Innovation, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Valuing the Value Study

There’s nothing like being reminded for the umpteenth time to do a “thumbnail.” For those who don’t know, this is a (usually small) simple sketch or two before attempting to dive right into drawing or painting the work you have in mind. Often it takes a teacher to get through to you on this; for those more accustomed to “multi-tasking” and thinking it is doing some good, it requires a bit of discipline to keep slowing down.

Illustration:  Value study sketch (Hillwood Mansion grounds) by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Value study sketch (Hillwood Mansion grounds) by Black Elephant Blog author

In my experience, this business of reinforcing what we’ve already supposedly learned is one of the main benefits of keeping anchored in a class or two–so that your habits do not become too sloppy. And of course you keep learning new stuff even as you are reminded about the “old stuff.”

So, in the current class in pastel painting, the teacher handed out this handy little value chart (which I’ve protected in a little plastic sheath–see photo below).

Illustration:  Photo of value scale

Illustration: Photo of value scale

When we do thumbnails or sketches, one purpose (besides mapping out a composition) is to do a value study–a study of the “values” or the tones or shades of contrast. While it is tempting (and normal) to jump right to the details, I have learned that the details often blind us to the really important things in art (and elsewhere?…) –like values, shapes and shadows. This requires re-training the brain for many of us.  Doing value studies is the most direct form of problem-solving I’ve encountered so far in my art education. (And it seems quite transferable to other fields requiring problem-solving.)

While can be more fun to jump straight into colors (and sometimes, depending on what you are seeking to achieve, it is a good idea!), learning to see the values, shapes and shadows has its own delights. Doing this in different media, including water-soluble graphite…

Value Study in Graphite crayon

Illustration: Value study in water-soluble graphite by Black Elephant Blog author

and conte crayon

National Gallery of Art value study

Illustration: Conte crayon value study of Richard Serra metalwork sculpture (East Wing, National Gallery of Art) by Black Elephant Bog author

also provides valuable learning opportunities.

So during a recent visit to the majestic, privately-run Hillwood Museum and Gardens estate in the heart of Washington, D.C., the grounds were so beautiful underneath a

Hillwood photo

Illustration: Garden sculpture at the Hillwood Mansion and Gardens, Washington, D.C. –Photo by Black Elephant Blog author

clear blue sky that it was nearly impossible to go inside. Instead the sights of flowering trees and bushes, the gentle slope of the “Lunar Lawn”, and ornate garden sculptures were captivating. Frankly, it was a challenge to detect the “values” in different shades in such a riot of bright color. In addition, the diversity of people, from all over the world, and particularly Russian families, made it an even more memorable afternoon.  (The Hillwood Estate of Marjorie Meriweather Post features the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, according to its website.)

Such a glorious visit to the Hillwood mansion gardens has provided much fodder for future practice in value studies and beyond…

  •    A small Japanese garden, for instance, features two   whimsical bridges, leading to a roughly sketched out ‘work-in-progress’ in pastel.

Pastel work-in-progress

  • And, a toddler sitting in the tall grass already has provided inspiration for a series of sketches and value studies…

    Boy sketch 1

    Illustration:  Sketch of Toddler sitting in tall grass at Hillwood Mansion, Washington, D.C. by Black Elephant Blog author

Standard
Innovation, Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Sketching al fresco

Beautiful weather ensures motivated sketching and even follow-through to completed watercolors–especially if it all can be done ‘al fresco’.  Keeping a pencil handy can help the hand and eyes stay limber, and make the most of even the unlikeliest compositions. This is a quick sketch for a potential watercolor done during a pause while passing by this restaurant earlier today.   (It is fairly easy to sketch diners who are deeply engaged–as all these people were–in their conversations on a gorgeous afternoon.)Dining al fresco sketch

In the little oasis where this scene adjoins other restaurants around a fountain and near a lake, the calm is reenergizing and the colors extraordinary–if you have time to look.  Here, in real-life, there were a lot of colors, including bright red tulips standing tall in a circle of yellow flowers in the big cement pots in the foreground, and bright tropical blue pillows on low-slung couches in the rear. Can this scene of colors and calm be captured in a watercolor or a pastel? There’s only one way to find out!  And a bit later, with the help of some (Daniel Smith) Venetian Red, Cobalt Teal Blue, and Raw Sienna watercolors (as well as a few of the magical watercolors from the Sakura Koi pocket set):

Plaza 4

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches Cold Press 140# paper by Black Elephant Blog author

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Museum Sketching and the Art of Serendipity

As the weather gets colder, sketchers tend to move inside.  Groups of them sometimes get together inside museums where, after an initial meet-and-greet, they disperse to go sketch before reconvening to share and discuss their results.

