Learning to Draw

I have been involved with trying to learn how to draw and paint Since March of 2008.

Continuing here are samples and discussions from my 2013 experiences along the way.

This presentation is different than blogs for previous years as these are ordered: First-In-First-Out and are ordered chronologically from top to bottom. I am told it is not 'blog-like' but the serial form makes more sense to read and see for the first time reader.

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2013 Art

The following art comes from wherever it happens, plus, assuming it is worth documenting. Much of my effort ends up in the trash barrel when it does not prove to be worth showing. I consider the discards to be experiments and try to move on from them and do something better.

Much of what follows is from formal classes in pursuit of completing prerequisites so that I will be allowed to sign up for Painting I, eventually, at the university. Thus the art this year is mostly aimed at marking time. Fortunately I have a lot of that---or so I think.

January 16, 2013. Dot Grouping with Gradation
11x14 Ink on Bristol Board

This and the following paintings were done in connection with ART110, 2D-Design, a pre-requistie course to being able to take Painting I in the future.

The dot array is in connection with the first assignment where we had to first make 10 sketches each for dots, lines, and planes in the application of six design elements: Symmetry, Asymmetry, Grouping, Gradation, Rhythm, and Depth. The total number of sketches came to 180.

From the thumbnails we chose three (one dot, one line, and one plane) images to enlarge onto illustration board each no smaller than 11x14 inches. They were required to be inked with utmost precision.

The drawing here is my Dot offerring which combines Grouping with Gradation. I selected it to show here because I thought it made an interesting abstract painting. It seems to 'pull' me in, when I look at it, so that I think it makes a mandala kind of drawing that would be useful for meditation as you wait for the last drop to fall.

January 30, 2013. Biomorphic Shapes
8.5x11 Ink on Letter Paper
14x22 B/W Acrylic on Bristol Board

In this second exercise we were required to sketch a set of shapes into a 10x12 grid on a 8.5x11 sheet of letter paper. The shapes were specified to be whatever we wanted except that at the boundary of each rectangle there could be no White against White nor Black against Black. The shapes had to change from Black to White, or White to Black as they crossed any boundary. This procedure yielded what are called 'Biomorphic' Shapes in a process that simulated cell division and growth---I assume. It proved to be a meditative, absorbing, process to just make the initial set of B/W squares. My initial set is shown here on the right.

Once I got into the swing of oozing along through the squares, I decided to see if the random patterns, that were happening, would mask regular geometric patterns. As I was doing this, the instructor walked past my desk and immediately spotted what I was doing. He then announced that another rule was to not use repeated patterns as that defeated the purpose of the method. They would not be Biomorphic shapes.

I reverted to the random generation method as I had found the answer to my premise: No, random patterns do not hide regular shapes.

Once the 10x12 set was completed, we were instructed to select a 3x4 pattern, from within the set, and to redraw the shapes using precise elements of dot, line, and plane onto two 11x14 Bristol boards. They were to be done using only Black and White acrylic paint. The result is shown here on the left.

A puzzle for the reader is to find where, in the original set, this 3x4 array originates. A source of confusion is that the redrawn version has been straightened up along lines and circles so the shapes are accurately geometrical. Note it is possible to see a division between the two 11x14 sheets as one edge is slightly curled, or warped. [Hint: As I searched the 10x12 set for a suitable 3x4 array, I inadvertently turned the array upside down. It is a sign of abstractness if a drawing looks just as good upside down as it does rightside up.]

Just like the dot drawing, above, I find this 3x4 pattern to be quite appealing to view. Doing this exercise gave me a new perspective on the possibilities for purely abstract art. This was a decided, and unexpected, bonus to the project.

February 13, 2013. Gradations: White to Black
14.75x3 Graphite on Strathmore Smooth Drawing Paper
11.25x2.5 Acrylic on BFK Rives White

This next assignment involved an interesting subject for me as it involved using different pencils to make a spectrum of progressively darker shades of color. This is something that was always somewhat mysterious to me as I felt all pencils make equally dark lines depending entirely upon how hard you are willing to press the pencil onto the paper.

The assignment involved trying to learn how to do it correctly by using pencils graded in hardness to control the darkness of resulting applications. An array of 19 rectangles was used to illustrate the result of using different pencil hardness as shown in my first attempt here on the right. I chose a rectangle width of 20 mm to just make the 19 columns fit within the 18 inch length of the drawing paper. [I should note that it is a battle to get the camera to not try to 'equalize' shading in each region, especially if Photoshop is used to crop and print the photo. Even printers have automatic level equalization if you don't take steps to disable them.]

