Experimenting with Copics

Last Saturday Prof. Leytham lent me his Sailor brush pen so I could try it.  It is designed for Japanese calligraphy, which brush can produce beautiful lines of different widths.  I fell in love with it and will be purchasing one promptly.  Tonight I wanted to see if the brush tip of my Copic markers would work in a similar way.

I decided to try them on one of my sketchbooks, a Hand-book with heavyweight sheets.  These are supposed to take light watercolor washes, but as soon as the marker tip touched the paper, I got instant bleed-through.  I was disappointed; I haven’t found a sketchbook that can take markers with minimal bleed-through.  Well, in a very careless way I continued to try some of the colors.  All of a sudden, I could kind of see one of the armchairs I have in my living room.  So I went that way, trying to develop a bit of what I saw around me.  Behind the armchair there are two balloons still alive from my wife’s birthday party three weeks ago.  I kept experimenting with different colors with very fast strokes that barely touched the surface; I didn’t want to saturate the paper.

Well, the Copics’ tip won’t behave as the brush pen, but I still like the possibilities, even if this isn’t the right paper.

Having a little more fun with the sketches…

During the weekend, Andrew, one of the students from Norwich University had made a very bold and simple sketch.  I told him that it would look really nice on a t-shirt.  So I thought, why not?  I have been playing with the sketches as a graphic in various forms, and I think I will go ahead and order one for myself!  Check it out:

I will keep looking at different alternatives, but I really like this one…

The Sketching School 2011, San Juan, PR

This weekend I’ve was “kind of” invited to participate in a class called Sketching School. It is a class taught by Prof. Tom Leytham at Norwich University in Vermont, in which he travels with a group of architecture students for 9 intensive days devoted to sketching and watercolors. Prof. Manuel García Fonteboa told me that they were going to be in San Juan this week and he wanted me to meet Prof. Leytham, and that I may go ahead and sketch with them. To make a long story short, my wife and I ended going with them.

Prof. Leytham was so kind as working with us as if we were part of the class, and was I impressed. His method of teaching was very refreshing, as he let the students discover the results by themselves rather than instructing how it is “supposed to be done”. He says that there is no right or wrong way to do things, but whatever works. So I felt like I was searching inside myself rather than following a recipe that has worked for someone else. On Saturday morning we took the ferry to Old San Juan. The first exercise was drawing from the ferry.

He calls it a stretching exercise. It is a warm-up that loosens your hand, since for the first few minutes all you see around you is water and the mangrove swamps. We did 60 second sketches with a non-permanent ink flair he handed every one of us. I honestly didn’t think I was going to be sketching that much and that fast; it was an awesome exercise I will try with my students.

He talked about the energy those fast sketches had, and I think that I finally found what I’ve been searching for years. When you’re sketching, it only matters that you capture the vibrancy and energy of the places and spaces. Why worry about it being a perfect perspective, when all you need is to capture the feel of the space. We went today again to Old San Juan, starting with the same exercise but incorporating this time a water brush.

On Saturday we visited Castillo San Cristóbal and today Castillo San Felipe del Morro. I can’t believe I did sixty-four sketches in less than eight hours. I’m dead tired, but very pleased with an awesome experience. Here are some of the sketches done during the weekend, including one I did with my right hand (I’m a lefty…). I definitely had a blast.

Going back to school! Well, not exactly, but close enough…

This week I received a message from one my professors when I was studying architecture, Manuel García Fonteboa.   Through the years Manuel has become a very good friend of mine and my family. He was taking his first year design studio class to sketch nature at the Jardín Botánico de Rio Piedras, and he was inviting us because we might like joining them.  Of course we were! Also he invited another very good friend of ours and watercolorist, Rafael Félix.

It’s funny that the three former students were the first to get there this morning. It was a beautiful sunny and breezy morning, great to draw outdoors. We walked to an area called “The Palmetum” and Manuel gave the instructions to his students.  And… I stepped on a fire-ant hill!   I got stung by several of them… started getting kind of mad… but, I wasn’t going to waste the chance of spending a good few sketching hours. So I put on my iPod shuffle and went to work.

