Broken Ankle Sketch

Broken Ankle Sketch

Broken Ankle Sketch

This morning I was looking at the sketch I did in the ambulance and began wondering how realistic or accurate a sketch has to be to capture a moment or describe an event.

Ambulance Sketch

Ambulance Sketch

The lines are shakey. My foot is barely recognizable. Most people would judge it a “bad” sketch. Yet, for me, it takes me there and I remember everything. The EMT who was riding with me was named Patrick. I remember what we talked about during the ride, how long it took, what the route was, that the siren was not on…everything, and I realized that the amount of realism in the sketch was irrelevant. A sketch is a diagram of an experience. There is a crossover to other senses and memory neurons when you draw and it works much like a certain smell or melody does to trigger feelings or memories.

So, today, instead of doing a carefully layed out drawing of my surroundings, I’m doing a quick pen sketch. The proportions are all wrong, the objects look wonky, and the lines look scratchy, but that’s the place and situation all right. There is my bag of pens and pencils, my medications, my sketchbook, my foot in a cast, my crutches, and all the surrounding mess that is our family room and a bit of the kitchen. When I look at it, I know that the lines look that way partially because my wrist and arms hurt so much from using those crutches and I know that the pain in that foot has kept me awake for two nights. That is the magic of sketching. It’s a process of observing through movement of the hand and arm. The extra time and effort it takes makes it much more potent than a photograph. At least for the artist.

Broken Ankle Photo

Broken Ankle Photo

Jim

The Orchard

The Orchard

The Orchard

I’m starting to get the hang of this sketching stuff. My proportions are getting better and I’ve developed a process I like. I start by framing an area in my journal with blue tape, and then I lay out the scene using an orange erasable highlighter.

The Orchard - Layout

The Orchard – Layout

I divided the frame in half both vertically and horizontally and sketched in the major shapes in each quadrant. Then I drew the blackest blacks with a brush pen.

The Orchard - Brush Pen

The Orchard – Brush Pen

Finally I added detail with an extra fine nib pen mainly drawing the darks rather than the contours.

The Orchard - Extra Fine Nib Pen

The Orchard – Extra Fine Nib Pen

This is a small sketch – 5.5 x 3.5 inches. Here is what it looks like on the journal page.

The Orchard - Journal Page

The Orchard – Journal Page

I then used a hairdryer to heat up the drawing which erases the orange highlighter.

Jim

People Practice

Eye Doctor Waiting Room

Eye Doctor Waiting Room

Drawing in the eye doctor’s waiting room. The place is crowded today. Lots of interesting faces. Some closer, some further away. Getting better with practice at capturing likeness and pose.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series spiral bound 5.5 x 8 notebook, Kaweco Sport fountain pen with extra fine nib, Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink.

I also did one sketch on my iPod Touch just to compare.

iPod Touch People Practice

iPod Touch People Practice

This was done using the ArtRage app. I was fighting the user interface. It’s hard to select colors and change brushes.

Jim

Straight Line Practice

Straight Line Practice

Straight Line Practice

I decided to practice drawing straight lines. Mine are wobbly. (See the next post for examples).

Drawing is both a physical and a mental activity. You need to practice to gain physical strength and dexterity – to make that muscle, bone, nerve, spinal cord, brain connection and turn that conscious action into an automatic one and make it a permanent hardwired path. You need to form good habits and strengthen the right muscles. You also need to relax with a goal to draw effortlessly.

I spent the last four weeks practicing drawing straight lines. I collected and scanned all my practice drawings and created this PDF to document my process and findings.

Jim

Buildings and Foliage

Buildings and Foliage

Buildings and Foliage

I did three small sketches today for Sketching Now Foundations online course by Liz Steel. This week 2 assignment is to draw buildings carefully first and then foliage with looser marks. The point is to compare careful vs looser ways of working.

I did these all in a small Moleskine Plain Journal 3.5 x 5.5 inches (9 x 14 cm). I used my small Kaweco Sport fountain pen with extra fine nib and Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink. I wanted to travel light and carry everything in my shirt pocket.

I did the first two drawings at home. First I did the back of our house. Then I did the house across the street. Later we went out to the bank. I did the final drawing while waiting at the service desk.

Some days you’re hot. Some days you’re not. I just was not in the groove today. I did enjoy working with the Kaweco Sport pen. It feels very comfortable in my hand. The Moleskine journal is convenient to carry, but I prefer to work on larger, better paper. I did like combining both the analytical approach of drawing the building (angle, length, relationships) and the free form mark making of the foliage. A little play after a little work is good.

