Clean sweep.

watercolor stages

Because it’s finally March and spring is allegedly on the horizon, I decided to clean up my studio. I swept the floor, wiped down all the tables, emptied the trash cans and water buckets, and vacuumed the chartreuse carpet the dogs nap and chew dried bulls’ pizzles on.

Then I decided to go deeper. Remembering the old carpenter’s homily, “Look after your tools and they’ll look after you,” I pulled all of my art supplies out of their drawers, boxes and Ziplocs and gave them a proper going over. I scrutinized each tube of watercolor and acrylic to make sure the lids were firmly screwed on, rolled them up from the bottom, and separated the ones that seemed too hopelessly hard and dry. I filled all the pans on my watercolor boxes with fresh paint and left them to solidify. I examined every brush and gave them a wash and scraped the crud off their handles. I sharpened all my pencils.

Then I culled the herd. I have been toting around a big lump of brush markers, some almost ten years old. Whenever I try to use them, whichever one I pick is frayed and faint. Hoping for a resurrection, I usually recap it and throw it back in the bag. Time to face reality — they are all hopeless and done for.  And I’m not sure that this is a medium I want around any more. I don’t like the look of my marker drawings any more. I started using brush markers in the first few years of my journaling life, back when I was still wary about watercolors and didn’t know how to incorporate colored pencils.  Now they seem limited and the colors too dull. So a couple of hundred dollars worth of markers have to go in the trash.

I love my Dr. Martin’s transparent watercolors but too many of the bottles are empty or polluted. I have to go online and order replacement bottles this afternoon.

I came across a few things I’d bought and forgotten. Some black boards and a set of tools to make from a brief period of interest I had in scratchboards. I still want to try that out. Maybe next week. A huge dropcloth and a set of grommets so I could cover a wall of my studio with canvas. A box of untested Daniel Smith watercolors. A really big unused sketchbook. Some big fat Magnum Sharpies that I haven’t worked with since fall. Another stash of flattened cardboard boxes waiting to be painted on.

Next, I turned my attention to my computers.  I ran diagnostics on them both, backed them up, and bought a box of DVDs so I can store files I won’t need again for a while. The internet service in LA is really lousy compared to what we have in NY and I work to squeeze every drop of speed I can out of it. I have been overly reliant on our balky wIfi set up (super annoying as I have a small house and a WiFi extender) and discovered that my new MacBook Pro doesn’t even have an Ethernet port anymore and I had to go to the Apple store and spend more money on a Thunderbolt adapter. Now I can upload  a video to Vimeo in a quarter the time. Well worth the $29.99.

Computers are a fact of life these days. They are our tools as human beings and as artists. We need to keep them clean, charged, and ready to go. We have to update their system software and their applications. We need to spend some time learning the ins and outs of what their apps can do and if they are the best for what we need.  If you can manage all the intricacies of a sewing machine, surely you can master a graphics program (speaking of which I have decided to avoid the expense of getting the new Photoshop and am trying a $30 app called Pixelmator.  So far it is seems to have 90% of the features of Pshop at 5% of the price).

Being mystified by technology, especially when it inhibits the things you want to do, is silly and unnecessary. Answers to any question one could ever have about how they work or how to fix a problem is just a Google click away. And if you are serious about sharing your work online, you should also consider replacing your computer at least every 3-5 years. There invariably comes a time when computers that may have worked just fine are using software that is no longer supported by the manufacturer and becomes slower and slower and eventually stops working with things like Java and HTML 5. Oh, and spend $100 on a scanner (I just bought a new one and it is a monster, zipping through scans in a 1/10 of the time of my old one).

Finally and most importantly, I am doing some spring cleaning on my head. I am clearing the cobwebs, washing the windows of my soul, binning the old and crusty thoughts that I have been schlepping around all winter.

I am going to the library and the bookstore to look at some fresh inspiration. I am scouring the Internet on my peppy new laptop for videos to learn from and portfolios that make me gasp with jealousy. I am thinking of some new types of drawing experiments I want to try. I want to work bigger and do some more large landscape paintings on cardboard ( I just had some fun painting the calla lillies that just popped up in our garden). And I want to get wilder and looser. I want to tie my brushes to broomsticks so they waggle of their own accord. I want to set up my easel in the bed of my truck. I want to draw with my left hand and my eyes closed.

High time to breathe in the last frosty gasps of winter, cough out the dust, and exhale the spring.

