Monday, September 28, 2009

Ink Starfish Sketch

sepia brush pen in Cahier sketchbook
Stacy L. Rowan

Another sketch from my weekend at the shore. This time a starfish decoration found in the condo. I did this sketch with my sepia brush pen which I am liking more with every use.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tap Dancer Drawing - Quick Turn of Phrase

A Quick Turn of Phrase
14" x 18" graphite on paper
Stacy L. Rowan
available at the William Ris Gallery

To turn a phrase means to give words new meaning by using them in a particular arrangement. Just like words in a poem or story, common tap steps can be given new life by combining them in unique ways. One way to make a combination more impressive and to increase the level of difficulty is to do the steps while turning.

I knew I wanted to create a drawing from this reference the first time I saw it. I love the motion and the twist of the legs. And it turned out to be one of those drawings that just flowed from the first pencil mark until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. For this drawing I used graphite, but don't be surprised if you see another version pop up some day in charcoal or watercolor. Some references are like that, they make you want to revisit them more than once.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Painting from Memory

My husband and I were at the shore two weekends ago. There was a storm off the coast that was producing a strong on-shore wind and a very rough sea. The waves were large and when they crashed they made sea foam the color of beer. Their power was impressive from the relative safety of the boardwalk.

watercolor sketch of ocean
approx. 5" x 8" in Moleskine watercolor sketchbook
Stacy Rowan

The storm was making it too windy to paint outside. I was afraid the wind would rip my pages out of the sketchbook before I got any paint on them. But I still wanted to capture what I was seeing. So I watched the ocean trying to commit the unusual olive color, the crashing power and the foamy movement to memory. After we walked back to the condo, I pulled out my watercolor sketchbook, my compact set of half pans and two waterbrushes. Using these tools I did my best to recreate what I had seen.

This is the first time I have painted from memory and I was pleased with the result. (I know it looks like I have a curved horizon line, but I promise it is straight in the sketch.) It's definitely an exercise that I'll try again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faber-Castell Pitt Pen

I recently purchased a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist pen with a brush nib. I like sketching in pen because it forces me to try to get my marks right the first time. And it forces me to live with them when I get them wrong. When I sketch with pencil I am too tempted to erase marks that aren't correct.

sketches with new Pitt brush tip pen

On the other hand, I like how I can change the quality of a pencil line. I feel like my sketches done with a Micron pen don't have the same expressiveness as my pencil sketches. (Or at least the pencil sketches where I don't allow myself to erase and constantly correct.)

sketches with new Pitt brush tip pen

The solution -- a Pitt pen with a flexible brush tip. With the brush tip I can draw a very fine line or a broad one just by changing the angle of the tip to the paper. And it allows for looser movements originating in my wrist or arm instead of just the tighter movements originating with my fingers.

sketches with new Pitt brush tip pen

I haven't done many sketches with my brush pen yet, mostly just some preliminary play, but I'm looking forward to improving the feel of my sketches. And I hope if I improve my mark making in my sketches, it will carry over into my watercolor painting.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When It's Good to be Forgetful

WIP charcoal for tap dancing series
Stacy Rowan

Sometimes in tap class when I am learning a new combination there seems to be a roadblock between my brain and my feet. The teacher demonstrates the series of steps and I know what I am supposed to do, but somehow my feet don't get the full message and they do something different. Let's say the correct steps are shuffle hop knock heel flap ball change. Not a difficult combination, but my feet might do shuffle hop heel knock... freeze... because I realize I did something wrong. I've talked to other tap dancers and I know I'm not the only one this happens to.

I've noticed that occasionally this happens when I am drawing too. I can picture the drawing in my mind's eye, but my hands create something that doesn't seem to match the image in my head. So I check all the angles and measurements and faithfully make any changes...still not right. Most times I have to leave that area of the drawing and come back to it later to get it worked out properly. In that time the roadblock clears and the problem is normally fixed with some minute change.

