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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January 1, 2012 End of Informal Art in 2011

The pastel class at the Hammond street Senior Center ended in May and the teacher, Linda, who was so encouraging and helpful to each of us, decided she had to return to making a living and so she ended her teaching of the pastel class. It was a situation with mixed feelings as we all, as a group, were happy to see her make progress in her free-lancing work but were sad to be losing her leadership.

The result is that we floundered as we tried to keep the group going on an informal basis by just showing up and working together on Thursday afternoons. Gradually, however, we began to drift into other activities. In August I registered to take a drawing course at the University of Maine and this proved to be a demanding class that used all my free time until well into December. The university course was a fast moving class and I learned a lot from it which I will blog about in another discussion called ART200. These discussions can be reached from the homepage by clicking on the pointer for ART200.

The ART200 discussions will take us to the end of 2011. I hope you find them to be interesting and enjoyable to read as much as I enjoyed doing the actual class and its course work.

May 17, 2011. Tulip Photo

This business about pictures on a black background is still bouncing around in my head. My mind keeps seeing things that would look good on the black background and so I want to make more and more of them.

Here I have taken a photo of one of Sally's spring tulips as it was fully open to absorb the sun's rays last week. When Sally saw this creation she was quite impressed and thought it was quite superior to an earlier rose picture that I made.

It's hard for me to tell, as each one has unique features, but this one looks like a luscious peach ready to eat. It's a real temptation to attempt to copy it with acrylic paint as I `feel' I could manage a decent job of it.

When I view the picture I see it as shapes of color that stand out to create the effect of light that makes the image leap forward from its black background prison. It is amazing how placing the photo, of just the flower part of the photo, onto the black background makes such an impressive difference in the beauty of the flower. Coming out of the black, as it does, it gives full attention to the flower rather than background and other flowers that are near it. I took a lot of care, when I cut the flower from the original photo enlargement, to leave light around the edges of the blossom wherever I could. That also helped to define the shape from the black. This presentation clearly makes the tulip blossom into a work of art, which it is when the Creator makes it.

This picture is a really good example to show how color shading gives the effect of shape and dimensionality. It's not just an outline that makes a good detailed drawing, it's also tone and tints that enhance meaning.

As it is with speaking---tone makes all the difference in the world.

May 5, 2011. Sunflower

After the art class ended with the Penobscot Valley Senior College, and Lola, I signed up to return, at last, to the pastel class at the Hammond Street Senior Center. This picture started and finished in the single two-hour class. The drawing is not great but it's likeable in its color combination. There is some depth to the drawing, due to the shadowing, and the seed center sort of `pops out' at you as you look at the whole flower.

The most interesting thing, to the class, was the background for the drawing.
``What is it?'' everyone wanted to know.

Well, it's the regular Wallis paper with a couple coats of paint. First, I painted the paper with an orange mix sometime ago but then, yesterday, I thought I wanted a black background [ for the new fad of chiaroscuro] so I painted on a black (acrylic) wash with this brownish result. When I saw it, my reaction was gee, that would go nice with the yellow sunflower. So there you go. That's how some of our best things happen---they are accidents!

The sunflower drawing was an accident albeit a good one. It makes a nice looking card to send someone a specially made flower.

It's my version of Van Gogh's sunflower.

Well, yesterday proved I could still do the pastel medium and that was encouraging. I think I like pastels because they are quicker in the making of a drawing.

Pastels provide instant gratification.

April 30, 2011. Moon Light

More light contrast!

This is back to acrylic painting again as I get more involved with this new fascination for the black and light contrast.

This painting is from a print I had in my to-try-to-do art folder for a couple years. My recent success with the acrylic painting has encouraged me to try it again. The result, as a first cut, is very pleasing to me as there is much light effects going on in this drawing.

