Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sketching animal faces: dog

This week, in addition to my focused practice of 3-value studies, I'm doing daily animal face sketches to work proportions. First up is a weimaraner dog:

Daily Art 07-30-2018 sketch of weimaraner on grey toned paper

My original intent was to make this a quick and casual sketch using the dot-to-line contour approach, but it ended up a way longer study. The eye on the left gave me a ton of trouble. The problem was in trying to go quickly because I stopped really looking at the shapes and assumed I knew what it looked like. Big mistake!

I kept working at it until it improved and finally had to call it good enough. I like the shading that frames the dog's head, but not the shading on the face so much. Oh well... onward and upward!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Focused practice: 2-value notan studies

Now that I've actually painted a few acrylic paintings (like the fish and landscape) and gotten more comfortable with handling the brushes and paint, I decided to create a new focused practice assignment. I'm a big believer in the importance of values in painting so that's the subject of this one.

My goal: To accurately determine the values of a subject as a foundation for composition and color.

This involves:
  1. 2-value studies (notans) to identify value divisions (what's in shadow and what's not in shadow)
  2. designing 3-value plans as compositional studies
  3. 4-value black, white, and grey paintings from still life using simple forms
  4. 3-value exercises where the values are split into 2 light/1 shadow and 1 light/2 shadow
  5. 4-value black, white, and grey paintings with good compositional plans using photo references of landscapes, animals, and still life
I'll spend two hours each weekday working on these assignments, covering one topic each week. Over the course of five weeks I should be through all of the sections and ready to move on to color studies.

I got started this week with the 2-value notans and already feel like I'm learning a lot. There are the things I read about and study up on, but putting them into practice is a different experience for sure. It's been great practice for making thumbnails and setting aside time for planning rather than jumping right into a drawing or painting.

notan studies Jul 23-27 2018
Five days of notan studies from my sketchbooks (day one is a white book, days two through five are a grey toned paper). It's so rewarding to see these adding up and to learn something from each one!

Sometimes a thumbnail would have potential, so I'd rework it in a slightly different way — like with a different crop and center of interest placement, or changing the black (in shadow) or white (not in shadow) proportions. My goal was to keep the black and white unequal, in roughly a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio. It's interesting to find that some photos that I was sure would be good subjects end up being quite dull in the value study. And some that seemed dull have much more potential as a notan.

value plans with two values notan studies in acrylic paint
These larger studies are done in black and white acrylic and are each approximately 5x7. Ganging them together onto one panel helps keep them from getting precious. The grey smears are a sign of impatience when the paint wasn't fully dried.

I took some of my favorite notans that looked to have more potential and painted them onto a larger board. I wanted to make sure I was still applying paint to a surface during these value studies and not get stuck in my sketchbook.

By building off of the thumbnail sketch it gave me a feel for carrying a painting to the next step. It's easy to sketch out a little translation in a thumbnail, but would it still be interesting if I had to redraw it larger? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I lost a bit of interest in the upper left, and lower left might be helped with better cropping, but the two on the right still have me captivated. They might be worth taking to the 3-value and 4-value stages.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Getting familiar with acrylic retarder

I've been playing around with acrylic retarder to get a sense of how it works and how long it actually keeps the acrylic paint open and workable. I'd like to figure out a way to use it in a wet-in-wet style, with visible and loose brush strokes. Most of the demos I've found have been about smooth blending, so it's fun to be experimenting with my own take on it.

testing acrylic retarder painted sphere in raw umber and cadmium yellow light
A basic sphere using raw umber and cadmium yellow light to get a sense of how the acrylic retarder handles

This little panel is illustration board covered in Liquitex Basics gesso, which has a light tooth to it and is fairly absorbent surface. I put an isolation coat (Soft Gel Gloss + water) on the left half before painting, to test out whether that kept the paint wet longer.

It didn't really make a difference — perhaps it needed multiple isolation coats or a mix that was less diluted with water. For using their Glazing Liquid (which contains retarder), Golden recommends sealing the surface with a gloss base. So that advice likely translates to this situation as well.

