Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sketch practice #88

Daily Art 12-30-17 still life sketch in graphite number 88 - garlic bulb

I have a whole batch of new recipes to try which means a trip to the grocery store was on today's agenda. Garlic is one of my favorites when I cook and I usually double the amount called for…but I don't like all of the smashing and peeling.

This sketch came together pretty well using straight line block in. I don't think it captures the translucency of the layers of skin so that could use some more studying.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sketch practice #87

Daily Art 12-29-17 still life sketch in graphite number 87 - plush shark toy

At our house, this stuffed toy is known as "Sharkie". It's not technically a dog toy, but we brought it home from the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay for Pipsqueak a few years ago and she loved it. It used to have plastic eyes, but she tried chewing them out so I removed them and stitched the holes closed. All better! It's so cute when she shakes it all around like she's killing it (a.k.a. Shake the Sharkie).

Today I finished the first Bargue plate block-in lesson for Sadie Valeri's Online Atelier. It was a set of 12 eye shapes, which I copied with the straight line block in technique. One of the things she teaches is to start developing our sensibilities early on by feeling out angles and line lengths with our eyes instead of using tools. It's harder for a beginner, but it gets us depending on ourselves and not tools, which is awesome. I'm loving her course so much — I can already see my drawings improving.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sketch practice #86

Daily Art 12-28-17 still life sketch in graphite number 86 - raccoon toy

I've been sketching the new toys my parents got Pipsqueak and Bosco for Christmas this year. First up was the hedgehog (my favorites are the bird's eye view and profile view, and Matt's favorite is the front view) and today was the raccoon.

I feel pretty good about its accuracy. The head might be a little large compared to the actual toy, but all in all I'm happy with it.

I was thinking today how it would be fun to paint or draw a dog toy series. The texture could be a challenge since most are made of furry materials —but it would be really cool to solve that challenge!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sketch practice #85

Daily Art 12-27-17 still life sketch in graphite number 85 - new hedgehog toy

Decided to sketch this cute little toy again today. I really liked how yesterday's turned out and wanted to try another angle. I was glad to see a clear geometric shape along the bottom and began by drawing the "V" shape of the nose and right side. It would have been helpful to finish the triangle shape across the top to make myself another guide line. But I did remember to use my pencil a lot to line up different shapes of the toy with each other.

I wasn't originally going to include the tag but at the last minute added it in and I love the way it clarifies the subject as a toy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sketch practice #84

Daily Art 12-26-17 still life sketch in graphite number 84 - new hedgehog toy

I like today's sketch of the squeaky hedgehog toy much better than yesterday's. The primary thing I did to improve it was to get the overall shape blocked in before paying any attention to details like hands, feet, and ears. I also set it up in a profile view rather than the more difficult three-quarter view.

One really weird and awesome thing I noticed today: I drew in a line of action, then for the most part disregarded it. But it's like it had a positive subconscious impact more than I realized because of how well the sketch worked. The lesson here is that it's a useful step even if it's not obvious to me how it's helping.

I'm not crazy about the shading on the furry back, but I really like the 2-value shading on the foot because it simply describes the texture of the fabric.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sketch practice #83

Daily Art 12-25-17 still life sketch in graphite number 83 - new hedgehog toy

My parents came over for Christmas and brought Pipsqueak and Bosco a couple of fun gifts, which they loved! One was this adorable hedgehog so it was my subject for today's sketch.

I started with adjustable viewfinder to get the proportions, and drew that shape on my paper. Then I drew a diagonal line from the lower left corner to upper right, extending it way past the rectangle size. I expanded the original rectangle to fit this larger dimension and keep it in proportion to the original.

The limbs might be a little small — my eyes and brain were fighting over how large they are in real life and I kept getting distracted from looking at the negative shapes which would have been helpful to pay more attention to.

I'd like to try this one again, not worrying about the furry aspects of the toy and focusing instead on the structure. And maybe light it with my direct studio light for more clear shadow shapes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sketch practice #82

Daily Art 12-24-17 still life sketch in graphite number 82 - cookie scoop

I've been in a baking mood so for today's sketch I choose the cookie scoop out of my baking utensils drawer.

It was a great opportunity to practice my ellipses! I completed the circle, sphere, and ellipse lessons for Sadie Valeri's Online Atelier and feel so much more confident about drawing these shapes. She provides an excellent step-by-step technique that helped me a ton.