I had several media with me, but decided to sketch directly with watercolors, no pencil.  I have been practicing that exercise lately and I feel looser.  Also I set myself another challenge: I was only going to use 2 yellows, 2 blues and 2 reds to paint, no pre-mixed colors. I feel it helps me understand how the different pigments work and feel the degree of transparency each has.  This is my first sketch, which was done in around 50 minutes.  I used Sennelier half pans on a 5″x8″ Moleskin watercolor sketchbook.

Then Manuel asked all of us to place our sketches in the middle and he started commenting on them. I was really impressed with the quality of some of the drawings, but one of the sketches really caught my attention. It had a lot of expression, beautiful work of values… It was Manuel’s!  No wonder…  His comments in general were very helpful and some of the pointers he gave them really make me want to learn other media, as charcoal and pastels.  One of these days I’ll get myself a set of pastels to try to see how I like them. Anyways, we went back for a second round of sketching.

This time I switched to my Yarkas and decided to take a different approach regarding the color scheme. It was kind of liberating, and sketching is all about having fun, right? Well here it is.

I love the transparency most of the colors in my Yarka set have. The red is probably the only opaque one I used here. I think it still needs a couple of spots with the darker blue, as to define the various planes, but that is what practice if for.

Going back to school for half a day was really fun, I hope we can do it more often. Thank you, Manuel!

Still sketching tight

Friday night I went to a very interesting presentation, called Pecha Kucha.  It is a style originated in Japan designed  for oral presentations to be fast and concise… Designers like to talk too much, so the presentation format is that you show 20 slides and can only speak 20 seconds on each.  They move with a fast pace, so it is dynamic and entertaining.  I got hooked with it and will be exploring how to use this concept.

Yesterday I got to make two sketches that I’m not that thrilled about but I’m gonna post them anyway.


The first sketch was done at the Tren Urbano, our equivalent of a subway (although it goes underground for only like 5 minutes…).  Keeping with the spirit of the Pecha Kucha, I sketched it very fast, around 2-3 minutes, with a sepia colored Pigma micron felt tip pen.  I was attempting to sketch it completely without lifting the pen from the paper, but I caught myself lifting it a couple of times.  It is a nice challenge that I’ll keep practicing to improve looseness.

The other sketch was done in Manatí, and was done directly with watercolors on a Moleskin sketchbook.  I selected a run down wood house, probably from early-mid 20th century that is close to the plaza.  I chose not to draw any outlines or guide lines, but to simply get the paper wet, start dropping colors while deciding on a composition on the go.


I spent around 40 minutes on this one.  In my opinion it is too “tight”.  I need to wet the paper more before dropping in the colors.  This was done with Yarka watercolors on a 8″x5″ Moleskine sketchbook.

In order to get to do a real Pecha Kucha I probably need to do 20 sketches in 20 minutes.  This could be a very interesting exercise.  I’ll be practicing until I can do it.  Yesterday I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art with my family and I saw some very inspiring works.  If I mix both concepts I know I can get a very intriguing result.


Overcoming my fears

When I was 10 years old I tried, as any other kid, to draw cars.  As  happens to almost everyone, the result wasn’t what I expected, so I stopped trying to draw them.  For years I’ve dodged drawing cars or faces.  Of course, when doing an architectural rendering I, either traced one or sketched a very generic one, with no details, just suggesting the scale.  Fair enough, the sketched blob has done its job, but deep inside I have been wanting to be able to draw them.

Well, today I did my first sketch of a non-blob car as an adult.  I decided that it was time I overcome my fears and start practicing sketching them properly.  I’m not doing neurosurgery, so I’m allowed to commit as many mistakes as I want.  As a friend of mine says, it is just a small drawing.

I used to own a Prius, and I loved it, and thus miss it very much.  So I googled for a picture of a Prius; mine was silver, but I wanted to use more brilliant colors so went for one with a red Prius.  The result wasn’t exactly as I had in mind, but there are parts of the sketch I love.  I need to keep practicing, a lot, especially the tires and rims, another epic proportions fail.  All in all, for being my first car drawn in 30 years I can’t complain that much.

