Urban Sketches – Madrid

I realised that I have a stack of sketches from my travels that I haven’t shared on my blog. My street sketches in Madrid came to a grand total of two. Mainly we spent most of our time in the museums, I will be sharing some sketching from of those visits in other posts.

Early evening, Calle de Zurita, Madrid, watercolour and pencil.

We painted in the Calle de Zurita the night of the first World Cup game between Spain and Portugal. Needless to say there were loud cheers and groans coming from the nearby bars. After sketching we went and joined the locals to watch the rest of the match.

My second sketch was of a building that I thought had an interesting roofline and I also liked the way the date palm appeared out of the courtyard. I was sketching, perched on a security block next to a bus-stop. An older couple stopped to explain that I was drawing the back end of the Cardinal’s Palace. They also mentioned that a famous painter was born there. When I walked up to look at the historic marker I could see that the artist was Claudio Coello, appointed to the court of Carlos II. Coello was born at the in 1642. I have no idea why he was born in the Cardinal’s Palace, but his dad was a sculptor so maybe he was working there at the time – this is purely speculation on my part.

The Cardinal’s Palace Madrid, from the Place Puerto de Cerrada, pencil and watercolour.

The Cardinal’s Palace, the plain end, watercolour and pencil.

Surfside life-sketching

We continue to head down the coast for our weekly swim while the weather and the east-coast current are warm. We have a decent sized beach shelter so between bouts of swimming and boogie-boarding we can sit comfortably inside out of the sun and sketch.

Like a life-drawing class the length of the poses changes. Some people stand still for some time looking out to sea,

others, bend or lift a board so quickly that the stance lasts only for seconds.

I am often surprised at the variety of subjects matter that present themselves.

If there is one thing I need to remind myself, it’s that I need to bring bigger sheets of paper with me to capture all the action.

Testing #2

Back to the new sketchbook, but first I must make a correction. I’ve now realised that the paper in this book is actually 150 gsm, not 110 gsm as I’d previously written, so perhaps the results I’ve been getting are not so unexpected. However the best test of the paper quality is water colour. I have made two basic paintings using subjects close to hand. This is the first work and it has another water colour on the reverse side of the page.

Watercolour on the new sketchbook.

Watercolour on the new sketchbook.

You can see from the painting below that each work stands by itself and there is no bleed through from either side of the page. I used quite a bit of water on each side of the page, but I did allow the page did dry thoroughly between paintings. So I’m quite impressed with how this test has gone – I didn’t expect, even at the heavier weight of paper, that the result would be this good.

watercolour on the reverse side of the page above.

Watercolour on the reverse side of the page above.

I’m now working on testing my own skills. I have been trying to integrate the different pen and ink and acrylic paint markers I’ve been working with, into a more style. It’s not as easy as I had hoped. I’ve struggled with not letting the heavier acrylic paint markers dominate the finer pen and ink lines. I’ve also had problems getting carried away and ‘colouring in’ with the paint markers. Because it’s so easy to go over the top I’ve decided to limit my palette to my black markers and one colour only.

Today I think I have made some positive progress with my sketches in mixed media. Any ideas or thoughts from your experience on how to proceed would be welcome.

Path and trees, acrylic paint marker, pen and ink, 3 September 2014.

Path and trees, acrylic paint marker, pen and ink, 3 September 2014.

Watercolour workshop

On Saturday I had the opportunity to do a one day water colour class with artist Cherry Hood, winner of the 2002 Archibald Prize for her portrait of pianist Simon Tedeschi. While Cherry primarily teaches portrait workshops, the focus of our class was drawing animals – this coincides with the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery’s current exhibition So Much More Than a Big Sheep. For non-locals, the city of Goulburn, in inland NSW has a history as a major centre of merino sheep / wool production. One of it’s most famous tourist ‘attractions’ is a very big concrete merino ram, known to all as Rambo.

