Learning to Draw

After completing a self-therapeutic course called the The Artist's Way, in March, 2008, I have been involved with trying to learn how to draw and paint.
Here are samples from some of my experiences along the way. They are LIFO ordered, Last-In-First-Out.

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[Fred, Sally, and Max, THE Dog!]

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December 16, 2010. Art by the Committee of the Whole

Today the fall class ended with a rousing performance of a new art experience for most of us. It proved to be a lot of fun as the entire class engaged in drawing by taking turns on art as it circulated around the room. The idea was to quickly size up what the picture was about, and just add lines, shapes, and colors to the drawing to bring it along to a conclusion. There were 9 of us and each turn amounted to two minutes in the beginning and progressed to three minutes at the end. The idea was to show us that interesting art could be created spontaneously and without being concerned about what you wanted to do next, or being afraid you might mess up a good drawing after reaching the middle, or somewhere else in your thinking. Following are three examples of what happened.

What we have here is a Portrait, a Landscape, and a Fiddlehead.

The abstract portrait is the one I started and I like to think of it as an impressionistic drawing of me amidst the chaos of art. It reminds me of a Marc Chagall drawing. All I put on the drawing, to start it, was five blobs of blue which you can see two on the top, one in the middle (in the nose area), and two on the bottom that ended up getting cross-hatched. I have no idea how that drawing emerged with each of the two minute inputs from the 9 of us. The net result is that I really like it and would like to think I could do something like that for fun. As these things were being passed along we had no idea who the drawing belonged to as there was not enough time to even think about that so I don't think it is really supposed to be me.

The second drawing ends up looking like a nice landscape drawing with some really nice trees on a hillside and a beautiful sunset sky across the top. This drawing came to me about in the middle of its round trip and I put in the cabin after which paths and brick walls emerged. One thing I learned, from drawings that I could not attribute scenic reality, was that I could use soft pastels to add shading to create reflected light and depth for the drawing. That seemed safe and augmented the picture at the same time. But when I recognized something and added something to give a feel for something real, then it changed the resultant drawing a great deal.

This Fiddlehead (that's what I call it in the spirit of a Rorshach psychological test) came to me with the center 'stalk' with flourishes to which I added a seed group at the top along with some shading along the leaves and then subsequent additions enhanced that effect. Overall, it was a fun project that surprised everyone with the liveliness and color that the resulting 'Art by Committee' produced in just 20 short minutes.

The class was unanimous that the instructor was right: Impulsive art is 'freeing'. Try it!

November 30, 2010. A Diptych

Wow! Another round of classes is coming to an end already and I really do not have much to show for this term. The term was shorter for me as I missed some due to travelling but then, in what I did do, it feels like I did not really have any worthwhile new accomplishments worthy of putting here. Well, most of what I did do did not make the cut as I brought them home from class and transferred them to the trash barrel.

The teacher decided to 'get tough' this term and wanted to challenge us to do different things and try our hands at different styles that might not be comfortable. Basically I was not able to respond very well to the challenge and so may not be able to stay up with the group. Everyone else seems to be doing great things as a result of the challenge but I feel like I am lost most of the time with my naive art that persists in appearing in front of me.

The drawings here are two parts of a Triptych that we were asked to try and do. The idea was that you would make three different paintings from the same scene to learn to crop while you are painting and to extract different impressions of a scene from a single sitting view. I missed the beginning of this exercise and so I only completed two versions of a scene, hence the two page word: diptych. [Not any relation to 'dipstick'.]

The drawing on the left, from a very small picture of The Daily Book of Art, took most of one class. It did not leave me with good feelings due to poor perspective and values, and so, after I brought it home, I cropped it (with scissors) to remove most of the sky and landscape on the right side along with adding more soft pastel color plus trees and a redraw of the front building. It was a learning experience to see that I could actually practically redraw a bad drawing into a better one without having to throw away vested labor and start over. Basically I have learned that if I throw something away I generally don't have any inclination to try and draw it again. The drawing is not great, but I have decided to keep it. There is something about it that attracts the eye.

