On the 12th of this month a group of LA urban sketchers and I were treated to an online virtual demo of how to use different colored pens to create an urban scene. Our instructor sat outside on his porch in Long Beach and described how to just draw what you see using random colored ink pens. Right off the bat he told us that he rarely used a pen color that matched what he was drawing, as he ran through about 5 pens that had run out of ink. He just kept talking, trying one pen after another, until he found several that worked for the rest of the demo. At first I kind of wondered about this guy, but soon found myself relaxing and really enjoying the informality of his presentation. Once he had a handful of viable colors he immediately began rendering a car that was parked in front of his house. The front half of the vehicle was obscured by an overgrown tree, but that didn’t stop him—he added it to his drawing as well. After he had sketched in the car and tree another car came along and parked across the street. He seemed truly delighted to have another car to add to his urban landscape and immediately added it to the composition. His commentary was brisk, funny and very informative. But his message was clear, don’t worry about what colors you are using, just use the colors you have to render what you see. He also said that it was important to draw a lot and not worry about the finished product—quantity over quality. (Not sure what I think about that comment…) Anyway, he talked about not necessarily planning what you were going to do and for sure not to worry if you made a mistake. He said if you can capture the essence of objects or people on a page, no one is really going to notice a couple misplaced lines here and there. He suggested using pens with varying thicknesses, cross hatching and using loopy lines and shapes to suggest foliage and plants. Overall, it was great!
Once he had finished there were lots of comments and questions from various members and it seemed that many were interested in drawing cars specifically. He shared that he didn’t much like drawing plants or trees, but that compositions could be enhanced when matching man-made hard surfaces with organic and natural subjects like trees and shrubs. So, even though he didn’t much like to draw plants he added the tree at the curb to make the cars look more interesting. For me, I am much more interested in plants than cars, but long ago I also learned the wonderful affect you can get when presenting something linear with harsh lines next to something natural and kind of fluffy. I even remember an art teacher saying such a juxtaposition can give a scene a kind of poetry. Really? I remember that teacher also saying that if those lines were presented on a diagonal, you added excitement and action to a rendering. Get the picture?
I realized that my front yard would be the perfect place to practice what this urban sketcher had shared with us as there are frequently cars parked on the streets all around my house. I found that I could make non-preferred drawings of cars more interesting by adding bits of plant life. And for the 7/16/2020 sketch I made sure to draw a car on the diagonal, hoping to add interest and action to the sketch. You may have noticed the street sign is on a different diagonal. It’s hard to tell what is actually straight up and down here. I think the spiky shrub behind the wonky sign and the fire hydrant in the foreground are the most truly vertical item in this composition. I don’t know, does it look like the car might just roll down the street? Maybe?
For three straight days I made myself sit on my front porch, drawing the cars parked on my street. For those afternoons I needed only a few supplies—a comfortable camping chair, handful of different colored ink pens, a pad of decent paper and a cloth glove for my drawing hand (helps to reduce ink from smearing). But wait! Until this technique was shared with me I had used only black inks, and only had that color in my supplies. Therefore, I needed to get some ink pens with different colors. I had noticed that our instructor used a couple gel pens and thought an assortment of such colors would be adequate. The day before my first “car sketch” attempt I put on my mask, walked to a nearby big box office supply store and bought a packet of gel pens (13 colors plus black).
None of the sketches really went as planned as there was a problem with the pens. Some of the colors worked for a while, but then seemed to dry up, and I had to sometimes switch pens mid line. Now, I have had quite a bit of experience drawing with ink pens (only black of course), and have a few tricks to get the ink flowing again—no luck! I tried to remember the words of our instructor, going with the flow and using random colors. But I was having trouble going with the flow as some of my brand new pens were not flowing—only making deep grooves in the paper as a pressed down hard. It pissed me off. But eventually, I got over it and finished the three days of sketching cars.
As I was struggling with the pens, I struggled with the idea that under normal, non-COVID-19, circumstances I would have done more than buy gel pens at the nearby office supply store for this project. I would have gone to Blick’s in Pasadena and purchased some proper pens with different colored cartridges and/or pots of ink. But this would not have been a quick “into the store and then out again” scenario. I would have wanted to linger and look at whatever pens they had, trying them out on the spot on the little pads of paper that are always around the pen and ink section of art stores. I’m sure you’ve read that CA is currently experiencing spikes in coronavirus and that makes me not want to hang out inside any kind of LA business for any length of time right now. Even though I realize I can buy the pen’s online, I would have wanted to try out a few before ordering. (I heard that the hair salon I go to in Pasadena has moved everything outside—sinks with hot and cold running water, chairs, hairdryers, mirrors etc. I can’t imagine me sitting outside for all the world to see me with 50 foils plastered to my head. In the past I have entertained a scenario that as the last foil is folded and tapped with a comb we have a major earthquake and I have to run out the door. Yikes!)
So, now the simple wishes of one CA artist takes on national, if not global, implications. I get that my wishes are not really needs that are particularly relevant or earth shattering right now. But I can hardly support a business, and/or local economy, if I just stop purchasing everything except food. Right? I imagine you have had to make similar decisions related to such “non-essential” purchases as well. But I can’t help thinking that such a change in my buying habits will affect the life and livelihood of the businesses that are deemed “non-essential.” That really isn’t fair, is it? Such business owners/employers have employees who would definitely think their jobs are essential to their livelihoods and families. So, what do I do? I guess I will try out a couple pens online and will consider getting my hair colored outside. I mean, how bad could it be to sit outside in front of God and everybody with 50 foils plastered to my head? If we had an earthquake I wouldn’t have to run outside, I’d already be there. Right?