Early Stage: “Somebody’s Home”

Early Stage: “Somebody’s Home”

During #Inktober 2017, I stretched out quite a bit, trying new things. I found that many of the skills I’ve been using for my pencil sketches translated surprisingly well to pen and ink. When I first started using drafting pens back in the 1980’s, I was mimicking the amazing engravings of Albrecht Dürer (as best I could!) and trying to get every scratch to line up perfectly. What I discovered this last month was that I’m more expressive when I stay loose. The first gray stage of this forest interior, “Somebody’s Home,” is a good example of what I mean.

WIP_SomebodysHome

Early gray value block-in for “Somebody’s Home.”

In the past, I would have planned all of this out ahead of time, and painstakingly drawn every leaf. While it’s all well and good to do that, I’ve discovered that my style is actually less meticulous now, and I’m having lots of fun letting things direct themselves more.

Note that the tree trunks are mostly denoted by directional curved lines. I find that if work from the bottom of the page to the top, I can use the heel of my hand as resistance, which helps me to make relatively evenly spaced marks, but I don’t try to make them exactly the same curve or distance apart. I don’t even try to make them fit precisely within the faint pencil marks that delineate the trunks. Everything else is about “flow,” how the textures will lead the eye.

The bracken on the forest floor is done in patches. Later on, I use some of the gaps or overlapping marks as inspiration for where sticks and pits might go.

Here’s the final result. (More discussion below the picture.)

20171027_Inktober_SomebodysHome

“Somebody’s Home” – Pen and Ink – 10.5×7.5″/20.5×18 cm

You can probably pick out some of the new things I’ve added, and some bits I actually “removed.” With ink, everything is additive: there is no undoing a mark, no chance to erase. If it’s going to be removed, it’s got to be morphed into something else or obliterated in shadow!

I have it easy, though. Back in the 1500’s, Dürer was making grooves in metal with a “burin” or “graver.” Every stroke counted. I’ve always been intrigued by this bit of “The Knight, Death and the Devil,” below, in which the master seems to have corrected a mistake. Look at the light “swoosh” shape that mimics the base of the hoof, and the two bright lines that might have been the initial position of the horse’s shank.

DurerMistake

Yeah, I think we can let that bit pass for a twig or blade of grass. Amazing.

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Inner Vision: “Rediscovery”

Inner Vision: “Rediscovery”

Rediscovery_AC_65x50

“Rediscovery” – Acrylic on canvas/linen, 25.6×19.7″/65x50cm

“Rediscovery” – Acrylic on canvas/linen
25.6×19.7″/65x50cm

Your great-grandfather had told of how our ancestors had wandered the great southern mountains whose summits gleamed with snow even in the summer. Unlike most people, you and I did not laugh at the old man.

The night before he died, he gave you his favorite book. He called it history. Everyone else called it hogwash.

In the weeks that followed the old man’s passing, we studied the book assiduously. Every page spoke of amazing people, their journeys, their sorrows and joys. Some of the tales we recognized from your great-grandfather’s telling.

In the very center of the book, we found the map he had hidden between the pages. The parchment was yellowed and frayed, but the markings were readable in good light. They showed our village, the southern road out of town, and six or seven routes through the mountains. Beyond that, it was a bit sketchy.

No one had ventured into the southern mountains for as long as anyone could remember. The reasons given were unconvincing to us. Too barren, they said, trackless and treacherous. There was no food or game and the water was probably poisoned. We knew all the answers.

By dawn the next day, we were long gone. We had told no one; what would be the point? A week later, we sent my father’s faithful horse back home and continued onward, following the long-disused track that led beyond the foothills.

It was our turn.

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These imaginary scenes (my “inner visions”) are getting clearer. I’m refining the process as I go. Further down, you can see the original rough sketch and get all the geeky details about how this painting came together.

Process:

I put an 18×24″ sheet of white paper up on the board and drew whatever came into my head. Once I’d captured a basic idea that I liked, I laid another sheet over the first to trace and refine the drawing. I spent quite a bit of time on the refinements, but when I was done, I decided I preferred the original unrefined sketch (below).

Rediscovery_Sketch_HiRes

Then I did some heavy shading with a soft pencil on the backside of the original sketch, following the lines of the drawing. After taping the sketch to the canvas, I drew over it with a pen, pressing the graphite on the back onto the canvas, kind of like using carbon paper. The pen’s colored ink helps me see which lines I haven’t traced yet. The end result is a thin outline of the main shapes on the canvas. I used a harder pencil directly on the canvas for the final outlines. I kept it loose and sketchy as much as possible.

Mixing Dioxazine Purple, Cobalt Blue, and Raw Umber in first more blue-weighted proportions and then more umber and purple-weighted proportions, I very roughly painted in the basic shapes from back to front. The result was rather heavy and dark, but I expected that since acrylic always dries darker. The important thing was that I had some subtle color variations, the proper cold/warm ratio from the background to the foreground, and some nice textures.

I wanted to “knock back” the stuff in the distance, so I lightly dipped a bristly old brush into some white primer and started scumbling a thin, semi-opaque layer over the far distance area. Whoa! With the very first strokes, I put down WAY more than I intended, but…I LIKED IT! I’ve always liked the look of new snow on bare rock with new snow, and this looked like that, so I went for it, scumbling as fast and loosely as I could. Improvised snowfields and avalanche chutes materialized as I painted.

Once I had the basic values and atmosphere set, I went over everything with Titanium White. In fact, for the entire second session, I painted with nothing but white. I had all kinds of fun playing off the textures, refining the snowfields, defining cliffs, crags and boulders, and adding mist and swirling snow. In the last session, I finished the snow and then improvised the design of the two apparent “openings” on the left and right. Again, I used only white to bring out the shapes.

Once that was done, some of the foreground rocks still needed some stronger definition, so made a watery mix of my original underpainting colors and fixed a few edges. Finally, I added the two figures (you saw those, did you?), letting them dry completely before adding more white to put them in proper context. I also added a bit of white to the darker rocks that had dried too dark again.

So there you have all the technical details for this painting. Thanks for reading! If you have questions, let me know in the comments. I’ll answer as many as I can!