Friday, 22 July 2016

A day in the mountains

Last Monday, I spent the day in the mountains, a day trip I've been wanting to do in a long time. It was the perfect day, and with temperatures reaching up to a humid 30 degrees Celsius down here, it was definitely more agreeable up there. I took the train at 7am, and after changing trains twice and then on to the postbus for the last bit, I finally arrived at my destination. It felt so good to get off the bus, in that fresh air, with uninterrupted views, surrounded by beautiful nature. I love the mountains. I always feel at peace up there.

At an altitude of 2,007 metres, Dürrboden lies at the end of the Dischmatal. Above the tree line, the alp is treeless, the grass covered with rocks and heather, and at this time of the year, also with an abundance of wild alpine flowers that is just simply amazing.

From Dürrboden, you can continue and hike up and over the Scaletta pass at 2,606 metres, and on to the Engadin on tours of several hours. I only walked a few hundred metres futher up, spending about an hour happy about just being there.

I prefer to take the 13km walk down through the valley back to Davos. The path is easy to walk, and the landscape always slightly changing. Surrounded by mountains, gorgeous views, deep blue sky, fluffy clouds, the lush greens of the meadows, the colours of the wild flowers. Hardly any people, just the occasional alp farm. And of course cows.

I had also taken my sketchbook and watercolours and found great spot with a bench overlooking the valley. It was rather windy up there, though, I had to put the water on the ground, which wasn't very convenient, and the paint kept drying out. But at least I captured the feel of that day. The intense colours, the deep blue sky, the lush greens.

The Dischmabach, a small river, flows down the valley, carrying with it the fresh, cold water from the snow of the mountains. I love these alpine rivers. The colour of the water! I wish I could have put my feet into the water.

Toward the end of the valley, the landscape becomes gentler and richer. No more rock covered meadows, but instead rich farmland and trees. And more people. But still that abundance of wild flowers.

From the end of the valley to the train station was another good 45 minutes, and when I finally arrived, I could hardly walk anymore. The whole walk had taken me almost 5 hours, with time for taking photos and my quick sketch, and by the time I got on the train, I felt sore and aching from head to toes, and every little patch of skin that I missed with my sun cream was burnt, and the rest was also glowing in a bright lobster red. I was exhausted but happy. What else can you be, after spending the day in such a place!

I did some more drawing and sketching, but it is one of those weeks, when everything just turns out wrong. I'm okay with it, even a rubbish drawing is better than no drawing, but they're just not shareworthy. But I hope that the photographs make up for it. And I'm sorry for posting so many of them, and the small sizes, but I didn't have much time for editing, and I just couldn't make up my mind about which ones to choose. And I took over 200 pictures, so this is still just a small selection... :). (I think when you click on them, you can see them larger).

Friday, 15 July 2016

New sketchbook

After having finished my Seawhite sketchbook, I started a new one straightaway. It's a brand I haven't used before but wanted to try out, as it's available locally. It's a Hahnemühle D&S A5 sketchbook with 140gsm natural white paper. I started with a title page in ink. The ink, I noticed, turned slightly spidery on the page, and when I added some watercolour, well, that didn't work at all. No moving around on the page, the paper just seemed to soak it all up and dry out immediately.

So I had a look at the label again - the D&S stands for "Draft & Sketch" and underneath it states "for pencil and charcoal". No mention of ink, or light wash, as many of the other non-watercolour sketchbooks do. My first thought was that I needed to start another sketchbook, but then I decided to see it as a challenge. To just use pencil and coloured pencils, and whatever other medium would work in this one (I'm always sceptical with using charcoal in a sketchbook because of the fixing. Last time I tried fixing pastels in a journal, I got a bad headache from all the fumes. But boy were those pastels fixed!). For watercolours, I would use the Moleksine watercolour journal that I had already started. The only drawback is that I now have to carry two sketchbooks with me, instead of just one, and my rucksack weighs a ton.

It is fun, tough, to use some mediums again, which I haven't used for a time, or not much yet. Those Magic Pencils work well, and they're great fun. She turned out a bit scary though, I'm afraid.

