Loose brush and ink sketches (winter, 2005)

These sketches were done indoors during the winter. Tokyo winters are absolutely gorgeous -- maybe the most beautiful time all year -- with amazing deep blue skies, but the cold wind still prevents me from enjoying sketch time outdoors. Die-hard sketchers will frown on this attitude, but if it's not enjoyable, I'd rather not do it.

Fortunately, thanks to some good suggestions from members of the Sketching Discussion Page, I was able to find and try new warm places to sketch on my sketch days in addition to the subway. Thanks to the inspiration I get from that sketching forum, my sketching activity has increased, and my sketchbooks are filled with hundreds of these quickly drawn brush and ink sketches. Nearly all of them are of people. I've discovered that it has become very easy to draw people, and I need to start drawing other things, too. When the weather gets warmer I plan on going back out to tackle more complex outdoor scenes.

The curious laughing face on the right was not someone I saw on riding the subway. It was actually a photograph on a poster on the wall I saw on the other side of the tracks while waiting for the subway to come. I have not drawn many photographs in the past, and was surprised to discover how nice it was to have a model that didn't move at all! Good thing too, since the train came about two minutes after I began sketching.

More seated people on the subway. The school girl on the left looked very tired, and the guy on the right was fast asleep, with his legs all over the aisle (considered very rude in Tokyo). All the black and white sketches were done with my Kuretake Yumeginga brush pen and Kuretake ink (which is not waterproof).

As with all my simple sketches recently, these have no pencil underdrawing -- there's simply not enough time. But these subjects are are so simple that it's not difficult to keep spatial relationships in mind. With a more complex subject I still do a light pencil under-drawing before I jump in with ink. The pencil drawing would be in the same rambling continuous line style that I use with ink. This is still the best style for keeping those two extremes -- accuracy and liveliness -- in a drawing.

Finally got a Cahier

After keeping my eyes peeled for many months I finally found a store in Tokyo that carries the Moleskine Cahier notebooks (like I needed another item that nobody can pronounce).

I got the plain version with brown cover. Finally I have a decent little sketchbook for brush and ink sketching thin enough to fit in my shirt pocket or back pocket and yet not fall apart like the Volants do. One reason is that the Cahier is held together by a single row of strong stitching, so there are no glued pages to come undone. I took it with me on the subway and found that spontaneous sketching happens so much easier now. Those few extra seconds saved might give me a fighting chance to complete a sketch before the model has moved or been blocked from view. This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

The above sketch was made in less than a minute as I waited for the subway to pull in. I wouldn't use these for planned sketching time; then I would use a bigger sketchbook, even a watercolor sketchbook, but these Cahier are perfect for unplanned sketch moments. I can't think of anything else that comes close.

The sketch of the girl was made inside the subway a few seconds later, again with the brush pen. I'm only drawing on the right side pages and using the left for blotting. That way I can close the sketchbook before the ink is dry. The paper is smooth, and seems to take longer to dry than regular Moleskine notebook paper. Also, you can see the image through the paper, which makes drawing on the left hand pages a bad idea.

A little cream with my coffee and a little color with my sketch

These next two drawings were done in a coffee shop in Ginza called Renoir. This is a coffee shop chain which is popular with tired salary men all over Tokyo. The coffee is priced a bit high but you can stay as long as you like. The waitress will even bring you free cup of green tea when your coffee is all gone. A lot of people actually take naps there. This makes for a perfect sketching environment. The only problem is that it is incredibly smokey and the chairs are uncomfortably low, and the decor is usually tacky and depressing.

The businessman on the left looked like a typical Tokyo young executive studying business documents on his lunch break. The man on the right was unique with his distinguished long white hair and mustache. Not a typical modern Japanese style. He seemed very relaxed and content, and I wondered if he was an artist. I did these on postcards made of watercolor paper with a Kuretake brush pen filled with Platinum carbon ink. I took along one of my home made wooden sketch boxes which is the exact same size as a postcard (but much thicker of course). The color was laid on with a waterbrush.

These were drawn on my weekly sketch day (or sketch afternoon, rather) when I actually set out to sketch somewhere in color.

This last postcard sketch was done during my sketch afternoon a week later. It was a cold rainy day, so I checked the internet for more Renoir coffee shops in my neighborhood. I found one about 15 minutes away by train in an area called Motoyawata. This turned out to be in a basement, and practically empty of customers.

I parked myself in a corner and began a pencil under-drawing of the chairs and tables, hoping a model would come in and sit down in front of me. Nobody did, so I continued with brush pen and then watercolors. It ended up being a sketch of just chairs and tables.

Some of the other suggestions from the sketch forum for indoor sketching included food courts, libraries, and pet shops. I was sketching at a food court a few weeks earlier, and plan to visit a library soon. If I can find a pet shop in Tokyo that has room enough for a sketcher, I'll try that, too.

If you haven't visited the Sketching Discussion Page yet, I hope you will sometime soon. It has become one of my main hangouts (it had better be, since I'm the administrator) and it is very inspiring.

More subway sketches

As winter drags on I continue to sketch indoors, with the subway being my main sketching place. The old woman reading a book really did look like this, although the rambling lines did emphasize the things that drew my attention in the first place.

This sketch was done in a hardbound black sketchbook with brush pen and Platinum carbon ink. I colored it later at home with watercolors. These sketchbooks are nice for light washes if you simply want to add a little color, but they won't accept anything more ambitious such as graded washes or even large expanses of flat wash.

It's not easy to find a sketchbook that accepts a brush pen and also is good with watercolor. Brush pens deliver ink at a controlled rate, and it's usually not enough to cover the valleys in rough surface watercolor paper. That's one reason I still keep a yatate handy, and make sure to take it with me on sketch days. It's not as convenient or portable as a brush pen, but it's still very portable, and there are times when you just need the advantage of a brush dipped directly in ink. I also use a yatate when I'm drawing with ink at home because it's more fun and convenient that pouring ink into a saucer.

The following sketches of subway passengers were done on high quality Arches watercolor paper in a pocket size sketchbook. These sketchbooks can't be found in any store; fellow artist Don West sent a few of them to me from America. He does all his sketches on these amazing sketchbooks which he binds himself with hand stitching. He has a sketch blog called Idle Minutes where you can find some great ink and watercolor sketches.

The girl above is a student. Many Japanese junior high schools and high schools still require the girls to wear sailor uniforms, but there are subtle variations in color or details to identify which school the girl attends. The boys in these schools often wear black high collar military uniforms.

These were all done with a brush pen, filled with Platinum carbon ink. If I slow down and draw more deliberately, the ink flow has enough time to catch up and cover the rough surface. Coloring these with watercolor later at home is a real pleasure. What a difference good paper makes! The guy below on the right was a strange character with an interesting light bluish green coat and yellow bag. When I colored his coat collar, the paint ran into the adjacent area of the face which was still wet. It was a happy accident, and made him even more interesting.

To Sketchbook part 2 >>