Sketching when You Don’t Feel Well: Another Gouache Experiment

September 21, 2011

Above: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and gouache on a 9 x 12 inch page spread in my Venezia studio journal. (The bottom and right side of the spread were clipped in the scanning process, but the essentials of the page are here.)

It's my firm belief that you need to sketch every day, even when you don't feel good. Perhaps especially when you don't feel good—yes, I'll go with that.

Painting takes you out of yourself, the aches, the pains, the dizziness (as in my case above). Painting helps you move out of any petty (or major) injustices you might have experienced. Painting lets you be with your subject, your paper, your paint. That's an excellent tonic.

I wanted to show you this page spread because I wish I had a video of its creation. Since I don't I can only write about it and encourage you to experiment. Here's the thing—under that blue paint on the left side of the page spread there are about 4 layers of paint and under that a layer of textured purple strokes made with a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Brush Pen.

I drew the sketch (from a 19th century photograph) with a Pentel Pocket Brush pen. It didn't matter to me that the face was too long—this guy isn't going to complain, he's long gone as is his family. Even exhausted (as I was on this evening) it was just plain fun to move the pen about, to make thick and thin lines.

Tip: start thinking about how much fun you're having using your tools and your productivity will go way up. You won't feel choked at needing a "result."

110915ManVertigoDetail Left: Detail of the featured page spread. Here you'll get a closer look at how lightly some of the paint was used, and how heavily paint was applied in certain areas (e.g., the teal blue areas). You'll also get to see some texture of paint. And most of all you'll get to see how ROBUST the ink of the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen is, to stand up to use with gouache (if you want it to show).

When I finished the drawing I wasn't sure I wanted to get paint out as it was getting late. I picked up the purple Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Brush Pen I mentioned above and started creating solid color around the face starting at the top left. Sadly the pen was drying out and that wasn't working. I left the texture that resulted and started painting around the face with purple. Left that and started adding color to the face. Returned to the side of the painting and put in some Fr. Ultramarine Blue. Didn't like that, blended in some white near the face. Added a mix of green over the background. Didn't like that. Put a mix of white and black over a portion of the background, leaving the blue around the face edge. Didn't like the grey—don't see why I would have because I rarely use black, but the thing is sometimes you just have to let yourself try things.

Tip: Be willing to let go of earlier portions of your experiments. You might really like the doodling ink pattern you covered your background with. The idea of painting over it makes you a bit queasy. Well, at least once in your life you are going to have to work over something you labored over for ages. Life sort of works like that. It will make you a better person. Just get it over with now and paint out that background. It's all about finding out what works or doesn't work and if you don't paint one out at sometime you'll never know will you? (Oh, and of course you can do another detailed background at any time.)

I put in the red paint on the right side of the spread. Next I wrote the note about the baby shower on the same page. Went to clean my brushes. There on the sink I saw a tube of cobalt teal gouache (Holbein) and immediately grabbed my book and squeezed out worms of teal paint onto the left portion of the background, smoothing them with my large filbert. I left some of the blue and purple mix showing through at the edge of the face where it had been lightened by the use of white.

Tip: When you want to cover an area completely make sure that your earlier layers are completely dry. Use only a moist brush. Too much water in your brush will quickly reactive the underlayer—remember gouache is always watersoluble. If you find your brush is picking up the underlayer (you'll see this in the change of color coming off your brush) stop and rinse your brush thoroughly again, return it to a "moist" state by squeezing most of the water out of the brush hairs (use a towel or paper towel), dip the brush back into your paint and go again. Repeat as needed.

Holbein has great covering power, especially at that strength. (I had earlier thought that I would put some acrylic paint on this area—no need.) You can't really see any of the other layers except where I want you to.

Isn't that fun? Why aren't you trying this?

I made another stroke of teal over the red background on the right hand page. Using a small filbert (about 1/4 inch wide) I wrote the word Vertigo and added a couple strokes of red in the top left. I decided to stop that nonsense and instead, with a clean brush, added a couple strokes of the cobalt teal to the face.

By the time I went to bed at 12:15 a.m. I felt productive for getting a sketch into an otherwise crazy day and my vertigo was gone.

Painting isn't going to cure vertigo. And sometimes it can make it seem worse. The vertigo (or whatever) will pass, but you'll still have the painting, the painting practice, the productivity boost. And as I have said so many times on this blog that I can't even count them, in the time it takes for you to come up with excuses not to paint you could be washing your brushes out having already finished your painting session.

Now I ask you, which feels better?

Start organizing your supplies and tools so that you can always have some at the ready to use at a moment's notice, even after the rest of your household has gone to bed. Then when those tubes of paint call to you, answer by using them, instead of making excuses.

I'm not advocating that you stay up past your bedtime and become a wreck the next day. Far from it. I want you to sleep on a regular schedule.

What I am advocating is that whenever you find yourself a little off try reaching for the paints to bring yourself back to yourself, back to your creative mind.

