Learning lines

About two years ago I was getting ready to deliver a watercolour collage workshop; the outcome depended on students preparing varied backgrounds in watercolour. Naturally I created examples to show, but stashed the less successful ones away for another time.

It turns out that this was that ‘other time’. I was at a loss on a Sunday afternoon, wanting to do something creative, but being unable to invest much time. Flicking through a sketchbook I rediscovered the backgrounds, and decided a quick continuous line drawing would be fun, set over the top. A quick look on the internet for a free-to-draw face, and bingo, here he is. I didn’t quite manage one continuous line, but wasn’t far off. My favourite part is the hair, least favourite the beard (let’s be clear, I love beards, just not my rendering of this one).

Continuous line drawing is really great for making you look, and think about using simple shapes to describe what’s in front of you. It promotes creativity, and problem-solving (for example, how to show textures and depth of tone) and I really did enjoy this process. I could imagine stitching into this picture to build up further layers of line…hmmm. Interesting.

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Looking up

On a short break to Yorkshire we went with our friends to Lotherton Hall, it being just a short and pleasant walk from their home. We’ve been several times before, but have never actually visited the house. This time we ventured inside, covering our muddy walking boots with strange blue plastic bootees to protect the carpets. The Hall was a wealthy home which had not been updated since WWII, with elements dating from much earlier, and which houses several collections.

One of the inhabitants had been a collector of pottery, and there was a varied display of items from centuries old to the very modern. I rather liked the shapes and contrasting colours of these vases, and the fact that there was a handy chair nearby ensured that I settled to sketch them. I quite enjoyed the strange viewing angle, and for a while considered leaving the objects floating in air before deciding to add in the glass shelf. The shadows were very strange, due to the way the cabinet was lit. It was certainly odd not putting in any shadows at the base to ground the vases, other than the relatively dark areas underneath the pots themselves.

Once again this was done in fineliner and Tombow with a waterbrush. I really like this combination for fast sketching when I’m out and about.

Lotherton Glassware ink

Well, for whatever reason, WordPress has decided not to let me crop this image – I’ve been defeated three times, so have decided just to let it be. Apologies for the unartistic background in view. Hey ho.

Lake Kournas View

While in Crete we walked to a beauty spot, Lake Kournas, the only lake on the island. It’s firmly on the tourist trail, and in high season is full of beach umbrellas and tanned bodies. Fortunately it was way too early in the season to have to compete with the hordes. This did not stop my companions from swimming in the chilly water, to the amazement and amusement of a few southern European tourists. Brits of a certain age can be both hardy and foolhardy.

I opted for the much warmer pursuit of painting the lake and surrounding hills. I already knew that this was a picture likely to stay firmly in the sketchbook, so for the first time I chose to span my view across two pages, and I’m pleased I did. The buildings gave me some difficulty, as did the shrubbery on the hillside, but frankly when does watercolour not present some kind of struggle? I’m quite pleased with the outcome overall – the water really was this turquoise and wonderfully clear.

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Knossos in sun

Knossos in Crete is apparently a must-see on the tourist trail, so we went. It turns out that the Minoan ruins at Knossos have been extensively repaired and reconstructed over the years (mainly using concrete), which does add an interesting layer of debate about how far restoration should go in efforts to maintain sites for future generations, so it was definitely worth seeing. By coincidence, the day we visited was on the national free museums day, which meant that the site was extremely busy, but I fortunately able to find a corner to sit and sketch this little view.

It was a bit of a wrangle to create, but in the end the fineliner saved me, as so often. Thank goodness.

Crete Herculaneum watercolour

Chilly Crete

Last Spring we were lucky enough to get away to Crete for the first time – the island was as beautiful as we had been told, but the weather was mercurial and much colder than we had hoped. Still, sketching in Chania harbour was possible, just with layers and chilly hands thanks to the stiff breeze blowing in. The view was lovely, but the light conditions kept changing, as did the sea shape and colour. Every now and again there was a crash of a strong wave against the harbour wall, causing the crest to splash my feet!

I struggled with the paper of my new sketchbook, which behaved differently to my previous paper. I was also fighting the fast-drying paint in the windy conditions. So, I wasn’t ever so pleased with the outcome of this sketch, but it was a good memory to look back on.

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Fill your boots

There is a saying around Luton which is used when you are giving someone permission to go ahead with something: ‘fill your boots’. I don’t know where it comes from, but I like it. It has a quirky quality, which inevitably leads one to enquire ‘With what?’ Anyway, I digress.

It’s been a long time since I owned a pair of Dr Marten’s AirWear, but now that my circumstances as a school art technician allow for somewhat more freedom of dress than previous careers, I’ve indulged in a pair of iridescent turquoise snakeskin patterned DMs – it was love at first sight.