Based on the small amount of testing with the retarder, I have a list of things I want to try:
  • use lots of paint! stop being cheap with it. thicker paint stays wet longer.
  • put down blobs of paint and add one part retarder to 6 parts fresh paint
  • coat the canvas with a non-absorbent layer (such as a gloss medium or gel, not gesso)
  • use a stay wet palette (on its way)
  • put down a base layer of glazing liquid when ready to paint
  • test out the difference between adding glazing liquid to the paint (1:1 ratio) vs. retarder (1:6)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Limited palette color chart: ultramarine blue and burnt umber

limited palette color chart with ultramarine blue and burnt umber acrylic paint
Color chart made with ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and titanium white acrylic paints

I like to explore using limited palettes, and a lot of the classical painting training includes doing a painting in just two colors, such as ultramarine blue and burnt umber (plus white). That's what I selected for this acrylic color chart.

My lightest value could definitely have been lighter than it ended up. I'm still getting used to the value shift as acrylics dry. Plus, I was using a mid grey palette paper and while that was great for getting the mid values on track, it made the lights look much lighter than they were in reality.

It would be cool to do a small painting study using just these colors, focusing on value and color temperature over color matching.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Foreshortened boats study

I'm loving Dianne Mize's online lessons and am getting a lot of new pointers and perspectives with them. The latest one I bought was Foreshortened Drawing because I was noticing that while drawing from the practice photos she provides for the 4 Steps to Skillful Drawing lesson, the foreshortened horse photo was really hard for me to draw. Horses gave me the biggest challenge during my gesture studies of animals focused practice exercise as well.

I concluded that those were challenging for me because horses are often photographed in a foreshortened way, and decided to get some more tips on that topic. Dianne covers how to get started and demonstrates moving through the shapes in the subject step by step. And as with the other lessons, her instruction really spoke to me and now I have more tools in my drawing tool belt.

Daily Art 07-21-2018 foreshortening study of boats on water
I blocked in the shadow areas on this study of foreshortened boats which really helped describe their forms better and bring things together. The horizon and tree line is also lightly indicated at the top. Measuring this distance from the boats was critical — my eyes told me that it was much higher up than in reality.

My hope is that with more experience doing this type of drawing, my skills will grow to the point where it won't be necessary to stop for so many measurements and that the drawings will come together more quickly. Especially when it comes to preliminary drawings for paintings!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Final steps for acrylic landscapes class

Daily Art 07-17-2018 finished painting for Acrylic Landscapes class with Bennett Vadnais

It feels great to have this painting complete! At the end of the class, Bennett advises us to stop making small adjustments until the end of time, and consider it done. We can always start a new painting, but often by continuing to fuss you end up undoing progress instead of improving. I made myself put my brushes down and got the final isolation coat on so I could see how it all turned out. The next day I brushed on the gloss varnish, so it's definitely finished.

I really got a lot out of this class. The pace is slow, methodical, and detailed. It's not a quick project, which was fine by me. Bennett teaches so many useful tips and principles for landscape painting as well as general painting techniques in the layered, glazing style. And as a side note, his recommendation for the Designers' Round Sceptre Gold II brush was incredibly helpful. I hesitated to buy yet another brush, but was getting really sloppy results from the small round brushes I already owned. This brush allowed me to get the fine lines I was shooting for with relative ease, and I'd highly recommend it as well for really fine lines with good flow.

As I look over my painting, some things stand out as areas that could use further study (on a different painting):
  • my trees are too solid in mass, although I'm happy with the color
  • my brushwork on the natural elements (trees and grasses) is smoother/softer than I'd like and I want to work on more varied and slightly more expressive marks
  • the color intensity of the distant hills and buildings is too high and would be better if the color were more subtle, and values were lighter
  • the texture from the molding paste in the foreground is too subtle and I'd like it to be more textured and more varied
I love the layering of colors and how it builds depth and interest, especially in the foreground and trees. And when we added in the fine lines representing the tree trunks I was floored by how much that little element pulled that area together.

I don't love the texture of this illustration board I used. It's smooth enough that the brushstrokes I don't want to show (like with the glazing layers) are visible, and the strokes I want to stand out (like the textured grasses) are too subtle. 

Now that I've gone through the class all the way, I want to jot down the basic steps and do another landscape on my own to see if I can put the principles and techniques into practice without the guidance of the instructor. I also need to do some color mixing exercises — Bennett does a great job of talking through his color mixes, but I was using a slightly different set of colors and had trouble achieving the same mixes, even though it should be possible with the set I have. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Acrylic landscapes class project with opaque layers

For this step in the class project we added details in opaque acrylic paints, building up a sense of depth and form in the different planes of the scene.

