A preliminary sketch for what will hopefully become “Năm 2020 chuột theo Đông hồ”, or “Year 2020 of the Rat after [the style of] Đông hồ.” Extremely intense colored pencils and ink (gray and then black) on Pentalic traveler sketch dot grid paper.
(Vietnamese New Year celebrations, or Tết, don’t officially end until tomorrow, and even so many still carry on with the festivities through the end of this week.)
This is a rat with her pups. Or: chuột kèm con, rat with children. Chuột actually covers both mice and rats, and kèm can also mean to guard over in addition to accompanying.
Very humble but feels good to have done. This is effectively a very small thumbnail, about 2 inches square. I’m going to be working a little bit bigger, I think, on tan toned sketch paper. If I knew how to make this a proper woodblock-printed piece I would.
Blue jay perching in cold weather. Colored pencils (Polychromos, Luminance) on Strathmore 400 sketch.
The Jay only uses two pencils: dark indigo and white. I intended this to be only a value study of the bird alone, but I needed a bit of background to ground them, so I added that in color. It all ties in so nicely.
Sketching in my bullet journal with watercolor brush pens (these are non-archival ink dyes rather than pigmented archival watercolor markers).
These are very rough.
Five vultures on a branch.
Text: «”Gái Già” old ladies»
This is something of a multilingual pun. Some English dialects use “old bird” as slang for “old woman”, which corresponds to the Vietnamese wordplay “gái già” (old women is a rough translation that can’t capture the alliteration and tone play). And vultures sometimes remind me of older women in shawls chatting and gossiping, possibly while knitting in the park.
I will be doing, as illness allows, more than just art of animals, birds, and flowers; those are more or less a comfort zone for me, and I plan on doing more adiposes, buildings, and landscapes.
Shaping a piece of art is a curious, personal thing unique to the time of its working. I want to share what I learned about myself as I created it.
First: I rarely do a piece where I know ahead of time how to do every part. It’s a self-challenge habit I use to accelerate learning.
Second: I don’t stick too closely to the subject. I’m not interested in realism, as much out of personal desire and taste as well as not having the time between bouts of illness to devote proper attention to a realistic style.
That approach doesn’t actually make painting easier, just difficult in a different way. I have to pile in with more individual decisions than otherwise. What do I emphasize and how do I portray it? When the solutions don’t cleave to reality the choices are harder to come up with.
So from the start, I use the oft-derided Winsor & Newton watercolor markers. I find that they work better on well-sized papers; it’s the presence of at least surface sizing that seems to matter most, as I even get good results from Strathmore Bristol without going all the way to Strathmore 400 series watercolor paper.
They fit my standard mode of painting: slap dense pigment on the paper and wash them out into shapes with a waterbrush. With water control you can have smooth washes or leave strokes behind as you wish.
I don’t do pencil undersketches anymore. Here I do an underpainting where I observe the subject and capture what I find interesting about it. In this case I really liked the turning, folding shapes of the leaves nestling around two contrasting plump fruits. And so I focused on a composition of leaves as graceful guests, and the plums as bold hosts who serve to complement the guests.
(Host and guests is a way of thinking about composition.)
The simple natural colors I used for the underpainting gave me a sense of what kind of warm tones might work. I wanted something where the guests were more subdued than the host. Thus I desaturated into warm greens the leaves, and increased the saturation of the plums.
At this point I contemplated the background. I could leave it the plain, natural white, but I wanted to make a more deliberate choice than that (even if I left the background out in the end).
But I’ve been experimenting with the color of gold, so after I finished the layers of watercolor markers I added a three-layer sundae of colored pencils to the background. Using multiple colors helps make areas of color more vibrant.
In the end, I liked the warming effect of the golden ochres, so I colored the background all in.
I thought about adding more detail to the leaves and plums. Deciding when to stop working on a piece is important. Here I felt I liked the simplicity, since I wanted to express the shapes rather than the detail of each one.
Working on figure studies. I thought about using a little artist mannequin figure, and though I know the point is to get into your head a structure rather than accurate body shape, the problem with all artist mannequins right now is that they aren’t great at communicating the actual weight of a human being. I rather suspect that taking the artist mannequin too literally unfortunately helps to create the anti-fat nature of most visual art. The lack of larger models also contributes, as well as society’s general anti-fat bigotry that seeps into the artistic consciousness.
I’m myself fat. It was a difficult to road to get to a point where I loved myself. It’s helped along by my own manifestation of dysphoria, weirdly enough; when I’m fat, my dysphoria is much, much less.
As I started to work on figure studies of fat models, I realized that all the lessons given for thin models applies. In particular, no matter how thin or fat a model is, the idea is to render the muscle and fatty tissues, not just the skeletal frame. Every fold matters, just as marking out the landmarks of the human body matters: things like collarbone, kneecap, elbow joints, wrists. Make use of overlaps to communicate the form of the body; if you can get overlaps right, you can even get away without shading, although shading is a good exercise in and of itself.
Most importantly: love the shape and form and weight and contour and life and spirit of your model. If you can’t do that, this can hinder your art. Learning to discard the hatred that society breeds in us towards fat folks is valuable, because being more human and caring, and thus aware, is valuable.
I think, for an artist, learning to draw fat people is the quickest and most thorough way to this end.
I still get my proportions wrong, but for me it’s that I work based on proportional measurement and contour, rather than form-building and roughing-in, and I need to get better at proportions and contour. I’m also used to thinner models, so this mindset is something I’m working to get out of.
I’m really enjoying myself. I took a slower, alternative approach to the typical live model class; instead of switching model poses between different time lengths (so for instance, you have 5 poses for 30-second sketches, and 5 more different poses for 1-minute sketches, etc), I just used one pose and changed the time length between 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 20 minutes. This method helps me get my bearings in a less stressful way while still preserving the lesson of learning to capture the essence of a pose in under a minute.
By the by, materials used: oil-grease-impregnated sanguine 5.6mm lead, which means a dustless application (helpful for asthma). I actually used the dull, unsharpened end for most of the work, and a sharpened end for the finer details in the 20-minute pose. A blunt and blocky drawing instrument helps dampen down the desire to work in detail too early.
The model here is Keira Leilani, source is from Croquis Cafe. I really love Keira Leilani’s expression, poise, and grace. That’s really nice lingerie too, and Keira wears it well.