And of course coloured pencils. I love them, but haven't used them for a while. The cherries on the left were drawn with a Magic Pencil again, on the right I used my Polychromos coloured pencils. I don't think the lettering works very well here, but I wanted to add something to the page and see how pigment pens would work. They work perfectly, I'm happy to say, as you can see below too. I always struggle with proportions, and my subjects usually get too big and cut off.

I'm very happy to say that the paper also takes my beloved ink brush pen very well. So even if I can't use watercolours or my fountain pens in this sketchbook, it still leaves me with plenty of mediums to use, and many of which I probably wouldn't use as often, if at all, otherwise.

I tried my best to not cut the cow's nose off again, and this time, I got it right. This is in my Moleskine. I used one of the photos I took on a walk a couple of weeks ago. I'm always happy to see these cows, unlike so many others, they are allowed to keep their horns, as they should.

Again, most sketches (except the cherries and the pen cow) were done in my lunch break. Taking my sketchbook to work and finding a quiet corner after lunch for a quick sketch has become a habit I look forward to every day. You can always squeeze a drawing in, even if it's just for 5 minutes.

Friday, 8 July 2016

A sketchbook filled

On Wednesday, I filled the last page of my current sketchbook. It's such a great feeling to have filled a whole sketchbook. So satisfying. The sketchbook I was using before this one took me well over 2 years to finish. 2+ years, with long stretches of not picking it up at all. Of course it doesn't mean that I didn't do anything at all, but for someone who wants to keep a sketchbook and make drawing and sketching a regular practice, 2+ years to fill a 124 pages (a Stillman & Birn Alpha, 8.5x5.5 landscape, 150gsm) is a looong time. Far too long.

I'm happy to say that it took me a lot less time to finish this one. A bit over 2 months. This one is a Seawhite A5 portrait with 92 pages and 140gsm bright white paper (the creamy colour in the images is caused by the scanner). I'm not so happy with it, it takes watercolour reasonably well, but there's a bit of shadowing when using ink. But I decided to use it anyway, and fill it, and I'm glad I did. Even if it might not make it into the top range of favourite sketchbooks, it served me well, and contains different medias and subjects, holiday sketches, exercises from an online class, lots of palette sketches, lettering, portraits (I'm just discovering the Sktchy app)....

I have a ridiculous (and ever growing, despite of having sworn to not buy any new ones) stack of sketchbooks, am I'm now going to work my way through them, drawing and sketching (almost) daily, and so finding the one(s) I like best. I'm also tired of having sketchbooks lying around that only have the first couple of pages filled, so even if they're not 'perfect', I'm trying to fill them anyway.

This month is also World Watercolour Month, which I discovered quite by chance. The Facebook Group is filling up daily with the most gorgeous watercolours. Very inspiring. But also rather intimidating, if you're still learning to master your watercolours. But then, I'm not a "traditional" watercolourist, for me (as for many other sketchbook keepers), they serve a different purpose, and a lot of my daily drawing and sketching is done during my lunch break, which doesn't leave a lot of time. Like the ice lollies below, which were done in about 10 minutes. As it's getting hotter and hotter again, I thought about turning these into a little series, slurping my way through the ice cream freezers. The ice cream and ice lolly range, unfortunately, is somewhat limited here in Switzerland, but I'm sure I'll find enough to keep me cool and fill some sketchbook pages.

The next sketchbook I'm trying out is a Hahnemühle one. I'll share my first impressions of it next week.

I met some lovely cows on my walk on Monday, they were very friendly and nosy, all coming to the fence to say hello, perfect for taking photos. I think there has to be a cow sketch/drawing/painting coming very soon.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Dorset cream tea, and other delicacies

