Three little birds

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, 7″ x 7″ (17.8cm x 17.8cm)

I’ve been meaning to try some sketches of birds for quite some time and at long last Ive done it.

I kind of messed up with the first sketch (hidden at the bottom of the page), of what I believe is a Bullfinch, so I think we’ll just call that one a test. I actually thought it was going alright until I started working on the background and that’s when it became just a  huge mess.  In the later sketches, I found that a more sparse treatment for the background worked much better.

The first sketch and the second one also were done in a Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook (7″ x 7″), which has a smooth hot press surface. For the first sketch colours were mainly cadmium red pale hue and Payne’s Gray – I don’t recall the colours for the background. The second sketch, of a Nuthatch, was an improvement – the background foliage was nothing more than a random green mixture splashed onto the paper – the tree trunk was something similar but with a couple of brown mixtures.  The third sketch is of a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. Again, this was completed in a Stillman & Birn sketchbook, but the Beta series, which has a cold press surface but is in the same 7″ x 7″ square format, which I find suits these sketches quite well.

 

nuthatch-1a
Nuthatch, Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, 7″ x 7″ (17.8cm x 17.8cm)

The process for these sketches was essentially the same. Pencilling in lightly to establish the contours and the main shapes, then going over the sketches again with a Pigma Micron 01 and then finally, adding the watercolour. In the later sketches, I spent more time rendering the birds with the pen particularly with regard to modelling the form – which has the effect I think of simplifying the painting part of the process.

 

Bullfinch, Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, 7″ x 7″ (17.8cm x 17.8cm)

Keeping the candle lit

Produced this a few months ago and then put it aside with the idea that I might come back to it and work on an improved version but so far that hasn’t happened.

For me, the main criticism is the “blotchiness” of the ink. Not entirely sure what the problem is here. It could be the paper; this was done on a cheap pulp paper and so I wonder whether a better quality paper might improve matters. It could also be the application technique – the ink was applied wet-on-dry and the ink seems to dry very quickly. The same problem has arisen is other ink washes that I’ve made, like this one and this one.  Before I do another of these I need to understand what the problem is here.

Shrine at Dewa Sanzan

This is a shrine at Dewa Sanzan in Yamagata prefecture, one of a group of shrines near the base of the trail to Mt. Haguro. This was meant as a quick-ish study, thinking about using this in a watercolour when I get back into that medium again. I messed up with this, there are some issues with the perspective on the wall of the shrine nearest the viewer. By the time I noticed there was a problem it was too late but I decided to try and at least progress it to a more complete state.

dewa-sanzan-1a
Shrine at Dewa Sanzan, Strathmore 400 sketchbook, 5.5″ x 8.5″

 

Three sketches

While visiting Columbia, California earlier this year I really wanted to sit down and sketch some of the old buildings and other artefacts. That never worked out and so I had to settle for photographs instead.

I decided to make sketches based on some of those photos. I tried adopting a more loose and sketchy style. In the past, for ink sketches, I tend to work out a lot of the sketch in pencil beforehand, drawing these very lightly with an HB grade pencil and then go back over those lines with ink. With these sketches, I largely abandoned that approach, opting instead to do little to no pencil preparation.

The first sketch is of an old barn. I pencilled in the basic construction lines in pencil to get the proportion and perspective right and then used my Lamy Safari for everything else.

columbia-ls-1
Barn, Strathmore 400 series sketchbook, 5.5″ x 8.5″

With the Columbia Gazette building, I didn’t draw out any construction lines at all. It is a simple shape with no perspective to speak of and so construction lines aren’t really necessary here in any case. Some of the lines I’ve drawn are a bit wobbly, not exactly ruler straight. Actually, looking at it again pretty much everything has a wobbliness to it but I think that is part of the charm of sketches made in this way. Again, I used my Lamy Safari.

columbia-gazette-1a
Columbia Gazette building, Strathmore 400 series sketchbook, 5.5″ x 8.5″

This is an admittedly rough sketch of what was originally a cottage that was burnt down multiple times before being reconstructed for the last time in 1960. I believe it is currently used mainly as a training venue. This was completed mainly using Pigma Micron pens.

Cottage, Strathmore 400 series sketchbook, 5.5″ x 8.5″

Abandoned truck sketch #2

I revisited the abandoned Chevy truck from earlier but with a slightly modified composition.

old-truck-1b

The sketch was completed in a new Stillman and Birn Zeta series sketchbook, in the square 7″ x 7″ format. It’s a sketchbook which I purchased eight or nine months ago now but I’ve been afraid to use it, for the simple reason that I didn’t feel that I should use a quality sketchbook like this until I felt I could produce something worthwhile. I should mention that Stillman & Birn sketchbooks are among the best sketchbooks currently available. I’ve realised for a while that with that kind of attitude the sketchbook was going to be sitting on a shelf gathering dust for a long, long time. So I’ve decided that I need to just start using it regardless of whether I felt my sketches were worthy or not.

