Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Drawing Django

Remember my blog on Georges Monnot ? Well, he shares something in common with Django Reinhardt. They both share the same graveyard in the little French village of Samois-sur-Seine just outside Fontainebleau. And while Georges isn’t famous like Django, I just wanted to put long forgotten Georges into the spotlight. Now my tribute to Django. 

I have listened and learned more about Django. I won’t tell his life story because many books and movies tell his story better than this blog post ever could. However, a few things do impress me about him.

Django Reinhardt learned to play violin when he was twelve simply by watching the fingers of musicians playing. He also played the banjo and guitar. Even a horrible fire in which he suffered terrible burns to his body including fingers didn’t stop him from playing. Sadly, like Georges, he died way too young at age 43 from a brain hemorrhage. 

I have my husband to thank for getting me into Gypsy Jazz and introducing me to Django. So when he called me at work one day and said that there was a Django festival in Fontainebleau, I immediate said, “Book the tickets, and we’ll worry about flights later!”  

We got our festival tickets, and I was excited and delighted to attended the Django Festival in Fontainebleau just outside Paris. There are Django Festivals held around the world in his honor every year. It felt wonderful to spend four days near his home town of Samois-sur-Seine. Breakfast in the tiny village listening to gypsy jazz bands in the warm sunshine; people chatting, coffee, more coffee, sun, pastries, ice water, tapping feet, all completed the scene of French village life.

The atmosphere at the festival in Fontainebleau was as delightful, and very laid back with amazing impromptu jam sessions that sprung up just about everywhere. People who didn’t know each other were bought together, played together, and united through music. Music does that. It is universal. What a wonderful thing that is. 

In my opinion, Django is a musical genius despite never learning to read music. We will return, and next time I will contribute to Django’s guitar pic collection left on his grave. I will also lay a rose for Django’s nearby neighbor, Georges. 

Meanwhile, I continue my battle with faces. My little sketch tribute to Django. I will try to do him more just as I get better. 

Django Reinhardt - Graphite

Reference photo. My goal is to try this in charcoal which will provide much darker shading...

Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Crystal Balls

As my new drawing journey continues, I am discovering a whole new world. Artists help me see things I never really paid particular attention to before. It is like having a new set of eyes that now see the shapes of things, how an object absorbs light, reflections, and shadows. It was only just a while ago that I was trying to draw some ancient glass flasks that I saw in the museum of Israel. I just never really captured the effect of glass. A friend recently challenged me to draw a Klein bottle which I will. That will be a whole other blog. 

Before attempting to draw the Klein bottle, I decided that I really must learn how to draw glass. So I returned to YouTube, and after watching various other artists who were all good, I discovered the Artist Leonardo Pereznieto who drew a beautiful crystal ball like magic... He made it look so easy. I watched a couple more of his tutorials on drawing glass and immediately bought his book, “Simply Techniques for Realistic Drawings” which I am more than happy with. Leonardo is an artist who has exhibited his work in various counties throughout Europe; America, and Seoul, South Korea. I recommend his book, and   
YouTube Channel. Now back to my drawing board. 

With my new materials recommended by Leonardo, and after following his step by step instructions, I finally got something to resemble his glass ball on my practice sketch pad. Now I felt comfortable repeating the exercise on my better paper.

I was excited about using my new fine Fabriano paper that Leonardo had recommended in his book. Oh yeah, I am learning a fair bit about paper. Did you know paper have teeth? No, neither did I. I digress.  When I get anything new, I am always excited, but nervous when using something for the first time. It’s kind of like not wanting to dirty a pair of new running shoes.  So what do I do immediately applying my graphic stick broadside to tone the paper? Scratch the paper with the stick!  That is a huge deal to someone who has an anal retentive issue about using things for the first time. Well that was a live and learn moment. I learned not to skirt around spending $14 on a packet of graphite powder, or use my toned paper. Always invest in the right materials for the job. I did like how my new Fabriano paper absorbed the graphite. The rest of my drawing went smoothly. 

