Out Of My Comfort Zone

It seems that the art world is full of people saying “get out of your comfort zone” as a way of saying something, though I’m not sure what.  And for a decade I’ve pretty much ignored that advice.

When I came to sketching I was holding a fountain pen.  These days I’m still holding a fountain pen for most of my art.  Talk about a rut, but it is my rut and I like it.  Heck, everyone says that using a pen is the ONLY way to learn to draw.   I’ve never quite followed the logic of that claim, within limits, it has worked for me.  It’s those limits I want to talk about today.

Sketching with pen places a lot of emphasis on line and contour.  That’s ok, because we’ve always got watercolors to provide color, right?  The problem with all this is that the pen sketch becomes an end product.  You might think about watercolor while making a pen drawing but it’s still all about edges and contours.

Pencil drivers are different.  They shade their drawings.  In doing so they have to think more in three dimensions more than do pen drivers.  They discuss things like “turning the form” and other stuff like that.  So do all painters, including watercolorists, who don’t lay down lines as THE thing that defines their drawing.  Shari Blaukopf’s workshops taught me just how big a switch in mindset takes place when you to a pen and wash sketch but with a pencil instead.

I’m not talking here about right or wrong but rather about me “getting out of my comfort zone” for a reason, and that reason is to walk on the wild side of light and shade, turning forms, and gaining a better sense of creating 3D images.  It’s going to be a long and somewhat clumsy road for me I’m kind of excited about the prospects.

I did this rather quick (10 min) sketch of a basswood tree (3×5) while on a walk.  It was fun to scrumble in masses rather than drawing my typical Brillo pad trees.  I like the result and plan to draw a bunch more trees, though Quebec trees are dropping their leaves en masse right now.

I decided to draw a portrait.  I don’t draw portraits which is something of a Catch-22.  I don’t know how, they are never very good and so I don’t draw portraits.  More getting outside my comfort zone I guess.  I also learned something about pencil.  Stillman & Birn Beta is too textured to draw with pencil.  See…already learning.  Oh, and I can’t shade to save my life.  Guess that’s why I’m out here… out of my comfort zone.

6 thoughts on “Out Of My Comfort Zone

  1. Out of your zone or not, good sketches.

    I’ve tried drawing with a pencil instead of a pen prior to watercolor. I just doesn’t seem to be the same. One would think “lines are lines” made with pencil or ink.

    I’m becoming disenamored with fountain pens. Most of mine have been acting up…leaking ink. I’ve taken apart, cleaned, fussed with the nib, put back together.

    • Ah yes, I hear ya. It’s the tree for me! Go forth with confidence and joy as you traverse the world beyond your “comfort zone”. Have you tried the S&B Alpha, Gamma and Epsilon series at 150gsm?

      • I’ve used dozens of S&B sketchbooks in most of their iterations, but not with pencil. As I’ve confessed, I’m a pen driver. But clearly, Epsilon or Zeta is the way to go with pencil.

    • I hear you about pencil. That’s what I thought (think?). But I think it’s a matter of mindset. When you do a sketch where you want the outlines to convey most of the message, pencil falls flat. But what if you want the outlines to disappear by the time you get to the final product? It’s like the old pencil drawing dictum, “never draw you outline darker than the tone of the object at that point.” The reason is that you want those lines to disappear as you tone the object. Remember the old saying, “there are no lines in the real world.” For street sketching, though, I think the only way to go is pen and ink.

      Sorry to hear you’re having fountain pen problems. As I read your msg I couldn’t help but think of Brian Goulet’s comment that most pen problem come from people trying to clean and/or adjusting their pens. Not always true but… 🙂

  2. Learning (and pushing oneself to learn) is always exciting, even if it is outside the comfort zone (and if it isn’t, probably not much is being learned). Bravo! I agree — Beta is too toothy for pencil, but Zeta is really nice. Let me know when you’re ready to talk pencils! 😉

    • I’ve watched you running off to the Gage to learn this or that and I’ve watched you put down your fountain pens, smiling all the way. I find it a bit scary to put mine down but I want to experience art in ways beyond street sketching, whatever those ways might be. As for talking, I sure with there was a way for me to jet over to Seattle to meet with you guys and talk shop. It’s always been a bit lonely here in Quebec City (grin).

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