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Triumphant return from Lisbon!

August 4, 2011

Ok, that’s a fairly grandiose headline. But honestly, I feel pretty good about the trip to Lisbon. I had a great time , stayed focused, and did a lot of painting. Around 6 hours a day for the 10 days.

The symposium was truly a superb experience. Very well organized by the local USK group. They clearly put a lot of work into the event.

We did three days of demos, classes and lectures, and then stayed on for another week to explore further. But of course, the best part  of the week was meeting so many sketchers and correspondents from USK. Too many to list everyone we drew with – it seemed everywhere I turned was another famous sketcher.

I couldn’t imagine a better setting for a drawing workshop. Lisbon’s city center is easily navigated by walking (thanks to the nearly complete redesign after the earthquake in 1755. Apparently the first use of the modern urban grid).  We heard some squawking about the hills before we came – but anyone who’s walked around San Francisco or Montreal wouldn’t find it a problem. We didn’t bother with the lifts or trams.

Just to get started – here’s a couple of my demonstration sketches. It’s kind of funny – I was drawing and talking the whole time, but I found I didn’t have any peripheral vision outside the easel and the subject. I was never sure if anyone was around paying attention, so I just kept narrating my process anyway.  I’m sure there were times I was painting by myself and lecturing to the air.

In order to make sure students got a wide variety of subjects, we were each assigned a fixed drawing location for all three days. So I had three shots at drawing Largo Sao Paulo. Just as well – my first take was kind of a static composition (very frontal), the second went into the fundraising auction, and I managed to bring home one good one on the third day. Though, it’s not uncommon for me to draw a place more than once  anyway. I never get it perfect the first go round.

It was  odd to have to narrate what I’m doing in real-time.  I’m not always conscious of what I’m going to do next – suddenly I’m just doing it, and have to backtrack to think why.

It really helped over the next few days to have articulated the painting process out loud.  I found it easier to stick to a planned approach. I think you’ll see the improvement over the next couple of posts.  I highly advise anyone who’s “in training” to try painting three pictures a day for a week and just jot some notes about how you approached each one. It’s really rewarding to feel yourself getting tuned up.

So before I get onto the ‘personal breakthrough’ paintings from later in the week here is: “Wot I learned at the USK Symposium”.

Each of us was allowed to spy on two other sessions. My favorite was a perspective drawing class with Gerard Michel and Florian Afflerbach. It was really tremendously useful. Just to be reminded to actually place the horizon line, and that the vanishing point has to be on that horizon somewhere. Somehow I hadn’t internalized that previously – kind of always just fudging where lines recede.  Probably due to my preference for drawing rooftops and not store fronts.

It was great to see that these guys who can out-draw me consistently are actually using the measuring I’ve been too lazy to apply. The scales fall from your eyes when you see – it’s not magic – they actually know what they’re doing! They’re not taking short cuts, but being disciplined about technique. (A bad word when I went to art school).

Well, it’s usually that simple right? Work Smarter, Not Harder!

Gerard had a few stunningly simple tips that I started using immediately.

  1. Use the edge of your sketch book as a ruler. (Duh! So practical! So smart!)
  2. Draw straight lines in segments. One smooth linear wrist movement, followed by repositioning your wrist and repeating a smooth wrist move. Like your hand is a ratchet. Not attempting to magically keep your whole arm straight going across the page, elbow in the air. Perhaps this will need a video to describe better someday.
  3. Hold your page up at eye level (blocking your face, superimposed over your field of view) and just raise and lower it a few times to get a great comparison between reality and your drawing. It’s amazing. Try it out!

Florian showed how he does small accurate drawings in a big huge sketchbook. He sometimes uses only 1 page of each two page spread – using the extra facing page across the fold to fit in the vanishing points.  Gerard mentioned how he’ll sometimes place a scrap of trash on the ground a few feet away to mark a virtual vanishing point that’s too far off the paper.

Geniusii! The pair of them.

I find I ‘edge up’ to learning things by trying them every few months – and each time I get a tiny increment better. This was one of those times. These first two sketches from Rossio Square are nothing earth shattering – but they’re the start of my brain going “Oh wait. so THIS is how perspective works?”  I think it was pouring over those guys’ sketchbooks that helped stick the lesson home. They get it right every time! I highly recommend spending some time on their flickr streams.

Next up – getting past colored drawings. The best is yet to come :)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. SaltyBretzel permalink
    August 4, 2011 1:15 AM

    Fantastic Marc!

  2. August 4, 2011 2:13 PM

    Could you share what paper you are using here? Is that just normal masking tape? No buckling?

    Thanks,
    Chris

    • August 4, 2011 5:27 PM

      Hey Chris – this time I took Canson 15×25″ 300gm watercolor paper. (140lbs). I went with good paper, as I could draw on both sides if I ran out. So yes, I’m just taping it down to the coroplast sheet with normal masking tape. Works fine for me, no buckling. If you’re drawing in a hot windy place like Belem, in fact the problem is it dries too fast! Just leave it in the sun for 5 minutes and it’s flat as glass. Only time I had to wait more than 10 min to dry was late at night, after 7 when I’m in the shadows at street level.

  3. August 8, 2011 9:27 AM

    great blog entry!

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