Let me just say – Singapore was nothing like what I expected.
This is entirely because I’m uneducated, and had no idea what to expect.
Other than it being a modern Asian city with a booming economy. And a democratic republic with a pretty decent reputation for transparency. What I was not really aware of (being basically clueless) was how multicultural it would be.
It was inspiring to see temples of three religions side by side on ‘harmony streets’. Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu all equally well used by a variety of people. It was equally great to see every hawker center (open air restaurant courts) representing ethnic foods from all these cultures. And then to see, in the faces of the people on the street, all these races intermixed.
I would hope this could just be normal everywhere – but it seemed to me a unique aspect of the city. Good for you Singapore! Thanks for that experience :)
The other thing that completely overturned expectations was the fact you cannot paint in Singapore.
Well – eventually you can adapt. And certainly the locals can paint just fine. But I for one, found it to be the most challenging environment of any place I’ve ever watercolored. It reminded me most of that time I painted in the rain in Ithaca.
The challenge was not because of difficult subject matter or any lack of views – but simply because of the climate. The HUMIDITY. (And the heat). But my goodness – the HUMIDITY.
You might see a kind of wild abandon in the painting style on display here? A kind of splashy wet-in-wet and a sort of ‘mosaic’ feeling? Shapes floating on white spaces, a kind of composition that is perhaps on the edge of control? This is my compromise for the shocking conditions we encountered.
Simply put: watercolor will not dry in 100% humidity and 110 degrees.
I suppose the up-side is you have as much time as you like to work wet-into-wet. I had paper remain wet for over four hours. When you made a painting, you had to carry it flat for the rest of the day or colors would actually drip off the page. Some days I ended up only doing two paintings, needing to drop them off at the hotel between outings. My usual method of working larger-to-smaller and wetter-to-dryer in progressive layers, was simply off the table. If I’d have been working in a sketchbook, I imagine all the pages would be stuck together.
So – these works are not done in layers at all – but are made working edge-to-edge, stroke next to stroke, in a single wet shape. They are more reliant than ever on white space – defining shapes with dry paper edges.
I think I gravitated to this fix for the weather because I was just back from filming: Travel Sketching in Mixed Media.
If you look back to the previous post on the Brush pen silhouette exercise where I’m talking about shape welding and ‘growing silhouettes’ with black ink. This is exactly what’s going on here:) It’s amazing how descriptive you can be even with just black ink. You’re training yourself to make shapes with solid masses, and to be decisive about what you leave out. The small gaps and edges in the brushwork – the negative shapes – can be equally descriptive as the positive forms. All of these works, especially the Mosque above, are done with this kind of thinking – but with watercolor instead of ink.
I’m glad I filmed the class before going to Asia :) Thinking about teaching something, is the best way to get better at doing it. If I didn’t have this concept in my back pocket, I’d have been one frustrated sketch-tourist in Singapore.
Here’s a sneak peek at the second concept in my new video class Travel Sketching in Mixed Media.
The course starts with the slightly more obvious approach of doing line drawings and tinting them with color. Then, by taking a look at the *opposite* way of thinking – building up from silhouette shapes instead of line – we can start to think about how a tonal sketch might work. To me, when they say painterly – this is what they mean. Thinking about masses of value, rather than linear contour.
In the course I go into a few ways to arrive at a study in shapes – the solid masses you can do with a brush pen, but also the accumulation of different line weights you can make with pen-hatching.
And finally, closing that section I show a sketch done with water soluble ink – in which you do a bit of both. Making a line drawing that you convert to masses by blending shapes with water. You can do this right on the spot, or come back later with the water.
I hope you’ll get a little something from each of the three ways to think about silhouettes and masses. This approach has been very useful for me on my recent trip to Asia – I’ll show you some more of that in the next few days :)
If you’re interested in joining the class to see the sketching happen, I have a special discount ($20 off the retail price!) for anyone reading this blog. Click over here to register at your Blog Reader’s Discount!
Just a quick note – three more days to see some original artwork from myself, Shari Blaukopf and Jane Hannah on display at Stewart Hall Art Gallery in Pointe Claire QC. We each have a variety of framed artwork, and a few sketchbooks on display. If you’re in the area, the show remains up till Sunday afternoon.
