Someone Really Wants to Take Gouache to the Fair

August 24, 2016

160822_CansonWC_Board_Test2CRBRLeft: The scan of my second chicken test on the Canson Plein Air Watercolor Board (cold press). This is 9 x 12 inches and done with a Uni Posca Marker, the Pentel Pigment Brush Pen with the squeezy barrel, a Montana Acrylic Marker, and Daniel Smith Watercolors applied with a Niji water brush. Completed under "simulated" Minnesota State Fair Sketching conditions—no crowds, heat, or smell of ammonia. You can see the earlier stages at later points in this post.


See the first board test—a Rooster sketch—at the end of my paper testing post here.

The other day someone wrote in and asked me how I managed to hold my palette and journal while sketching. I don’t have a photo of that, though students who have taken my “Beginning” class in Sketchbook Skool, or my “Drawing Practice: Sketching Live Subjects in Public” class here on Roz Wound Up, have seen me hold these items in the demos. (See information about these classes here.)

While I don’t have a photo of myself doing this to post today I have added it to the list of essential shots that Dick needs to get of me when we go to the Fair and shoot a couple sketching demos next week.

I will post a photo of me holding my gear sometime after Labor Day and write about it then.

The question did give me pause for a moment. 

I know I’m taking a huge risk by deciding to draw and paint on the heaviest board available. (OK, I could have elected to take Clayboard™ and that would have been heavier, but even in my youth you wouldn’t have caught me lugging 20 pieces of 9 x 12 inch Clayboard™ around all day.)

Here’s the thing—every year at the Fair I set a goal for myself. I devise a project. It might be so subtle as to elude the notice of anyone paging through my Fair Journal. On the other hand it might be rather in your face and obvious.

The Fair isn’t just a day out sketching for me. I sketch out all day at least a couple days a month. I sketch out during a portion of almost each day for at least 30 to 90 minutes. That's my personal sketching time.

The Fair is the only series of days in the year, besides November 11, that I know, on January 1, I will be “taking off” and not working (though some might look at how I approach sketching as work). The Fair is like is my big yearly “trip.” As such it gets special consideration on several levels.

But the basic, never varied level, is that I have to have fun. I have to be gathering information in my sketches. I have to be challenging myself in some way. While even my regular daily sketching out contains experiments and challenges the Fair is really what I’m in training for the rest of my life. 

This year, because I’m still dealing with the shoulder injury (which was doing just great until I decided I was feeling so great I could downsize my belongings and clean out entire rooms, and run all sorts of errands in preparation for a road trip—until no amount of physical therapy could help that stupid decision), I’ve been a little hesitant to set a goal for myself. The main goal is to just get through the two 8-hour sketch out days, another day of filming demos with Dick, and enjoy at least another day or two where I just go wild (in my sketching)—at least that’s always sort of the plan. 

How am I going to do that when last week I couldn’t even grasp a pen? (For one thing I started dictating everything on the computer!)

Well, when I was asked how I hold my palette and stand and sketch (you can read my response at the end of this post, and I’ll post about it after Labor Day) I suddenly realized I’d better at least stand with one of these boards and sketch and paint on it (while standing) before I go off to the Fair for the first time this year. It is different to hold a book which bends at the gutter, than to hold a flat, inflexible piece.

So Monday, I strapped on all my gear—or as Dick likes to call it—“Your Batman Utility Belt,” fully loaded. (Yes the boards are going to be heavy but they will hang from my hips and I’ll be able to handle that as there is no pull on my shoulders.)

Click on this link and see a sketch my friend Ken Avidor made of my utility belt in 2010—I add a pouch hanging from the belt to hold 9 x 12 inch journals or paper when I'm working large, as I will be this year. And if you want more advice on how to dress for the Minnesota State Fair you can see this post on Fair Clothing and then you can read this post on traveling light—i.e., carrying just the essentials when you go to the Fair. In fact if you go to no other link in this post I suggest you click on that last one about the essentials—because at the end of that post lay out reasons for working in one medium and what you can tell from your day when you do. If you've never sketched out before or are new to sketching out I think it's important that you consider that information.

Next I turned on a chicken video (yes, I have lots of chicken videos I’ve taken over the years, don’t you?) and stood back from the computer and sketched. The image opening this post is the result.

I’m happy to say that I had no problems holding my square watercolor palette when it came time to paint.

“We are good to go,” as Houston and I like to say before “road trips.” (My tendency to impart expeditionary qualities to even the simplest of outings, e.g., going grocery shopping, is something that Dick finds endlessly amusing.)

