Market Baker Pencil sketch in Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Sketchbook

Market Baker
Pencil sketch in Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Sketchbook

I love the Sonora Farmers Market. It’s what you expect from a farmers market: great produce, homemade goodies, local musicians, and the occasional friend who greets you as you’re sorting through summer peaches.

There’s also a small seating area where you can eat any delicious purchases you’ve made, and sip a smoothie in the shade (criminey, it’s blazing hot in these foothill towns!). As I snarfed down a gluten-free scone (from Schnoog’s Cafe) and the fiddler delicately devoured a chocolate croissant (from I know not where), I took the opportunity to sketch one of the vendors. The inset is an idea for a painting that I noodled out while I was waiting for my turn at the loo (Yes, Virginia, you can and should sketch anywhere).

I credit my years learning  life drawing for my ability to sketch a moving target. Life drawing hones the artistic memory, so I was able to work even though my subject was moving about as she helped customers.  Fortunately, she often resumed the same pose so I was able to check my marks.

Then, at home, I added color. I wish I’d made better color notes while I was sketching in pencil, but it was getting ever hotter, even in the shade, so we retreated to the coolness of our air conditioned automobile.

Market Baker Watercolor and color pencil in Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Sketchbook

Market Baker
Watercolor and color pencil in Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Sketchbook

Class alert

I will be teaching a figure drawing class this Thursday, June 18 at 9:30 – 12:30, at Town Hall Arts/Galerie Copper in Copperopolis in the Central Sierra. We’ll be learning more about proportions, and embarking on a long pose that will last the whole class. My goal is to help all the students complete a blocked in drawing, and start building form with value. All you need is paper and charcoal, and some tracing paper,  and you can buy those items at Town Hall Arts.

 

Life Drawing Group

Shakespeare while waiting for the train
10-minute poses in charcoal on smooth paper.

Life drawing can quickly get out of control, with the figure’s head and feet disappearing off the edges of the paper, or a little  drawing floating lost in a sea of newsprint. One way I like to corral my drawings is by arranging the figures so that they relate to each other on the page. This forces me to design the perspective (what size should they be for the figures to make sense?); imagine overlapping forms (correctly layered, the forms will then indicate depth); and practice size and proportion control (no more figures falling off the paper). And I have to do this all on the fly, as the model changes position.

I often tell myself stories while I do this. I’m a compulsive story teller (yeah, you say lies, I say plot) and I often create narrative arcs, complete with build up, climax, and denouement, when I’m drawing. That inner literary tension, coupled with the stresses of figure drawing, makes life drawing doubly exciting for me.

The drawing below, for example, became a scene from a book the Fiddler and I are enjoying right now, World Without End by Ken Follett. My drawing is not about the main characters, but the faceless prisoners of war that might have been taken during Edward III campaign in France (Yes, I realize those luckless souls were probably not taken alive, but in my story they lived at least bit before they were chopped into bits.) Telling a story entertains me as well as directing the placement of my figures, and the discipline of grouping the figures really improves my life drawing.

Figure drawing group

Prisoners of war
5-minute drawings with charcoal on smooth paper

Class alert

I will be teaching a figure drawing class this Thursday, June 11 at 9:30 – 12:30, at Town Hall Arts/Galerie Copper in Copperopolis in the Central Sierra. We will be studying how the head fits on the torso. All you need is a pad of newsprint and some charcoal (that’s the beauty of drawing), and you can buy those items at Town Hall Arts.

FarmersMarketThe fiddler fiddled at the Sonora Farmers Market last Saturday. He likes me to be present for moral support and to bring him pastries. I go and spend dollars while he plays for dimes. (Folks, please support your farmers market musicians; throw quarters in the fiddle case, at least!)

After my dollars are spent, it’s lovely to sit on a curb and while my butt falls asleep, sketch the crowd. A little chair would be more comfortable, but there’s a neat thing that happens at curb level. I’m closer to the kids, and instead of looking down on the tops of their heads, I can sketch at their eye level.

I’m not sure why, but farmers markets seem to bring out the goofy in kids, and they are often beautifully dressed as pirates or fairy princesses, or pirate fairy princesses. Leprechauns. Furry animals. It’s like there’s this alternate world that’s swirling around adult kneecaps, and curb sketching gives me a window into it.

FarmersMarket2

The Prenologist's Wife, Calliope Dodge Watercolor over graphite in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook

The Prenologist’s Wife, Calliope Dodge
Watercolor over graphite in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook

Yesterday the fiddler played at Columbia State Park for an event known as The Diggins. Why not? He has a costume reminiscent of that era (despite the back pocket), and he plays tunes that would have made gold miners stamp and strut.

I went along for the sketching.

Professor Flatbroke B. Dodge, Phrenologist Watercolor over graphite in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook

Professor Flatbroke B. Dodge, Phrenologist
Watercolor over graphite in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook

Making portraits on the fly, in real time…yeah, that’s kind of scary. But it’s enormously fun too, especially at costume events.

I’ve only recently gotten brave enough to ask someone to sit for a portrait (only if it’s not busy and they seem friendly. And bored.). And I absolutely love it!