So here is my end result. You can see what I mean by the scratching, and line marks resulting in very uneven toning. Although, the photo does make it look slightly worse. 

My crystal ball 

Crystal ball - Leonardo Pereznieto 

Notice the difference in toning of the background as well as his gradations. This is definitely a project I will repeat — with Graphite powder. 

Drawing is often like visiting another town. There is always something you miss, and each time you revisit, you get to know the town just that little bit better. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Georges Monnot and Me

It’s been two years since I met Georges in Samois-sur-Seine two years ago. We had returned again to the northern region of France to see the Django Rheinhardt festival held each year in Fontainebleu. This picturesque village was where Django and Georges lived, and originally where the gypsy jazz guitarist held the festival. Samois is such a beautiful place with a typical little square with cafes, bars and patisseries. A distant church bell chiming on the hour added to the ambiance of village life here.  A gypsy jazz band playing in the square was part of the the festival before it grew so big that they had to move it to Fontainebleu. It was fun to people watch sitting out side in the morning sunshine. Everyone engaged in conversation, coffee, and drink, made me feel happy.  As engaging and interesting to watch the crowds were, there was another man not far away from this bustling little square who captured my eye. 

Georges was someone way too young to belong in a graveyard along with Django also too young. Yet here Georges was in this lonely little grave yard. Those who had his memory are also long gone. I wondered if he enjoyed the village square like I did, enjoying coffee, and gypsy jazz. 

Georges was such a handsome young man who apparently was a deportee, and all that is left of him is a photo, and plaque in this tiny little village on the Seine just outside Fontainebleau. His young face and piercing eyes held me long enough to read that he was a deportee during the second world war, and thus transported to one of the many concentration camps in a cattle truck cramped in with many others. 

What a story this young man if he had lived could have told. Sadly, it is the same story over and over for many... Too many. My sketches are poor and don’t serve this young man justice. I yearn to know more about him, but I probably never will. As I work on his little face, I wonder who he was; was he in love? What about his family? His personality? Was he into gypsy jazz, and danced to Django..? Did he play? Everything about him I want to know, but never will. All I can learn about him is the shading of his features, and how to draw. He is teaching me with his mesmerizing gaze. I hope that maybe he escaped? I hope, but deep down know, that this young man most likely suffered before his untimely death. No matter what, a young man doesn’t belong in a graveyard at 21 years old. That leaves me sad. 

I didn’t draw the surrounding plaque. I want him to be alive and be who he could have been. I would like to tell his story, but this is one story I cannot tell, except my story and my discovery of him. There were too many Georges of World War II. This is my tribute to him and all deportees of France. 

Georges, I will keep drawing you, and one day you will hopefully be immortalized in a charcoal drawing of mine. For now, here you are in Graphite. 

Georges Mennot 1945 age 21 years old. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Around in Circles

My father always used to say, “Why stand up when you can sit down, and why sit down when you can lie down?” I was quick to adopt that line of thinking after trying to draw a circle free hand as suggested by an online tutorial on things to practice. Practice I did, but after filling a sheet of ovals, and scrawls that looked like a two year old let loose with my tools, I eyed my compass set longingly. I eventually relented. First, my journey towards the compass leading me to my final destination of a ball-bearing. 

I persisted a little bit more with my circle drawing. The circle was not perfect, but I rolled with my “spherical” creation and got to work on the shading per a couple of tutorials. The shading turned out a little better than my free-hand circle-drawing. The small drawing on my scratch paper resembled a rather nice tomato which was completely unintended, but that’s okay. I like tomatoes. Usually, still life is drawn with a real life visual or a photo. I chose an image of a fancy expensive ball-bearing. More on ball-bearings later as they have a fascinating history. Bear with me. 

The objective of the sphere-drawing exercise was to get practice with shading objects, and highlights with a realistic shadow. My larger free hand orb, turned into a loaf of squarish bread. It was this result that I applied my father’s rule of thumb about sitting up when one can lie down. 

