Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Merging - Organizing - New Page Tabs

When I first started this blog, it was a place to share my art journey with friends and fellow artists. Over the past few years, my writings have evolved into numerous articles about drawing tips and techniques that were posted in a second blog

The time has come to consolidate and organize my works in progress, articles and tips/techniques into one central spot. As my first step, I merged an number of posts from the other blog into this one.
After todays released publication of these articles, look for updates on a new Page Tab that will feature a Table of Contents organizing article links by topic.

I hope you take this opportunity to revisit some of my work and musings in the republishing of these posts. I plan on expanding drawing topics and continuing to add new articles ranging from drawing basics to more advanced artistic techniques.

I look forward to your comments and contributions.


The Why Factor

Original Post: 11/13/2010

The Why Factor – Motivation, Inspiration and Direction

The artist's journey

Before anything is ever put on paper, our artwork is born from an idea or thought. This may be something that suddenly springs into our mind, or it could lie dormant or brooding for years just under the radar - culminating, transforming and perhaps emerging once it finds an avenue or our skill/mindset is ready.

Sometimes we don't have an answer, but we should try to have some meaning to our creative endeavors. Understanding where we are, where we want to go and how we are going to get there gives us purpose and direction. When we find ourselves losing interest or wandering we should re-evaluate our artistic path, re-adjust and regroup. This is evident when we see artist's using themes, various mediums or periods of realism/abstraction. Their artwork seems to follow a path or evolve....this is the evolution of an artist's journey.

The artwork

Each individual piece of artwork should also have a purpose. Mike Sibley uses the term “the Why factor” in his book "Drawing from Line to Life" .  He continues by asking the reader "Why are you about to begin this drawing? ...What are you going to say?"

All too often we hear an artist give a brush-off excuse of “it's just a commission” or “I like the picture”. We should challenge ourselves to so much more! Even if it is a commission, you can still push it to “SAY SOMETHING”.

If you don't take the time to understand the motivation behind your drawing, you are in danger of creating a lifeless, photocopy of an image.

So here are some questions to ask...

What is motivating me to draw this?

Is it following my overall goal?

Or is it a sideline or different path that I want to follow? (that's okay too)

What do I want to say?

How do I want to say it?

What do I want to emphasize, exaggerate, express?

What approach do I want to take?  i.e. bold, subtle, realistic, dramatic, abstract.

What composition layout will best tell my story?

How do you approach your creative process?  What do you ask yourself?  Have you even thought of this?  Where are you on your journey?

If you are interested in joining Mike and others in conversational topics such as this come join the Yahoo group:


The Importance of Sketching

Original Post: 9/26/2010
When I'm not working on a 'full-sized' drawing, I am sketching.    Sketching provides the opportunity to
  •  explore your subject matter and medium
  •  exercise and stretch your skills
  •  test out new techniques
  •  explore textures, compositions, lighting effects
Sometimes sketches are indeciferable to any one but the artist, nothing more than scribbles.  Other times, they can become a finished artwork.  But most of the time, sketches are just snippets of thoughts or an impression of an idea. 
For an artist, sketching is the most uninhibited and free-est expressive moment possible.  Sketching is an artform in itself and give the viewer insight into the soul of the artist.

Shaded Darkness

Original Post: 1/11/2011

I've been working on adding mood to my sketches.  This is a sketch capturing the mood of shady darkness under a tree - respite from the stark sunshine.  The composition is playing with contrast of sharp and diffused edges and placement of sky holes.    There are impression of roots amongst the textured grass by bold lines.   
Sketches can release artistic freedom to self expression and experimentation.  Sometimes they hold the key to unlock creative avenues and glimpses of future possibilities.   This sketch is bold in many ways that is new and exciting.  The energy needs to be harnessed and nurtured. 


Original Post: 11/24/2010

Here are a series of sketches created over the past few weeks. Some of these may be the start of an idea for a full-sized drawing, some are working out composition, some are just practicing and some are working out textures.




