Monday, March 31, 2014

Sketching Outdoors in March

It's March. Spring has sprung, and the peeper frogs are peeping. Today it snowed, again. Sigh. On the bright side the snow has now melted and it's just damp and chilly.  It feels like Mother Nature is playing an April Fool's joke a day early.

I'm really, really looking forward to sketching outside in weather that is pleasant and doesn't make my fingers hurt!

A few days ago the temperatures pushed up into the low forties and I couldn't stand it any longer. I bundled up and went out to sketch.. The first two on the left hand page were done form the car. by the time I was done with those it seemed like it would be warm enough to go outside. Well sort of.

Realize of course that I'm wearing a couple of layers and a down coat! One thing I like are fingerless gloves with a mitten  part that you can flip over your fingers.

The sketches on the right hand page were done outside. By the time I was done I was chilled to the bone!

However, it was really worth it! It felt so good to be outside, in nature immersed in my subject. I was especially happy when a pair of Mallard ducks flew in and spent about 20 min. feeding in the marsh. The red wing blackbirds were calling back and forth and it felt very alive and sounded like spring even if the temperatures didn't feel much like it.

I'm working right now in a Stillman & Birn 7x10 Delta wire bound sketchbook. The ivory paper is a nice change from white, and it's a good size for this time of year when I'm sketching indoors a lot and when it's too cold outdoors to be sketching for long periods of time. I usually use smaller sketchbooks during the winter months because they fill up fast and the sense of accomplishment of filling a book and the excitement of beginning a new one helps keep me inspired through the cold bleak months.

I'm working with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen learning to use it and experimenting to see what it can do. It creates a very bold line, which is very black and I definitely must take that into consideration. The marks this pen makes are not just delicate outlines or guide lines for filling in with watercolors, they have lots of visual weight and presence and therefore are an integral part of the design.

This was my favorite of the four sketches. I think that the pen creates a look reminiscent of a hand colored wood bock print.

It's March and while the calendar says it's spring (frankly, I prefer the old Celtic calendar and the way the seasons of the year are broken up in that system. Right now we would still be in Imbolc, Feb.-Mar. -Apr. a winter/spring transition time during which lambs are born and trees just begin to bud. The next season is Beltane beginning May 1st,( and encompassing June and July,) which is when the weather actually begins to feel like spring here in New England, after which we quickly move into summer). But I digress.

The task at hand for sketching this season is using a palette of colors that will capture the subdued and fairly neutral hues of the season without resulting in a gray, drab sketch. To that end I'm using this.......

A special little watercolor kit I made form this really cute mint tin! (If you want to know how to make a kit form a mint tin click HERE for the resource page and scroll down to see the step by step instructions) It contains just four colors and is known as the Zorn Palette. Anders Zorn was a Swedish artist of the 19thC who was known for using this palette in many of his paintings to great effect.

                                                                                                 This is a self portrait of Zorn at showing his palette. Below that  is a close up of the palette in the painting.

This limited palette of colors is basically a version of the three primaries with black standing in for blue. Against the warmth of the vermillion and yellow ochre the grays made from black and white easily fool the eye into seeing blue.

My kit is made with watercolors and I suppose you could eliminate the white paint but I very much like using titanium white watercolor. Turner, Constable, Sargent, Homer....all the great watercolorists of the 19th century used white, and since I love their works I emulate their use of white.

This limited, earthy, full bodied palette of colors works very well for painting the in between seasons of late fall into winter and late winter into very early spring.

Zorn used this palette in a great deal of his figure work, especially nudes, so this would also work very well for a life drawing class.

Limited palettes are very helpful for producing color harmonies and avoiding muddy passages. They also help you create unique and expressive color combinations since you;re sometimes unable to paint exactly what you see and need to use a stand in color. Try it sometime and I think you'll be surprised how much you ca do with 3 or 4 colors and how beautiful the results can be.

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