Does this mean that I’m going to get lovely portraits (I think her portrait is lovely) like the image above? Probably not. It will be hot; I will be achy; my hand and shoulder will complain; people will jostle me; I’ll probably have more than one Dole Swirl (come on folks it’s the FAIR)…Besides, one of the things I love about the Fair is the fodder for making messy pages is EVERYWHERE. Look up and you can start a new messy page themed on that, or that, or that, or wait, that…

160822_ChickenTest_1_DSC05025CRLeft: Step one of my sketch on Canson Plein Air Watercolor Board (Cold Press) was to use an orange Uni Posca Bold (with a 1/4 inch calligraphy tip) to get a quick gesture drawing down on the board. I took a photo at each stage because I like to do that when I'm experimenting—and often post such things on my blog. After each photo I rewound the video to the same section and completed the next stage of sketching, until it came to painting and then I painted based on memory.  (This is a photo and colors are not accurate. The board is a cool white and there is beige masking tape on the outer edges.)

Note: This "under-sketch" approach that I used today is something I picked up doing life drawing at the Atelier—where they advocate "working from the outside in," which makes a nice switch from starting with an eye and working your way out—and being fussy with all the details. Sure that way can work for you, here's just one example of another rooster I sketched live at the Fair—starting with the eye worked great. And this bantam was sketched from life at another Fair also from the eye out.

But being able to hold the board and sketch and paint standing (in full utility belt) does mean that I can balance using the materials I want to use with the shoulder issue. 

And once I knew I could do that this year, instead of just holding in my mind an idea or memory of my ability to do all those things uninjured in past years, my mind literally cracked open. I knew I’d been thinking about the Fair all wrong this year. I’d been so wrapped up in thinking what would be doable with my shoulder and my hand that I wasn’t allowing myself to really think about what I wanted to do. And when I did allow myself in certain moments to think about what I wanted to do I found myself backing off.

In other words, I was treating the Fair as nothing special. It is special. 

And thinking about the Fair that way was like robbing it of potential and possibility, and FUN.

You see it doesn’t matter to me if all I come home with is a book of messy pages (or in the current situation, a pouch of messy boards). What matters to me is that I use this time to observe. My entire life has been about observation of people and places, and of course birds. In a busy life such as we all have with family obligations and work I’ve seen a lot of people abandon what really gives them joy; abandon the thing they have always been good at—or that thing which they wish to become good at.

I really want you to hear that it doesn't matter to me about messy pages—in the hopes that you can learn to come out and sketch and not mind messy pages either, but see them as an essential part of your growth: something to be embraced. I really am having a lot of fun doing this. I want you to have some fun too. And you could, if you let go of your expectations for perfection.

I love the Fair because it lets me be the best me possible—the 8-year-old me observing and in love with it all. I’m amazed at the Ginsu knife hawker. I would buy those thirsty Shamwow towels if only I didn’t have to carry them around all day (I already have a lot to carry). I think it’s pretty amazing that you can engineer to cook and serve so many things on a stick. I love having access to animals up close and personal. And I really believe that all people, in their infinite variety, are beautiful. Oh and I really, really like early twentieth century architecture.

You see I really LOVE the Fair, because it lets me enjoy everyone else being the type of silly I never was as a child (because, well that’s a long story, I’ve just always been the kid who talks philosophy with the adults). 

Sure sometimes I might be sarcastic about something I see at the Fair—remember I grew up a “lippy” child. I might lampoon someone’s actions or comments. But then if that were evidence of not loving something nothing can explain why Dick and I are still together after all these decades. 

So once I realized I was thinking more about getting through the Fair with low expectations, and not thinking enough about the Fair itself, it suddenly hit me that my inability to make a plan for the Fair this year and settle on a paper and approach, was because this is the year that I might need to have two or three, or FIVE plans. I might have to have a plan for every day I go, or for every half day of every day I attend. 

Sure this means there won’t be a big mass of stuff on one theme, approach, or experimental premise at the end of the Fair, but it also means I’ll be treating the Fair as I’ve always treated the Fair, as fun. 

160822_ChickenTest_2_DSC05032CRLeft: Step 2 of my sketch. I added black ink lines with the Pentel pigmented brush pen with a squeezy body. (This is a photo and colors are not accurate.)

As soon as I allowed myself to see not the “bulk” of the Fair Project (if you will, let’s call it that) but instead focused on the act of being and experimenting in whatever “doses” I could tolerate on any given day, then a host of Fair Projects presented themselves to me.

Projects I have no more intention of following through on than I do setting myself up to play piano in a bar somewhere—which incidentally was something I really wanted to do as a child, but abandoned because of the smoky nature of the work environment—and yes I’m aware that in Minnesota smoking is no longer allowed in bars, it’s just that I out grew the piano, but I never outgrew the observation and the drawing.

It doesn't matter if I implement these projects. Having options is always about choice. And in choice there is always possibility, as long as we own and embrace our choices.

