Saturday, July 24, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Ride Home

I was ready to head home after Saturday (July 10th). It was great to be someplace exciting, and to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but I missed having someone to share it, and I was starting to talk to myself. (Even in Chicago or New York people will look at you on the sidewalk if you start talking to no one and you don't have a Blue Tooth in your ear.)

The trip back was all about airports and plane rides. O'Hare is a busy place (for years it switched back and forth with Hartsfield-Jackson, in Atlanta, for busiest airport in the world - Atlanta is the top). Sketching people there was fun, and even easier than it had been on the way out, largely because I was warmed up and over my inhibitions.

This young man (on the right hand page) had a pink and brown plaid hat, red (crimson) short cropped hair, and was wearing capris and Argyle socks. His t-shirt had a stylized mobius strip on it that said, "Eat, read, sleep, eat, read, sleep, eat, read..." Chicago streets were a riot of tattoos, piercings, creative hair styles, and personal dress styles, on people of all genders. It was fun.

Planes, like people, don't stay still long, especially when they are no longer at the gate. So this one didn't give me enough time to give it side windows (poor passengers). What was fun about this view, and the challenge of this sketch, was to get the shape of the foreshortened plane. I love their shapes. After it left, I focused on the tails of all the United jets at the opposite concourse, and the truck with the hose on the back. I particularly like this one. It's a larger format, too, in a sketch pad.

I graduated from just drawing the seat in front of me to trying to capture the cabin around me. That was fun. Most of my fellow passengers fell asleep. I probably should have done this in the large moleskine, but this is the small one (4x6 inches both pages together).

In Detroit I nearly missed my plane, because I didn't realize we were no longer on Central Time. That surprised me. I was about to take and hour and do a watercolor of the bright red tram that runs back and forth inside the long concourse in Detroit (an almost totally white interior, except for that red red train), when I noticed a local clock and realized it was only 10 minutes till my plane boarded.

On the flight from Detroit to Raleigh we flew over one of the Great Lakes, and I saw had some awe inspiring views of clouds and shorelines. I was surprised and delighted. I tried to capture an impression of the shore, island, and clouds in this sketch. There was a small city on the shore.

And that's all from the Chicago trip. The coolest thing is that I've continued to draw and sketch. But that's for other posts. I'm almost two weeks behind on those...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 5

Four of my favorite photos from the trip to Chicago... It's not a coincidence that they're all vertical.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 4

I could go on and on about Chicago. My Saturday was a 14 hour day in town - I probably walked more than 6 miles altogether, all over the Loop, into Greektown (lamb for lunch), and ultimately down to the lake shore. I had an Irish dinner at Katie O'Shea's, outside, where I ended up the only remaining outdoor patron when a ten minute rain shower scared off everyone else (I just raised my umbrella and kept eating my sausages and pretzel in Guinness mustard and piccalilli). Earlier in the day I caught some of the Transformers 3 filming (supercars and an 18 wheeler (Optimus Prime) roaring around corners of blocked off LaSalle and Jackson streets). Got some great photos, more of which I'll share in later posts. It was a very full day.

I had started it with a tour of the public art in the Loop, which I had printed from a blog and brought in my pack . It began at the Art Institute, where I sketched this Henry Moore sculpture. Henry Moore believed that art should have titles that made the viewer think - rather than giving too much away. He felt a good title might keep a viewer engaged longer, letting the art sink in and have its desired effect. He has been one of my favorite sculptors since I was a teenager, when I sketched and drew from photos of his work. One of my favorites is at MIT, in Cambridge, MA. His compositions live in the same place in my mind and heart that certain poetry does - Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, and Kenneth Rexroth, in particular.

The art tour wandered through Millenium and Grant parks to the Aon Plaza, where I sketched the interesting waterfall, and some of Chicago behind it. These falls are over stacks of dark stone, cut in uneven octagons and other polyhedrals. It was already getting hot, by then, but I was so focused I didn't notice the shade had moved off me until I finished the drawing and I was dripping wet. This is one of my favorite sketches from the trip. The morning light was beautiful on the older architecture on Michigan Avenue.

After the tour, I ate in Greektown and then walked along the river and passed most of the famous bridges, stopping to do a watercolor of the bridge on Clark Street, from the Chicago Riverwalk. These bridges are amazing, mostly built back in the 1920s, and full of large rivets. The towers on either end are the best on the older bridges, like this one.

The sun was hot, and I had a hard time with this painting, using the kit's tiny brush. I finally got out my bigger brush and then it went better.

Before dinner I bought another moleskine (a wonderful red one) and started it off with a sketch of one of the bronze boys holding spraying fish, on the large sculptural fountain (Fountain of the Great Lakes) in one of the courtyards at the Art Institute. This is in pencil, and the paper was so smooth that it was hard to get any dark shadows. I love the boy's embrace, and the lively reaction of the reluctant fish.

Then the ultimate triumph, for me, was that I stood on the street in front of the Institute, with my moleskine held at eye level, and drew the lions. While hundreds of people passed me, I ignored everyone and drew. The green one isn't as good as I'd like, but the black drawing is a good likeness of my favorite of the two lions - the one on the north side of the entrance.

Then I was finally too exhausted to do any more, and I took the train back out to the hotel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 3

The evening of the first day of my trip was long, sunlit, and only in the low 80's (Chicagoans were complaining around me, but I was used to high 90's, so this felt great to me).

I walked down Michigan Ave and decided to try my first street watercolor of the Blackstone Hotel and other buildings from a park near Congress Ave. I love the red brick and green roof.

The little teeny brush that came with the Cotman watercolor field set was excruciating to work with ("scrubbing the palace floor with a toothbrush" as my Mom would say) - but I got through that. The other WC I did on this trip I finally dug out another brush I forgot I'd brought and it was such a relief!

