Our local life drawing group has not met since last March because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m happy to report that yesterday we started our weekly drawing sessions again. Many of us have not done figure drawing from life for over a year and were worried that we might have lost the knack for doing it in all that time. Those fears seem to have been misplaced because everyone in the group came up with some good drawings and we had a very positive session.
We usually start with five minute drawings to warm up and to focus on capturing the gesture of the model’s pose. Then we do some longer poses of 20-25 minutes aiming for a more finished result.
A couple of days each month I volunteer as a docent at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum Gallery in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It has a wonderful collection of 19th century artworks. The building itself is beautiful and is on the National Register of Historic Places (U.S. National Park Service). During the summer months and in the Fall foliage season the place is hopping with tourists eager to see the building with its library and art gallery. At this time of year it can be rather lonely in the gallery. I was there today for my two hour stint and had only four visitors (pretty good for Winter, actually). I always bring something to read or even better, my iPad. Since I was trying to fill the time productively, I pulled out the iPad and started working on these three new abstracts.
The director of the Athenaeum, Bob Joly was in today and I showed him what I was working on. He said they reminded him of a circuit board. I hadn’t intended to imply that but it was a fun idea. I had plenty of time to work on them with so few visitors so I combined Bob’s “circuit” idea with my boredom and came up with the heading above.
My real intention with these pieces was to use vibrant complimentary colors in simple arrangements to create a lot of energy. The minimal textures were then interconnected with overlapping squiggly lines. They were created in Procreate app for the iPad using an Apple pencil. For the last image I used iColorama app to add a stippled surface texture.
I had such a good time with yesterday’s drawing/painting experiment that I wanted to try to apply the same technique (painting first and then drawing over with ink) in a more compositional drawing. Looking out of our front window, that composition was just waiting for me.
The view is looking southeast towards the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the “stars” of the scene are the changing Tamarack trees (American Larch). These trees are deciduous conifers. They are like pines and firs in that they grow seed cones but they differ by loosing their needles in the fall. Before the needles come down they turn a brilliant yellow orange and provide some of the last warm color before the onset of winter.
Anyone who follows my work knows that I have a penchant for detail and an annoying habit of trying to get everything I see in front of me into the drawing I’m working on. I also tend to make a “project” of drawing or painting and often fail to even get started with it by making too much of it. With this, I was trying to get away from a fussy, over-detailed style. Yesterday’s drawing inspired me to “loosen up”, work quickly and just put in the essentials of the scene.
I started with the brush and directly painted all of the elements of the composition very quickly, trees, hills, foreground and sky. This was done in about 8-10 minutes. When the painting was dry, I used a #3 micron pen to draw over the color (another 5-10 minutes). I added a bit more color (some of the purples to contrast with the yellow of the trees) and some final touches of pen work and that was it. In aiming for simplicity, I was able to use the brush to paint the middle ground and distant mountains almost as calligraphy, as symbols rather than realistically. That was a very freeing experience for me. I hope to do more like this.
Recently, I have been talking about “process” in creating art. It occurred to me that I had documented many of the stages of cutting this particular block, Sap Buckets, Tampico Road (2010) and thought that it might demonstrate an interesting example of “process”. We are used to seeing finished works of art but rarely have a chance to view various stages leading to the final image.
For an explanation of the block printing process in general, please click here.
What I show below are, in chronological order, a few of the many steps needed to complete the final block to be printed. You can look at the individual stages and compare them or view the slideshow to see the gradual changes in sequence.
There is a kind of “translation” that occurs in the process of cutting a block for printing. It’s very direct to do a pencil drawing and transfer it to a block. But to make a final block print image I need to cut away all of the areas that will not be printed. All of the white (unprinted) areas must be cut away leaving the surface that will be inked and printed (black areas). If I want to print a line, for example, I have to cut everything around that line. Look at stage 2 and 3. You can see that the drawn branches of the trees on left and center are created by cutting all of the area around them at the same time negatively creating the sky. To realize a drawn image in a block print, it has to be “translated” or realized by the process of cutting and letting it emerge from the cut area around it.
