Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Messing About With Boats

What a beautiful evening - I had to get out and enjoy it. The family was doing other stuff and I wasn't needed - hurrah! - so I hopped into the teeny red car and set off for the Burren Hills. I love Abbey Hill and Reuben the hairy terrier needed a walk but it was too windy there to sketch - and a bit lonely - so I decided to head back to Kinvara village. Back in the shelter of the little dock of the harbour in Kinvara, I took out my sketching kit and basked in the warm evening sun.

I sat on a bench on the quay and started to draw. Mast, keep it vertical. Tie on the lines. Draw what I see. Watch those shapes. Two girls settled down on the next bench a few feet away. One had a Madrid accent, and over the course of an hour, I learned all about her life, her living arrangements and her job-hunting woes. Her English was excellent, despite the strong accent. The other girl barely said a word. I wondered idly if that's what it's like to sit beside me, and I wished they'd run out of steam. Then I was joined by two little girls with long dark hair and English accents. One carried a toy lamb, which she fed to Reuben. "This is my lucky Irish sheep," she said. "Your dog is sooo cute carrying it in his mouth! I'm a seven-year-old and she's a five-year-old. We're allowed to go and explore." I thought about the deep, open water everywhere, the cars passing through and the weirdos sketching, and wondered about the judgment of whomever sent them out on the quay. The little girls played with Reuben, who was tied to the bench, and he did his best to evade their little hands. Amid cries of "he's sooo cute!" they tried to pat him, who tried in turn not to be patted, tangling himself and my ankles in his lead. The older one trotted off for some ice cream and chocolate sauce, and while she was gone the younger one finally hit the jackpot when she gave him a rock - he loves biting rocks. "He's soooo cute biting the rock!" she said. The patting attempts continued, as did Reuben's attempts to hide, but the lead meant it was futile. How he must have regretted leaving the nice lonely hill. Eventually I think he snapped at her, as I saw her pull her hand back quickly - being five, she didn't understand that dogs aren't allowed to do that, and she didn't wail or complain. "Don't try to pat him any more," I said, "he'll bite." He has never bitten anyone, but there was no harm in letting the little girl know that dogs have their limits. Then the smaller girl told me about how bad cigarettes are and how she was going to get her hands on some candy ones when she went to America. This made her very excited - even at five, she was conscious of the power of a taboo. Over the course of an hour, the little girls knocked the bench I was sitting on ("Don't touch the bench," I said, "I'll do a wobbly line"), fiddled with my brushes and paints and ooohed and aaaahed over my sketch, their long hair obscuring my page. "That's sooo good," they said. "I bet the next time I see it it'll be in a museum." The innocence.

Finally a lady came out of the restaurant to get them. She was American and appeared to be their mother. I had the strong impression she was only just in charge, imploring them not to get onto people's boats, telling them to stay away from me. She didn't acknowledge me in any way, in sharp contrast to the little girls' easy, friendly manner.

An older Dutch couple stood behind me and discussed my sketch, without acknowledging my presence. The woman made lots of observations in Dutch, pointing at bits of the page. Her finger hovered millimetres from the surface of the page. Lucky for her she didn't touch the paper. Oh yes, she would have got quite the stern "please don't touch" from me. Finally the man said "Photorealistic!" to which I answered "Not really" because I did not take it as a compliment. I hate photorealism in art - you may as well cut to the chase and take a photo. But at least he was saying hello, in his way.

I always say one of the nicest things about urban sketching is interacting with passers-by. I still feel that way.
As for Reuben - he conked out when he got home. Little girls can be very tiring.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Simple Way to Paint Reflections in water

I have zero interest in painting from photos. Painting from photos takes away the exhilaration, excitement and immediacy of capturing life on paper - all the things I love about sketching. If I was stuck indoors for some reason, I would draw the crap lying around my house, or even the stuff in my bedroom, if I was bedbound - anything but a photo. I use photos as references for design jobs, but never as part of my own recreational sketching.

Painting water is always a challenge. What you're really painting is reflections and the patterns made by wind. But light shifts, making shadows and reflections change. The wind makes boats bob about and the surface of the water do all kinds of things. Sometimes clouds come along and alter the scene completely. So here's a five-minute tutorial on the basics of painting reflections. One of my students asked me for help sketching a boat bobbing away on the water a few days ago, so I did a lightning-fast sketch to show her how I would tackle it.

1. First, get your drawing right. We all know boats are long, but seen from the back, they are very short indeed. Make mental measurements to help get it right - hold your pencil at arm's length as a measuring tool if you must, or do what I do, and ask yourself "how big is the top part of the boat compared to the stern?" etc.

2. Decide what colour you're going to paint the stern. I mixed phthalo green with burnt umber to take the bright edge from the green. Paint it. If the top surface of the boat is in sunlight, try leaving it unpainted altogether. It will have the effect of appearing to be in strong light.

3. See if there are any dark blacks, like the gloom inside the boat itself. Avoid using black (always!) - I mixed rich indigo with a touch of burnt umber. I kept it almost undiluted to give that really gloomy, shadowed effect. I'm always conscious of my values - how dark each colour is with respect to its surroundings.

4. Now for the water. Sketch out a wobbly shape under the boat to represent the reflection on a moving, rippling surface. Repeat a few ripples away from the main reflection. Make sure to leave lots of white spaces in between. Next, decide what colour the reflection is. I mixed phthalo green with indigo and burnt umber. Make sure the stern of the boat is dry - and paint the reflection.

5. Are there any shadows around the top of the boat? If there are, paint them in. This will serve to make the prow of the boat really stand out.

Remember, my sketches are always about drama, and to achieve that I always look for contrast.

Now step away from the photos, out you go and find some water to paint!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pointless sketching

I find it hard to wait and do nothing, and so I throw my pencil case and sketchbook into the car when I go to the bus stop to pick up Paddy. I always point the car towards home because the kids wind me up so much that my chances of hitting something during a three-point-turn is much higher.
It was time to give my Kuretake brush pen a little outing. But what to draw? There was nothing much to draw that I haven't drawn a million times already, as you can see...

Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Every day it's a little bit different but no matter how nice it is to draw, I wanted to use my brush pen and draw more freely. That meant sketching something from close up. The interior of my car was the perfect solution, and my fountain pens got a turn too, as I drew one of those pic-within-a-pic things on the piece of paper I was holding.

Paddy's bus arrived and we all set off home. He gets the shivers from surreal things so while he admired my sketch he wasn't too keen on the drawing-within-a-drawing. 

More pointless sketches to come!