This is a picture of a full moon as seen through a lens of some kind with the tree and bird silhouetted by reflected light from the bright moon. This picture struck me as one of those 'super moons' that appear so close you want to reach out and touch them. The picture was quite striking when I first saw it but, right now, I have no recollection of where it would be, or when, that I saw the original. Usually I keep notes on the original copy but there aren't any around for this one. Well, that surely means I wouldn't sell this painting or make any claims about it being original with me. The composition is entirely due to some other photographer---now anonymous to me. Maybe someone will identify it and refresh my memory.

An interesting feature of the painting is how the light works through the myriad tiny little branches. The painting was built using layers of wash, like watercolor, and so there is some mixing on the paper. However, a different effect is how the light appears to get refracted through the grating of the branches with the result that branches appear to be different colors in different areas according to the color behind them. All the branches were made from the same wash of red, green, and a touch of black, and so the application of the branches is the same color of paint everywhere on the painting. They look different as on the bottom, with nearly white background, the branches have a blue cast whereas near the top, with a more yellow-orange background, the branches appear to offer a green tint. Well, that is to my way of seeing. Others may see a different effect.

This painting was not on the easel very long, less than a week, as once I got started it did not want to stop.

April 18, 2011. Oak Leaf---Chiaroscuro
Here is a copy of the latest art class adventure: Chiaroscuro!

When Lola handed out the black paper and told us to pick out one of the pictures she had brought in, I had no idea what this 'Chiaroscuro' was all about. I did not recall ever reading about it but it is a style used back in the time of Rembrandt, in the Renaissance, and with early American painters. It is a heavy-handed approach to light and shadow with the center object of the painting shining as if illuminated by a spot light. The surrounding field is dark---browns melting to black. And that is what this painting does, except I used the brown-orangish leaf for my object. The challenge is to make your painting look like it has captured light by your choice and technique of shading to give different levels.

The picture shown here was taken without flash so no light was added to take this photo. There were two lights in the room: an overhead flourescent 'cool' white light and then a workbench 75 W 'soft' white light off to the left of the picture. This lighting was just the normal illumination in the room. A flash photo does give a different looking photo, with the black area being slightly duller but not having any signifigant difference in the lighted appearance of the leaf.

This exercise was a learning experience for certain as I learned a valuable trick to get the sparkling effect of light on the edges of the leaves. The procedure was to use my smallest round brush to apply as thin a line of pure white paint as I could along the leaf boundaries where I wanted to capture that light on edges of the leaf. Then you use a normal flat or angular brush to apply the base color inside the leaf boundaries leaving as thin a line of white on the edges as possible. It truly surprises me how well that simple technique works. Certainly, it is easier to put down the white edge first and then apply the inner color than it is to put it down last. The edge would not come out nearly as thin or with the same sparkly effect. That was extremely 'cool' as the hep people say!

But then how to put on the veins? Those were thin whispery lines that had to go on last after everything else was done. And the lighter thin spots in the leaf required a different application technique as well. I was told to take a small dry flat brush and pick up just a little of the desired paint mix and then, keeping the brush vertical to the surface, lightly apply the light color to make the lighter areas of the leaf. So that is how that got done.

The thin veins was another issue however as none of my brushes were trustworthy to make thin lines while keeping a suitable flow of paint to the drawing. Lola mentioned making a thinner brush and that is what I did. I found an old small round brush and clipped out half of the bristles. It was still too thick. OK, so do it again---another half gets clipped out and now about 10 bristles are left with what looks like a pretty thin remnant of a brush. This was so thin that I could drag the brush right along wherever I wanted to make a thin vein and, by using it wet, the paint would flow for a long extent across the drawing to where it would fade at the ends just like I wanted. Putting in the veins made the picture come to life and it proved to be an exhilarating experience.

In fact, this one little exercise proved to give me a euphoric feeling that has lasted for a couple days now. The picture strikes me as one of the best I have ever done, right up there with the Gouldian Finches, as I can not imagine ever wanting to part with it. [The finches were done about a year ago and discussed here at that time.] Another aspect about this drawing is that it had to be scaled up proportionally to fit the paper that we were given. So this 8x12 inch painting turns out to be a factor of 1.6 times its source photo. The photo of the original came from a garden magazine but there was no reference on it about who took the picture or where it came from. The leaf impressed me as being like many a Red Oak leaf that I have seen over the years.

