With this seventh piece, a milestone is met. I drew my first horse and to be honest, it took me almost two weeks to force myself to work on it, not just the horse but the entire piece is something. There are many little details that make this composition work.
Not only the big horse stands out but also the fence in the middle right, the fisher man and his companion, everything is touched by trees and many of the colors are multi layered.
For me the highlight of 武州千住 (Bushū Senju) came in the form of the two distant trees in the middle, rising up from the underbrush. Mount Fuji here plays no role at all, other than reminding us that this is indeed part 7 of 36 views of Mount Fuji.
This is a simple thing. Tape a postcard or series of postcards to a board, wet them all over and then splash in some complimentary colors. Let dry thoroughly and then follow the color borders with a black pen. It allows me to get the know the various materials I own but not use much, how the pigments works on a specific type of paper without the fear of ruining a pen drawing I spend hours on. An added bonus is that all the doodling is meditative and rests my brain.
And in the end, I have nice looking postcards that I can send to internet friends!
This is the sixth piece I did for the 36+10 Views of Mount Fuji series and I must admit it grew on me. The ones I did so far were obviously special to me, for a wide variety of reasons. The “Cushion Pine at Aoyama” ( 青山円座松 Aoyama enza-no-matsu) initially did nothing for me.
Only when I was putting down the color, it became clear this is a very well balanced piece of work. Keep in mind that Japanese writing goes from right to left.
The flow of this piece will naturally go from the people in the bottom right over the high end of the pine trees up to Mt. Fuji and then back down to the houses hidden away behind mist and trees. The horizontal clouds cut the field of view flat through the middle where everything below it is obviously close and that above it is obviously far.
Then from the houses flows the bottom open space back past the shrine to the people where a lot of details make an interesting scene. With the mountain as the biggest part of this piece and right in the middle of the paper, it plays only a background role to the traveller’s picnic and the father walking his child.
Finally, the mist line acts as a mirror across the paper, the trees go down where the mountain goes up forming an elegant negative of each other. The soft background of very light pink in the low mist, the light shading of the mountain and the strong Prussian blue in the high and low sky makes this piece a very special work.
Already on the fifth of this series, it is a really enjoyable pastime and creative endeavor. Sundai, Edo (東都駿台, Tōto sundai) seems to be a nondescript picture of a road with travelers, a big pine tree and mount Fuji in the background. While I would love to say it is so much more, sometimes a road is just that. Making more of it would be wrong.
The biggest challenge in this piece is that every color used, touches on of the other colors. There is no escaping drying time per color and care should be taken to indeed fill all the spots where a color is to be used to prevent more drying time.
The paint used is a 36 color palette Mijello Mission Gold, a very nice shaped box that comes with small tubes that you can fill in the palette yourself. Gives you a nice case of the IKEA effect but aside from that the paints are really good. Activate really easy and give a very smooth, even layer of paint. My main gripe about this palette is the high amount of mixed colors but the St. Petersburg paint did worse in that regard.
For the trees I used Hookers Green and that worked out way better than expected. A downside of very fine paint is that to get it to shade well, you cannot escape glazing. With this green however, the paint was heavy enough to stay in place when applied in larger amounts but still giving a smooth gradient.
For the yellow I used Yellow Ocher as I found the other yellows in the palette far too artificial. While it has a tendency to dominate it is balanced out by the green, making this an even work.
Without needing to go into detail, 2020 was a weird year. At the beginning of the year, around the same time as I am writing this, I decided to do more drawing and painting outside. Got myself a nice satchel ready with all my drawing and watercolor supplies needed to just grab and go.
Drawing urbanscapes in groups, called Urban Sketching, was on my todo list, I would visit all weekends and getaways I could join by train such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Paris. Things went a bit different.
Now it is 2021 and that same itch is coming over me, I want to go outside and draw. Visit cities and paint, join with other painters and do my solo thing but more in a group. It should be possible, I think.
Last week it was nice here in the Netherlands, we had 17 degrees Celsius temperatures on Tuesday and I drew the playground near my house.
Today it cooled off a lot but I figured it would be fine with 7 degrees. Something I keep forgetting with this temperature however is that water will evaporate so much slower than I am used to in my house. So you have to wait longer if you want to do a bit of shading and glazing. Sit still longer, in 7 degrees. Over time I will figure out what the minimum is to be able to go outside comfortably and have the paint behave, for now I will try again at 12 minimum.
