Saturday, October 28, 2017

Value studies Day 9

Daily Art 10-27-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

Building off of the success I had yesterday with value mapping, I selected a few color photos to map. The first one was pretty easy because of the limited number of colors. The second one was more challenging because there are multiple colors and some shadow areas I wouldn't have expected. I tried to really see shadow shapes, rather than naming subjects (inspired by this video by Dianne Mize). The third photo I'm not so sure about…after marking it up it seems like it's almost all a number 1 value with just tiny bits of darker values. This would be a great reference to get more familiar with painting and drawing glass.

I really like how these daily value study exercises are developing the ability to see values as large shapes and not calling them "tree" or "bottle". And it's also giving me more experience including value studies into the creation process — it's a step that I've seen the benefits of, but honestly just forget a lot of the time because I get in a rush to start the actual piece. But the more I watch other artists work, the more I see that slowing down to do preparation and planning can really enhance the results. Even with intuitive painting, the class I took included preparation steps of gathering inspiration imagery and warming up with mark making.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Value studies Day 8

Daily Art 10-26-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies
The three mug images are photos I took of a simple still life, and the rabbit is from Pixabay. The value scale is a tool by artist and instructor Dianne Mize, who I discovered while researching Notans (available for free download). 

Today I took a few steps back and did some value mapping as described by Carol Marine in her book Daily Painting (see my review of Daily Painting for more about this awesome book). I printed out a few greyscale images and drew the value zones directly on them. She suggests saving white for highlights only, and giving them a value of zero. That left me with four main values (five with the highlights) to map onto the photos.

One thing I love about this technique is that it helps me get a more concrete view of the relative values in the subject. Once I get a handle on those, it's up to me to decide what four values to use in a piece — depending on what mood and design composition I want to achieve. I'm excited to try this exercise on experimenting with how many values you choose to put in light and how many in dark. It looks like a really cool way to see how these decisions change the overall tone of the piece.

This is fitting in nicely with what I was recently reading in Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis. He has a section that explains the approach Howard Pyle used for defining light and shadow, and how so many new artists exaggerate the halftones when they'd be better off pushing more of those areas into light or shadow. And that the ability to analyze and simplify these areas of light and shadow push work into a new level. I'm not yet familiar with Pyle's work, but what I'm reading in Creative Illustration is really resonating with me, and Loomis' enthusiasm and respect for Pyle has me nodding my head at this concept.

Next I need to do this value mapping exercise with color photos.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Value studies Day 7

Daily Art 10-25-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

As I continue to explore the idea of value studies, I'm thinking more about the point of doing them in the first place. Ultimately I want to be able to accurately render values, whether I'm working from life or a reference photo, from color or black and white. Once I have a good handle on that, I want to learn more about designing good compositions, using value studies as a tool for checking out a composition before drawing out the final piece.

Since so many people recommend drawing from life to get better at values, I finally took the time to set up a little still life with a simple object. I used a black sheet as a backdrop and aimed a single light at the subject. And today instead of doing three 10-minute sketches, I just set the timer for 30 minutes and started sketching.

I also brought out my greyscale & value finder. But I was stumped on how to "read" it against the subject with that spotlight — I either got glare when holding it too close, or it was completely in shadow if I was further away. So that had me a little frustrated.

A more helpful tool today was two little viewfinder squares that I held up to different areas of the subject to compare values. This was enlightening because it isolated particular values and allowed me to see them as they were, without being influenced by what was next to them. I didn't use it until the fourth sketch, and I think it made that one a stronger study. However, the openings were too large so I really want to make a tool closer to this hole-punched paint chip.

Even though I'm feeling a little stuck — or more accurately, like I'm wandering through this topic without a clear path and vision — I am enjoying the way that with just a small adjustment to technique or what I decide to call a dark, mid, or light value, there's a different result.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Value studies Day 6

Daily Art 10-24-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

While exploring value studies, I came across the technique of making a Notan as a way to break an image down into just two values. To get more familiar with this concept, I watched a few videos by artists that approach it in a slightly different way.

The first one was from Mitchell Albala, who uses Notan to identify shape and pattern, not necessarily value. Value plays a role, but so does color. He's got some interesting examples in the video that help explain it more. This is what I was keeping in my mind as I did the third sketch (lower right).

Next I watched an In the Studio Art Instruction video with Dianne Mize with a slightly different approach. She breaks the image down into "what's in shadow, what's not in shadow" and I really like that simplicity. But with my reference photo I ran into trouble because the mountains in the distance didn't appear to be in shadow, but were clearly darker than the sky. So I got stuck on how to totally resolve that, although the tops of the mountains appeared a little bit darker so I shaded that in. My mind couldn't quite separate what was in shadow with what was just a darker color.

