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My Goals for 2017 and The MCBA Visual Journal Collective’s Ninth Annual Portrait Party

February 17, 2017

This post was originally published on January 15, 2017 during my site transition.

Note: The images in today’s post were sketched while I was sick with bronchitis and watching an episode of “Forged in Fire.” I LOVE THIS SHOW. Four blacksmiths compete in three rounds for $10,000. First they make a blade in 3 hours, then finish the blade in 3 hours in round two. The remaining two contestants are sent to their home forge to work for 5 days on a specific blade from history. They return for testing at the end of that time. We see video of them working at home. There is an edged and impact weapons specialist, Doug Marcaida, who tests the blades by hitting and stabbing anatomically correct gel test dummies, hacking his way through bamboo, and slicing through ropes (among other things). I want Doug’s job when I grow up! Typically someone with a great beard appears on this show. I don’t understand why that is because, if I were working around fire I wouldn’t want to have a beard that could ignite, but hey I don’t ask questions about beards, I just draw them.

While sketching these images my goals began to gel in my mind because of the way the sketching was going. I write about this in the captions and in today’s blog post. Thanks for stopping by.

Above: 8 x 7.5 inch square page from a journal hand made with Folio (New Folio) paper. Pentel Pocket Brush Pen with watercolor and a Montana Marker background. On this particular day I had not warmed up. I worked directly in brush pen as is my habit; every line seemed to work. Since I was ill and pretty much at an all time high of GRUMPY this was a good thing (for me emotionally, and for Dick when he wandered into the room to check on me). I haven’t worked on the New Folio paper for a while and I found I was getting used to the way it handled watercolor quickly. Click on the image and view an enlargement.

As 2016 ended I found myself going to the Bell Museum frequently and sketching the animals and the rooms, but I didn’t get a lot of people sketching in. When it came time for the Bell to close and people were coming out in droves, I had caught Dick’s cold and was staying home.

Work and family kept me away from life-drawing class as well.

I always find I take a step back in my drawing when I’m not going to life drawing regularly—no matter how much I draw on any given day.

Since the year has wrapped up I’ve been too sick to go out to life drawing (well, I could go out to it and get stuff done, but I’m too considerate and don’t want to spread germs).

So while I’ve been at home I have been thinking about my goals for 2017. I encourage my students to do self-evaluations at the end of every 6 week time period, but I also think an end of year assessment is good. I published my end of year assessment already, but today I’m writing about goals so blog readers can see what I do with all that assessment information.

One top goal is to finish the two online classes I’m shooting and editing video for right now. I really want them to come out soon. But let’s just leave them for now. I’ll let you know as soon as they are a go. (And the full schedule of classes will be updated at that time as well, thanks for your patience.)

My other art-related goal concerns portraits. I want to do more of them and I want to do them in a different way than I’ve been working in the past year.

I think what I’m trying to tell myself is that I want to do more painting.

Just before the end of the year I did a major sort through in the studio, archiving a lot of old projects, taking down framed art, and putting up more recent artwork that reminds me of where I want to go in my art. All the new pieces are people and dog portraits. (This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on birds, as if! It just means I do enough of those without “reminding” myself.)

PORTRAITS—Speaking of Portraits—Is 2017 your year for doing more portraits? Join the MCBA Visual Journal Collective at their Ninth Annual Portrait Party on MONDAY, JANUARY 16, 2017 at 6:30 to 9 p.m. At Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

Bring $5 cash and a black or dark ink pen to work in (pencils never copy well!) Be ready to draw a partner & bind a book!

As is our January tradition Monday night we will have our annual portrait party. Our meeting will be held at Minnesota Center for Book Arts in both the bindery and flexi space. Participants should plan on arriving at 6:30. Please do not be late as the center is closed and we need to start right on time be be able to complete all the night’s activities and the door will be locked shortly after the meeting begins. Attendees also need to bring $5 cash or check payable to MCBA to cover the cost of paper, printing, and binding a book. Please bring exact change as the shop is closed and we will have no way to get change.

During the party people will be paired off. You’ll each have a set time to sketch each other. Then all the sketches will be gathered and combined into a master layout and photocopied. When assembled the drawing pairs will appear opposite each other on the spread. Everyone goes home with a book! It’s the most fun you can have—creating content and printing an editioned book all in one evening.