The drawing on the right is a monolith that took me about 20 minutes to do at the end of class. It is an example of an 'in place' crop you might be able to do 'in situ' while you are sitting looking at the view of nestled homes in the distance. It is a second impression of the original scene as requested for our class exercise.

August 8, 2010. A Pastoral Pastel

My art has been pretty much neglected since classes ended last May but that hasn't stopped my guilt about not doing it. It's easy to make up excuses for not doing it what with an intense concert schedule this summer (roughly 2 concerts every 5 days), my granddaughter (Alexis) visiting with a friend, and fishing. Clearly, there's too much to do in the summer.

When Alexis was here I found a whole book dedicated to pastel art. Pastel Art is written by a Bill Creevy and is the first full book I have seen dedicated to pastel art, in particular, the use of oil pastels as well as the use of different papers, media, and other aspects which led me to want to do an experiment combining watercolor with pastel.

The result is shown here and it took me a couple weeks to do the whole thing as I only spent short times on it. The scene is from out of my imagination and it is the largest size drawing I have undertaken, to date, as it is 15x11 uncropped. The paper is a general-purpose 22x30 sheet of media paper that I quartered. The procedure was to wet the paper and then lay down the watercolor to make the sky, the yard, and outlines for the tree and shed. This application raised a small nap that proved to be good for taking and holding the pastels, both hard and soft. The whole process seemed to be easy and straightforward and I felt I knew more about what I was trying to do with the watercolor this time. It was more fun.

There was a true learning experience connected with doing this drawing as I reached the three-quarter mark in its completion. There comes a point when you have completed a large part of the drawing where you begin to fear adding anything else due to the possibility of "messing" up beyond repair other than starting over again. That point occurred before adding the fence and the trellis. The scene looked too nice to mess up and so I became very cautious. The solution was to pencil sketch the trellis on another piece of paper to work out size and shape before starting on the 'real' application. It worked!

There are many things I like about this drawing. First is the light in the field and the shadows that seem to bring out a 3-D effect for the shed and the tree. It's as if you could walk right around either one of them. Then I really like the sky and especially the cloud left of center. The soft pastel worked very well with the watercolor to make those clouds 'happen'. The fence was applied using pastel pencils and it gives the picture substantial depth as it goes off to infinity. The shed has a solid structurally sound look and grounds the picture that otherwise wants to fade off into the distance. There is an over-all brightness to this picture that stands out and the bad thing is I am not sure, exactly, how I managed to make that happen! Time will tell if I can replicate it or not.

July 16, 2010. Beyond Framing

Well, that last thing I said, about when art is done, was not quite true. Two things happened after framing that turned out to be very interesting art related experiences. First, our class got invited to put on an art exhibit at the end of our last class in May and second, someone emailed me out of the blue a few weeks ago and wanted to buy the original art for one of my drawings here on this blog. Both were thrilling experiences.

After the art show was installed (we had to choose 2 or 3 drawings each to use for the show) the class decided to have an opening reception to kick off the display. That took place on the afternoon of May 13 as we invited friends to come and view the show. What a blast! About an hour into the reception Channel 5 News came in with a camera and scanned in the art on the walls and then interviewed a couple of the students. As they swept out someone told us there would be a clip on the 5 o'clock news. After the show ended some of us went down to the Lucerne Inn to have dinner and celebrate the event. We got there before the dining room was open and so we went into the bar to have some beverage and visit before dinner. Someone came in and turned on the TV for us to watch, if we wanted, and so we asked them to put it on Channel 5, which they did. Sure enough at 5:15 they switched to the human interest story of old people making art and having an art show. Imagine my surprise when they showed my bird picture on the news! They gave it a full screen exposure which amazed me. I said, "That's my picture!" and about that time a waiter called to us that the dining room was now open. We turned to go and saw a group of staff there watching the news with us and so I experienced my "moment of fame" that Andy Warhol used to talk about.

This whole experience of being in an art show was way beyond the thrill of seeing your drawing in a frame.