I also used Dianne's approach on today's first sketch (upper left). For that one, I used a felt-tip marker and didn't make a pencil sketch first. It pretty much falls apart, but I like pattern the strokes make and I think it would be much better if I'd started with a pencil sketch and used this hatching technique to fill in dark areas. Or, if I want to go straight in with the black ink, try smaller thumbnails and a brush tip marker like she suggests in this video.

After doing a bit of research on the Notan, it's looking to be a great option for composing a painting, but may not be the best approach for identifying the different values present in an image. My biggest goal right now is to establish the foundational skill of getting the value right, and then I'll move on to the composition design stage. Learn to crawl before walking and all that.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Value studies Day 5

Daily Art 10-23-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

I switched to landscape compositions today with the hope of breaking out of overthinking the details and looking at large shapes more. On the first image of an outcropping of rocks along a coastline I spent too long worrying about the details and ran short on time. I think it could have been improved by paying more attention to the large faces of the rocks and not on the little facets.

The second image was much too simple, but I wanted to finish one within the 10-minute time limit. The lesson I learned here is to choose a reference image that I care at least a little bit about ;)

The third image was a really symmetrical view of a canal pointing toward a gazebo. This was an intriguing one to sketch because of the foreshortening of the canal. I'd like to try this one again as a larger sketch.

I've used the graphite pencil on toned paper for the last few days and it's been interesting to use four values. I'd like to spend a couple of days doing two-value studies, just the white of the paper and black ink, to see how that feels.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Value studies Day 4

Daily Art 10-22-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

Another set of value studies on toned paper with graphite pencils and white ink. I'm spending way more time than I want just finding images to sketch. It might be that my criteria is too strict, but my goal is to use black and white photos that are simple subjects with strong value contrast. Maybe tomorrow I'll find some simple landscapes to totally change the scale from a single, close-up object that has a fair amount of detail to a landscape. I think that would force me to stop focusing on details and see the bigger picture of the tonal composition.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Value studies Day 3

Daily Art 10-21-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

I'm reading Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis and in the chapter on "Line" there are a few examples of preliminary studies drawn on toned paper. As he explains it, the grey tone acts as the light value and pencil works for the halftones and darks. White is saved exclusively for highlights and white areas.

I don't have any toned paper so I used a very watery wash of black gouache with 3" badger mottler. It was my first time using this brush, which my dad had given me, and it laid down a wash in my Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook so nicely!

I recently bought some woodless graphite pencils at the art store so I used the 8B for the darkest values and HB for the halftones (mid values). For the white, I brushed on Copic Opaque White.

The middle sketch is of some garlic. My drawing is a mess, but I love the way the white ink looks with the pencil lines.

I found that by starting with the paper toned as the light value and using four total values instead of three, it was a tiny bit easier for me to break the reference photo down into main areas of like values. The biggest challenge for me with these right now is that with some of the photos I assign a value to an area in my sketch, but as I keep going realize that it was too dark or too light.

I'd like to really focus on improving how I group the dark, mid, light, and white areas with each other so that the overall sketch makes sense. Which might mean getting much looser and rougher with the initial sketch so that I can put more emphasis on developing the value skills.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Value studies Day 2

Daily Art 10-20-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

Yesterday I learned just how fast 10 minutes can go by with these value studies. And that using pencils was a slower way for me to describe the dark and mid tones. So today I chose reference images with fewer objects and painted the dark and mid tones in with black ink.

One thing I focused on today was to see where I could join shadow shapes and turn them into larger abstracted shapes. I like the way this holds things together and integrates the separate elements with each other.

I got too nitpicky with the second sketch and ran out of time before completing the background tone. I was trying to describe those walnut shapes better and spent too much time on the details. Actually, looking at the photo again, I'm not sure how I would have resolved that background because it isn't quite the darkest value, but if I made it a mid value it would have ruined the integrity of the walnuts. I'll have to do some thinking on that one… I love the cast shadows on this one.

The third image was a sliced fig. Which is pretty difficult to tell, but mostly because it's a rather abstracted photo in the first place. I was on the fence about how much to describe the speckled highlights but I think it's working. I wish I had made the drawing more accurate though. It's too flat across the top and missing that curve. Maybe I should start with a gesture!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Colored pencil chipmunk face

colored pencil chipmunk face

I enjoyed drawing the bunny face with colored pencils the other day, and wanted to do something similar with a different subject. But not so different that it would be a total shift from the bunny and a whole bunch of new things to extrapolate. This cute chipmunk fit the bill. Plus the little guy melted my heart.

I struggled with getting the drawing right because I tried to rush it. I was so excited to get to the fur-drawing part that I was frustrated to have to wait to get started. But I knew if I didn't get the drawing at least mostly close I'd be setting myself up for misery on the coloring step. Since my goal was to spend more time practicing the coloring strokes than drawing from a photo, it would have been nice to just trace the image into my sketchbook.