So why try to draw a circle free hand when I have a tool called a compass that does the job perfectly? I decided to employ the easiest, and most comfortable route that would draw a perfect circle. I relented to the compass beckoning to me and reminding me of what perfect circles it can draw.

I quickly had a perfect circle at the size I wanted rather than what my hand thought I wanted. I could focus on the goal of magically turning my circle into a sphere by practicing what I had been shown in the online tutorials which by the way are fantastic. So yes, while I agree it is good practice to draw shapes free-hand, if I want to produce a perfect sphere, I will employ my compass for the task! 

My first sphere was done using a method of pre-determining the light source and shadow using some geometry by using ellipses to determine the where the light hits the surface, and the light fades to dark, and how long the shadow will be using points on the sphere.. I thought that was fascinating. I used graphite for the first sphere on my small sketch/practice pad, and then turned to charcoal pencils for my larger piece. 

And finally to round things off, my final sphere (ball-bearing) drawn with a compass and charcoal pencils (I used my stick willow charcoal for the background.) I feel reasonable happy with the result although my shadow could probably have been a bit longer. I’ll round off now with a little more about ball-bearings. 

So why a ball bearing? Ball-bearings are quite a simple technology. Their usage dates back to ancient Egyptians who used rollers to move large stones. They used the technology to build the pyramids (sorry Erich Von Däniken fans). The rollers were made of wood. Leonardo di Vinci is credited with inventing the ball bearing in a racer groove designed to reduce friction between two moving surfaces. However, the first patent was awarded almost 300 years later to Philip Vaughan, an Iron master from Carmarthen in 1794. 
I find it fascinating how this ancient technology is still employed in various applications, and improved upon. Nowadays, ball bearing are a bit more complex and the technology expanded to take care of shifting loads and forces. They are made of various metals like stainless steel, chrome, silicon nitride (ceramic), and titanium carbide.

Ball-bearings are virtually everywhere. Where this is a rotational moving part in an appliance, or machinery you will find ball-bearings. Off the wall applications are skate boards, and fidget spinners (remember those?).

Another little interesting factoid is that ball-bearing factories were often the targets of bombing raids by the the British in WWII that would severely hobble the German war industry. That’s how significant ball-bearings are. So, here’s to balls, big, and small, where would we be with out them all?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Drawing Adventures

This week, I have been immersing myself in watching videos about drawing and learning about new media. I took the sound advice of an acquaintance who is an artist and suggested that I try “conte”. I was clueless. So off to YouTube I go. The art work produced by conte is splendid. The artists I watched work like magicians where images of amazing 18th century-like artwork evolves before your eyes. 

Conte also has an interesting history. During the Napoleonic Wars, graphite became scarce due to blockades preventing its import into France. So in 1795, a French man called, Nicolas Jacque Conté developed a drawing medium by combining clay and graphite. 

What is also nice about this medium, natural pigments are used to get the different colors. Some of the pigments are simply oxides of various metals such as iron and titanium. 

My first adventure with this media was obviously to draw something, but first, I watched a beautiful YouTube video of an artist sketching something that quickly morphed into a fresco-cherub. That was far too ambition for my liking. However, I thought why not try...? I wanted to draw something that reminded me of our trip to France and flicked through my online photos from our 2017 trip to Paris. And there she was; a beautiful nymph with hair adorned with leaves blowing in the wind.  

I sketched the tiny face of the nymph that I saw in the art work inside a wonderful restaurant, Le precope in Paris. I was determined to draw something French which would remind me of the wonderful day and evening meal that we shared with friends.  

I practiced first on my smaller pad with just a good old B2 graphite pencil. It didn’t take long. I had to chuckle when she turned into a pixie with her ear in the wrong place and a little on the large side, but she is my first portrait, and she has since grown on me. I like her. 

Watching drawing videos feels a bit like watching cooking shows where the cake comes out perfectly. And it looks so easy! So now, this is what my nymph’s face is suppose to look like. She is also accompanied by a poem: 

“the nympho of the shore with fish makes war in the month when raging winds on the waters make it return to the river and return to the earth the meadow where the flowers bring back the birds” 

I will revisit this Nymph again armed with conte. Now onto what I did manage to draw with conte.