 

Above: Here’s the full page spread in my journal. I’m still working directly in brush pen, but I have zero stamina as I’m coughing and haven’t had enough sleep. I can see my lines are taking way too much thought. But I love working in series so I won’t put the pen down. I keep watching the show and sketching. Click on the image to view an enlargement.

With those portraits up on the studio wall I’ve been thinking about my regular practice. Typically I have little time to render a portrait during the day, and no model until Dick comes home. I find that I’ve been relying on my brush pen for the quick sketch. However, with the black ink so strident, if you go awry then you sort of have to go with it.

I’ve been wondering, since I typically don’t have time to do more than one version, if a different approach would help me both in accuracy and in speed—because I have to be able to work fast. Even when it takes me an hour to paint Dick, I’m working fast the entire time. Sometimes we just have to work with how we are wired and go with it.

At the last sketch out at the Bell I spoke a little while with Ken Avidor. I was just finishing up a sketch and he was between sketches, and then started to sketch a weasel.

To speed up his process Ken has started sketching in graphite on his toned Strathmore pages. Then he goes in with his Platinum Carbon Black ink (using one of his several fountain pens). When the ink is down, and barely dry, he erases the minimal pencil lines and then adds his color with color pencils. His paper of choice, the toned Strathmore drawing paper, is totally amenable to this treatment. Pencil erases easily from it. Ken finds that the simple pencil sketch allows him to ink very quickly. This allows him to spend more time on important details instead of the basic structure. And I have to stress the pencil sketch is VERY SIMPLE. His weasel sketch looked like a trapezoid with extensions coming off it. For Ken, it’s pretty much a place holder. It ensures that he will get his subject on the page, and leave enough of the page so that he will get his full subject there. The pencil sketching takes less 20 seconds.

I’ve watched Ken draw with and without the pencil sketch. He’s fast both ways. His drawings are stunningly fun both ways. If he thinks he’s faster this way I believe him, but mortals watching the process might not see much of a difference.

As I watched him draw the weasel though, something clicked for me. If I started with a pencil outline or gesture and so ensured that my whole subject as desired would be placed where I wanted it, I would catch something else in the process.

I have a problem with wideology—I tend to allow too much space between elements. I have to constantly correct that (especially before I put that strong black line down!).

I also have a habit of starting with a subject’s eye and working my way out. Most of the time this works for me. But now and then I find that I’m so committed to certain details that by the time I get to the outer rim it’s too late to adjust. So speed here has a detrimental effect to accuracy.

I’d really like to see my accuracy improve this year. (I have a project I want to do in 2018. Improving my accuracy with portraits will make that project possible.)

To work on improving my portrait likeness accuracy I’ve come up with the following goals—

1. I’m going to get back to life drawing on a weekly basis, as soon as I’m well.

2. As soon as some current projects are finished and I can carve out more free time I’m going to look into additional life-drawing sessions so I can expand my experiments. Friends should realize that if we are going to lunch I will be painting a picture of you. So don’t even try to resist. (You can of course paint me right back.)

3. I’m still going to start some portraits directly with the brush pen. I love this. I love the high-wire-no-net-aspect of it. If they go wonky, I’ll finish them and do another sketch, and then another. I enjoy working in series like that and I don’t get gummed up when things don’t go as planned. BUT…

Left: The next verso page in my journal. I completed another direct brush pen sketch (1) but totally lost the likeness. I was frustrated. Once you put a mark down you are pretty much committed. I was going to pack it up because I could tell I was really tired, but I decided to sketch first with a color pencil I had nearby. I wanted to use the quick pencil sketch to keep me in line. In the first sketch you can see how his face slopes out to the right. Not only am I dealing with wideology, I’m dealing with some vertical distortion. In the second sketch on the right (2) I sketched a shape for the head with color pencil, then went in and carefully, but quickly, placed brush lines where I wanted them, and added some watercolor. Drawing (2) on this page took a little longer than (1) because of the watercolor washes, but actually was pretty close in time—and I was able to avoid distortions either horizontally or vertically. Most important, Dick came by and said I’d held onto the likeness. YAY! And that got me thinking about Ken Avidor and our recent discussion at the Bell, and that led me to the goals in this post.

