Saturday, March 15, 2014

What do you see in your blobs?

One of the artists I admire and whose blog I've been following for some time is Karen Blados.  I was first drawn years ago to her precisely-drawn sketchbook pages, but in recent months I've noticed an evolution in her art.  Now I am seeing her be a lot more free with the paint, and it looks wonderful!  One particular post ("Kind of Controlled Chaos") gave me inspiration to try this for myself.  You start with paint blobs on your paper, then you construct a drawing in ink that is perhaps suggested and guided by the paint blobs themselves.  Then you further develop the painting with more paint and ink, all using your imagination as your guide (with a healthy dose of understanding where form shadows should go!).

I started with some paint blobs myself, using Permanent Rose and Opera Rose with touches of violet and yellow:

Though I would have loved to draw in cone flowers like Karen did in her work (I just love cone flowers!), that isn't what I saw in my blobs.  Instead I saw a different kind of flowers suggested by the blobs (I doubt these are real flowers!):

It was difficult for me to do this drawing based only on the blobs, because I am so used to using a live or photo reference.  But once that was done, then came the relatively easy part of deepening the colors and values on the flowers (and adding a leaf), then playing with a spatter for background:

This was freeing to do, though a bit of a stretch for me!  But fun because I could really amp up the color more than I might of if I had been using a real photo reference.  I recommend trying it!  What do you see in your blobs?

Visiting a Different Desert

We are back from a week in the deserts of California--a different, drier set of deserts than the relatively lush desert here in Tucson.  Since the mid-1990's we have occasionally enjoyed watching the professional tennis tournament at Indian Wells, now referred to as the BNP Paribas Open (it has been in previous years referred to as the Newsweek Champions Cup and the Pacific Life Open--it depends on who the sponsor is, I guess!).  So while there we often bookend our time watching tennis with camping and rock climbing at nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

What characterizes Joshua Tree NP the most in my mind are two unique features:  the gritty, fascinating (and fun to climb!) rock formations, and the Joshua trees the park is named after.  There are also palm tree oases in the park, but we don't often make to those areas as we focus mostly on the rock climbing.

Of course, while there I found many interesting sketch subjects!  My husband was very gracious in allowing me ample time to do this, usually in the mornings and evenings when the light is the best (and it's a bit too cold to rock climb!).  In the image at right, I started drawing the grouping of young Joshua trees just before dawn so by the time the sun rose over Ryan Mountain I was ready to paint the sunrise glow.  I then turned myself around to face the rock formation behind our camp, fully lit by the early morning sun.

While at the tennis tournament at Indian Wells I spent most of my time watching tennis, but I did manage to get a few sketches in too.  This year saw the unveiling of the new Stadium 2 facility, and while sitting in the stands one morning I sketched a portion of my view across the way.

Those familiar with the desert know that the nights can be quite chilly, even this close to spring.  I photographed my husband (in his down jacket) enjoying our nightly campfire.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It's Okay to Fail

The weather was great outside so I thought I'd go out to our backyard spa yesterday afternoon to sketch it, since one of the things going on these days is our search for a replacement spa cover.  I approached drawing this with a somewhat cavalier's just a 4-sided spa, how difficult can it be?  And I held up my viewfinder and started pen.

As you can see from the version on the left page, it didn't turn out so well!  Oops.  It's funny how the mind has trouble seeing what is actually there when it thinks it "knows" how it should be.  My mind tricked me!

So I realized that this attempt could not be salvaged, so I decided to leave it (as a cautionary tale) and start again.  Now that I realized that my brain can trick me, I took the drawing task more carefully, using pencil to mark cross-hair guidelines, dots of the corners of the spa, etc.  When I was sure I had the proportions relatively correct, I then drew in ink.  Much better.

It's okay to fail.  Sure, it's easy to regard it as a blemish in my book, but it teaches me something (that the mind can make assumptions about shapes and angles when I draw something, and I need to pay attention), and that is even more valuable than a perfect drawing!

Roz Stendhal recently had a blog post that is very relevant to my experience here:  Go Ahead and Fail Today.  In it she links to a wonderful video of Milton Glaser talking to us about the fear of failure.  If you are always successful, you do not develop in your endeavor, period!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dealing with the challenges of Perspective

I want to share with you a drawing challenge I dealt with in today's journal entry--that of the challenges of perspective! 

Yesterday I was at a lovely outdoor mall and photographed an arched corridor that really caught my eye, both because of the vanishing point perspective, and also the wonderful light and shadows I saw (see below for a B&W version of the photo I took). 

I was really struggling with even being able to get my mind to SEE the key vanishing point lines, let alone draw them. I finally gave up, printed out my photo and put tracing paper over the photo and drew the key element lines, including some diagonal vanishing point lines (see below). 

Okay, NOW I can see better what is going on. I was then able to pencil in the pots and archways into my sketchbook, looking at the *traced* drawing rather than the confusing photograph, and I was able to do a much better job. I also put the tracing paper over my journal drawing from time to time to check my work. 

When satisfied, I inked in the drawing--what you see at the top. I will paint it tomorrow. I imagine many of you know how to deal with challenging perspective subjects, but this really taxed my brain!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Keeping Three Concurrent Art Journals

Ostrich in my everyday Artist's Journal
In your sketch practice do you like to keep just one sketchbook going or do you like to work in multiple sketchbooks at a time?