The first space, labelled WW, has no marking. It is the white reference. A 4H, hardest, pencil was used for the next three spaces with light, medium, and hard pressures: 4H, 4H+, 4H++. A 2H was used, similar to the 4H, in the next three spaces.

The cycle repeated across the strip using H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, and 6B pencils to complete the 19 rectangles. B denotes softer lead which makes darker, blacker, marks. The middle of the array is labelled MT, for mid-tone, where the HB (hard-black) pencil is used as the reference between the light, shaded, side and the dark, tinted, side.

The figure shows progressively darker values across the array---as was expected.

The exercise, which took quite a long time, shows that, yes indeed, with care and deliberation, you can, in fact, make progressively darker marks, however, I am not satisfied with the result because the shades are not uniformly rendered: they are 'patchy'. This bothers me as I would like to make uniformly textured shades across an entire region. Currently my rendering makes 'ridges' as I move the pencil across the space. I think it is due to the pencil point eroding as graphite is applied. So far I have not been able to figure out how to render such uniform texture as you can get from a photo of a shaded object.

The assignment required the edge of each region to be precise; some words were used about the use of masking tape. I see, in this attempt, that there is a problem of uniformity in each region, with stress at the boundaries. I did not use masking of any kind so am interested to learn how to do that operation, especially with paint. It seems to me that the use of masking tape will either lift graphite, or smear paint, when it is lifted from the workspace.

The figure here on the left shows my first attempt to make a shaded spectrum with the use of acrylic paint. Also included is a strip, across the top, which is painted with the mid-tone shade for its full length. It is included there as a reference to compare shades to the mid-tone for the full length of the array. Doing this revealed the paradox that the reference strip appears to be darker on the left, near the light rectangles, and lighter, on the right, near the dark rectangles. Somehow that seems normal to me.

For the left half I started with a wash of pure white, in the first section (WW), and then added one full brush of black paint to the wash to paint the second section. I repeated the process of adding a single brush load of black to the wash for each subsequent section. This `shady' operation continued up to and including the middle, mid-tone, section (MT). With the left-half done, the next step was to make a pure black wash for the last section (BB). For the next left section I then added one brush load of white paint to the mix.[I did use masking for this painted gradation and found that the 'blue' tape used by professional interior painters works quite well to remove without tearing the paper or smearing the paint.]

So I tinted myself leftward, by adding one brushload of white paint to the black wash for each subsequent section. A fear was that the process might not `match' when it got close to the middle but, surprise!, it did work out rather well.

It was hard to tell, as I painted, about what the color would be when it dried. There was a remarkable difference between the wet and dry paint. The boundaries were also difficult to assess as I felt I trespassed too far into adjacent regions, as I applied the paint. After drying, it is possible to see that the paint left weak coverage at boundaries.

I would rate this assignment as interesting but a long ways from being finished. It will require a lot of work to learn to render uniform shading in the application process.

March 18, 2013. Homage to a Master
Two Photos plus two Drawings:
11x14 Graphite on Bristol Board
11x14 Acrylic on Bristol Board

In this fourth assignment we were to study a master painter and then select one of his/her paintings to copy. The painting had to be in color and we were not allowed to make a Photoshop grayscale copy to use for a reference. Our renditions were aimed at studying gradation by first making a graphite drawing and then, when satisfied that we understood the gradation requirements, we were required to make a B/W acrylic copy. Both copies were to be done on 11x14 Bristol Board, as usual. We had about a month to complete this assignment before the class critique scheduled for March 18th.

First, we obtained 'our Master' via random means of drawing a name from a bucket. After drawing the name, which you had to keep, you then went to the University library to research your master, check out two books, and use these to find a painting you wished to analyze and reproduce. I drew Rene' Magritte, shown here in his painting called Son of Man.

Rene' Francois Ghislain Magritte [1898--1967] was a Belgian surrealist artist. He was well known for his witty and thought-provoking images that fell under the umbrella of surrealism. It was a fortunate choice for me, as I immediately appreciated his realistic art superimposed with out-of-place objects; e.g., the apple masking the face of the man in this image. As he named it the 'Son of Man', then he appears to be saying that man is not to be known due to 'The Fall' dating back to the Biblical Garden of Eden story.

