Saturday, March 5, 2016

Urban Sketching Practice Paintings

I've been reading a lot about urban sketching over the past couple weeks.  The term "urban sketching" took on the qualities of a movement in 2007 when journalist Gabriel Campanario created an online forum for...

"all sketchers out there who love to draw the cities where they live and visit, from the windows of their homes, from a cafe, at a park, standing by a street corner ... always on location, not from photos or memory."

This quote by Gariel Campanario is from the wonderful urban sketching website.

Well, reading about all this, it occurred to me that urban sketching seems tailor-made for cycling!  You load up portable painting or sketching supplies into your bike bag, go out, explore, and paint or sketch on-the-spot.  Why haven't I thought of this sooner?!

So although it's still too cold here in Boston to give this a try now, I've been practicing painting at home in anticipation.  I think I'll take a watercolor class some day, but not yet.  I first want to learn as much as I can from getting out there and painting on my own.

For instance, this week I did two paintings that really taught me a lot.  One is from a scene I saw on TV of a train heading up the tracks in a hilly region of northern Japan...

 ...and my second painting is from right here in Boston, standing at the corner of Arlington and Beacon Streets, with the Public Gardens on the right.  It was too cold to stand there for very long, so I took a photo on my iPhone and worked off of that:

For my first painting I used these tools:

And for the second painting I used these:

You may be saying to yourself, "hey, where's your brush"?  Well, it's actually that strange-looking light-bluish object.  It's called a water brush, and I saw it on a YouTube video about painting on-location, as well as in books.  You fill the back part of the brush with water and then gently squeeze it to make the brush wet.

I bought a water brush model made by Pentel at the wonderful Blick art supply store here in Boston.  My father always uses .05mm Pentel mechanical pencils, so I have a special affinity for that brand.  Pentel's "Aquash" water brush uses very little water, doesn't drip, and it comes with a firm cap.  You can load it up with water in the morning and keep it in your bag all day long.  It doesn't give you as much control as a regular brush, but it's still remarkably useful -- and it solves the issue of having to carry water and a cup, which is kind of cumbersome (I actually worked on part of Painting #2 in a coffee shop!).

For both paintings, I used watercolor pencils, which work like regular colored pencils until you make them wet, turning them into paint.  I especially enjoyed using the watercolor pencils in my second painting in conjunction with regular pan paints.  The pencils allowed me to add more detailed colors in small spaces.

So what did I learn from these two paintings?  Let's go in depth!

Painting #1

What I like:
  • It was a fast painting, taking me only around 30-45 minutes.
  • I think I managed to capture a sense of perspective and depth, which makes it interesting.
  • I like that it has the feel of a travel-painting, done on the spur of the moment in a notebook.
What I learned:
  • A few more small details would add personality to the landscape.
  • Some shadows would give the houses more depth.
  • Although I like the colors, I could have had even more fun with them.
Painting #2

What I like:
  • This took me about 2.5 hours, since I tried to add more details than in Painting #1.  I'm pretty happy with some of those details, like the brownstone roofs, the lampposts, and the trees.
  • I added all sorts of colors to the brownstones, and I think it works.  They are still red-brick, but a dash of yellow or blue really makes them more interesting.
  • Having never painted people this large before, I think they're a pretty good start.
  • I did a bit of layering with this painting -- adding basic light colors first and then adding details later.  That really worked well.  I later read that layering is an important watercolor technique, so it feels good to have discovered that on my own.
  • I gave shadows a try.
What I learned:
  • The street and cars were a challenge -- but a fascinating challenge, especially in the case of the street.  I painted it black, because I assumed that asphalt is black.  But it turned out way too dark, and made it difficult to add cars and other details.  So I looked more closely at my photo and at my local city streets in real-life, and I realized that streets and roads aren't strictly black at all!  The light can make them light gray, or even close to white when the sun is especially bright.  And then I looked at other street-scene paintings, and artists often depict streets with a light coating of gray, or sometimes just a dash of black to give the feel of asphalt.  How interesting!  I softened my street a little with white paint, but I will simply put this lesson into practice next time around.
  • Cars are tough -- but I think that I can depict them with a little less detail, as I did with people.  That may give them a sense of motion too.
  • Bright colors added to the people would help them to pop off the paper more.
  • The perspective is a bit off, but I kind of like it.  Besides, it will get better with practice.  I notice that my fence doesn't diminish to the vanishing point quickly enough.  So interesting!
  • I think the colors can be even bolder.
This is really fun.  Painting on-location must be even more challenging, because I found myself using the frame of my iPhone photo as a perspective guide.  So, more learning opportunities ahead!

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