When I ask,  I assure my subjects that while I may not catch a good likeness, I will make them look like a human (which is a big improvement over the days when my off-the-cuff portraits looked like pigs in bags).

I also let them talk. I encourage it, although it is harder to capture their likeness when they’re moving. But I hear such interesting stories, and I feel like it helps me draw better likenesses after all.

Carol Bassoni, Lace Maker Watercolor over graphite in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook

Carol Bassoni, Lace Maker
Watercolor over graphite in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook

This question runs around in my mind: If portraits are about unmasking the subject, what then, to make of a subject who’s assumed an identity  that may well be the real person under the everyday mask they put on for their pedestrian life?

Links for this post

Go to the Diggins. Costumed docents, banjo players, and bean soups that give you a flavor of what the California gold rush must have been like. This weekend (May 29-31)
http://www.columbiacalifornia.com/diggins.html

Or visit Columbia State Park when ever you can. http://www.visitcolumbiacalifornia.com

Carol Bassoni makes lace at www.misslaceydesigns.com/

You can find Professor Flatbroke B. Dodge at www.oslhp.net/m-charframe.htm

Abstract3

This morning I woke up full of things to post on this blog. I had it all: advice, musings, even a joke or two. I was a regular genius.

Then came the dreaded login snafu. Forgot my password; reset it; failed to log in. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 3 times.

Abstract2

Clearly the password gods finally smiled with benevolence and opened the gates to my blog, but now I’m all sweaty and worn out and I have to move on to other deeds of the day. So I’m posting just a few crops of a painting I’m working on recently, with a small bit of advice.

I like to think of all the bits of my paintings as small abstracts that work together to make a whole portrait. I like the interest that it gives to the surface. Rather than making a smooth, flat wash for a large plane, I try to create texture within that plane by using edges, lost and found, and subtle value changes.

Abstract1

Kisses!

watercolor portrait

Beginning of watercolor portrait. I’ve worked up the eyes so that I have a dark value to work towards.

This is a portrait that I started for my demonstration at the Burlingame Art Society’s meeting Wednesday night. I had a lovely time; it’s so much fun to talk about how to build a painting. I had no idea! I really want to thank the Burlingame Art Society for giving me the opportunity to speak. They were a terrific group, full of talent, and questions, and interest. You can’t ask for better.

If you look at the bar across the top, you’ll see a new tab called Tutorials (<—-you can click on this link to take you there) that will take you to a the handout I gave to the society members. It lists my materials, and a little bit of my process. I hope it’s useful to you. Plus I’ll be adding links to any tutorials that I create on this blog. I hope they are helpful.

baby portrait

Close up of portrait showing details of face. I have a long way to go on this painting, adding delicate washes and careful color to capture the fresh, clean skin of the baby, moving slowly to retain the highlights while deepening the values in the darker shapes.

Sketching

Kathleen and Vicky sketching before class

This week I am recovering from last weekend’s plein air-excesses at a Kathleen Dunphy workshop. Kathleen paints wonderful landscapes. I’ve admired them for a long time, and like most workshop attendees, I hoped she could transmit (directly into my head, thank you very much) a bit of the magic she uses to weave her paint-on-canvas spells.

But learning to paint isn’t as simple as sticking your head in a pensieve. Plein air skills are gained by—and you knew this already—long hours behind the brush, direct study, and hard hard work.

Plus, plein air painting is not a picnic in the park. The weather was hot. There were chiggers. There was wind. There was the siren-song of wineries that we had to ignore. The standing joke among workshop attendees: If painting is so relaxing, why am I so stressed?

BestBrella

Patty under her creation, the BestBrella. They really work well!

However, it wasn’t all stress. There was lots of learning. Here are 7 valuable lessons that came home with me.

1. Squint It helps you see the values.

2. Apply the paint thinly I never realized this. I am first and foremost a watercolorist; the gloppiness (and messiness) of oil paint has always confounded me. After half an hour in the field, my canvas, clothes, face, hands, and hair are smeared every color of mud. But Kathleen begins a painting by applying a thin layer of paint—it looks like she’s drawing a charcoal sketch—and only builds the paint thickness as she approaches the finish. Woah! Control!

3. Squint Because values!

4. Narrow down the range  Everything—value, chroma, and color—lives much closer together in space than I understood. When painting, it’s better to stay near to the center than migrate to the extremes (kind of like life, huh?). For practice I’m going to spend a lot of time mixing paint in the middle of the octave.

5. Squint That hill on the horizon is not that dark.

6. Oil paint is not watercolor paint  As a watercolorist, I work like a stone mason, carving my darker values from the lights. But oil painters work like potters, adding layers of lighter values on top of darker values.  It was a different way of thinking. My head was addled by trying to think like an oil painter. I had to imagine my painting in reverse, like an old film negative. I needed wine. But didn’t get any.

7. Pay attention to values Squint!

Painter

Landscape sketches (draw more, Kathleen said) and Juliana painting

This Wednesday, May 6, I’m giving a watercolor demonstration at the Burlingame Art Society. If you live in the Bay Area, I hope you’ll join me as I discuss my process of painting portraits in watercolor. You’ll see three new portraits that I’m currently creating, and I’ll talk about where I’m at with each portrait. Hope to see you there!

