Last week I did a step-by-step coloured pencil demo of a flower, in response to a question from a follower. The second part of her question, however, was a little more complicated; she asked for “pointers like: where to start – bloom or overall plant, perspective in landscape – I usually draw a bed like I’m standing looking down at it”
Now, I don’t style myself as a flower painter; while I do the occasional floral painting, there are many people who specialize in this fascinating subject, and are much better at it than I am — I’m much too easily distractible to specialize! However, I’ve been taking botanical reference photos for many years (if I were to never take another photo, I’ve got enough to last me for the rest of my life!), and have come to look at composing with the camera as an extension of my art. Creating drawings, paintings, or photos of flowers is like portraying any other subject when it comes to composition, so I’m not really talking exclusively about this one subject in the examples I’ll show here.
I also have to say I’m not a photographer, at least in the technical sense — I used to use an SLR, but have become a digital convert, partly because I can take LOTS of pictures without incurring crippling film developing debt. But I really do take better pictures with a digital camera — I usually leave it on auto except in extraordinary circumstances. I do own a DSLR, which features far more bells and whistles than I know what to do with (and a manual that, if it weren’t digital, would be a tome), but I keep defaulting back to my little Canon A700, which is almost a surprisingly versatile little camera. All of the pictures below were taken with that one.
But on with the question at hand:
The first part of the question, where to start, is pretty much like starting any piece of art. You have a lot of decisions to make: to work from reference or not; what medium; large or small; how much work you’d like to put into it; and so on. Deciding what mood you want to convey will affect colours and values, the viewpoint you use, even the style of your brush or pen strokes. Odds are, you’ll have some of these things worked out unconsciously already, but it helps to think about them anyway as options. For example, here is a nice, bright picture of some tulips, taken from a typical viewpoint of someone (me) leaning over them:
They’re pretty and cheerful, and nothing wrong with this viewpoint at all. With a little cropping and editing, this would make a beautiful painting. But what if (start asking yourself “what if” frequently!) I were to adopt a different viewpoint:
By getting down to a side view, I’ve done several things. I’ve changed the shape of the flowers themselves; I’ve allowed them to stand out against a contrasting background; and I’ve altered the perspective of the viewer. Suddenly those tulips are a presence, like fellow beings instead of the landscape below our feet. Or take this a little further:
With this angle, we are the intruders in the tulip world; we are small and insignificant in a land of lordly tulips and their blue and yellow minions! We are looking up at a subject that we usually look down upon, which creates an element of surprise. A stack of books, a cat, a piece of fruit all take on a monumental quality when viewed from below. The same kind of effect applies when we look down on things we usually look up at or see from the same level, like trees, buildings, cars, and even other people.
Then there’s the close-focus idea; get so close to something that it becomes iconic; it fills your field of vision (or at least the picture field) and takes on the kind of importance that we usually reserve for other people’s faces:
This is even more effective if you paint it BIG like Georgia O’Keeffe did. As she famously 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.
Again, this goes for other small objects; try a seashell three feet across, or a five-foot tall feather.
Look for unusual viewpoints. Everyone knows the cheerful face of the sunflower, with its Fibonacci spiral centre; but who ever looks at the back of it?
This photo also illustrates that composing with only part of a thing can be very effective.
Consider movement. How does your eye travel through this picture? Mine leaps from flower to flower, entering with the ones at the top left, circling downward then up and to the right, then jumping off the last pink and yellow dahlia and back to the top left again. If I were to paint this, I’d probably strengthen that effect with a slight rearrangement of the dominant flowers to close the circle a bit better (but not so much as to take away the random feeling of the arrangement). I might also downplay some of the background flowers to make the foreground stand out.
in this photo, they eye travels from top to bottom along the line of begonia blossoms, then back up again in a nice swooping curve.
Here is another example of flow; the lily pads cause the eye to do a kind of figure 8, crossing at the centre of interest, the water lily:
Think about where the lines of the things surrounding your subject lead; do they lead your eye toward your subject, or do they distract or lead it away? In this photo of irises, the lines of the rocks and the shadows fortuitously converge on the main subject.
Here the huge leaves echo the direction of the flowers, but not so much that it looks static. If I were to paint this, and try to improve the composition a bit, I’d tilt that leftmost stem a bit more in the direction of the other ones, to lead the eye that way and to break up the vertical rhythm of the stems.
Give the eye some large, quiet space to rest. The water in this picture allows some relief from the busyness of the piled up lily pads. Notice also the centre of interest, the water lily itself, is not at the centre of the picture! But our eye is drawn to it for several reasons: it is the only thing that is bright pink; it is light against a dark portion of the picture; and its form is unique.
Here is another example of large swaths of quiet space setting off a busy area. It is also a very tasty contrast of textures.
Speaking of contrast, here are several going on at once. The pale rose against the very dark background; the warm tones of the rose and its stem agains the cool of the green leaves. If this were the only place the contrasts were going on, it might seem a bit stark, but there are subtler echoes in the other stems and in the gold of the dying leaves and the red leaves on the dark ground. Also notice the many different colours of green — it’s amazing that our language is so impoverished as to have only one word for a colour family that surrounds us everywhere, relying on adjectives to make the distinctions.