Pure line work looks very flat. It describes the shapes but not the volumes. I’m used to adding tones or colors to my drawings. These line sketches seem lacking and I’m not sure if it is just my expectations or if I need to work on something felt but not known.

Jim

Contour Exercise

Contour Exercise

Contour Exercise

Today I’m working on an exercise for Sketching Now Foundations course by Liz Steel. Doing both blind and point to point contour drawings at different speeds. This week we are working on feeling edges. I’ve done blind contour drawing before, but I haven’t done point to point contour drawing.

I worked standing up. I usually work sitting down, but I read somewhere that it is better for your health to work standing up so I thought I’d give it a try. I placed my pad of paper on a tripod stand that I have for my iPad. It worked well. I had more freedom of movement and felt looser and more relaxed.

I started with a “30 Line” warmup. I guess I should explain that since it’s my own invention. I always draw better after warming up, but I realized this morning that I really have no idea which is better – drawing for a set time (say two minutes) or drawing a set number of lines (say 30 or 40). So today I’m trying a set number. I counted to myself as I made each mark. When I reached 30 I found I hadn’t finished the subject. So, I continued to 40. Okay, so I cheated. I’ll rename it next time. I think it helped. My first blind contour wasn’t half bad. It was fun doing a fast blind contour. Next time I’d like to use a fine tipped pen instead of a calligraphy pen just to compare the emotion of the line.

Point to point is a modified contour drawing and you don’t do it blind. You first place your pen on the page, pick a point in the subject and follow the edge of the subject with your eyes noting the shape, angles, and length. Next you follow with your eyes slowly back to the starting point. Finally you slowly trace the edge again with your eyes as you move the pen in sync with your eyes. You continue to do that point to point around the subject. It’s an interesting technique. The results are pretty accurate, but it takes a long time and requires a lot of concentration.

I did the fast point to point roughly two times faster. By this time I had drawn the same subject five times. So, I knew the shapes well. I felt comfortable working faster. The proportions suffered a little bit (the vertical lengths are off), but I like the feel of this last drawing. It doesn’t feel as stiff as the slow one.

Here’s a photo of my subject taken after I was finished drawing.

Contour Exercise Photo

Contour Exercise Photo

At this point process is more important than subject.

Strathmore Bristle 300 series 11x 17 inches (27.9 x 43.2 cm) paper, green Sailor calligraphy pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink.

Jim

SketchingNow Foundations Course Week 1

Pencil Tests

Pencil Tests

I’m taking a 12 week course in sketching from Liz Steel. This week we are getting to know our materials. I recently got some new water soluble pencils which I’ve been meaning to try. The General’s Sketch & Wash pencil arrived just before I was heading out the door to take Kris to the eye doctor’s. So, I stuck it in my bag and sketched a stool in the office while I waited. They kept turning the lights off on me which made it a challenge, but I persevered. This is a nice soft pencil capable of making a variety of marks. I really like how it melts into a beautiful granulated gray when you add water. I used my Kuretake Petit waterbrush to pull the grays from the lines on the page. This pencil works very well. I’ll be adding it to my kit.

I also recently tested a set of 6 Derwent Inktense water soluble colored pencils. They deliver as advertised a very intense ink like pigment when moistened. They also mix well. You can draw with them on dry paper and then wet them or you can draw onto wet paper and get very saturated color that spread into the paper. You can also use a brush to draw color from the tips of the pencils. That’s what I did in the row just above the mixes in my test. I’ll be carrying these in my kit too to add bright spot colors to my sketches.

Sketching Kit

Sketching Kit

Another assignment this week was to draw our sketching kit. This is the bag I usually carry with me when I go out. It has room for all my art supplies plus a water bottle and a snack. I drew this with the General’s Sketch & Wash pencil and added the grays with water from my Kuretake Petit waterbrush. I then used a variety of pens to add black and some detail.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series 5.5 x 8 inch wire bound notebook, General’s Sketch & Wash #588 water soluble graphite pencil, Sailor CDE calligraphy pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, Kuretake Petit waterbrush, Platinum Carbon Desk pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink, and Uni-Ball Vision Fine pen black.

Jim

John

John

John

This is my friend John. The time was 1969. The place Berkeley, California. People were protesting in the streets and the Oakland police (we called them the Blue Meanies) were brutal. John showed up in this medic’s uniform of his own design sporting a WWII helmet, bag, and lab coat, and marched with the protesters in support and to offer aid when necessary. He put his own safety on the line to help others. All the people in my circle were like that – idealistic, courageous, and kind.