4. I’m also going to do portraits starting with a light, vague pencil line to show the whole, in hopes that I can continue to train myself out of wideology and get a closer likeness more quickly.

5. I’ve already started working on pencil and watercolor sketches with no brush pen or other ink at all. I’ll continue to do this. There are effects that I want to play with—most notably the way in which I can depart from the pencil sketch and make the paint carry the whole image without ink line.

6. Number 5 gets me painting more in watercolor and so another goal I have this year is to bind some of the paper I tore down before my shoulder injury (which is doing great right now) and work on paper made for watercolor so I can work on the watercolor effects I’m trying to master. I love working on all sorts of papers, but in the past 6 months I found it counter productive to what my goals were to be working on paper unsuited to the tasks. Consequently I didn’t make a lot of headway on my goals. (I also wasn’t able to paint as much because of work and family so I’m not overly concerned about not making headway—I just have to focus on it.) I have watercolor paper and boards cut for my loose page journal if the journal I’m working in at the time isn’t full of paper that works for the current experiment.

7. My friend Diane gave me a wonderful airtight palette for my gouache paints and I used it when working in the Bell for my 13-week project. It’s so fun to go on site and work with fresh gouache. The palette is too big (about  6 x 9 inches) to carry about and sketch standing, but I plan on taking it out more with me.

8. To support numbers 6 and 7 I’m going to be taking a water container and real watercolor brushes, including my beloved filberts, out with me more frequently. I’m hoping that I can do this at least once a week. (I have to find venues where I can sit and sketch, and where paint and open water are allowed.) I’ll still be using my pan palettes and the Niji water brush—I’m just going to be making a conscious effort to have more of a painting experience. I’ve missed it.

9. To support numbers 6 through 8 I’m going to start carrying my stool around with me when I go to sketch outs. I have a micro stool which frankly I have to be careful getting on and off of because it’s so low and my knees aren’t getting any younger—but I’ve enjoyed using it on numerous occasions at the Bell Museum throughout the end of the year. I won’t carry it (or one of my larger stools) everywhere I go, but I think it will be helpful having it upon occasion.

10. I tested a lot of commercially bound journals in 2016. That meant that sometimes I started a new journal before finishing another one. Typically I have a studio journal and an 8 x 8 inch or so journal that I carry around with me. At one point last year I had 5 journals going and that really doesn’t seem comfortable with me. This year I’m working to keep the number of journals down. I have my studio journal—the first of which will be one of the largest Hahnemühle Nostalgie sketchbooks. I also have an 8 x 7.5 inch hardbound journal with that new Folio paper in it. I’ve pretty much only been working in it so far this year. I also have a small landscape Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbook that fits into my fanny pack. I can carry it with me easily anywhere I go—if I were actually going anywhere! At some point I’ll break down on my resolve to have only a few journals and start a new Japanese Lined Journal, just because it’s been so long, I love them so much, and they allow me to be messy and did I mention they are so fun? Of course there will be the loose sheet journal—that’s what all the cut up watercolor paper and watercolor board is for—so I can follow through on my goals. But no testing of new commercially bound journals for awhile. I really enjoy “chronological pages” and there is real satisfaction in being half way through the hardbound journal knowing that by the end of the month I can start a new journal.

Right now that’s how my thinking is going. I don’t have any major projects planned. (I still have to scan the last two projects—2016 Minnesota State Fair, and the 98 pages of the Bell Museum project. And of course I’ll be participating in International Fake Journal Month in April!) I think that focusing on the items in the above list will help me get faster by working smarter.

They will also help me transition into some sort of sane practice for the Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out in 2017 (August—put it on your calendar!!! Marty Harris will again be organizing it and I’ll keep you posted of details as they come out.) As the new year starts I realize how important it is to be a little bit kinder to my body.

There are a couple other changes coming up—but they will need their own blog post at a later date. Over all I think I have a pretty simple plan for pushing myself in the direction I want to go so that I can execute future projects.

I’ll still be posting regularly on this blog in 2017. (I’ve been in the habit of posting three times a week and something like that will probably continue once I’m 100 percent again.) I appreciate you all checking in on the blog and love it when you let me know in the comments what you are up to.

I hope you’ve set some art goals for yourself this year and that they all come to fruition!

Let’s fill some pages in 2017!

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