I'm trying out the Prismacolor Col-Erase Non Photo Blue for sketching. It's come up so many times from different sources that I just had to see if it's a fit for me. One thing I'm not liking about it is that my scanner does pick up the lines when I scan the artwork, so it either needs to be erased first or Photoshopped out. But I am finding it easy to erase when I draw lightly enough.

I'm pretty happy with how this little drawing turned out! I think two things that would improve it are to keep the colored pencils sharper (my frugal tendencies cause me to get a little stingy there, not wanting to "waste" the pencil by sharpening) and to use a thinner pencil or pen for the whiskers (they look a little heavy-handed in black colored pencil).

Value studies Day 1

Daily Art 10-19-17 value and contrast - tonal composition studies

Today, as part of my self-directed art curriculum, I started doing 30-minute sessions of value studies. I picked a bunch of photos on pixabay that have strong lights and darks that will hopefully be good references for mapping out the lights and darks.

This set was a mixed bag — clearly the bottom photo was a more successful sketch of the tones in the image. The photo of the orange is fantastic and has striking lighting. It's also a simpler subject than the other two.

I set a timer for 10 minutes when I started each sketch, which went by super fast. On the first one I ran out of time, and you can see where the highlights are marked. That composition was way too complex for my first study of the morning! And a good reminder that you can't look for negative shapes to draw when the frame of the photo isn't the same proportion as the frame you draw on your paper. Things went all stretched out as I attempted to follow the negative shapes around the edges of the fruit. I should have just left it frameless to start, which is why the next two are frameless.

A different medium for toning would be good to try as well. It took awhile to shade in with the pencil and I'd rather spend more time on the drawing and mapping lights and darks than the filling in of dark and mid tones.

So this 10-minute time limit is either going to train me to look and draw faster, or it's going to incite frustration and anxiety. My hope is for the former ;)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Drawing fur with colored pencils practice

colored pencil bunny practice

I finally finished reading Drawing and Painting Animals: Problems and Solutions by Trudy Friend and am all excited to practice drawing and painting fur. I found the book totally inspiring and am impressed with how much the artist put into it. It's formatted so that on the left page there's a typical animal drawing or painting, and common mistakes or oversights are described. Then on the right page Trudy shows her solutions with a much-improved drawing.

The remarkable thing about it is how it pushes you to take your work to a more advanced level. If I had seen the "problem" pieces out of context, I probably wouldn't guess there was anything off about them. But in context, you totally see how much better things get when you look and render with a more careful eye.

To get a little more familiar with drawing animal textures, I'm watching some videos that show the actual real-time process (as opposed to static pictures from the book). I found a super cute colored pencil bunny tutorial from Brushes and Bunnies that was perfect for jumping in with drawing colored pencil fur.

The drawing of all of those little fur strokes was relaxing — I think it helped that I didn't have to figure anything out, just follow the directions. I find that I enjoy that sort of repetitive or detailed work if it's separate from the act of planning or concepting. Once the hard part of figuring out what to make is established, my mind can loosen up be present with much more ease.

100 gesture studies complete - Day 17

Daily Art 10-18-17 gesture studies of animals

I'm happy to have completed my daily challenge of doing 100 gesture studies of different animals!

I noticed that a few animals tended to turn out better than others. Fish, birds, domestic cats, and insects often looked more interesting than primates, bears, and large cats. Maybe it has something to do with the scale of the animal and the 5-minute time limit. I'd say my most-improved animal is the horse. It came up many days so there were lots of opportunities to keep trying.

Things that went well

By doing 6 each day, I was able to reflect on each group of sketches and make small course corrections the next day. I'm also doing a lot of studying up on drawing — gesture sketches and about animals specifically — so I was able to start trying out different techniques.

One helpful thing I added part way through the challenge was to draw the axis lines on the face to orient the features more accurately.

The most useful thing I did for the challenge overall was to draw whatever animal appeared and not skip one because I didn't feel like drawing it or it looked too difficult. This forced me out of my comfort zone (side profile views) and into harder poses (foreshortened views).

Areas I can improve

I'd like to focus more on imagining vertical and horizontal lines running through key intersections to improve proportions like torso length and limb size. It would be a good check-in system before I get too far along with details.

Some days my lines got really hard to tell apart, making the sketch look confusing and messy. And I often ran into issues putting features on the faces. This would be better if I made initial marks lighter, until I was sure I had things where I wanted them, and saving facial features for larger drawings.

What's next

I'd like to continue with the focused practice theme. A big subject I'm working on is value and contrast, so it might be cool to do small and fast daily value studies. One of my goals is to get better at seeing lights and dark as abstracted shapes and not get hung up on details. This will help me down the road when I'm more focused on composition design. If I did three 10-minute studies I could get through a bunch of them quickly. I might not do 100 like with this activity, but even if I did it for a few weeks I could hit 50.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gesture studies Day 16

Daily Art 10-17-17 gesture studies of animals

My rooster is about to fall over, but I'm really happy with the cat sketch! I paid close attention to the angle on the back, trying to capture that head-down prowl of cats.

