26 July 2015

Inspired by Singapore

I have never been an on-location (en plein air) painter. Most of my work is done on the table inside my screened-in back patio, and on the rare occasion I have drawn something on location, I always bring the drawing back to the house and paint it afterwards. But all the fabulous pictures being posted by everyone who went to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore this past week inspired me. So this morning, I decided to take minimum gear--my 8x8-inch sketchbook, my Altoids watercolor palette, a pill bottle filled with water, my telegraphing brush, a Micron pen, and a couple of paper towels--and hit the road at 8 a.m. (I also took a fake bacon sandwich and an iced coffee--must have sustenance!)

The San Fernando Valley doesn't have that much in the way of elaborate architecture--it's mostly boxy little houses built post-war in the 1950s, with latter-day McMansions jammed between them. But there are a few buildings that are fancy, and one of them that I have driven past and thought, That would be fun to paint! is the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church on the corner of Moorpark and Lankershim.

My results were disappointing to me, for a few reasons detailed below, but the experience was satisfying.

First of all, I apparently have zero sense of proportion (and very little sense of perspective)! My intention was to do a Nina Johansson-style panorama of the entire church plus the street scene--small olive trees, people, and cars at the curb included. But all I came home with was some large up-close details of very small portions of the building, because I was taught to draw big, and now I can't draw small!

Second, there are only five colors in this palette, and while in theory one can mix any color from red-blue-yellow, the truth is, it matters if it's a warm or a cool yellow, if it's a red that leans towards orange or pink, if the blue is dark or bright. So some of my color mixing was really wonky until I got the hang of it.

Third, my telegraphing brush is pretty tiny, so the wash for the background blue sky was a splotchy effort. It didn't help that it was more than 90 degrees, very dry, and slightly windy. The trials of watercolor in Southern California, where everything dries instantly.

I took some panoramic photos of the building, and perhaps when it is all contained within the borders of a piece of paper, I will be able to look at it and draw the whole thing. I'm going to give it a shot. But I'm also going to be persistent about going out regularly and trying it the spontaneous and in-person way! It was fun.

I do, however, need to invest in one of those little folding stools that I saw so many of the Singapore sketchers parked on--sitting on the sidewalk means dusty trousers and legs that go to sleep if not shifted regularly! Or even better, one of these…people seeking ideas for birthday gifts, take note!