Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sketch practice #61-63

Daily Art 12-9-17 still life sketch in graphite number 61-63 - bowl pear nuts

I had fun sketching these with my new lead holder and 2H lead. It was so satisfying to draw with that super fine point! I sat at the kitchen table with my little square sketchbook and just concentrated on enjoying the process rather than making perfect drawings.

For the most part I was successful in having fun, but that bowl from the top sketch really gave me trouble. It actually does have a wavy, asymmetrical top — my main problem was with the sides and bottom. Luckily, there will be a course on drawing vessels in Sadie Valeri's Online Atelier! I initially drew the nutcracker sitting in the bowl disproportionately long, and discovered that it needed adjusting while I was looking at the negative space between the opening of it and the edge of the bowl.

I'm pretty happy with the pear, although it looks a little flat to me for some reason. I probably needed to adjust the shading around the belly of the pear and where it turns to the "neck".

On the third sketch I started with a gesture line to show the relationships between the hazelnut and two almonds before starting to sketch them in. This was enormously helpful. It was such a simple step to include, but I feel like it got me seeing the way they fit together in the composition so much better than if I had started with an envelope or block-in. Definitely something to keep in mind for my future sketching.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sketch practice #60

Daily Art 12-8-17 still life sketch in graphite number 60 - brown monkey squeaky toy

I thought maybe a more whimsical subject would help me loosen up my sketch today! This is Brown Monkey, one of our dogs' squeaky toys. Not to be confused with Blue Monkey ;)

They were gifts from my parents last year for Christmas, and Pipsqueak and Bosco absolutely love them. Of course they each want the toy the other one has — that's always the best toy. This morning Pipsqueak got really feisty shaking this toy all around to "kill it". Which is extra adorable because she's this little princess of a dog.

So, the sketch… my goal today was quick, loose, and a general 2-value shading. I made improvements to how I look at the relationships between different angles and proportions by remembering to look at the negative spaces and use plumb lines. My biggest challenge was on the right side. That curve of the side/back just doesn't look right and I couldn't figure it out. It probably would have helped if I had put the mug that it's leaning against into the sketch in the first stage. I was going to leave it out, but then that didn't make sense, so by putting it in at the end I noticed where there are some misalignments.

I'm probably not experienced enough yet to make quick-and-accurate sketches. It's likely going to be one or the other. But I just signed up for Sadie Valeri's Online Atelier which I am SO excited about! I think it's going to be a great fit for me because she's very thorough, specific, and organized. The instructions for the first drawing course tell us to read/watch the first 5 lessons before actually beginning, and it's that sort of attention to detail that I love. We start by drawing circles and ellipses, which is something I allowed myself to skip right over in my enthusiasm to make more art. Going back to these fundamental basics is going to be great for me, based on what I learned when I wanted to drastically improve my sewing skills.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Sketch practice #59

Daily Art 12-7-17 still life sketch in graphite number 59 - white and black mugs

Well, today I was going for loose and gestural, but choosing such perfectly-shaped subjects with ellipses all over the place may not have been the smartest move. Before I checked that my forms were in place well, I let myself get caught up in shading values.

I'm conscious of the fact that loose doesn't mean inaccurate and sloppy. Images like "Seated Woman with Hat" by Sargent inspire  — it's airy, expressive, and the proportions are so good. Part of my journey is to put in the time and effort developing my drawing and observation skills so that I can capture some of that ease in the sketch that he does. 

I'll try again tomorrow, maybe starting with some more gestural lines instead of a structured block in. Maybe it will help to print out the Sargent drawing and put it next to my sketchbook to remind me to keep it light, loose, and carefree.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sketch practice #57-58

Daily Art 12-6-17 still life sketch in graphite number 57-58 - gouache tube

These paint tube caps are my nemesis! It was the area I was least happy with the last time I sketched this fat tube of white gouache, and it was today as well. It prompted a series of ellipses studies that fizzled out and I don't feel any closer to nailing those shapes. I think it's time for some professional help — by which I mean an online drawing course I have my eye on.

This tube isn't super crinkly and is mostly full so there wasn't a lot of dynamic shading to do there. Mostly I wanted to work on angles and proportion. I'd have to slow way down to do a more careful study of the cap area. The cap on the left is misshapen, and the cap area on the right one is tilted too far back, distorting the perspective.

For quick sketches, these get the idea across OK. I'd probably benefit from shifting my mindset on sketching and prioritize capturing an idea, mood, gesture, or composition rather than going for big time accuracy. At least at this stage…

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sketch practice #54-56

Daily Art 12-5-17 still life sketch in graphite number 54-56 - banana

Since I enjoy making reductive drawings, today I saved the graphite powder from sharpening my pencils and dusted it over my drawing paper. The three studies ended up looking like a very odd composition, but that was random. My favorite parts of these sketches are on the lower right banana where the crinkly stem meets the surface with that fantastic cast shadow, and on the top banana where there's a hint of darker tones in the center where it's been cut.