I usually start with a complete drawing of an image but leave some areas not fully realized. Look at stage 4 and stage 5. The large area of roadway at the bottom was left blank in the original pencil drawing. I was’t sure how I wanted to represent the path at the bottom of the image. It made more sense to use the cutting tools (gouges in this case) to “draw” the textures rather than “translate” from a pencil drawing.
For me, one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of making block prints is being aware of and controlling these two (at times opposite) techniques of drawing; with the pencil and with the cutting tools.
I hope you find this of value in understanding a bit about the “process” involved in making block prints.
It’s been a while since I posted drawings of Vermont. In looking at my past drawings of various Vermont towns, I realized that one of my favorite barn drawings, from Johnson, had not been posted on the site yet. There’s also a newer drawing from Chester that was done very quickly (45 minutes) just a few weeks ago. It’s often the case that the backs of buildings are more interesting for drawing than the front facades so I went around to the rear of a few varied structures on Main Street in Chester and came up with this grouping. I thought the two drawings, old and new, would make an interesting pairing. Both are done with pen and ink and watercolor in 5″ x 8″ Pentalic Aqua Journals.
I’ll interrupt my posts of Provence drawings to take a look at my most recent life drawings in Danville, VT. We are very lucky, in such a small rural community to have a public multi use venue in which to hold our life drawing sessions (The Danville Community Center). Actually it’s the old bank building which was given to the local library (which is adjacent to it) after the bank built a new branch in town. The library raised funds to refurbish the interior and make it available to members of the community for various uses. In addition to the life drawing group, there have been yoga and tai chi classes, various concerts and lectures and a knitting group. It is also the rehearsal venue for the Danville Town Band. We are also VERY fortunate to have access to several terrific experienced models who live nearby. Here are last Wednesday’s drawings.
Being Friday, I went down to the Danville Green to see if any others wanted to do some drawing. Only one other member of the group turned up and he chose to draw in another location. So I went scouting for a motif and came across a farmer haying his field along the Greenbanks Hollow Road in Danville. It was a beautiful, mostly sunny day. I pulled off onto a tractor road, parked the car and set up with my collapsible stool and drawing materials. I took a few pictures with my iPod touch for later reference if I needed it (as it turned out, I didn’t). I started out directly drawing with my Platinum Carbon Pen (no preliminary pencil drawing) and roughed in the composition. Watercoloring followed and the rest is, as they say, “his story”… Painted in 5″ x 8” Pantelic Aqua Journal with three synthetic brushes, 3/8 in. flat, 3/4 in. flat and #12 round. Completed in about 45 – 50 minutes.
Several years ago I did a block print of one of the more prominent farms in Danville. It was a winter scene looking up from down the hill with all of the connected and adjoining buildings at the hilltop. It’s a very picturesque setting and when I went out on Thursday to do a sketch, I thought it might be an excellent subject for a more close-up view of the barn. It was a beautiful day and the owners very graciously let me spend my morning doing the drawing on the lawn (even thought they were expecting guests at their farm B & B later on). The barn sketch was done on a two page spread in a 10.5″ x 8.25″ Global Art Hand•Book Watercolor Journal using two American Journey synthetic brushes, a 3/4″ flat brush and a #12 round. I used a Platinum Carbon Pen and Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors.
Webster Hill, Danville 4″ x 8″ A chilly winter view of Webster Hill in Danville, Vermont. The farm in the center dates back to the 1830’s (rebuilt in the 1880’s).
Today I was the only person to show up for the Friday Sketching Group in Danville. It was a beautiful sunny day and I guess people were busy working in their gardens. I set up just off of the village green on Brainerd Street and enjoyed the shade of a nicely leafed-out tree to work under.
Last Monday I drove down to the 1908 Farm off of Route 2 in Danville. I’ve passed by this farm probably hundreds of times and have wanted to do a sketch of it for as long as I can remember. Well, I finally did it. After parking the car on a cross road, I gathered my drawing materials and small collapsable stool and walked out into the open field to get a good view of the farm buildings and surrounding terrain. It was a beautiful Spring morning but VERY WINDY. Fortunately I had lots of bulldog clips to hold the pages of the sketchbook close to a supporting board.