The angle of the scoop part looks a little off compared to the overall axis of the tool, like it's tilted up instead of flat in line with the rest of it. This is one that would have been easier to draw at the floor easel because my arm movements were hindered by the chair I was sitting in. Or, I could have tightened up my position with the sketchbook and tilted the tabletop easel down for more stability and control.

I liked that this object has a clear axis line to start with and build around.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sketch practice #81

Daily Art 12-23-17 still life sketch in graphite number 80 - paper bag

It's safe to say my enthusiasm for sketching this paper bag has seriously waned. I didn't get much joy out of sketching it today, except for the fact that I used my new adjustable viewfinder. That was pretty fun!

The shape of the bag is more accurate than my previous sketches of it (#79 and #80) but I just used the ambient room light today which made for less distinct shadows. A good reminder that the lighting on a subject is so key.

I did make an attempt to connect the shadow shapes, but it wasn't very successful due to the poor lighting.

Tomorrow, something new!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sketch practice #80

Daily Art 12-22-17 still life sketch in graphite number 80 - paper bag

I took another shot at sketching this paper bag again today, focusing on making the height-to-width ratio more accurate. Overall it's closer, but the base is too narrow. I think there's too much of the sides showing for this angle, making the front of the bag appear narrower than it actually is. I also added a light tone to the entire bag after shading the shadow areas. I like this effect because it helps separate the subject from the background, making it look more like a three-dimensional form than a wireframe with dark patches.

As I reflect on this sketch, it's becoming clear that if I designed the shadow shapes on the subject better it would make a better picture. When I make them disjointed it's messier and haphazard which looks very random. If I look more carefully I'm sure I could see see how to connect the shadow shapes and light shapes for more clarity.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sketch practice #79

Daily Art 12-21-17 still life sketch in graphite number 79 - paper bag

Continuing my exploration of sketching this paper lunch bag, I set it up differently today by folding and scrunching the top closed as if it were actually packed with a lunch. I wanted to see what it would be like to describe the form of the bag with a sketch without including all of the nuances of folds, crinkles, and shadows.

I noticed a few things:

  • it was very challenging to decide which of the shadow shapes were important enough to include and which I could leave out
  • the sketch makes it look like the bag is made of something soft like fabric rather than crisp paper
  • my sketch is too wide and not tall enough (my achilles heel) which I could tell as I was working…my triangulation and follow-through lines told me one story that my eyes weren't agreeing with
  • since it was the first time sketching the bag in this configuration, it took me longer to do
It's interesting that the approach I used yesterday didn't work as well today. Perhaps it would have been better to get a general block in with the viewfinder and then double check things with the angles. I also want to try simplifying more — I think by including some creases and shadows and leaving others out it just muddies things. 

It's my instinct to believe that by studying and learning about something, the first time I do it should be good enough and the best it will be. Which is silly. I'm continuously learning the lesson that by keeping with a project or technique it gets better and better. Well, first it might get worse before it gets better, but eventually there's a breakthrough.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sketch practice #77-78

Daily Art 12-20-17 still life sketch in graphite number 77-78 - paper bag

I've been sketching this paper lunch bag for the last few days, with slight adjustments to my process each time. After noticing the proportions were off with the first sketch and on the second sketch as well (despite spending more time on the block-in), I changed my approach today. Instead of measuring the overall height and width of the bag, I started at the top with some basic roughed-in angles and then used plumb lines and follow-through lines to triangulate the other corners of the bag. I'd draw a diagonal line from an upper corner all the way down to a lower corner based on sighting the angle with my pencil. I see a huge improvement in them after using this method.

I also got HB lead for my lead holder which allowed me to get darker lines, and roughly hatched in the shadow areas with a diagonal angle (instead of vertical like yesterday). The diagonal lines feel more active and lively — like you can really sense the direction of the light shining on the subject.

And rather than standing at my floor easel (which is awkward with this spiral-bound sketchbook) I used my new table easel at the kitchen table. I loved using it for this format and quick sketching!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sketch practice #76

Daily Art 12-19-17 still life sketch in graphite number 76 - paper bag

This was an interesting exercise: I think the proportions today are better than yesterday's sketch, but it definitely has less life to it. Which I guess is not a surprise because I was more focused on getting the general block-in more accurate than describing the secondary angles and shapes.

I spent quite awhile measuring the height and width, but noticed about 2/3 of the way through that the short side of the bag was much too wide and the outer edge needed to be brought in.