I drew this from a 35mm slide I took at the time outside my apartment building on Piedmont Avenue. 1969 was the year my draft status changed from student deferred to 1-A and it was the first year of the draft lottery. The Vietnam War was in full swing. My fate and those of my generation were determined not by the decisions of reasonable men, but by chance. I was lucky, but others I knew were not.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series 5.5. X 8 spiral bound notebook, Uni Pin 02 pen, Platinum brush pen, Inktense red watercolor pencil, Kuretake Petit waterbrush, and Lucas lamp black watercolor.

Jim

People Practice #5

People Practice #5

People Practice #5

I’ve been practicing sketching people now for a week. After doing 20 second and one minute sketches on and off all week I decided to slow down. I did these six figures in 18 minutes. I switched from using my usual Sailor Calligraphy pen to my Pentel 07 rollerball pen because it has water soluble ink and I could quickly add some grey tones by pulling color from the lines with a Kuretake Mini waterbrush.

It does help to practice. I’m getting better at seeing and drawing the shapes.

Jim

Front Room

Front Room

Front Room

I’m excited. This is my second try at using my new method of drawing and it really works! (Read my previous post for a complete description of the method and the theory behind it). The only change I made to the process was to take as much time as I needed to complete each stage. I didn’t limit myself to 20 seconds each.

I did this drawing without any preplanning or layout and with no preliminary pencil drawing. I started at the top and drew directly with pen all the horizontal lines I saw working my way down the page and out to the sides paying attention to the relative lengths of the lines and the distance between them. This first stage is very important because it determines the placement of the scene on the page and the proportions of the major shapes. It sounds difficult, but it feels very natural and easy to do without the need to do any measurement or make any corrections.

I next drew all the vertical lines working from left to right. I had to lengthen some of the horizontal lines to meet the verticals, but most of them lined up. Next I drew the diagonal lines and then the curves. I then added emphasis by going over and darkening the frames of the pictures and underneath the shelves. I then added the details of the books and other objects and the pictures. Finally I used my Kuretake Mini waterbrush to pull some grey tone from the existing lines. The ink of the Pentel 07 rollerball pen is water soluble.

Next I want to try different subjects. I’ll probably have to modify the order of the stages to accommodate subjects that have mainly diagonal lines or curves.

Jim

A New Method of Drawing

Line Sequence Sketch 1

Line Sequence Sketch 1

Okay, I might be going down a blind alley or I may have made a great discovery. I’m not sure which yet. This is my first try at a new way of drawing. The idea hit me as I woke up the other day and it’s basically this. Instead of looking at a scene and drawing all the shapes, you instead progressively put down different kinds of line in a specified order. The order is taken from research about the developmental stages of drawing which found that children progress through making horizontal marks, then vertical, then diagonal, and then curvilinear marks. They then see and draw shapes, values and colors, and finally space. So, my idea was to first draw all the horizontal lines in the scene, then the vertical lines, then the diagonal lines, then the curves, and then to add some emphasis and finally some detail.

The other part of my idea was to use a method called Centering to turn off my inner critic and direct my nervous energy. I recently came across this idea in an article about how musicians are trained to overcome stage fright and use their nervous energy to enhance performance. Athletes also use the same method. So, I thought hey, why not artists. Here’s the link to the article in case you want to read the details. http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/how-to-make-performance-anxiety-an-asset-instead-of-a-liability/ .

My goal in combining these two methods was to do a very quick (2 minute) on-the-spot sketch. I would first center myself and then draw spending 20 seconds on each stage of the drawing. I knew I needed some kind of timer. So, I recorded my voice giving directions and timing cues while using a stopwatch. I would play this back while drawing. Here’s a link to my audio recording in case you want to try it for yourself.

I sat at the kitchen table and looked across the room at the stove and cabinets. I sat up straight and centered myself, picked up my pen, hit the play button on my iPad, and drew.

It was a very different experience. I wasn’t drawing things or shapes of things. I was concentrating on finding specific kinds of edges and drawing their relative positions and lengths, angles, and curves. In the last two steps I emphasized a few darks and for detail I added some hinges and handles. While drawing my inner critic was completely turned off. It’s as if he said “Oh, you’re just drawing horizontal lines? You don’t need me for that” and walked away.

20 seconds is a VERY short time to draw each stage. I admit that I was surprised to find that my drawing actually resembled my kitchen and I immediately wondered how it would compare to my usual way of quick sketching. So, I flipped my page over, set the stopwatch on my iPod Touch to 2 minutes, started it and drew until the timer beeped. I used my standard approach which is to start somewhere, draw a shape, and move outward drawing the surrounding shapes.

Standard Method Sketch

Standard Method Sketch

It’s interesting to compare the two images. The standard method produced a “wonkier” drawing. The horizontal and vertical lines weren’t straight and the proportions were off. The new method produced a drawing with a completely different character. It feels calmer, less frantic, more stable and assured.