Sketching in museums presents many challenges not least of which is whether to stand or sit.

Often I will choose to sketch where I can sit because I can take my time noticing things about what I am sketching. This means more randomness in the selection of what I am sketching, as the choice relates more to the seat than the view.

Such an artificial constraint can be good as it forces me to focus on things I might ignore otherwise. And so it happened recently that the empty couch I spotted was facing this painting by Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Upon taking a seat, I realized that I knew nothing about him or this painting.

Gallery Photo

Photo of Painting by Antoine Watteau

The painting itself is quite challenging, and not one I normally would consider sketching.  Adding to the complexity of the scene is a sculpture on either side of this painting in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  One wonders why these three pieces are positioned together here.

Sketching, I’ve learned, helps you notice details you might otherwise miss. In a sense, sketching is a way of paying attention.  Some people describe it as a form of meditation.   And this sort of paying attention, as well as seeking out contradictions and analogies, are crucial to innovation, as was reported on just this past weekend in the New York Times on “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.”    But, as this article discusses, we don’t know how to make processes fundamental to innovation happen reliably.

We do know many innovative breakthroughs involve uncovering possibly overlooked combinations.  Having a “wide horizon” is essential, according to Jaime Holmes, author of a book, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, discussed earlier on this blog. Holmes memorably noted that “recognition means closure, and it marks the end of thinking, looking, and listening.  When we recognize an object, we make unconscious assumptions about it.”   He emphasizes others’  research concluding the importance of having a process of “pulling insights from other fields,” also called an “analogy finder technique.” Ambiguity tolerance can be measured, moreover, he writes.   People’s “heightened need for closure” can be manipulated and people are more likely to jump to conclusions or “entrench their existing views” in conditions of uncertainty when instead “dwelling calming” within uncertainty “will help you make a more rational decision.”

Gallery Sketch

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author  (watercolor added afterwards)

So back in the museum, at the end of an hour, by allowing a random thing like the placement of a couch affect the choice of subject to sketch, I ended up more curious about these art pieces in front of me. I learned, for instance, that Watteau was an innovator for his time, pushing the boundaries of the art world.

Watteau portrait

Photo:  Portrait of Antoine Watteau (Source: Wikipedia)

When our group of sketchers reconvened, it was possible to see others’ selections of sketching subjects and media. One could not fail to be impressed with the process of discovery evident in each one.  We gained some familiarity with new subjects even if we could not name them!

 

 

Standard
Innovation, Risk, Surprise, Uncertainty

#Inktober Sketches in a Capital City

It’s the beginning in these parts of the world of what some speakers on conference panels this month have been calling the “silly season,” meaning that their already low expectations are even lower for certain things they’d like to see happen.

Illustration: Sharpie pen on Stone journal paper by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Sharpie pen on Stone journal paper by Black Elephant Blog author

That remains to be seen; sometimes it is what we are most sure about that ends up surprising us the most (almost by definition).

But it’s also  almost the end of the month-long “Inktober” sketch-off, featuring thousands of pen-and-ink drawings posted on-line.  One more day to go. Well, here in “Black Elephant” world the focus has tended to be on the more colorful scenes of October, but when unavoidably inside–away from the dazzling fall scenes–it’s been fun to capture some conference highlights with a Sharpie fine point pen.

And, per usual, this month the conference scene has been cranking up: as the temperatures drop outside, the temperatures seem to rise inside.

It will come as no surprise to many that people seated at long tables can sometimes be still enough for a sketcher to Inktober 8get a half-way reasonable “live” sketch going.

To add to all the benefits:  Apparently, it’s been scientifically proven that sketching while listening/viewing actually improves your comprehension abilities!

Inktober 12

Illustration: Sharpie pen on Stone Journal paper by Black Elephant Blog author

So here are a few of the Inktober conference sketches posted on this Blog before October, and Inktober, draw to a close.  Next, this blog turns its attention to an intriguing new book called “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing“.  This book examines how varied people’s abilities are to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity, and dissonant information.

Illustration: Sharpie pen on Stone Journal paper

Illustration: Sharpie pen on Stone Journal paper

Inktober 10

Standard