There are any things I'm looking forward to when going to England, and one of the is the food. My favourites are not always necessarily the most healthy and nutritiously valuable choices. But they are certainly delicious. And after all, when I'm there, I'm on holiday...
We hadn't had a cream tea in ages, the last time was well over a year ago, so we decided that it was definitely time for one. And we knew exactly where to go. Our all time favourite place for the best Dorset cream tea - Downhouse Farm café. It's not exactly easy to reach, but well worth the journey, both by car, and even by foot (it is quite a bit of a walk up there). It is high up on a hill, not far from the cliffs, a beautiful, peaceful garden to sit and relax - and enjoy a rich cream tea (and draw it). Homemade scones, a big pot of locally made clotted cream, and an equally big pot of delicious homemade strawberry jam. It's so rich, that it makes a full meal, so we always go there for lunch. 
The last bit of the way is one of those very narrow country lanes, with bushes on both sides, and there's been an argument between the locals and the council about who's responsible to look after a certain stretch of it for quite a while. As a result, it is in a very sorry state, and getting worse and worse every year. The first time N had taken me there, it had already been bad, with big holes everywhere. By now, the holes have become so deep, that someone has put bricks into them, to make the road passable at all. The result is that you not only have to drive at about 10 mph max, but that even then, all those holes make the car shake thoroughly, that you just can't stop laughing, it's so funny. It's like being on a funfair rides. We had aching bellies and tears streaming down our cheeks by the time we made it to the end of the stretch. I wonder what the state of the road will be like next time we go there.

Another classic, and guilty pleasure - N made cheese on toast for breakfast on many mornings during our holiday. Well, we were out and about all day, so we needed something substantial to start the day with...

Custard tarts always make me think of one of my favourite, classic tv series - As Time Goes By. One of the characters, Lionel, is very fond of them and always gets very, very grumpy if someone else in the household dares to eat this custard tarts. I can understand him :)

But of course there's more than food. A late afternoon, when the sun suddenly comes out, spent on the beach in West Bay.

And I always enjoy visiting the lighthouse on Portland Bill, on the Isle of Portland, and spending some time wandering around there. It's a special place, somehow. And of course, lighthouses are always fascinating.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The joys of travelling by air, and how not to get overwhelmed but keep on sketching

I'm back from a wonderful holiday, which, as usual, went far too quickly. The journeys were rather less enjoyable, though. My very early morning flight to London City Airport got cancelled due to technical problems, and I had to travel to Heathrow instead, which meant that I didn't catch my £14 pre-booked train from Waterloo but had to by a new ticket for £58. My suitcase wasn't on the same plane either, and I didn't receive it until after 8pm the following day.
My return flight was cancelled again, this time due to the heavy thunderstorms over Europe. That, of course, is nobody's fault, but I was beginning to get rather fed up. Luckily, I had arrived at the airport very early, and was re-booked to an earlier flight. Like all the other flights, it was much delayed, and while we waited for another 45 minutes on the plane to finally be able to leave, three passengers were asked to leave the plane again because it turned out that it was too heavy. I've never heard of anything like that. But I was very glad that they hadn't asked me...!
I decided to contact the airline, since this was not the first time I've had problems. Cancellations and and delays seem to have become the norm in the past couple of years, and I'm happy to say that they have agreed to reimburse the extra costs I had as well as giving me a generous voucher for my next flight. So all is well again, and I just hope that my next upcoming journeys in September and October will go a bit smoother for a change.

But anyway. On to more pleasant things. I took my drawing tools, watercolours and two sketchbooks with me on holiday for some outside sketching. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time, but I have always found it very intimidating and overwhelming. But this time I was determined. I had even treated myself to not only a new box of watercolours, but also some new watercolour brushes, including two beautiful travel brushes. One of our first day trips was to Tintinhull Garden, a charming little house and garden, and when we arrived there, the sun had come out and it was warm and bright blue sky. So no excuses. I got my gear out, switched off my brain and started sketching. I always find it difficult to get the proportions right. My drawings usually tend to get far too big. So instead of trying to capture the whole house, I just focused on a detail, starting with with the bird statue and then added whatever fitted in.

I love visiting those old stately homes and gardens. It's a perfect day out for me. Some interesting history, furniture and art work in the houses, gorgeous flower gardens (with lots of opportunities to photograph bees on flowers), park and woodland walks, and a restaurant to enjoy a lovely lunch and tea breaks in between all the strolling. And the parks are filled with trees. Beautiful, ancient trees.

On Sunday, we drove to Salisbury. Again, after a grey start of the day, the sun came out, and it got hotter and hotter. I never thought that I would ever say the words "it's too hot to sit outside in the sun!" in England! But it certainly was. Thankfully, inside the cathedral and cloister, it was nice and cool, and there were plenty of seats to sit in the cloister to sketch one of its arches.

