Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Urban Sketching with Markers (Part I)


Urban sketching is a crazy collection of whatever skills you can bring to the table. There are those who sketch with paints/watercolors, colored pencils, pen and ink, graphite, markers and even dry erase markers. It's all good. As they say in the south, "dance with the date you brought." I am one of a number of urban sketchers who has found comfort in the use of markers. Our styles range from a tighter, realistic style to a loose energetic style and everything in between. For example, check out the range of styles between Lisa Flahive http://flahive.fineartstudioonline.com/collections/48778, and Donald Owen Colley http://buttnekkiddoodles.com. Both have styles I greatly admire.

By the way, much like picking out paint brushes, there is a large variety of marker tip sizes and shapes available, from very fine pens, brush tips to chisel and calligraphy tips (also known as nibs in some places). The advantages of using markers is that they are fast-drying, blendable with other colors, and come in an assortment of colors and kits. For example, you can pick up a set of cool greys, warm greys, basic colors, earthy colors and pastel colors. These are great if you can identify in which color palette your sketches normally reside. Of course, you can always mix and match to create your own customized marker set. I will cover the many popular brands of markers available in my “Part II of Urban Sketching with Markers.”

Many people have asked me about my secrets to using markers. Here are a few tips that I like to use which may be of interest to you. (Click on the image below to enlarge it for better viewing and detail).

Step 1: I like to sketch out my scene in pencil or fine point pen.

Step 2: Using the Push Fade and Pull Fade techniques, I will add color. You can notice that, by lifting the marker during the stroke, you can achieve some nice graduation in color.

Step 3: Now I can go back over the original color strokes and overlap them with secondary strokes to add more color or more dimension. Often I will add pastel colors and pick up the sky tones, skin tones and reflections to add energy to the sketch.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chicago Architecture Foundation Open House

Chicago Architecture Foundation Open House, 

Urban Sketchers Chicago, October 18, 2014

About once a year, the Chicago Architecture Foundation opens the doors to some of the most intriguing buildings and architecture to the public. While most of the public will walk the halls and admire the years of history behind the intricate details, stonework, sculptures and woodwork, Urban Sketchers Chicago takes advantage of this opportunity to grab our sketchbooks, watercolors, pens and pencils and capture as much of the details as we are able amongst the hoards of visitors, tourists, photographers and fans of architecture. While this can be a pretty overwhelming experience to sketch while the mouth is agape, our group did pretty well as evidenced in the collection of sketchbooks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Composition is a big word


Composition can be difficult to teach. Do this, don't do that… Unless you want to deliberately break the rules… And then it may or may not work… You stick to the rules - and it may end up boring. You break the rules - and it may end up unbalanced… What is a sketcher to do?

Composition is a skill, just like drawing or values or accurate color. This means that with practice a sketcher can develop a vision and understanding of the design as well as a feel for positioning of shapes within the boundaries of a drawing. By practicing composition it is possible to get and improve the sense and sensibility of what is composed well and as a result has a built-in beauty, and what needs improvement and what this improvement might be.

Composition is also a vast subject. This is another reason art students shy away from it.

Here I will suggest three things that can be practiced right away. They will work for on-location sketching without burying one's head in theory.

1. Balance positive and negative space

See that your actual objects of interest (positive space) and space around them (negative space) take more or less the same amount of space on your drawing.

Some examples:

- Crowded drawing - very little negative space

- Unfilled drawing - small subject surrounded by a lot of negative space

- Balanced drawing - subject and surrounding space take about the same amount of space

Remember a trick - an empty unfilled composition can be improved by creative cropping or borders.

2. Repetition and pattern

A human eye loves pattern. When we see and recognize repeating shapes it makes us feel clever and calms us. Repeats and patterns give an image rhythm and make it dynamic and lively.

3. Connection

Let your subjects and objects connect, touch and overlap. This is one and an obvious way to keep the composition together, like holding hands.

The other way to connect is by intent, using directional lines and visual tension.

Here's an example of a composition with overlapping objects:

In the following sketch three groups of people are connected by individual figures situated between the groups. These figures create the tension that holds the composition together:

So what to do now?

Now that you have these insights, it is time to practice them. When you chose your subject or view, take another minute and make a tiny plan. Here's an example of such plan: "I will include this bridge, and the river with its interesting colors and these trees on the right bank. I will leave out these buildings on the right shore, and a willow tree on the left… they will overcrowd my drawing." Better yet, make a thumbnail sketch and see how it looks.

Take the view you are sketching and make it into a design. Emphasize patterns if they are there. Look for geometrical patterns, color patterns, contrast patterns.

Check if your shapes connect/overlap or stand alone. If they are standing alone, is there a way create a connection or directional pull to tie the composition together? Even if there is not, you have taught yourself something about composition by having tried. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playing with Line

Nutmeg © Barbara Weeks

A line drawing is like a solo piano. It can express everything from the even cadence of practicing scales, to the emotion of a concerto, to the novel rhythm of a jazz improvisation, and all with just a single instrument! A 2B pencil is usually my instrument of choice but a ballpoint, a fountain pen, a fiber-tipped pen or even a stick can bring its own distinct qualities to a sketch. 

