Recently, on the Sketchbook & Watercolor: Tools and Techniques Facebook Group, I posted a video of sketching while riding the Coast Starlight train. Jessica commented, " Can we see more sketches to go with this? As I watch the view out the train window, I am really challenged about how I would sketch any of this experience. I think I would freeze up because I cannot process visual info that quickly. What did you choose to sketch? And how did you approach it. Did you sketch it in the moment or see it and then hold it in your mind's eye while you put it on paper?"
The Amtrak Coast Starlight runs once a day from Seattle to Los Angeles (a second train runs once a day in the opposite direction.) The voyage is 36 hours and is magnificent.
The answers are not easily put into words. For me, riding the Coast Starlight is like taking a ride on a Time Machine. I gaze out at the amazing variety of earth formations and my mind flashes to the formation of mountains, oceans, valleys, rolling hills and cliffs ... the shifting of the tectonic plates and the way that the weather effects the shapes and colors of the grass, trees, rivers and flowers.
I blink my eyes and I look out at buildings ... ranches, factories, a village of ramshackle tents, resort homes, the backside of towns. My mind flashes to the lives of the people who built these structures, who lived in them before, live in them now and will live in them in the future.
I blink my eyes and I'm dazzled by the patterns of organized agriculture. Rows and rows and rows of plants, tilled earth, greenhouses, irrigation. My lifelong passion for patterned rows has just been brought to new heights.
And ... each time I ride this train, I'm like a kid knowing that I'm on my way to the candy store ... I KNOW I'm going to be treated to mile after mile after mile of rows of plants that create optical illusions as I speed past them.
Sketching ... The key is that I always have a sketchbook and pen handy. Usually, I also have a tiny tin of watercolor and a waterbrush handy. Often, I will sketch in pen and add watercolor later, after I've arrived at my destination.
When sketching, I don't worry about anything except making quick notes of what has grabbed my attention. I then build upon the first few lines by tapping into my memory of the scene or by glancing out the window as a reference for what I might add. The sketches you see are a composite of parts seen through the window over many miles.
I hope this helps a wee bit. Jessica has opened up a Pandora's box with her questions. I've begun journaling about this and will post about it again when I've been able to find words to describe the transformation of visual images seen through a window into thoughts that are then formulated into patterned impressions that are then expressed as lines and shapes on my paper. The color acts as the adjectives to better express the nouns and the verbs that are my lines and patterns.
So many more miles to go ...
Inspired by the questions I'm being asked on several of the Facebook watercolor learning groups, I've begun to offer bite-size classes on Skillshare to supplement my more extensive online classes here on ExploreWithChris Carter. The Skillshare classes are all less than an hour in length and focus on one technique or tip at a time. I've just posted my first class "Pulling the Puddle". I've started with the first technique I was ever taught and one that I have used almost every day both for abstract work and representational work. I feel it is an absolute MUST technique to master so that you can enjoy the true nature of watercolor, letting it flow and move across your paper.
Please take a look at the class and let me know what you think. And, please let me know specific techniques that you would like to see me create as bite-size classes on Skillshare. Thanks!
Here's the link to my page on Skillshare: Skillshare.com/user/chriscarterart/
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Chris Carter - Artist
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