March 21, 2017

Merging Digital and Traditional Mediums in Sketching

Procreate on iPad Pro 12.9"
There are moments when you wish your pen or brush does not run out of ink or skip a stroke when you are in that zone of no return. When that really happens, everything screeches to a screaming halt, and you are out of the zone. Within a split second you seem to loose the flow or momentum and you wish such things don't happen at all. Nothing is perfect you console yourself. But sketching with the iPad is different. The saving grace is, battery life is good. Before it is drained out of its juice, you would already be pretty tired.

iPad Pro and Brushpen
Technology has married both traditional and digital domains. Take for example the above drawing. It was done on location in the train on a sketchbook with a brush pen. I took a pics with my iPad and brought it up in Procreate where I filled in the colours. Isn't it convenient? The first sketch on the top was done in iPad but screen tones were added later with Photoshop.

Everything is out there at your finger tips. Digital tools and materials are made available readily but it takes boldness to embrace them and harness their powers. There is no perfect medium. I wish I have more time and capacity to experiment with all.

Brush pen and Procreate
Depend on how you use it, Procreate allows digital painting to have a traditional edge to it, like the lady drawn on the right. Those strokes were not made by coloured pencils but pencil brush tools in Procreate. It sounds like cheating. But once in a while or most of the time I am sketching and painting with traditional mediums. I still love the feel of paper under my skin, the rough edges, the tooth and flipping the pages. No digital medium could replace that experience, not even the sound of pen or brush scratching the surface of the paper, and that is music to my ears.

March 8, 2017

Digital Painting with Photoshop: Painting it Painterly

Photoshop has been a great digital drawing, painting, and drafting & design tool, since eons ago. I taught myself to use Photoshop 4 on a very old machine when I was in my late 20s. Little did I know Photoshop 5.5 has been launched. At that time I was trying to design a simple invitation card for my wedding in church. Photoshop 4 did not allow edits or undos. Each time I made a mistake on typing something, I have to redo everything from top. v5.5 allowed layers and I was delighted. Finally after much pain, I finished design my card and got it printed to be distributed to friends. I was proud of it. In early 1999, I managed to invest in my own system and started my freelancing stint. Photoshop has come a long way since. CS3 went very well and for a long time I felt that hardware is way ahead of software and everything ran fast and smooth, until the new updates of the OS gave me lotsa of trouble. Many digital painters have moved from the smooth digital airbrushing to making their works to look more painterly, like they have been painted on canvas with traditional mediums. I have done that since 2003 and decided to revisit again in recent years. The result, pretty satisfactory. Knowing traditional mediums like oil and acrylics does help pretty much.
I can't remember where I got this set of Photoshop brushes but they give quite good painterly effects that also come with canvas texture. I applause this guys who made these so well. Everything you see here is the result of these brushes.
Digital painting with Photoshop
It gets easy to paint in Photoshop because we can vary the brush sizes from really large to really small to just 1 pixel. In reality, there isn't such a function as we are limited by the number of brushes we have in our container. Most artists don't have a wide range of brush sizes, and most of the time, they paint with not more than 3 brushes or some could finish a painting with just one type of brush. We can get greedy when we paint in Photoshop, and spoilt with choices. By limiting the number of tools you would use, we could in fact emulate the effect of painting with traditional medium. I illustrated this point by painting the above by limiting my brush sizes and I would only use 2 brush sizes in fact, thus resulting in a less crisp finished digital look. But of course the brush tool set I was using help a lot too.

