Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tools of the Trade #1 - The Sketching Kit

Thanks for joining me again.

This week I'm beginning a new blog series, which will discuss media and techniques, and review new materials -- from pencils to pens to inks to journals (i.e.; the "Tools of the Trade.") The series will run in alternate installments with the "Old Gold" series and other posts along the highways and byways of fun, exploration, and adventure. And, as always, I hope you'll come along.

To get the series started, I thought I'd focus on the "old kit bag." And the questions for the day is, "What do you take on your sketching outings? And how do you get it there?"

Our kit doesn't usually play large in the actual creation of our field sketches, journals and plein-air paintings. But -- since it carries most, if not all, of our supplies and equipment when we go afield -- it's fair to say that the bag is a deciding factor in what we can, and can't, do when we want to create images away from the studio. It's also fair to say that our sketch bags are both a reflection of our personal artistic interests and a work-in-progress.

I've been carrying a sketching kit for over 2 decades now. Interestingly, the bag I carry now is just about the same size as the one I carried 20 years ago -- even though I've used (and eventually discarded) larger bags from time to time. My current bag was produced for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, is compact (7.25" wide x 5.25" deep x 9" high) even when stuffed with enough goodies for an extended sketching safari, rugged (double stitched, heavy nylon canvas construction), and reliable. (8 years, 10 states, 2 national parks, 5 countries with no signs of wear and tear.) It has both a side-mounted shoulder strap (my personal preference) and a broad belt loop on the rear. I never go out the door without it!

In the expandable cargo pocket (with its flap and secure buckle) I carry a Derwent tin of HB graphite pencils, a zippered translucent red bag of Sakura micron pens (in sizes 02, 01, and 005), and a double lens field magnifying glass. In 2 of the 4 vertical side pockets I carry a mechanical pencil (emergency backup for the Derwent tin) and a mini Mag Lite flashlight (for finishing up that last sketch of the day as the light fades... or finding my way home after I spend too much time of that last sketch.) And, in the zippered main compartment I carry 2 large Moleskine journals (one Japanese accordion, and one watercolor journal), a tin of Prismacolor color pencils, a Daniel Smith 24 half-pan watercolor box (with 3 travel brushes), a spare pair of prescription eyeglasses, and (depending on my goal for the day) either a Fabriano Artist's Journal with assorted toned papers or a pair of binoculars.

With the small penknife and vinyl eraser I always carry in my pants pocket (and, if I'm feeling particularly ambitious, an Arches 10"x14" HP watercolor block and Coleman's folding camp stool in my left hand), I'm happy as a clam and good to go -- around the corner, into the woods, or across the globe.

So, how about sharing your equipment experience by posting a comment? Let us know what kind of kit you currently carry? What have you tried in the past? What's worked for you? And what hasn't?

Thanks again for letting me drop by and I hope you'll let me share my post with you next time too. In the meantime please let me know what you think and, I hope, you'll share the blog with others who are interested in sketching, journaling, art and adventure. :-D 

Winter Visitor, South River

"The man of science, the naturalist, too often looses sight of the essential oneness of all living beings in seeking to classify them in kingdoms, orders, species, etc. While the eye of the poet, the seer, never closes on the kinship of all God's creatures. And his heart ever beats in sympathy with great and small alike, as Earth-born companions and fellow mortals, equally dependent on Heaven's eternal love."

                                                                                                                        -- John Muir

Friday, June 15, 2012

Old Gold #1 - Roma

Not so very long ago -- in a time before email, text messaging, and the internet -- adventures began well in advance of departures. They could began with getting up at 5 in the morning to phone a hotel on the other side of the planet and (if the connection was good) attempting to make a reservation inquiry in a language other than your own. They might involve snail mail deposits to hold your rooms, and hand-written receipts confirming your reservation, replete with postage stamps from far away places with exotic-sounding names. And, by the time you actually departed on your long anticipated voyage, you were quite often tingling with excitement -- mixed, perhaps, with a bit of anxiety of the new and unknown.

Over the years I've accumulated dozens of sketchbook/journals -- many of them produced long before blogging or the internet. So, I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane, dig up some interesting images and journal entries, and begin a new series which I'm entitling "Old Gold." My intention is to post to this series once a month or so, alternating it with my current travel adventures and an additional series entitled "Tools of the Trade" that will focus on technical issues and product reviews. And, hopefully, everyone will find something of interest in the mix.

