Using a Tablet to capture subjects
I know that lots of artists are crazy about digital sketching, and I have tried it myself, but still prefer pencil and paper which will not become obsolete with the next device failure and OS upgrade. Yes, I confess I have been burned many times as technology marches on and gets away from me, taking my money with it.
Besides, with these restless hands, I find physical tools more gratifying.
However, I recall many years ago I wished I could view photos on a portable screen big enough to allow me to sketch directly from the photos.
Recently I realized that my cheap $65.00 Android tablet was exactly what I had envisioned all those years ago. It has a built-in camera which is adequate for the job of capturing subjects (and not much else).
I won't tell you which tablet I got because these electronic devices are quickly discontinued and replaced by better models. Besides, this one was made in China and probably only available in Asia.
The tablet camera is silent (no shutter sound) to my surprise, so even if the model notices me snapping a photo, he or she will assume I'm reading a book or playing a game. And it has a zoom function so I can take a photo from a distance.
I also found a free Android app with a grid view-finder function which makes the tablet even more useful. I'm not particularly interested in slavishly depicting exactly what I see in front of me since cameras already do that. But the grid is nice for showing me at a glance which foot is aligned directly under the head, and what other subtle spatial relationships might be lurking there.
Being a free app, it has those pesky ads which keep moving and greatly distract my "caveman" instincts which tell me I need to deal with the intrusion in my field of vision, but simply turning off Wi-Fi before I open the app also blocks the ad!
Here's an attempt to capture the subject on the tablet along with a quick sketch in my pocket spiral sketchbook. No, I didn't draw grid lines, but it's helpful even without them. It's hard to conjure up that sense of panic that the model may walk way, and there's real danger of over-working the sketch!
This sketch took only a few minutes.The model disappeared into that train when it came to a stop, so I wouldn't have been able to get more than a scribble even if I tried to sketch him on the spot.
This could be a fun thing. Sketching on the spot is still more fun and I still prefer it, but the tablet will let me catch the ones that get away, and this grid app is icing on the cake.
Adding a Background
Getting back to my ongoing hobby of collecting people, I had determined to add some backgrounds to my people collections. So one sunny day I set off on my bicycle to sketch some scenes in a larger spiral bound sketchbook.
I quickly discovered that this was not working well.
First, I had to pass up on several interesting storefront scenes because of all the people crowded together in the shopping street, leaving no room to stand and sketch for very long. And the sun was becoming unbearable as sketching scenes takes a lot longer than sketching people on the train. And I was reluctant to invest so much time on-the-spot for a scene that would eventually be mostly obscured by foreground figures.
I suddenly realized how perfect the tablet camera would be for this job. Unfortunately the tablet was the only thing I left at home that day in order to lighten my load, so it would have to wait for another day.
A few days later I found myself in Higashi (east) Ginza and came across an old shop on a side street. I waited until there were no cars coming down the road, stood in the middle of the street and snapped a few photos with my tablet.
Later at home I propped up the tablet on my desk and decided to try this in a Stillman and Birn 7 X 7 inch spiral bound sketchbook. This square format would allow me to draw the background without making the people tiny. First I lightly sketched in the basic lines so I would know where I could place the people. I then proceeded to draw the people from my pocket spiral bound sketchbook.
Then I added visible parts of the background. I haven't drawn buildings for a long time, and forgot how tedious this can be for someone with a short attention span like mine. Much different from drawing people. I need to be a little more careful and deliberate with my lines next time.
The figures were drawn in Carbon Ink with the brush pen and fountain pen described on the previous page. The background was done with the Carbon Ink fountain pen alone.
Then I added watercolor. Notice the guy on the right is the same guy I captured on the tablet camera above. The girl walking on the left also came from the tablet; I rarely sketch people who are walking toward me
Although these people had never been together in real life, and were not standing in front of this particular shop, this sketch became a very typical Tokyo scene with people standing in a long line absorbed in their smart phones.
This process of bringing together people and backgrounds from different sources was familiar to me although I hadn't thought of it in years. Back in the 1970's when I was a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, one of my teachers, Henry Koerner had us do something similar, sketching a nude model in the classroom in the morning, and going outside to sketch the background in the afternoon. The results could be pretty bizarre with nude women standing on the steel girders of a bridge in dowtown Pittsburgh. Of course, had we brought the model with us to actually stand on the girder, it would have caused quite an incident...
The late Henry Koerner was a colorful figure in our classroom, I remember him shouting, "Mamma loves green but not on the meat!" And I recall the time when he took us to the lobby of a fancy hotel and told us in a loud voice to go ahead and occupy all the sofas and chairs because he owned the place. He may not have been a hotel owner but he was a famous artist and illustrator, and I recall seeing some of his paintings in a museum -- including one that had nudes standing on steel girders of a bridge.
Like many artists, I have often sketched buildings in the past, adding people almost as an afterthought in order to give a sense of scale to the subject. This time the people are the focus and the building an afterthought. I think my people collection has suddenly become more interesting.
Another page to the Moleskine project
I then turned my attention back to the ongoing Moleskine project. Until now I had been adding a few figures at a time in ink and watercolor as the quick sketches in my pocket spiral-bound sketchbook started to accumulate. This time I waited a few weeks until the spiral-bound was filled up, and then chose the better subjects to redraw all at the same time in the Moleskine. This gave me freedom to choose and arrange the figures in a more interesting way. Some of the figures who made it into the Stillman & Birn above also appear in the Moleskine.
This horizontal format doesn't leave much room for backgrounds so I didn't even consider it.
Again, I left out the straps and poles that the subway passengers were holding onto, and substituted more interesting objects such as balloons and a ball.