Magritte painted images of himself into many of his paintings. He is recognized through the black evening coat and the bowler hat but his face is never evident. His work features extreme realism in the rendering of objects, color, and landscapes but his titles forever annoyed his critics as they could not 'understand' either his metaphors or the naming of his paintings. While I entertain no hope of ever painting as well as he did, I nevertheless felt that I related to his feelings about critics and their superficial role in the field of art.

With Magritte's extreme ability, it was clear that there was no way I could ever draw any of the majority of his paintings. I had to search quite hard to find this Homage to Shakespeare where he made an Eyeball looking at the world shown on a stage prop. The idea is from As You Like It where Jacques says to Duke Senior: "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players."

The original, a copy of the oil painting, is on the left. My Graphite gradation is in the middle and the Acrylic is on the right.

I like both drawings as they each have positive attributes. The graphite has a better rendering of the color gradation, of the original, and it has a 'clothier' look to the curtains. The contrast, of the sky and clouds on the stage prop are not as sharp as the original. I like the crispness and smoothness of the acrylic. It has a better contrast for the sky and clouds, on the stage prop, but the curtains do not convey the same cloth effect as either the original or the graphite do. Overall, I enjoyed doing this assignement very much and was encouraged to see that I could make a reasonable replica of a Master Painting.

April 15, 2013. Apple Still Life
Each Drawing: 8.5x11 Acrylic on Printer Paper

In this eighth assignment, of ART110, we studied the results of painting a given scene in different color combinations so as to create various effects. An Apple 'Still-Life' was used for the study [as shown on the left] in what are called "Local Colors," i.e., the real colors of the scene. The picture was to be rendered as realistically as possible and true to the colors seen using the studio lighting.

This scene consists of an apple placed on a piece of Blue construction paper centered on an off-white sheet of computer printer paper. The instructor wanted the paper to be painted so that it had a color other than white of the paper. The little book is my MIT Coop Weekly Calendar and it is included to give some perspective as we were asked to include items to make an interesting drawing. The date book is seen to be well worn as the gilded printing on its cover is worn to where it is virtually unrecognizable. The apple did indeed have that narrow 'pointy' shape along with its burnished glow of ripeness. The apples were supplied by the instructor and he did not know what strain they were but they strongly resemble Braeburns that we get at the local supermarket.

In order to facilitate replicating the pictures, we first drew a 'cartoon' of the scene and used that to create four copies to paint the required versions: Local, Warm, Cool, and Personal Choice. The exercise was more concerned with painting rather than drawing.

Three of the paintings are shown here: Local on the left; Warm in the middle; and Cool on the right. The Personal choice is not shown as it was not really a choice more than it was an accident. I was doing what I thought would be a 'warm' rendition but I confused colors. After consultation with my color wheel, I then arrived at suitable colors for the warm and cool paintings.

My favorite is the first, Local Colored, painting. The warm colors do not really look warm to me and the supposed cool colors do not make me think of cool. I do like the rendering of the Green book in the third painting but the first one is more realistic with just the right amount of type remaining on it. It looks worn. One thing I did like about the project was the ease with which the paintings were obtained. I like the result for as fast as I was able to do them---right in class. Making an image and printing it surely does speed up the painting process, especially if you want to experiment with color combinations.

May 3, 2013. World's Tractor---A Study
11x14 Graphite; 11x14 Acrylic; 14x11 Acrylic
All on Bristol Board

With about two weeks to go in ART110, the instructor announced that he would like to see our photos in the next class.


What photos?

The ones we were supposed to be collecting all semester---the artistic photographic compositions---ones we would like to paint.

There was some scurrying around to collect photos in time for that next class. When it came, the instructor reviewed our collection, privately, and picked out three choices for each us to use for our 'final'.

What that amounted to was to use the photos, however we wanted, to show what we had learned in class. It was our final exam and they had to be ready, for a full class critique, at the scheduled exam date.

The first one he selected, for me, was a composed scene that involved a full set of chess pieces dumped helter-skelter on a chess board. I spent about a week trying to make a graphite gradation study but the shadowing was too intimidating for me to finish in time for the final. [I may show a final painting of the scene here if I get it done this year.]

The second choice I had was this tractor scene. The photo was taken from the file cabinet, here in my office, where I have various memorabilia on display. It is of a Farmall tractor model, an 'H', that is sitting in front of a world globe. When I took the photo, I thought it made a metaphor for the 'World's Favorite Tractor' but John Deere owners, or even Japanese Kubota owners, may disagree. This painting is an example of local coloring---a realistic rendering.

