Monday, July 28, 2014

A Sketch-Group Contrast (with Links to a lot of Great Art)

On the recommendation of a friend, I ordered a copy of this book by David Cuppleditch, and have been having a good time with comparisons to the sketch group of which I'm a member, called the 
Denver Illustration Studio Saturday Night Drink n' Draw

The London Sketch Club, formed in 1898 (full of bohemian illustrators, proper gentlemen illustrators, and eccentric illustrators) who sketched, smoked, drank, and had friendly competitions, is still going strong.
The DIS Drink n' Draw, formed in 2014 (full of bohemian illustrators, proper ladies and gentlemen [the 2014 kind] illustrators, and eccentric illustrators) who sketch, smoke, drink, and have friendly competitions, is still going strong. And growing, thanks to the inclusive attitude and efforts of Jeremy Aaron Moore,
illustrator (bohemian), and organizer. 

The London Sketch Club sketching away in their own club, Wells Street, Oxford.

The DIS Drink n' Draw'ers sketching away at our own club, graciously hosted by Billy's Gourmet Hot Dogs on East Colfax Avenue in Denver.

A couple of The London Sketch Club members discuss drawing or drinking (plus costumes).

DIS Drink n' Draw members discussing drawing of course (sans costumes).

Some London Sketch Club members at a life drawing session.

And a DIS Drink n' Draw life drawing session (held once a month).

Below, artworks by members of both clubs, and links to more. Enjoy!
London Sketch Club member Alfred Leete's sketch.

DIS Drink n' Draw member Brooke VanDevelder's sketch.

London Sketch Club member W. Heath Robinson's Invitation.

DIS Drink n' Draw member Preston Stone's illustration-in-progress.

London Sketch Club member George James Frampton's sketch.

DIS Drink n' Draw member Matt Martines' sketch.

London Sketch Club member Tom Browne's sketch.

DIS Drink n' Draw member Kyle Baerlocher's sketch.

London Sketch Club member Wilton Williams' sketch of a beautiful model...

...and DIS Drink n' Draw member Delton Demarest's 30 minute sketch of a beautiful model.

And last...
Some of the members of The London Sketch Club in 1901...

...and some of the members of the DIS Saturday Night Drink n' Draw in 2014

This is something my city has needed badly--a truly inclusive, friendly, informal, and welcoming illustration/art community. Now we have it, and if you are in the Metro-Denver area, join us!
If you are in another city, create one for yourselves. Either way, you won't be sorry.

And a special nod to the initial organizer of DIS, Jon Schindehette.

Thanks for checking out all the links, and for the visit!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sketching Some Cranky Birds
This is a detail from a sheet of fantasy birds in my sketchbook. I used pencil and Prismacolors for this guy.

My interest in birds was rekindled while watching the antics of three crows near the studio. One (a big baby, maybe?) was playing dead, trying to get the attention of the other crows I guess. It got mine--I was certain it was dead or dying. When it became obvious that the other crows could not care less and kept on walking, the "actor" jumped up and hopped after them, squawking and clacking!
I used marker pen and Prismacolor pencils for the others.
The crabby woodpecker at the top is my favorite for now, although many more birds are emerging.

Thanks for checking these fellows out!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Getting Outside to Paint

I've made it no secret that I'm not keen on observational drawing and painting--and as a result, not particularly good at it either.  I admire the artists who do it, and get lots of inspiration from them. Even though I much prefer drawing what's in my head, I also know that it's good practice to match values and paint from life, healthy to get out of the studio once in awhile, and a pretty relaxing good time as well.

Clay Brooks of the Denver Illustration Studio sets up some of the plein-air expeditions https: //  This one, at the rail yard, was a great opportunity. Painting outside is more fun with a group, and I learn something every time.

  We headed out around 8:30 am in order to try to beat the heat.

This was our chosen location.

While we were painting, a photographer came by to visit.

David worked with oils.

Clay worked with watercolor...

...and sketched this!

Didn't see David's finished work, but both of their paintings were incredible!

Trains were a new experience for me, as up to this point I'd never painted one! Relocation of the bright orange engines seemed imminent though, so I chose some distant, (un-hitched) boxcars for my subject and

drew a quick sketch, trying to organize the mass of clutter in my chosen view.

I'd toned my paper the night before, which was a mistake; it proved too dark for the bright, hot day. Stubborn, I forged ahead, laying in values with sepia ink,

then pulled out the watercolors.

I deleted the Denver skyline above the bridge, and shifted other stuff. Man did I get lost--I was making the bright Colorado scene look gritty and dirty, more like foggy London Town.

I look to be painting machinery instead of scenery, but my boxcars were beyond this yellow fellow.

By this point, it was nearly noon and getting hot, so I stopped slopping about and headed home. I like some parts of this study. It gave me an idea for an in-studio, in-brain concept, and I'll post that later if it develops.

For now though, thanks for the visit!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Accordion-Playing Elf: Grisaille Technique with Ink
Song for the Lovers (detail). Pen and ink and ink washes.

The Past
Stretching back before art school, I've been in love with the British master illustrators; Arthur Rackham, the Robinson brothers, and Edmund Dulac to name a few of the big guns. Back in the day, illustration in general was sadly but decidedly unwelcome in the college art departments in which I kept landing. It's hard to believe, but only a few decades ago information about illustrator's techniques was difficult to come by.