Using Reference Photos

Original Post 11/13/2010

Here are my responses to questions regarding the use of reference photos.

How do you use reference photos?
  • Inspiration?

  • to work out a story or idea?

  • to identify technical accuracy of an object?
Yes, yes and yes.  I have thousands of photos that I have taken myself, photos taken by others and photos downloaded from the internet.  I use them for inspiration ALOT!  
Recently, my son hiked and took lots of photos of Yosemite.  I have researched the area on the internet and while I might personally haven't visited the area, I feel like I've walked those trails.  Can I make believable drawings of places I have never been to?  Well, I think I can. 
By drawing upon experiences of places I have visited and researching and understanding the terrain of the area, there is no reason why I can't produce just as dynamic and believable scene. 
Now there is nothing that beats first hand experience, but in my situation, photos are an acceptable alternative.  And I've been able to experience visiting beautiful landscapes through my pencil.

Has your use of photos changed over the years? Explain.
Absolutely.  I was a slave to photos when I first started.  If it wasn't in the photo, it didn't exist.  If the angle was skewed in the photo, the angle was skewed in my drawing.  This is an inherent flaw to using photos and when be avoided.

I'm now weening myself away from the dependency of photos being "the absolute".  With deliberate and conscious decisions, I'm deviating from them.  (With a mixture of good results and horrible results - but creative freedom none the less.)

“Reference and imagination are partners. It's important not be a slave to either.” Robert Genn
I really like Robert Genn's phrase.  Here is my take on it.  "Too much reference and the work is lifeless, too much imagination and the work is lifeless.  A healthy combination of both....creates a work of art."

ArtgraphicA - Online Tutorial Resource

Original Post: 11/13/2010

Gavin has updated his website and is a resource for some of the best on-line tutorials available.  

He also has posted in full HTML format, one of my all time favorite classic books on trees Artistic Anatomy of Trees by Rex Vicat Cole along with other classics.

Take some time to visit his site....well worth the visit.

Chisel Point

Original Post: 10/14/2010

The most versatile pencil point is the chisel point. The top sharp edge can be used for finer markings, details and creating fine lines. The flat angled plane can be used for shading.

To easily create the chisel point:

a) sharpen the pencil
b) hold the pencil at an angle
c) lightly scrub the tip on fine sandpaper

Fern Sketch - Negative Drawing

Original Post: 7/31/2010

Ferns. I love them, they are rich in texture and would be a great addition to wooded scenes. They've been elluding my pencil though. In Mike's book "Drawing From Line to Life", he suggests disengaging the subject by drawing the space around it, or what is called negative drawing.

So I ignored the leaves, focused on the dark spaces between the leaves. I also did not outline anything, again the focus on only tonal shapes "between the leaves".

This is so exciting!!!! Ferns appeared for the first time on my paper! Very fresh, spontaneous and organic.

Here is the small incomplete sketch, but expresses a major step closer to the negative world.


Original Post: 7/25/2010

What's your favorite sketchbook? Bound, spiral, hand made, hybrid?
I guess mine is a hybrid. I have tried hard bound, spiral, moleskins. The biggest problems I have with any of them is the paper quality. So I've created my own using Rollabind (see attached image of my sketchbooks.)
There are a number of advantages.

  • They lay flat.
  • I can interchange any kind of paper, writing, smooth, rough, watercolor paper.
  • I can remove a page, scan it, and put it back in.
  • I can archive them to another book. I can add my writings and sketches together in the same book.
  • The rollabinds keep the paper snug so there is little smearing like the spirals cause.


What is the size of your sketchbook?
I have two now...5x7 and 9x11 (holds 8-1/2 x 11" paper)

What's your favorite pencil/pen you use when sketching?

2B .5 mm mechanical pencil

Do you carry a sketchbook with you all the time?

Depends on what I'm working on. If I'm trying out an idea or technique, I'll carry it otherwise I can go weeks without carrying one.

Do you have a mobile sketch kit? What's included?