Well, not quite. I omitted the support for the globe so that it looks like the world is orbiting the tractor. That was deliberate artisitic license for the purpose of making an interesting drawing. However, if it was orbiting in free space, it probably would not have the shadow trailing behind it on the wall it was sitting in front of. The moral appears to be that one should be aware when you start fooling around as it may result that you are only fooling yourself.

Prior to doing the acrylic painting, I made the graphite drawing to illustrate that I thought I had learned how to judge and make the assessment of values in a scene. In spite of thinking I learned how to do the evaluation of values, the drawing impresses me as being 'flat' and I don't care for it very much. I debated about not showing it here but, as the discussion is about my final in ART110, I opted to include it anyway. It did get good credit for its accuracy. The tires and engine details, about shadows and reflections, are better than in the painting.

The painting on the right is derived from the tractor painting and is titled: Tractor World Transformed. It is based upon a procedure referred to as 'Color Inventory' that I did not do well on the class assignment. The procedure is to estimate the area of each color, in the original painting, and then to use the same colors and areas to make a second drawing. The second drawing is connected to the first through its common colors and extent of coverage for each color.

The color inventory method is a means to create abstract art from any given painting. When I did the exercise in class, from a photograph of a hamburger with lettuce and tomato, vivid colors, all I could think to do with the set of colors was to make an interlocking set of rectangles. I arranged the colors to have motion across the page but I did not care for the result at all. It got high marks in the class critique because I used mixed, textured colors; e.g.: for the hamburger and some purple grapes that were included in the original.

So, for this final, I decided to take a second cut at Color Inventory and transformed the colors to the globes on a chess board. The idea came from not being able to do the first photo choice, for my final, so I put a chess board into a color inventory. It is strange that this globe picture is pretty uninteresting by itself but when you see the two, side by side, there is some sense that they belong together. Without knowing about color inventory there would be no way to know how they are related.

The background in this photo, of the color inventory, has been altered through the process of photography and reproduction. The painting itself provides a decent replica of the color but I was unable to get a decent photo of it. I tried several shots, with different lighting, all to no avail. It is a puzzle as I had no trouble with the tractor picture. There has to be some reason for this discrepancy but, so far, it has not cracked my brain barrier.

July 29, 2013. After Mass---A Master Study
12.75x15 M1 Tients Gray

Last October, 2012, in a Senior College art class, Lola gave me this picture to do a copy of a master painter. She did not recall the name of the artist and, so far, I have not been able to locate it through an online search. I think it was her way to try and get me to loosen up to paint in a more abstract fashion. She said the title of the picture was: Chinatown.

The class ended before I could finish the painting and it sat here until this past May when ART110 came to an end. I did not try to finish the drawing during all that time even though it sat on my easel and stared at me each day. I finally finished it to get it off the easel and out of the way as a diversion to getting another hard painting completed. [That painting will be described later as soon as I finish its companion].

Of course, my problem was that I could not figure out what the devil this painting was about and, with the blurred background, it could have been anywhere. The title did not have any meaning for the picture. Obviously, I did not care much for the picture, or the assignment.

The woman in the forefront is apparently the focus of the painting but with the fuzzy stuff over her head, and around her body, it did not make any sense. Lola opined that the woman was wearing a Doily on her head to go to Mass or was possibly returning from Mass on a Sunday stroll.

OK. I decided to go with that and make it look like some center-of-town-village-square-scene. So that's what I did as shown here in my version.

About the best thing I can say about this result is that everything is recognizable as to what it is. The fuzz, vagueness, is gone but I do not care much for the scene as it gives me a feeling of sterility. There is no life to it even though everything is recognizable [to me]. The character approaching the woman now has facial features and is possibly Chinese although I think he looks more African--American.

One thing I learned by this exercise was that I could 'mess' things up and then paint over them to start again. In the beginning I attempted to do a lot of that fuzzy stuff but became disillusioned and so 'painted' everything out by using a gray colored paint to match the paper I was using. That works OK as long as you don't have to do very many 'paint-overs'. The second thing I learned was that too many paint-overs creates a muddy lump on the paper.

