Sergio Lopez - North SF Bay Area Fine Artist

Upcoming Shows and Events

•Spoke Art: April 7, 2016. "The 5th Annual Moleskine Show." San Francisco, CA.

•Bakersfield Museum of Art: April 9th, 2016. "Kern County Plein Air." Bakersfield, CA.

•Christopher Queen Gallery: May 1st, 2016. "The Golden Hour." Duncans Mills, CA.

•Abend Gallery: May 13th, 2016. "Contemporary Figuration." Denver, CO.

•Paso Arts Fest: May 26th, 2016. "Signature Exhibition." Paso Robles, CA.

•Los Gatos: June 18th, 2016. "Los Gatos Plein Air." Los Gatos, CA.

Sonoma Plein Air: September 10th, 2016 "Sonoma Plein Air." Sonoma, CA.

•Modern Eden Gallery: September 17th, 2016. Beautiful Bizzare Invitational Show. San Francisco, CA.

•Christopher Queen Gallery: October 2nd, 2016. "A Splendid Journey: 40th Anniversary Show." Duncans Mills, CA.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Charcoal Drawing: A Logical Method (Video Included)

I am often asked how I am able to get so much done so quickly when I draw and paint. I have a simple formula for "speed" in terms of working from life.

Speed = Accuracy + Efficiency

Accuracy is something you train to achieve by drawing, and specifically by doing exercises that train your accuracy. That can be a different post for later.

What about efficiency? This is something that is also trainable but it's more of a trial and error thing. In my years of drawing I've more or less whittled my basic approach for tonal drawing down to a loose approach that lies on top of a smart structure.

A lot of the structure comes from the tools I use. It'd be easy to mistakenly believe that once you know the right tools to use, you have most of what you need. The truth is, it took years to find the tools I enjoy the most. Many (fun) trips are made to the art supply store trying to find the "perfect" pencil, compressed charcoal, etc.

A few of the main things I'm looking for are durability, variety in mark-making, range of tones, and erasability. In order to be most efficient, you would want one that can make rapid changes to the surface, and one that could make subtle changes. You will see that of every type of tool I draw with, I keep at least one hard and soft version of each.


Vine Charcoals

Nitram Fusains are hard compressed vine charcoals that are good for quick sketching and underdrawings for softer(darker) marks you lay on top of it. Very easy to erase and smudge around as well.
I will tell you about a tool I've been using that I've been pretty stoked on. They are called Nitram Fusains Soft Round Sticks. They are definitely more expensive than the run-of-the-mill vine charcoal that you find at your neighborhood art supply store, but they handle much differently than them. They are pretty dark when you press firmly into the paper, but they hold their shape when you need a fine line, sort of like a compressed charcoal. The best part is that they are as easy to erase as regular vine charcoal.
The softest vine charcoal I use are the run-of-the-mill willow charcoals you can find at any art store. They are soft and creamy and are easy to manipulate/erase. A little too easy, so you have to be careful to make sure you don't accidentally smudge away the strokes you make.

Compressed Charcoals

Conte crayons are waxier than other compressed charcoals and thus are harder to erase, but they do stay put (harder to smudge) and are good for drawing sharp lines. Also they are good for putting down tones you want to stay put. That means, tones you don't plan on smudging up, or erasing.
Your standard compressed charcoal. It can go very dark. It's very hard to erase but it does smudge and can crumble fairly easily.
Black pastels are the darkest tools in my arsenal. I save it for my darkest darks, or if I need to fill a large shape of darkness quickly.


A Lyra Color Giant is a hard, fairly light pencil that keeps its point well. Can get fairly dark if you press down enough, but also very light and exact with the point.
Black Carbothellos are good tools as well. It's probably medium on the scale of lightest and darkest. Since it's carbon, it has a bit more coarseness than regular charcoal, but can still get reasonably dark.
Ritmo Charcoal pencils get pretty dark. I think the 3B's are the darkest ones you can get. I like Ritmos because they don't get those spots in the lead where it feels "rocky." General's pencils are the biggest offenders.

Smudging Tools

I like to have different ways of manipulating the marks I have already put down. This is a lot of the reason I can get a lot in a short amount of time. The softer the brush the more subtle the gradations you can get out of them. 

The blending stump is one of my most important tools. It flattens out some of the texture and draws out shades from the tone. The reason I like to use it so much is because of the subtlety in the rendering possible with it. It can make the stump into a drawing tool itself. It can make hard edges into soft, which is what I mostly use it for. A lot the efficiency is simply "edge conversion." Most strokes by default have sharp edges on at least one or two sides. Using a blending stump is the most controllable way to soften edges.