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King

~Emily Dickinson

Fallink in love again

fallinkWhile visiting Bergamot Station, a collection of art galleries in Santa Monica, I happened into Hiromi, a lovely store full of exotic paper from around the world. The store blind-sided me — Jack and I really just wanted to see some art — so I wasn’t prepared to start properly drooling over Korean mulberry Hanjo, Bhutani Dekar, or handmade tissue from Berlin.
Rooting around the shop’s counter for a business card as a reminder for a future more leisurely and acquisitive visit, I came upon a basket of what seemed to be regular old rollerballs pens. But on closer inspection, these unassuming bits of white plastic revealed themselves to be superfine Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pens. Their tips weren’t brush shaped, more like a plasticky fiber tip, so I tried one out on a scrap of paper.
As the first line serpentined out onto the page, clouds parted, birds tweeted, the world became ashimmer in a golden glow. This pen was amazing, as flexible and responsive as a steel nib, capable of super thin lines, then big fat wet ones, and all the gradations in between. The lines were jet black, crisp when I wanted, mushy when I didn’t.
I was in love. Again.
My name is Danny and I am a pen Lothario, a promiscuous and fickle romantic. It’s high time to sit down and discuss my oat-sowing ways before I commit blindly to yet another drawing playmate.
Flash back. My first pen was a roller ball, the Uniball, a friendly and welcoming old stand-by. It’s cheap, widely available, waterproof and a sensible choice, the pen next door. But after a while, its dependable lines began to bug me. They had so little character and variation. And the way the hard ball tracked a groove into soft paper began to grate, high heels tap-tap-tapping on parquet.
Another fling: a superfine needle-nosed technical pen with a pointy backside and a cap that always got lost. I drew microscopically with this pen, favoring smaller and smaller sketchbooks, until I was tempted to draw entire landscapes on the head of a pin while peering through a loupe. It was a super-anal relationship — clearly not healthy.
In a stationery store in the Esposizione Universale Roma, where Mussolini built a grand expo to celebrate the triumph of fascism, I came upon my first Faber-Castell PITT artist pen. Despite the unseemly way in which we met, these pens have been loyal friends to me ever since and I have PITTs stuffed in every drawer and pocket. They are the old standbys, the ones I come back to when the latest fling lets me down. I am never quite ready to settle down with any of the PITT family. Not even the soft, warm embrace of the Big Brush Pen. Always a bridesmaid, alas.
Speaking of big-boned pens, I spend a crazy month or so this fall scrawling on cardboard with increasingly huger Sharpies, working my way up to the King Size and finally the Magnum. Wow. I was a little wild and out of control for a few weeks, going on pure instinct and I loved the abandon of these fist-filling chunks of inky permanence. They can’t be let near my sketchbooks, however, drooling and seeping through the pages like Rottweiler puppies.
Another pal let me down this fall. My Lamy Safaris have fallen out of favor; well, to be fair, the blame falls on the ink that runs through their veins. For some time, I had been blaming my steel-nibbed calligraphy pens for the smears and speckles that kept appearing on my finished drawings but finally realized that the real culprit was the Noodler’s Bulletproof black ink in the Lamys I draw with. Now this ink is amazingly good stuff, black, waterproof, and super-permanent when it’s thoroughly dry. And there, quite literally, is the rub. I work fast, I work messy and if the page isn’t 100% dry before I turn it — catastrophe. Supposedly, it dries in under a minute; I have waited far longer still with disastrous results. And when I am in a period of wild abandon, cavorting with Sharpie Magnums, I have no time for noodling with Noodler’s plodding pace. So my Lamy’s are at the back of the desk until my pulse slows once more.
Back to my new Japanese amor. It didn’t take me long to discover her flaw — the ink is not waterproof. With a moist brush, her lines turn into a pool of ink. However, if decades of marriage taught me anything, it’s that one must compromise to be happy. And so for now, I am willing to draw and only draw. No slatherings of Dr. Ph Martin’s, no limpid pools of Winsor Newton. Simple line drawings are fine for now. Especially when those lines are springy, expressive and full of life. They suggest color, even in black and white. As we head into the grays of winter, I will work within Kurtake’s limitations. But Spring is not far off and my heart may soon wander again. Just saying.

Addendum.  This is the specific pen I just fell in love with. You can find it also on JetPen.

Pen-ter the dragon

Check out a lovely post about picking the right pen by Joe Nevin.
I especially like his observations about the living nature of certain kinds of pens. I think that’s why I like dip pens so much, they are willful and collaborators in my art. They make it more difficult and that’s what I like the most. Every line becomes an adventure and you never know what’s gonna happen.

EDM #39: Draw your toothbrush

It was so nice to draw in watercolor again to layer and adjust and tweak and blot these vivid, glowing colors. And the proportions of my subject led me back to my watercolor moleskine with its broad horizontal dimensions. If you want to see a masterful use of this shaped page, check out Ian Sidaway‘s blog. He often draws in a wide landscape book  and I learn so much from his compositions.

Ironically, last weekend I was looking through my very well-thumbed, thirty-year-old copy of How to Draw and Paint and realized that many of my favorite pieces in this wonderful book were done by Ian. Cooler still, he’s going to be in my next book “An Illustrated Journey”!

EDM #37: Draw some keys

I’ve decided that, while I like gouache in many ways, for intense lush color, there’s nothing like my Doc Martins. So I laid down a few layers of watercolor, coat upon coat of three different shades of purple and blue, then let it dry long enough for the paper to flatten out again (an uncharacteristically patient act that meant I couldn’t upload this drawing yesterday morning as I would have liked).  Then I sketched in my keys with a yellow pencil and painted it in with gouache. Finally, I labeled it with a dip pen and white paint.

What the drawing lacks in the sort of character and quirk my recent painting of the Jefferson Market had, this one makes up for in careful observation and realism. Me like it.