I love the video tutorials some automotive designers have uploaded into Youtube; these guys do some wonderful drawings and marker renderings of the most exotic sports cars.  I watch them to learn techniques, but I don’t see myself doing those types of drawings.  It is like drawing manga, superheroes, monsters or spaceships.  I’d like to know how those guys do it, just because some of the techniques are incredible, but I don’t particularly like those subjects.

My next step will be people.  Just another small drawing…

My first sketch at a beach

Isn’t it strange that, although I live on a small island, this is the first time that I sketch a beach scene?  I just figured that out…  I live like a 20 minute drive from some nice beaches, but I normally go sketch at an urban setting, probably due to my architecture background.  Today I went with my family to this place, like a 35 minute drive from home, specifically to get one of the most delicious snacks I’ve ever had, a “bocadillo de marlin”.  It looks a lot like a cordon bleu on the outside.  However, on the inside it actually holds a very generous portion of the most tender marlin filet ever… for the extremely reasonable price of $3.  When put together with a very cold Medalla (the local beer) it is absolutely priceless.

I’d gone several times to the place since I met my wife 17 years ago, but today it was the first time I walked down the street to where the beach is.  It is really close, like 200 ft away from the restaurant, but I never cared to find out what was at the end of the street.  It was actually a nicer scene than I thought.  So I took out one of my sketchbooks and the watercolors.

I sketched it directly with the watercolors on a 8″x 5″ sketchbook in less than 10 minutes.  I really liked sketching that fast, but I still have to figure out a way to set myself up quicker.  I spent like 10 minutes preparing everything before starting and around 10 more minutes packing everything up again.  I have tried the pen-brush, and while it does an acceptable job with water-soluble pencils, I don’t like how it handles the actual watercolors.  I would’ve loved to do several sketches of this place, so I guess I need to find out a way to achieve a quicker set-up if I want to keep my interest at the same level longer.

Are markers obsolete? I don’t think so!

Back in school I did most of my renderings with colored pencil and airbrush.  I only used markers very sparingly, they were expensive and didn’t seem as forgiving as I would’ve thought.  I remember though seeing a lot of beautiful drawings rendered with markers, but I never put the effort to learn to use them extensively.  Around a year ago I decided to get a set of markers and learn for good.

Nowadays with the internet you can do a lot more research before purchasing a product than before.  I had only used Prismacolors before, so I “googled” for recommendations.  With all the vast resources the internet can offer I was surprised to find out that there is much less information than for other media, watercolors for example.  There are very few websites on this subject.  A friend of mine told me his favorites were the Chartpak AD, because they were very juicy and you could color very evenly with them.  I tried his, but frankly the odor is unbearable.

I actually like to see the strokes.  It’s very difficult to control to show those strokes and for them to look good, but I believe it’s the charm of the medium.  Based solely on reviews I found online, I decided to get myself a set of Copic Sketch markers.  I am extremely happy with them.  Yes, they are expensive, but they are refillable.  They have replaceable nibs, so if you wear them out, you can easily get in back as new.  So I figured that they were more an investment.  In fact, my favorite color has already almost dried out, so I will be purchasing the refill this week.  Here are some of my sketches with them from early last year.

I really enjoy sketching with markers… the only problem is the paper.  I haven’t found the perfect sketchbook yet.  I’m looking for a paper that doesn’t bleed too much and that doesn’t bleed through and damages three pages underneath.   I’m thinking of making (rather, asking my wife to make me… I trust her more with that kind of jobs) my custom sketchbook.  I am still trying out different types of paper; until the moment, my favorite has been Hammermill Laser Print Office, 32 lbs.  If I can order it heavier, that will be my first choice; I simply love the tooth of it.  I hope their 60 lbs or 80 lbs cover stock surface feels the same.