Luckily, as a youth, I stumbled across some old books which variously described
Rackham's technique. One flatly stated that Rackham used a strong wash of burnt umber over his pen drawings, before adding thin color washes.
In the book, Arthur Rackham, by Fred Gettings, Rackham's technique is explained thusly:
"[Rackham] might give a light wash of colour [brown, bistre, or sepia] to the whole of his drawing area, according to some authorities to pull the colours together. According to others, however, the aim of this wash was to add an 'antique' or 'olde-worlde' effect to the plate."

And I've tried these and other descriptions (with minor variations) over the years; choosing raw umber or sepia over burnt umber--which is too grainy for me. (I'd bet Rackham did not use it either.)
The Present
In early June, the opportunity to teach a character design workshop arose.
 At one point in the workshop, my demo sequence included this fellow, penciled in and outlined with India ink. (I was reading Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx at the time.) This is as far as I got that day, but I liked him!

Then, in late June I read a James Gurney post about a grisaille ink technique.
It featured an Albert Dorne illustration done in colored inks over grey tonal ink washes. Much intrigued, I decided to try it out, using sepia ink (a warm, dark brown) instead of black for the washes.
My materials did a proper job of posing for the photograph. 
(Unfortunately, the black and brown ink-bottles missed this photo-op, so a complete written list follows)
Waterproof Inks: India ink, plus sepia ink and five transparent colored inks
Ink pens with a variety of nib sizes
Inexpensive acrylic brushes
White acrylic gouache (for the bright highlights and stars)
Disposable palette
300 lb. cold press watercolor paper
Beer tankard (for later)
I chose to mix up my sepia inks in four separate pots, doing many value charts and corrections along the way. To achieve those values, I added water to the sepia ink until I got the values (plus the white of the paper) correct--with even "jumps" between each value. The five value-circles just above the yellow-handled pen represent the final values ("black", dark, middle, light, and white (the paper) in the little pots ("black" being actually the very dark pure sepia). The sepia ink is then watered down in steps for the rest of the values.
I jumped right in, immediately making the mistake of going a bit dark on some of the values. Fortunately, not being too retentive, I carried on. It started out as an experiment after all.
Continued to add and deepen the values.
Here, the detail of his head reveals that wonderfully toothsome texture of the watercolor paper.
Here a nearly finished underpainting.
Halfway into the color overlays. I eventually cooled the shadows and the sky.

I found of course that the sepia values, being ink, did not budge when over-layered with color, and that was nice. The warmth of the sepia harmonized the colors and gave a pleasant, aged look to this piece.
A detail of the elf's nearly completed face, with gouache highlights and stars. A few touch ups remain, but first:

Some advantages of using permanent, transparent inks vs watercolor
Allow a complete and tonal underpainting
Don't lift when over-layered, and muddiness is mitigated
Are not grainy
Are vivid, thus the brown values of the underpainting seem less somber
Are acrylic-based and thus probably less fugitive (prone to fading) than some watercolors

Some advantages of using watercolor vs transparent inks
Allows changes
Allows lifting and lightening of values
Has a varied and agreeable graininess (which I missed in the inks)
Has a beauty all it's own; a softness, a naturalness, an atmospheric feeling that can't be achieved in any other medium (How's that for an editorial?)
And the finished piece. 
I like this little elf, and best of all, learned quite a lot while working on him. 
Re-reading James Gurney's post today (and the comments below his post), I discovered even more, and will definitely add this technique to my repertoire.

Hope this was an interesting and helpful post. Questions or comments are always 
welcome--feel free to email as well.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Preoccupation with Ghosts: A Re-post with Additions
Ghost sketches.
More ghost sketches.

While I don't consider myself a deep thinker, I read a lot. In my way, I think hard about what I've read. It helps, before I go into the studio, to consciously mull over my latest preoccupations which are reflected in what I choose to read. Right now I'm reading ghost stories.

...and a few more on shop notes.

Ghosts and the metaphysical have always fascinated me--even my unconscious sketching during meetings brings forth spirits. And the parallels of our age to that of the Victorian era continue to shape my thoughts and artwork. We live in an age of anxiety, brought forth by the technological revolution. I can guess that the people of the latter part of the 19th century felt similar anxieties.  

Michael Cox, in his introduction to Victorian Ghost Stories, wrote this about the Victorian age: "It was an age shaped, perhaps more than any other previous period, by the forces of transition. The agrarian past had disintegrated under industrialization, and yet the final consequences of these truly revolutionary processes remained unclear. All that people knew was that a gulf was opening up with the past."

And that's how I feel about our time. Replace "agrarian past" with "analog past", and "industrialization" with "computerization" and that gulf between the past becomes a yawning gorge.

 Marley's Ghost (detail). Pen and ink, private collection.

Like the people of the Victorian age, many in our time have embraced the metaphysical. We've also embraced the Victorians. The surge in popularity of television ghost hunters (wince), steampunk fashion, and a fascination with supernatural and natural wunderkammers points to the kindred spirits of our respective ages.

 A Victorian Ghost Story (detail). Acrylic on canvas, 12" x 30".

I think that reaching to the metaphysical is a reaching back to the unchanging. Ghosts are frozen in their time--immune to change. They are full of warnings about our behaviors, yet like Marley's Ghost, they offer redemption. That comforts me in this time of dramatic disintegration. Is it the same for others?

Whatever, it's healthier than the modern fear-addiction of watching the "news" twenty four-seven, and wallowing in pessimism. I'll take my preoccupation with spirits over that any day.

Thanks for checking in!
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