I want to work on this one some more, maybe by doing several smaller sketches instead of one larger sketch. I think it would help me get more familiar with the shapes of the subject and learn to recognize the proportions more quickly.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sketch practice #75

Daily Art 12-18-17 still life sketch in graphite number 75 - paper bag

Today I stood at my easel and began my sketch using the viewfinder. But I must have tilted it or something because the sketch of this paper lunch bag was too short. I could have caught this sooner by doing some follow through lines and plumb lines instead of jumping ahead to the interior details. And I rushed myself, so my shading lines are messy and inconsistent.

I might try again tomorrow, adjusting my block-in process and concentrating on getting the shapes right before worrying about shading. It would also help to study the bag for a minute or two to get a good sense of the different shapes in the subject (both in shadow and not) to give me a better sense of a path for sketching. Put another way: see the shapes, not the bag.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sketch practice #74

Daily Art 12-17-17 still life sketch in graphite number 74 - wrapped gift

Tis the season! We received a box of wrapped presents from Matt's parents and this little gift with translucent ribbon caught my eye to sketch. I liked the combination of the box's hard, straight lines with the softer characteristics of the ribbon.

This morning Matt helped me out with my new easel by constructing a spacer to clip onto the lower shelf that a drawing board or canvas rests on. I had noticed yesterday that when the position is quite vertical, I can't raise the lower shelf high enough to comfortably sketch standing up. This should be a big help — I'm grateful he jumped in to help me like he did.

DIY spacer to raise height of drawing board and canvas on Umatilla floor easel
DIY spacer to raise the drawing board higher on my Umatilla single mast floor easel.
He also got me a portable tabletop easel for my birthday so I can have an easel in the camper ❤️. Can't wait to use it on our next adventure.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sketch practice #73

Daily Art 12-16-17 still life sketch in graphite number 73 - trio of pears

While I sketched today, I imagined that this was a sketch on a canvas to start an oil painting. Meaning I didn't worry about exact contours and values, but instead worked to capture a general placement and scale of the subjects and shadow shapes. I went back go a single light shining on the pears which made the shadow shapes better than yesterday.

This was my first time sketching at my new floor easel. I bought a single mast easel although I can see one day upgrading to an H-frame style. This one is more wobbly than I'd like (in part because it's on carpet, but also due to its minimalist design), and because of the location of the supporting back brace I can't position the drawing board or canvas exactly where I'd like. I'm still working out a process for using it, but so far I like it much better than bending my head down to look at the sketchbook flat on the table.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sketch practice #71-72

Daily Art 12-15-17 still life sketch in graphite number 71-72 - pear and bird sculpture

Will I get tired of drawing pears? I still find them a really pleasing subject to draw. I see now why they're so commonly found in art — they're simple yet sculptural and organic, and their uneven surface is really nice for studying shadow and form. And I haven't even gotten into the beautiful colors found on their surface! Well, maybe just a little, but nothing serious.

I set the pear and bird sculpture on the kitchen table, with a couple of room lights on. So the cast shadows are going a few directions and the form shadows are odd. I prefer the single light on a still life setup, but felt like being more casual at the table with my sketchbook today.

A single line of action for each subject, then establishing the notional space helped set me up well for these and I'm pretty happy with the shapes of them. I could have done a better job looking for plumb lines and negative spaces though. It's just like when I learned to drive: I had to concentrate small tasks one at a time, until it became second nature to be able to do them all at once.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Sketch practice #70

Daily Art 12-14-17 still life sketch in graphite number 70 - white dish towel

Today my block-in was stronger because I used a technique I saw in a DaVinci Initiative video, where you draw in angles with follow-through lines. The idea is that by continuing the line far past the section you actually need it all the way to the outer parameter lines of the subject, you get a more accurate angle because you can compare the negative shapes and alignment in relationship to other angles. I was surprised how helpful this was for me! I also remembered to work with more plumb lines which helped a lot.

Since I wanted this to be a quick 15-minute sketch, I didn't concern myself with every fold and shadow — just enough to suggest that the dish towel was folded over on itself. I used the 2H lead to block the towel in, then emphasized some edges and darker values with a 2B mechanical pencil.

One thing I could incorporate next time is to notice early on where the horizontal and vertical center lines are in the subject and make note of them on the sketch for more reference points and orientation.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sketch practice #69

Daily Art 12-13-17 still life sketch in graphite number 69 - camper keys

My goal with today's sketch was to get the overall shape of a more complex subject fairly accurate, and not worry much about shading except for getting the cast shadow in as part of the shape. That being said, I see now how I could have integrated that cast shadow into the processing of sketching better and used it as an integral reference point throughout rather than tacking it on at the end. I just realized that I often go blind to the cast shadow until everything is in place, and I'd like to change that way of seeing.

