Saturday, March 31, 2012

Virtual Paintout - St. Petersburg, Russia

Fabriano Venezia sketchbook - 12x18
Faber-Castell Pitt pen size F
Grumbacher watercolor
The March location for the Virtual Paintout with Bill Guffy is St. Petersburg Russia.  I had grand plans of practicing my architecture drawing skills in preparation for my June trip to Europe but instead I found this view from the Kronshtadtskoye Shosse, which is the main freeway, on an island in the Baltic off the coast of St. Petersburg.
I wanted to challenge myself to achieve the deep shadows in the tree cover while still maintaining the white of the fence. I was originally drawn to the view by the birch trees, they are one of my favorites.  I am also challenging myself to continue to use this sketchbook, a 9x12 Fabriano Venezia, which feels gigantic especially when working across the spread (12x18 total page size).
Painting around those tiny fence pieces was a challenge, especially trying to get the color to transition smoothly.
The crazy thing is this could be a view from the street right here in Minnesota, rather than a view from a Google camera half a world away.  Small world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Inspired to go Big!

Full 12x18 inch page spread in my 
Fabriano Venezia sketchbook, drawing done in 
Sharpie pen with Grumbacher watercolor
On Monday's meeting of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective  we had nature and travel journal keeper Pat Beaubien in the studio showing us her fantastic journals and talking about her journaling/art habits and how they have changed or grown over the years as a part of keeping a journal.  I have to say I was so inspired by her work.  She keeps these large journals, both handmade with watercolor paper and Fabriano Venezia more recently, all between 8x10 and 9x12 in size and she fills them with absolutely fantastic watercolor and ink drawings.  She also talked about the challenge to create art while teaching (she was an elementary school art teacher) rather than just in the summer and how her art habits have evolved since retiring.
Funny thing is, I have a Fabriano Venezia sketchbook right now and have been hating it. Because it was so big, 9x12 closed size, it had gotten banished to my coffee table as a Saturday book.
Having this beautiful journal as my Saturday book was not really a bad thing, it is just that I had sort of given up on it as something to use more frequently and fill up in a timely fashion and was looking at it more as a spare time kind of thing (which is never good for your art by the way).  Well, after seeing Pat's beautiful work on Monday night I was totally inspired to haul this large book around with me for a bit and fill it up - no excuses or complaining.
Last night I began by hauling it to my lap while I watched TV and drew a pair of shoes from my entryway.  I forced myself to fill both pages and to work across the spread with one subject.  I began with Sharpie pen for my contour line sketch and then used watercolor to complete the image.  After I was done  painting, I accented a few spots with some more ink lines and added the text "frame" around the whole thing.  I spent about an hour and a half altogether and was watching Chopped on TV at the same time.
9x12 Fabriano Venezia sketchbook (verso page)
Faber-Castell Pitt calligraphy pen with Grumbacher watercolor
I hauled it a bit farther today.  Luckily the book fits in my backpack and I take my backpack to work with me, so into my bag it went, and over the course of the afternoon I drew the view out my classroom window.  I spent about a maximum of an hour on this image in ten and fifteen minute bursts as I had a few moments to spare between classes and during a study hall I supervise.
I do notice that this larger page takes me a bit longer to completely cover in paint than the journals I typically have been using (around 7 inch square).  And of course it fits in no bag other than my backpack.  But it does have lovely, heavy, smooth paper that takes watercolor well and is a pleasure to write on with pen, especially with the Faber-Castell Pitt calligraphy pen for some reason.  Realistically of course it is also great to stretch myself and work differently than I normally would.
So suddenly rather than dreading this book and wondering how I am ever going to fill it up, I am excited and looking at my environment with curious eyes, searching for the next subject to place on the once seemingly over large pages.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sketchbook Exchange - classroom edition results

