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Pencil Studies as Preliminaries

December 23, 2010

Creek at Roundrock, Pencil, Ralph Parker

I’ve been an active participant in the Landscape Forum on WetCanvas for several years now.  During that time, I’ve been introduced to a lot of wonderful painters, many of whom are mentioned or referred to time after time.  There are some, however, who are never, or rarely mentioned.  I suspect that’s because they paint western or cowboy subjects.  Granted, there is a southwest/western art forum, but it’s a shame, really, that some of these are not looked at more often by those learning to paint the landscape.

Those who come to mind are Howard Terpning, Paul Calle, and Texas painter Bob Wygant.  Terpning’s focus has almost always been on Native Americans, and his portrayals of them are masterpieces, but if one studies his paintings enough, a truly masterful rendering of the landscape itself shows through.  Calle has spent much of his career, aside from his NASA illustrations, bringing trappers and mountain men to life, along with the rugged landscape they explored.  Bob Wygant is special to me in a very personal way.  He was one of my art instructors at the University of Houston back in the late sixties and early seventies.  Bob is no longer with us, but his love of the Texas landscape touches me every time I see one of his paintings.

San Gabriel River, Ralph Parker

These artists, along with Robert “Shoofly” Shufelt, have been heroes of mine for many, many years.  Shufelt, to my knowledge, has always worked strictly in pencil, but because that was my preferred medium for some forty years, he falls into the “hero” category.  In fact, hanging over the desk where I’m typing this, is one of my most prized possessions: a signed limited edition lithograph of Shufelt’s “1000 Mile Checkup”.  The image measures 16″ x 22″.  That print was Nell’s gift to me on our very first Christmas together twenty years ago.

But my focus for the moment is on Calle.  Paul Calle is a master pencil artist and a master painter.  And the thing about Calle is that he does a very complete, detailed, full size pencil drawing as part of his preliminary work for a painting.  I saw one of them in a gallery many years ago, and was astounded.  I recently decided that I needed to inject some variety into my studio time, and have revived some old skills, particularly the use of the pencil.  I’ll admit, I pulled my copy of Paul Calle’s “The Pencil” off the bookshelf and studied it again as I sharpened a pile of No. 2’s and dug out my old “clutch” lead holder.

I’ve said all this to set the scene for what I’ve been up to.

I’ve spent the last couple of days scrolling through some reference photos I took while in Austin last weekend.  My youngest daughter and one-year-old grandson spent nearly three hours taking me to some places along the San Gabriel River in Georgetown, just north of Austin.  My intent was to just do some thumbnails, looking for some potential painting subjects.  I’ve had contractors in the house doing some remedial work this week, and didn’t want to be up in the studio while they came and went.  So, I camped out in my chair in the living room and sketched from laptop images.  Over the last three days, I’ve done a dozen or so “thumbnails” and five larger studies.

I started with little 4″x5″ sketches.  These are my version of thumbnails.  I tend to put a little more into these than most artists would, but that’s because I love to draw and can’t resist.

First is a little 4″x5″ sketch of a creek that runs under Interstate 35 in Roundrock, Texas:

To give me a better idea of what this might look like as a painting, I scanned this little image and lightened it to a very faint gray image, then printed it at 8″x10″ on plain printer paper.  This is the size of the potential painting.  Then, I worked over the lightened image with pencil.  Although this was intended to be only a simple study, I was having so much fun, I carried it a bit further than that, bringing it to this point:

For some reason, my new scanner isn’t picking up the very subtlest pencil strokes, so I’ve had to darken the image a bit here.

Here’s another of my little “thumbnails”, a portion of shoreline along the San Gabriel River where it passes beside San Gabriel Park in Georgetown, Texas.  The reference photo was taken in mid-December, so what’s there at this time is mostly branches of bushes that, presumably, would normally be lush and green.

Again, blowing the image up and printing it out lightly at 8″x10″, I worked over it with pencil to get this:

And one more… first the 4″x5″ sketch:

And the larger 8″x10″ version:

The subtle pencil strokes probably don’t scan well because they were laid on plain printing paper with no texture.  But hopefully, the idea comes across.  Now to select one of the larger versions, transfer it onto illustration board, make any additional compositional adjustments that seem necessary… and paint.  Whether I can do these scenes justice in color with paint remains to be seen.  Here’s hoping a good painting results over the next few days.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2011 12:14 am

    Thanks for mentioning one of my heros Paul Calle.I puschased The Pencil back in 1981 and I continually read it.I was also saddened by his passing thankfully he left us some great gifts through his art. Thanks and keep up the good work.
    Sincerely yours joe angel.

    • June 1, 2011 9:21 am

      Thanks for dropping in, Joe. I’ve lightened my load considerably recently, and have parted with a lot of books. But The Pencil was one that had to stay in my limited library. Nice to hear from you.

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