I’ve again used pen and ink but have opted instead to use a water-soluble ink. This was something new for me which I was keen to try out.  With pure pen and ink, the impression of tone is created using strokes alone. With the water-soluble approach, the drawing is built using strokes as before but then, when you are ready, you dip a brush in water and then brush over the pen strokes. Some of the ink in the strokes is released and can be used to create an ink wash of sorts.

I used an inexpensive Pro Arte synthetic watercolour brush which I’ve reserved for working with ink. The pen work was completed using a Pilot G-Tec-C4 0.4mm rollerball, which of all the pens I have available seemed to work best. Before I started the drawing I performed a quick test using several pens and inks I had available. The results are shown below.

  1. The De Atramentis document ink was completely waterproof, as expected.
  2. The Pilot G-1 gel ink rollerball pen produced very good results. It doesn’t however, produce as fine a stroke as the G-Tec-C4. It also has blue ink, which I wasn’t particularly keen on using (there is a version of this pen with black ink but I don’t have this).
  3. The Pentel Hybrid (K105) worked well. It produces a finer stroke than the Pilot G1 but not quite as fine as the G-Tec-C4.
  4. The Mitsubishi Uni-Ball UMR-85N, a gel ink ballpoint cartridge, also worked well with a stroke with similar to the Pentel. It perhaps doesn’t release quite as much ink.
  5. Sakura Pigma Micron pens use waterproof ink so brushing over the marks made with this pen has no effect at all.
  6. The Pilot G-Tec-C4 produces a lovely fine stroke and it also releases a good amount of ink.

water-soluble-ink-test-1

Sketching practise: Pile of old books

Haven’t had a huge amount of time to work on anything much. Lately, I’ve felt that I needed to practise sketching more than I have been. Ideally, it would be a daily commitment but that doesn’t often work out.

Today’s sketch is a pile of old books! Completed this in my Strathmore 400 series recycled paper sketchbook using Pigma Micron pens. Reflecting on this and other sketches I notice a pattern of concentrating on the main subject and then ignoring everything else. The pile of books is simply sitting there isolated in a sea of white, whereas in real life the books are situated on an old table and there is a bookcase in the background. It would have been better to include that contextual information in the sketch. The other details wouldn’t need to be drawn in detail but merely hinted at so as to maintain the books as a focal point. It would make the sketch more interesting, drawing the viewer in and providing more detail for them to take in. This was something I consciously did when I created the sketch of an old Chevrolet truck.

Another criticism of this sketch is that while there are some strong highlights there are no really dark darks. Instead, the tonal range is from highlights to mid-tones when instead I think it should have included some areas of really dark darks. Then again it is a simple sketch so maybe I’m being too keen to criticise.

Pile of books, Strathmore 400 Series sketchbook, 5.5″ x 8″

Since Inktober I have felt more enthusiasm for pen and ink sketching. Eager to improve my skills and try out different styles of sketching, using different techniques and tools. I have bought some new art supplies and I have a huge list of ideas and things I want to try.

 

Abandoned truck sketch #1

I was vacationing in northern California this summer. It was a circular-ish road trip from San Francisco, mostly camping, in a mixture of state parks, national parks and national forest. I also had the intention of sketching every day during the trip, perhaps working on several sketches during each day. It had been a while since I last had an opportunity go on a trip like that, so I was looking forward to it. As far as the sketching plan went I worried that it might not go exactly as I hoped. Yet I resolved to remain positive and so I brought along an assortment of tools; sketchbooks, pencils, pens, water-brushes and my Winsor and Newton portable watercolour palette. Most days consisted of the same or similar tasks; making breakfast, breaking camp, driving, more driving, making the campsite, preparing and cooking dinner and finally relaxing, with a glass or two of red wine. I’m not complaining, it was a fantastic vacation but it had an intensity to it that left little room. Needless to say, my suspicions turned out to be well-founded. I managed to work on exactly one pencil sketch, at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and I didn’t even manage to finish that! Instead, I had to settle for taking a lot of photographs.

Anyway, this sketch is of an old truck I spotted parked near the side of the road, in the small community of Redcrest in Humboldt County. Judging by the exterior, it looked like it was in good condition. It was dirty and the tyres deflated and clearly hadn’t gone anywhere for quite some time. Yet it looked as if it could still drive again. Drawing this, I started to notice the lines, the contours, the shapes and I realised why I liked this vehicle. The design had integrity, there was a unity and a wholeness to it.

An old truck, 5.5″ x 8.5″, Strathmore 400 series sketchbook

I remember the campsite we stayed that night, at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It was memorable but for the wrong reasons as it was cramped and mosquito-infested. Long trousers and liberal applications of DEET resolved the mosquito issue. The campsite selection there was simply bad luck. The other campsites I had stayed during the trip were usually at least good, sometimes very good and occasionally stunning, like the backcountry campsite at Dewey Point in Yosemite, with its commanding view of the valley, 2000 vertical feet below.

The sketch was outlined first in pencil and then rendered in detail using my Pigma Micron pens; mainly 01 and 03. I used my Strathmore 400 series recycled paper sketchbook (5.5″ x 8.5″).

Over the coming weeks and months, I plan on working on more pencil, ink and watercolour sketches from this trip as well as some sketches from the U.K. and from Japan.