There are many reasons to explore line as a drawing technique. Here's just a few:
  1. It comes naturally to us. Watch a child draw with abandon using line. We all unconsciously doodle with line. We should stretch and develop this natural tendency.
  2. Line emphasizes shape and helps us see structure. 
  3. It can be a quick way to get fleeting impressions of our surroundings down on paper.
  4. A single line can be slow and sensitive describing the attitude of a shoulder or the roll of a hilly landscape.
  5. Line can show the erratic movement of a crowd or the scratchy texture of a piece of toast.
  6. A confident and varied line can give even the most mundane subject character.
Starbucks © Barbara Weeks
Toast © Barbara Weeks

A few tricks:
  1. Vary the pressure on your line from heavy to light to disappearing to show volume and distance. 
  2. Restate a line when searching for a shape or form. Don’t erase the old line. It will add life and energy to the drawing.
  3. Practice making lines that describe different textures such as smooth, hard, soft, hairy.
  4. Practice freehand drawing straight (well, straightish) lines on the paper varying the  thickness. When I practice I usually make two dots at least three inches apart and then connect the dots. and work down the page. It will give you a sure hand and a confident line. It’s like practicing the scales on the piano.

Ouch! © Barbara Weeks
African Ape © Barbara Weeks
A beautiful painting is a wonder to behold but there is much to be said for the simple power of a line drawing. It’s like a full orchestra and a solo piano.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Drawing Architecture: Sighting Size and Proportion

In my last post “Perspective for the Urban Sketcher:Sighting” I shared a technique for drawing in perspective.  With some of the feedback I received from that post, I was reminded of a related, yet different technique that can be used with sighting.  Sighting can also be used to gauge size and proportions.  In this post, I will build upon the sighting technique and show you how to draw architecture, simplifying an elevation down to large, simple shapes and using architectural features as measuring devises.

If you've ever spent time observing architecture, you've probably noticed that there are almost always some degree of pattern and relationships between different shapes and masses.  Whether they are windows, doors, columns, arches, roofs etc... they are all sized and proportioned in relationship to one another and to the building as a whole.  An urban sketcher can use different elements of a building as tools to his/her advantage, especially when sighting.

When sketching architecture, size and proportions are dependent on your distance from and relative position to your subject.  So, before getting to the steps, the following rule must be followed in order for this technique to work:

Remember, once you decide where to sit and sketch, you must stay in the same spot until you have at least marked out all sizes and proportions.  (Once you move, your distance and relative position to the subject changes, and your sighting approximations will be inconsistent).

Sighting Size and Proportions: Step by Step

1) Take a few minutes to observe the building, pointing out some of the major shapes, structural features or patterns.  When sighting for size and proportion, you will draw your building starting with the larger masses of the building, moving down to the smallest masses and details last.

Chose one feature of the building to use as a measuring unit.  I chose the width of the tower.  With your sighting tool (pencil, wooden skewer etc…), fully extend your arm out, placing it in front of the architectural feature.  (It helps to close one eye and squint).  Move your thumb along your sighting tool until it reaches the edge of the architectural feature, essentially measuring the feature’s width.  This will become the measuring unit for the majority of the sighting.  So, all measurements will be in X number of tower widths.

Measure the width and height of the building.  The length of this building was about 8 tower width’s wide.  The tower was 3.5 tower widths tall, and the roof heights changed at different locations, but ranged from 1.5-2 tower widths tall.  Use tick marks and guidelines to help visualize your measurements.  Here I marked out the overall length of the building at slightly more than 8 widths.  Use guidelines for all of your measurement.  You will begin to see how different parts of the building relate to one another.

Mark out all the other large masses.  In this building there were essentially 6 large masses that comprised the entire elevation.  I sized each portion based on my measuring unit, the tower width.

The 8 tick marks I made on the length of the building helped as guidelines.  So for example, I sighted that the first mass (farthest left) was about ¾ of 1 tower width.  Since I have the tower width marked out, I was able to draw my vertical line for that portion of the wall at ¾ of the way through the first tick mark.  Repeat these steps for the rest of the masses.

Now that you've marked out the largest masses of the building, move to the medium sized masses.  For me these were the arches, windows and doors.  The colonnade of arches is nicely divided into 6 uniform bays, so I was easily able to divide the middle portion of the building up into 6 equal parts.  Use this type of logic for the rest of the details.  (If your details are not evenly spaced, simply use a smaller architectural element as your measuring unit to determine the distances and proportions you need.)

Now you can begin to add details, value, shading and shadows.

Once you feel comfortable sighting sizes and proportions on a building at a straightforward view, you will be ready to combine the techniques of perspective with those in this post.

I hope this is helpful!  As always, let me know if you have any questions!