The new video course is live for registrations as of this morning! Super exciting for me – I’ve been planning this for months now, and am very pleased to see people already signing up! Thanks everyone!
As a bit of a sneak peak of what’s in the course – here’s a capsule summary of the first project: Single Line Sketching. (You can read more about this exercise over here – in my notes from my 2015 USK workshop in Richmond, VA).
My main concern when designing the Craftsy.com course was unlocking your ability to sketch quickly.
I don’t mean to pressure people about drawing faster. It’s not a race – you shouldn’t feel anxiety about drawing at a lightning pace. But on the other hand….the faster you can doodle, the more often you’ll grab a spontaneous drawing when you see one.
There’s nothing more fun than seeing a glimpse of a lovely view and saying – ‘hold on a minute, let me grab a sketch’. I hope that we’ll all gain the confidence to just dash off a drawing when we feel like it.
This is the big secret to productivity in the field. Having fun with it, being relaxed, and a little bit ‘uncaring’ about results. Just draw, and enjoy the feeling of capturing the memory of a place. You’ll love showing those sketches to friends and family later, or even just looking back at the books yourself.
Single Line Sketching is something that is easier to show than to explain :) Which is what’s great about video :) But here is the sketch I’ve made from this view, in only a minute or two.
The idea is to follow the horizon line with one continuous line – without picking up the pen. Just make a scribble that loops back across itself and wanders around the important silhouette edges – like dropping a thread that drapes over the horizon.
The technique might seem overly simplistic – but it’s a sure fire way to teach yourself to simplify and find the important shapes. And it’s also just the first step in the process.
If you have a few minutes more – or if you can steal some time later on as you’re travelling (waiting in train stations or airports, taking a break in the cafe, all those bits of downtime that you have on the road), the next steps are accenting your drawing with darks, and then – where the real fun begins – tinting into the sketches with color.
You’ll be able to see me go through a few of these examples in the video, showing how easy it is to bring your sketches to life with glowing shapes full of color.
There are still quite a few concepts after this first sketchbook drawing style approach. I’ll go on from there to talk about working from shapes instead of a linear drawing, some discussion about simplifying perspective, and then moving on to demonstrate the steps I use to rapidly sketch in watercolor using a stack of layered shapes. More about all that in future posts!
I hope I’ve intrigued you about the class. If you head over to register now, I’m offering $20 off the retail price – just for being a supporter of the blog. These courses and my books are what allow me to keep on sending you drawings. So I hope you’ll enjoy the program, and get inspired to go sketching! And please – share these links with your friends. I’d like to reach as many sketchbook artists and journal keepers as possible.
After a few years of going to the annual international event, I’m starting to take it as a normal experience. But really – it’s far from normal. It’s actually super duper amazing :)
Gathering together with artists from all over the world for a massive festival of drawing. To be able to draw from sunup to sundown with other obsessive sketchers. When I look back on it, it’s astonishing that this outrageously fun event is made possible every year by everyone’s combined efforts. The behind-the-scenes planning of the symposium committee, the support of the sketchers who come, the hard working local volunteers, and the goodwill of instructors coming from all corners of the earth.
This year my small contribution to the program was a workshop on Street Portraits. In my personal work recently, I’m doing a lot of plein air painting – but back a year ago, when planning for Singapore, I was launching my Craftsy.com course on sketching people, so this was foremost on my mind.
I was surprised to see, when designing the class that in even the short time since launching my online course, I’ve already
improved tweaked my process for drawing people.
I have been trying to keep up with self-training. My hundred person challenge for instance, or the occasional afternoon out sketching at a pub. But I have not really been going to life drawing in a serious way. The last time was back in January. There just hasn’t been time with all the travel we’ve been up to :) (First world problems hey?). So, imagine my surprise, when I go back to street portraits – suddenly I have a lot of new ideas that come from my travel sketching.
Sketching landscapes, has made my people drawing better! Who knew? Ha.
The shortest explanation of the new approach would be: Go directly to ink without a pencil gesture > Greater emphasis on Silhouette Shape > Less concern with inking black shadows – as I know that the watercolor will handle the values.
