Friday, July 5, 2013

Fireworks at Rocky's

"You're insane," my wife said. "You can't paint fireworks in pitch darkness." 

"It's not pitch dark," I said. "Every once in a while there's a flash. Plus there's some light from that tiki torch."


I was mad obsessed. I hunched over the sketchbook in my lap. I couldn't make out any chroma or hue, and only could distinguish three values at best: white, middle tone, and black.

From time to time someone from the party came over and stood next to me, munching on potato chips. "What are you doing?"

"I'm painting," I replied. I glanced up at their puzzled faces, lit by flashes of red light and sulphur smoke.
----
Here's what I was using:
White, black, golden ochre, and Venetian red casein
Round 6 watercolor brush
Flat 1/4 inch synthetic brush
Watercolor notebook
Fountain pen 

24 comments:

Claus Daniel Herrmann said...

Don't you feel "misplaced" or remote in these moments, when people wonder, why you would look at your painting most of the time, when there is a firework to see and people to enjoy it with? I sometimes feel this way, especially when I am with friends, sometimes drawing them, and sometimes drawing other people passing by, or whatever attracts my attention. I tell myself, that it is OK, and most of my friends understand. But sometimes I am "out of the loop" and it is hard to take part in a conversation at the same time while drawing... Do you draw often, when people are around?

James Gurney said...

Yes, good question, I know what you mean. I didn't want painting to be antisocial, so I waited until the conversations were over and people were just sitting separately on the grass watching the sky. I was able to look up and see about half of the fireworks. A lot of times drawing in public is a conversation starter, and I can usually talk while I paint or sketch. My wife says she can't sketch and talk, except to each other when we're painting together, when we speak in partial sentences.

But sometimes sketching in public reinforces my feeling of remoteness from the world. I kind of like that feeling--it doesn't bother me. I have always felt that way since I was a kid.

Tom Hart said...

You did an incredible job painting "blind", as it were. The muted colors are spot on. This success certainly is due to your many years of experience and your well developed visual memory (linking this to your resent post on that)...Oh, and of course a great dose of raw talent too! :^)

houseguard said...

Oh say can you see by the Donzerly light?

David P. Geister said...

We just got back from a long visit to the Gettysburg Battlefield, and I spent quite a bit of time with my nose buried in my sketchbook. I felt the need to explain what I was doing to our guide, who loved it.

I brought my caseins (thanks to this blog) and didn't have the courage to use them en plein air!! Coward . . .

Stephanie said...

Your dedication to painting anywhere and everywhere is an inspiration! Thank you for sharing.

Christina Mahmoud said...

I agree on both accounts--it can be isolating, but also definitely draws people to you---once, when drawing at the zoo--I was focusing on my sketch of a vulture, and suddenly I noticed someone next to me, it was an Arab man who had lost one hand and who was surrounded by a group of foreign photographers, as I said hello, they all began taking pictures...I was perplexed, but proceeded to smile and welcome him to America, as he didn't speak English--later that night, I saw on the news that 3 men from Iraq were in Houston to receive prosthetic hands...they had been victims of Saddam Hussein--former Iraqi business men in the regime---and I guess, me and my sketchbook, provided an interesting photo op--I wondered on what newspapers that photo appeared in.....it was all because I had been drawing, I'm sure of it.

Aggie said...

Now I feel like a slacker for quitting when it got dark last night! I've only begun sketching in public recently and am slowly getting over the fear of people noticing. I completely relate to your feeling of remoteness and liking it. I wonder if that's a not-so-rare trait of artists?

I've followed your blog for several months and just had to comment today. Thanks for sharing this & regularly posting plenty of inspiration!
(Also - your wife's comment cracks me up.)

Nina Khashchina said...

This is super cool!

Connie Nobbe said...

