Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shell Sketching

I hate vacations.  Ever since I was a teenager vacations have been a rush of activities sandwiched between long bouts of driving.  I usually had work to do during the vacation, or the kids needed (unwanted) chaperoning.  Whenever I was asked what I wanted to do for Father’s Day, or my birthday, I would say “nothing”.  I never got my wish.  Yes… my middle name is “curmudgeon”.

Nevertheless, I spent the entire month of February in Florida.  I just needed warmth and a change.  Since my wife had just died and my kids were grown I was able to indulge in my own form of doing nothing.  That is, I sat inside and sketched miscellaneous things in the apartment.

Now for most people Florida in the winter means lying in the sun by the pool.  Unfortunately, I don’t tan, I burn.  I’m a blue eyed blond (with great legs!).  Or rather, I’m a pasty faced, four-eyed nerd, Johnny Winter look-alike.  I went south to embrace the sunny warmth, but avoid the sunny sun. 

So, what did I draw/paint?  First, I continued a series of ink line sketches of the presidents for a future blog or book.  But I also used a conch as the subject of my extended sketching.  A conch has many admirable properties that make it interesting to sketch, the most obvious is that it doesn’t move.

As with all good still life subjects, a conch has a shape that affords an infinite number of forms seen from different angles and in different lights.  It is like life drawing where the human body is a complex form uniformly surfaced with skin.  Unlike the human form however, the conch presents a single solid object; no arms and legs to flap around in disconcerting ways.

The conch also presents a few different surface textures.  The outside is generally rough with growth ridges, while the inside is a smooth, polished surface.  The outside is a range of earth colors, while the inside transitions to a rich pink.  Even on the simple cylindrical side of the conch the pattern of ridges presents a challenge.

The most “rational” aspect of the conch is the spiral coil.  You might think this would be the easiest part to draw being a known geometry, but I found the cone shape spiral hard enough without adding the nubs of decreasing size.  Getting it right was fairly easy in plan or elevation views, but trying to reproduce that screw shape at a foreshortened angle was a bear.

As you can see I started with a graphite pencil on any available paper.  The results were interesting enough for investment in some color paper and Prismacolor pencils.  I eventually broke down and got a watercolor block and a simple set of colors and brush.

I am always touting the need to draw so as to see more deeply, but I don’t follow my own advice enough.  It takes a lot of discipline and effort.  Most people have a life, a career and a family, so drawing a cumquat for an hour can seem insane.  But, when you do have that “vacation” the effort can produce something worth keeping.

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