For several months I only sketched with markers, until I decided to learn watercolors by September 2010.  I really miss them, they are a wonderful sketch tool.  So I’ll have to go ahead with the custom sketchbook project and practice a lot more.

My son’s challenges

Well, I found a name for my blog… I updated the header image to include a scan of the title, handwritten with a Sharpie.  The symbol below is part of my signature, representing the first three letters of my last name, Aparicio.  Virtually all my friends (my wife included) know me as Apa.  In fact, when my wife calls me by me whole name I know she is really mad at me.  Anyways, I liked the title and had to sign it.

For the past four months I’ve tried to sketch something every day, to keep my hand in shape.  I had barely sketched in my first twelve years of architectural practice, other than quick doodles on tracing over plans to solve certain issues before committing myself to CAD.  After having drawn and rendered on paper for years I fell for the computerized trap.  Of course, computer software helps us a lot, especially when you have to make changes, but I hadn’t noticed how much I enjoyed sketching.  For twelve years, I had rendered almost invariably with a computer, so I am re-learning to draw.  It is so much more fun than waiting for the computer to finish ray tracing the reflections on every material, and even if you can do a very realistic rendering, to me digital still feels cold.  And sketching is way faster.

My 7-yr old son likes drawing a lot.  And he is really good!  Children can learn so fast it is simply amazing.  We sketch together a lot, although he continuously insists that we draw only his favorite Super Mario characters.  My wife and I tell him to draw some of his characters, but that at least he draws something by observation.  He calls it, translated from Spanish, reality and fantasy.  But sometimes we agree to draw his characters, as to  keep him interested in drawing.  Here are a couple of his drawings:

What amazed me of the second one is that he did it sitting on the backseat of the car, while I was driving!  At a couple of points he got really mad because I caught some road bumps and he said I was ruining his drawing.  So funny… but when I saw it I couldn’t  believe it.  And these drawings are quite small, a little over 3″x 3″, so the amount of detail he is capturing is great.

This weekend he issued me a challenge, that I couldn’t draw all his action figures.  Well, he was right…  My hand was really hurting after drawing like ten of them with ballpoint on bond paper.  In architecture school we were told that drawing with a ballpoint was a no-no.  I never questioned that, so I always used either pencil of felt-tips.  But after discovering Spencer Nugent’s I.D. sketching web site, I am so disappointed to find out that it was all a lie!  For my surprise, the ballpoint can be a very useful tool, as you can adjust the line and tone value with the stroke pressure, much as we do with pencil, but without the smudging.  I guess I need to discover a better quality ballpoint, as probably the grip wasn’t too comfortable and ended up hurting my hand.

Then on Sunday he issued another challenge, to draw his Nintendo DSI.  So we did, and here is the sketch.  Epic proportions fail, as the top part is much smaller than the bottom, but I liked the shading.  This was with a regular #2 pencil.

Today is Tuesday and my hand still hurts… weird because I’m left-handed but I use the mouse with my right hand, and I’ve been working with CAD these past two days.  I think this was supposed to be enough rest, but I guess not then.

Attendance… Optional? Thanks but no thanks…

The other day I invited my whole class to go out and sketch at Old San Juan.  It’s true that I told them attendance wasn’t required, but I didn’t expect no one would come.  One of my students, who happens to be a very good friend since I was a student, was the only one who finally came.  I still can’t believe it.  If one of my professors invited me to go out and sketch I was the first one there!  And so were my friends in college.  More than 10 years after graduating we still sometimes get together, one of the professors included, in sketching trips.  What is it, students don’t like to sketch nowadays?

Well, anyways… we had a really nice session, and ended up having lunch at this little family restaurant which is awesome, good service, great food and even greater prices.  It’s called “Los Yeyos”, in 353 Calle San Francisco.

Here are some of my sketches that day:

The first one was done with Sennelier watercolors on a 5″x 8″ Moleskine watercolor sketchbook (around 35 minutes), the rest was done with a Lyra 1772 9-B Graphitkreide on a regular 8″x 8″ sketchbook (15 minutes each).