February 19, 2009

Stéphane Kardos, drawing in L.A.

Santa Monica/Venice
Jan. 31, 2009, Santa Monica.

Stéphane Kardos is a French artist living in Los Angeles, where he works for the Walt Disney Company as an art director. He has traveled the world and sketched everywhere he's been. Gabi Campanario, a fellow European also transplanted to the West Coast, asked him about his drawings and the experience of sketching around L.A.

You've captured so many parts of the world with your drawings: Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Japan... How does L.A. compare? What is it like to sketch in Southern California?

Well, L.A. is very different than any cities around the world I’ve sketched. There is a quote I love from a friend’s wife, who’s also from Europe, she said:

"Every building in L.A. looks like the back of a building in Europe.”

I can’t agree more, L.A. looks like a giant suburb in Europe. It's much easier to sketch on location here. The buildings are simple (I’m generalizing here, some buildings are very beautiful and more complex), streets are straight and wide, and there are more cars than people in the streets.

I went back to Europe after almost a year here, last July, to London, and I forgot how much more difficult it is to sketch in the streets there, every single house/building is full of details, it’s busier, there are people everywhere. You really need to focus more; a 15-minute sketch in Europe is like two hours at the gym!

But I really love the urban landscape in L.A., all the electric poles, wires, road signs, neon signs… the big blue sky. I also love sketching all sorts of vehicles, and L.A. is great for that, as it’s full of vintage cars, trucks, I love it.

I’m still new to L.A and Southern California, it’s great for me to see everything with fresh eyes and I enjoy sketching it all. I have a lot to discover here, California is massive and an absolutely beautiful state; it’s very inspiring and exciting.

The light in Southern California is stunning, it’s very bright, this is one main difference compared to Europe, like Paris or London that can feel gray, gloomy sometimes. There's an amazing sense of space here.

We have the sun almost all year round, which is great, I can be out sketching more, the shadows are beautiful and very sharp, and the sunsets are gorgeous! I still can’t believe those sunsets. That pushed me to think in colors and shapes more than lines since I moved here. 

Dec. 1, 2008, Lake Avenue, Altadena.

Do you carry a stool to sit while you sketch or just sit or stand anywhere? Tell us about your technique and media.

I have a portable stool, but I forget it most of the time (I like traveling light when I go out sketching, to be able to get ready to sketch as quick as possible) so I end up sitting anywhere I can, it’s part of the fun of sketching on location.

I was sketching a lot in Moleskine sketchbooks back in Europe. I loved how convenient they are, but since I’ve been here, I started to sketch very big, 13" by 19" (33 by 48 cm.) or bigger, to cover more of the scenes I have around me.

In Europe I tend to focus more on details. Here, the big blue open sky, the sheer size of the city, the feel of space makes me want to sketch bigger.

I sketch on any kind of paper I have, sometimes in some of those big watercolor paper blocks (Arches, Canson) but anything will do really.

I use a simple waterproof ink ballpoint pen (uniball signo), and a pencil. I use the ballpoint pen for the foreground and pencil for everything in the background to create some depth. I also have a brush pen that I absolutely love (Kaimei Brush Pen). It’s totally worn out and this is how I love it. I love getting those dry brush effects, especially when I sketch vehicles, or people.

For the color, I use watercolors and gouache; I just started to use gouache again recently as it’s perfect for the rich colors of Southern California.

I sketch very quickly, I don’t like spending too much time on a subject, and I love spontaneity in a drawing. I love mistakes; they create life in a drawing. My goal is not to replicate exactly what I see, but to give a feeling of the location, giving the impression that everything is here, even if I don't draw all the details. I never retouch a sketch later. What I sketch on location is what I keep. I sometimes finish the color back in my studio. I take notes on location or a photo to help me remember it, but I treat it as if I was on location, I don't allow myself much time to finish it to avoid losing all the life in it. 

You're doing many iPhone sketches lately. How does it compare to using pen and paper?

Ocean LiquorDowntown L.A and the Ocean, from the Sam Merril TrailYes, I’ve done a lot of those in the past six months. This started because of the amazing sunsets in Southern California I was talking about earlier. The sunsets don't last long here, 5-10 minutes and they’re gone. I really wanted to catch this light on location, but I found it very tricky with traditional media. By the time I was ready to paint, set up my gouache/watercolors, the light was gone, or it was too dark to paint and see my palette. I didn’t want to paint them in my studio from a photo, so the iPhone came in handy. I love experimenting, so I gave it a go, using this application called Brushes and I loved it. My goal was to create only very quick color keys of L.A, 5 to 10 minutes each, sometimes very abstract, as I was only interested in the colors, the shapes, and putting them together as a mood of the city.

I love how convenient the iPhone is for this purpose, as you can paint very quickly in the dark or capture a sunset as it's going down on location; the screen is backlit, it’s perfect. I’m a bit frustrated though that I only end up with a print-out, no original painting.

But I love drawing with a pen and paper, or paint with traditional media, nothing replaces that. There’s a great feel to it, and the sense of recording what’s around me on paper makes me feel I’m home a bit more every day.

• Stef's blog.
• Stef's art on Flickr. 


lapin said...

j'aime bien cette description de L.A., ça donne envie d'aller voir.
je suis toujours impressionné par tes ambiances et tes couleurs… et ces veilles américaines. you rock!

Lok said...

The Masterrrr...

Ira Robbins said...

love the santa monica sketch!!

Miz said...

Excellent Stuff. I really like this.

Isabel said...

already familiar with your work at flickr love the californian colors and your line work great interview

Tommy Kane said...

Very nice interview.

EH said...

Great sketches and great interview!

Matt J said...

C'est bien lire ton philosophé Stef-trés interessant.

Anonymous said...

i love this feature!

Stéphane Kardos said...

Thank you very much guys for the feedback, I really appreciate, and thanks Gabi for giving me the opportunity to talk about my sketches! :)

Shiho Nakaza said...

As someone who grew up in Southern California and currently living in Santa Monica, I appreciate your sketches seen with fresh eyes. Your post reminded me to take a look at uniqueness of this city - I can bike to Hot Dog on the Stick (which is the original location of US chain by the same name), and never thought to sketch it. Thank you for the inspiration!

Stéphane Kardos said...

Thanks Shiho. I'm glad my work is inspiring you, that's a great reward :)
Seeing a city with fresh eyes is the best, you forgot how beautiful or interesting is a place when you see it everyday, I was like that when I was living in Paris and London, at one stage, I didn't have the motivation anymore to sketch what I had around me because it became ordinary. When I went back to Europe after a year here in California, I was so excited, I could see again how rich and exciting are those cities. Same thing with L.A, a lot of people around me who have been here for years don't really understand my enthusiasm about a simple vintage car, or a building, a palm tree, all this is new to me and exotic, that's why. That;s why I said I want to sketch as much as I can before the novelty wears off.
For this Hot Dog Stick place, I just loved this big red rectangle against the blue shadow of the building at the back...and to sit in the sun, drawing, so nice.

dominique eichi said...

Your work is so refreshing and inspiring me to keep sketching and pushing myself. Thank you
And thank you Gabi for the great interview.

John said...

I like what you said about using the pen in the foreground and the pencil in the back. I dont know how to keep the pencil from smudging over time, but I might try that. I like the use of colors in your sketches. I think the colors look more dynamic than just lines on the computer. I'm curious how you apply the color without bleeding too much the ink lines. Anyway, great sketches of california, you totally catch the feeling. I did just the opposite of moving from california to europe, and you're right, the buildings hear can have alot of details.