At the end of this exercise it is just difficult to believe that you can select and supply those colors to make something appear to light up on its own from out of a 'black hole'. It proved to be an illuminating experience for me!

April 13, 2011. Easel Painting

It was not easy, which the title might sound like at first, but here is my first attempt to paint using an easel. It proved to be a fun adventure. A couple weeks ago I went out and bought an easel. It seemed that I was getting committed to the acrylic media and using an easel appealed to try and do larger paintings.

The effort shown here is the largest painting I have managed in my, so far, short art career. It is on a 15x22 BFK Rives 250 GSM Watercolor Paper. I used acrylic paint with very little water and the paper proved to be quite stable thoughout the application; i.e., it did not stretch.

This painting was up on the easel for a couple weeks in the shop where I practice each day and so it constantly beckoned for me to work on it. That proved to be an interesting phenomena as after the first session, when I was ready to say trash it and start over, I just let it sit there before tossing it. Then, as I saw it each day, I would get an idea about how to change, or add, something and so started responding to these calls. It proved to sort of develop itself by simply just being there and ever present in my sight. When I started, I was simply trying to follow an art lesson in Jenny Rodwell's Acrylic Workbook to use larger brushes and make a four color landscape. Well, the brush strokes did not work out like the ones in the lesson and that is where I thought I had to scrap it and start over. But by leaving it up and seeing it each day, before starting over, I kept getting ideas about 'fixing' it: add a fence in the front to give it depth; put in more clouds to give the sky some character; add the really distant 'purple' hills; then the idea to put in an abandoned and broken buckboard wagon appeared from out of the blue; that did not look too good on its own so the distant barb-wire fence appeared to give even better perspective. That last was to give perspective between the so-called hay field and the green wilderness; i.e., to give credibility to the straight boundary across the middle of the painting (a Linda no-no). This proved to be an interactive process that developed over time by being patient and letting the scene speak. A bottom line is: I like the painting and do not plan to trash it now that it 'feels' done.

This business about the painting beckoning to me reminds me of what writers say about writing a novel: "If you just listen to your characters, they will tell you their story to write for them." I never gave that much credibility in the past but now that it felt like this painting spoke to me, I may have to give it a try to listen to my story characters and not try so hard to force something else onto them. It's weird. I must be getting into this Liberal Arts stuff after all.

Another thing that just struck me was the color scheme in this painting. The colors really go together as with Blue on the top and Yellow on the bottom, the Green is a secondary color that comes from Blue and Yellow mixing together. This was not planned---it just happened that way. Some art analyst, some time in the future, after I am dead and famous for my 'bold' art, might give a complicated analysis about meanings and metaphors for why those colors were chosen by me. It reminds me of how English Lit teachers analyze a story and tell how there are different complex metaphors attached to the story as if the author made up a complex plot based upon mythological tales from the past. Sometimes these are so complex it is difficult to believe the author could ever preconceive such diabolical ideas. I am here to say, in the case of the colors in this painting---there was no plan---it was all an accident over time.

One thing about the easel---don't buy the cheap $20 one. I did that because I was not sure I would actually use it enough to justify getting a good one but it proved to be too flimsy as it would jump due to slightest variations in pressure on the painting. So my new easel will end up getting scrapped, even after adding a heavy brace across the front legs, as it is just not sturdy enough to stay in a set and firm position. You need a heavy substantial frame to support solid vigorous brush work. Currently I am debating whether to make my own, out of scrap lumber I have lying around, or to just spring for a nice sturdy one down at the art store.

February 17, 2011. Mystery Woman

Here's another acrylic painting, again on Bristol paper. A case can be made for it not being too good but it is my first painted portrait drawing. It represents an experiment as I was mostly interested to see if I could draw a decent facsimile of eyes behind dark sunglasses. That was the challenge and interest for attempting this drawing at all. A companion challenge was to try and make a suitable flesh color ... then the nose proved to be an even bigger problem. [Hah! It may be too big!]