I've got one that I made about 3 years ago. The moleskin is about 1/2 full. When I feel like dabbling in color, I get it out. Then I remember how bad I am at color and it gets tucked away again!

How often do you sketch? Daily, weekly, never?

A couple times a week. Usually when I'm too tired to focus on my drawing, I'll doodle or sketch.

Why do you sketch?

Work out ideas, techniques, compositions.

What do you put in your sketchbook?

Sketches of landscapes, rocks, parts of trees, notes about topics for this group, ideas, shopping lists, scribbles and ramblings....

Do you keep your sketchbooks?

I keep the best ones. The rest are pitched.

Do you keep doodles in your sketchbooks?

Way too many doodles!! But they seem to clear the wandering mind.

Do you ever throw away or erase sketches?

Yes....garbage gets full of them....

How about some scans of sketchbook work?

My sketchblog is full of them...

Gesture Drawing

Original Post: 6/12/2010

When I took life drawing class back in college, gesture drawing was used as a warm up exercise. That's a pretty short-sited approach to take. The definition of gesture drawing is to capture the energy and movement of the subject matter - or to capture the essence of the pose. While gesture drawing is typically used in figure drawing, I see no reason why I can't use the same approach with still lifes or landscapes.

I've been reading Walt Stanchfield' s book "Drawn to Life". He must have been a very enthusiastic and vibrant individual because it really comes across in his writings and his drawings. Here are a few gesture drawing tips I've gleamed from his book:

1. Use a fountain or pen & ink. Use cheap paper so you have no hesitancy to do lots of renderings.

2. Exaggerate the pose. if the body is leaning over, lean it "more". This creates more drama and 'essence' of the pose.

3. Try the pose yourself. Feel the shift of the shoulders, the weight on one leg, the position of the hips, the stretch of an arm. This will help you "feel" the pose and understand what the muscles are doing.

4. Always include the hands and feet in the gesture drawing. They are the most expressive parts!

5. Work to capture the weight of the body. (If the head is leaning against a hand, make sure the "weight" of the head is apparent in the hand. The position of the arm to head is important.)

6. Action, reaction. Squash and stretch. If the body is bent over, the back stretches and the stomach squashes. If the leg bends, the front of the knee stretches and the back of the knee squashes. In every movement there is an action/reaction.

5. Clothes will react in a like manner (squash and stretch) and will enhance the gesture. Manipulation of the wrinkles, lumps, bulges, folds, seams will enhance the gesture. "A real solid, expressive, sparkly drawing in one where the clothing is doing what the body is causing it to do."

7. A pose is always doing an action, even sitting.

8. Avoid tangents. (Lines meeting at the same point. It's the death to depth. (I'll address this later with examples)

9. Draw with verbs not nouns. Add adverbs for drama. (Example: Don't just draw the body part...arm, elbow, hair. Instead portray a woman "bending" over, "stretching" her arms to dry her "wet" hair.)

10. Gesture drawing will solidify your understanding of the pose. You can work out the pose, modify, elaborate, change it to 'tell' your story more effectively. Better planning before you start your portrait.

Gesture drawings can range from capturing the mass of the figure, to contours, to simple stick figures. The purpose is to capture the essence of the pose.

You can see in my drawings that I've repeated a pose several times. They go from fairly detailed gestures to simple stick figures. Each one trying to understand the pose.

So how can gesture drawing help you draw realistically?

Just think of the powerful impact of understanding anatomy and applying creative energy/essence of gesture drawing on your drawings. Your portraits will come 'alive' on the paper!

Drawing the Figure

Original Post: 5/31/2010

The human figure is a complex form, combining skeletal and muscular components. By breaking the components down into simple geometrical shapes, it's easier to capture the general form. Arms and legs are cyclinders, the elbows, shoulders and knees spheres, the area between the shoulders are a triangle.

Drawing through the form helps to identify the 3-dimensionality of the body part.
The ideal figure proportion is approximately 8 heads tall. Balance, symetry, flow and movement should all be considered.