March 5, 2017

Intriguing Characters in Fantastic Beasts - Digital Painting with Photoshop

photoshop digital painting of queenie goldstein
Queenie Goldstein
I watched Fantastic Beasts and immediately "fell in love" (not literally) with one of the characters in the movie and story - Queenie Goldstein. Is it because she could read the minds of people? No, its because of her perpetual smile and showing of kindness to everyone around her. She embodies the type of ideal men are looking for in a woman. Always trusting, always kind, always serving, always giving, always smiling. Such characteristics boost every men's ego and confidence of themselves. The top 7 qualities of an ideal wife. Chinese men love submissive wives, most likely due to several thousands years under Imperial rule and suppression. I know of a person (used to be a friend though I do not really like him a lot) who is constantly looking for such traits in his wife. If not he would react violently, with smashing fists and harsh words, till the point his wife filed for a protective order against him. Another too, blames his livelihood on how his wife refuses to be a housewife, instead chose to work and excel in her work place. What's the outcome? Cold war and at the verge of divorce.

Anyway, here's a closeup of the digital painting done in Photoshop.
close up of painting queenie goldstein
Close-up of painting
I like one of her dialog that went like this, "Teenie, you brought men home?", and said it with a certain amount of curiosity and her eyes sparkled when she realised that a "no-maj" was brought to her house, the only no-maj that she has a decent conversation with.

The painting was done in 2 hours, a quick one, and as painterly as possible, half the time I was trying to get the likeness yet not entirely. It was difficult because I need her to look like she is reading someone and finding it interesting.

Here's another ref image that I would like to paint.

March 2, 2017

Most recent watercolour painting

Watercolour: West Coast Beach, Singapore
Cretacolor Pastel Pencil (Sepia)
Charcoal Pencil
Charcoal Pencil
The watercolour painting was painted on a half sheet Arches CP, whilst the charcoal drawing was down with a Cretacolor Nero Soft, an oil based charcoal pencil; it is pretty 'soft' and 'smudegable' but not messy. I like it because I am able to sharpen it in an electric pencil sharpener without breaking the lead. The pencil marks are easily erased by a kneaded eraser too.

Adding wash to an ink sketch

Adding watercolour to an ink drawing
Chinatown in her splendour 


Here's a video demonstration on how I added watercolour wash to an inked drawing done on a sketchbook. You may click it to watch on Youtube and on my Youtube Channel.

January 25, 2017

Some updates.... A Happy Lunar New Year to you!

I have not posted anything since Dec last year.... first of all, a Happy Lunar New Year to all who visit my blog, may you live long and prosper. Strangely, the "Vulcan salute" sounds really like the traditional Chinese greetings especially on auspicious and special occasions like the New Year. Do not under estimate the power of your tongue, which can be used to bless and curse. It is very wise to control your tongue only to make sure good words come forth, which in turn has an effect on your own body too.

Anyway, I ran a #2016bestnine on a third party app for Instagram and the result showed a remarkable 2016 for myself. I love it when only sketches, drawings and paintings appear to be the top posts.
Instagram Best Nine Posts
Instagram Best Nine for 2016 #2016bestnine
I took out a sketch I did during the CNY season in 2015 at Chinatown and put some colours on it. Everything was done from memory, how I remembered what the CNY atmosphere was then. When I saw another sketch a friend did for this year at the same location, I saw that the shops have recycled the use of the same CNY decor of the prosperous grandpa deity. Have they run out of ideas or budget. I saw on TV they have placed a giant rooster at the cross junction of South Bridge Road and Pickering right in front of Chinatown Point... maybe I will head down to take a look myself.

Good news!! I have sold a pencil sketch when I posted it on my Facebook. It was bought by a FB friend from US. I have not met him in person yet but I think we have been following each others' posts. I love his painting. He was kind enough to buy the pencil drawing from me. I was elated and thought this was too good to be true. He also requested that I gift the pencil I used to draw to him, and gladly did so. It was a Cretacolour Nero Extrasoft Oil Charcoal Pencil. I gave him another pencil drawing of the same subject matter for good will. I am pretty sure the drawings have landed in good hands.

Cretacolour Nero Extrasoft Charcoal Pencil
Boats drawing made with Cretacolour Nero Extrasoft Charcoal Pencil
Here you go... and again have a great year ahead. Will be back soon!