The end result is better than I expected, especially as I was doing it. One thing I experienced was that I could 'mess' it up, with wrong colors, or painting 'out-of-bounds', but that those errors were fixable by simply painting over the mistake. The flesh color, mostly white with touches of red and yellow, is not as good as I would have liked too get but I went with it anyway. Maybe this mysterious woman is from the Soutwest US!

Making the nose turned out to be the biggest challenge of all, especially in this straight on profile. It is basically a result of shading which I accomplished by adding white to the basic mixture to obtain light shading or by adding red to darken the mixture to add shadows around the eyes and under the glasses. It surprised me that the result is a prominent nose, I'm not sure if it reminds me more of a pig snout, or not, but still the over-all result is a determined looking face with the jutting jaw and set mouth. All features are separated by the rule of thumb bisections as given in the Acrylic Workbook by Jenny Rodwell. The eyes are halfway between the tip of the jaw and the top of the head; the tip of the nose is halfway between the eyebrows and the tip of the jaw; and the lower lip is halfway between the tip of the nose and the tip of the jaw. [These halfways are all approximate!]

Currently I am using a small pallette of colors: yellow, orange, red, blue, green, burnt umber, and white; and using these to mix any special shade, or tint, of color that I want to use. It's limiting in some sense but it still yields unique colors that give me a feel of satisfaction for having made them. One problem is that, with a diminishing memory, it is difficult to recall exactly how I got what color if I ever want to duplicate anything. But I am learning that it doesn't seem to matter.

This drawing is mostly from my head but I did have a B/W book cover photo in mind when I started the painting. If anyone can tell me who the person was in the B/W photo, that gave the shape to this woman, you can have this original color portrait. Just let me know and I will mail it to you.

February 4, 2011. Acrylic Still Life

This term has proved to be pretty unproductive as I took a temporary leave of absence from pastels, and its wonderful class, to explore the world of watercolor painting. This new class was advertised as teaching 'abstract and representational' art but that proved to not be quite true as the emphasis was on making patterns and shapes primarily for scrapbooking. Since this did not 'work' for me, I withdrew and transferred to a class on acrylic painting. Here I am trying to learn if this media will prove to be more satisfying than pastel as I get frustrated with the fragility of handling the brilliant pastels.

In the beginning it did not go too well as I did not care for the canvas paper that I first used plus I did not kow how to keep the brush 'alive' and working smoothly. It took some practice, at home, to develop a technique that seems to be working better for me. After that I tried painting on different papers and found that I really like the Bristol paper as shown in the still life drawing shown here.

There are several things that I like about this painting.

The paper is smooth and tough. After experimenting a great deal I found that I preferred to use a fair amount of water to create a wash of the mixture so that it goes on smoothly and forms just a thin layer of acrylic for each application. It is a lot like using watercolor except that it dries quickly and is impervious to subsequent over-painting. If you make a mistake, it dries just slow enough that you can remove it by blotting and without harming any prior work. That's a big plus for mistake-prone-me.

Then the colors I am getting, from a limited palette of about 8 colors, seems to match the brilliance of the pastels I have been getting in the past. That is a big plus with me as I do like bold and complementary colors.

The picture here is not technically that great but there is something about it that appeals. I do not know what it is but the colors seem to work well and attract you to look at it carefully when you walk by it. The colors came from my head as the model I used, from The Acrylics Workbook, was not the same as the ones used in this painting. Actually, the workbook had a clear glass pitcher and, not knowing how to obtain a clear glass effect (yet), I used opaque colors to blend between the table and the walls. It is the shading on the pitcher surface that appealed to me. It has a good 3-D look. And that's good!

Another thing is that I note I have been doing more painting at home and not waiting for class. I am encouraged that, maybe, I have found what will work best for what I think I want to be doing in drawing and painting. As usual, time will tell.

This site last updated on Feb 29, 2012