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Monday, October 5, 2009

Car sketching

Sometimes my time to draw and paint is limited, and I have to squeeze in time for sketching. It’s hard to do that as a passenger in a car with the scenery speeding by, but I’ve found that it’s possible if I practice memory sketching and focus on drawing composites.

The memory sketches help my observation skills – if I start an internal dialogue about the subject, I’m surprised at what I remember. I make mental notes, and figure out the colors I see that relate that relate to my watercolor palette.

I start a composite sketch with a typical subject - in the drawing below, trees. I use the same procedure as a memory sketch, but look at as many of that particular species of tree as I can. Then I draw while still observing, adding details as I go. No time for pencil! These are quick, QUICK sketches with a Sakura Micron Pigma pen. Color can be added later if needed, but it’s important to get the basic forms down.
Composite sketching is especially useful for easily recognizable and fairly common species. For example, along this northbound stretch of Interstate 75 in Collier and Lee counties, we pass through pine flatwoods, pasturelands bordered by live oak, wet stands with cypress and red maple, and the occasional cabbage palm scattered throughout.

Drawing in a moving car is an interesting experience: the occasional construction, bridge, or swerve adds a looseness and sketchiness that my normal work lacks. It also pushes me to work quickly and not worry about wrong lines, so I’m letting go of a lot of my expectations. You don’t need much in the way of tools, you can start with a sketchpad and a pen, adding color later. You can also use colored pencils, or a small watercolor set or watercolor pencils with aquabrushes (brushes that hold water in the handle). You can see how I handle this here.

The sketch at the very top is nothing special, but it contains a lot of information. I wanted to capture Florida’s subtle change from summer into autumn: the rusty transformation of the bald cypresses feathery green needles, a bit of bronzy-red new foliage on the red maples, the still-vibrant greens of foliage against the fading grasses. The blue of the sky changes in October, I think; there is a sparkling clearness and intensity of cool blue.

I saw a small stand of young cypress, grouped together like awkward colts on a canal bank. Chaotic masses of coreopsis and Spanish needles bloom between the asphalt and the grassy canal border. The cattails are still green, but will turn to yellow and brown soon. Even a quick, small sketch like this brings back a flood of memories of sights, sounds, and smells.

You can click on the images above to see them larger on my Flickr photostream.