Time Out for Art – Get out a Pencil!

My pencil drawing this week is from an overnight trip on the sailboat last week.  We sail on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and crabs play a large role in the state’s economy and gastronomy.  While on the water in the summer months, it is not unusual to be awakened (early!) by people, both amateurs and professionals, who are out catching crabs.  The professionals, especially when working alone, tend to be quieter than those who do this for fun and good eating.  Shouts of delight and exclamations over the size of large crabs woke us before sunrise as this group worked several lines of bait.

Value Study for Crabbers, pencil, 9" x 12"
Value Study for Crabbers, pencil, 9″ x 12″

After drinking a cup of coffee, we were less grumpy and able to rejoice with this group as they shouted, “Jumbo!”  Since sound carries easily over the water, we soon surmised that for two of these crabbers English is not their native language, and “jumbo” was a new word, one that will not be easily forgotten.

Doing a value study like this serves several purposes:  Having already drawn the picture, I am more familiar with the subject matter (practice) and will be able to paint it better.  I can spot corrections that need to be made before doing the painting.  (e.g. The man holding the pole needs to be up a little higher because he is standing in the boat.  The pole needs a slice of the net above the water to allow viewers to know what it is.)  If the value study conveys the idea, then the picture will work in color if I get the values right  (i.e. “color gets all the credit, but value does all the work.”)

9 thoughts on “Time Out for Art – Get out a Pencil!

  1. the drawing is beautiful ruth, and the story a great one! yes, it helps to work out details in pencil. i’m working on a botanical detail and have only photos – never my favorite way, and it seems to take twice as long if the subject matter is not right in front of me.

    • Yes, having the subject in front of me makes me more aware of the passage of time and the need to get the subject down on paper before… before the light changes, the flower petals fall, the animal moves away, it starts to rain, etc. Photos are great for fleeting moments, but introduce their own anomalies like everything being in focus and a lack of color in the shadows. I had to do this picture from a photo as the boat was in constant motion with the light changing subtly each time they worked this line.

      • i still recall your painting of the apple pie (?)— i would have had a hard time waiting for the painting to be finished before taking a slice of pie!

        last week i worked from photos on two studies of butterflies with a touch of foliage/flowers.. i was tempted to stop and go for a trek in search of the foliage – i find that i am at times a bit spoiled when photos just don’t capture what i’m wanting to paint!

      • My husband had a lot of trouble with the idea of an apple pie (his favorite!) sitting in my studio instead of the kitchen.
        And painting from life show in the final result!

  2. What a great drawing, Ruth. I love your figures — they capture the mood perfectly. They look like they are eagerly anticipating the catch. I also like what you said about doing a value sketch to catch things that are not quite right (and also to get the right values). I’ve done value sketches only a few times, and I notice that when I do, the final painting is better. You’re right about the standing man needing to be higher. And great job on the boat!! The perspective and curves on a boat can be tricky.

    I think one of the reasons I shy away from doing a value sketch is that I feel if I’ve drawn it once, I won’t be able to draw it again. I know that’s a fallacy, but I think it’s what keeps me from doing a planning sketch.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • I often don’t want to do a value sketch, either. What is it about us as artists that wants every picture to be perfect without any practice? The first time I consistently did value studies was when taking a workshop with Tony Van Hasselt. One of his sayings is, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” The value sketch doesn’t have to be full size – a small square in a sketchbook is often enough to help work out the details. I did this one large as I wanted to work out the people. I wasn’t sure that the picture would work without something at the end of the pole where they are all staring. I also didn’t think it would work until I put in the background, which provided enough contrast and also a way to enter the picture and get to the boat.

      • I forgot to mention — I love the background! It really adds to the composition (and the contrast, as you mentioned).

        I’ve been thinking about taking a Tony Van Hasselt workshop…

      • I worked more on the background than I would have if I’d just been doing a value sketch. Since I wanted to post it as a pencil drawing, I put in the texture of the trees. I also tried to make sure that the background was either darker or lighter than the figures in the boat, without making it seem artificial.
        I enjoyed my workshop with Tony. He’s a wonderful teacher. If you want a “preview” of the workshop, take a look at the book he and Judy Wagner wrote: Watercolor Fix-It Book.

  3. Reblogged this on middlebaysailing and commented:
    Earlier in the month, I blogged about cruising to Rhode River and being awakened by crabbers. My wife had a similar take on the experience – grumpy at first, then coffee, then everything’s okay! She also sketched a scene from that experience, and is in the process of planning a watercolor painting from that sketch. Here is her account and description of the sketch.

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