So we continue this series with the fourth piece out of 46, a very different setting from the previous three that were all about natural shapes and how nature is kicking ass. In this, the viewer is positioned in such a way as to view Mount Fuji framed and surrounded by all man made structures.
Another thing I noticed while drawing it is the huge amount of geometrical shapes: straight lines in the bridge and background buildings, circles in the hats and umbrella and partial ellipses in the bridge but also in the boats.
The thing that is really astonishing in this piece is the use of vanishing point perspective, a rather new thing in mid-19th century Japan and rather uncommon to see used correctly. This could have been a coincidence tho as some later pieces are wonky in places, when it happens I will point it out but I will follow the artists’ perspective instead of correcting it.
The piece took something of 6 to 8 hours of interrupted work, a full Saturday in fact. Included in that is the waiting time for the various layers of paint that had to dry, something I have a hard time getting used to in watercolor. These complicated pieces teach me patience already. Rough sketch, line work, paint, wait, paint, wait, etc.
Everything considered, it worked out really well. Normally when I do a complicated work by the time the line work is finished and that looks good, I am concerned I will ruin the piece by painting it sloppy or just plain bad. Of course, the color composition was done for me and the block print technique has few blending washes, making it easier to paint. In this case, I went in confident that I could pull it off if I took the time for it. I feel the confidence paid off.
The composition of this piece is very similar to the previous, in that the mountain is there but now with two more in the background so from another angle. A lightning strike can be seen in the lower half of the painting, the bottom half of the mountain is covered in darkness.
I took care in using Prussian blue this time and decided against going for pure black in the lower mountain for two reasons.
First, Black is not a nice color to use with watercolor, it just adds dull spots to the paper, sucking the light and hurting the transparent effects that are so charming with this medium. Second, It would be way too big to get even. Dark brown, Burned Umber, gives the same feel of darkness without consuming all the light so I went with that.
As a last comment on painting this: those clouds were much harder than they looked.
So while to makes no sense to repeat the wikipedia article about this piece, this part I found very interesting:
In a later impression the publisher introduced some significant changes. The sky is now rendered in purplish greyish with a band of yellow at the top. The flash of the lightning bolt vividly silhouettes a group of pine trees at the foot of the mountain, cut from a new block, making them appear close to the viewer.
So this guy, who was the publisher, decided to make changes and the article does not make it clear if the artist agreed. Looking at the altered version, the changes completely change the feel of whatever it was that Hokusai tried to get across.
I think it is obvious why I choose to recreate the original, the gloominess of it is palpable.
In the second iteration of the 36+10 views of Mt. Fuji project I am undertaking, the central figure of the drawing is the mountain itself without any compromise. For reasons very clear to the viewer, this drawing is also referred to as “Red Fuji” and sometimes “South Wind, Clear Sky” but I think the original title is refined enough and does not need anything else.
For most of my watercolor paintings, I use a homemade 24 pan palette that I should really do a blog post for so I can refer to it everywhere. It contains many paints that granulate heavily which I really love for urban sketching, the granulation will suggest details and will give everything a texture of having lived. For the wood print here replicated and in fact for most of those to come, the coloring is much smoother, using ink instead of pigments and creating texture by refined linework or gradients rather than the paints itself.
As a result, I will need to leave my travel palette in it’s bag for this project which is fine as I will not paint on the road anyway and I bought a few palette boxes over the last few years that get way too little use.
Fine Wind, Clear Morning was colored using the St. Petersburg wooden White Nights 48 set and I would advice anyone that likes painting not to buy it. Rather get a metal set as now you have mixing wells that are very absent in the wooden box. It is a very lovely box tho so if you want to give someone you love a gift, the wooden box is perfect. If that grump wants wells, they can take out the pans and put them in a tin themselves. If the pans were not a weird size tho, so maybe gift them the 35 tin if you are so inclined to throw costly gifts at them.
With regards to the paints themselves, they granulate easy, are vibrant, pigment rich, and hardly granulate at all. Which is just what I needed here.
A mistake was made with regards to the band of blue at the top. I thought it was Ultramarine Blue but it turns out the print uses Prussian Blue not only in this print but in many others as well. That should teach me to read the wikipedia page before painting the painting and blogging and posting the blog post.
I bet Prussian blue would have gone better with the Cerulean Blue as well.