Monday, September 22, 2014

Please, Have A Seat

One of the many benefits of attending an Urban Sketchers Sketch Crawl is discovering the many different ideas and workarounds that other members have developed for their particular way of sketching. Case in point: where does one sit when sketching “on location?”

The obvious answer is often “find someplace to sit and sketch what is in front of you.” This simple solution may present you with such options as a park bench, café tables, the half walls of a landscaping terrace, sidewalk curbs, a sturdy fence, a tree stump, a fire hydrant (good luck with that one), a pier or boat dock, a plastic 5 gallon bucket and the back seat of your convertible car (weather permitting, of course). It makes the most sense since most urban sketchers operate by the motto “travel light” and would prefer not to carry any extra weight.

When presented with an unknown setting, however, an experienced urban sketcher likes to come prepared. This can mean providing seating arrangements of their own to insure there is a place to sit. Therefore, I have assembled a collection of seating options which I have gathered from other savvy sketchers and perhaps you will find one that meets “The Four C’s of Sketch Chairs: Comfort, Convenience, Compartments and Cost.”

Comfort: Sketching can often take an hour or two so you want a seat that will support you without having to sit too low or cut off your circulation during that time.

Convenience: Ideally you will want a seat that will fold up to fit inside of your backpack, art bag, or large purse if you are able. Sometimes there is a trade-off for a seat that is both comfortable and convenient, so you try to find the best of both.

Compartments: Having a chair that provides some kind of storage to hold the art supplies you will be using is especially handy if the ground around you is either wet or gooey-dirty. Who wants to set their supplies in the mud and then pick it up again to use on their sketch? Pockets, zipper pouches, and cup holders are all welcome additions to a comfortable chair.

Cost: Assuming that you do not have an endless cash flow and do not possess the crafting skills to make your own perfect chair, then cost may be important for you to consider as one of the determining factors.

Many of the following chairs can be found in an assortment of outdoor, sporting goods and garden shops in addition to art supplies stores. Here then are some of the more popular personal, portable, sketch chair options and where you can find them. Find one that you like and please join us at one of our next Urban Sketchers' Chicago Sketch Crawls. Happy shopping.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: Thoughts on Talent

Many times, as I am sitting sketching in a park or a cafe, someone would stop by, look over my shoulder, and then say with a wistful air "I wish I had your talent… I'd like to draw too…"

I usually hesitate to tell them, but I will tell you: I have no talent.

What I have is an incessant desire to make images. I have persistence and tenacity. I gave up on instant gratification and the need to look good right away. I bought in on an idea of 10,000 hours. But talent… no, definitely not. But let's examine the situation with more attention.

For decades I did not draw or paint or make art, because I was convinced that I had no "talent". Fairly late in life I came up with a rebellious idea that I don't actually need this thing "talent" to draw or paint. Ha! What a liberation it was! I took a pencil and did an exercise from a drawing book, the year was 2009:

I did more exercises from books, and interestingly enough my drawings got better.

Then I came across a book by Malcolm Gladwell "Outliers: The Story of Success" and read about 10,000 hours concept. The idea is that you need about 10,000 hours of practice to get good at whatever you want to get good at. I did the math: working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, gives 2,000 hours of practice in one year. In 2010 I've barely scratched the surface… I realized that I needed 5 years of dedicated practice. I also realized that I don't need "talent", I need skill. That was doable, and I got to work.






These are some examples. I did a lot more stuff than that. I painted and studied, and later on taught as well. 

Today, in 2014, I have done my 5 years - 10,000 hours. I have moved from being afraid of putting a pencil to paper to being a professional artist and a painting instructor. 

Here's one more thing to keep in mind. In the beginning of your 10,000 hours quantity is more important than quality. There once was an experiment in a pottery class of an art school. For one semester a class was divided in 2 halves. Students in the first group were asked to make one single pot each during the time of that semester, but it should be the best pot they ever made. The grade would be given based on the quality of that single pot. The second group was asked to make as many pots as they possibly can, quality and beauty not important. These students would get their grades based on the number of pots they made, the more the better. As you probably guessed, by the end of the semester pots produced by the "quantity" group  were better and more beautiful than single pots made by the "quality" group. 

This example comes from a book "Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking" by David Bayles and Ted Orland. You can get this book from Amazon for under $4.00 used. It is a little book - 120 pages, small format - with a lot of wisdom. This will be the best art book you ever bought.

A practical and observable shift in quality of work occurs through practice and work. "Talent" is not even a part of this equation.

During my years of practice and self-study I arrived to several conclusions that I want to share with you:
  1. If you can write a grocery list - you can draw too. You have all visual and motor skills that you need.
  2. There is no such thing as talent. Talent is a man-made construct that is not really helpful.
  3. Drawing can be taught. Why do you think there are so many art schools and art teachers. Find the right one. Teaching yourself works too.
  4. Practice and time on task is all there is. Don't just trust me, try for yourself. Then come back in 6 months and thank me :).