I use erasers not so much to correct mistakes but as a drawing tool themselves. If charcoal is an additive medium, then an eraser is a subtractive medium. It makes the white of the paper into a mark of its own. You can create a white simply by surrounding it with black.
My main eraser is a kneaded eraser. It's so versatile because it can be made into any shape. It is mostly used by me to create soft edges by lightly erasing tones. Erasers are the second part to my "edge conversion" concept. Whereas brushes and blending stumps make hard edges soft, erasers can make soft edges hard. This can be very useful when creating definite shapes out of soft tones.

These 3-minute drawings were done with the Nitram soft rounds. They combine the best of vine and compressed charcoals in a single tool. Efficiency!
5 minutes each.
This small 10 minute drawing was my favorite of the night. I quickly marked in the landmarks of the shapes and then roughed in the core shadows. I then filled in all the shadow shapes and used the blending stump to bring the light and shadow sides together.
These next few drawings were made almost exclusively with the Lyra Color Giant.
Working on toned paper is almost the same thing, the main difference is instead of relying on the paper for whites, you use white chalks for highlights. Gray papers tend to grip the charcoal better, making certain techniques harder to pull off quickly, but other more straightforward approaches work well.
A 20 minute drawing that was mostly shaded in by using vine charcoal and blending stumps, then erasing the "spillover" from the boundary of the model's body.
My favorite way of working is a mixture of tonal and linear drawing. As evidenced in these quick 3-minute drawings, I use a few different tools even for the quick ones if I need to.
These quick 10-minute drawings are made possible by the efficiency of the approach. Once you lay down the initial strokes and tones, you set yourself up for smudging tones with your brush and blender. You can get an astonishing amount of subtle gradation very quickly. Once you erase the excess you get a handsome result in no time.
This was a 20-minute drawing that is almost all tonal. Throwing in some well-chosen outlines gives it a nice 'pop' when it counts.
Another drawing on toned paper. This time using sanguine chalk for the reddish tones. Adding red on top of black and white adds a whole extra dimension of color temperature. You can either exploit this for extra impact or just treat it as a different color for monochromatic drawing.
To really drive the point home, here are some gesture drawings that show the tools in action. Almost totally unedited and shown in real-time.

3 Minute Gesture Drawing: Nicole -

5-minute gesture drawing: Nicole -

10-minute gesture drawing: Jessica -

20-minute gesture drawing: Angge -

Landscape Drawings in Charcoal

As a bonus, I am putting up some landscape drawings that I've been doing in the field lately. I think since drawing is more important than painting and value is more important than color, it's critical that we as artists develop this side of our technique as much as we can. Without paint and brushwork in the way, this practice gives a much more honest depiction on where we stand in terms of skill. I wish more artists would share the landscape drawings they do.

Please click on the picture below to see if you find a drawing you would like to purchase:

Drawings For Sale
Prints For Sale

Monday, August 06, 2012

Painting Smorgasbord: 2012 Frank Bette Center Plein Air Paintout

It was a busy and fun-filled week in Alameda. I participated in the Frank Bette Center Plein Air Paintout for the 2nd time this year. Alameda is a very unique area to hold a paintout for several reasons. For one, it's a small city, you can drive for 15 minutes in any direction and reach the borders of the small island. It's a flat island, with not much notable natural scenery inside of its borders, either. Plein air painters used to painting mountains, creeks, and trees might find themselves at a loss for inspiration. So what is the draw here anyways?

Well, for an artist comfortable with cityscapes, there is abundant urban scenery. The Naval legacy is not to be overlooked, and neither is the "boat" culture here, with its entire northern shore filled with boats, docks and other nautical structures. Because of all the Victorian homes in the city, the entire city resembles the 2 blocks of every other California city's historical district. Although I do love's me some nature, I welcomed the change of scenery as a way to practice and expand my repertoire.

Day 1 - Sunday(Quick Draw):

I came to Alameda on Sunday for the Quick Draw. It was meant to coincide with the Alameda Art and Wine Festival. A few issues I had with this; one, I don't like the art having to share the spotlight to everything else, especially blaring music, and two, I am tired of trying to paint generic street fair scenes with their homogenous white tents and nearly identical looking booths. I chose this view of the fair from a distance which gave me a good view of the historical building that makes the focal point. I got a lot of kudos on it, and apparently was one behind on the votes for the "Artist's Choice" award.

Day 2 - Monday:

The next day kicked off the official start of the event with the check-in, grabbing maps, suggestions on where to paint, etc. I didn't have a great idea of where to paint yet, but I knew I was looking for good views of industrial scenes. What better than the big white cranes loading and unloading the cargo ships in Oakland's main harbor?

I enjoyed pushing the atmospheric perspective between the ships and playing up the lost/found edges. A side note: I actually ruined a part of the painting when it was still wet so I had to fix up the messed-up parts. Didn't keep it quite as fresh as I hoped I would, but it still looks ok.

There is an awesome view from Ballena Bay that has SF, the USS Hornet and the Bay Bridge all in the same view, and it lights ablaze in color as the sun goes down. One of the more iconic views from Alameda.