7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Lions Hall
990 Burlingame Ave., Burlingame

StickmanWalkingYou drew them when you were a child: stick people that lept, danced, fought, or just stood around in the landscape of your childhood art. And if you learn how to draw them again, they’ll help you enormously when you are sketching in public places.

 

Things to look for when drawing a stick man

  • Angle for position Pay attention to the angle of the head, shoulders, and the hips. I often draw those lines first, lightly, to help me capture the pose. I also make quick lines for the angles of the feet so that I know how they are positioned and if I have time, I add the knees and elbows using little circles. Getting these landmarks down on paper will help you remember the position of your subject, even after they’ve moved. Everything after that becomes a connect-the-dots game.
  • Measure! Stick your pencil out and verify that your brain is really seeing what’s there. I can’t stress that enough. You don’t have to get too detailed; if you’re rapidly sketching kids on a soccer field, or people in a park, you don’t have time for a lot of measurements. I look for the vertical halfway point and mark that quickly so I can go on to the torso. When I draw the torso, I eyeball the center line so that I can get the right perspective.
  • Torso comes first My life drawing teacher, Rob Anderson, used to say, “if you can draw the torso correctly, you can hang the rest of the body from it.” I always try to get the torso and hips first; they are the structure. All the rest is decoration. If you add lobes to represent the rib cage, it can help you see the center line.
  • Draw cubicley Think of the upper body as a box with two lobes (the ribs). The tummy is a soft ball; how much of that do you see? The pelvis/hips can be a tube, although some people use a box for the hips. I like using a butterfly shaped tube because I can see how the ball of the tummy fits into the pelvis area.
  • Transparent thinking Try to imaging the shoulder blades on the back, which will give you the correct position of the arms. Draw your stickman as though he were a ghost so you can see your construction lines.

 

 

Stickman2

Once you have the stickman posed correctly, you can start adding flesh to him. In the figure below, I drew him in black ink, then built his form up using blue lines. When I’m sketching in the field, I draw the construction lines lightly, and often don’t erase them when I’m finished because they can make the figure more solid and dimensional. They are also great for later reference when I’m trying to construct a new drawing, because all this public sketching, besides being fun, is fodder for future work. Stickmanslouching

Drawing exercise Get thee to a public place and draw the people in it. Concentrate on drawing only stickmen. Afterwards at home, draw other stickmen (from your imagination) interacting with the first drawings. Challenge yourself by drawing them in overlapping positions, some farther away, some closer to the picture plane. Then let me know how it goes. I’d love to see your drawing.

This is an experiment using a failed watercolor portrait from a life drawing session. I recently watched Don Peterson's video on how he does his remarkable paintings. He uses Elemer's glue! So I gave it a shot, as well as using some mastic to block out areas of the painting. I am not sure how I feel about this technique, nor how long it will last, but it does make the colors nice and rich. Mr. Peterson gets an almost glossy look to his paintings, and the colors glow like jewels. I will have to experiment with this more.

This is an experiment using a failed watercolor portrait from a life drawing session. I recently watched Dan Peterson’s video on how he does his remarkable paintings. He uses Elmer’s glue! So I gave it a shot, as well as using some mastic to block out areas of the painting. I am not sure how I feel about this technique, nor how long it will last, but it does make the colors nice and rich. Mr. Peterson gets an almost glossy look to his paintings, and the colors glow like jewels. I will have to experiment

Saturday I went to a studio sale for an artist that I just recently met. But in that way we sometimes have,  I feel like I’ve known him for a very long time. Perhaps he is just that kind of a person, the type of person people connect to easily. Perhaps. Some people are that way.

The gallery was full of his beautiful landscapes, a body of work that encompassed years. He is clearing out his studio, and ready to embark on a new project involving travel, video, and painting, as well as a pilgrimage of sorts to the vast wheat fields of Middle-America. If he’ll agree to share, I’ll try to write about it on my blog.

He’s been a professional painter for a long time. He took a different flight path for his life than I did, and decided he needed to paint when I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. But his life, like everyone’s life, is still changing and evolving. I couldn’t help but feel sad for the beautiful paintings that he said he was going to burn if they didn’t go to good homes. A big pyre, he said, that he’ll video tape as part of his next project. An incineration perhaps, of earlier chapters of his life, in order to reinvent himself like a firebird.

I looked longingly at the paintings, sadly totting up my finances to figure a way to own one of his works. “Which do you like?” he asked. I pointed out two that I loved, for reasons of my own. “How much?” I said.

He quietly and sweetly gifted them to me.

I’m sure we’ve met before.

This post is in response to a prompt from WordPress University Writing 101: A Room with a View

 

 

 

 

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Painting and drawing and playing tunes are the things that make life real. I paint or draw or think about it everyday, and love sharing what I've discovered with you.

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All work on this blog is copyrighted by Margaret Sloan. I don't steal from you. Please don't steal from me. If you'd like to use something you see here, please contact me. We can work it out.

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