I started with a line of action again today, which has been working well for me. I like that it's at least a place to start laying in shapes. Without it, I tend to stare at the subject and my paper, wondering how to begin and not wanting to be wrong. The line breaks the surface enough to at least start moving my pencil around. Since I wanted to work quickly, I didn't take the time to refine some of the basic shapes like the ellipse of the key ring. And unfortunately my eye goes right to that weak link.

The little Travelogue journal I've been using is a great sketchbook, but the small size is awkward for me when I'm at a table or standing. So I'm trying out a new Blick Studio Sketch pad sized at 8 1/2 x 11. It was cheap and has lots of pages (100) so my hope is to crank up the sketching volume with it. It's easy for me to get too precious with my work, and the big risk with that is a lack of output. I believe I'll grow as an artist more quickly if I'm practicing more often.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sketch practice #67-68

Daily Art 12-12-17 still life sketch in graphite number 67-68 - tomato pin cushion and sewing machine brush

Today I chose a couple of my sewing supplies and set an intention to keep the sketches light and breezy. Meaning not obsess about every nuance of the object, but rather get the main idea of the object across.

I'm loving my new lead holder and, surprisingly, the 2H lead that came with it. That super fine point on the slightly textured paper is a really nice experience. I need to remember to bring the lead pointer over to my sketching spot so I can get that sharp point back during the process.

The one thing I'd change about today's sketches would be to improve the lines on the shadow side of the tomato pin cushion. It looks messy and erratic, and the rest of the suggested shading looks much nicer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sketch practice #65-66

Daily Art 12-11-17 still life sketch in graphite number 65-66 - paint brush and gouache tube

I've been noticing that when I work in my sketchbook and sketch from life, I have a hard time keeping the perspective and angles consistent. If I shift the angle of the book at all, my lines no longer look accurate. It's such a small thing but has such a big impact.

I like the way the lines look fairly organized in these sketches, and using a sharp 2h lead is helping things look more cohesive.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sketch practice #64

Daily Art 12-10-17 still life sketch in graphite number 64 - ceramic frog

My nephew loves to make art and for Christmas every year gives us one of his creations. Last year he took a workshop painting ceramic figures, so one of the gifts he gave us was this charming frog. This sketch doesn't show his paint markings, but I love his round belly and silly smile so thought it would be a cute subject.

It took a fair amount of time to get the form to look OK. When I finished that stage I loosely added shading, trying to keep the pencil strokes in one basic direction. This feels like a step closer to developing a consistent line style, which is one of my goals for this 100-sketch focused practice project I'm doing.

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.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sketch practice #36

Daily Art 11-27-17 still life sketch in graphite number 36 - pear
It would have been better to draw this pear after the simple study in the lower right. I get in a hurry to start shading!

Back to sketching from life for today's sketch. And back to drawing things too wide and short. I wish I had started with the quick study of the underlying geometric shapes in this pear — I think it would have helped me get a feel for the subject better than starting with the angles. I keep forgetting to do them until after I've already finished the initial sketch and felt frustration with the shaping and shading.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sketch practice #30-35

Daily Art 11-25-17 still life sketch in graphite number 33 - drawn from photo reference of my pear still life
For this sketch I used the photo I took of my still life as reference and explored different shading techniques. It's by far my favorite from this weekend's sketches!

We took advantage of the long Thanksgiving weekend to take our camper over to Joshua Tree National Park. Unfortunately it was hot and crowded, so wasn't that great an experience. But time away in the camper is always appreciated and I had lots of time to sketch and read.

I sketched a few random objects we had with us, including a fork — which was a great challenge! As it sat on the table in front of me I was sure I understood the angles, until I really started looking at it carefully and noticed how wrong my assumptions were.

I also wanted to experiment with drawing from the photos of my still lifes, to compare them to my sketches drawn from life (the three pears and the bowl/apple/knife). With the advantage of a square cropped photo that included center line marks, my sketches are much more accurate than the previous sketches. I think the main thing that helped me was having stationary marks that act like plumb lines.