December 21, 2016

Commute Sketching II: Sketching on the go

commute sketcher sketching on the train
When everyone looks at their smart devices or takes a nap, I will whip out my iPad or sketchbook and pens to draw them when they least expect it. A friend told me she was afraid that she might get caught in the act when she sketches them and there might be dire consequences. We gave it a go and I asked her how she thought of the whole thing of sketching commuters. No one took any notice of her, she replied. It sounded as if she was disappointed with the outcome. I said, exactly, no one would take notice of you and what you do. Everyone is too engrossed with themselves and their smart devices these days, or they would simply turn away and mind their own businesses. There would be a rare occasion that someone might see what you do but usually the response is positive. I have a few people coming to me before they alight the train to tell me that they like the drawing, but that doesn't happen all the time. I would prefer to be left alone to do my own thang. You don't go around looking at what people do with their smart phone right. Sometimes I thought why would they think that drawing on the train is a public performance.

Like I mentioned before, I have been using my brush pen to draw on the go very often now. It allows me to fill in the blacks and I usually start drawing the hair (shapes) first before going to the ear and then to the face. Sometime its the gesture that I started first, which is the curve of the back or the front of the body to nail down the pose, sometimes I began with the face if the passenger or the commuter is up close, like drawing a portrait. Ink flow doesn't better, so using a used brush pen might be advantageous because you don't want too much ink to come through to the bristles. Dry brushing is also good to add some tones to your drawings.

Comparing brush pen to iPad's Procreate, I prefer brush pen. Simple reason is, the outcome is always unpredictable, while the brush strokes are a lot more gestural and energetic.

December 13, 2016

Commute Sketching: Sketching on the train

I have friends who have been sketching on the train on their sketchbooks and there is also a growing interests among more friends now to sketch when they are taking public transport. I have been sketching commuters for quite sometime since I started Urbansketching, and even more so whenever I have the opportunity to travel on public transport, mainly the MRT aka Mass Rapid Transit, the quick rail system in Singapore. In Hong Kong, they call it MTR, a much more efficient train system that runs across the congested city under and above ground. I love taking train as a mode of commuting, during the off-peak hours, because I would get a seat, and when I am able to sit, I would draw the commuters sitting across me or from another cabin. Drawing commuters when they least expect it is a fun and practical way of practicing portrait and figure drawing.

Firstly you have to draw fast, that will help improve gesture drawing and drawing by memory. Secondly commuters offer different and varied opportunities to draw many poses, and that improves observational skills and makes it more fun. When I draw on the train, I make sure I don't carry too many things. Usually I would only use a small stack of papers clipped on a wooded board (you may use cardboard) that provides a sturdy and firm surface and support to draw on. I love to use brush pen as it allows me to fill in blacks very quickly, the technique I used on hair most of the time.

In the example above that I completed quite recently, by using a brush pen, I could paint in the shape of the head and hair in an instant without having to draw any outline. You could draw in the contour before filling in the blacks too, there is no hard and fast rule for this. You should actually find a suitable method that allows you to draw fast. The few drawings are later scanned, cleaned up and colours filled in in Photoshop. I wanted a more realistic look for my commuters so I paid a bit more attention to get the likeness in a short time, starting from the ear, to the back and top of the head and completing the contour of the head and face while filling in the features. Sound easy. It takes a lot of practice and I find drawing a lot blind contour drawings help with getting accuracy, proportion and speed.

The following are some commute sketches I did in the recent past.

You will also notice I added the stations' names as part of the sketch to help me remember where I started and finished the sketch. A sketch like this would probably take 20 mins to complete. Commuters come and go, and selecting what to draw and what to omit is the trick to make an interesting composition that works for your format (size and shape of your sketchbook). There are times I would just draw a commuter and there are times I would finish off the entire scene.