So, here they are (well, one at least), immortalised but nowhere near as shiny and delicious as in reality.  In a nice twist I used some Dr PH Martin’s inks to create a background for the Dr Marten’s boots.

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Statuesque

In one of the sculpture galleries at the V&A museum in London is Michaelangelo’s David. He does tend to dominate rather. However, there is also plenty of other stone-hewn flesh to sketch, and this time it was the turn of Crouching Boy, also by Michaelangelo.

One of my favourite ways to represent white marble is to work in white gel pen on a black background. It’s fun and a good mental discipline to have to add in highlights, rather than to leave them blank. Another bonus is that often you don’t need to spend very long to capture a credible likeness, as there never seems to be quite as much shading.

Sometimes I charge right into a drawing without circumspection. Not this time. When drawing just with pen it’s a risky business, as once you’ve committed there is no going back. I was on the last page of my sketchbook and wanted to do it justice, so I took care and time to think about the spacial relationships between the broad back, the head and the knee in particular. This pause for thought definitely helped in constructing the outlines.

Crouching boy white gel pen

The light in the sculpture gallery is rather diffuse, which means that it can be hard to see where the highlights and the darks are. It gave me some problems on the leg, trying to show the less defined muscles yet still leave enough shadow, but overall I’m pretty content with the way this one turned out. I would have been even happier if I’d been the sculptor!

Perched

After the heady bling of the Wallace Collection, we headed out to one of our favourites, the Victoria and Albert museum. It’s never failed us yet. Great for sketching, perfect for inspiration, it holds some of the finest examples the world can offer in the arts.

Very quickly on arrival we located a couple of museum stools (essential for sketchers), and found something to draw – a large display of blown glass birds in many colours. Titled ‘Perched’ by Turkish artist, Felekşan Onar, the birds were made with clipped wings, a comment on the plight of Syrian refugees landing in Turkey and unable to fly back home. Powerful and beautiful, poignant and sad, the display rightly attracted a lot of attention.

As a warm-up exercise it was a pretty good choice, but not easy. I’d packed my usual kit of fineliner, brush pen, water brush and Tombow pen, plus a white gel pen, white paper sketchbook and black sketchbook. My ‘luxury items’ this time were Inktense pencils. These came fully into play as I tried to represent the merging colours in the hollow glass birds.

Perched glass birds inktense

Starting with outlines in fineliner, I took a section of the display to draw, aiming to spread the simple shapes across the sketchbook page. It didn’t quite turn out that way as I lost some of my image off the right hand edge. Never mind. I do enjoy the way that the ink comes to life when you add water from a brush pen – the intensity of colour really ramps up. Adding a slight shadow under each bird turned out to be essential to grounding them on the page, which I felt was particularly fitting, as this was the point of the artwork.

Smiling

This little sketch is an oldie, a quick slice of some watercolour portrait practice I was doing in 2015. I think I pinched the picture from a magazine; I was captured by the look of  spontaneous joy on the boy’s face, and the feeling of cold imparted by his ruddy cheeks and bobble hat. Given how much time has passed since I painted this, this chap probably looks quite different today.

I do remember trying to figure out the flesh tones, and trying to calculate just how dark the darks needed to be under the chin, in the mouth, eyes and nostrils – and how to make them. Interestingly, I think it’s the darks which have been the most helpful in pulling this little sketch together.

Child watercolourAlthough it’s far from perfect, there’s something about this I still like, and it makes me smile.

Bronze Babe

I don’t know much about Jacob Epstein – which could be easily remedied, of course. But I do appreciate the way that he handled bronze. This bust, entitled ‘Third Portrait of Oriel Ross’ is on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and principally it was the scrunchy hair textures which attracted me. Epstein had sculpted huge hunks of lively, wavy hair, its dynamism in contrast to the smooth skin of the young model. Her pose is confident, focused, and even slightly assertive. I like it very much.

Bronze has a most beautiful quality once the patina has developed – slightly golden-orange, and yet overall dark, showing the play of light on its surface. It never ceases to make me wonder that something so durable can represent flesh so well.

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I wasn’t carrying much in the way of materials, but did have my Inktense pencils, brush waterpen and a fineliner. A decent kit for such a sketch. I wanted to convey the bronze patina, with its glints of golden light; tricky especially as with the Inktense you are trying to predict how they’ll look when you’ve added the water and let them do their thing. Maybe there should have been more darks in there for a realistic result. Since I didn’t sketch this out in pencil before diving in with pen, I failed to achieve quite the correct proportions, but I feel that the more I take this approach the more I’m forced to look carefully before committing to paper, so I’ll persist with winging it.

In retrospect I quite like the reiteration and correction lines, and the intense streaks of colour, which have saved this from being a slavishly realistic representation and offered up something a bit different. Maybe our errors are where the magic really begins?