I just started reading Painting Your Favorite Animals in Pen, Ink & Watercolor by Claudia Nice and the beginning section helped me today. I envisioned the limbs of the cat and dog as ovals going up and alongside the torso and it made those two figures easier to draw. But that was also because they're profile views and not foreshortened.

That fish was a tricky one! At first my line for the top of the body was much too spread out. I had to go back and compress it quite a bit to get the foreshortening more accurate. My brain didn't want to believe that it was actually that squished looking.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gesture drawings Day 15

Daily Art 10-16-17 gesture studies of animals

I've noticed that I enjoy drawing in the main bulk of the animals — the contour lines that show the big curves of the torso. But the limbs aren't quite proportionally accurate yet. That's something I could start working on so they look like they belong with the bodies better.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Gesture drawings Day 14

Daily Art 10-15-17 gesture studies of animals

Today I concentrated on noticing where the head and torso overlap each other. I have to fight the urge to always put the head on top of the torso because sometimes (as with the chimpanzee sketch in the upper left) one is basically on top of the other. I think being more aware of this is helping me get the overall length of the animal more accurate.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Value study of Bosco my Dachshund

value study of Bosco my Dachshund
High-contrast value study of my Dachshund, Bosco.

For this value study of my Dachshund, Bosco, I made a sketch of the contours and shadow areas using the dot-to-dot line drawing technique (which I talk more about in this post). For the reference photo, I opened one of his pictures in Photoshop and adjusted the levels until it was high contrast, then posterized it to just 2 values.

Once sketched, I painted the darkest values with a chromatic black watercolor mix (phthalo blue and transparent pyrrole orange, I think) and Copic opaque white for highlights and whiskers.

This study is a great example of where getting the drawing right was so much more important than the painting technique — I could have used any medium for the dark values and it wouldn't really matter.

I may go on to paint the portrait in color at some point, but for now I'm really enjoying this monochrome version!

Gesture drawings Day 13

Daily Art 10-14-17 gesture studies of animals

I'm very curious if anyone will be able to tell what the first sketch in the upper left is. When I first saw that photo come up on the line-of-action slideshow it stopped me in my tracks a little bit because I wasn't sure how to approach it. (It's a dog swimming in water with a tennis ball in his mouth, in a very foreshortened view.) It took a lot of squinting to flatten the shapes out and see them in relation to each other.

When the giraffe photo came up, I almost skipped past it because I already drew it on Day 4. But that one hadn't turned out well, so instead I looked at it as an opportunity try again. This one is so much better! A good example of how my desire to always be learning new things can hinder progress on specific obstacles.

The other day I watched a Proko video on how to simplify the motion of the torso by thinking of a bendy bean. Even though the video was about the human figure, I kept it in mind as I sketched these poses. It helped me see the way the upper and lower sections of the torso work together and overlap each other.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pear value studies and thoughts about art education

pear value studies in gouache and acrylic
With these pear studies, I focused much more on getting the values right than matching the colors to the reference image. The pear on the left was painted in gouache on a purple ground, and the two on the right were painted with acrylic on Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold ground.

I started this week by dedicating my afternoon "art class" time to developing my watercolor skills, and by the end of the week found myself using gouache and acrylic. It started with a series of classes on YouTube by watercolor artist and instructor Stan Miller. His lessons really resonated with me and surprisingly helped me go from being too concerned about watercolor skills to working more on what he considers the two fundamental elements of watercolor painting that artists need to get right before worrying about technical skills (assuming you're trying to paint realism):
  1. Drawing
  2. Values
He stresses that color and composition come before technical skills as well. At first this was frustrating to hear because I had been so intent on improving my skills with watercolor specifically. Which isn't to say he avoids teaching those skills — he covers basics like controlling your brush and water in Lesson 11 and 12 in a clear and systematic way, as well as actual paintings so you can see him at work. 

The thing I realized that was so liberating about this idea is that it applies to all media. It's not all about getting the perfect brush strokes with watercolor. At least not as a beginner. I think with time, I'll learn to get the watercolor to do what I want but the key is that it takes time and experience. 

When he unlocked this idea in my mind, I thought it would be cool to spend some time with the other media I want to explore (which is how I ended the week with gouache and acrylic!). With my goal of becoming an illustrator, the technical skills of whatever tools I'm using certainly matter. But it's less critical than being able to draw what I want to depict, rendering the values well, and creating a good composition. And underneath it all is telling a story. Some believe that whether you're creating fine art or an illustration to support a larger piece like a book or article, it begins with the story (or perhaps more simply, the concept). I like this idea as a way to bring the viewer in and engage with the piece. 

