Monterey Bay Aquarium/Color Studies & Sketches

Jamie and I recently went on a trip down the coast to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of my very favorite places in the world. We both brought our drawing, sketching, and painting supplies, including my new samsung tablet. Because most of my color sketching was going to be done inside the aquarium, I carried around my tablet in my messenger bag and took it out when I saw something I wanted to study.

As mentioned in my previous post, the primary reason I purchased the tablet was so that I could do a lot more color studies of interior lighting in situations where it would be difficult to take out my usual paints or pastels, places like restaurants, cafes, aquariums, museums, unusual interior lighting situations. Boy am I glad I did. Each time I would sketch from life in the aquarium, I would take a photo before I left. When I would look at the photo later, I noticed a HUGE difference - the camera most of the time did not capture the lighting effects I observed, and if it did, the spirit of that light was completely lost, subdued, or just not there. What an amazing learning experience!

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Below are a few of my digital studies. I also did numerous pencil and watercolor studies of the animals in the aquarium, and a few pastels from up the coast. I will post those next week.

 The Kelp Forest. So glad I brought my noise canceling headphones for this one. There were deafening crowds of pre-teens on a field trip with their school. You never know what will confront you when plein air sketching - I highly recommend headphones if you sketch in public places. 

I liked the presentation of this display so much. The blue light spilling from the water and the  yellow-green reflections of the kelp were gorgeous. I felt the design stood well on it's own.

The sketch above is downstairs looking into the Sea Otter display, sea otters mostly spending their time up above water and only occasionally diving below. I noticed this perch watching people as they went by and thought it was funny...

Some sketches went faster than others. This one in the Deep Sea Exhibit was done in about 30 minutes. It was at the end of the day and just seemed to flow. I figured out a composition and story as it evolved in front of me. 

Of all the subjects I studied in the aquarium, this jellyfish display was absolutely the most difficult. I sat across from the display on the floor against a wall in almost total darkness. My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but when I looked down into the bright computer screen of my tablet, my eyes would adjust to that brightness, so that when I looked back up again at the jellies, I had to give my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness again. VERY tough! I spent a good two hours trying to capture the light of the tank. Wow, what a learning experience this sketch was! 

A Couple of Plein Air Digital Paintings

For awhile now, I've been trying to come up with an easier take-with-me-everywhere method of plein air sketching. I have full plein air kits for pastels, oil and watercolor, but often I find that even though I keep one of these kits in the trunk of my car, I usually don't feel inclined to bring it all in to a restaurant, coffee shop or on an afternoon trip downtown. I wanted something MUCH more lightweight and accessible - and the iPad has been it.

Here is a sketch from a recent day trip to the ferry building in San Francisco, a busy tourist-heavy area of the city. 

My main objective with iPad sketching is to mimic plein air oil paint using the alla prima technique, direct painting, as opposed to more labor intense methods. The idea is to work quickly on site and get it all down in about an hour or so of working. That means everything from gesture, composition, hue, value relationships and light relationships.

About the hardware: I have yet to find a stylus I am completely comfortable with; I am currently using the Wacom Creative Stylus. I am not keen on recommending it, however, because it feels like painting with a giant crayon. I unfortunately purchased the Wacom Creative Stylus 2 and found afterwards that it is not compatible with many painting apps, including Procreate. A few friends have given good reviews of the Jot Adonit Stylus, which is far cheaper and compatible with a lot of apps. 

In the Procreate app, I created a set of swatches in the color picker that are the standard colors of my basic oil painting palette, plus a few white convenience colors so that I don't have to constantly mix the same color over and over. Using these swatches helped me in getting a similar look to traditional paintings, although I think I could still fine tune the set. 

In addition to that, I am still trying to refine my brushes to find a working method that mimics traditional brushes. Procreate provides a set of brushes that you can then customize, but  I have yet to find some that are to my liking.

Year of the [Electric] Sheep

In 1968, Philip K. Dick wrote a groundbreaking book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, which was later turned into the film, “Blade Runner”,directed by Ridley Scott. Perhaps the best (at least to me) science fiction film and story of all time. Douglass Trumbull designed all of the practical effects, a profound inspiration on science fiction film and myself all these years. In honor of Year of the Sheep, I did this speed paint.

Year of the [ Electric ] Sheep. Recorded with Camtasia Studio. Edited in iMovie. Painted in Photoshop CS 6. Initial base layer texture from Cgtextures.com. Custom brushes. Observational study of a sculpture I photographed in the Louvre in 2012, a marble vase originally in Versailles. Music by Vangelis, "Blade Runner".