Walking On New Ground

COVID isolation has resulted in my covering new artistic ground as a substitute for daily urban sketching jaunts in old Quebec and elsewhere.  But here in Quebec City things have relaxed a bit as Canada has gotten things under better control.  We’re all shopping in our masks but we can move almost freely outdoors.

A couple weeks ago the Artistes dans les parcs group was supposed to have an event at a small park not too far from where I live.  The plan was to paint the old alley ways in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the event was rained out.

The next week I decided to walk there just to see the area as I’d never sketched there before.  As I walked the street I looked down one of the alleys and saw a scene that grabbed me.  It wasn’t the subject (an old garage structure surrounded by trees, but light/shadow situation.   The trees on the left side of the alley were nearly black from being in shadow while the garage and the trees on the right of it were brightly lit.

I decided to try to paint it in gouache, a medium I’m trying to figure out. Frankly, I was in a bit over my head.  I’m still working on Shari Blaukopf’s light and shadow course and trying to get my head around painting light rather than stuff.  To do it with gouache was, well, intimidating.  But in the end the exercise was extremely informative and fun.

In hindsight the sketch would have benefited from my “moving in”, making the garage a larger piece of the puzzle.  I started with a minimal pencil sketch and then tried to do washes to mark out the various values.  I think this was a mistake, but only because I was in watercolor mode, which to me means I was working light to dark.  I’m sure that an experienced painter wouldn’t have a problem but quickly I realized that I would have been better off laying in the darks first.  I had a hard time adjusting lights and darks to fit the scene.  I found myself longing for some Alizarin because my Pyrrol Red just couldn’t take my cobalt/yellow green dark enough to match the light grays I’d used to represent the whites of the scene.  Looking back, I realize that my REAL problem was that I was ignoring my tube of ivory black gouache, which would have solved the problem quickly.  I just don’t think about black as being part of the arsenal.  Pretty dumb when using an opaque medium.

As I said, I had a lot of fun.  One little epiphany I had during this effort was about my artist brain.  When I’m working with ink and wash, I think about proportions and relative locations of things, but most of the rest (perspective, edges, etc) is handled automagically by my subconscious.  It’s that ‘in the zone’ thing we talk about.  I realized that while doing this painting, I was getting no help from my lizard brain.  I was having to think about everything and it was HARD!

I remember that feeling from years ago when I was faced with trying to learn to draw.  How could I think about all that stuff at once?  Truth is, you can’t.  It’s impossible.  You simply have to do it enough that some of it becomes automated to the point where all you have to do is think about how big to make stuff and where to put it.

4 thoughts on “Walking On New Ground

  1. Hello from Montréal ! 😉
    I really like that scene. It seems that gouache is the new thing, I hear a lot about it lately.
    Personally, since I still struggle with watercolor, I will not risk myself with another medium. Specially, since I bought a whole new Schmincke watercolor kit… 😉
    No outside sketching for me : I am on day 5 of my 14 days quarantine.
    Keep on painting!

    • Hi Diane. I’m assuming from your quarantine that you’ve finally returned to Canada. Welcome back 🙂

      Yes, gouache seems to be regaining some popularity, in part because of James Gurney’s use and promotion of its use. It was very popular for a few centuries but seems to have lost favor when people figured out how to put oil paint in tubes.

      Some take advantage of their watercolors by adding white gouache to their kit, mixing it with their watercolor when they want opacity. I think that’s what Shari does. I find there are two kinds of gouache users. There are those who believe it’s “just opaque watercolor” and others (I’m on this side) believe its better used like oil paint. No right or wrong here but the differences are significant.

      Good to hear you finally got out of Spain 🙂

  2. Two things: (1) I like the size of the garage. I wander down the path and wonder what is down there. If the garage was bigger, it would stall that journey …. and (2) I salute you for jumping into gouache. It is on my ‘good intensions’ list, but somehow I’ve been too busy to do more than get my little finger damp.

    • You’re right about the garage size. My comment is a reflection of my bad habit of drawing things rather than scenes. Thanks for point it better approach. Gouache is lots of fun and very frustrating all at the same time. Not knowing what you’re doing with a medium is disconcerting. I have a hard enough time when I know the medium 🙂 But I find the ability to work light over dark and dark over light to be very liberating.

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