I've decided that the difficulty learning the tap combination comes from muscle memory overriding the knowledge of the proper steps. If I had a previous teacher who always put a heel after a shuffle hop, my muscles hold the memory of that combination. It can be a tough memory to overcome.

I'm not sure where the drawing difficulty comes from. My guess would be that it has something to do with drawing what I think I see versus what I am actually seeing. The memory my mind has of the symbol for whatever I am drawing overrides what I am actually seeing. My new series makes me feel like my mind has a very strong memory of its shoe symbol.

Luckily the mind eventually gets the hand to draw the object correctly, just like it always brings the feet along when dancing. It just might take longer than I like.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Watercolor Rhododendron

 5" x 7"
watercolor on Ampersand Aquabord
Stacy L. Rowan

Back in the Spring, Jeanette Jobson provided a lovely reference of a rhododendron for the April VSD challenge. I didn't have time to submit a painting during the challenge dates, but I saved the reference to tackle later. I pulled this reference out over the summer along with a 5 inch by 7 inch piece of Aquabord and gave it a whirl.

The Aquabord I used was actually an older piece because it was stamped on the back "Textured Claybord" which is an older name for this product. Watercolor paint handles a little differently on this board than it does on the Arches 140lb. cold press paper that I typically use. The biggest difference I found was that I had to be careful not to pick up the dry paint as I added additional layers. But I pretty quickly got used to the different feel.

Aquabord is very forgiving. As I mentioned above, the paint is easy to lift and you can get back to the white of the board without too much work if you are using non-staining pigments. (I don't typically use staining pigments so I can't comment on the ability to lift those.) I found that this lifting ability made me more adventurous in my painting. I wasn't worried about making a mistake that I couldn't recover from. I am trying to balance my normal technical approach with some more expressive painting, so the lifting ability encouraged me to experiment.

I also felt that my colors ended up more saturated than normal. I'm not sure if that is a result of the painting surface, the change in how I had to handle the paint or something else.

One of the things I really like about the Aquabord is that after spraying the painting it can be framed without glass. Framing without glass will eliminate the glare issue from light reflecting off the glass. It will also make it easier to ship the framed painting. I already have a nice mahogany colored plein aire frame and hope to be framing it next week.

Overall, I am very pleased with the outcome of this painting and am looking forward to starting another on Aquabord. I'd love to hear if anyone else has experience using this surface. Please feel free to leave your experiences in the comments.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Moleskine Cahier Pocket Notebook

sketch - Micron sepia pen in Moleskine Cahier pocket notebook

I was first introduced to the Moleskine Cahier notebook when Rose Welty used one to create her book of flower sketches. Shortly thereafter I bought my own pack of three. I thought I'd share with you why this is now my current favorite sketchbook. Here are the top five reasons.

1. The Moleskine Cahier pocket notebook is small, only 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches. It's small enough to fit in my smallest purse, which is saying something since I carry some very small purses! Carrying a small bag is the surest way I know not to get stuck carrying stuff for my husband and kids. But now it doesn't have to also mean leaving my sketchbook at home.

2. The pocket notebook has a cardboard cover which keeps it very lightweight. I can slip it in any bag without worrying about the extra weight which makes it perfect if I am going to be carrying the bag for long distances, say if I am out hiking for the day.

3. There is nothing "precious" about this sketchbook. I mean that as a compliment. Sometimes if a sketchbook is fancy or expensive, I don't sketch in it because I am worried that a lousy sketch will ruin the whole book. This book is small enough and inexpensive enough that I could tear out lousy sketches or even throw out the whole book without guilt. And surprisingly enough, now that I'm not worried about the outcome of my sketches before I start them, I haven't had any that I feel I can't live with.

4. The Cahier notebooks are sold in sets of three which means I can spread them out and leave them in places where I am most likely to need them, for example in my purse, in the car, in a travel bag. I don't have to worry about forgetting to transfer the sketchbook and finding myself without one.

