Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sketchbook: Coffee Shop Chairs.

Before work, I spend my mornings drawing in a nearby coffee shop. I often bring photos and reference of things I want to draw, but sometimes I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to prepare reference, or I’m bored with what I brought. When that happens, I turn to a favorite object: a chair.

I’ve been going to the same coffee shop since I first moved to San Diego ten years ago. It occupies a wonderful, open space. High ceilings. Great light. It has a welcoming vibe with friendly staff. It also has those large, over-stuffed chairs and couches that appear charming until you sit in one and realize that its charm abandoned it long ago when you disappear completely into its old, unsupportive cushions.

But they sure are fun to draw. Couches and chairs possess a certain gravity for me. I enjoy trying to render them. They have a personality that I want to capture. A story they want to tell.

A little side note… despite the abundance of seating options available in this coffee shop, if I start drawing a chair there’s a 90% chance someone will sit down in it.

Here are some of the quick drawings I’ve done while sitting in the coffee shop. The drawings are various combinations of pencil, pen, watercolor, and marker -- all done in a Moleskine sketchbook. I experiment with each drawing, trying to figure out a new way to render shapes and edges.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tamara Sitting In Chair (Markers).

I wouldn't say that I have a love/hate relationship with markers.  It's probably closer to a mild-amusement/hate relationship.  They have a quickness and immediacy to them that I admire, but I dislike almost all of their other qualities.  They apply unevenly.  They don't layer well so you're left with the raw marker colors (like oil paint straight from the tube) and hard edges.  This leaves odd value steps and disparate colors.  It's rare when I see a piece of artwork rendered in marker that I like.  It resembles either graffiti or a coloring book.

But it's Christmas time so I'm able to open my heart a little bit.  I bought Adam Hughes' fantastic book, Cover Run, a few weeks ago.  I love his design and draftsmanship, but I find myself charmed by his skin tones -- they have this wonderfully grayed-down, pink/purple hue.  I knew that he drew and inked his artwork via traditional means, and then colored it with Photoshop, but what I didn't know was how extensively he used markers.  I conducted research and found online video lessons where he demonstrated how he used the markers.  His results were fantastic.  I became intrigued.

For Christmas I asked for marker sets.  Santa must have received my letter in time because sitting at the base of the tree on the 25th were my requested markers.  I got a 24 color set and a 12 (warm) gray set.... and voila... one of my first marker pieces....

I was impressed with the markers.  I could work wet-into-wet and create soft edges.  The gray set contained 10 markers of different gradient values with each marker set at a 10% value interval from light to dark (there are two additional blacks for a total of 12 markers).  This made some of the decisions easier since I only had to determine whether an adjacent shape was lighter or darker than the previous and by how much.  Taking Adam Hughes' advice, I reduced the number of skin values to the four lowest available markers.  This made for a more attractive looking person and gives the background more values to play with (if I were to do a background).  It was an interesting exercise, made easier by the monochromatic nature of the gray set.  I played around with the multi-color set and well.... let's just say it's going to take some time for me to not hate them.

Tamara Sitting In Chair (Marker on Bristol board, 5x7").

[UPDATE: 12/28/11]  Can't... stop... tinkering.... A little more marker in addition to colored pencils and gouache (for the buttons on the chair).  I only wish I could get a reproduction that shows the subtleties better.  It's all much softer than it appears.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sketchbook: Alligator Snapping Turtle Skull.

While perusing various skulls at the Museum of Natural History's Skulls exhibit, I encountered some where I quizzically wondered what animal it was.  Others left absolutely no doubt....

Alligator Snapping Turtle Skull (Watercolor in Moleskine sketchbook, 5x4").

[UPDATE: 12/23/2011] As with most of my work, I tend to tinker with it after it's been posted.  I made some of the values darker using pen and a watercolor wash.  I also added the gray surface with acrylic.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sketchbook: Lottey.

Lottey (Watercolor and colored pencil in Moleskine A4 sketchbook.  Solid blue background added with Photoshop, 8x11).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Art School: Jeff In Progress.

Jeff (Conte on newsprint, 20x16").  This picture was taken 2/3 though the 2 hour live drawing session.  Jeff stands 6' 5" tall and is very lean so it's always a challenge to draw him, and not make him appear like he's 8 feet tall.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Art School: Plein Air Painting.

Ah... plein air painting.  It's been an adventure.  When I leave for plein air painting class in the morning, it feels like I brought enough equipment to invade a small country.  It was easier to pack for a month long European backpack trip than a 3 hour stint of painting outdoors.

The good parts...
  • After drawing portraits, figures, architecture, and animal skulls -- all subjects that require strong draftsmanship -- it's nice to relax on drawing accuracy.  I can draw a rock any way I want as long as it looks cool.
  • I enjoy being outside.  There is an energy when you draw from life that you can never replicate in the studio.
  • I've been exploring parts of the city I never knew existed.  For those areas I'm familiar with, I'm able to appreciate them in a new way.
The interesting parts....
  • Selecting and composing the scene can be tough.  The natural inclination is to include everything, especially those objects that are grand.  I see the enormous mountain range and want to incorporate it all, but realize that the more interesting scene may be a small path to the right, flanked by a few trees.
  • It's difficult to edit.  I have to know when to include an adjacent tree and when to omit it.  If I remove it from the scene because it doesn't add anything, what do I put in its place?  I have to manufacture the background.
  • Time is an issue since many things change.  Yes, time is an issue when painting a portrait in 3 hours from a live model.  But when outdoors, the light changes quickly.  The wind often goes from tame in the morning to blustery in the afternoon.  A fellow painter commented that all sailors know to head out at noon because that's when the wind picks up.
  • Something will always go wrong.  You have to persevere.  When I went to set up my French easel I discovered that a nut had fallen off a bolt, leaving me unable to securely fasten the canvas.  I had to McGyver it using metal clips.
  • Design is important.  Nature does not place tress in the optimal locations.  Limbs do not grow at the most beautiful angles.  You have to draw things so they look attractive, not because they exist.
  • Color mixing is challenging.  I have to mix colors to match hues and values that are new to me.  I have to determine which two, three, four, or five paints combine to form a specific shade of sand, and in which proportions.
  • Living on the coast we frequently paint the ocean.  Waves don't hold still.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Here are the last two paintings I've done.  Many thanks to my instructor, Bob Watts, for all of his help.

Tourmaline, San Diego (Oil on canvas board, 12x9").  Tourmaline is a world famous longboard surf spot.  It was so beautiful this morning -- the previous day's rain had left the sky perfectly clear.

Balboa Park, San Diego (Oil on canvas board, 12x9").