Sundai, Edo

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.

Drawing outside, first time in 2021

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.

Playground in a warm February afternoon

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.

Forgot to paint the inside of the boat

Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa

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.

With a range of Daniel Smith paints such as Primatek Serpentine and Jadeite, Janes Grey, Goetite, Burned Sienna and Cerulean Blue. A small amount of St Petersburg Prussian Blue was used at the top banner.

Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit

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.

Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit By Hokusai, later variation – Public Domain, Link

I think it is obvious why I choose to recreate the original, the gloominess of it is palpable.

Fine Wind, Clear Morning

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.

Ultramarine (Daniel Smith), Cerulean Blue, Paynes Grey, Madder Lake Red Light, Green.

I bet Prussian blue would have gone better with the Cerulean Blue as well.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa, looking east.

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.

Daniel Smith paints: Pthalo Blue GS for the waves, Buff Titanium and Jane’s Grey for the boats, Moon Glow for the lower sky, Quinacrodone Gold and Quinacrodone Rose for the upper sky.

Sketchbook Saturday – Urban Sketching

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.

Sketchbook Saturday: The Little Hahnemuhle Booklet

For this iteration of Sketchbook Saturday, back after a long holiday break, I dove a bit deeper in the past and selected a little Hahnemuhle watercolor booklet I bought in March 2019 upon deciding I should really get this plein air painting show on the road. It’s compact size and the small box of Van Gogh watercolors would help me get out more while painting at the same time.

It is almost two years ago and my evolution in terms of style and what paints I use is very visible, as well as the time spend on painting something. The paper is not mega absorbent but once you get used to the fact that wet on wet washes is impossible, new doors open. In the end, I churned out Pokémon to just fill up the booklet. I wanted to get it over with, fill a sketchbook completely for the first time in my life. No matter the size, in this sense, this booklet allowed me to fulfill a very old wish of mine and I am grateful for that.

Europe in Watercolor

The hardest things for me when painting or drawing is often to get started and it is often caused by the second hardest thing: figuring out what to draw. Some people fare well with prompt lists such as those from DoodleWash or a writing prompt generator. These lists often confuse me or are conceptual and not only was I unsure what to draw, now I am stumped by some list from the internet as well! As a solution and if I have an idea for it, I will make a list myself that is curated by myself and for myself and that works a lot better.

For the month of February I thought of GeoGuessr and how the site will allow you to select continents and countries to include in your random location drop. This would be perfect for drawing locations without having to go there. As this was in the before times, we also had a trip to Swiss planned for the end of the month that would allow me that country as well. With the huge regional diversity that comes with Europe, a list was made and days were assigned.

Before being halfway in the challenge it became clear that there are only so many country roads that you can look at before giving up. For some countries I used image search to find an interesting thing to draw using a photograph that was not taken using a potato mounted on the roof of a Toyota Prius.

It is all done with Daniel Smith watercolors in a Khadi 100% cotton rag paper sketchbook.

Fruit in watercolor

As a follow up on last weeks post, this is the alternating pages in the month of January 2020.

As with last week, the randomizer gave me more berries than I would need and no banana but not being very fond of bananas to begin with I could not really care but for color variation it would have been nice.