5. Like other Moleskines, these books have smooth, creamy colored pages which easily take pencil or ink.

sketch - Micron sepia pen in Moleskine Cahier pocket notebook
The only downside I have found with these books is the relatively thin pages. I work around this by only sketching on the right hand side pages (not using the backs of the pages). I also place a piece of cardstock behind the page when I am scanning it so the scanner doesn't pick up the image on the next page. I feel that these are two small concessions which I am willing to live with given all the other benefits.

So what is your current favorite sketchbook? Do you find that your favorite changes? And if so, what dictates the change? Share your answers in the comments section. You know artists can never have too many sketchbooks. Even though I have a current favorite, I am always looking for new ones to try.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Making Strides

graphite sketches of Iron Pigs first base coach

A few weeks ago I started taking an exercise class with a friend. The program we are doing is called First Strides. The program's goal is to encourage women to be physically active and prepare them to participate in a 5K race.

This is actually our second time in the class. We joined the first time because our walking program wasn't giving us the results we wanted. We decided to increase the intensity of our exercise by adding in some jogging. This round we are using the class to motivate us to continue jogging and to increase our speed and distance.

I love the method this program uses. It makes starting very easy and then builds gradually. Our first week of class last Spring required walking for 4 minutes, jogging for 1 minute then repeated the walk/jog combination three more times. Who doesn't feel like they can jog for one minute? It's only 60 little seconds. I was pretty confident that I could jog for one minute. But my thoughts about jogging two minutes were along the lines of "No Way!!"

However, at the end of the first week, which included the class and two walk/jogs as "homework", when I was still alive I figured I could give two minutes of jogging a try. After all it really only meant adding one more measly minute.
graphite sketches of lifeguard at indoor community pool

The start of every week was the same. I told myself I could "try" that week but knew that surely the following week would do me in. In the end I made it through all 12 weeks of class. My longest time jogging was 40 minutes (10 minutes jogging, 1 minute walking, 4 reps). Had you asked me before I signed up if I could jog for 40 minutes I'd have died laughing. But using this method of incremental increases I did it.

I was thinking today about how this methodology could be applied to an art career. In the beginning when I was just learning to paint I painted when the mood struck me, marketed my work never and didn't even think about business responsibilities. Had I thought then about all the things that go into a successful art career--
things like making painting a daily practice; having a marketing plan including regular upkeep of a blog, creating a presence on social networking sites, and being a member of several local art clubs; keeping track of inventory, expenses and income; and becoming proficient at matting and framing--
I'd have run away screaming and never come back.

You know what I mean right? It's like the time I decided that TODAY was the day I was going to start getting in shape. So I went out and ran two or three miles. And the next day my legs hurt so much I couldn't even walk. Which meant I had to take the next week off to recover. And after the week had passed I had forgotten all about my assertion that TODAY was the day, and I didn't run again until the next time I decided TODAY was the day. We've all been there, right?
sketch with Micron sepia pen of people relaxing at community pool

That's what would have happened if I tried to tackle everything that goes into a successful art career at once. Truthfully, some days I still feel like screaming and running away when I think about all I want or need to do to keep growing as an artist and business person. That's when it's good to remind myself that today I only need to do the equivalent of jogging one minute. If I try to do it all at once I'm likely to hurt myself or get discouraged and never try again. But if I break it into manageable increments, and I continue to build one on another, in a few months I'll have made meaningful progress. And that's what I really want.


The sketches in this post represent some "one minute of jogging" thinking. I really want to be able to sketch moving figures. I feel it will be a critical skill for growth in my series of tap dancer drawings. But currently I am not even very good at sketching still figures. My compromise...draw figures who may change their position or move away while I am sketching them. Knowing they may move encourages me to sketch quickly and to try and hold the pose in my mind so I can attempt to finish the sketch even if my model walks away.