This fall I had an idea to have students in my advanced drawing class exchange themed sketchbooks with each other.  The project was a huge success and a lot of fun for me (I was able to exchange too) and the students.  Our exchange project included eleven students as well as myself and spanned roughly three months.  Each participant worked one time in each of twelve journals, each journal having a theme picked by the artist who started the sketchbook.  I have photos of long stretches of these books, but seeing as there is student work involved in the exchange, I am only posting my entry in each of these books.  
The books themselves are made with Strathmore 400 series Mixed Media paper which is available in several sizes and comes in a pad rather than as single sheets.  My students and I had been using this paper in the classroom as a solid choice for work involving nearly any medium.  My students had never been exposed to a paper that was smooth and could handle pen or pencils of all sorts well but also stand up to all manor of water based mediums (gouache, watercolor, acrylic ink and paint).  This new paper experience opened up a new world of working in multiple mediums for many of them and we went through several pads of this paper on flat artwork in my classroom.  It was because of this enjoyment of the sheet that I opted to use it as the paper when I created our sketchbooks.  
As far as a paper for bookbinding I have reservations regarding the 400 series paper.  It holds up well to all mediums, with no buckling or bleed through, which is good and makes the paper enjoyable to work on and makes it seem like a good choice for binding books, however, this paper cracks at the folded edge.  Even worse, it doesn't always crack at the fold edge, so some folds are severely cracked and some edges are fine with no cracking at all.  
When I first noticed the cracking I became worried that the books were going to fall apart and this was troublesome because we had already begun our exchange and were working in the books.  Despite the cracking the paper retained its strength and none of the books broke apart, they all stayed together as one long accordion.  The crack at the fold did make some of the books harder to work in as the crack wicked any water along its length, dragging paint with it.  Sometimes a fold would crack later, after it had been worked on too, opening up a gap in the image.  It is this inconsistency and cracking that will keep me from binding anymore books with the 400 series paper.  
The following images are my own entry into a student's book.  All of the images are first drawn with a Sharpie pen and then painted in using watercolor paint (either VanGogh or Grumbacher depending on if I worked at home or in my classroom).  Very often the image then gets redrawn with the Sharpie pen to create emphasis and refine the image on the page.  I am missing photos of my images from two of the twelve books, if I can get a hold of an image I will add them as I can.
 Music themed book, the final entry after many rainbow backgrounds.
 The pond, I added the dragonfly in the space between two other entries, some cracking evident 
My sketchbook "Must have been Something I Ate"
 Night themed book, I used salt to create a starry effect
 Book theme: Oops!
You can see the impact of the cracked fold
on this image, the green bled down her face and the centerline
is obviously "empty" at her nose/mouth/chin
Nature/Human Body themed book
 Under the Sea
Abstract Mechanics
Life / Death

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Trip to Como Zoo with MetroSketchers

My opening sketches of the puffins and a couple of penguins
Accordion sketchbook about 6" tall
and each page section about 5 1/4" wide
made with Canson Edition paper, 
Sharpie pen, and Grumbacher watercolors
 On Sunday March 4th, the Twin Cities MetroSketchers met at Como Zoo to sketch.  I went along and brought my new accordion style journal, thinking that I needed to see how well this style of journal works out when actually sketching on location.  The MetroSketchers are a group of sketchers started by Liz Carlson and Tim Jennen, that meets the first Sunday of the month from 12-3 to sketch together in and around the metro area.  If you are in the Twin Cities metro and interested in joining the group you can find them on Facebook at MetroSketchers Group or send an email and ask to be put on the email list for notification of the next event location as it changes from month to month.
Bear and Bison sketches done 
outside their respective enclosures
Canson Edition paper, Sharpie pen, 
Grumbacher watercolor 
 It is a fun group of people to sketch with and I feel fortunate that my schedule finally allowed me to join them on an outing.  I think they had about twenty people show up on Sunday which was the group's one year anniversary.  There was no shortage of people to sketch with and artists of all descriptions to talk with about supplies and sketching which is always fun.
A few sketches of the lion, who was pacing
when we first got to the cat building and 
hard to sketch until she settled down to rest.
 I had a great day with Roz Stendahl and Miss T, the three of us stayed together and sketched in a group as we looped through the zoo enjoying the relatively warm weather and each others company while recording our day with the animals in pen and paint.
Lions, giraffe , and the beginning of the orangutan page
Canson Edition paper, Sharpie pen, 
Grumbacher watercolor
 I have to say I had one of those rare sketching days that does not come along often and it seemed that every drawing I did came out reasonably well.  The lion was by far the most challenging subject because she was agitated when we first got to sketching her, so my first two attempts are just eyes mostly.  Then she settled down and stayed stationary for a while and I was able to finish a sketch of all of her rather than just her eyes.
From the lions we moved to the giraffes and I have to say they are strange to sketch because they are such strange animals when you really get to looking at them.  They are huge and have unusual proportions with the long thin neck and legs but overly large cow type body that is hard to capture on the page.  I did the pen sketch of the entire giraffe at the zoo and added the up close face with watercolor from a photo taken at the zoo after I got home.
Amanda the orangutan 
Canson Edition paper, Sharpie pen, 
Grumbacher watercolor

 Our last sketching stop was to the ape house which was very crowded and busy.  The apes and monkeys seemed to be enjoying the attention and were busy looking at the crowds looking at them.  We found a relatively clear spot to sketch the orangutan who was down the glass from where we stood and sketched.  She seemed to know that we were watching her differently than the other zoo visitors and after a few minutes she came to where we stood at the glass and sat at our feet.  I got down a quick outline of this closer view before having too many children launched in front of me and then I stepped back to paint my sketch.  After finishing our drawings it was time go meet the rest of the sketchers.  Roz had found out that the orangutan's name is Amanda and that she paints, so before leaving we all showed her our work at the glass where she sat.  She looked from one page to the next and signed something to us. Of course not one of us knows sign language so we do not know what she said but we do know that she seemed to understand that we had made drawings and she acknowledged our work.  Whether or not she recognized herself is hard to say.
Chocolate Chocolate Cake from Cafe Latte
Canson Edition paper, Sharpie pen, 
Grumbacher watercolor