Daily Art 07-15-2018 opaque painted layer for Acrylic Landscapes class with Bennett Vadnais

We also did a little more with glazes, like in the sky. I'm not sure if I'm just getting used to doing a glaze wash or if my large wash brush is too cheap, but I get a lot of lines happening. The brush dries enough to split apart at the end like a fork, which makes me think it's just not holding enough water and paint for a wash.

But I don't particularly like doing skies anyway, so I'm not too concerned at this point. I'd like to do some landscapes that are more like 2/3 land, 1/3 sky because to me the land elements are a lot more fun to create.

The next step is more details in the architectural elements.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Acrylic landscapes class project with initial glazes

I could see getting hooked on glazing layers! It's a little magical when you go from the grey underpainting to this initial glazing step. In the class, Bennett starts with a cool sky glaze and then moves to a warm glaze of the land and trees. Then back into the sky to add warmth near the horizon.

Daily Art 07-14-2018 initial glaze layers for Acrylic Landscapes class with Bennett Vadnais
Warm and cool glazes applied to the grey underpainting

I can see that my texture layer using the molding paste could have been more textural and brush-strokey. Mine is a little flat and not giving the impact I was hoping for. Luckily I have an entire tub for further experimentation.

The sky was tricky! The blue wash went on fine, but going back and adding the warm glaze was really dicey. I'm really curious how this glazing would go on canvas as opposed to the illustration board I'm using here. It got really smooth after applying the isolation coat. I definitely could use some further experimentation with the Golden Glazing Liquid I'm using.

It's so cool how much the painting is changing with these glazing layers. And I'm enjoying the way it's done in stages, so I don't have to commit an entire morning or day to the painting. It's a nice option to be able to intersperse a project like this among other projects like direct paintings.

Next up will be opaque color, dry brushing, and further glazing.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sketching a cow, two ways

I found Dianne Mize's video lessons 4 Steps to Skillful Drawing and Understanding Shadows so helpful that I bought another one: Gesture Drawing Explained. It provides another perspective on drawing and a way to draw faster. I like this because I want the option to not labor over a preliminary drawing before beginning to paint.

I really liked this lesson! To try it out, I picked out a simple still life of garlic and actually said out loud the way the lines in the subject were moving, and was shocked to find that my gesture sketch looked remarkably like the subject. It only took a couple of minutes and I was able to convincingly capture the feeling of the garlic.

I tried it out again on a more complex photo, one that Dianne provides on her site of a little boy in a zippered jacket. It was an image I've been skipping over with my other sketching sessions because it was intimidating to me, but I just started in using her gesture techniques and it was actually really fun. The whole business of giving the left brain something to do while the right brain draws what I see is so key for me since I'm an analytical, logical person by nature. Such a simple solution with profound effects.

For this sketching session using a cow image as reference, I started out by doing a gesture study and then next to it did a more classical approach of blocking in with angular strokes (basically steps 1-3 of the 4 Steps to Skillful Drawing lesson).

Daily Art 07-12-2018 gesture sketch and 4-step sketch of a cow

What I found was that by starting with the gesture study, it was a good way to warm up and also a good way to get me to slow down and really look at where things were aligning and which way they were moving. I didn't measure with my pencil, just tried to carefully observe what I was seeing. Then when I did the angular block-in I measured with my pencil, and was surprised to see that the gesture study wasn't far off. And actually the proportions were more accurate the first time around on the gesture, but on the second sketch I had to check my measurements and move the chest/legs up.

I'm grateful for Dianne's lessons and am happy to see these two techniques working so well together!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Small, but big, painting study

Daily Art 07-10-2018 painted bird figurine study

I love following along with drawing and painting classes — partially because learning things is huge for me, but also because when someone else has mapped something all out for your it's easier to get started and move forward. But for me it can be a way to procrastinate on the important process of finding my own path.

While I get familiar with painting in acrylics and explore what the medium has to offer, I've been hesitant to paint out something on my own. So it felt like a big step forward when this little study spontaneously happened.

I was mainly looking for a way to play around with some paints sitting in my DIY stay-wet palette box while my landscape project was drying. I sat down at my easel with a practice canvas, picked up my big new filbert, and jumped in by roughly toning the canvas with a mix of yellow ochre, black, and white. Trying to figure out what to do next, it occurred to me that I could actually…paint something.

