Steve DeLaitsch’s Inspiring Work at the MCBA Visual Journal Collective

October 19, 2012

Above: Artist Steve DeLaitsch sets out his sketchbooks at the recent meeting.

Monday, October 25, 2012 artist Steve DeLaitsch spoke at the MCBA Visual Journal Collective about his travel sketching process and adventures. 

Steve showed us a slide show of wonderful sketches—people, buildings, landscapes, he did on site during his travels—in China, despite warnings cycling would be dangerous he went adventuring on a bicycle to get sketches.


Left: View of Steve's accordion book of sketches from California's Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. He used carbon pencils for these sketches to achieve the contrast and rich blacks. (The works were heavily sprayed with fixative to minimize smudging and smearing.)

Steve works mainly in pencil in his sketchbooks. He uses a Berol lead holder because it frees him from having to sharpen his pencil—the thick lead can be automatically advanced; and by rotating the pencil in his hand various edges of the lead can be used and "self-sharpened" as he works. It is that variety of line, edge or full width of the lead that is Steve's main attraction to this type of pencil. Because the pencil is so think he can quickly lay in large areas of dark value. Also the pencil tip can be used in a variety of ways as it wears down allowing Steve to give personality to every aspect of his drawing—including each small figure he might add in a crowd scene. (I think he was using 2mm leads.)


Left: A look at some of the sketchbooks Steve brought to share with us.

Steve sprays the pages of his sketchbooks as well, to minimize the smudging of the graphite when the pages are opened and closed. As a student and young artist he worked on every page and finds that "those sketchbooks really need to be cleaned up and resprayed because of the smudging over the years of viewing or even being on the shelf." He uses an alcohol based pump spray adhesive (he didn't recall the name as he's had the same bottle for ages). Now he works on one page per spread to minimize the smudging.

Long before Kickstarter got going Steve used a personal version of patron subsidization to fund his art trips around the country and the world. In the early 1980s he and a friend went to Alaska to sketch and paint. Steve funded his trip by promising $400 in paintings for every $100 donated. Besides making the trip possible this mode of fundraising ensured that he had to paint every day, whether or not he felt like it. "Sometimes, on days when you're least inclined to paint you do your best work," he added, laughing.

The results were so popular people who knew the artist asked to be included if he ever did it again. He did. In 1985 he raised $10,000 to travel to China. Besides giving patrons art made on the trip Steve made a series of prints. Depending on the amount donated funders received a portion or complete set of prints. (The prints were made from sketches and etching plates done on site, when he returned to his studio.) Patrons paid $250 or $500 for $500 or $1000 worth of finished art upon his return.

"China was so damp during the rainy season that the graphite wouldn't work well on the paper," he reported. The audience could see that he compensated beautifully and continued to create stunning sketches.

Traveling to Italy Steve taught a watercolor class. For that trip he gave up working on large watercolor paintings and instead worked on smaller pieces, as well as working in a watercolor journal he purchased in Italy (handmade with paper he had to learn how to respond to on the fly).

Steve also showed us a photo of his studio—a building he's rennovating which will enable him to have printmaking, painting, and sculpting studios under one roof. It has been a lifetime dream and the emerging results look exciting.

It was great to see the work of this talented artist. His passion for finding creative ways to make his art happen inspired us all.

  1. Reply

    Great post, Roz. So glad you took some photos of Steve and his work. His sketchbooks are amazing! I love reading how he’s funded his traveling, too. Thanks again for sharing, so those of us who couldn’t make the meeting could still stay in the VJC loop. : )

  2. Reply

    Great sketches! But what’s a carbon pencil and how is it different from a charcoal pencil? And what’s a lead holder that advances the pencil and it doesn’t need sharpening. I want one of these. You have the greatest art community.

  3. Reply

    Molly, if you go here you’ll see a leadholder
    It’s a mechanical pencil that you advance, usually by pushing on the bottom. It takes thicker leads than standard mechanical pencils.

    Most folks using them use a lead pointer to sharpen the lead. You can see one of those here

    Steve chooses to not use a lead pointer, he finds it suits his style to just keep rotating and wearing down the lead as he works. Laying in flat color using one side of the lead will cause it to point on the other edge and he can use that as an edge, and vice versa—just as you would with a lead pencil.

    If you want a mechanical pencil that doesn’t “wear down” and automatically advances than you want one of these

    Carbon pencils are made by a lot of companies and probably formulated differently by them all so you’ll have to do research into what the differences may be across the board with your favorite brand of pencil, but you can start here

    I don’t use any of these types of pencils much except for life drawing, so I don’t have recommendations—try a bunch to see which work best for you and feel the way you like. All are pretty smudge-y. I don’t spray my journal pages. (Fixatives are difficult to spray, smell, etc. and give me headaches even weeks later after the art has been set aside to air out. Since I can’t be away from my journal I can’t use them there.)

    You can read about my favorite black pencils here

    Hope that helps.

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