Friday, May 30, 2014

Dandelions at the Base of Basswood Tree

This morning's subject

It was a lovely morning to sit outdoors
with pencils and sketchbook.

Pure contour drawing (pen)

"Finished" drawing (pencil)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Homework for Last Class of Spring

This assignment began the same way as earlier ones, with a prepared ground of charcoal (left) and a grid on plexiglass laid over the subject to be copied (below). I chose Walt Whitman for my subject. (Do not be confused by reflections of outdoor greenery on the plexiglass: that isn't part of the story.) 

First areas erased

Emerging face
With this last assignment for class, we were graduating to a full tonal range, shading from dark to light rather than dealing only with large pieces of single tones.

Above is my almost-complete copy (on right) next to the subject, and below is the stage reached when I decided to call it "good enough" and reach for the fixative. He isn't a perfect copy, but I'm pretty happy with him.

My biggest accomplishment with this and the previous assignment was eyeballing proportions instead of having to measure. Since proportion has long been a major weakness in my drawing, I feel good about this progress. My biggest problem was confusing my tools and reaching for a Q-Tip when what I really needed was a stump, thus removing charcoal when I had intended to blend -- necessitating several steps back to deal with my mistake. But it was a good class, and working with charcoal was a challenge and taught me a lot. That Elizabeth Abeel is a terrific teacher!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Outdoor Urban Scene: Trees in Downtown Traverse City

One thing I love about pure contour drawing (or "blind," as I think of it), looking only at the subject and not at paper and pen (or pencil), is the freedom of it. There is the freedom of simply looking intently at the subject -- in this case, two small trees between street and sidewalk -- added to the freedom of not worrying at all about results. Because the pen is not lifted from the paper, of course the drawing will not "look [all that much] like" the subject. And yet there is a feeling of its spirit.

I did this pure contour drawing with one of my Staedler pigment liners (0.7), little German pens I love, in the small sketchbook I carry in my purse for opportunities like this.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


A fantastic copyist I am not. (My motivation and patience are both limited, although I see the value of the exercises.) My favorite part is making the first strokes of charcoal on the blank paper. My second-favorite part is seeing the face begin to emerge.

Photographing the various stages helps me see what was going on. I had the jawline wrong right from the beginning. 

But at a certain point I just say "Good enough" and call it quits. For this exercise, like the Lincoln, we used only two values, dark and light. The next step will be adding a midtone.

I loved being able to work on the sunny front porch for the first time this season!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

First Phase Went Well, Anyway

The sculpture above was my model this morning. The pure contour drawing (below) went well, I think. Sometimes the energy of the pure contour, even when it doesn't completely "come together," is more satisfying than the finished modified contour drawing. In this  case, the modified phase was so out of proportion that I deemed it a total failure. But failure can be good, too. "We must draw a lesson from this," as the Chinese say. See what went wrong and what needs work -- but I'm going to keep that to myself.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Afternoon Sanity Break: Coat on Rack

While waiting for phone repair, I needed to calm down. Best thing I could think of was to get out the drawing pens and the small sketchbook I carry in my purse. Pages were too small to accommodate the entire long coat (unless I made it very, very small), so I didn't even try. After all, this meditation was about calming down, not blissing out.

Blind contour

Modified contour

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Convoluted Daffodils

The daffodils that bloom every year under the mammoth old silver maple between our backyard and the henhouse are not the simple shapes I usually buy to plant myself, but their fussy, frilly edges do present an interesting drawing challenge. As usual, I began with a blind contour drawing. After drawing the entire vase that way, I did a couple more blind contour drawings of individual blooms, just because the pen felt so good on the paper, and it was intriguing to look only at the flower as I drew and only afterward at the drawing.

Last but not least, I concentrated on a single bloom for a modified contour drawing, i.e., one made by looking at both subject and paper while working. I was pleased with my modest result, and it was a good way to begin the day. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Charcoal and Eraser in the Evening

The activity pictured in this post didn't start out as meditation, but with time it took on that quality.

"Prepared ground"

First few grid squares completed

Background: When the guys at the lumber yard in Northport asked why I needed an 8" x 10" piece of clear plexiglass, I had no clue. It was on the list of supplies Elizabeth Abeel asked us to round up for her class, "See as the Artist Sees," Part II. In Part I (which I took last fall) our only tools were pencil, eraser, and paper. This time around the process is much more complicated (and much messier!), as we're using charcoal and all kinds of associated odds and ends -- wax paper, wet wipes, stumps and tortillons, etc. -- including the plexiglass.

My last couple of mornings have been very busy, anyway, not leaving much time for leisurely drawing, but last night I found time to work on this week's class assignment, finishing an exercise begun in class on Wednesday. Using the grid system, our job is to reproduce a black-and-white image with charcoal and eraser.

Plexiglass with grid over part of original

Beginning to reproduce section above

Face appearing...

Almost there....

I have my work cut out for me, that's obvious. Still, I wouldn't call this attempt a total failure. And best of all, the longer I worked, the more the work began to feel like a drawing-as-meditation and the happier I was to be right there, not thinking about anything else.

I call it done -- and will see what instructor says!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Onions Again

 The day before the onions, I tried a box of Kleenex. My drawing was not a complete disaster, just falling down slightly when it came to perspective. Okay, I need to work on perspective, especially with straight, architectural lines. On the other hand, those things don't do much for my soul. It's the more irregular, organic shapes (and colors) that put the hand that holds my pencil in a place of serenity as well as effort. Not a contradiction. Focusing outward, one loses the self. Physical work can be meditation, and doing something, e.g., drawing, works better for me than sitting still and trying to "empty" my mind.

"Back to the drawing board," after weeks away, starts with the blind contour drawing, the drawing made by looking only at the subject and not at the paper or the lines appearing on it. The point here is to see and to let one's hand transcribe directly from one's eyes.

I decided not to challenge myself with the entire wooden bowl full of onions and garlic but to limit my drawing to a single onion. For me, simplicity of subject can sometimes aid in making my drawing more meditative (although at other times a complex drawing that takes a long time can be very satisfying).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Meditation: Back to Fresh Fruit (Bananas)

Part II of Elizabeth Abeel's class called "Seeing as an Artist Sees" (or, as we sometimes call it more simply, "Drawing") focuses on charcoal drawing, which we'll begin this coming Wednesday. For practice this past week, however, it was still work at home with pencil, and Betsy suggested we revisit contour drawing. So I went back to fruit as a subject for the blind contour drawing below. If you'll recall, a blind contour drawing means you're only looking at the subject -- in this case, the bananas -- and not at your paper and pencil. 

We had company over the weekend, so rather than attempt a finished drawing of the entire bunch of bananas I drew only one and called it good for one morning. It does feel good to be drawing again. What will the messy charcoal experience feel like? Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Finally, Back to the Drawing Board: Butter Dish

After laboring over the close work of trying to duplicate abstract sketches, training for the eye more than the hand, I needed the relief of drawing something real. My need to practice on a daily basis is obvious! (The little doodly thing in the upper-righthand corner was a drawing of a head of garlic.) And it's clear, too, that I really need the abstract duplication exercises, as that focuses on proportion, one of my weakest points in drawing.