Sgraffito is an art technique that involves scratching through a layer of paint or other media to reveal a contrasting color beneath. Historical applications include painting, pottery, and glass, but the definition also applies to drawing media like scratch board, crayon and oil pastel etchings.
In this acrylic portrait of my conure I’ve used sgraffito to liven up the background. The process was simple: I put down a layer of paint, let it dry, then put on a thicker coat and used a pointed stick to scratch designs into it while it was still wet.
One outcome of twentieth century art – particularly Pop Art – was that the range of subject matter expanded far beyond the traditional landscape, portrait, and still life. Artists started taking a closer look at the mundane in their surroundings as though seeing those things for the first time. This is a useful concept in keeping a practice sketchbook in that it opens up an almost unlimited source of subject matter. The subjects of the two drawings above are examples. Sometimes finding a model is just a matter of seeing potential in the ordinary.
In the previous post, I mentioned the adult coloring craze that has inundated the leisure time activities market. I think that one of the main trends fueling that is the doodling craze started by the creators of Zentangles. In case you didn’t know, Zentangles are doodle algorythms that enable almost anyone to create beautiful patterns by repeating a series of steps. The original idea was for theraputic relaxation but soon people were creating these patterns and selling them for other people to color. I’ve seen them on color-it-yourself items from greeting cards to origami paper. You can download free doodle algorythms from online sites, attend doodling workshops, buy doodle pattern books, or create your own algorythms as I did in the composition above.
The thing is, the patterns many people are publishing now have always been around – in fabrics, wall papers, architectural accents – everywhere. You just have to look for them in your surroundings. When you find one you like, just reverse engineer it to find out it’s algorithm.
I personally like to use doodling as a standby sketchbook activity when I can’t find anything interesting to draw from observation. It’s also great for practicing pencil shading, filling in empty spaces in art journals, and entertaining small children.
Overlappage, the tie-dye resembling doodle below was created with an algorythm that children used years before algorythms became a thing. If you think back to your childhood you may remember several such things that were fads in elementary school. If you do, maybe you can make some money publishing them in coloring books.
As I mentioned in the previous post, drawing animals or anything in motion requires a quick action technique or gesture drawing. One way to practice this is to get a photo of an animal and use it as a model to create a series of eight or ten quick drawings. Be sure to do some warm-up scribbling first, work small, use a black ballpoint pen to get dark lines, and limit your time to ten or fifteen seconds per drawing. Try to keep your eye on the model and use free flowing lines to describe what you see. When you’re done, pick one of your drawings and enlarge it on a photocopier. That’s how I created Kat. Later I went back and tweaked the eyes, added the patterns inside the scribbles and colored a copy of it.
Recently I ran across this drawing in a file and realized that it resembled some of the material flooding the adult coloring book market. If you’re into that and you like my Kat, feel free to download a copy of it and color it any way you want.
I got the idea for this drawing exercize from a book called Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists by Carla Sonheim. It contains several other good ideas for loosening up and some creative ways to create finished products from your practice work. I highly recommend it.
The previous post was about taking a closer look at our surroundings in order to find subject matter for the sketch book. Whereas that post dealt with seeing potential in the ordinary, this one is about seeing detail. Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time- like to have a friend takes time.” The drawings above are about the practice of taking the time to see the smallest details. Details can be color, line, or any number of things. These are primarily about surface textures.
The ability to see and render texture in a convincing manner is key to realistic drawing and painting.
The obvious problem with drawing animals is that they will not pose on demand. So, unless you are working from a photo, you will need to be able to draw quickly. In the book On-The-Spot Drawing, artist Robert Frankenberg recommends starting with animals that are resting or asleep.
Once you’ve observed the subject in a few still drawings you can move on to putting down some quick lines to catch them in action. This technique is called gesture drawing. Its purpose to capture the action or essence of a subject by drawing rapidly. I usually try to capture the image with light gestural lines and then go back and add darker contour lines for more definition and detail.
There are some video tutorials online and many books that deal in depth with the subject gesture drawing, but here are a few basic principles to begin with: 1) It helps to first spend time closely observing a subject to see how it moves. 2) Begin each session with some warm-up scribbling to loosen up. 3) Work with a ballpoint pen to begin with so that you are not tempted to erase. There may be a few extraneous lines left over when you’re finished, but these add to the gestural feeling of the work. Be like Elsa and “Let it gooooo! Let it goooo0!” 4) Don’t be discouraged with your beginning results. Like playing a musical instrument, action drawing takes practice, and improvement comes with repetition.