I used very different approaches all the time. Different tools give a slightly different perspective of the drawing. Besides brush pen, I use the Hero Fountain Pen a lot too. For this I would make sure there is ample and generous ink flow so that the process of drawing is not hampered by it. Any kind of skipped marks and ink stoppages always spoil the mood.

Another one that was done with a brush pen and coloured in Photoshop.

November 22, 2016

Ink drawings with Pentel Brush pen and fountain pens

Pentel Brushpen, coloured pencil & Photoshop
Pentel Brushpen on sketchbook
Hero fountain pen & watercolours
Pentel brushpen & watercolors
g-nib, brush pen & watercolours
g-nib, ink & watercolors
pentel brushpen
pentel pocket brushpen
pentel brushpen 

November 16, 2016

Watercolor en Plein Air: Blair Road

Painting outdoors is not a joking matter. In a tropical country like Singapore, not only do we have to battle with your subject and painting struggles, we have to battle with the climate. Fortunately the month of November saw the climate cooling down due to more rain and the sky turning more cloudy, but there is still another factor we need to fight with, humidity. Humidity affects my mood when I paint outdoors. My perspiration would stay on my skin the whole time. So I learn to travel light and would only carry the necessary. The heaviest items would be my box of paints, water bottle, my easel and my chair.

Practically this is my setup. I would have a larger palette if I decide to paint on bigger paper. Most plein air artists use too small a palette and would therefore struggle with insufficient pigment to begin with. Besides, all paints on the palette should be freshly squeezed before starting to paint. This would ensure the pigments are fresh and avoiding the tendency to use more water, especially when using dried pigments on the palette.

Here's the result of my plein air experience, after a long hiatus. It rained when I arrived at the location, but we could under the 5 foot passage way sheltered from the rain. This was painted on  Fabriano Artistico water-colour pad, 300gsm, 100% cotton. Works as well as Arches, but cost lower.

Here's my painting buddy. Some residents of the shophouses have placed couches and chairs outside their apartments. We gladly took over. Always make yourself comfortable during the painting process. Enjoy rather than suffer.

November 9, 2016

INKtober 2016 (Continued) Pentel Brush Pen and Ackerman Pump Pen with G-Nib.

Tony Chua (our USK SG Sketching Mascot)
The annual Inktober 2016 social network drawing event to encourage everyone and anyone to try commencing a drawing project in ink and finishing it with a daily inked drawing done has ended about a week ago. I meant to post this sooner but I was caught up with preparing for the illustration festival and many other things (I talked as if there are a lot of people following my blog and are eager to see an update).

Anyway, the Illustration Festival has been a blast, so I heard from many other artists and participants who have followed the entire programme. I was only at the Artists' Market but I had a great time drawing caricature and portraits for just $5 each. It was only meant for the festival but usually I don't charge so low for a portrait done. A BW drawing like the one on the left (Tony Chua) would cost about $150-$200, with colour would be another $100 to top it up. However that said, I don't really accept commission like this because I don't usually put a price tag over my drawings. Maybe one day, I will do this more professionally and if it becomes a routine it will be easy. For now I am just drawing for fun as and when I feel like it.

Now back to INKtober. Honestly I did not finish all 31 days, but comparing to last year, I did it without a theme given to myself, just drawing random stuff, but the challenge I took on was to draw bigger and subjects that I am not familiar with, eg. wolf. I revived the Ackerman Pump pen in the process though I made a mess while trying to refill the ink into the barrel and refitting the feed and the nib. Well no pain no gain I suppose. I actually replaced the steel nib with a titanium g-nib i bought from a local art supply stall. It has better ink flow and not so scratchy on the paper.

One of the topic I tried was to take something that is familiar and convert it to something else. For Vermeer's paintings, I gave a modern take by adding stuff from the pop culture. It was a lot of fun doing this. Ideas simply pop up randomly and sometimes I was surprised myself too with the results.