Don't go at it with the attitude you're going to make a great painting. If a great painting results that's just a bonus. If you hold making a great painting out as your starting goal you might find yourself giving in to excuses—e.g., I can't really afford to stay up and put the time needed into a finished painting, even if I felt great, I have a meeting first thing tomorrow….

Realize and embrace instead, that most of the time, what you create in these circumstances is going to be "off" in some way. No matter—it's only going to take a few minutes! You'll have the experience, the extra practice, all under your belt.

In addition you have just started training yourself to draw and paint in any circumstance. It's a skill you can build on to the point where you can call on it at any time—when you have a cold, when you have vertigo, when you lose your best friend. Few of us have lives of unending strings of perfect days. If you're like me you need to work with what is—the imperfect days. And you need to work on those days.

By doing so you'll develop a skill that will help you focus your mind and your intention so that you can get back to the rest of your life's tasks. You might still walk right into a wall, but you'll feel better as you do it. (I'm glad we don't have that on video!)

  1. Reply

    What a great post! Do you get Robert Genn’s twice weekly emails?

    Painting, drawing, sketching is certainly a form of meditation for me. Moving into that ‘right’ brain thinking is so healing. I could get on my soap box about art & education – but I don’t think I could say anything new on the subject.

    Hope you are feeling better.

    • Cate
    • September 21, 2011

    Roz, thank you, thank you, thank you. More than a little off today, I really needed a talking-to, ando you have no idea how this ilttle lecture from you has lifted my spirits and strengthened my resolve—yet again. You go, grrl!

    Thank you and God bless you always.

    • LizzieBo
    • September 21, 2011

    I love this post and I love this sketch! Thanks for a peek inside your process, especially since it’s a peek at the rough place which is oh so familiar. I appreciate your walking through the layers – it’s so helpful. Hope you are feeling MUCH better. It seems to have gone on too long. Good luck.

  2. Reply

    What a great post Roz. I love it when you get into a sketch like that and then take the time to tell us all about it. So unselfish of you.

    Hope your vertigo is short lived and just allergy related. I’ve walked into my fair share of walls after being exposed to perfumes and colognes. You should see me run thru department store cosmetics counters.

  3. Reply

    Cate, I hope you get some sketching done today!

    • Arika
    • September 22, 2011

    Fantastic post, and a great reminder for all of us! A few days ago, I had one of those bad days where nothing HUGE went wrong, but it was just a crappy day. That night I was definitely in full self-pity mode. I was about to head off to bed when I realized I hadn’t done a single sketch all day. I try to do at least one every day, so I forced myself to sit down with my journal.

    Several sketches later, I was a whole different person. Lighthearted, even. Funny how that works!

  4. Reply

    Thanks LizzieBo and Donna, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and sketch. I’m not always sure how interesting such posts are, since I can relive it in my head, but there is no video for people to see it as it happens.

    Thanks too for the health wishes. Sadly it isn’t allergy related. But one of the things humans do is adapt and that’s what I’m working on, while I sketch of course.

    And Donna, don’t even get me started about department store cosmetics counters. I can’t remember the last time I was near one. I don’t go into stores much (except art supply stores of course) and if I do, I’ll go up two flights and down and around to avoid the cosmetics counter!

    Hope you both get some sketching done today.

  5. Reply

    Arika, an accumulation of “nothing HUGE” can slow one down considerably. I’m glad you got out your journal and got sketching. It is funny how that works. If there were no other benefits from sketching that would be reason enough to keep up a visual journal. Happily there are other great benefits too.

    Hope the rest of your week is a good one.

  6. Reply

    Glad your vertigo was gone by the time you went to bed. Being dizzy is not fun.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with why I don’t start some paintings. I don’t want to fail so I don’t start! When I don’t worry about failure but am just trying something new or just making marks I end up relaxed and feeling good and usually have a picture (okay, not great ones but I usually like them) to show. So I just have to quit worrying or recognize that is what I am doing and move past it! Thank you!

    It was nice to hear your story of how the page was created. No there is no video. One isn’t needed when you write it out so well. Afterall, we are visual people so we ought to be able to convert words into pictures! I could just “see” you trying one color after another.

  7. Reply

    Timaree, I believe that the more we do something, like paint, the less we worry about failing. I really don’t think in terms like that. I think in terms of is the painting fun, i.e., the process; did I learn something; was I successful in meeting my goal (whatever that was when I set out); how can I improve?

    While all of those things address the issue of “failure” they don’t frame the resultant image in terms of failure, but rather in terms of learning. I think the more you paint the more you’ll begin to move away from the failure idea and find your own way of casting the dialog in a positive vein that will keep you painting.

    I’m glad you don’t mind not having video, but it still would be fun to have it because the number one thing I find with my students (who are all visual people) is that they need the aha moment of seeing the layers go down and the reaction of the painter to that.

    I’m thinking of installing surveillance (sp?) cameras over my work areas! That’s the ticket.

    Keep painting!!!

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