More contrasts: the busy background against the quieter space of the rose and its leaves is a reversal of the usual more detailed subject and quieter background. A highly textured background such as this can be tricky to work with, so be sure your subject will stand out against it by contrast of colour, value, amount of detail, or all three.
Think about shapes. interesting silhouettes make interesting pictures, even if the subject is an ordinary one (not that there’s anything ordinary about flowers!). These strange flowers make dancing, fey shapes agains the quiet, flat space of the water-plant covered pool:
(by the way, does anyone know what the above flowers are?)
This orchid in the Butchart Gardens restaurant caught my eye for the lines of its stems and the shapes of the leaves as much as for its colour. The straight grid of the window panes made an appealing contrast. Look for contrasts of regular, straight, man-made shapes against organic shapes.
One of the best things about flowers is the way they play with the light. I try for backlit shots as often as possible, because it brings out the colours so well. But while flowers have a great advantage over many other subjects in this regard, every subject plays with light in its own way. Learn to see that.
Colour is what we usually associate with flower pictures; it’s almost the whole reason to paint them, isn’t it? Maybe not:
The strong form of this rose would look great in charcoal or graphite (imagine it really big!). If you want to see the forms and values of something better, convert it to black and white, either on a computer or by photocopier. Here’s the same rose in colour — a very nice rose, but somehow, after the black-and-white version which is pure floral architecture, a bit ordinary, eh?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this technique-of-the-week post; I normally do them on Saturdays, so check back next week. if you see anything in any of my posts that you’d like to know more about how I did it, please ask in a comment!
Today was supposed to be my Technique-of-the-Week post, but due to circumstances beyond my control that rendered my house temporarily uninhabitable for the day I wasn’t able to finish my post. The neighbour in the other suite decided to paint her bathroom with the most toxic paint I have ever smelled — in the winter, no less! We share the central heating system… my hubby and I fled the house. On the up side, we had a lovely lunch out, and cleaned out most of our storage locker, but I lost a day’s work.
So, rather than hurry through my post to get it in before midnight (probably an impossible proposition anyway), I will leave you with a teaser photo and a promise to make you a deliciously colourful post for tomorrow. The subject will be composition, using some of my flower photos for inspiration.
Iris the Art Muse has been working very hard of late. So tonight I invited her to come along to a contra dance. I play flutes and pennywhistle in a traditional dance band called Rig-a-Jig — we play Celtic and Old-Time music for contra dances and other called dance forms. Well, Iris had a great time at the dance, and she wanted me to draw dancers. Just because we were having fun was no reason to neglect the challenge!
I just had time in between sets to sketch her on the back side of a sheet of my dance music!
(By the way — I’m thinking of making Iris’s adventures into a little comics zine. Stay tuned!)
You know how some days, no matter what you do, you just can’t do your best? That’s how I’m feeling today. This should have been an easy little drawing. My intent was to do a delicate pen and ink drawing with a splash of watercolour for the background. But it didn’t work out that way (and I forgot to scan the ink drawing!). As soon as I added any colour, it overpowered the ink lines. So I tried darkening the background. That made the grass in the front, which I had coloured in several different, blended greens, look garish. So I got out the ink brush and started turning them into silhouettes. That made the wolf look weak, so I gave him an outline. Then the sky needed more colour.
And so on and so forth, and it looks nothing like I intended. However, I’m too tired, and it’s too late, to make another drawing for my challenge. I’ve been challenged enough for one day! So I’m posting it anyway, as evidence that sometimes things just don’t turn out as planned, despite skills and the best intentions. It’s much more cartoony than my original vision, but maybe it’s just because I’ve been drawing comics so much lately. I may even get to like it, once I put it away for a while.
The wolf itself is from a rather fuzzy, long-distance photo I took at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle many years ago. They have a large, wooded habitat to run around in, but I decided to put this fellow on a hilltop, just because… because.
I haven’t had a dog friend of my own for many years (my cat Mak likes being an only child) but every now and then I encounter one that makes me wistful for my childhood buddies. This fellow was frolicking in Kennedy Lake, out on the west coast of the island, and I snapped a couple of pictures of him. I like to have my own photo reference to work from, and one never knows when one will need to draw a dog, or a horse, or even an ostrich (yes, I’ve taken some pictures of those!).
I had started this sketch, just barely, during a class, and always meant to take some time to finish it up, and today I did. I’m counting it as my drawing for the day, even though it’s cheating a bit since I already had it started, because I’ve also been drawing character studies all day, and they are not in a finished enough state to post.
Here’s the photo I worked from:
Meet Miss Penelope, a lady of impeccable breeding and good taste. She may look demure and delicate, but she has nerves of steel when in a pinch. She’s the latest in my series of character sketches based on my doodle notebook. I think she may have to meet up with the swashbuckling gentleman and the scholarly fellow and they will all have to go on some adventures together!