There were a couple of big takeaways from this weekend's sketching:
  • use more plumb lines to check relationships and keep assumptions at bay
  • starting with hard graphite and building to soft graphite really makes a more engaging value scale (compare the measuring cup to the pears)
  • combine smoothly shaded tones with sharp hatching for interesting marks
  • pay attention to the contrast between the subject and background — for example, when the subject is light, consider making a darker background (compare the pears with a dark background to the white bowl/apple on a white background)

Daily Art 11-24-17-11-26-17 still life sketch in graphite number 30-35 - weekend roundup

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sketch practice #27-29

Daily Art 11-23-17 still life sketch in graphite number 27-29 - pears

Today I tried loosening up and focused on getting more sketches on paper rather than getting stuck on measuring. I was talking with my husband about feeling stuck in this way and he suggested turning on some music or something to distract the left brain and let the right brain just observe and draw. I liked this idea so gave it a shot by playing an episode of Savvy Painter. I think it was helpful!

It also helped that I set that intention to sketch more (faster) and nitpick less.

So what was the result? My sketch seems no less accurate than the previous two days. I'm consistently drawing that pear on the left too large, which is interesting. I also need to keep working on lengthening the heights of the subjects so they don't get squished down/too wide.

Daily Art 11-23-17 still life sketch in graphite number 27-29 - overlay
My sketches overlaid on a photo of my still life.

I'm starting to wonder how they would turn out if I sketched from my reference photo rather than the still life…

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sketch practice #26

Daily Art 11-22-17 still life sketch in graphite number 26 - pears

I'm trying to improve the proportions and relationships between objects in my still life sketching again today. I started by measuring the height and width of the arrangement but that's not going well. Ironically I had the right overall dimensions marked out but everything was shifted over as I built from the centerline of my tallest object (the center pear). So trying to fit everything within my original lines caused distortion in the other two pears.

I can't quite figure out what's causing me to measure inaccurately. Maybe I'm tipping my hand as I use the skewer to mark lengths and compare them to each other. I also haven't found a rhythm for what to use as my standard unit, and by changing it all around within each sketching session I'm sure that it's making things off.

Daily Art 11-22-17 still life sketch in graphite number 26 - sketch over photo
My center pear is fairly accurate, but the other two aren't sized well in comparison.

If I were using my viewfinder to locate edges and relationships it would probably go better. But I want to keep working on this to see if I can improve. Next I think I'll try leaving out that bounding box and just concentrate on the angles and relationships of the pears.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sketch practice #25

Daily Art 11-21-17 still life sketch in graphite number 25 - pears

Today my excitement about sketching a composition with these three pears quickly went from enthusiasm to frustration once I started actually drawing on my paper. My intention was to explore finding the overall geometric shape of the composition — where its tallest and widest points meet. In this case, I saw a triangle.

This was really challenging for me, and once I started laying my lines in I became aware of how when my highest point isn't at the horizontal center, there's a lot more measuring that needs to be done. I had a lot of trouble getting the pears to fit into the triangle well in relation to each other as well as keeping them from looking distorted.

Daily Art 11-21-17 still life sketch in graphite number 25 - pears layered on photo
My sketch layered on a photo of the still life.

In this photo of the drawing overlaid on a photo reference of my view, I can see that one main issue is I didn't bring the pear on the right all the way to the bottom of my bounding shape, so everything is vertically smooshed. And while the overall shape could be described as a triangle, the lower right corner doesn't match up with what I envisioned and drew. I got the lower right corner confused with the outer edge of the pear on the right and it really threw me off.

Some improvements I could make to this process next time are:
  • decide if I want my vertical and horizontal foundation lines to be at the center of my drawing area or some other landmark (such as the center of the tallest item)
  • mark the ground plane early on for a landmark reference
  • mark the major angles in relationship to each other instead of creating a geometric bounding shape to work within

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sketch practice #23-24

Daily Art 11-20-17 still life sketch in graphite number 23-24 - pear

As I read Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides I'm taking notes and thinking about how to apply the techniques to my sketch practice. I just read the chapter on the illusion of depth, where she covers identifying geometric solids. I've explored this concept before, and usually after dipping my toe into it I push it away because it gets so technical and cerebral and I just want to draw. But in the spirit of embracing these lessons in classical drawing, I gave it another try today.

I drew the pear on the left first, then did some studies of the circle and triangle found within the form of the pear second. Which was totally backwards — after drawing the studies I immediately saw where I could improve my first sketch. I went back and added a bit more shading to the left side of it to help describe the changes in angles on the interior shapes of the form (not just around the perimeter of it).