Still, that did not come close to someone writing and wanting to buy one of your drawings. It had never entered my head that anyone would want to buy one of my neophyte attempts to draw or paint anything. The offer came from a young woman in NC that had found my Full Moon picture (Painting and Pastels) and wanted to use it for a Logo for a business she was starting. She had found it by Googling "Full Moon" (she said) but when I tried that I got about 3,000,000 hits so that I do not know how she ever found my particular moon picture. I looked at about 30 pages and finally gave up that I could find my drawing by simpling Googling the term. I think you would have to Google: "Full Moon painting done by an Old Engineer trying to learn to draw" in order to ever find it. That would eliminate at least 2,900,000 hits.

Turns out this young woman was an engineer by training and was impressed that the drawing had been done by a former engineeer and so that prompted her interest in it. Anyway, she plans to use the name, "Midwest Moon" for her business. We talked back and forth and arrived at an agreeable price and then I touched up the drawing, made a shock proof package to ship the drawing safely, made special mats to mount the drawing, and shipped the package after her check cleared. It was a pleasant transaction which completes (I think) the cycle of making a picture.

You make it, you show it, and you sell it. It's all an enjoyable cycle.

April 7, 2010. Framed Art

Up until now I had never thought about the final step to making art, but that is in the framing of your work. The pastel class has been invited to present an art show at the end of this term and so it was recommended that we each should frame two or three entries to offer to the show. This will be held at the end of April at the Hammond Street Senior Center.

It never entered my head that I would want to frame any of my art attempts but I did go ahead and frame some to see what they would look like when cropped and mounted. However, it turned out that it is not straightforward to frame pastel drawings as they need to be double matted so as to hide any powder that falls off of the drawing. Our teacher gave us a demo and then we were on our own to give it a try.

You need special mat board to do this and then you also need a mat cutter, a razor mounted at an angle to bevel the top mat. The bottom mat has a slightly larger opening than does the top mounted beveled mat. This is where the powder resides if it falls off of the picture. I found all the supplies I needed for this job at AC Moore's at the local mall and shown here is the result of my effort. It appears to me that the result looks very professional and I feel good about them. The frames here are 9x12 inches for the two large frames. The smaller frame is 8x10 inches.

The reason I decided to show this composite picture is to share what I learned, namely, that a framed drawing looks much more finished than does the raw drawing on the easel, or on your drawing pad. You can compare the finch picture here both before and after framing. It struck me that the frames make an enormous difference in presentation as they help to focus the viewer's attention on the drawing.

It also struck me that it is necessary to match a frame, both in style and color, to the picture you are framing. Note the birds in the white frame appear more open whereas the old mill, in a reddish brown frame, looks warmer and more inviting.

Framing is fun! ... in the same way that binding a book gives a feeling of being finished with having written the story in the first place. There is a saying that, ''The game isn't over until the last out!'' In art that can be changed to, ''It isn't done until you frame it!''

March 20, 2010. Pastel---Gouldian Finches

Spring is coming! The birdies are back!

Here is my latest effort at trying to use the pastel medium. It was copied from a photo from my 2010 Inner Reflections desk calendar. The birds are captive birds. I thought the colorful birds to be very attractive and it appealed to me to try and draw them.

During the recent break in art class I tried first to do the birds using acrylics. That proved to be a dismal failure as I had many problems with both the paint and the brushes. It was frustrating and disappointing the way it turned out that first time.

When the HSSC class resumed this past Thursday I thought, "What the heck, I will give it a try with pastels and see what happens."

This result is much more satisfying and proved to be rather easy to do as I did it in one sitting. Maybe having tried once before helped me to do a better job the second time. That is one reason it is suggested to make a pencil sketch first so you can get details correct like values, perspectives, sizes, and so on. Whatever the reason may be, this is one drawing that I do like.

Lately I have been using a system that I have personally developed to facilitate making pastel drawings. My system involves the use of the Wallis paper pre-cut to a 6x9 inch working size and then pre-painted using acrylic paint to make a single color background. Then when I make the drawing I just use the hard pastel much like using a pencil. I try to just use lines and dots, or twists, on the paper. Putting colors side-by-side or on top of other colors helps to mix and shade and so I avoid what I feel are the soft pastels that tend to create messes. I think I want my drawings to look more like etchings as that is the effect I try to achieve.