These sketches are studies derived from Robert Barrett's book "Life Drawing".

Drawing Hands

Original Post: 5/16/2010

Andrew Loomis is my instructor this morning. I've attached a couple of pages of sketches working through his illustrations.

Hands are not as intimidating as they look once you understand the basics. The hand is two units in length with the center being just above the knuckles. An arch or curved arrangement of the fingers and knuckles are key. (A common mistake is to draw the knuckles in a straight line.)

The palm of the hand is all pads with the center of the palm hollow. The back of the hand is all tendons.

I hope you all have a chance to practice!!! Everyday that I freehand sketch gets a little easier. Using guides of measurement and using basic shapes to block in an object is helpful. Once I get the proportions correct, then I start to work in the details.

Drawing the Head

Original Post: 4/18/2010

How do we put all these features - the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, cheeks, chin, eyebrows, each so uniquely different - into a harmonious and unified "HEAD"?

Thank goodness the head can be reduced into general proportions to help us guide the placement of the features. I've attached a simplistic diagram to outline these guidelines.

Drawing the head at various angles adds interest to our composition. It also adds complexity as well. Understanding how to apply perspective can help you immensely in getting the head to look correctly.

Giovanni Civardi's "The Art of Drawing Portraits" has some very good exercises to try. I have attached my first attempts at drawing the head in various angles using his illustrations.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to actually put your pencil to paper and try these exercises! It is one thing to read and visually understand the concepts. By taking the time to practice brings a whole new level of understanding and solidifies these principles.

I've been wanting to get to this portion of our studies for a long time as the head/body have illuded me long enough! I have a very personal goal in mind and these are only the first of many tries and studies that I want to explore. My goal is to learn how to effectively draw the figure so I can start including them in my drawings and add urban landscapes to my collections.

Drawing Hair

Original Post: 3/28/2010

The best starting point to drawing hair - is to draw a lock of hair. And the best reference to learn how to draw hair is Mike Sibley's book "Drawing Line to Life".
Creating a natural highlight by lifting the pencil:
Use a sharp point of a harder lead (HB or harder) and smooth paper (with no texture). Practice creating strokes pressing hard on one end and lifting as you get to the center. This will create a 'natural highlight' in the center.
Creating a highlight using blu-tack eraser:
Roll a small piece of blu-tack into a cylinder. Roll the eraser over the center of the drawn hair. This will gently lift the graphite off, leaving the pencil strokes behind. (See the actual pencil lines of graphite on the eraser.)

Pencil Grip

Original Post: 3/21/2010

If you find yourself using a 'death-grip' on your pencil or your pencil strokes are tight, try holding your pencil under-handed with the back of the pencil resting on your little finger. Do not flex at the wrist but create your pencil stroke using your whole arm. Also do not rest your hand on the paper.

It takes a bit practice to learn to control your pencil stroke, but it's much more fluid than the writing position. Anytime you find yourself tightening or using the death grip on your pencil, force yourself to change the position to under hand.

Drawing the Ear

Original Post: 3/14/2010

The EAR.

In portraiture, the ear creates a sense a balance and overall continuity to the entire head. The placement and correct position of the ears seems to be more a challenge than rendering the actual details. The base of the nostrils should align with the base of the ear and the length of the nose should coincide with the length of the ear. When viewing the head on the side (profile) view, the ear is angled back and is about halfway between the back of the head the front of the facial plane.

The ears are very different from the rest of the facial features, not only are their shape different but the skin and texture are totally different as well. The ears are made of cartlidge and the structure is designed to channel sounds into the inner ear. The interlocking folds of the ear help to channel these waves. While these folds vary on each individual, learning the general parts of the ear will make identifying them much easier.

I like to think of parts of the ears as folds of satin or silk cloth. As you draw these folds, identify and apply the seven components of light and shade. Highlights, shadows, cast and contact shadows, core shadows, key highlights and reflected light.