These were all done with the Ackerman Pump pen. I was using Hero sumi ink with it. The ink did not bleed and ink flow through the feed was good. Having said that I should have cleaned out the pen since the last time I used it.

The Pentel brush pen is also another tool I used very often for sketching and drawing. I love the medium size one that offers a good control. However the bristles on mine are already frayed but it gives some quite interesting lines in this manner.

No matter how you draw it, the wolf always looks cool!

November 1, 2016

Illustration Festival and Printing my own Zine

The first inaugural illustration festival jointly organised by Lasalle College of the Arts and OIC was just over, well at least the 2-day Artists' Market that I was involved with was closed on Sunday. This was in fact the first for me, and there were many 'first'. My first time compiling and printing a Zine containing my drawings and sketches; and my first in 'renting' a booth to sell my stuff. Of course I wouldn't do it alone. James and Andrew aka Drewscape were with me for a day on Saturday 29 Oct 2016. The reason being we could split the cost of renting the booth, which totalled up to about SGD6 for a single person.

James' comics of the booths
Here's a nice pix of the booth we set up together. Andrew who has the most experience in doing such things among 3 of us, did up a writeup and labels on the spot with his brown papers when he arrived. I did up an illustrated poster that I taped to a box. James and I would offer portrait drawing service to visitors. Other booths did better job than us quite certainly. It seemed everyone was really experienced. James did a comic on how everyone else took the the trouble to decorate and organise their store front. You can check out his Facebook if you want more of his comics.

James and I got some papers from RJ Papers (a local paper supplier) to print our zines with. Andrew was the first to make the zines. James followed and also persuaded me to do one for myself. It wasn't an easy task. The compiling and editing process took about 2-3 hours; recommended by Andrew, we took iPhone pics of our artwork and did the layout direct on InDesign, after making some image adjustment in terms of contrast and darkness of the lines. The printing part is easy but tedious too. I have to print the odd pages first and then feed the printed copies (just 1) into the printer to print the even pages on the opposite sides, so the book can be double sided, just like a book would. The it was folding the pages and putting them together with a long arm stapler. Next I placed all the printed copies under 4-5 heavy books to flatten the fold. They were left like this for over night. Then it was another 15 mins to sliced the book edges to make the pages flushed. All in all, the production is about 3-4 hours in total for 12 copies. I for browsing during the fair. Well, even the browsing copy was sold.

Printed copies of my zines
It was a great learning experience though. I enjoyed seeing the pages coming together to become a book. The best part was seeing someone coming to our booth to get the zines. All of us sold out our zines. Andrew took the trouble to go home to make more and came back after like 2 hours. The whole time I was drawing portraits and the queue kept getting longer. I might have done like 20 portraits. I didn't keep count but I did take some pics. Here are some of my favourite ones. I also discovered that most of customers are ladies and family with kids.

Just for fun, I did a poster to give our booth some publicity online and on Facebook.

I printed this on photo paper in post card size just in case someone wanted to get it. Yep eventually it was sold too. People buy all kinds of things in an artist's market. Thanks to James and Andrew, their popularity as online creators has benefitted me! :D

These bunch of girls love Andrew's stuff.

October 16, 2016

Inktober 2016 the first league

#inktober2016 #inktober

Inktober 2016 arrived sooner than I thought. I haven't got a theme for myself yet so I decided to draw whatever that came to my mind, and whatever sketches I did with ink would be considered my contribution to this annual event that was started 2 years ago by Jake. My first was derived from a photo of a FB friend's brother. When I saw the pics on FB I thought of the dwarf in many mythological movies, one with weapon but one that looked kinder and less intimidating. As I was drawing it, I thought of drawing a wolf as his pet resting on his arm chair or something, while the dwarf was reading beside the candle stand.