It seems I am getting to favor using the pastel medium and I am having better results with it.

February 18, 2010. Cooperative Art---Parfait Collage---Pastel

Here is an example of cooperative art that we did in the last class of winter term at the Hammond Street Senior Center. The object was to help us learn to draw exactly what we see.

When we came to class, the teacher gave each of us (there were 8) an eighth section from an enlargement of a photo of a fruit parfait. We were not shown the original before or during the exercise. Each of these sections did not look like anything recognizable but we were to duplicate, as much as possible, and to scale, what we saw on our section. A general feeling was that none of these were recognizable as being anything of any meaning.

The small photo, shown here, is of the original source for the enlarged print that was cut up and given to us to recreate using the pastel medium. We were told it was important to get both color, dimension, and shading as close as we could.

At the end of class the teacher assembled the individual drawings in the proper arrangement to build a collage and Presto! the true picture emerged in great clarity. The pieced together, quilted, result is the large photo shown here.

The thing that amazes me most about this composite drawing is the reflectivity around the parfait glass. It's amazing how that came through as we tried to duplicate what we were seeing but not knowing what it was. If I wanted to draw reflective glass surfaces I would probably make a mess of it if I knew that was what I was trying to do! As it was, it came out pretty good. Note the rim of the glass spans the four top sections and is right on the line between the top and bottom second sections from the left.

You can probably guess which section is mine---the Bold one! [The second from the left on the top.] I did not get the right sheen on the fruit as I only used my small palette of hard pastels and then ran out of time before getting to use the soft pastel class set. It would only require some small touch-up to make the fruit chunk fit the rest of the picture. I was happy to just have everything line up and fit the right shape.

Note in the lower left corner of the collage that the outline of a pitcher provides more clarity than in the original photo. That artist figured what it was and did a good job to bring it out. Note also that the stem and bottom of the parfait glass show with a good match in clarity to the original.

Overall it was a fun exercise and one that the class thought they would like to try again at another time.

February 15, 2010. Pastel---Japanese Maple

Here is a pastel drawing I did for a 'gift' exchange that we had for the last class for this session. I tried to do something different so as to confuse the class as to who did the drawing. In the gift exchange we make small (unsigned) drawings and put them in an envelope to be randomly drawn from a basket at the end of class. If the drawee can recognize who the artist was that did the drawing then they get to keep it. Otherwise the unidentified drawing passes to the next person in line to try and identify the artist. This exchange was so much fun, for several people after the last class, that there were requests to repeat it again as this class came to an end.

Yesterday only five people remembered to make something for an exchange and so the swap was accomplished in a different manner. Each envelope was assigned a number and then each swap participant drew a number from a box and got to have the item in the corresponding envelope. There was no 'guessing the artist' this time. So I was foiled in my attempt to fool the class.

This drawing took two attempts to make to my satisfaction. It is copied from a photo in the Inner Reflections for this year. The photo was identified as a Japanese Maple but it reminded me of the symbolic Tree of Life or The Tree of Knowledge that appears in different books dealing with spirituality and religion. I liked the abstract background and used a new procedure to make it appear to give a 'velvety' appearance. I used hard pastels for the entire drawing and did not try to cover the acrylic umber underlayment mixture that was put down first. The background colors (to the tree branches) are all made by short hard twists that were intended to give a leafy appearance to the background.

The result was well liked by the class and caused quite a bit of speculation as to how it was done. The new owner of the drawing assured me she is going to enter it in an art show that is scheduled for May at the Senior Center because it struck her as being so interesting. ... Well that's one way to get into an art show ... try to use a foreign (to you) style!

Lately in the end-of-class critiques my style has been labelled as bold and I have been trying to figure out what that means in reality. My drawings mostly appear immature to me, like a 10-year old, and I wonder if that is what is meant by 'bold' when you don't use enough subtlety and smoothness in your drawing.