Day 3 - Tuesday:

Again I was attracted to more industrial scenery. I found this construction crane near the old warehouses  I moved a few things around and played around a bit with the relative values to push depth. I also changed the color of the sky to give it a different mood, rather than the nice clear morning blue sky.


Afterwards, I did some scouting around for where I was going to tackle in the next few days. Once I decided on what I was going to paint, I went to the USS Hornet museum, which is an aircraft carrier from the 1950's. It's a really cool subject for a painting, not to mention an interest place to explore as a museum. 

I saw something in the cables that I thought would make for an interesting composition. I didn't find exactly what was in my head, so I looked for a different angle I would like to paint. This is easily one of the most unorthodox compositions I've attempted. I went for trying multiple lines swinging you into the depth of the picture, and using the bright orange to bring it forward. Believe or not, the seagull resting on the chain on the far right of the picture serves the composition in a very important way. Without it there, the line of the chain would lead you out of the picture.

Day 4 - Wednesday:

I was lucky to be able to be out of everyone's way when I painted this scene at the Alameda. They were working on the trimaran ship on the right side of the picture. I did a little changing to the composition to make the darks all connect to each other.

I found an old house that has been long-uninhabited. There were a lot of interesting colors and textures in the peeling paint and dilapidated walls.


One of the better paintings of the event for me was this scene of boats resting in the yard of the Grand Marina. I made the darkest part of the painting in the middle ground to give some reinforcement of the focal point, and I did some very Rockwell by making the port of the boat in the foreground point to the boats in the middle ground.


One of the most exciting yet difficult scenes to paint was the sailboat races from the dock of the Encinal Yacht Club. The evening light was turning the whites of the ships orange, and the boats were on the move. I painted the scene quite rapidly, in about an hour and a half. I had to wait for the one sailboat on the right of the photo to come back so I could paint it. I had to do it in like 2 minutes or else it might go away again. Ah the joys of plein air painting!


Day 5 - Thursday:

This was my favorite painting I did of the paintout. It was a boat I had eyed for a couple days in a row, and it wasn't until Thursday that I decided to paint it. Only obstacle was a car that decided to park in front of me to get its tire changed. It parked exactly where it said "No Parking," which was baffling. Sometimes things are made unnecessarily difficult, and you just have to work around it if you want to make the painting you're after.


We returned to the USS Hornet, this time we hopped aboard and went up to the deck to check out all of the amazing views up there, and all the cool air vehicles. I decided to paint this helicopter and get a close crop of it. I started it off with a wipe-off technique with a soup of raw/burnt umber and ultramarine blue. Iwish I had kept it more of a warm monochrome, it went too cool and gray in the for my taste.


I did this one more as a challenge to myself. I did a close-up of all the machinery on the gunboat. This was done over 2 days. I blocked it in the first day, then added the detail over the dried underpainting. It actually wasn't as hard as it looks. It breaks down to a bunch of cubes and cylinders stacked on top of each other. I don't think it's a "pretty" enough painting to sell at an event like this, but I can see someone with a more industrial taste going for it.

Day 6 - Friday:

There were a couple of gaps in the body of work I wanted to present at the exhibit the next day, so I set out to paint a couple of more paintings. I wanted to tackle a couple of buildings that I had seen around town. This was the High Street Station Cafe. A few people painted it, but I went for a bit more of an intimate view of it. Normally all the detail might be intimidating but with all of the practice during the week of painting detail, I was able to get into the groove of it.


I jet on over to the southwest side of the city to do this quick painting of Wilmot's Books. Some of the drawing is a tad shaky in retrospect, but I like the feeling of light on it.

Day 7 - Saturday (Sale):

On Saturday we brought all of our paintings to the South Shore Center to show off the fruits of our labor.

Here are the rest of the paintings in frames:

I detest standing around my paintings waiting to sell something, so I will do anything else to pass the time. My friend Yvonne became my gorgeous portrait model for the afternoon. I spent the next 2 and a half hours doing this portrait for the enthralled onlookers. I don't do a whole lot of painting portraits outdoors from life, especially on a cloudy overcast day. It was a tough challenge because the light would change and then return to how it was supposed to be. It's a decent study, but I am the hardest on myself when it comes to portraits, especially of pretty girls. I am always reminded of how far I still need to go. Never be satisfied!

Want to see photos of the rest of the exhibition? Check out the Frank Bette Center's page on Facebook:

One of the nice things about this exhibit is that it will be up for quite a while. Way longer than most other paint-out exhibits, with almost 2 months to check out the work.





7 - 9 PM

Paintings created during Frank Bette's 7th Annual Plein Air Paintout week will be on display and for sale.
Regular Gallery Hours: Wed - Sat 11-7, Sun 11-5
Our Address: 1601 Paru St., Alameda, CA 94501
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