Recognizing these things helps me shape my self-directed art education. One of my big struggles right now is that I want to learn everything all at once. No surprise that this is overwhelming and scattered, and I'd rather find more efficient ways to build upon different aspects of an art and illustration education. With all of the podcasts I'm listening to, videos I'm watching, and books I'm reading, I'm starting to get some clarity around this. 

I'd like to try shaping my learning path around: 
  1. drawing, including figure studies (this is well under way: I read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and am finding a lot of fantastic information on Proko.com)
  2. values (have done a little bit with this already with lots more exercises lined up to work on)  
  3. color
  4. composition
And running parallel to these things will be:
  1. telling a story/concepting (I'm going through the lessons from Khan Academy and Pixar for this)
  2. skill development of various media (oh-so-many books on my shelf for this!)
I'm not sure exactly how this will break down, like whether I want to do class-like sessions on each subject or float in and out of each as needed. I also have the book Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis coming in the mail, which looks to be a bit like a textbook so it may guide me as well.


Gesture drawings Day 12

Daily Art 10-13-17 gesture studies of animals

A couple of very foreshortened poses today. One thing I've been thinking about is that when I'm sketching the pose, there are areas I don't get to match the photo. But maybe that's OK because as long as I'm capturing it well enough to recognize, it's not really important that it be an exact match. It's a nice feeling when the photos are all closed down and I'm looking at the page of sketches on their own to be able to recognize what's being depicted.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gesture drawings Day 11

Daily Art 10-12-17 gesture studies of animals

This was the first domestic cat that came up for me in the line-of-action random slideshow! I liked sketching this pair. And of course, I got another horse lol. When that otter image appeared it cracked me up because his expression reminded me of the 30 Rock episode where Tracy is compared to an otter.

Drawing the axis line down the center of the face to show direction and orientation has been a big improvement for me. Next I want to improve the placement of the eyes, nose, and mouth perpendicular to that line.

And yesterday, after noticing that I'm having a hard time choosing what kind of shape to use for sections of the torso, I watched the Proko video Structure Basics—Making Things Look 3D. It was really helpful because he explains that there are three basic ways to draw those body shapes and you can pick based on what makes the most sense for that particular pose. That made a lot of sense so today I just went with whichever shape (basic oval, 3D cylinder, or 3D box) that allowed me to capture the gesture.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Making Hearts4Vegas at this week's CraftHackEV meetup

Hearts4Vegas project at CrafthackEV
#hearts4vegas

The other night at CraftHackEV (a monthly crafting meetup in Chandler, AZ) we made hearts to send to Las Vegas. We hope that this small gesture of support will help the community devastated by the shooting earlier this month.

Gesture drawings Day 10

Daily Art 10-11-17 gesture studies of animals

Gah, more horses! The second sketch was a big improvement over previous days — it was simpler to sketch because there wasn't foreshortening.

Today I tried focusing on making the limbs more cylindrical than fully-contoured lines with the hopes that I'd get the placement more accurate and be less concerned with the details of the shapes. I also added some guide lines to understand the direction the head was facing, so that the eyes and nose were positioned in the correct places on the head. This is inspired by what I'm reading and watching to improve my observational drawing skills:


One area that I need to do some specific training on is the step where I draw in the ribs and pelvis. I think I'm mashing together two different approaches to this and it's tripping me up a little. One way is to think of these structures as a 3D cylinder and the other way is to simply draw an oval to mark the basic location of the structures. I'm sure both methods are useful, but the fact that I'm not choosing one is causing some challenges with getting marks laid down.

I like the cocked head of the parrot! I was happy to see that gesture captured in a way that really shows the posture.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book review: "Daily Painting" by Carol Marine

It's a long title, but it so perfectly explains what you'll find when you read Carol Marine's book Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist.

I think this is one of those books you have to be in the right frame of mind to read. Well, maybe that's all books. But anyway I originally checked this book out from my library several months ago. I half-heartedly flipped through it and returned it. Which is ironic because she talks in the book about disregarding some sage advice at the beginning of her career to paint every day, and how she promptly ignored that excellent advice! Clearly I wasn't feeling motivated enough to put it into practice yet.

A few months later, I was searching around online for who-knows-what and ran across the Savvy Painter Podcast interview with Carol. She was so down to earth and had lots of wisdom to share based on her experience. She talked about being frustrated with her post-college painting pains and how heart-breaking it would be to spend all this time and money making a large painting only to be disappointed with the outcome. Eventually she started painting small paintings every day, developing her skills much quicker, trying new styles out, and selling these smaller pieces.