January 28, 2010. Multi-Media---Trail Development

The drawings shown here represent a special day in my recent art experience. It happened in the pastel class. The three pictures are: a Photo, a Black/White pencil drawing, and a Pastel drawing. Both drawings are derived from the photo. Jeanie sent me the photo in 2008, after their return from a summer stay at their camp in the Brooks Range. It is called Luke's Trail

Prior to the class meeting our teacher contacted us and asked us to bring a landscape picture to draw in class and to also bring paper and pencil, plus charcoal if we had it. At class she asked us to draw a B/W sketch quickly to just get a feel for values and shapes. As I struggled to do this I got trapped into trying to do too much detail. She talked to me a few minutes and demonstrated how to start a sketch by just using a pencil very lightly to put in principal features that you could identify by squinting at your source picture. She advised me to start again, which I did.

After you identify shapes and locations, lightly, then you start darkening and adding more shadows and depth to the drawing. When the sketch is completed you then use it as a source for your pastel drawing. This procedure cuts you off from trying to be a 'camera' as you draw and you get into the essence of the scene you are drawing.

I think it worked really well. The photos here show the source, the sketch, and the pastel result in the order of their conception. Each one is different and the pastel is one of the faster that I have made. I used Wallace paper with a gold background that I made using a mixture of acrylic paint. To draw the pastel I replicated the B/W sketch procedure by using a light color lightly to sketch in essential shapes and then followed with different colors to add values to achieve depth as well as shape.

A feature that I like about the B/W drawing is a 'glow' that appears at the back of the trail to the middle left of the drawing. While the photo does not have a real glow, like a morning fog, it gives me that feeling and I hoped to achieve that in my sketch. It was a happy feeling to see it there after I took the photo for this display and my daily journal.

While the pastel does not have the same glow, it does have an openness and conveys similar impressions to the scene of the trail leading over the hill to somewhere---a transition. The colors seem well balanced and I am pleased with the way the drawing turned out for this exercise.

It was a synchronous experience for me when I received the email from the teacher asking us to come prepared to do a B/W drawing. Sometime during the previous week I had come to the conclusion that I would just quit trying to draw with color and stay with B/W pencil and ink drawings. It seemed like I was having a lot of frustration with messy chalks and paints and that I might as well stay with what I enjoyed doing. So I had already decided to do B/W before going to class but then it was interesting to learn that I could use that as a vehicle to make a nice pastel drawing.

January 7, 2010. Pastel---A Sun-Rise Moon

Surprise! Another moon scene. I seem to be stuck on moons these days. It must mean I am getting "moony" in my old age.

This drawing was also made in art class at HSSC. It features a medium called "gatorboard." Gatorboard is made like the foam board used in art except that it is very rigid much like masonite. Unlike masonite it is extremely light. Its surface is very smooth which requires a fixative to better hold the pastel coloring when applied.

In order to fix the board we used a pumice paste mixed with an acrylic paint coloring of our choice and applied it with a large brush. I chose a light blue to use for sky background although I had no idea at the time what I would try to draw on the resulting board. The fixative holds the pastel chalk powders extremely well as it has a very fine grit as compared to the sandpaper we normally use. My reaction was that I liked this surface much better than anything else I have used for pastel to date.

The picture has undergone some minor repairs since the class critique as I added a shadow to 'ground' the tree and darkened the leaf structure for the tree. There were comments about the purple road but that is not a road. It is the dark side of a rise in the ground that is not illuminated by the rising sun. As I was doing the drawing I actually did not have any thought about whether it was a road or a hill but thought the colors were like a beam of refracted light as they fanned out through the morning darkness.

If the foreground of the painting was actually a road then it would be strange indeed to find a tree there! Purple hills is a common sight in landscape scenes but not usually up front where I placed it. But then you are not usually trying to depict the shadowing of light coming over darkness in most landscape scenes. I tried to recall the full song that goes with "purple mountain's majesty" but it did not come to me until I looked it up here at home. It is from Katherine Bate's "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies."

The insertion of the morning birds was a last minute inspiration but they add a lot to the scene. Their presence adds to the feeling of morning as the early birds go seeking breakfast.

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This site last updated on November 19, 2011