Usually it takes me a while to warm up and get into the flow of drawing. My best sketches use three stages – a quick analytical sketch to figure out the subject, a pencil under drawing, and a final ink drawing. I’m hoping this new method will help me bypass all that to quickly achieve a better sketch in one pass. This first try is encouraging.

Next I want to try it with different subjects and without the time constraints.

Jim

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

In 1954 a group of enthusiastic, imaginative children gathered together eager to learn. By 8:05 they realized that their teacher was part of a conspiracy to turn them into worker bees for the military industrial complex. Her name was Mrs. Weamers and she went by the book. Children in her class would do as they were told or else she would “Jump down your throat and dance on your liver” as she was fond of saying. We survived. We did more than that. After all, we were the generation who would grow up to defy the establishment in the 60’s and change everything. We had Great Expectations.

This week’s assignment for Sketchbook Skool was to draw from imagination your first day of school. It ended up taking a LOT longer than I anticipated. It took me two days to refine the idea. At first I thought I’d give each child a thought bubble with a dream occupation and compare that with the teacher’s wish to turn them all into corporate drones. That was WAY too complicated. So, I combined all their dreams into one group bubble and then realized that I didn’t need to show the teacher’s thoughts. Instead it could be implied by the space with the flag in the front corner, clock on the wall, desks in a row.

I drew the scene first in pencil. I started with the blackboard and back walls. I then drew circles for the placement of the kids’ heads and then refined their faces and bodies. Next I added the teacher and her desk and the flag. I then drew in the space for the thought bubble and sketched the cowboy. His horse turned into a beast because I couldn’t draw a bucking horse from memory. Other than a ballerina I had no idea what the girls wanted to be. So, I stuck to what I knew – a pirate, a deep sea diver, a pilot, a dare devil, a movie maker. These are the dreams of little kids.

The next stage was to ink in the drawing. I used a Platinum Desk Carbon pen with Platinum Carbon Black ink. It has a very fine nib and the ink is waterproof. I spent almost as much time erasing the pencil marks. Finally I added watercolor using a Di Vinci #6 travel brush and a combination of Daniel Smith and Lucas tube watercolors.

I learned once again that a project takes on a life of its own and you have to follow it. Don’t settle for your first idea. Usually the first thing you think of is a cliché. You need to take it further and have faith that good ideas will come along the way.

I was also reminded that drawing is fun, but it is also hard work. It takes a long time to do it “right”. It requires patience and stamina. “Rest with renewed attack” is a wise working strategy.

Jim

People Practice

People Practice

People Practice

I’m aware of two kinds of practice from other disciplines – sports and music. The first develops basic skills like shooting free throws or playing scales. Practicing drawing straight lines, basic shapes, and hatching comes under this first category of practice. The other type develops dexterity which is the ability to perform well under varying conditions. Typically this kind of practice involves repetition without repetition like shooting baskets from different points of the court or playing the same passage of music at different speeds or dynamics. These people sketches are my first attempt to develop dexterity in drawing. I used the slideshow feature in the FlickStackr app on my iPad to display Creative Commons pictures of people for 20 seconds each. I drew with my Sailor calligraphy pen on a Strathmore 9×12 inch Bristol Vellum pad of paper set up next to my iPad. When the next pictured displayed, I stopped wherever I was and moved over on the pad to begin the next drawing. Each drawing was a modified contour drawing. I looked mostly at the iPad, but occasionally I peaked at the drawing to reposition my pen. After five minutes I stopped and assessed my work. I then turned the piece of paper over and did five one minute sketches. I was surprised to find that spending three times the time did not produce three times better drawings. I figure I can do this ten minute exercise every day. We’ll see what happens in a week.

Jim

Oregon Garden Stream

Oregon Garden Stream Watercolor

Oregon Garden Stream Watercolor

Today was another beautiful summer day. I went for a walk in the Oregon Garden and sat on a bench next to a tranquil bubbling stream to do this sketch. I first sketched the scene in my Stillman & Birn Zeta series 6×8 inch spiral bound notebook with a light blue watercolor pencil. I then added ink with two pens. I first drew with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen which has a very fine nib, and then I added wider marks with a Kuretake No. 8 brush pen. Both pens are filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink. It dries quickly and is waterproof.

Oregon Garden Stream Ink

Oregon Garden Stream Ink

I added the watercolor later at home. This is the first time I’ve tried sketching across two pages in a spiral bound notebook. It’s tough to paint around the binding, but I like the way it turned out. By the way, the dog is a metal sculpture. I had no trouble drawing him, because he didn’t move.

Jim