I've attached an anatomical map of the ear along with a sketch and blended rendering of the ear.

Drawing the Mouth

Original Post: 2/28/2010

The mouth is a close second to the eyes as the most expressive feature of the face. Learning from masters as Andrew Loomis and Giovanni Civardi really helps. Here are a number of sketches from their instruction references.

Stan Prokopenko has a wonderful tutorial on drawing lips.
Here is my realistic attempt using his references.

Emphasizing the planes or curvatures of the lips will help with creating really 3-dimensionality. How light plays off the curves will bring more depth to them. You can "feel" the fullness of the form. The shadows under the bottom lip are as important as the lips themselves to create the illusion that the lip is not a flat surface.

One more item that I didn't understand or realize the importance of, the node. Stan's tutorial explains how the muscles of the face all connect to the corners of the mouth. This is called the node and he compares it to a bean. By emphasizing the wrapping of the muscles around the corners of the mouth can bring the smile to life and depth to the cheeks.

Drawing the Nose - Part One

Original Post: 2/13/2010

The nose is the most undefined of all facial features. It relys on shadows, angles and planes to create it's form. So understanding the structure under the skin is important to really grasp how to draw the nose.

As you can see below the cartlidge bulges and wraps itself around the nasal bone. This is what creates the shape of the nose. Looking at these images is not enough....every artist should take some time to sketch and practice these shapes.

Drawing different angles of the nose allows the artist to experience how lighting and perspective impacts the presentation. Here are a few sketches:

Drawing the Nose - Part Two

Original Post: 2/21/2010

In part one, we discussed the sub-structure, planes and general form of the nose. In this section we will explore the most important tool that will assist us in creating realism – depicting light and shadow.

There are 5 key components of light and shadow. By translating these components into tonal values of shading and highlights it will create realistic depth to the nose.

The light source has the strongest impact on the nose than on any other facial feature. If the light is too strong or harsh, it will create strong cast shadows and unusual shapes. If the light is flooded (using a flash in front of the person), the light diffuses shadows and the nose has no form. A natural (northern light) from above at a 45 degree angle creates soft subtle shadows and emphasizes the best features for portraits.
For more examples of portrait lighting and choosing a good photo reference:

Giovanni Civardi’s “The Art of Drawing Portraits” page 30

Stan Prokopenko’s Blog Tutorial

Shading Techniques

Original Post: 2/11/2010

Let's talk about shading....

By using various pencil strokes and varying the pressure and grade (hard to soft) of the pencil lead, you can create a variety of effects in your drawings. One of the most important aspects is creating smooth, gradient shading. Here are a few exercises and techniques that can help.

Exercise 1 (Shading - left half of image below)
Use a 4B, 2B, HB, 2H and 4H and shade from dark to light - keep your shading as consistent and even to create a smooth gradient or transition.

Exercise 2 (Shading - right half of image below)
Start with a 4B and shade one third of the way down, then use HB and shade two-thirds of the way down (shading over the 4B). Then finally shade with 4H over both the 4B, HB and the rest of the section.

Exercise 3 (GrayScale)
Start with the softest lead you have (4B) and shade the blocks into smooth gradient from darkest to lightest. See how many blocks of distinct grays you can make. This shows 18 but the average used in a drawing are between 4-8 shades.

Exercise 4 (Pencil Strokes)
You can create gradient tones by varying the type of pencil stroke you use. This sample shows 4 different pencil strokes:

Circular - small irregular circular strokes, layered over each other. This is especially effective if you don't want visible directional strokes.

Crosshatching - most commonly used - layering closely spaced hatch marks with each layer in a different direction. The more layers, the darker the value.

Scribbling - Make small, controlled scribbles. Increasing the pressure produces darker values. Layers of scribbles result in an even texture.

Additional techniques to create smooth even tones:

Blending - for a smooth blended texture, create light cross-hatch layers, then wrap a tissue around your finger or use a tortillon (rolled paper) and use a light circular motion to blend the lines together.