I really enjoyed the chapter on line quality, too. It helped me understand a bit more about my own preferences with line. After looking at some of the examples in the book, I'm drawn more to the marks that show evidence of the medium than the very smoothly-rendered forms. I like the graphic quality that lines have, and the play between smooth and sharp.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sketch practice #21-22

Daily Art 11-19-17 still life sketch in graphite number 22-22 -pears

Today my goal was to simplify my value marks so the sketch stayed more in the sketching realm than the finished drawing realm. But I got sloppy (hurried?) with my proportions and the pears on the left aren't very accurate to real life. The stems are closer to reality than yesterday though.

I found myself adding deeper values even though my intention was to just to two values: in shadow and not in shadow. It was just too hard to stop once I went down that path!

I'm still feeling out hatching vs. smoothly-shaded tones. On the left I mainly used hatching and on the right did the smooth tones (side of the pencil). I thought hatching would be faster and looser, but so far that hasn't really been the case. I do like the hatching in my first pear in this series of studies, where it's a combination of the side of the pencil and the tip. That contrast looks lively to me.

I'm also noticing that once a second subject is added to the still life, it's much harder for me to find those proportional relationships. Maybe tomorrow I'll try finding the overall shape of the composition and then locating the individual forms within it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sketch practice #20

Daily Art 11-18-17 still life sketch in graphite number 20 - pears

This still life of two pears was set up next to my north-facing window without any shades or reflectors. Today is sunny, so I got some nice light and shadow.

My drawing was fairly accurate, but my shading makes it hard to tell how the pear on the left is sitting. It looks like it's lying down, but it's actually standing up. And my stems got way too large. I was pretty distracted during this sketching session (problems with our water heater, ugh) so that probably accounts for the problems I encountered.

11-18-17 pears reference photo
This was my view of the pears as I drew.

11-18-17 pear drawing overlaid on photo
My drawing overlaid on the reference photo shows the comically large stems. But I'm happy with the pear shapes!

I did another block-in of the overall shapes using an HB pencil and that went very well. The shading was dicier because the 8B woodless graphite pencil I started shading with was too dark, and the whole tip snapped off in the middle of using it. I switched to a 4B woodless pencil which worked OK.

It's occurred to me that I'm in this weird zone between making a sketch and making a drawing…tomorrow I want to reset my expectations and focus on accurate drawings and two-value shading with a single object.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sketch practice #17-19

Daily Art 11-17-17 still life sketch in graphite number 18-19 - pear

Today I continued sighting angles and drawing in the form of my subject with straight lines, then adding the curves where needed. I also incorporated a "two-value stage" of shading described in Proko video How to Draw an Eye – Step by Step. I really like this approach to shading because I had gotten stuck adding values in these discrete shapes, naming each part as I went. That's a habit I'm trying to break out of, and by instead determining what's in shadow and what's in light it helped me with this. This reminded me of Dianne Mize's notan video as well.

I also thought about edges as I sketched — where I could lose an edge into the background or shadow, and where to sharply define an edge. For shading, I used a combination of the side of the pencil for softer gradients and broad strokes, and the tip for some sharp hatching. The woodless graphite HB pencil I used in the top sketch is lighter than I'd like, but the control I get with it is nice. My pencil tip goes dull very quickly with the 2B.

Yesterday evening, after I wrapped up my work, I configured a standing easel at my work bench by clipping my drawing board to a sign I had made for my handmade business. My goal was to find a better way to bring my whole arm into drawing and standing at a more vertical surface helped with that. My little sketchbook has become an obstacle for this style of drawing though, which I discovered while sketching this little cosmetic pot. I do like how it turned out, though!

Daily Art 11-16-17 still life sketch in graphite number 17- pot of blush

I used the two-value shading stage. The lid of the pot is black, and this demo about bracketing values was super helpful for helping me determine how to shade the different sides of it: black isn't black in the light, just in its deepest shadows. Artist Mike Rooney does a great job of simplifying the concept of how you'd paint the 3 visible surfaces of a white, grey, and black cube with 5 values.

Last night I read something that struck a chord with me while catching up on Stranger Things (I'm late to the show, but I finally get what all the hype is about!). It's from the book Rendering in Pencil by Arthur L. Guptill:
"So the beginner must strive to retain in any subject the elements that have the greatest significance, in some cases even exaggerating them, and sacrificing at the same time some of the lesser truths, if this makes the drawing as a whole easier to read or understand."
It made me think about finding that balance of learning how to skillfully draw with accuracy and using artistic license to convey the spirit of the subject. It's really easy for me to get caught up in describing details, losing sight of the bigger picture. And that doesn't just apply to art! ;)