Sunday 21 August 2016

the time it takes

Almost everyone who pages through my sketchbook asks 'How long does one of your paintings take?' The answer is ... around about 2 hours.

That's a long time to sit in one spot!

But here's the thing. I don't want to rush it. While I greatly admire the skill that many urban sketchers have to quickly capture the essence of a scene in 15 minutes or so, I like to take my time and capture the details of the place. Not all those details are shown in the sketch, some are stored in my memory or in the little notes I write on the back.

By sitting in a place for a long period of time I get to know it whole lot better. I get to meet people who stop and chat, and to take in the smells and sounds. I have enough time to become totally absorbed in what I do - a sort of meditation.

Here are a few stories behind some recent sketches. A wordier blog than normal :-)

Frassene Agordino, Italy. 

Frassene Agordino, Dolomiti, Italia

Our day started at 4.30am as the boys wanted to start hiking for their BASE jump super early. I managed to nap a little after dropping them off, but the church bells woke me and I was very early into town to sketch. It was deserted, all except for an old lady dressed in her Sunday best sweeping the street. She seemed glad of the company, and the street certainly didn't need a sweep, so she entertained me with a super long story with all the Italian gestures. My only Italian sentence is, embarrassingly, 'no parlo Italiano'. But she didn't mind that I understood nothing. We could just each do our 'job' and chat away about anything. Then the church bells did their big Sunday service ring and she put aside her broom to attend Mass and I packed away my brushes, feeling like some kind of connection had been made. A memory created with a total stranger.

Gares, Dolomites, Italy

Gares, Dolomiti, Italia

The Gares valley is super spectacular and we spent the morning climbing high above the valley and villages. On our walk back into town I spotted these lovely stone buildings, so I popped back to the car to fetch my sketching gear. Sketching peoples homes could potentially be invasive, and I try to be sensitive. I don't want to anyone to feel like I'm prying! I set up just off the main walking track, at the far end of someone's unfenced garden. Just as I was starting to ink in the sketch, a car pulled up and a women hopped out and walked up to me talking in excited Italian. I thought ... 'oops! now I've done it!' In actual fact she was just fascinated with what I was up to. She shared details about the village and her home and asked if I'd send her a photo of the completed picture. I love hearing about a place from a local, info you'd never find out any other way.

Bogo, Dolomites, Italy

Bogo, Dolomiti, Italia

While sketching this lovely old house I was sitting in the shade under the eaves of an old stone barn. School holiday time, so 2 little kids around 8 or 9 years old, were helping (or not!) their grand-dad muck out the barn. Children are never shy to have a nosey at what I'm up to and that is so lovely. These 2 kept popping by to watch my progress. Teeming with questions, I managed to answer some with gestures from all of us, but one burning question couldn't be understood. So the little girl sat next to me and drew her own sketch...

Do I sketch houses for a living? I'd certainly like to :-)

That's me in my hat with my pigtail sticking out and, of course, I'm painting a house. So clever! And the equal sign means what? Yes! You know, being an artist is my job, or at least I like to think so :-)

Then the owner of the house popped by and invited me in. What a treat! The house is 300 years old and he's slowly modernising it himself. Low ceilings, wonky floors, big wooden features. Wonderful! And it turns out he keeps bees, so I left with a jar of honey in exchange for a copy of the sketch. Gotta love random acts of kindness.

If at all possible, (if it isn't about to pour with rain, or the bus isn't going to stop right in my view, or the sun isn't going to set) I try not to rush it. It's important to me to savour where I am and not try to tick the next thing or the next thing. Works for me, anyway :-)

Until next time, Ciao! 

Friday 5 August 2016

urban sketch in italy - step by step

I thought it would be fun to take a series of shots showing the steps I take when doing one of my urban sketches.

Here is the scene I chose. It's in the tiny town of Daghei in the Dolomites in Italy. Situated at about 1500m, there's a whole series of villages in this area, with countless little corners to sketch. There are incredible views too, of the amazing Monte Civetta and other big Dolomite peaks.

Old house, Daghei, Dolomites, Italy

It may not look like much to you :-) But, the little windows, stonework and plasterwork caught my eye. It doesn't take much to get me excited! I often find beauty in not so obvious places - surprising locals who stop to chat and making them look at their surroundings in a new way.

First I roughly block in the main shapes with a pencil, getting all the angles and perspective correct. No detail in the pencil sketch. Then using my Lamy Safari with the Fine nib, I draw first the main structures.

After roughing in the main shapes with a light pencil I start in ink with a fine nib.

Then, still with the Fine nib, I add all the lovely little details. Usually I don't draw every brick, stone, leaf or piece of wood, but this scene was simple and I wanted to capture a lot of detail.

Adding all the little details.

Then I erase all my pencil lines, and change to the Lamy Safari with the Broad nib. I use this pen for colouring in all the big dark areas (like under the eaves and the windows) and for thickening shadow lines. This really makes the sketch come to life and I especially love this stage.

Changing to a broad nib to strengthen shadow areas

The finished pen and ink sketch.

The finished pen and ink sketch

Now for some colour. Using the largest brush I am comfortable with I start blocking in colour. First the roof, wet in wet, using 3 or 4 colours and I let them mix on the paper with a very light touch from the brush. Just letting watercolour do it's thing!

Painting the roof in watercolour and a large brush, wet in wet, 3 or 4 colours

On to the wall. Also wet in wet, 3 or 4 colours - a mix of warm and cool colours. Then when almost dry, I drop in clear water to create back-runs and with clean brush I lift off some areas. This helps to create a bit of 'grunge' for the old wall. I also leave some areas of white - some with hard edges, some with soft.

Painting the wall in watercolour and large brush, wet in wet, 3 or 4 colours

Once the first wash is completely dry I change to a smaller brush for the details.

Painting the little details with a tiny brush

And finally I add in the shadows. Using the same mixes I used for the first wash, but adding a blue and/or purple to each mix to create a cool colour. Shadows really bring the painting to life and sometimes on a very sunny day I might have different strengths of shadows ie. doing a second layer of shadows in some areas to darken them even further.

In the final stage I also strengthen any line work that needs it. I'm very careful with this, as areas with watercolour already added take the ink more fully than in the initial sketch, often making lines thicker and darker than expected.

The final sketch...

The final sketch

All that remains is to add the name of the town, intial and date. I also write a little journal note on the back of my sketch about the day, sights, sounds or any visitors I had.

Stillman & Birn Beta Series
Brushes : 
Large - Raphael Size 2
Small - AS Handover Size 0
Pens : 
Lamy Safari with Fine & Broad nibs
De Atrementis Document Ink, black
Watercolour Paints : 
MaimeriBlu - Paynes Grey, Permanent Violet, Permanent Red Light, Dragons Blood
Winsor & Newton - Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, Cadmium Yellow Hue

If you would like to see more of these step-by-step sketches, then please let me know by dropping a comment below.

Until next time - ciao from Italy!

There are over 50 tutorials (videos and step-by-steps) on my Patreon and Renee's Studio. Find them here ...