September 23, 2014

Sketching Paraty : Silhouette and Subdivide


I suppose Urban Sketchers readers are seeing a lot of Paraty these days! Well, gere's a small collection of my personal sketches from the workshop. 

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Each morning of the workshop some of the keener painters would be up early. We had about a hour between breakfast and first classes to get a sketch in.  Some of the extraordinarily keen would get up before breakfast and paint, then stop back for those Brazilan cheesey puff ball things that the hotel puts out every morning.

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The first day many of the international instructors ended up sketching right outside the hotel, just sitting in the street and catching new people as they got up and out. Eventually we had half of the symposium sitting in the street, getting right down to why we were there - obsessive sketching!

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One of the fun stories from Paraty. Local people passing by on the way to work would naturally ask what was going on. This day we could say we had sketchers on the bridge from India, Scotland, Iran, Sweden, Australia, the USA, the UK, and Canada - painting together, learning from each other and having fun.

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Sketching out in the world, you are always seeing something unexpected. The streets flooding with sea water at high tide was fairly unexpected. But so was this horse strolling through the flood. What happened next was less unexpected. What would be the worst thing a horse could do while splashing by you in a muddy street? Yes, that happened. 


This is my first sketch done in Paraty, in the courtyard of our hotel.  I think regular readers of my blog will see what I mean by the phrase Silhouette and Subdivide. It's all encapsulated in this image here.

(For the history of this thought process, go back to my Direct to Watercolor series of posts).

The common strategy behind all of these rapid sketches is to look for the largest silhouette shapes in front of you - such as the broad leaf palms or the egg shapes of the clay pots. Place them down in a single brush stroke. Once you have the composition (it only takes moments to make a few big shapes), you can then look at each shape and see how it can be subdivided with the darker tones of shadows.

This is the logical followup to the 'colored sketching' exercise Tea, Milk and Honey that I teach beginners. After you TMH over a few dozen (well, maybe more) sketches, you'll find you don't really need the drawing any longer (if you don't want). My how-to book on Urban Sketching goes back further, to the very beginning of this learning curve, starting with how to see silhouettes and shadows when drawing.


Studio Takeuma from Kyoto Japan

Those of you that use Flickr might recognize his sketches right away but I wanted to introduce Takeuma-san from Kyoto Japan. I just love the short capture of thoughts he includes in the sketches he does. Here's a few samples of his work with a rough translation of the story captured in his sketches.

Hope you enjoy and be sure to check him out at Flickr!

2014 January 2nd: Happy new year. There was a man with a red suit case either going or returning from a trip. He had a lot of presence and also looked really happy. I had eye contact with him a few times while I sketched him. He knew I was sketching him but he let me go. Thank you very much.

2014 July 24th: There was a person working standing up with a Mac in one hand looked like his shoulders were getting tense. A seat opened up so he sat down and continued to work on the computer. The bow tie looking thing is his headphones.

A little boy kept on calling for the tigers attention so the tiger came over over real close and the little boy started crying. "What do you want me to do?" I felt like this is what the tiger was saying.

2013 November 19th: Kyoto Zoo. How the tiger walks: Right front leg -> Left rear leg -> left front leg ->right rear leg

 2014 January 9th: The weather was nice in Kyoto but was gray when I got to Tokyo. Lots of people had their umbrella's on the Yamanote train. It looked like it was going to start raining any moment but I was going to go back to Kyoto quickly and I wasn't going to let it rain - was what I was thinking but I'd be bummed if it was raining back in Kyoto. There was an elegant looking elderly gentleman that looked very much like a person from Tokyo. It turned out he got off at the same stop as me and took the bullet train. He was from Nagoya.

2014.08.19 at Wakayama
2014.08.19 at Wakayama 
2014 August 19th: I once again went camping this year to Wakayama with Nariyuki Circus and came to sea. The mountain and skies seen from inside the ocean was beautiful. I sketched while getting wet from splashes of water.

Waterkloof Air Show in Pretoria

Not my most beautiful sketches ever, but I really enjoyed spending a whole day at the Air Show with some of my plane-crazy family, armed with a sketchbook and an odd assortment of pens and markers.

The wing of a C-17 Globemaster (I'm told) military transporter shielded an excellent US Air Force band from the sun while planes and jets and things flipped around in the background.

I stuck my ticket over a plane that bore no resemblance to anything flying that day - I way overdid the number of propellers in trying to catch on paper the aircraft whizzing past. The rest, of course, were not all in the air at the same time (I think someone else has done a similar post to this recently and said the same thing?)

A young family also found a shady spot under the wing of a smaller display aircraft for a picnic while military helicopters did their tricks above them.

As we moved over to the beer garden where grown men were as excited as little kids at a birthday party, a commercial airliner played with a bunch of smaller planes (sorry I can't be more technical than that) it was like a big ballet in the sky

The activities on the ground were as fascinating to me as those in the air - so many stories, personalities, reasons for being there - a great day out for sketching, and I didn't get to half of it.

