Deanna Williamson, KSue, 8" x 5.5", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, KSue, 8″ x 5.5″, pencil, 2016

The invention of the camera was both a curse and a blessing to the art world.  It was a curse at first because artists had to find other reasons to paint in order to make up for some of the market taken by photographers. That effort to find new direction was one of the springboards for the art for art’s sake and the self-expression movements in modern art.

Before long, however, artists began to find ways to actually exploit the medium of photography.  For example, the Hyper-Realists of the twentieth century used cameras to create extremely realistic paintings that would have been impossible before due to constantly changing highlights, shadows and reflections.

When slide projectors and overheads were invented, artists were able to project their subjects directly onto the canvas and produce super accurate drawings. (Some traditionalists disapprove of this practice, but the use of a projection device by professional artists was not unprecedented. For example art historians believe that the great eighteenth century scene painter Giovanni Canalleto used a camera obscura to project his cityscapes onto his canvases. The accuracy of his paintings are considered to be extremely valuable to cities like Dresden Germany which suffered so much destruction in World War II).

Cameras also provide a convenient source of subject matter. Today’s artists don’t even have to wait for pictures to be developed before using them.  We can work directly from the screens of phones, tablets and laptops.  The pictures above and below are examples.  They were drawn from the screen of a smart phone.

Deanna Williamson, Kirk, ballpoint pen, 2016

Deanna Williamson, Kirk, ballpoint pen, 2016


Deanna Williamson, Coca, 8" 5.5, ball point pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Coca, 8″ 5.5, ball point pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Droyd, 8" x 11", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Droyd, 8″ x 11″, ballpoint pen, 2016

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.


Deanna Williamson, Locust Shells, 11" x 8.5", pen and ink
Deanna Williamson, Locust Shells, 11″ x 8.5″, pen and ink
Deanna Williamson, Birch, 7.5" x 11", ballpoint pen, 2014
Deanna Williamson, Birch, 7.5″ x 11″, ballpoint pen, 2014
Deanna Williamson, Tree Study, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Tree Study, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

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.


Deanna Williamson, Piper, 5.5" x 11", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Piper, 5.5″ x 11″, ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, The Little Barker, 5.5" x 11", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, The Little Barker, 5.5″ x 11″, ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Little Barker 2, 6" x 8.5", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Little Barker 2, 6″ x 8.5″, ballpoint pen, 2016

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.



Deanna Williamson, Backseat View, 8" x 5.5", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Backseat View, 8″ x 5.5″, ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Backseat View 2, 8.5" x 6", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Backseat View 2, 8.5″ x 6″, ballpoint pen, 2016

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.


Deanna Williamson, Blocks, 6" x 8.5", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Blocks, 6″ x 8.5″, ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Shop Corner, 8.5" x 6", ballpoint pen, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Shop Corner, 8.5″ x 6″, ballpoint pen, 2016

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.


Deanna Williamson, Bricks, 6" x 8.5", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Bricks, 6″ x 8.5″, pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Afternoon, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Afternoon, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

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.


Deanna Williamson, Cafe, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Cafe, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

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.

Deanna Williamson, White Sands, 6" x 8.5", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, White Sands, 6″ x 8.5″, pencil, 2016

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.

Deanna Williamson, Roadside, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Roadside, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

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.

Deanna Williamson, Flat Tire, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Flat Tire, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

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).

Deanna Williamson, Palmetto, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Palmetto, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

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.


Deanna Williamson, Roadtrip, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Roadtrip, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Texas Trees, 8.5" x 6", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Texas Trees, 8.5″ x 6″, pencil, 2016

Visual memory is very short but this is a good exercise for it. To look, see, and draw while riding down the road 80 mph is a challenge.  It’s easier, however, if you decide on a category or theme of objects to look for.  This is similar to an add-on drawing but is unified by subject.

I discovered the idea on a recent road trip.  At the time I was just trying to find a way to draw while riding. I started the first drawing with some simple buildings, grain elevators, the distant mountains, and one of the ever-present pumps. As the scenes flew by, the drawing evolved into a collection of mostly signs. Repetition of the signs unified the whole. That is where I got the idea of a theme. So on the way home I drew the collection of Texas trees.  Later I may get the road sign one back out and try to do a finished version with shading or color.

Themed collections are good for practicing observational skills. For instance a drive through west Texas may seem to be just endless miles of beige flatness broken only by scrubby trees, trains, light poles, and oil pumps. However, when you start looking closely enough to draw, you will notice that each of those scrubby trees has a unique character. The pumps vary in size, and configuration.  The trains are strings of bright saturated color passing over a panorama of earth tones. The light poles range from simple T’s to monstrous two legged constructs that seem to march across the desert like an army of robots. Even the desert is a constantly changing palette of color and texture spreading over vast distances like a tapestry.

I found a similar idea to my themed drawing prompt in a book called SKETCH by France Belleville-Van Stone. She calls it an inventory and offers some variations on the idea.  I highly recommend this book if you’re into daily drawing and would like some inspiration and practical tips.





Deanna Williamson, Car Wash, 6" x 8.5", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Car Wash, 6″ x 8.5″, pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Monahans, 6" x 8.5", pencil, 2016
Deanna Williamson, Monahans,TX 6″ x 8.5″, pencil, 2016

The focus of this post is about basic materials for on-the-spot drawing. First, I usually carry a small sketchbook – 8.5″ x 6″ or smaller – because they are more convenient to carry and because it’s best to do smaller drawings when time is limited. If I go out just for the purpose of drawing, I might carry a 9″ x 12″ or larger, but the idea here is to always have one with me in case an unexpected opportunity arises.

I also prefer mechanical pencils because they eliminate the need for a sharpener. Again, if I’m going out specifically to draw, I might take an assortment of pencils, a sharpener, some pens and maybe even watercolors. (Wait! Do I ever get to do that? Uh, no.) Anyway, the Paper Mate SHARPWRITER™ was my favorite until my recent road trip to Texas, where I purchased a Pentel Twist-Erase™ at the Hobby Lobby in Odessa. It was my first mechanical with 0.9 mm lead.

The next day I took it for a test drive at the car wash in Monahans.  (By the way, this is the second road trip to Texas on which we’ve had to pause and wash the car.  Last year the windshield was coated with honey when we hit a swarm of bees.  This year we had to drive through some flash flooding. The irony is that we’d passed through Louisiana during all that historical flooding without having encountered any standing water, only to have to plunge into it on a Texas freeway. Who knew?) But back to the amazing pencil. The coverage and durability were so much better than my usual .7 mm’s that I used it exclusively for the rest of the trip and now keep one with me all the time.