Note, I did preserve some 'unreality' in the painintg. It had taken some effort to get that leaning building, on the right rear of the scene, and so the picture has a leaning tower in it. I decided to leave it in my new version. To go with it, the window of the church, that encloses a Cross, is also distorted. It seemed a small error, compared to the leaning tower, so that I opted to just leave it in the scene. It seemed fitting for something that originated from such loose thinking.

December, 2013. Chess Endings
11x14 Bristol Board Acrylic [Both paintings]

Two presentable pictures remain to present to round out the year 2013. They are based upon chess, the great game. In ART110, the professor selected a photo of a box of chess pieces to be a 'good' scene for me to paint for my final critique. After some considerable effort, I had to decide that I could not do the necessary renderings in time for the final and so opted for that World Tractor painting shown earlier. It proved to be satisfactory, for the course final, but still I was left mentally with the challenge to do a chess scene. The idea would not go away.

The original photo was of a standard Black and White set in a wooden box sitting on an unfolded chessboard. It proved to be difficult, time consuming, due to the large number, and variety, of shadows that were present everywhere: in the box, around on and under the pieces, and even outside the box. It was hard for me to know how to mix and apply the paints to get all that shadowy effect. So, prior to 'giving up' on the suggested drawing, I composed this scene, from my wooden set on its matching plastic board, and offerred it as a substitute for the original B/W composition. The instructor agreed that this one was even better. By that time, however, time was short and so I bailed out and did the easier, less shadowy, world-tractor scene. That was, after all, a unique composition of my own doing.

After the successful completion of ART110, I started, with enthusiasm, to do this painting but gave up about halfway as it being still too difficult for me to do. My shadows kept 'messing up' whatever else I did. So it seemed.

A thought occurred that possibly I needed to do a simpler chess scene, with fewer pieces, and then the idea came through to make a filtered color scene to symbolize the realization that you have been checkmated by your opponent's last move. So I set up a mate position, against the player of the Black pieces, and then photographed it and ran it through Photoshop to get the result shown here [below]. This is another unique composition that I really do like as I dreamed it up myself. The original, local, colors were filtered by removing all color below digital code 80 and all color above digital code 170 [on a 255-element color code palette]. The result is this plasma looking picture where the shadows have complimentary colors to the pieces and nothing is in its original color. The board and pieces in this second painting are from the same set as in the first painting so you can see the filter had a great effect upon the rendered colors, especially the chessboard and the White pieces.

Aside from being persistently stubborn about doing this exercise, I did learn something useful from the process. One thing was that I was glad I did not throw away my first half rendering of the first picture when I decided to quit on it. I just put it away in my portfolio with a vague thought that maybe I would come back to it some time in my uncertain future. In the past, I have just thrown my failures away and forgot about them. Not so with this challenge. It was 'talking' to me, as writers are wont to say about their characters in their novels. These pictures wanted to be done.

The big thing I learned was that I could 'paint out' mistakes by using white paint and then repaint the area again---with more care. This can be done a couple times but after that the paper builds up and it is harder to do. I learned that you don't paint wrong, you just paint different. That was a big step for me as I get frustrated with mistakes and want to put the mess in the trash barrel. Being able to do that, correct mistakes, and go on, was an epiphany of sorts for me in regard to making both of these paintings. Don't give up on the painting if you like its ideas.

And what are the ideas involved here? I am glad you asked!

The first one is entitled: The Last Game. There are several ideas, maybe metaphors, in it depending upon how much you know about chess. I was thinking about it in terms of having to give up the game, in 2008, and having to draw something to depict that last game. It represents a Draw because I wanted to draw it. At the end of a chess game most of the soldiers are gone, lying dead on the battlefield, hence the pile of pieces at the feet of the two Kings which are still standing and in Oppostion---a chess strategy. In addition, two Rooks are still standing so the game ended as a Rook versus Rook ending which is usually a Draw---hence end of game.

The answer to: What is a 151-move Chess game is 'CLI-mate'.

The second painting is entitled: Check Mate Shock. It shows that Black is checkmated with the White Bishop's last move which put the Black King in check. Each side was in the end game with nominally equal strength: Bishop versus Knight and each side with a passed Pawn. Normally this would be a Draw as well but the White pieces are better placed and Black is too late bringing his Knight into capture White's bothersome Pawn. The King's are in Oppostion and so, with one extra move, Black could capture that Pawn with his Knight but White delivers the knockout punch before that happens. Black goes into shock at the realization and so colors get distorted.

As the ART110 professor likes to say: "Each picture tells a story." That is the idea behind these paintings---they tell stories.

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