In a previous post about on-the-spot drawing, I wrote about drawing while riding in a car. The drawings I posted were views of the passing scenery. However, you can also take the opportunity to sketch the people and things in the car with you. Here are a couple done from the back seat view point. Same person, same hat, different days.
On my next road trip maybe I’ll get some some good sketches of our dog. More about drawing animals in the next post.
Like the previous post this one is about drawing the effect of light and shadow outside. The light/dark contrast is greater in these drawings because they were done with a ballpoint pen instead of the #2 pencil lead used in the previous drawings. Pens are great for contrast, but the fact that you can’t erase makes them a bit trickier to use.
The thing is, the ability to erase can actually slow you down – especially if you are a perfectionist. This can be a problem when drawing outside due to the fact that the earth is rotating approximately one thousand mph. By the time you erase and redo just a few things, your light can have faded or your shadows moved significantly from where they were to begin with. However, if you’re working with a pen you will be forced to either keep going and try to make adjustments or start completely over – in which case you may never get a finished drawing.
The best thing to do then, is find a pen that is capable of making a light mark without skipping. That way you can develop a preliminary sketch before irreversibly darkening anything. And you can do some subtle cross hatching. Problem solved.
I used to draw a lot with the really cheap Papermate™ pen that sells in packages of a gazillion for a dollar. (You get used to these types of economies when teaching art in public schools.) They were adequate as far as value changes go, but can be unreliable and also they have the inconvenient caps. (These caps are also a problem in high school class rooms where they can serve as convenient missiles for students who are tempted to throw things. I once had nearly a whole baseball team in 5th period. That year I discovered that pen caps were only a fraction of the arsenal lying around the art room just waiting to be pitched.)
Anyway, lately I’ve tried several different pens including the Paper Mate InkJoy™ ball point and two different kinds of Pilot™ gel pens. My favorite pen so far, however, is the Bic Atlantis™ ballpoint. It makes a wonderfully smooth yet variable line, and is retractable.
August is a good time to try out new products like pens, because school supply sections in stores are bursting with promotional deals. They will also have some products that are not normally on the shelves the rest of the year.
Like painting, drawings can emphasize one element over another. A drawing can be about line, value, texture and even color. These drawings are about contrast in value. Lately, I’ve been very interested in trying to create a convincing light and shadow effect.
Strong contrast in value can be created indoors by shining a lamp on the subject. However, if I want to draw outside, I need to look for contrast in the environment. My favorite times of day to do this are in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when shadows are long and the sun lights up the trunks of trees and other things that are usually in shade. (Mornings and evenings are also more comfortable for being outside in the summer where I live. Less heat and humidity and fewer mosquitoes and such.)
Two things to consider while working outside. 1) Typical of other on-the-spot drawings, these need to be done quickly since the sun doesn’t stand still. In fact, when you’re trying to do a realistic drawing, shadows can change ridiculously fast. 2) The drawing medium can make a difference in the level of contrast possible. These drawings were both done with the Pentel™ 0.9 mm pencil which gets as dark as a regular # 2 pencil but never truly black. If you want really strong contrast, work with a softer lead or with a pen. The drawings in the next post post will be similar to these but in ball point pen.
In the previous post I wrote about drawing things from the viewpoint of the passenger seat. These have to be super fast sketches because of the length of our visual memory, so my drawings were tiny renditions of individual objects.
This post is about drawing the things you may encounter at stops along the way. The top drawing was at a cafe in Fort Davis, Texas. I would love to have gone into more detail on that ivy but ran out of time. As I mentioned in a previous post about on-the-spot drawing, sometimes you have to let go of the idea of a finished drawing or you may never get started on one in these situations.
This is the picnic area at Sand Hills State Park near Monahans, TX. If you ever get a chance to go there, you’ll find that it’s like the beach without the ocean. They even have plastic surfboards for sliding down the dunes.
This shade tree was at a rest stop near Sweetwater, Texas. Taking a dog along on a trip gives you more reasons to stop at places like this. See the windmills in the background? Wind farms are a wonderful sight to see in west Texas.
I saw this truck while sitting at a Sonic Drive-In in Monroe, Louisiana. I got the tires out of proportion to each other, but it was necessary to spend some of my time there eating a hamburger (actually a delicious steak sandwich which are not available at our local Sonic).
This palmetto was at a service station also in Monroe. Since we were only there to get gas (and boudin) I didn’t feel that I had time to do it justice so I took a picture and drew it later from the phone gallery. Soon I’ll do another post about using a cell phone camera as a source of models.