Yesterday I had every intention of switching over to “online Sunday Sketching with Patrick” for the rest of the winter. I had sent him a text saying that since it was below freezing and there was a nice coating of ice on some of the sidewalks, it seemed like a good day to sketch together online instead of meeting outdoors. A while later he sent back a text saying in effect, “My computer area at home is problematic, could we instead enjoy a climate-controlled, fully-masked sketching time inside my car?”
So at 1pm, as is our habit, I met him on the only-somewhat-icy sidewalk in front of my apartment, and we headed off. As soon as we reached the end of the block, he started telling me about three possible destinations he had spotted: a mansard-roofed house, a Victorian home with an enticing porch, and a gorgeous granite-and-wood fence. Whenever we go out, deciding where to sketch can be tough, so I was pleased. We scouted around as he chose what looked good to him (being a gentleman he asked my opinion along the way, but I reminded him, “Patrick, remember I’m the girl who’s happy drawing a garbage can.”).
Because of the snow that had arrived the night before, it took a bit of time to find a good place to park the car. When he found one, it turned out it wasn’t an ideal vantage point for our subject matter, so before we knew it, we were out of the car, sketchbooks and artkits in hand, scoping out the exact right spot to plant ourselves for sketching.
Patrick had his camp stool which he keeps in his car. I had thought we would be in comfy car seats with the heater on, so I not only had left my camp chair at home, I had also worn only jeans and a simple coat over a t-shirt, not wanting to get overheated in the car. I have to say, staying masked when it’s below freezing is a pleasure– my nose wasn’t cold at all! What, me worry? I was game.
Patrick selected his spot to sit and focus on the wreath hanging on the fence, and I sidled up next to him, masked and maybe ten feet away. Lately we have each moved a bit away from doing ink drawings to paintings, and yesterday was the same: starting with light pencil work followed by watercolor. I looked in the general direction of where he was looking, but unable to see the details he could see (my eyesight is a constant challenge, one I just don’t talk about that often), I decided to just look around for a while. I looked across the street to my right, and saw layer after layer of angles of roof-lines and dormer windows, and my first thought was, “Wow, THAT’S complicated. Good thing I don’t have to draw that!” And immediately found myself…drawing that.
I can tell within the first few lines whether or not I’m going to have a good time depicting architectural perspective. I couldn’t see any details really, but that helps a lot with simplification, right? I dashed in the major roof pitches with pencil, then decided it was time to get out the water and have at it.
I knew right away I wanted to have big juicy washes, so using the water brush was out of the question. I poured some water into my little container (I will be sure to photograph my set-up next time), donned my trusty Look-At-That Art Pouch so that I would have quick access to my pencil and watercolor brushes, and picked up my sketchbook with the watercolor palette and water container securely clipped to my board. I thought of Maria Coryell-Martin immediately, and wondered if I would ever be mixing alcohol in my water to keep it from freezing. Because I had no chair, I had to plant my feet in such a way that I would be steady, and was grateful I had worn my wool-lined wellies, nice warm ankles.
Patrick offered me the use of his chair after a short while, but it was already too late: sitting would have changed my sight-line significantly and therefore all the angles, so I declined. I was already deeply into it.
About an hour later (we never think to look at the time when we start), he said, “I think I’m done.” What that means in watercolorist lingo is, “I am nowhere near done, but I think I may be on the verge of overworking it and ruining it, so could you please take the brush out of my hand now?” Of course I said yes.
Then I took a step and it was like coming out of a trance. I swayed and staggered a little bit, then realized my knees were freezing, my baseball cap was inadequate, so I wiggled and stretched a little before I trusted myself to take a real step. I was really really cold, had been standing the entire time in one spot, and hadn’t even realized how uncomfortable I was until I stopped painting. I dumped my 2 ounces of dirty watercolor water into the snow by the side of the road and slowly disassembled my set-up which had been surprisingly functional. There often are start-and-stop moments when painting on site, until you have your kit down to a science. For now, I like what I’m using.
Let me take you on a tour of my painting time, from big picture to a bit of detail, much like the painting experience itself was.
Here is the whole sketch.
What attracted Patrick to this place was the fence and wreath, which I actually added toward the end of my sketching time.
While he had been drawn to the fence, I had been spell-bound by the complexity of all those buildings and rooflines.
I forgot to take a photo of the pencil sketch before I started painting (maybe I’ll remember to do that next time), but I do remember the very first thing I painted was that big evergreen in the background. When the paint went down, it looked almost black—that’s one of the many challenges with watercolor, you have to make your mixes so much stronger than you think you need, because they dry a good 30% paler than how they look when wet. Here’s a close-up of the tree and skyline.
I smile because I’m well aware of the wonky lines, the dribbles, the blooms where I added a second layer of paint before the first one was dry. It was hard to tell at the time whether the layer of paint was dry or frozen! Not a question I have even asked myself before when painting. The wonkiness doesn’t matter, the blooms and wiggly lines don’t matter. Why?
For all its discomfort and inconvenience and truly uninspiring color (dirty snow, dirty sky, pale houses, no dramatic lighting or shadows), yesterday’s session outdoors in the freezing cold felt like one of the best outings Patrick and I have had yet, for a lot of reasons. The first is simple: we did it. The heck with mere mortal concerns, we were motivated. Secondly, I think we each surprised ourselves with the results. I am still surprised at the subject matter I chose. I am stunned that I stood for an hour in the cold on arthritic legs. I went so far past my comfort zone that I discovered a new one I didn’t know existed. And I got to thinking, “I wonder where else I am saying ‘no’ when I could be saying ‘why not?’ ”
As we were sketching and painting, a few pedestrians passed along the road at a safe distance. They were out there to jog, to walk the bundled-up baby in the stroller, to care for their bodies by exercising regardless of the weather. Patrick and I were on a similar auto-pilot mission: It’s Sunday, 1pm, everything else gets set aside because it’s time to exercise our eyes and minds and artistic souls.
“Would ya look at that?”
Thank you, I think I will.