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Pune/ India, Irvine/ CA, now Boulder/ CO
Welcome to my blog! I'm Hrishi from Pune, India. I am an earth system scientist currently working as a postdoctoral research associate at Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at CU-Boulder. Here I mostly write (though not as frequently as I hope to) about my travels, landscape photography, scientific computing, book and film reviews, fitness, cooking, and science communication. Feel free to navigate based on the labels below. My website: hrishikeshac.wix.com/hchandan

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Getting into art journaling

     When Sachin Tendulkar announced that he will be retiring from cricket, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that I, India, and the cricketing world won't be seeing one of the finest batsmen of all time play anymore. A person who was the only constant in the ever-changing faces in the last quarter century of international cricket. In a country like India, where uncertainty defines life, Sachin was the only certainty. To see my childhood hero, who continued playing not just till I was 10 or 15, but 27, finally call it a day was just so obvious, but yet, simply unbelievable. Among zillion emotions that overwhelmed me, was a tiny, insignificant desire to sketch him.

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, drawn in 2002
     I drew my last proper sketch in 2002, after finishing my 10th grade. My sketches weren't great, but they were decent. Most importantly, I liked them! :-). So when my sketch of Sachin came out to be utterly horrible, I had to sit down and wonder. After reflecting over it for a few days, I decided to revisit sketching with a fresh perspective. After all I am a very different person right now than I was in 2002. Also, since I'm in the US now, I decided to explore if there are any different methods, styles and materials that are interesting to experiment with. Like any other online buyer, I went to goddess amazon for answer. It was when I was skimming through countless books on sketching and watercoloring that I came across Cathy Johnson's Artist's Journal Workshop.
     It was a love at first sight. As someone who loved watching birds and maintained a field notebook, as well as a dairy, it never occurred to me to merge the two, and extend the concept to include vast number of interesting day-to-day things we all witness, study and appreciate in our subconscience even if our outer self is engrossed in seemingly important endeavors. After a couple of days, the UPS guy delivered the book to my apartment's patio.

Graphite pencils, 2005
     The central idea behind keeping an art journal is that you unleash your creativity without hurting your ego. For example, you are far less concerned how your drawing would turn out to be if you are drawing on a $5 sketchbook of size 4 x 6 as opposed to drawing on a 24 x 36 canvas. Plus, as there are several more pages at your perusal, you don't think about ruining the sketchbook drawing. Though this may sound obvious to you, I find it to be the single most important thing I've, as a average 'non-artist' person next door, heard about art and drawing.  Draw not for the sake of drawing but for documenting something which you really liked and care (to draw) for. End result: more sketches, more happiness, and no bruised ego.  :-)
     Since then I've also got The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds- an amazing, amazing book by a very talented artist- John Muir Laws. And the latest, and likely to be the last investment on art book for a while, is The Complete Watercolorist's Essential Notebook by Gordon Mackenzie. Its a brilliant book that is considered as a one-stop-shop for all things watercolor. It is a joint book of two of Mackenzie's bestsellers, and if I hadn't read one guy's review on amazon, I would have bought the first book for the same price as I paid for this two-books-in-one book!
A ship of books (based on a bookmark). Ink and
Alberecht Durer watercolor pencils on 4 x 6
     In terms of materials that I've armed myself with as I embark this journey, here's a list.
-Pencils: normal mechanical (0.5mm lead), 4B, and 6B
-Pen: Fabser Castell Pitt Artist pen- An amazing pen with waterproof ink
-Colors: I decided to give watercolor pencils a try since I'd never used them before, and their appeal in terms of portability is unmatched. So I got six colors of Faber Castell's Alberecht Durrer: two shades-a warm and cool, of the three primary colors red, blue and yellow. I really liked working with them. So much so that I decided to bite the bullet and get a basic set of watercolor paints. As getting just a few colors is enough as they can be mixed together to produce all the other intermediate colors, I decided to go for quality over quantity, and got myself a Daniel Smith Susie Short Essential Watercolors set. It is an amazing value for money purchase and several artists, including Cathy and John Muir Laws, use Daniel Smith paints. With 8 tubes of 15 ml each for ~$8 per tube, the Daniel Smith Susie Short collection is almost as cheap as the student grade Cotman series from Winsor and Newton.
-Brushes: Both Cathy and JML recommend waterbrushes in their books. Cathy recommends them for certain situations and especially so when using watercolor pencils. JML, however, mentioned in one of his youtube video that he stopped using normal brush, and now uses waterbrushes exclusively. Having said that, I am more comfortable using them as normal brushes and not as waterbrushes. Ever since their water got finished the first time, I haven't yet refilled them!
Spaceship Serenity. Ink and watercolor on bristol bonded paper
bottom half of a 9 x 12
-Sketchbooks: I first got Strathmore Bristol Bonded paper journal of size 9 x 12 because all I wanted to do was pencil sketching. But soon, mostly because I got discounts, I collected a 4x6 Strathmore Series 3000 sketchbook, Winsor and Newton's watercolor postcards, and Strathmore's series 4000, 5.5 x 8.8 sized sketchbook with watercolor paper. The idea is to have a heavier paper when using watercolors.
     I've seen several artists comment that the paper is the most important thing in watercolors. But again, that is for a studio-quality painting. We are talking about sketchbooks here. JML mentions that he likes drawing as well as painting birds on his cheap Canson book, and in fact stated that the crumpled paper (due to wetting from watercolors) adds a character to the sketchbook! My personal experience has been that I am quite satisfied with all the paper types when it comes to watercolors. It is just a journal, so I don't pay too much attention. Thats another liberating thing about journaling :-). However, I haven't made up my mind on what size journal I prefer. I initially liked 4 x 6 the most, but now I'm increasingly feeling constrained by that size for watercolors.
     One last thing that was a magical discovery for me is a kneaded eraser. All I can say is that I wish I knew about it and used it during my school days. Its ability to not erode the paper simply seems miraculous to me.

     Now with the three books and these materials, and countless tutorials and videos on youtube, I think I'm set to explore the world with pencils, ink and watercolors, and eventually specialize in birds and landscapes- the two fields that I strive to master as a nature photographer!
Tunnel View, Yosemite. Ink and watercolor on a 4 x 6 basic sketchbook. It was so small and fast, that start-to-finish took less than 20 minutes

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::An update::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

YES!! I was able to draw Tendulkar. Not the original portrait style that I had imagined, but with ink and watercolors.