October 10, 2016

G-Nib, Sailor Fountain Pen, and Casein

Newly bought a couple of titanium G-nibs from Straits (a local art supply) to test out. Worked really well and better than the steel G-nibs. I used it with a type of Chinese sumi ink that does not bleed on my sketchbook, but the ink is not water-resistant so it dissolved when I was painting with casein. In the middle of drawing the objects on my working desk, I switched to using a Sailor Fude Nib Fountain Pen. Would you be able to tell the difference and where I switch the pens? I don't think I could tell the difference too. Both pens are capable of providing a variety of line weights but the line characteristic is inherent to the artist's style of drawing, which is a result of how the artist holds the pen, and how he draws a line (in regards to direction, pressure and movement of the pen). Every artist should expound on their special way of wielding the pen or the brush, but this could only be achieved by having a good pen mileage.

September 19, 2016

Urban Sketches, Plein Air, Digital Sketching and the 47th Singapore Watercolour Society ShowR

First of all, I have to congratulate myself for plucking up the courage to submit 2 paintings for the Singapore Watercolour Society's 47th Annual Exhibition. This time held at Ngee Ann Cultural Center located along Tank Road. The exhibition would end soon on 21 Sep (Wed). The paintings I submitted were 2 pieces I did in 2015 on arches papers, both measuring 22" X 15" (half sheets watercolour paper). They were not entirely plein air but derivations or repainted from on-location paintings I did. I went for the opening of the show but did not stay long because I have to go for another party but I managed to catch some friends and took pics with them.

Kwan (below) who is also a very prolific artist himself came for the show and he was at least 2 hours early. He is drawing and painting in both traditional and digital mediums. It has been very inspiring to see his works on his website and Facebook posts. I enjoyed looking at how he painted portraits digitally, especially when he was able to capture the likeness very well. I wish I could have half his skills.

This year, SWS showcased many good works, most of them in the watercolour medium. The standard of the paintings is pretty high and many artists have been experimenting with different approaches, techniques and compositions. It was really a treat to be able to see so many great pieces from so many talented artists. I am truly proud to be part of this exhibition and local group too.

Recently I have been drawing on my iPhone 5+ with my index finger on my favourite app, Procreate, which offers good sensitivity and response between the user and the interface. On the iPhone, Procreate is also known as Procreate Pocket, a version with fewer bells and whistles, but enough functions to draw and paint, and is easy to pick up. At first I wasn't sure how to export the images into JPEGs but after a few trials and errors, I finally got the process. Other than that I wish my iPhone 5+ has Pressure Sensitivity like my iPad Pro. Here are 2 most recent drawings I did on Procreate Pocket.

I am pretty please with the result for this one. The drawing was easy but I spent a bit more time managing the tonal values, and the tonal patterns and contrast between the figures.

The one on the left was done while I was waiting for my wife to knock off work. I did the drawing in the comfort of the car and I was looking at 2 men talking beside a parked car in front of mine.

I like the way they stand, resting their weight on one leg in a very relaxed manner, but with arms either folded or akimbo. It seems to me the men though were seen laughing and enjoying the conversation with each other, are trying to show down each other in the way they stand. Body language is always a good way to understand human relationships. I have never failed to find men seeing each other as competitors. We compete in anything, from jobs to salary; the size of their cars to the size of their houses. If the competitions go awry, disastrous consequences may happen.

Of course I have not abandoned my iPad Pro entirely, though nowadays I left it in the car most of the time just to lighten up the weight of my shoulder bag. I tried out more brush tools in Procreate and combined them to see the results, eventually isolating a few more favourite brush tools that I keep in the fav folder for quick retrieval.

Below are some of the urban sketches I did on and off throughout the week and last week. Not a lot these days because I have been spending more time preparing classes or just watching people.

Starting from the most recent:
Plein air at Md Sultan Road
Acrylics markers on mounted canvas
National Library at Bras Basah
Chinatown Food Market at Smith Street
Having coffee with friends at Star Vista PAC
My sketching tools
Sketching with a brush pen with brown ink (Hock Choo kopitiam)
That's all folks.