Hearing this interview happened to come at a time when I was mentally primed for the benefits of forming a daily habit to help reach my goals. I had realized that what I secretly wanted to do for years (become an illustrator) was possible — if I just started down that path and made it happen. But what about my lack of illustration training and rusty art skills? It finally hit me that the only way to get better at these things was to DO THEM. Not think about them, read about them, wish they were better. Do them.

Daily Painting helped me get motivated to make art every day.

Another great interview that helped me appreciate the power of daily habits was a conversation between Jay Papasan (who co-wrote The One Thing) and James Clear (a productivity expert). In it, they talk about running a marathon and how when you set a goal to run one, you don't think "OK tomorrow I'll run a marathon." You simply start running every day. And eventually you'll be running a marathon.

Feeling inspired by these things, I checked Carol's book out from the library again and this time truly appreciated everything she writes about because I was ready to actually hear it. I couldn't put it down.

About the book

Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist by Carol Marine, published in 2014.

Carol is very generous with what she's learned about being a professional painter and truly wants artists to succeed. Yes, she inspires with her story, but she also covers the nitty-gritty details of creating a painting, making it available for sale, and working through artist's block.

The book is written in a friendly, personable way that's easy to read. In addition to Carol's personal story of her journey from frustrated art school graduate to a thriving artist who regularly sells her work, there are stories of other daily artists to help balance it out. We get to hear from many people about how daily painting has helped them and their careers. This provides a well-rounded look into its benefits and isn't just a solitary push to "drink the Kool aid".

After you're inspired to embark on daily painting, you'll get lessons on choosing materials and subject matter, plus a whole bunch of information about foundational art skills like value, color mixing, drawing & proportion, and composition. This is the most succinct, clearly laid out explanation of these things I've come across.

This book not only inspires, but it also instructs. It takes the mystique and idealized romanticism out of being an artist and shows you how to actually be one.

Daily Painting by Carol Marine review - comparison painting
Like a virtual critique from a pro painter, this section compares a typical painting of an apple with a more nuanced and observant version. This is on my list of things to try.

Daily Painting by Carol Marine review - value exercise
The wipe-away method of revealing light values of a subject is so cool to actually do! I did an adapted version of it in gouache.

Daily Painting by Carol Marine review - working with edges in a painting
I hadn't seen this approach of painting past the edges of a subject and cutting in with the background elements, but I love it. I tried this in gouache and like the way the edges are softened and blended.

The amount of actionable information is impressive, from exercises and practical techniques to getting past feeling blocked and uninspired. I really get the sense that Carol took all of her frustrated disappointment that came out of her art education and turned it into an optimistic and empowering guide for artists.

Daily Painting is a good book for anyone who's feeling unsure of how to approach a career in art and is looking for direction, motivation, and tools to make it happen. It's not a "how to paint for beginners" book, but if you have basic painting skills and want to take your work to the next level and make it available for sale, I think you'll get a lot out of it.

Gesture drawings Day 9

Daily Art 10-10-17 gesture studies of animals

I'm finding birds and fish especially enjoyable to sketch. Or maybe because they don't have all of the limbs they're simpler to sketch? Horses are definitely challenging to get the posture looking good. So far mine tend to look like they're about to fall over!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Six versions of the same watercolor still life exercise

exercise for a simple still life in watercolor Fabriano Studio paper and Princeton Neptune 6 round brush
My sixth version of this simple little still life exercise, after experimenting with different brushes and papers.

My YouTube history is crowded with watercolor videos, including some by artist Chris Petri. The influence of Charles Reid on his work caught my eye, and I like how he makes demonstrations of watercolor painting principles and techniques.

Since I'm trying to balance the actual practice of making art with the reading and watching lessons, I buckled down on Sunday night with some different watercolor papers, a variety of brushes, and Chris' video on a loose and simple watercolor still life.

I started with a page from a Strathmore 500 Series watercolor pad and a Princeton Neptune size 6 round brush. My primary problem here was the backruns from going back in to make color adjustments. Plus the paint seemed to dry really quickly on the edges.

watercolor still life exercise on Strathmore 500 cold press paper with Princeton Neptune 6 round brush

Next in the Strathmore pad was the Escoda Versatil 8 round. Similar issues as with the Neptune.

watercolor still life exercise on Strathmore 500 cold press paper with Escoda Versatil 6 round travel brush

The final sketch in the Strathmore pad was with a Master's Touch 8 round. It looks totally out of control with too much water.

watercolor still life exercise on Strathmore 500 cold press paper with Masters Touch 8 round brush

I like this paper, but I think I needed to move much quicker at the edges of the paint and resist going back in to touch damp areas with water on the brush.

