy the watch a second time to try out some new water soluble oils and to see how they compare with acrylics, using a pad of acrylic paper with an extra layer of white acrylic gesso applied.
Because the paint isn’t dry in 2 minutes (like acrylic) there’s more time to blend and fuss, and it’s easier to make a smoother blend or to tease the paint in to an edge (shadow to left side of watch). I’m not used to the colours in this starter set and had trouble getting a dark grey for the background. I usually get dark neutral colours by mixing an earth colour with ultramarine. With this palette I get a purple by mixing the blue and red, but adding yellow creates brown as it lightens the whole mix. I’ve since ordered more paints to match as close as possible the colours I’m used to, based on my limited watercolour palette.
Another difference to the quick-drying acrylics was that highlights were unexpectedly difficult to apply as they would dig up darker paint from lower layers (a common beginner’s mistake, apparently). I ended up putting on the gold highlights in an impasto, like icing on a cake.
On the finer details the paint dragged a little. I’ve ordered some water soluble linseed oil and quick drying liquid to loosen it up. I’ve heard that walnut oil is good, but thought I’d stay with the water soluble range for now.
Touch dry within a couple of days (but probably not fully dry).
The linseed oil smell is quite pleasant, and being water soluble the brushes clean up with a bit of washing up liquid and water.
I’ve heard that some people hate water soluble oils and find their consistency unworkable. Others say that they behave like normal oils so long as water is only used for cleaning brushes and not as a solvent during painting. Instead use water soluble linseed oil or other mediums.
More acrylic shenanigans, copying Dali’s Melancholy, 1945 from an old poster which is big enough to see the brush strokes. Minus the ants. I never did like Dali’s ants, plus I haven’t got a brush fine enough for the legs. UniPins? But that would feel odd.
Many of these pencil sketches are drawn while sitting on a sofa with the sketchbook on my lap, not the ideal drawing position and the lighting is poor, but if I get too precious about when and where I draw then I would do very little. The mantra I hear repeated by art instructors is to draw as much as possible – theory and knowledge are fine, but we only really learn while drawing.
For the flophouse sketch I used a lead holder fitted with a soft, fat lead (Pilot Croquis 6B 4mm) to shade large areas, with my trusty mechanical pencil (Ain Stein 2B 0.7mm) used for the details. A kneaded eraser was used to pick out the highlights, such as the light reflected from the top of the chairs and the folds in the suit, and to define the chain from the shading of the priest’s robes.
The sketch on the left is from the series Bowery Flophouse by photographer John F. Conn, printed in LensWork 86; the other is an Orthodox priest on the Solovetski Islands, from The Journals of a White Sea Wolf by Mariusz Wilk.
This was painted from the opening scenes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, paused onscreen and painted with a flat half-inch brush with raw umber watercolour. I made an initial sketch in pencil to get the main proportions. It was a good job I did, because after drawing the basic outlines of the top corner of the room I drew the figures way too big, out of proportion to the rest of the scene. Maybe this is a Betty Edwards left brain problem: I think the figures have more importance so draw them larger than the background. I had to make a conscious effort to draw small heads! But once I did, something clicked and they looked correct relative to the frame of the door.
Using one brush and one colour was surprisingly liberating, leaving me free to concentrate on shapes of light and dark.