The art of Japanese wood prints always fascinated me, ever since I first encountered them. On my walls are a few cheap prints I bought almost twenty years ago. The best known master of the art of Japanese wood prints is Hokusai.
One of the best known pieces is “The Great Wave of Kanagawa“, which comes from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji“. I know these are a ton of wikipedia links, but looking for things to draw I found myself wondering if it would be worthwhile to do watercolor renditions of the art of Hokusai. The serie consists of the aformented 36 plus another 10 made later when the original series turned out to be very successful. A total of 46 drawings.
Considering the Perfect Sketchbook has 44 pages but also is covered in watercolor paper on the inside of the front cover and I can tear out the back pocket and replace it with a sheet of paper I have lying around, I could do 46 water color paintings in the one book and thus a new project was born.
This is 1/46 and it was great fun to make, looking forward to the coming months while I do them all.
With a thought process that went from “I suck at drawing and painting” to “maybe I should do building, how hard can it be to draw boxes?”, I rolled into the world of Urban Sketching. At first I had no idea that there was a name or an actual movement for drawing cities, buildings and all the day to day stuff that is part of how we shape our environments as human. I just wanted an easier subject matter than humans and faces. I just wanted to smear pigment on the page and make it look somewhat good. Also I wanted to go outside and draw stuff with the comfort of cafe’s, restaurants and whatnot within reach. This plan hatched late summer 2019 and was on the back burner for a couple of weeks.
Funny how any learning process these days begins with procrastination as it was many youtube video’s in that I noticed something that came back a couple of times. Urban Sketching. It was exactly what I was doing, what I was looking for! I ran into very interesting video’s by Marco Bucci such as some details on his setup and an interesting take on shapes. Also a lot of shorter video’s on materials and techniques by Teoh Yi Chie. I think it was their video’s that introduced me to the concept of “Urban Sketching” and the discovery that there was a rather large global movement. I read the book “The Urban Sketcher” by Marc Taro Holmes that was informative and interesting, although a bit over my head in terms of technique. This was around Autumn 2019.
The Urban sketching global movement is more of an umbrella organization for many local chapters and with me living in Amsterdam, I wanted to check out what the options here were. One of my first discoveries was that there is actually a global Urban Sketching Symposium and that it was held in Amsterdam… a few weeks earlier. Let’s say I was not happy about that.
Another discovery was that most of the local chapters organize through Facebook and having removed my account for that hellhole years earlier, I felt somewhat left out in multiple ways now. It seems to be better now with events announced through the Urban Sketching homepage but that leads to the next interesting thing to happen on my journey. We are now writing in October 2019.
After processing the fact that I just missed the annual event in my hometown, I vowed to visit at least two more or less local events in 2020. Just like I vowed to run all races in 2020 that I could reasonably participate in, in terms of travel there and back. I even started gathering gear consisting of a should bag, good sketchbooks, a palette and travel brushes and more of that. I’ll make a post of my bag some day, the point is that by winter 2019/2020 I was fully set to go any place and draw and paint and so on. All that I needed was better weather.
I made it to one place, Zurich, at the end of February where my wife I visited friends and where much less painting was done than I would have liked but we had a great time with the four of us. The Dutch Urban Sketching Weekend 2020 was cancelled, the sketching day was cancelled, the Amsterdam Marathon was cancelled. Sometimes it seems like 2020 was cancelled and I am so sorry for those people who dies, those who are in they formative years as students and those that lost their livelihood due to Covid19. With this, I care not much about the urban sketching cancellations as I am healthy, my family is healthy and my income is pretty solid. My main concern is not getting worn out and developing a burnout or depression from the work-eat-sleep-childcare cycle in the one house but at least we are not sending our teenagers to die in foreign countries or worst, or own borders.
The story of urban sketching does not end here for me, my plans are unchanged and we all just lost a year due to nature striking back at humanity. My intention is to visit at least two events in 2021 and I even booked a hotel in Maastricht in June when the annual weekend would take place. My wife and I agreed that we will book a vacation only when we are all vaccinated so that would be 2022, I think the same will be for the races. But this summer, with a face mask and my bicycle, I will do a lot of outdoors sketching.
The gallery below is my first sketchbook I started with Urban Sketching in mind and contains mostly simple and fast work on architecture, buildings, details and general things from day to day life.