On my street

These houses are just across the street where I live, I started for them and gave desire to draw the whole street :)

September 22, 2014

National Cattle Congress: "Good set of teats"

In Waterloo, Iowa, for four days in early September, dairy cows take center stage at the National Cattle Congress. It began in 1910 when cows were brought from across the US in boxcars to the sprawling fairgrounds close to downtown, to be judged and lauded, promoting the dairy industryNow, it's a regional agricultural, funfair for Northeast Iowa.

This year, I went to the Cattle Congress for several hours on two consecutive days to sketch. A couple years ago, I did the same.

For one judging, contestants were led into the arena with their udders bulging to full capacity to be perused by an expert who announced each cow's assets over the loudspeaker before awarding the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons. The Dairy Queen, a young woman wearing an evening gown, a sash, a tiara and cowboy boots, handed out the awards.

A lot of primping goes on leading up to bringing a cow into the ring. Below, 17-year-old Joe (wearing the hat) brought his 15-month-old cow Candy from an outlying community. Hosing down and brushing was just the start of the beautification. Then an array of hair products--sprays and gels--are applied. Candy mooed throughout. Paul, a dairy farmer, is the white haired man helping out. He came over to see what I was doing and told me, "These kids start showing cows when they're 5. They come every year. It keeps them out of trouble." Later, I heard that Joe's Candy won best in her breed!

There are competitions, not to judge the animal, but rather to judge the handling of the animal. It's called showmanship. Below right, an 8-year-old in a youth division wrangles his calf, following instructions from the judge.
I ran into my friend, Jean Casper-Simmet, the camera toting adult above left, who is a reporter for AgriNews, a farm journal for the Upper Midwest. I'd drawn her without her knowing. Later, she snapped this photo of me.

The National Cattle Congress isn't just about cows. 

There are horse competitions. Below, women saddled up for barrel racing.

 A cowboy looks into an empty arena, awaiting the rodeo performers.

3 years ago, I drew the rodeo. 

City people, like me, come to see other animals, too. 

Americana Rooster
The Cattle Congress grounds are a beloved landmark for northeastern Iowans. The rows of brick, metal-roofed barns were constructed in 1925 to replace the original wooden ones that blew down in a windstorm. 

As I sat painting this on my folding stool, with dried cow pies at my feet,  a whirlwind of drama unfolded around me. An Angus heifer, on the loose, galloped past, yelling men in hot pursuit! Then, a man, apparently kicked by his cow, sat stunned in a plastic chair close by, his face and shirt bloody, awaiting medical attention. There's nothing like sketching to become engulfed  in the realities of a place and an event!

I was determined to include this sign in a drawing before I called it quits on the last day of the National Cattle Congress 2014. Not a sketcher that does crowds often, I was game to try my hand on the stream of people walking from the parking lot.

Farm animals and their people captivated me the most this year at the National Cattle Congress. There's so much more that I didn't have time to draw: the amusement rides, the food stands, the musical entertainers, the beer hall, the hog competitions, the Dairy Queen,  Oh well, until next year......

Eight Urban Sketchers, One mountain, Endless possibilities

On a clear, sunny day in early September, eight urban sketchers spent a day together on Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

By sharing our sketches and notes as a single post, we hope to share what we experienced: the excitement and the magic that comes from exchanging ideas, trying new things, being influenced by each other or just simply sketching on location together. Here they are, the sketchers, their sketches and their thoughts, in their own words.

OMAR JARAMILLO : Germany, Berlin
This was my first watercolor. The sky, clouds, mountains and water were fantastic and I wanted to get an atmospheric watercolor sketch. First blue wash, when still wet clear water to create clouds and the end a grey rose mix under that...

On this next one, I started by creating three different glazes for the sky. Liz and I were discussing mixing more pigment in the palette with little water to get intensive mix of colors. I was very interested in Suhita's drawing, trying to get rich darks. So I was trying to apply it in this piece. I am very proud of my little guy on the platform (bottom right). It shows the scale.

SHIHO NAZAKA : USA, Los  Angeles
This trip was all about trying new approaches and capturing the sense of place. I was inspired to take on new approaches - using a Moleskine watercolor book (which I usually don't like), working across the spread (which I normally don't do), and painting directly with watercolors (which I should do more of!)

The view of the city from Pão de Açucar is spectacular - Corcovado with Christ the Redeemer statue can be seen in the distance, overlooking the highrises by the bay with sailboats dotted throughout the sea. Turkey vultures were soaring in the wind, and the occasional helicopter and planes passed through. I tried to capture them all.

And this one is a sketch of Sugarloaf itself, before we take one more cable car to go to the very very top...

In this first sketch, I was trying to capture the depth in the mountains and the interesting relationship between the thick green growth of the trees and the flow of Favelas running down the hillside. I remember wondering where to start or what information to use and taking it slowly trying to choose what details were important for me (I love detail). For me it was the dark foliage which framed the white / bright buildings. I added in some shadows to represent the multitude of buildings but didn't want to overdo it.