I had been rather slack and hadn’t checked out much about Cherry’s work prior to the workshop so when Cherry started talking about her gridding technique for transferring images I wasn’t sure that this was what I was interested in learning. I was soon proven wrong as her shorthand technique for image transfer avoided rulers and an overly tight technical approach. Rather she demonstrated how to transfer from the source material, a photograph, using a simple ratio approach, up to a full sheet of water colour paper.

Drawing up an image into sections prior to transferring it to water colour paper.

Drawing up an image into sections prior to transferring it to water colour paper.

Once the features of the face to be drawn are located in the various sections they can be transferred to the larger sheet of paper, which has a corresponding number of sections located on it. A similar process is carried out for the width of the face. Cherry emphasised that it is important to measure the width of the face, animal or human, on the basis of the bone structure of the face, not the width of the fur or hair. It was interesting to see that the relative position of features such as eyes on animal faces is the same as for humans. So now I know that my in my dodgy dog drawing of the other week I had placed the poor animal’s eyes way too high on the head.

Source material and the full sized sheet with key features sketch-painted in.

Cherry Hood demonstrating working from her source material and the full sized sheet with key features sketch-painted in.

The key features of the subject are marked on the large sheet of paper with a mix of titanium white, tinted with some of the dominant colour of the animals fur. The idea is that these marks are covered by  subsequent painting and / or lifting out of any obvious remaining marks. Cherry adds the final colour by way of large washes with wide flat nylon brushes she buys at the ‘$2 shop’. She carefully manages her edges, keeping them wet with a spray bottle or brushing vigourously to avoid hard edges, which gives a more realistic impression of fur. She is happy for blooms of paint to occur and does final emphasis with fine brushes once the work starts to dry.

The final version of Cherry's painting.

The final version of Cherry’s painting, before it has fully dried.

I was painting an image of my cat, which you can see at the top of my sheet of paper. This was my second go at the painting as where I had originally placed my cat’s head on the paper was well off-centre. Thankfully I could just flip the sheet over and start again (the paper is a full sheet of Cotman cold-pressed 300 gsm water colour paper).

Early stages of painting with some of the underpainted location marks visible.

Early stages of painting with some of the underpainted location marks visible.

Here is the middle stage of the work. At this point I was pretty happy with the upper part of the painting, but I was struggling with the lower part of the face.

In the middle stages of my painting the basic colour washes have been added.

In the middle stages of my painting the basic colour washes have been added.

I subsequently realised that I had forgotten to locate how wide my cat’s lower face was, hence I washed in a chin that was way too narrow.

This is definitely my cat when I look at those eyes! Final emphasis is in place.

This is definitely my cat when I look at those eyes! Final emphasis is in place. (The odd colour on the chin is actually a reflection off the wet paint not accurate colour).

In the end I did manage to bring back a chin more in keeping with how my cat actually looks, but as my partner somewhat cuttlingly observed, “our cat doesn’t have a pantomime beard”. I’m really pleased with how the eyes have worked out and I can definitely see my cat looking out at me. Now I’m off for some more practice.

In the swim

While I was in Newcastle last week I took the opportunity to take my sketchbook to Merewether ocean baths. Built between 1934-35 these ocean baths have two pools, one for children and a deeper pool as well, both of which are the size of several Olympic swimming pools placed side by side. Filled with fresh seawater they are a very popular place for Novocastrians to swim.

To my dismay I realised I hadn’t packed my watercolours. I opted instead for pencil drawings. I did two drawings, one looking at one end of both pools and the second of the railings and path outside the nearby kiosk.

Blind drawing, Merewether ocean baths 18 December 2013.

Blind drawing, Merewether ocean baths 18 December 2013.

Apologies for the quality, but I decided to add the ‘missing’ colour later and only took a photo of the drawing before I added the paint. Here is the painted version.

Merewether baths 18 December 2013 with watercolour added.

Merewether baths 18 December 2013 with watercolour added.

I was not really happy with this outcome and to add insult to injury I realised too late that the very wet paint I used had seeped through to the drawing on the next page.

Railings and pathway, Merewether Beach, 18 December 2013.

Railings and pathway, Merewether Beach, 18 December 2013.

No doubt I have a few lessons to take away from this experience!