Using a black & white photo I had taken of this bird figurine as reference, I jumped in by sketching with a small filbert directly on the canvas instead of drawing it out with a pencil first. I tried to keep a whole bunch of things in mind as I painted, like edges, areas in light and shadow, reflected light, values, and brushwork. I experienced that moment where I had to just make myself put the brush down, because it would have been easy to keep fussing with it and undo the parts I actually liked.

Working with the limited palette of black, white, and yellow ochre was awesome. It helped remove some of the decision making regarding what color to use, and got me to focus more on values and all of the other things I'm learning about. I see why instructors recommend it as a starting place.

From several feet back, there's a really nice value composition going on with this subject. I could see exploring more treatments with this reference image!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Acrylic Landscapes class with Bennett Vadnais

This week I'm working through the Acrylic Landscape Painting class with Bennett Vadnais and I'm loving it so much. I'm almost finished with the monochromatic underpainting, just a few little adjustments to make before starting the glazing step.

Daily Art 07-09-2018 initial underpainting for Acrylic Landscapes class with Bennett Vadnais
My underpainting, with the class reference images taped to my board and easel

It's so great that he provided his final underpainting image as reference, because he took it further than the demo painting. The texture he added to the tree and foreground add so much interest to it, and I wanted mine to capture that as well. It's also good reference for where the final values ended up in the underpainting.

The natural elements like the trees and grasses are a lot of fun to me, but not the architectural elements so much. I initially painted in the thin electrical poles scattered in the background but they were such a bummer that I painted over them. I'm going to try finishing it without them to save my sanity.

Next, before glazing, I'll add some texture to the foreground with some molding paste. I hope I like using it! The art store only had it in 32-oz jars, so there's enough in my supplies stash for about six thousand paintings like this. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Graphite drawing of a little piggy

In addition to Dianne Mize's video lesson 4 Steps to Skillful Drawing, I purchased her lesson Understanding Shadows. My goal is to get much more adept at locating the areas of a subject that are in shadow. This lesson did a pretty good job of providing direction there, but an even better job at explaining the parts of areas in shadow. I've seen the sphere drawing a million times (and even did a value shading exercise of it) but it's different when you put it into practice on a different subject.

The way she walks through the elements of shadow and how to think about the values present in shadow is excellent, and I definitely have a deeper comprehension of how to approach shading those areas. Her method for looking at shadow areas as deep, moderate, shallow, and core give a good framework for keeping things relative to each other. It's like defining the extreme ends of shadow shapes and then filling them in according to what you're seeing.

Daily Art 07-08-2018 graphite drawing of little pig
Graphite drawing based on this reference image

By understanding the parts of shadows better, it's easier to hit those dark areas more accurately and give the drawing a more realistic sense. I drew this little piggy using what I learned from both lessons and even though it took me awhile, I'm really pleased with how it turned out. Although I do think the shadow value wash is too dark, making a really abrupt transition into light. Using a harder lead might have helped with controlling that.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Brushing up on drawing skills

During the process of relocating to North Carolina, I let my drawing skills get rusty. And it's been bugging me so much! I finally decided to buy 4 Steps to Skillful Drawing, a video course by Dianne Mize, to help me brush up on my skills. I also figured she's so full of knowledge about painting and drawing that there would surely be some good information put in a way that I hadn't heard before.

Daily Art 07-06-2018 graphite drawing of yellow bell pepper based on Dianne Mize 4 Steps to Skillful Drawing

And I was not disappointed! Just in the first few minutes she gave advice on how to move around the drawing that will help me keep my drawing in proportion better. My goal is less about drawing with graphite on paper, and more about being able to quickly and accurately place my subject on a canvas in order to paint. Using the first few principles she goes through in this lesson will help with that (especially basic placement of shapes and location of shadow shapes), even though it's ultimately a different medium. By practicing these steps I'll develop a better sense for actually seeing the subject.

The shapes in my drawing are fairly accurate compared with the reference photo, except for the cut end of the stem. I didn't look at the angles and negative spaces around that shape well enough. But otherwise I'm happy with how it turned out.

Another thing I appreciated about this lesson is Dianne's reminder that even the masters didn't get all of their lines placed accurately the first time. It's easy when viewing demos to think that the pros nail it on the first try, and feel bad for not being able to do that. It's one of the reasons I love her as an instructor.