This town is coming like a ghost town

First of what might become a few sketches based on this California gold-rush era ghost town. I’ve visited there at least a couple of times in the past. I find places like this fascinating. There’s a history there and the history feels so tantalisingly close in time. In fact, there were people living here up until the 1940s. Try and imagine what it would have been like for them, the people who ventured out to this place, into essentially the middle of nowhere and built something, even if only for a relatively short time.

I drew this on 300gsm cold-press Bee paper, an inexpensive yet decent 100% cotton watercolour paper. I’ve been spending time recently looking more carefully at how papers react to watercolour and doing some comparisons of different brands and I’ll write more about that in a later post. One thing for certain is that switching to 100% cotton paper has been a revelation, things that I’ve never been able to do before have become possible and I’m finding it is helping me to gain some confidence.

So, first the negative points. The building on the left bothers me, it doesn’t quite feel rooted in the landscape – it feels like has just been placed there and it also feels very one-dimensional. Next, there’s a mark on the road, a splash of paint which seems out of place and my eye is continually drawn to it – I think I need to remove it.

On the positive side, the sky worked quite well – I’ve been practising skies and it seems to have paid off here. Second, there is a sense of depth to this landscape. This is provided by the dirt road and telegraph poles receding into the distance. It is also aided by the intensity of detail in the foreground which decreases as the distance from the viewer increases. There is some nice value contrast here – there is a sense of drama – the apparently sunlit scene in the foreground versus the ominous sky in the distance.

Bee Paper, 140lb, 6″ x 9″

Additional Resources

Back to Basics: Cloud #1

Realised that my approach to watercolour has been mostly wrong! At least as far as my choice of paper goes. I’d been using cellulose-based paper on the basis that, as a beginner, I’d be working my way through a lot of paper trying out different techniques, exercises and so on. But after trying out 100% cotton watercolour paper recently I’ve come to the realisation that this type of paper behaves quite differently, in ways that are more beneficial to the artist.

Cellulose paper dries more quickly. I didn’t realise that until I tried cotton paper. The faster drying time means you have to work more quickly if you need to go back and work with the paint you’ve just put down.

There are other differences as well although at the moment I’m not sure how I would quantify them – currently, it is more a general awareness that paint behaves differently on cotton paper and I feel that the differences are for the better. I’ve heard some say that glazing is much more difficult on cellulose paper.

Some cellulose paper is better than others, of course. If I had to choose I’d pick Bockingford, made by St. Cuthberts Mill, which also produces the high quality 100% cotton Saunders Waterford paper. I also have quite a few blocks of Bockingford paper so I will continue to use that from time to time.

I’ve stocked up on 100% cotton watercolour papers, from a variety of vendors including Arches, Winsor Newton, Saunders Waterford, Fabriano, Daler Rowney and Bee Paper. The sketch below was produced on 300gsm Bee Paper, which you can buy on Amazon quite cheaply. It’s intended I think more as a practise paper rather than a paper to produce finished work with.

clouds-1
Clouds #1, 6″ x 9″

 

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.

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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.

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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.