Burnishing - For a smooth even tone, apply a harder lead over a softer lead. Apply an even layer of 2B and then use a chisel pointed lead of a harder grade (4H or 2H) and "burnish" over the 2B. This creates a beautiful middle tone that smooths out the graininess of the softer lead.

Drawing the Eyes

Original Post: 2/7/2010

Portraiture is not my strong point, so over the next few weeks I will be studying each feature of the face. The eyes demand attention in portraiture and capturing the key elements is crucial. The pupils and iris' need to be round, the highlights positioned just right, the eye needs to sit in the eye socket and the lids enveloping the spherical round shape.

Iowa Landscape

Original Post: 12/31/2009

Iowa has beautiful, graceful valleys that let you see into the distance forever.

Portland Head - Stormy

Original Post: 10/17/2009

This is a small sketch - 4x4" experimenting with graphite powder. It's messy but can be controlled to a point. I used a paint brush and paper towel to apply the powder. I then used my blu-tack eraser, white plastic eraser and battery operated eraser to pull out the whites.

Definitely some possibilities as it gives a very painterly feel to the graphite medium.

Seven Mile Creek

Original Post: 9/3/2009

Here is the finished work. I've added a bit more shadow to the eroded bank and adjusted some of the tones through out the drawing.

This is located in Yellowstone Canyon, Wyoming - Seven Mile Creek.

Here is my latest update.

Here is a glimpse of the next challenge I have imposed on myself.

A co-worker's son went hiking this spring in Wyoming and shared some of his photos with me. The reference photo is not the best so my first challenge is to just try to make sense of the scene.

I like most of the placement of rocks, water and the tree to the left but I wanted to change the composition from portrait to landscape. I've done some preliminary sketches to work out the general layout.

My second challenge is to create a pleasing tonal composition by ignoring the diffused lighting in the ref photo but making my own composition. I've started working on 'testing' out the tonal relationships but I'm a bit stuck on the eroded dirt bank. I'm not sure if I should go darker or lighter as this area is in the center of scene. The rocks are a bit too round and I think a few more sharper edges/planes will add more interest.

Yosemite - Winter

Original Post: 6/28/2009

A co-worker's son went hiking this spring. He shared some of his photos with me. This is a preliminary sketch from one of them. I really liked how the white snow contrasted against the gray sky. The silhouette of the foreground trees will add contrasting stark detail. The placement of the foreground trees will be critical.

Yosemite - New Growth

Original Post: 6/27/2009

This study is about layering and how each layer relates to each other. The clouds and the mountain ridge are lighter with just a bit of misty clouds between them and the foreground trees.


Original Post: 6/6/2009

I think this is as far as I will go with this sketch.

It definitely has some great potential for further exploration and variations of theme...moving the rocks and driftwood around a bit and stronger shadows.

This is Red Rock Lake in Iowa. The eroded bluffs are (30-50 feet high) due to the floods we had last summer.

Here is and close-up of the driftwood. The paper is 300 Series Bristol Vellum. It has a rougher texture than the smooth. I probably won't get much more detailed than this. Pencils used are 4B, 2B and HB leads. Size of the image is approximately 8" x 12".

Here is an update. I've been smoothing out some of the rough marks and developing volume in the rocks and the grain patterns into the driftwood.

EDGES - They are the artist's dream and nightmare rolled into one. If done correctly they add interest and tension to the artwork. Done poorly and the whole drawing can fall apart.

I would like to get your thoughts and input about handling EDGES.

I started this sketch of driftwood amongst rocks on a lakeshore. The center holds the juxtaposition and overlapping of three planes, the driftwood, the rocks and the background trees.

The way these three different objects interrelate are so important. The textures, shadows, placement and level of focus (details) are all things that need to considered.

I haven't successfully pulled this together yet in this drawing. Perhaps as I put these ideas down on paper it might help.

How do you handle edges?

When two objects are similar in tone, how do you differentiate between them without outlining?

What role does negative space play?