I admit – there is always going to be a high failure rate with direct-to-ink sketches from life. But it’s just paper at stake. I’m totally OK with flipping the page and sketching another one. (This is why I like loose paper vs. bound books).
I drew the shoemaker on the far left (above) six or seven times over the course of the three day workshop. (His portable workbench was right next to my teaching spot). Gradually you can get a subject’s routine down – seeing the ‘working pose’ between reaching for tools, tamping his pipe, and selecting another shoe to work on.
In the end, despite many false starts, I have this fresh, lively drawing, that I couldn’t have gotten any other way. (Here’s an old post that illustrates this perfectly).
The faces on the left here are good examples of my current theory “head-shape/hair shape”. (See class notes).
I’ve chosen to teach this direct-to-ink approach even to beginners, because A: it’s much faster this way and B: it makes a more spontaneous drawing. I now think that any added difficulty students might have at first (when going straight to ink (or watercolor)) – will be overcome by a few weeks practice – and will pay back 100 fold in more responsive, honest, direct observational drawings.
This doesn’t mean I never-ever use a pencil-gestures-and-inking-over approach. Just that I always say – you can only teach what you do. So I have to show what’s on my mind right now. Even if it changes year to year.
Anyway – this is a complex question – and I’m sure I’ll be mulling over the value of pencil guides vs. direct ink drawings more than a few more times this year.
I hope you’ll check out my class notes from the workshop. There are a few good tips for portraits, and a good trick for drawing crowd scenes to back up your stars. You can get the free PDF below (click the image) or from my download page over here.
As well – in celebration of the launch of my new Craftsy.com class on Travel Sketching in Mixed Media – I’m also putting my original Sketching People in Motion class on sale – $15 off – for any readers of this blog. (Click over here to register).
I’m just back from sketching with the Dunany Studio Artists out near Lachute Quebec. They’re a wonderful group of dedicated painters who meet weekly. You can tell they’re serious about painting, willing to try out new ideas, and to work hard at it. You can also tell they’ve been painting together for awhile. The group has a friendly, relaxed feel that makes them a lot of fun to paint with.
This lakeshore view was my demo from the afternoon session on day two. Our host had put us up the night before at a cabin on the lake, allowing us to experience getting up early to the mist on the water and the sound of loons calling. I can see the attraction of this kind of life. I had a great time just painting and philosophizing about art with the group, while imagining this was my own back yard view.
Over the two-day paint out, we tried a variety of exercises aimed at making better compositions in watercolor. I had students do a 15 min sketch, making bold silhouette shapes directly with the brush – something that might have been frustrating – but they were all willing to give it an honest try.
Later on we moved to tinting miniature compositions we’d sketched with as little as three-to-five lines. All this was working towards the kind of bold, direct painting you might do when sketching on location. If you’re aiming to work quickly that is. Getting a sketch in an hour or so – in a watercolor sketchbook, or on a small format sheet.
Lately, I’ve been emphasizing strong simple compositions that I call The Three Big Shapes. In this approach I try to eliminate any unnecessary clutter to make the final image as graphic as possible. In this painting, I’ve left out the underbrush in the foreground, omitted some overhanging trees and ignored a dock. All with the goal of making as few shapes as possible. It’s just Sky, Land, and Water – and a few cabins made out of the negative shapes left behind.
Of course, you can’t always do it in just three shapes. Sometimes it requires more. But the goal is as few as possible. What can you leave out, or merge together, in order to make stronger compositions?
This emphasis on simplification helps you see big shapes that you can fill with bold color. Working with very wet paint put down on dry paper, I’m letting each brushstroke fuse into the next – allowing juicy pigment to merge right on the paper without any blending or glazing. Other than making pale washes for the sky, there’s almost no mixing on the palette required.
So, a big thanks to the artists out in Lachute for trying these ideas out with me.
And of course, if you’re interested in seeing some of this in action yourself, I hope you’ll try out my new video class on Craftsy.com: Travel Sketching in Mixed Media. These videos, along with my books, are the livelihood that allows me to keep up this blog. I appreciate all your support!