I did end up investigating how close my values were in yesterday's sketches. I discovered that all of my values should have been darkened, especially the black foam core surface. The pear itself should have also been a little darker. But I did have a bit of a milestone: when drawing the core shadow line, I looked at its shape more carefully than in other sketches. Rather than drawing a single curved line like on a sphere, I noticed the little bumps along the surface and accounted for them better and allowed that edge to be more broken. Now I need to remember to keep doing that!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sketch practice #52-53

Daily Art 12-4-17 still life sketch in graphite number 52-53 - pear

Yesterday I decided to try adjusting my daily sketching process, and was pretty successful with those shifts. One thing I didn't do was a series of 10-minute sketches of a single subject. Instead, I removed the timer all together to see what that felt like and if it helped me feel more in control and less rushed. It definitely removed that pressure and I think the sketch is more accurate because of it.

One area I struggled with today was the value shift between the form shadow of the pear and the cast shadow, and especially in relation to the black surface that the pear is sitting on. It might be useful to photograph the still life to pick out the values more concretely and compare them to each other.

I also need to remember to check the negative spaces more — that would help me judge whether things like the stem are the correct size.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Sketch practice #51

Daily Art 12-3-17 still life sketch in graphite number 51 - walnut and almonds

Although it looks a bit more like a peach and lemons, today's sketch was of the walnut and almonds again. I approached it like yesterday's, by starting with the notional space. But then things got weird when I tried drawing in the envelope. I abandoned that in favor of some gestural lines showing the way the objects relate to each other. That worked better, and got me moving forward.

Even though I'm still in experiment and learning mode, I'd love to reach a point where I have a more systematic approach to sketching. Right now I feel like I'm starting from square one every day with my process. And even my materials. For this one I used woodless graphite pencils in 8B for the darkest tones and HB for mid and light tones, plus a stump for some blending. I'm in the "I want to try all the things in all the ways!" phase. Which is a good thing, but sometimes it leads to mental confusion and inability to choose a path for me.

Tomorrow my goal is to do more of the 10-minute sketches. And to help me feel less overwhelmed by options, I'll try doing the next several drawings with a few additional parameters to my original project:
  • use 2B and 6B graphite pencils
  • no blending with a stump
  • lay in values with smooth tones rather than hatching
  • use hatching as an accent, but not primary shading technique
  • use viewfinder to block in large shapes rather than notional space box and envelope

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A watercolor bike portrait commission

completed watercolor painting of Rachels bike
Watercolor portrait of a Raleigh Revere 1 women's road bike

A few months ago, after I mentioned that I'm focusing on making more art to my mother-in-law, she asked me to make a portrait of her bike. She lives in the midwest and rides as much as she can in the summer when the weather is nice. So she wanted a drawing of it to look at in the winter, when it's far too cold and snowy to ride, and imagine a nice summer day out on the trails.

I thought watercolor would be a nice medium for the project because of its translucent nature. I wanted to portray a warm morning light falling on trees. And since it's really about the bike, I allowed the background and foreground to fade off at the edges. The 5x7 painting is on Arches cold pressed 140 lb watercolor paper.

It was a cool project to work on because the mechanical, perfect contours of the bike contrasted so much with the natural setting. I always like contrasting elements like that to keep things interesting. It was one of the things I worked on during our trip to Zion, so it has a special place in my heart for multiple reasons :)

Sketch practice #50

Daily Art 12-2-17 still life sketch in graphite number 50 - walnut and almonds

For today's sketch I used my gridded viewfinder to establish the proportions of my little still life of a walnut and two almonds in their shells. Measuring with a skewer hasn't been going all that well so I wanted to capture the outer perimeter of the elements (the notional space) with something that gave me a clearer sense of width-to-height. It seemed to work much better and I felt a lot more confident about the overall size of the subject as a whole.

Once the size was established, I attempted to draw the envelope lines. But they weren't accurate and got abandoned pretty quickly in favor of visualizing plumb lines and sighting angles. It took a lot of fussing and most of my 30 minutes, but I finally got things blocked in to a point that I was happy. I could sense my time ticking away so I very quickly got some shadow shapes blocked in and roughly shaded. I like how the cast shadows look, but when I started adding small details to the walnut to describe the little shadows on its surface things got worse.

I've been following the lessons on and their videos on YouTube, and one of the core things they teach is to start with big ideas and work to the smaller ideas. In adding the little tiny cracks and shadows on the walnut, I jumped ahead to the smaller ideas in just those areas without developing the overall forms first.

I think I'd like to do more sketches of this still life and see if I can get quicker and blocking in the shapes and have more time for shading. I also want to do some Bargue plates to practice drawing proportion and angles.