Finally, I decided to sketch something much simpler. Another memory sprang to life when I came across a photo of a leather-bound edition of my favorite novel, Madame Bovary on a stall along the Seine Embankment. I love walking along there and onto Shakespeare and Co. across the street. At €250, I could only have the book as a distant memory. I have the book in a form I created from the photo. Alas, I can’t feel the old leather, and gently turn the aged pages, but I can turn the pages of my sketch pad and relive fabulous memories through the tips of graphite, charcoal, and now conte. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Galilee Man

Meet Galilee  “man” or woman. The museum of Israel were careful not to misgender this ancient hominid from approximately 250,000 ya. 

I felt excited about drawing something so old. I’ve drawn things much older but drawing an ancient human felt special. Alas, after I completed my drawing, I discovered during my research on Galilee man that the fossilized skull was a cast! The actual fossil is housed in the Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, my “ancient” model still provided an opportunity for me to practice my new love affair with charcoal, and recall memories of the amazing rainy afternoon that I spent in the archeological part of the Israel Museum. I knew then that I had to return to drawing, and took photos with drawing the subjects in mind.

Months after my Israel trip, I finally resumed drawing and purchased various new tools for my planned projects. My new collection of tools includes compressed, and willow charcoal. Like all artists, opinions vary on different mediums. Personally, I am favoring willow over compressed charcoal partly, because it is much more forgiving, and easier for smudging. I am still learning about the different affects produced from the varying hardness and softness of the different types of charcoal. 

Back to Galilee Man, after all, the piece really is all about him, or her. I feel like I have something in common with him since he too has been cooped up in a cave for ages. Granted it has not been 250,000 years for me, but it sure feels like it. Galilee man was discovered in 1925 by Francis Turville-Petre and taken from Zuttiyeu Cave. Galilee man belongs to the taxonomy Homo heidelbergensis. H. Heidelbergensis was dispersed throughout Europe, and Eastern and Southern Africa. Fellow H.sapiens, he is our ancestor! I hope the rest of the family like this old fossil’s portrait... He sort of looks like Darth Vada, doesn’t he? 

Photo of Galilee Man cast is mine. Drawing, Charcoal 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

From Milk to Booze

My drawing experience is growing with a main focus on still life right now. I eyed my vintage Coors pot on top of the kitchen cabinets where it had been collecting grease and dust for how long, I would rather not say! Also, I am proud of this bargain that I found in a junk job for what was $100 marked down to $30. I should really treat it more nicely. 

Before I could begin to use the pot as a still life piece, I had to start with a clean piece. After all, I did not want to mess with trying to sketch the accumulated brown grease.. (I must look up more often). 

The pot was a lot more challenging in part because I should have chosen a lighter medium. I did the lid with a medium willow charcoal which is thankfully very forgiving. For the pot, I used 4B graphite. I should have stayed with 2B which was my original intent. I had recently learned that it is a rule of thumb to keep lights mediums and darks together while combining charcoal and graphite. Also not to overlay the two mediums. I though the 4B would go with medium charcoal. Now I see that obviously, 4B is a dark rather than lighter graphite. We live and learn. 

Speaking of learning, I was curious about how Coors came to produce Malt Milk. It turns out that Coors turned to the manufacture of milk during prohibition. The equipment and processes used to manufacture beer is the same for malt milk. Coors stopped manufacturing malted milk in 1957. 

Another surprise while researching the story behind Coors and their Pure Malted Milk, I discovered that my prize was worth even more than originally thought. I found it on Ebay for $498! It deserves a second sitting for another still life. Next time with lighter medium. Perhaps all charcoal or all graphite. I haven’t decided. 

Meanwhile, my work is done, I will conclude it with a beer — absolutely not Coors though... Sorry Coors, but you should have suck to Pure Malted Milk. I like your vintage pots though.