But wait, you’re asking, “Roz, this is all fine and dandy, but what did you mean by your post’s title—'Someone Really Wants to Take Gouache to the Fair'?"

160822_ChickenTest_3_DSC05034CRLeft: Step 3 of my sketch. I have added the blue background using a 15 mm tipped Montana marker. (This is a photo and colors are not accurate.)

The painting that you see at the opening of this post—it’s watercolor. But I painted it with heavier layers of paint than I typically do for watercolor. I did this because I really wanted to get the gouache out and hide those lines, or only show some of them. And I wanted to have fun pushing the gouache around on the Canson Plein Air Watercolor Board. 

Doing this second test told me that I could indeed stand with full gear and sketch and paint on the boards. It also confirmed that I could use watercolor—and that watercolor does some interesting things on these boards (in fact sometimes it is almost repelled from the surface). Ultimately it reminded me that if I want to take gouache I’ll find a way to use it as I have in the past. Maybe that’s a project for one day, just to cut down on what I have to carry.

But this sketch reminded me that whether I take gouache or not I will have fun with whatever I’m using because I have practiced the ways in which I use my various media.

I’ve put in time every day so that when I have a fun opportunity like this I can use my materials any way I want, without expectations, and without disappointments because my life is about experimenting.

I LOVE the Fair because every year it reminds me, sometimes subtly, sometimes like a sledge hammer, that drawing practice is a daily thing. It pays off in increased fun factor regardless of the conditions (physical, psychological, environmental, meteorological, gastronomical, or sartorial) in which you find yourself.

I LOVE the Fair because it asks me to show up, and it lets me be me.  


So This Is What I Wrote in Response to the Question about How I Stand and Hold My Palette:

With the little palette it's pretty simple, I just hold it up at the top of the verso page and the edge of the book rests against my lower ribcage.

I do the same thing with my larger square palette or the small rectangular one (which is NOT LONG). But with both of those they have a thumb ring on the bottom, ditto my Whiskey Painter's palette, so they are no problem to hold up there, along with my paper towel.

I am not well-endowed—I have average sized breasts—so they do not get in the way. I have friends who are well endowed and a bit nearsighted who rest the tail edge of their open book on their bosom.

You'll have to hold pressure from your non dominant hand through the book to your torso (wherever you rest it) and keep your wrist loose so you can hold the book at the head with your little finger and ring finger, and have the palette in your thumb and index finger. The paper towel is tucked into the back of the palm so it sticks up just from behind the book, at the hand, so you can manipulate the brush with your fingers if necessary.

But it's really a matter of practicing something so that you find what works for you and is comfortable and safe (for you, your journal and the animals —you don't want to drop stuff they might eat).

Don't be intimidated. Take your journal to the zoo today (if you have time or this weekend) and take three page spreads that will be your test and go for it, testing different positions for each.

I use a Niji water brush. So I don't have to contend with water, etc. Which is a shame as I miss it and "real" brushes as you can gather from this post.

If I'm using a dip pen I have a book mark container that's hard to describe, that I made for field work, or a small clip on "ink well" that attaches right to the book via the clip—something suggested to me by a teacher who works in oils at the Atelier, because it's a container normally used for whatever it is oil painters use to thin their paints.) (I'm not an oil painter.)

For the boards I'll have to come up with a slightly different way to hold things as the piece won't "Bend" at the center like a journal, which makes the journal easier to manage (I think). We'll see.

So practice a bit and you'll find something you like. Have fun sketching!!!

    • Zeke Browning
    • August 24, 2016

    Hi, Roz. Do you usually do your Montana marker backgrounds before adding watercolor?

    • Paul
    • August 24, 2016

    Hi Roz!, I just love the “angry” chicken sketch! Like an Olympian, I think you have reached your creative “peak” of readiness for the big event (if not your physical one?). A flexible plan is best since you never know what the fair, and life, will throw at you :o).

    Gouache?- just do it, if only for part of one day. I love to see your gouache work. There must be away you can stash some of those watercolour boards on site and not have to carry a days worth at a time? Rent a locker, in the car, at the security office, lost and found, administration office…?

  1. Reply

    Paul, I actually thought I’d ask someone about lockers. The problem is I would have to watch 4 or 5 extra blocks each way to restock, because of where the visitor’s center is compared to the barns. Maybe more. If that’s where they have them and that’s the best bet.

    But I’m going to look into it.

    I park in a neighborhood and walk into the Fair because it takes me 5 minutes to get to my parking spot from home but once I get on the main road it then takes 40 minutes to inch along to parking and I can walk faster than that the last mile. So keeping things in the car doesn’t work for me.

    We’ll see how it goes!!

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