Class Notes - The SKETCH

Do I hear a collective groan?
I always feel a little "parental" when talking about doing a sketch before the painting; like saying "Eat your vegetables; they're good for you" - maybe reason enough NOT to do it; oops, let's not go that way.
I painted in the landscape for years without doing preliminary sketches and arrogantly felt that I didn't need to. What would it serve?
Though, in my past life as a graphic designer, the sketch/layout was the way to communicate my thoughts for everything, from art directing an illustrator or photographer to communicating visual concepts to a client. The layout was the visual language we spoke - NOT doing a layout would have been like suddenly becoming mute - by my own hand; not even an option. But, what does that have to do with the painter?
At this point, my brain wants to go out into a zillion directions- let me just say - the most common thing I hear from student painters, and even the more advanced painter, in the landscape is: "I'm lost". Ever been lost in the landscape? Ever found yourself miles up a trail with no water bottle, no lunch, no end in sight and really big blisters? (Gee, it was so beautiful, I just had to JUMP in and GO). It's called being unprepared and it can ruin the day, the hike, the painting.
The sketch is that bit of preparation that can make or break the whole day. My plein air sketches are simple, small, but are the map that keeps me ON the trail to the finish. See the next POST: we left the site way before that painting was done, but - not without a sketch. That map helped bring it together in the studio. I rely on the sketch because in it, I have already organized the values, the shapes and my thoughts on the scene; the photo is only documentation of the day. The sketch is my mind on the subject.
Some small photos here are examples of the type of sketch I do -
2 value, simple, done with a fat Sharpie; cometimes called a NOTAN. I am not selling this type of sketch but the idea that any sketch - is a Good Thing -
and it IS good for you.


On LaVeta Pass- Yes, it was COLD!

Wednesday morning David Montgomery I went up to LaVeta Pass looking for some open water, a snow bank with red willows - or any view that didn't require standing in 3 feet of snow. About 10 minutes out of Ft. Garland we found a little creek frozen over a beaver dam, not far from the road. David took the beaver dam in view and I focused in the opposite direction toward a snow bank with willows. Thankfully, the morning was sunny, and we both started strong but the wind really whips up that pass and the wind chill was bitter. You can see in the photos that we barely got more than a lay-in.
About that time I heard a cappuccino calling my name and I really don't know who was the first to suggest it but there wasn't much discussion -
we were ready to bale.
A little while later we were answering the call-of-the-wild-painter for . . . . .coffee.
My painting is below; obviously the piece had to be brought up to speed in the studio. I had done a black and white sketch in the field and, as is my method, that sketch is painted on the panel in black acrylic and a color under painting is put over that, before working with the oil. The piece didn't paint itself but the hard part had been done on location, the bones were all there and I was able to wrap it up while the inspiration was still fresh.

This IS the Wild West. . . .

On the way home we pulled off and took photos in Ft. Garland, home of the Fort/outpost manned by Kit Carson. - Dave surveys the landscape wherein just about every "old West" cliche imaginable has been squeezed into an area of a couple of blocks. From left to right, in this view alone is the steeple of the old church, a corral with a real Bison, horses, a tee pee, a hogan, and old west store front. The sign announcing "gunfights every day" didn't make it into the shot. Fortunately, the fort isn't more than a block away, in case things get out of hand. . . .
There is no discounting the beauty of Mt. Blanca though. These peaks dominate the view for miles around and stood as a silent guard eons before the first Americans came through this valley;
they are the Wild West.