flying the colors

Now that I know next year’s adventure vacation will place me among thousands of beautiful boats, I’m starting to consider what interim practice will set me up to capture that scene in my sketchbook. It’s a common enough challenge for a sketcher, in general:

When there are a thousand dazzling points of interest, what strategy – what guiding principles – enable a sketcher to make sense out of the scene, and capture the heart of the moment both quickly and effectively?

As a starting point, my intent will certainly be to focus on quick impressions - gestures rather than accuracy, mood rather than complexity.

Here are a few samples I’m hoping to practice emulating.

First off, Van Gogh’s beautiful line work. It’s the fact that he keeps the soul of the linework when reproducing in paint that makes his paintings so compelling. One would think this many lines making up every bit of movement in the air and water would result in a big mess, but Vincent’s lines are completely about setting up rhythm. I think one must keep that intent solidly in their mind while drawing to produce this kind of effect.

Van Gogh, Boats on the Sea

These two works are from Turner. Note his shapes are very simple in both the sketchbook piece and the painting; the overarching concern is value, with minimalist touches of detail that convince your eye the big shape is definitely a ship.

J.M.W. Turner, Shipping on the Seine near Jumiegas
J.M.W. Turner, Peace burial at sea

Here’s a modern sketch by the inimitable Urban Sketcher Lapin. I can’t make this kind of effortless looking line happen but wow, what glimmering colors, what a light touch to the lines to show the complexity of the shape without clutter.

el galeón

These James McNeill Whistler examples were produced with more labor so aren’t as well aligned to an intention of quick sketches, but the lines are graceful and the colors harmonious in a way that I’d love to learn from.

James Whistler, Eagle Wharf
James Whistler, Flesh color and green valparaiso

My search continues, and perhaps I’ll have some of my own experiments to share soon.