Monday, May 31, 2010

Street-View Project

Okay, so I've been really, really slacking on updating all of my blogs consistently. Especially this one, as I wanted to post the process of one of my pieces (entitled East Meets West), as it was happening.

Now, the piece is completed and getting framed, so I guess I'll have to dump the whole process on here--and most likely post finished-and-framed pictures at a later time--like when I get to see it finished.

You can chase this link to the backstory and inspiration of this piece. This post would've been really, really long, and the photos would've been way at the bottom--boring. I suggest reading the backstory if you are confused on what I was trying to draw/convey.

This piece was designed and created for the Museum of Northwest Art's 18th Annual Art Auction. Originally, I was planning to use a portrait of some type for this, but ended up puttering out mid-project.

My initial idea was to use really long sheets of paper to show long stretches of buildings from street-view, like rolls of receipt paper, which are 3-inches tall, and can be more than 120-feet long. When I pitched this idea to the Director of the local Museum of Northwest Art, he thought a heavier watercolor paper would be more appropriate, as well as adding color--my idea was using black ink, graphite, and some red.

Once I had all of my materials together (which I will list later), I went to work.

Using rulers and straight-edges, I drew out the panels to be used. I then referenced lots of live sketches from weeks before, and put down light sketches of the buildings on three panels--I couldn't get a piece that long.

I started with really big pieces of heavy-duty watercolor paper. Because I was going to use washes of acrylic paint later (really watered down like watercolors), I gave myself a 2-inch. margin, and laid down painter's tape to help prevent buckling/warping. In hindsight, this ended up barely taking off the surface of the paper, and I know not to do it on this type of paper anymore. I'll just be more careful with my paints.

Using watered down India ink, and various calligraphy nibs, I inked out the buildings and lines I wanted to keep. Because the ink was so watered down, it was real faint so any mistakes would be easy to remove or cover up. The inked lines I liked were darkened later.

For windows and doors, I used masking fluid to confine the ink to only those areas. Once the ink was dried, I erased all other graphite lines, as well as the dried masking fluid using gum-block erasers. Using more watered down ink, and wider calligraphy nibs, I darkened large patches of shadows--like beneath awnings or down alleys.


I started painting with light washes of acrylic. In the past I have played around with tube acrylics, which are thicker than the liquid acrylics I used in this project. I mixed small amounts of water with even smaller amounts of paint--it goes a long way, and I can always add more of both if needed.

The paint was applied with nylon brushes of various sizes, because the fibers are less likely to fall into the paint than with natural brushes. (Seriously, naturals are for real watercolors, not plastic paints). At first I had difficulty keeping the paint thin on the paper, but eventually got used to it.

I was continuously switching between the three panels because I'd have too much paint mixed for just one detail or building on one sheet. To keep the panels protected from spills and cats, I used painter's tape to stick them to the wall--I had no uncluttered, level space that size on the table.

Smaller details, like the lettering on the sign above, was still acrylic, but applied with nibs rather than a brush. Also in this pic, you can see the labels I added on. Just to illustrate the abstract-idea of this piece, look at the light post and the fence. These two things are across the street from each other in reality--in fact, you can see the labels below say East and West to "show" the opposite sides of the street.

In the pic directly above you can see the other "jump" across the street. In reality, these are again across the street from each other, and there is a large parking "between" them.

Photos of the full piece will be added soon, and will most likely be on a separate post.

Enjoy the extras:

List of Materials

* Sketching/Planning
  • Pencils
  • Rulers
  • Straight-edges
  • Painter's tape
  • Watercolor paper
  • X-Acto knife
  • Table

* Inking

 * Painting
  • Watered down acrylic (Golden brand)
  • Nylon brushes of various sizes
  • Paper towels
  • Painter's knife
  • Calligraphy pen and various nibs
  • Masking fluid
  • Painter's tape 
  • Patience
If you are still confused on what's happening, here are some screen-caps from the Bird's eye on Bing maps, with colors showing each panel.

Street-View Project: Backstory

Here is what inspired me to start and complete my most-recent piece, East Meets West

I've been reading the amazing BLDGBLOG ever since I found it on my computer one day. (Seriously, I must've found it at 2 a.m. one morning, gone to bed, and left it on the screen for my awake-self to find it). The blog deals with architecture, buildings, and the various forms of creativity linked to the planning and construction of such structures. I've never been one to admire buildings (except the monumental/grandiose ones), but I have found a new appreciation for them by this blog--and gotten hooked--I've spent many late-nights/early-mornings digging through/reading older posts. I suggest you take a look, and it might just snatch you up.

Late last year I started salvaging a lot of paper and art-related (or possibly art-related) materials from my various work places. This was influenced by an exhibit I saw earlier in the year: Finds Refined at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA); meeting the Seattle artist Gretchen Bennett (from the MoNA's show); as well as my finding the Irish artist, Barry Quinn, who is very, very eco-conscious.

Some things I started salvaging included: the dots from hole-punches, sheets of colored paper, scrap paper for collages, the cardboard CD holders from audiobooks (the library uses plastic and throws out the cardboard ones), as well as the receipt rolls from our ticket-printer. The rolls of receipt-paper hooked my attention, because you can draw really long murals, sketches, or landscapes on these. Coupled with the BLDGBLOG-driven mind set, I wanted to draw a long street-view of buildings all in a row.

Now, this may sound a little boring, but in my mind I was going to twist it: I'd draw cables (from anything electric) in red, and the majority of the buildings in black ink or graphite. Also, I'd disregard the actual streets and corners, so buildings across the street from each other in real life would be right next to each other, or buildings would look really long if I decided to follow them around the corner.

Here is a good example of this idea (and actually in my targeted town), photographed by Joe Mabel, and posted on Wikipedia. The Swinomish Channel is straight, but in this photo it looks like it curves.

My initial idea was to do the whole town that I live in, but when I started doing live sketches of the buildings downtown, I knew this would be nearly-impossible, even on a 125-foot long roll of 3-inch wide paper. So, I decided to start with just a small section of downtown.

When I pitched the idea to the Director of MoNA, he said using the receipt-paper would be really tacky, and wouldn't hold up after a while. Instead, he suggested I use a thicker watercolor paper in large sheets to convey my idea.

So, that's what I did. I am still hooked on this stream-of-thought, and am already planning/sketching alternative takes on this idea.