 After a brief meeting of many of the sketchers that were at the zoo that day and a discussion about paper and supplies and comparison of pages completed.  Some of us went to a nearby cafe to enjoy some cake in honor of the anniversary and to continue to enjoy each other's company and sketch some more.  I had Chocolate Chocolate cake, which was delicious and of course I sketched my piece of cake before I ate it.  Once I got home I only had one small section of paper left in this small sketchbook so I saw some peeps on the table and added them in as the last spread, completing this entire journal mostly in one day.
Peeps and edging at the end of the book
Canson Edition paper, Sharpie pen, 
Grumbacher watercolor

One additional thing I did as I finished the peeps was to add an outlined edge to the entire journal along with some splashes of color from my paints that went along with the edge and with the sketch on the page.  I got this idea from the first video lesson at the Strathmore Online Workshop on watercolor sketching with artist Cathy Johnson.  I like the effect that the edging and splatter gave the book as a whole, it really helps tie together all the different sketches and unifies the long format as one finished piece of work.
I have only worked previously in this style of journal as an exchange between multiple artists or with my students.  This was the first time I had used an accordion as a stand alone sketch journal.  I found that I liked working along the accordion and it was particularly nice to work in this small size when going out and sketching at a particular location.  The journal itself was made from one single sheet of paper and is roughly 6 inches square when closed.  It was also fillable in an afternoon which was great. I left the photos long and so of redundant so you can see the way each image links to the next creating a long story of the day.
It got me thinking about potentially taking small accordions like this with me when I go to Europe later this year as I know we will be in multiple cities and having a finished journal for each city might be nice.  I could then build a case to hold all of my finished journals once I got home from my trip.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Accordion Journal Experiment

First page in the newly made journal. 
Sketch using Sharpie pen and Grumbacher watercolor.
I have been making accordion style journals this winter to use in an exchange project with my students and yesterday after school I taught several students some bookbinding basics and an accordion journal is what we made.  The after school binding session was planned on the fly so we had to make do with some of our binding supplies but I was able to find nearly everything we needed in my classroom.  We used mostly recycled materials including scrap matt board as covers and we painted old mailing envelopes (the large tyvek type) as decorative papers.  One element that was not recycled was the paper for inside the journal, we used Canson Edition paper, which is a paper I have never used before.  
Now it was a risk on my part to go on a paper run to JoAnn's and I knew that when I went but I was in a rush and it was the closest shop that might have art paper, so off I went.  Of course they did not carry any paper that I had used before with any sort of success in an accordion so I was going to have to experiment with a new unknown paper while teaching a book structure and hope for the best.
When I was there shopping for paper I had three important qualities I was looking for 1) sturdy smooth paper that could be used for both pen and watercolor sketching and hold up; 2) a paper that was going to take a fold with the grain and not crack as well as hold up in an accordion structure; 3) a 22x30 sheet grained long so I could use all the measurements from a book I have made before and not have to do new book making math on the fly as well, and the Edition paper seemed to meet all of these qualities best so it got purchased and used without being tested first.  
I am happy to say the paper risk paid off.  The paper took folds well with no cracking ( I am still watching for them as the book wears in) and after using the first pages this afternoon to sketch it seems like a pretty good paper for both pen and watercolor.  I do not think I have just found my new most favorite paper but it works well and I am happy for that because things could have gone terribly wrong considering the circumstances surrounding my using this paper for this book in the first place.  
A couple of notes on the paper itself.  It is a paper made for printing so it does take a while for the washes to dry.  I noticed that even my pen lines took a bit to dry and I had some pen bleed as I began to paint in my orange, although after finishing the color it is not noticeable in the least.  It is buckling a little bit, not badly like some papers but know that after applying watercolor the page is not perfectly flat anymore.  I intend to continue using this little book as my journal and I will repost any new findings about the paper as they become evident.
My students were happy to learn how to make their own books and excited to try them out at home once the glue dried.  And I am happy that the paper worked so their experience making a book was a good one and I am really relieved that it works for pen and watercolor, being that is what many of them were hoping to use the book for in the first place.
 Journal closed, showing the painted
cover and elastic strap to keep the journal closed. I used watered down acrylic paint
and a scrap of matt board to make the design while the paint was still wet.

 Two more views of the journal standing and open on the table.
The first page with the blood orange sketch from the top 
of the post is just peeking out.