I often bring a sketchbook to situations where I know I will have time to observe people, like a restaurant or a waiting room, but I chicken out on public drawing most of the time. I really don't want people to notice me sketching, esp. if I am sketching strangers. I don't want to creep anyone out. If only I could just make myself invisible! Ha! I think my shyness about this a form of stage fright. Maybe I should just force myself to do it, so I can get over it.

lynnwood hage said...

James you are perennially inspiring!!A few nights ago while camping I did [tried] a little watercolor of our campfire.It was very dark; the only light was from the fire .Of course,the smoke followad me every time I moved my chair and I almost gave up.It didn't turn out that great but as usual I learned something.I VOWED to get a little headlamp like you mention in your PORTABLE PORTRAITS article! Were you using it this time?

Curt Marthezé said...

I had this experience myself the other day, one would think: "well surely if I CANT really see what I am doing how is it that I have something to look at in the first place!" Plein air so cool!! thanks James

Simone said...

I paint/sketch in public all of the time. Doesn't matter where I locate and that I have ear buds with music in my ears. People are attracted and often have lots of questions. I don't mind. In some respects I think carrying on a conversation while working helps. Keeps me from thinking to much. I make decisions quickly without over analysis. It's fun and most people are impressed with what I am doing even when I'm not.

Head lamps really don't work for night sketching/painting. The focus of the beam glares and you can't see what you're doing. Mighty Brite clip on book lights are the way to go.

runninghead said...

That's good work. I'm painting fireworks at the moment and it was really handy for me to see another perspective on the subject.

When it comes to sketching and painting in public I'd say it's essential to get used to it.
A good way is to ease in to it slowly, a quick 30 second doodle and hide the sketchbook again. Buld up to longer sessions. After a few decades I now have dozens of sketchbooks full of drawings of friends playing pool, chilling on the beach, holding their first baby, etc. They're both professionally useful and personally precious. You can make up for any possible anti-social concern when you're done drawing :)

Maywyn Studio said...

Alpha Awesome Artist!

Inspirational post
Thank you

Keith Parker said...

So many times I've read comments on this blog by other readers about how amazed people at lectures or operas have been that James Gurney painted this and drew that in such low lighting. I always assumed they were exaggerating. But last month I attended the IMC and you know who was drawing in the dark lecture hall? That's right, James was. Those drawings of Mo Willams we're done in a very dark room, and that guy almost never stood still. I know it was challenging because I was trying to him too! This bussiness of painting fireworks at night is a new challenge that blows my mind.

Keith Parker said...

* trying to draw him too.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everybody.

Hey, Keith, thanks for backing me up. At concerts or lectures I try to sit near the front because there's always some spill light from the stage or screen.

Christina, that's an amazing story on so many levels.

Lynwood, I have one of those headlamps, but forgot it. I did use a little LED flashlight on my keychain, but mainly to look for brushes that I dropped. The tiki light was just enough to see by but it was too yellow to get color right.

Simone, The booklight sounds like a good idea, especially if it's got adjustable brightness.

Barbara said...

That's pretty cool. I imagine it's not that easy for you to find a challenge.

lynnwood hage said...

Simone,thanks for the suggestion!

Sketching Artist said...

I'm right there with you. After being satiated with chips and all manner of picnic food, I lay on my blanket in the humid, mosquito ridden Florida air, with no inclination to move. Sketching the people around me seemed the appropriate thing to do. The light was quickly fading and as the fireworks started, I felt I didn't have a choice but to put my book away.
You are my hero for carrying on.

Leif said...

Dark celophane or paper taped over a book lite might dim the brightness enough.

I sketch with a Samsung Note 8, and one advantage of these digital gadgets is you can set the brightness very low to match dim ambient lighting.

Jack Spellman said...

You definitely captured a moment and mood. Great work!

Melle Ferre said...

Immediately struck by this painting! It's probably one of my favorites and I've been following you for a while.

Now I have been struggling with recent onset of adhesive capsulitis and thinking how am I going to paint? That's how I cope with anything and everything and now I can't! Even writing hurts!

This inspires me...so what if it's dark? Find a way to make a mark and then make it count.

Bravo