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.
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.
When I was in college, one of my drawing teachers loaned me her copy of On-the-Spot Drawing by Nick Meglin. This book is not a how-to-draw book. It’s an inspirational book full of the works twelve famous illustrators who draw on location. Any location. I loved it so much that I got myself a copy as soon as I could afford one and have carried sketchbooks around with me ever since. My next several posts will contain some of my on-the-spot work and some tips I’ve learned for drawing in various situations.
This post is about drawing in waiting rooms which are great places to practice drawing people. The main reason is because they’re usually reading, watching TV or even dozing, like the man in my drawing below. Also, anytime you’re drawing strangers, you don’t have to worry about getting a likeness.
The problem is that people may get up and leave before you’re finished with them. There are different ways of dealing with this. One way is to just let go of the idea of a finished drawing. If you look at the work of sketch artists you will see that this is prevalent. Many of them routinely leave parts of drawings unfinished and allow the viewer’s imagination to finish them. I’ll spend more time on this idea in a later post.
Another solution is to make some creative adjustments to the drawing. In the book I mentioned above, Alan E. Cober tells of how he began drawing a nun who was reading a magazine in a waiting room. He had only finished her veil when she got up and left. Right away a man came in, sat down in that seat, picked up the same magazine and began reading. Instead of starting over, Cober just added the man’s face and body to the nun’s veil. The result was an unlikely but interesting looking “man nun”.
Sometimes if you have too much time it can result in a drawing that looks fussy and overworked like my portrait below. I thought the man had an interesting profile and went to a lot of trouble trying to capture the pronounced nose and tiny ponytail.
I don’t think this book is in print anymore but you can still find it on Amazon. Mine is worn out from being carried around shared with my own students.
This is another sketch-book prompt that can yield endless ideas. The process is similar to the add-on drawing except that you work from photos instead of taking subject matter from your surroundings. Just collect a bunch of interesting pictures out of old magazines and put them in a folder to take along with your sketch book. Here’s the process for creating a composite:
- Choose a photo from the folder and draw something from it anywhere on the sketchbook page. (Feel free to leave out details you don’t want.)
- Choose another photo and add that into your drawing.
- Keep adding things until you fill your space.
- Let some things touch or overlap.
- Finish with color, pattern or shading. Or leave it as it is.
The objects you compile into a drawing may or may not be related subject matter. In my composite above, I was using mostly landscape elements when I got the idea to turn the drawing into a Tower of Babel scene. To do that, I needed to get rid of some Grand Canyon rock formations I’d drawn in the background. Since I was working in pen, I couldn’t erase them, so I used a craft knife to cut them out and wound up cutting out the whole sky as well. (It was really hard cutting around all those tiny branches!) I replaced the sky by gluing the drawing onto a colorful watercolor wash. (It was very difficult to glue down all those tiny branches!) Then I colored the river to reflect the sky and create a unified effect. Finally, I added the kitty in the lower left corner as a nod to my cat loving friends.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Babel, here’s a good article about it.
Drawing is like playing a musical instrument. You can’t get good at it if you don’t practice. However, it’s sometimes difficult to get a regular drawing habit started because of time constraints or even procrastination. So here is a sketch book prompt that can help with on-the-spot drawing practice: the add-on drawing. Here are the steps:
- Wherever you are just pick out one small thing that interests you and draw it. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Use any medium you want.
- If you have time draw something else. It can be something located near the first object or something completely random.
- Keep adding things until you run out of time.
- The next time you have an opportunity, go back to that same page and add something else.
- Keep adding until you run out of space.
- Unify the work by extending lines so that objects touch or overlap. Add shading, pattern, texture and/or color. There’s plenty of room for creativity in the process.
My add-on drawing Out and About was started on an errand running day when I was the one doing most of the waiting in the car. The first thing I drew was the logo in the center of my steering wheel. As the day wore on, I added more car parts, other people’s hubcaps, store signs, parts and cords from electrical and mechanical gadgets, profiles of the people around me, and so on. Sometimes when I couldn’t see anything I wanted to draw I just worked on the shading. Once I worked on it while waiting for a train to pass. See the rail road crossing sign and part of a box car?
The time it takes to finish one of these varies depending on how big it is, how complex and how often you work on it. I once saw one that an artist had done over a long period of time on a paper that covered his taboret (small art table). It started out as doodling while he talked on the phone. One day he noticed that it looked pretty good and started seriously working on it. He turned coffee spills into animals and added in some extra designs to fill the space. There were a few images I thought he should have inked over but … oh well, then he took a picture of it and published it in a book on creativity. I decided Out and About was finished after a couple of weeks. It still had problems I couldn’t fix, but that is a risk you take when working with a ball point pen.
The Tall House drawing is about a mood created by the height of the building, the strong contrast in value, and the exaggerated angles. Unfortunately the perspective is off, which highlights one of the cardinal rules in drawing with ballpoint pen: since you can’t erase, be sure you get the overall drawing blocked in correctly before you start making dark marks or shading.
Whereas Tall House was done from a photo, this drawing of Wyatt was done on site. I prefer working from a live model but it can be difficult to get a finished drawing from someone who isn’t actually posing for you. It helps if they are doing some kind of quiet activity like reading from a computer screen. In this drawing, I was primarily interested in the shadows created by light from desk lamp.