The other two sketches of Sugarloaf were simple studies. With the one on the left, I may have layered up too many colours losing the spontaneity I was trying to capture. The second attempt was when we were enjoying lunch and it was more of a relaxed line study with a little bit of paint added to the sky and the foliage to frame Sugarloaf.

LIZ STEEL : Australia, Syndey
The view from the first level of Sugarloaf was breathtaking… but my eye was drawn to the dramatic cliff of Corcovado (I don't care too much for the statue on the top - it is all about the sheer cliff face for me). I ended up doing two quick panoramic sketches from our first sketching spot - using different media and with a slightly different emphasis each time.

The first sketch which started with Corcovado as my focus was done using a watercolour pencil outline and some quick watercolour washes. It was all about the geography of the city - how the smaller hills relate to the sheer vertical faces of Corcovado. I loved the soft calligraphic line of my pencil which because it was a little damp was giving me a hit and miss line. I was afraid to do too much to this sketch - so I stopped early and turned the page and started a second one. (one of my mottos is 'if in doubt…. stop and do another one')

The second sketch once again started with Corcovado as the focus but this time I was more interested in how the built form of the city interacted with the topography - the high rise in the plain and the favelas rising up the hillsides. My colour was a lot stronger and I got out my favourite sailor ink pen for the main edges.

Both of these sketches were worked very fast and spontaneously - I just started and went where the sketch took me. I don't do a lot of landscapes (wish I did more!) and vast panoramas like this one (how many panoramas are there like this in the world anyway?) but I was thinking about how to create depth by varying colour hue and temperature. I love the way that the two sketches tell such a different story.

I found it really hard at first, working out how on earth to paint so much information: how to squeeze all those mountains into a tiny Moleskine, and then the even trickier issue of how you ‘code’ so many shoulder-to-shoulder high-rises and the sprawling mass of favelas, trailing towards infinity along every valley. Someone in the group summed it up: ‘It’s like someone spilled their Lego out over everything’. I painted first, capturing an impression of the scene, then used ink to try and get a sense of the ‘clutter’ of the buildings. Spot the plane far right – we were above it!

There was so much drama in the setting, both vertical and horizontal, but the Moleskine flattened things out, so I began experimenting with different angles, to better capture the feel of the setting.

Working so closely alongside one another, all of us focused on this one task, created a dynamism, a kind of urgency to get it all down, again and again. It was a very special day: the peculiarly difficult but exciting challenge really bonded the group, until we felt like a team, a ‘band of sketchers’! 

CLAUDIA JARJOURA, Australia, Syndey 
Here are two sketches from Claudia, who is still enjoying her time in Brazil.

MARC HOLMES : Canada, Montreal
Looking to the west at Corcovado behind the city, my biggest concern was simplification of the amazing view. When you’re sketching in a group, I find myself wanting to adapt to the touring style of the people I’m with - in the sense that we’re trying to all take the same amount of time for each sitting, so nobody’s holding the others up. It’s common for someone to call out ‘how much time does everyone need?’ and there’s a little bargaining - "10 more minutes? no I need at least 15”. For this double page spread, I wanted to make myself see the simplest possible forms underneath all the detail. Just making it three shapes: land, sea and city.

This view of the headlands to the east, is my favorite sketch of the entire trip. The emerald hills, the turquoise sea, and the glittering city seem impossibly exotic. This is the one sketch that sums up our whole experience of Rio.

And lastly, some proof of how great it is to sketch with a group of talented friends. I’d been watching Omar work next to me, and really enjoying how he could reduce a scene to its essence. I had just finished a double page spread of the Sugarloaf dome, and I wasn't particularly happy with the results.

I was comfortably sitting at a table with a drink - apparently that's too comfortable! Things get overworked :)  His sketch was showing me how I'd lost my way. So I started again, and banged this one out in, I swear, about a minute.

It’s a perfect example of how one should do 10 sketches and throw away 9, in order to get a perfect impression. A watercolor sketch is only alive while the water is flowing. If it becomes too deliberate, too ‘finicky’, all is lost.

To me, working alongside other sketchers (something I very rarely ever do) is a chance to be open to ideas and influences and to try new things. This first sketch was especially challenging: not only was I trying to capture a truly overwhelming and spectacular view, but I was also trying a new approach of not putting all my line down first, something Liz and I had been discussing through the week. I really enjoyed the more abstract and pared-down shapes and forms I could see by working in this fashion. It's an approach I plan to play with a lot more.

By the time I was working on this sketch, I had sketched for a couple of hours and was finally wrapping my head around my "paint-first, less-line" approach.

The sketch on the right? Another rarity for me, working in monotones. This one was not inspired by a fellow sketcher up on Sugarloaf that day but by something Fred Lynch said to me the week before in Paraty: try working in just one or two colors.