The result of the time spent is that I can recall those moments, the sounds, the smells, the sights, as if I were still there. Not in that much detail, of course, but the quality of the recall is amazing. Maybe it's the way it all had to pass through me onto the paper.

Click the image for a larger view. The original is in a spiral bound WC paper sketch book (called an "ARt spiral" - capitalization deliberate) - about 6 by 8 inches.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chicago! - Art Trip - Part 2

The finer tipped marker made things better. The guy on the left had a beautiful blue Hawaiian shirt on. Since he was so round, and the shirt was so long, it looked like he had short little legs. Not a dress choice I would have made in his shape... As with all the subjects, I only had a few minutes, and he walked away.

In Atlanta I saw two older gentlemen sitting side by side in blue and white railroad caps. The one on the left had mutton chops, red suspenders, and was in his 70s or 80s, I think. If you click on the image you can read the rest of that story. The guy on the right got up and walked away until boarding time, so I didn't get to finish him. And the other fellow moved in his seat and I had to quit on him, as well.

When I got to Chicago I went straight to the Art Institute, where I soaked up my favorite pieces for about two hours. Then I got light headed, and realized I hadn't had a real lunch, just snacks on the planes. So I left the museum (leaving my bag checked with them) for an early dinner break (about 4:30). I went just across Michigan Avenue to Hot Woks and Cool Sushi, and sat at an outdoor table, looking back towards the museum. After I ordered, I got out my large moleskine and sketched the scene. The wait staff were quiet and moved around me differently. They also smiled more and were sweet with me when they brought my order, more water, the bill, etc. I was grateful and amused. I kept getting the sketch back out to add more pedestrians; the sidewalk was fairly busy. It was great to work when I knew people were noticing, and still be able to tune them out. A good step on the way I wanted to go.

Here's what I ordered - I couldn't eat all of it, but it was delicious. Mandarin Orange chicken with peas, snow peas, peppers, and diced carrot, and a tuna and avocado sushi roll. You can see the scene from my sketch in the background. I love to eat with chopsticks.

Back in the Art Institute until 7:00 or so - I think I visited every portion of it that I had not already, and repeated all of the Impressionist, Post Impressionist, Symbolist, and Expressionist galleries, which are my favorites. I had visited the contemporary European and American sections before my dinner, but the pieces failed to move me this time. I wasn't in the right place. I was itching to get out and skecth more, and try a watercolor with my little Cotman kit. But that's for another post.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 1

I had a Delta flight voucher I had to use by August. Dearest suggested I go somewhere on an extended "Artist Date." I decided to do an art and sketch visit to Chicago. I had been once before, but that visit only whet my appetite. The Art Institute of Chicago's museum is one of the best in the country, and possibly the best for a painter, since so much of the collection is on display deliberately because it shows solutions to problems painters encounter in their work. Marvin Saltzman told me that last bit - I had loved what I learned last time I visited, but I had not known why so many of the pieces seemed to be teaching me as I stood before them. So I wanted another look, and I wanted to take large format shots of certain paintings so I could look at the technique later, when I needed a lesson.

But to me, the real purpose of the trip was to fix my sketching problems. For a number of reasons I don't feel comfortable sketching - so I find it hard to do. I wanted to get over that in one big push.

I armed myself with sketch books, pens, pencils, watercolors, and whatever clothes I could squeeze into the remainder of my day pack. I planned to travel light - just the pack. I took off Friday, and left early in the morning for the airport, with a return ticket for Sunday afternoon, and two nights on Marriott points out by O'Hare Airport (I couldn't afford a room closer to downtown).

I began sketching people, into my smaller moleskine, at the airport in Raleigh. One of the Urban Sketchers had mentioned how easy it was to sketch in airports, because no one is paying real attention to each other. One of my problems with sketching is relaxing and not worrying about people around me. I don't want to be observed, or interrupted. So the airport was a great place to start. The other tough part is that models, when they don't know they're modeling, tend to move around... This interrupted a number of sketches. That's terrific, because it means you can't dither over details - you work fast to capture the essence. I got so I could capture more in less time as the three days progressed - and I found I could hold more in my memory and go farther AFTER the scene changed, or the subject moved. I will certainly take advantage of this on business trips in the future (I bought a moleskine in Chicago to keep in my briefcase, for just this reason).

I eventually learned that I can't work the way I want with a pen this broad. For now, I find it easier to find my subject using a much finer (and more forgiving) line. But those are for another post. The sketches here are first attempts. The other challenge/fear I tackled was drawing people, because that's a risky subject. We all know immediately if something is wrong with a drawing of a person.

AND I deliberately focused on faces, at first, because that's where I was most afraid of failing. Where the fear is worst, there is the deepest water (and usually the most reward - I wish I could remember that all the time).

Later I will post other skecthes, as I improved and got more relaxed. Eventually I was tackling larger scenes and context, and loving it. And I got so I could sketch standing in the middle of a crowded street, holding the pad up to eye level, as if it were on an easel. While hundreds of people walked past me, not one interrupting (I was pretty focused, and looked it), I drew my favorite of the Art Institute's large bronze lions. But that's several posts away...

The last illustration here is in my fat little notebook, where I jot down ideas. I kept a tiny journal of the trip on about ten pages of it, and in this case I used my ballpoint to sketch the seats in front of me the flights out (Raleigh to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Chicago). The person in the right hand seat was a 300+ pound Catholic priest, in black with his Roman collar unbuttoned (it was hot). He made the seat flex and creak alarmingly as he got into it - at one point I really thought it would break and seat and Padre would be lying in my lap. My favorite thing about this sketch is the way the sketch is in the sketch, and the sketch is in that sketch... And it's a fair likeness of my knee...

Click any image for a closer view.