And also…draw lighter lines!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sketch practice #46-49

Daily Art 12-1-17 still life sketch in graphite number 46-49 - 10-minute pears

Yesterday I realized I was trying to cram a lot of different goals into these quick 10-minute studies. So today I focused each sketch on a different thing:

  1. proportions (with a dot-to-line contour drawing)
  2. value
  3. line quality (with a block-in and hatching)
  4. edges
I also went back to my Strathmore Drawing pad which has a medium surface. I like the way graphite feels on this paper, and the ivory color is a nice complement to the silvery pencil marks. I primarily draw with a 2B pencil, and used 6B for the darkest tones. I'm trying to understand why I don't like my hatching very much…I think part of it is that on this medium tooth and the softer pencils there's too much texture happening for such a linear mark. I'd like to see what happens with a harder (maybe H or HB) lead on a smoother sheet to see if that helps. 

My favorites from today's sketches are #2 Value because of its painterly look, and #4 Edges. It's interesting that I prefer the sketches where being precise with the shapes wasn't my top priority. Which I suppose is easy to say with organic shapes like pears, where you wouldn't know if they were a little off from the actual subject. I think if I could find a way to loosen up my hatching marks (make them less stiff and more effortless while still being accurate) and add more character to those contour lines I'd like them much better. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sketch practice #42-45

Daily Art 11-30-17 still life sketch in graphite number 42-45 - 10-minute apples

More 10-minute apples today, from a slightly different perspective standing at my makeshift tabletop easel. For the first one I used the gridded viewfinder clipped to the side. For the other three I primarily used skewer for measuring and imagined a center plumb line. Like yesterday, the timer went off before I completed each sketch. Which is leading me to wonder: with just ten minutes, what am I trying to accomplish? Is it accurate proportions, developed values, interesting edges, consistent line and shading qualities? The truth is that I've been trying to do it all in ten minutes which is pretty unreasonable. Maybe I'll try dot-to-line contour next instead of sighting angles and blocking in, and see if I can simplify my values. I also really want to shift from shading marks that look chaotic to marks that have life and energy but also order and consistency.

I'm feeling over this white bond paper for sketching. It's from a big roll meant for inkjet plotters that my husband brought home for me one day and it's excellent for protecting my table when I'm painting at it, or drafting sewing patterns. But it's stinks for graphite drawing. There's not enough tooth so I'm getting no pleasure from using it. Good experiment! But it's time to go back to paper meant for sketching and drawing.

I'm noticing that I enjoy the sketching process more when I'm sitting down, with my drawing board in my lap and angled against my knees or the table. I feel more connected and in control, especially with small pencil studies like these. When I'm ready to do a Bargue plate I'll try the standing method, but that's a whole different mental state than these quick sketches. Last night I enjoyed some time on the couch drawing from a photo reference for a new pet portrait commission and found that state of flow that I love. My position and the position of the drawing board really contributed to that happy feeling.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sketch practice #38-41

Daily Art 11-29-17 still life sketch in graphite number 38-41 - 10-minute apples

Today I wanted to pick up my pace and get more sketches done in a session so I finally did the 10-minute apples exercise. It's been on my list of things to do since reading Carol Marine's book Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist.

I used my gridded viewfinder and noticed something right away that I hadn't been so aware of before: when I looked up at my apple, then down to my paper, and back up to the apple again, if my head wasn't in the exact same position each time I couldn't rely on those grid marks. Just a tiny shift in my eye position meant my measuring and marking would be incorrect. It makes total sense! But before I started reading more about proportions and sight sizing it just hadn't sunk in completely. So I think that's one drawback to the viewfinder method…if I'm going to use it I have to be really sure I'm positioning myself properly.

I like this exercise because it gets me trying slightly different sketching methods more quickly. I made a variety of shading marks today, which was good because one of my goals for this project is to develop a consistent language for expressing line and value.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sketch practice #37

Daily Art 11-28-17 still life sketch in graphite number 36 - pears

I finally remembered to do some quick sketches of the geometric forms in my pears today! I do think it's helping me look more critically for form shadows. Once those were done, I started measuring for the drawing by finding the height and width of the pear on the left. I really wanted this sketch to be more proportionally accurate and for the forms to look more pleasing than they did yesterday.

This took a lot of the 30-minute time block so my shading isn't very developed and I didn't get the dark background toned like I wanted. The shaping of the pears is fairly accurate and I like their forms. I'm still a little gun-shy about the stem sizes, after making them way huge in a previous session lol! So they're too small. And I placed the pear on the right too far from the one on the left. Which explains why I was struggling with the angle from upper edge of the left pear to upper edge of the right pear and sizing the height of the right pear in its spot.

I'm deep into reading about classical drawing techniques, atelier training, and the Bargue plates methods. I'm reading C. Bargue Drawing Course and bought an online class on traditional portrait drawing techniques that demonstrates the Bargue method and sight sizing. I'm hoping this will help me develop my measuring, proportion, and shading skills.