Tone drawings I: guillemots and razorbills

20130620 St Abbs Guillimots 1c

On the Seabird Painting course, I was struck by the seeming effortless ease with which accomplished artists are able to use tones to build the forms.  Washes merge and blend and separate to make lines and contrasts.  However limited my own efforts appear by comparison, the only way forward is to keep trying.

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What joy it would be to have that skill and mastery of the medium and apply it in the field …

20130621 Guillimots at St Abbs 1a 20130620 St Abbs Guillimots 5 again

Clinging to the cliffs II

Facing  to the rocks, concealing their chicks

Facing to the rocks, concealing their chicks

This was a quick charcoal sketch at the end of the day, standing, looking down the scope.

Below are others in pencil, pen, pencil with wash and drawing directly in watercolour.  These were all attempts to quickly snatch the shapes of the bird groups congregating across the rock face.

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Clinging to the cliffs at St Abbs

Kittiwake looks down on guillemots and razorbills assembled on a guano covered platform on the cliff

For three days running I perched on the narrow ridges atop steep spurs of rock running out from St Abbs Head into the sea.  The cliffs below and facing me and the tops of isolated stacks were carpeted with nesting birds.  The upper airs were torn by kittiwakes looping in and up to their mates.  Below, the stubby auks, guillemots and razorbills, with fast wings, flew in and out from sea surface to cliff face.  There was constant, compelling noise, the rising and falling crescendo of the guillemots’ harsh croak, the kittewake’s onomatopoeic greetings as they returned to the nest and the threatening cackling of the sweeping watchful herring gulls.

This was my opening sketch, in pencil on cartridge paper.  I was seated awkwardly looking along the side of a rocky spur, close enough the draw partly by eye, partly using the telescope.

Jottings in May II: Cycling and painting

A comment from another artist blogger reminded me to post these sketches made while cycling the canal towpaths a few weeks ago. This first one is in a tiny pocket watercolour book.

201305 canal cycle

Here I followed a heron as it flapped a few hundred metres at a time ahead of me. I stopped far enough away to observe it, tonally blending with the bank but reflected in the water.

20130602 canal cycle (1)

This abstraction from the scene was drawn in pen during a meeting some days later.

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Jottings in May I: appartement

201305 jotting 05

Previously I posted a set of drawings from the YouTube clip of this Mats Ek ballet, with the haunting music from Fläskkvartetten.  Before drawing those pieces, I watched the clip over and over, painting largely without looking on scraps of paper, trying to get the feeling and rhythm of the work.

201305 jotting 01

201305 jotting 02 201305 jotting 03 201305 jotting 04 201305 jotting 06

Each time I watch, I am struck by something new.  At the end, how hard she breathes as she beats upon the door.

Paper, graphite and colour

Two sketches from Dunbar harbour where the kittiwakes nest in the broken surface of the ruined castle walls, building platforms of twigs, human debris and guano.  This first is primarily watercolour over a few pencil lines on rough watercolour paper.

Nesting Kittiwakes in Dunbar Harbour

Nesting Kittiwakes in Dunbar Harbour

The second started as a continuous line drawn in pencil without really looking at the page, with wash laid over and then further pencil shading for the tone.  It was drawn on cartridge paper with less bite to it than the surface used for the previous sketch.

Kittiwake - Dunbar harbour.  Declining numbers?

Kittiwake – Dunbar harbour. Declining numbers?

These were on the afternoon of 19th June.  I could see no chicks yet and fewer pairs than last year.  Mark Boyd of the RSPB suggests that kittiwakes have been harmed by our fishing for sand eels and by climate change.

What I learned while drawing Herring Gulls

Herring gulls are fascinating marauding predators, commonplace pirates, stealing eggs and chicks.  On Fidra, we were invading their space, the gulls’  territory.  They barked defence calls.  Occasionally, they flew low on our heads …

In this sketch, there are construction lines as I sought the proportions and imagined the relationships between the bones beneath the feathers. I tried to use tone to show how the skull seems to sit distinctly above the neck, more like our own perhaps and very unlike the sleeker serpentine transition in gannets or cormorants.

Close view of herring gull

Close view of herring gull

Lesson 1.: I worked in pencil on a large cartridge paper sketchpad and added watercolour wash as an afterthought.   To really exploit the liveliness of paint, I need better paper with sizing and bite.

Herring gull sketches

Herring gull sketches

Lesson 2: I work as if the drawing is the final product (even if I edit it later as in previous posts).  Bad drawings are a disappointment to be abandoned.  Printmaker Kittie produced a large simple drawing of a herring gull that I much admired.  It was immediately apparent that her drawing will serve as the source for printed work.  It seems that drawing for another medium imposes a discipline that gives the artist a particular eye when working in the field.

Herring gull sketches

Herring gull sketches