Glastonbury was a new place to discover for both of us, and a fun place to spend a day. It has a lovely town centre, with almost every shop specialising in some branch of the esoteric. A bit weird, but very charming. We spent most of the time in the grounds of the abbey, though, and much of it sitting on benches in the shade. Another hot and sunny day. The two watercolour sketches were made in different journals, the one on the left in a Seawhite sketchbook, the one on the right in a Moleskine watercolour journal.

Forde Abbey was probably my favourite of the stately homes we visited. The house itself is a 800 year old former abbey, and the park and gardens are just gorgeous. Again I took some time to sketch while N wandered around taking some more photos. The hedges caught my eyes, and of course the trees.

Montacute House was another place we spent a lovely day at. Apparently, it's where Wolf Hall was filmed. I never watched the series. I tried but struggled with it as much after five minutes as I had struggled with the book after the first 30 pages, and eventually gave up, as I had with the book. Again, I was fascinated by the trees in the grounds. So much variety, so much character.

I'm so glad I finally got over my fear of sketching outside. It's not as hard as you think, and most people leave you in peace. Of course Ns comment of "Oh that's good!" on every sketch I did was also very encouraging :)
What helped me most, though, was to approach it with no expectations, and to do what was possible. Of course I would have liked to capture more complex scenes. The entire house. A corner of the garden. But that's still a bit too challenging for me. So instead I keep focusing on the details for the moment. A part of the house or ruin, an arch, trees. Instead of getting frustrated by what I can't do, I enjoy capturing what I can do, knowing that every drawing, every sketch is valuable practice. I'm sure one day I will be able to do those "bigger" sketches I'm dreaming of now. It's all practice, and doing the job. And my holiday sketching has given me so much confidence, that since I got back, I've done some more sketching in public.
I have some more sketches that I'll share next week, and I also hope to post some photos in a separate post. But it'll take some time to go through them and do all the editing.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Landscapes, brushes and daily sketches

I've spent the weekend working through Shari Blaukopf's landscape class, painting alongside her instructions and demonstrations and finishing the various landscape practice pieces that I've started last week. Since I just wanted to learn and practice, I have used her reference images/paintings, rather than finding my on. But now hopefully, I'll be ready for some outdoor sketching on my holiday in England. Maybe I'd better practice some "rainy skies" before I leave next week!

Because the class jumped between the different paintings, and because all of mine were in the same sketchbook, I always had to wait a bit for them to dry, before continuing on an other one. So I decided to sketch some of my watercolour brushes in my other sketchbook. I'm trying to put together a good selection of brushes, and thanks to the class, I've rediscovered some old brushes I had lying around, like the big squirrel mop brushes, perfect for skies. As you can see, there's space left for some more brushes that I want to add to the collection, like a rigger and a dagger brush. And another #6 brush with a proper point, because the one I have just doesn't want to form one. Luckily, they're already waiting for me at Ns.

I've also kept up my daily drawing. Well, almost daily. There are days when, for whatever reason, I don't get a sketch done. But then, on other days, I do more than one, so it all works out in the end. I'm using different mediums, whatever just feels right for the moment, to catch something of the day on paper. On Sunday, I had sweet potatoes for the second in my life (the last time was over 20 years ago) and the first time I cooked them myself (but not the last time). I made myself go to the cafeteria at lunch time to try and sketch some people. There were two men absorbed with their phones, but they left soon after, and I only got one of them on paper. A quick pen and ink sketch of parts of my breakfast before work, and a lunch time sketch of some beautifully twisted trees in a picnic area on the campus. I even added the watercolour when I was there, which is a bit of a big thing for me. Even though I've been carrying my watercolour box with me to work every day for the past three weeks or so, I usually end up just making a pen and ink drawing, and then adding the watercolour later, at home. I'm taking it very slowly to get used to sketching outside.

Also a good tool for sketching outside, especially when you don't have much time, is a brush pen. I've had a couple of them for a while but am only now discovering how great they are to use.

It's going to be a busy weekend, with household chores, laundry and packing. But hopefully some drawing too, especially as it is going to be another rainy day on Sunday. Then two more days at work, and then, finally, it's time for my holiday. I've already prepared a page in my sketchbook, with places we've visited, places we're hopefully going to visit, and lots of space to add more places. And of course I hope to fill many more pages in my sketchbooks.