A few years ago I received a foundation grant to spend several weeks doing a sketch crawl across Italy.  Today I'd like to invite you to accompany me as I revisit the first stage of that voyage of discovery -- the Eternal City, Rome.
                               "When thou art at Rome, do as they do in Rome." 
                                                       -- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

My flight into Rome was long -- San Antonio, Texas to Houston to Newark, NJ to Rome -- but it was on Alitalia rather than an american carrier, and there was some charm in that. But the early morning let-down into Rome itself was magical! As we neared the airport the earth was shrouded in a thin mantle of mist with tall pines rising above the velvety fog and the whole scene backlit by the warm pastel hues of the rising sun. What an auspicious beginning! I thought.

My hotel was on the via Venizia, a very quiet, peaceful side street off the via Nazionale, which I enjoyed sketching in both directions -- once in pen & ink and the other in color pencils on toned paper.

"The dominant colors of Roman architecture seem to be patinas of creamy burnt oranges, ochres and siena. And, despite all that has been written about Roman use of concrete, I see a great deal of brick construction." (The narrow streets and tall buildings were an ingenious pre-airconditioning way of providing relief from both summer heat and winter winds... and made wonderful subjects for exploration and sketching.)

"After a cautionary warning about pickpockets from my landlord I caught the no. 64 bus to the Vatican." (The sketch of the the Swiss Guardsman was an excuse to relax and enjoy the sunshine after spending some 7 awesome hours in St. Peters.)

"The art of travel is to deviate from your plans." A good adventure is a fairly equal mix of carefully laid plans, creative problem solving when those plans go awry, and a refreshing portion of the serendipitous -- as when, on a walk through the quiet streets of the Trastevere district, I encountered these four police officers on their snow white chargers... sabers and all. (My personal philosophy is: when forced to choose between a pre-planned itinerary and the totally unexpected... go with the unexpected!)

Well, I hope you've enjoyed the first installment of Old Gold and that you'll join be next time, when we continue the adventures (near and far, old and new.) In the meantime, if you would like to see some more of the sketched from my experience in Rome, please visit the Places page of my home site ( here.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

And So It Begins....

“There's a race of men that don't fit in, 
A race that can't sit still;          
So they break the hearts of kith and kin, 
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and rove the flood, 
And they climb the mountain's crest; 
Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood, 
And they don't know how to rest.” 
-- Robert Service

If, like me, you're a Mac user you're probably aware that Apple is set to discontinue their web hosting at the end of June. So, those of us with .mac and .me websites and blogs are scrambling to put the finishing touches on our new cyber-homes. I've already launched my new website (and you can check it out here.)

Now it's time to launch the new blog -- which will combine my previous travel/carnet de voyage blogs and will offer tips and recommendations for those of you who may be venturing into sketchbooking, nature journaling, or travel journaling for the first time.

For those of you who don't already know me, or who aren't familiar with my work, an introduction is in order. I was born into a family of intrepid travelers. Every summer, growing up, my folks would pack us into the car and we would camp our way across whichever continent we were living on at the time. And, by the time I graduated from high school I'd lived in Britain (twice), Germany, and Taiwan, and visited numerous other countries. Along the way I discovered a passion for recording the world about me in drawings, paintings, and printmaking -- but most of all in sketchbooks and journals.

Like many of you, I sketch because it makes my travels more personal, more intimate, and more memorable. (No detail goes into a sketch unless the artist first becomes consciously aware of it. The same can't be said of photography or video.) And my voyages of discovery continue to take me to all sorts of wondrous places -- both near and far.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that my wife (and soulmate) is also a wonderer at heart, or that we have shared our wanderlust with our children. In fact, we have explored our backyard (a river run through it) together, criss-crossed the US, done a two-month "slow travel" sketch crawl of Europe, and served as Artists-in-Residence for North Cascades National Park. (That's us in the front of the "Sketchers' Digs" -- first photo above.) Along the way I study the cultural and natural history of the places I visit and attempt to capture a sense of the people, geography, flora, fauna, art, and architecture. (The world really is an AMAZING place!)

So, I hope you've found something of interest on your first visit and hope you'll come back regularly to share this adventure we call "life" with me (and feel free to bring your friends!) As I get the hang of the new host I'll try to improve the design. In the meantime I'll be focusing on content.

Peace on Earth and good will to all!

"All good things come by Grace, and Grace comes by Art, and Art does not come easy."
                                                                    -- Norman Maclean