Once that page was filled, I switched to a scrap of Fabriano Artistico cold press watercolor paper. I found that the edges of the paint dried quickly and I didn't move fast enough around the shapes. But when there was a solid wet area and I added a different color, it spread smoothly. Which wasn't exactly what I was going for in this case.

watercolor still life exercise on Fabriano Artistico cold press paper with Masters Touch 8 round brush

Another try on the Artistico paper, trying to work out the shaping of the apple and vase.

partial watercolor still life exercise on Fabriano Artistico cold press paper with Masters Touch 8 round brush

I was pretty frustrated by this point because I had tried two high-quality papers that I typically like using. Not wanting to totally give up, I pulled out a little square of Fabriano Studio watercolor paper and went back to the Princeton Neptune 6 round. I feel like there were a lot of improvements by this sixth version. I wish the harsh highlights were a little softer at the edges, but I'm pretty happy with the vase.

exercise for a simple still life in watercolor Fabriano Studio paper and Princeton Neptune 6 round brush

Doing this exercise over and over was helpful because I got more familiar with the shapes and colors, and saw how slight changes in process and materials resulted in sizable differences. There's an exercise in Daily Painting by Carol Marine where you take one simple object, divide your surface into about 8 squares, and paint the object again and again with 10-minute intervals. I want to give this exercise a try because I'll be able to see the object in front of me rather than imitating another artist's interpretation of the object, like with this video.

Here's the video I was following for this activity (I see that he went in after filming to add the apple stem and a touch of green on the tomato, which I didn't do):

Gesture drawings Day 8

Daily Art 10-09-17 gesture studies of animals


I'm really glad to have found the line-of-action website because the random slideshow of animal photos is pushing me outside of my comfort zone. Today was an interesting mix, including a dancing (?) bear and a trio of young lions playing.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Gesture drawings Day 7

Daily Art 10-08-17 gesture studies of animals

Today I followed the things I wanted to adjust from yesterday and it went much better. Since I'm using reference images on my laptop and sketching these at a small scale (6 to a page in a 7x10 Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook), I've found that I get better results by sitting at my desk than standing at my work counter. This probably would be different if I were using large paper, charcoal, and a live model.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Testing out new water soluble colored pencils

As I spend time with Cathy Johnson's book Creating Nature in Watercolor: an Artist's Guide (where I found inspiration to make bunny studies) I'm more and more interested in watercolor pencils. Especially doing mixed media sketches with water soluble pencils and watercolors together. I like the way pencil marks show when layered with watercolor.

The other night at the art supply store I picked up a few more water soluble pencils in neutrals to add to my little collection. I already had the Caran d'Ache Supracolor in Ochre, and the Stabilo All Pencil in Graphite, and wanted to try out some additional brands and colors.

The Stabilo graphite pencil is rather light, so I picked up a 4B in the Faber Castell water soluble graphite to compare. I really like the Faber Castell. And I think the two Derwent Inktense pencils I bought will be really cool to work with — the neutral tones should be versatile. I didn't realize it when I bought them, but once activated with water these pencils become permanent. They'll be fun for layering with watercolor washes.

testing out a variety of water soluble pencils

For these sketches I intentionally left the pencil marks visible for texture, and didn't work to scrub them smooth with the wet brush. I just wanted to have a very light wash and see how subtle they could be.

The materials I used on these little sketches were:

  • Stabilo All Pencil in Graphite (background in upper left)
  • Faber Castell water soluble graphite pencil in 4B (upper left apple)
  • Derwent Inktense watercolor pencil in Payne's Grey (lower left apple)
  • Derwent Inktense watercolor pencil in Sepia Ink (upper right apple)
  • Caran d'Ache Supracolor II watercolor pencil in Ochre (lower right apple — there's also some of the Sepia Ink pencil on the shading areas)
  • Fabriano Studio watercolor paper

Gesture drawings Day 6

Daily Art 10-07-17 gesture studies of animals

Back to the mechanical pencil with 2B lead for today's set of gesture drawings. For some reason I was really struggling with proportions. I think I could spend a little more time placing the joint dots, and not stick to the line of action as the body length. That will also help me loosen up on the line action and make it more of a gesture and not a rigid line.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Watercolor pigment ratio, water control, and dot-to-dot continuous line contour drawing

I love going to the library and choosing random art books. One recent score was Charles Reid's Watercolor Solutions: Learn To Solve The Most Common Painting Problems. Before checking it out, I had no idea who he was. But I've since discovered that he's highly regarded as a watercolor artist. I totally see why! While his loose style looks effortless, I'm learning more and more that it's surprisingly difficult to actually do.

One of the sections in the book is about color mixing ratios. When I played around with this exercise I also wanted to work on water control because I'd like the colors to mix without backruns. That's something I've watched a lot of videos about and it sounds reasonable in theory, but in practice it's a lot harder to achieve!

watercolor blending exercise for water and pigment control
Working on watercolor pigment ratios and water control.

I used transparent pyrrole orange, yellow ochre, and cerulean blue. I don't use yellow ochre or cerulean blue very often, but I'm loving them in this mix. It's the sort of triad that Charles uses for skin tones.

