After a summer of swimming, gardening, and traveling, but not much sketching, today I started art classes for the semester. Our teacher rightly figured that her students might need a little warm up after our relatively art-free summer. Thankfully not asking for a picture of what I did on my summer vacation, she had set up still life stations, each with a silver or pewter pitcher set on a white cloth. The choice of medium was charcoal or oil. Below: my one hour charcoal sketch of a silver vase. What I was hoping I remembered from before summer break was how to really catch the dark and light values and the reflections in the metal. I think those turned out well enough – exaggerated for dramatic effect. The drawing itself is fairly accurate although I would have futzed around endlessly, but ran out of time. I’m calling this piece finished and I’m ready to move on to…further art adventures…
For those who are following my holiday card-making adventure closely (exactly four people according to WordPress’ awesome statistical counter, two referred by my plaintive Facebook post last week, one bot from the Ukraine and an expat friend in France, thank you all) my story continues. Setting up the little seashell and holly still life was easy, involving a brief saunter across the street to prune some holly branches with berries. Musing on the whole male/female holly tree topic, I was not diverted to Google that. I just plunked a couple of berried twigs in a large clam shell. Then sketching with pencil on watercolor paper and inking it in with a fine tip black marker followed without too much angst. So far so good. I posted the drawing to Instagram and our group family text and Facebook to much thumbs upping. Again thank you to all my fans. So now comes the hard part. Technology rears it’s ugly head. (Does technology have a head and, if so, what kind, but I digress.)
The next step is to turn this simple little drawing into a Christmas card. Having chronicled my despair with Adobe Photoshop in other posts, I muse a bit about other picture editing software. Now here you can picture me reading articles about this process, visiting card-making apps and websites, going to actual craft fairs to steal card ideas, mourning the demise of Google’s Picasa, and finally taking a medium dive into what Windows 10 on my PC has to offer. Because my mantra here is Keep it Simple Stupid (and Cut Costs. ) The angst level is rising a bit now.
I scanned the drawing and printed and fiddled with the settings and so on and then saved the image several times with several names in several folders somewhere on my PC never to be found again. Then of course I started that process again saving the images to a desktop folder, mindful of some old techie advice to never save stuff to your desktop because… I don’t know, viruses? Gremlins?
Then Windows forced me to edit the drawing in some pretty useless bit of software whose greatest capability is to crop and rotate. So I did. And saved that image with yet another name. Then somehow I ended up in Paint which led me to Paint 3D which demanded that I save the image just to Paint with yet another name. This drawing now has more names than a Tolstoy character and equally confusing.
So the last step is printing, that intersection of software and hardware where no one plays well together, with the added fun of low ink and paper jams looming in my mind. The angst level, or angstometer, is registering ever higher.
I had bought card stock paper in Xmas Colors on one of my explorative trips out of the house. So now I tested the printer as to whether the color should be up or down and MADE A NOTE on the clipboard where I was jotting the card’s ever-evolving name changes and path through various software applications. Then I said a brief incantation to the Ghost of Printers Past to not get jammed on the card stock.
I will pause here while you all remember the scene from the movie Office Space where the frustrated employees smash an ornery printer to bits.
So I should stop here by saying that a week or so after I drew the little drawing, I now have four cards with matching envelopes. One card for each follower of my blog. Including the Ukrainian bot.
Last May while visiting Stone Harbor, I took an iPhone picture of the salt marshes along the causeway leading to Seven Mile Island, a barrier island along the southern end of the New Jersey shoreline. The marsh grasses were a spring green with some winter browns mixed in at that point.
Last summer, I took a charcoal drawing course and drew the scene of the salt marshes in black and white, with soft vine charcoal on watercolor paper:
Today, I revisited the scene in pastel: 12×18, Canson pastel paper:
This part of New Jersey is so beautiful. I enjoy revisiting it, in person, and in different art mediums. Next, sometime this winter, I will paint the scene in watercolor then oils. By then, it will be time to drive ‘down the shore’ again, as we supposedly say in New Jersey.
This quote came to my attention recently on a day I had finally decided a drawing was as finished as it was ever going to get. The journey to get to that point follows.
Here is the drawing in its first incarnation after an evening at a charcoal drawing class.
I drew this using soft vine charcoals sticks on a stretched canvas. I sprayed it with a home-made fixative, a mixture of water and gel medium which gave it an interesting drippy, watery background and some vivid white craquelure effects. Then I dried it with a hair dryer and went back at it trying to get darker, rich, velvety black charcoal effects. I repeated the homemade fixative but lost the vivid whites in the process, never to be regained. So that was a disappointing materials failure just as the class ended.
The homemade fixative is less toxic than store bought workable fixative and the idea is that it also produces some happy accidents with its watery effects. The unhappy accident of losing the lightest effects might have happened because the canvas was not primed enough. Regardless of the cause, the drawing had gone from good to not so good in one studio class. Ugh!
Here is the photograph I used as my source. The conch has featured in many of my drawings and paintings over the years and my mother’s paintings before that. In addition to the very old shell, it is perched on an ancient Larousse French dictionary my father gave me. I arranged the still life, shot it with my iPad, turned it black and white and cropped and edited it a bit and then printed it out and took the printout to class.
The problem, as Leonardo said, was, should I try to finish the drawing or abandon it? The beautiful whites and watery effects were gone for good and the drawing lacked oomph. I left it on my drafting table for weeks and would add more charcoal marks to it and scrub at it with erasers and a stiff oil brush dipped in water as I wandered by over several weeks, but it continued to look blah.
With nothing to lose, I added some color using conte crayons. The black, sanguine and buff colors did the trick and I was finally happy enough with the results to spray on store bought fixative, (outside and careful not to breathe it.) I affixed a sawtooth hanger to the stretcher and hung it above my drafting table. Here it is. Not abandoned, probably finished. For now…