Inspired by Cathy Johnson's preference expressed in her wonderful book Artist Journal Workshop, I have been trying to get myself to keep just one journal going at a time.  What a lovely idea, everything drawn and written going into one book, a literal chronological journal of your life.

But as much as I've tried, I just can't seem to do that.

I just can't get over the tendency to let the paper inside the journal steer the content of that journal.  If I am just wanting to get some drawing practice in, or work out in pencil some ideas for this day's entry into my artist journal, why use watercolor paper to do it?  If I want to get some watercolor painting practice, it's much more enjoyable to use real artist-quality watercolor paper.  Between these two extremes is a basic desire to keep and maintain a daily illustrated journal of my life, or where I go, what I see, what I do, what I experience--the Artist's Journal.

I am finally coming to the understanding that for me, this means keeping (at least) three journals at the same time:

1.  The Junk Journal:  This is a sketchbook that contains sketch-quality paper (usually 65lb), where I feel free to get drawing practice, work out ideas, doodle...whatever.  It is also a place where I can feel free to get drawing practice by using copyright-protected photos from books, magazines, or the Internet, because this is not a book that is "mine", but merely a safe place to practice.  I learned about Junk Journals by reading Laure Ferlita's blog, and as far as I know she is the originator of the term.  I have decided for this I like to use a Canson Universal Sketch spiral-bound, because the paper can actually take wet watercolor washes without deteriorating or puckering the paper too badly.  To do the ostrich sketch above, I first practiced drawing the face in my Junk Journal to get a better understanding of it (using my photos at the ostrich farm at Picacho Peak as reference):

2.  The Artist's Journal:  This is my primary everyday journal, the one inspired by Cathy Johnson's book.  This is the one meant to provide a chronology of my life and interests, the book I will use to sketch in when I am on location or traveling, and the book I have fun and enjoy playing in.  In choosing the book to use, I have to have paper that will take pen-work well and handle watercolors "good enough" without frustration.  I have been keeping one of these types of journals for two years now, and I while I enjoy the Stillman & Birn sketchooks (and the Strathmore Mixed Media and Moleskine Watercolor), I think I might prefer my homemade coptic-bound books with student-quality watercolor paper (Strathmore 400 140lb cold press or Strathmore Aquarius II).  Another recent entry into my Artist's Journal (currently a Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook):

3.  The Watercolor Painting book:  After watercolor painting on less-than-ideal sketchbook paper exclusively for over two years now, I find that I am getting a bit hungry to get more time in painting on "real" artist-grade watercolor paper.  I recently tore up a couple full sheets of my Arches 140lb paper into 7x10" size and had it spiral-bound at Stables.  I am hoping working in a book like this will help me get better at more "fine art" watercolor painting efforts.  Why in a book?  Well, way back when, when I was doing only watercolor paintings, my stack of loose watercolor paintings in the closet was becoming larger than I could manage.  To me, putting the paintings into a book feels right, feels contained.  But I am already finding that working real paintings in an already bound book has it's limitations (can't tape down the sheet to a board to make sure it dries flat, for one), so once I finish this particular book, I think I will work in loose sheets first, then bind the finished paintings into a book.  Here is the first entry into this Arches paper book, from a photo I took during our 2009 trip to Alaska:

So, because of my particular needs, right now it feels right to keep 3 concurrent art journals.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Settling in on a Favorite Sketch Subject

On November 9th, 2011 I purchased my first watercolor sketchbook, embarking on a wonderful adventure of keeping a daily artist's journal.  The experience of doing this for the past two years has taught me so much!  I've gained so much more confidence in my drawing skills, thanks in no small part to Brenda Swenson's 75-Day Sketch Challenge, but also to the fact that I've kept up with daily drawing for all the time since.  I've joined up with wonderful online groups on Facebook, and even became a part of our local artist group, the Sketchbook Artistry Guild, which is wonderful.

My sketch subjects have run the gamut of all possibility, from natural to man-made.  I've danced with the Everyday Matters movement started by Danny Gregory, as well as the Urban Sketchers movement started by Gabriel Campanario, both hugely popular and growing.  I've relaxed in the nurturing warmth of Cathy Johnson's warm and welcoming Artist Journal Workshop community, where any sketch subject or sketching method is enthusiastically supported.  It is all fun and wonderful.  I love to sketch all the subjects, from the band-aids I have to use as a result of my skin cancer surgery to the vast scenic landscapes I encounter in my travels, it's all good.

However, I have recently come to the realization that of all the subjects I have tackled in the last two years, I
find I get the most satisfaction from my sketches of living creatures.  It took me about a year to have the confidence to approach such subjects, but when I look back on my sketches, these are the ones I feel the most proud of.  I love animals, fascinated with them, really, and in trying to draw and sketch them I love to try and capture their character and color.  They are just enough of a challenge to make them an interesting and fun subject.

So knowing this about myself, that I get a special pleasure from sketching animals, I feel kind of settled and free to pursue it more!  I can channel my focus in this direction, and hopefully get better at it!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Painting Animal Portraits from Photographs

In one of the Facebook artist groups I belong to they asked anyone who is experienced in drawing and painting live creatures to write an article about their process.  As I have some experience photographing and painting pet portraits, I answered the call with this article:  Painting Animal Portraits from Photographs.pdf.  I hope you find it useful!