This morning over donuts a friend and I were chatting about that idea of painting loosely, and how it actually takes a lot of experience working with a medium to get to the point where you can say more with less. And that growth happens by practicing something often.

For example, by painting just 15 minutes every day, you'll learn more about your tools and process than one day a month for 3 hours because you get immediate and regular feedback about what you're doing and you can make small tweaks to your process. If you save up all of that painting time for one session a month, you're stuck trying to learn all of those little things at once. Plus it's easy to forget what you learned last month as opposed to building upon each experience every day.

Oh, and while I was waiting in the car for her to arrive I did a sketch of my view! That's something I'd like to do more of when the opportunity appears. I used my new Handbook Travelogue square sketchbook which fit nicely in my purse. Since drawing is the foundation of pretty much anything I want to make, it's a skill I'm trying to work on more and more. Following the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was a huge help!

sketch made while waiting in the car in my new Handbook Travelogue sketchbook
I started this sketch using the dot-to-dot continuous line technique, but got distracted (or maybe rushed) partway through and stopped. I think the sketch was better while I was using the technique.


Another artist I discovered that's really inspiring me is Pat Weaver, who has a video on painting animal portraits in watermedia that I may buy. She uses a technique she calls dot-to-dot continuous line drawing where she keeps her pencil on the paper to draw the contour lines of her subject. When she stops to measure the location of elements, she pauses and makes a little dot to keep her hand moving, then continues on with the contour. Coincidentally, it's what Charles Reid does for his sketches as well. I love it when that sort of connection happens.

Gesture drawings Day 5

Daily Art 10-06-17 gesture studies of animals

Trying out another pencil option today by putting down the line of action, head/ribs/pelvis, and joint points with raw umber Polychromos colored pencil in order to make the initial sketches lighter. Then I used my 2B mechanical pencil for the rest of the sketch.

I'm noticing that as I do these gesture drawings, I'm quite critical of them. But after looking back at previous days they look better to me. I think I start looking for too much accuracy or perfection in the drawing moment. I'd like to work on keeping things loose and not overthinking it — it's almost like on Day 1 I had beginner's luck!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Exploring different styles of illustrating Dachshunds

One of my goals for this year is to explore many different illustration approaches and media. Since I love my dogs so much I chose one of them, a Dachshund, as inspiration for a bunch of these sketches. I'd like to eventually add more styles to the custom pet portraits I create for my pet accessories shop, Oxford Dogma. Or maybe offer prints of different breeds if people would be interested in those as well. 

After doing a bunch of sketches with really simplified faces, I felt a little blocked and uninspired. The drawings were OK, but didn't have much life to them. 

Then I discovered that adding more shaping to the face made me like them so much more! Plus, I found this adorable photo of a Dachshund with a flying ear that encapsulates the silliness of the breed. 

These two things helped inspire a whole bunch of drawings:

Dachshund sketch in pencil and watercolor with flying ear - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund sketches in pencil and watercolor with flying ears and cute shirts - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund illustration in gouache on gesso background - by Amy Lamp
Using gouache over a gessoed sketchbook page made some really interesting textures.

Dachshund in blue scarf illustration in gouache on gesso background - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund wearing a blue sweater illustration in watercolor with dip pen details - by Amy Lamp
Trying out using a dip pen with watercolor paint for the line work.

Dachshund wearing a red Breton top illustration in watercolor and pencil - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund illustration in watercolor with dip pen details - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund illustration in ink pen with watercolor wash - by Amy Lamp
Micron pen and watercolor wash. 

Dachshund in hat and scarf illustration in watercolor and pencil - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund in green sweater illustration in watercolor and pencil - by Amy Lamp
Loving the simple, sketchy pencil combined with watercolor.

Dachshund in a green sweater colored pencil illustration - by Amy Lamp
I dug up some cheap, old colored pencils for this one and learned I really like drawing with colored pencils! I upgraded to Polychromos shortly after.

Dachshund next to modern couch illustration in watercolor and colored pencil - by Amy Lamp

Dachshund wearing a green sweater and standing at the window illustration in watercolor - by Amy Lamp
I used a combination of lifting color with a paper towel and wet-in-wet watercolor to make the black and tan coloring on this Dachshund.

I clearly had fun drawing the little sweaters with the cable pattern — once I started I couldn't stop! 

I also learned more about how to do a watercolor wash in my Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal. It sucks up the water pretty readily, so I found that holding the book at an angle and keeping a bead of water along the bottom of the wash helped make it more even. If the brush got too dry, the brush strokes were quite evident.

This was an awesome activity for exploring styles and media because I stuck with one main subject. Sounds obvious but I've never done that before! My normal mode is to draw or paint something once, then move on to the next thing. 

I'm not ready to focus on a particular style yet, but if you see one that you think is working well let me know in the comments :)