Drawing-a-Day number 21 — three weeks!
A toy Triceratops, abandoned in a parking lot, gained a new life on my shelf of animal models. I have a collection of realistic miniature creatures that serve as 3-d models for drawing. When I need a view of a horse or a deer or a rabbit that I can’t find in a picture, I can pick up one of my little friends and turn them around, imagining how their legs would move, or seeing what they look like from above or below. Of course they are not always in the position I need to draw either, but somehow the dimensionality of them helps much more than a picture could.
Today I’ve been drawing in pencil all day, and because they are comic pages, they don’t make much sense to look at until they have ink, colour, and words. Besides, I don’t want to be a spoiler! So I decided to draw my little dinosaur buddy digitally, as I need to practice with my stylus and Wacom drawing tablet. I used a program called Manga Studio, in which I don’t know how to do anything except draw lines (it’s a very powerful and complicated program, and I need to watch some tutorials!). So here’s that toy triceratops, rescued long ago from an ignoble end between car tires and gravel.
Drawing-a-Day number 20
I’ve been pencilling comic pages all day, and itching to get my hands on some colour. This is drawn from one of the panels I penciled today (I traced the loose pencil drawing on the lightbox directly with the pen onto Stonehenge paper). Spammy is in the original pencil panel, but not the background — I improvised the rest so that he would have a place to be.
I’ve been mulling over how detailed to make his colouring; if I had to draw him as a realistic cat, I would be painting this story for the rest of my life! But I don’t want him to be too simple, either. So I’m going to do some character studies of Spam and his friends as part of my drawing-a-day thing to determine what the style will be. Hope you enjoy the development of Spammy and his friends!
I got a lovely surprise this morning — a beautiful journey of the imagination from Anakin’s reveries in multiverses, inspired by one of my posts. Do check out this blog — it’s full of wonderfully eclectic brain candy!
Originally posted on Anakin's reveries in multiverses:
An accidental follow led me to a beautiful gallery of Celtic art that pulled me into a time warp to my childhood; a childhood in which I was encouraged to believe that dragons and fairy tale princes are both as true as anything else, unicorns run free and phoenixes and griffins rule the skies. A childhood in whose crevices an entire world of fantasy resides even today, only further extrapolated by the possibility to perhaps find one of the extraordinary creatures that call the same crevice home. Thank you, Karen Gillmore, for the perfect stimulus for this wonderful reminiscence.
Also, this is Drawing-a-Day number 18! A double-duty drawing!
A few weeks ago, I had a request from Ilex of Midwestern Plants (check out her wonderful blog here!) for a tutorial on how to do flowers in coloured pencils, also known as pencil crayons. It’s been a while before I could get to it, because I’ve been so busy making comics and, well, coloured pencil is the sloooooowest of all the mediums I use. It’s very meditative and the results are satisfying, but it takes a lot of time to do properly.
She also raised the excellent subject of how to create compositions with flowers — what angles to use to make a picture of flowers more interesting. That’s a little much to cover in this post, so I’ll tackle that next Saturday using some of my photos (I have a zillion photos of flowers). Please check back!
So — here I’ve put together the in-progress shots of a little coloured pencil painting (when they reach this stage of finish, they are truly more painting than drawing, even though they are a dry medium). I’m not sure what kind of flower this is; I took the picture at Butchart Gardens, which is just north of where I live in Victoria, BC. Feel free to use it if you want to try following along with my steps here.
I used some very soft Fabriano paper that someone had given me as offcuts from a printmaking project. It is a cream colour, so that carries over into the painting as a sort of overall warm tone. Good papers for coloured pencil are thick, relatively smooth but not slick, and tough enough to withstand a lot of layering. My usual standby is Rising Stonehenge.
My pencils in this case were Derwent Coloursoft. I have a set of seventy-two, but you don’t really need that many, since blending the colours gives you the most richness. The more colours you have to blend, of course, the more nuanced your mixtures can be, but wonders can be worked with a basic set of twelve. If you intend to get into this medium, though, spring for as many colours as you can afford. I also use Prismacolors, which have some different colours (they make a huge range) and are a little bit firmer than the Derwents. Prismacolour also make a harder pencil called Verithin, which is great for detail work, and they also make Prismacolor Stix, which are big like crayons — ideal for covering large areas.
Here’s a bit about Coloured Pencils from one of my art class handouts:
Introduction to Coloured Pencils
©2009 Karen Gillmore
What Are Coloured Pencils?
Coloured pencils, sometimes called pencil crayons, have a core of pigments and fillers held together with wax or oil-based binders. Artist grade brands are quite different from the cheap ones made for children — you get what you pay for! Pigments and binders are of higher quality in artist-grade materials, and will stand the test of time better. After all the work of creating a coloured pencil drawing, you don’t want to see it fade over time!
Coloured pencils come in a range of hardness or softness, to be used according to specific purposes. In general, hard pencils are used for detail work, and soft ones to layer for rich colours. The soft ones can be used for detail, but require more frequent sharpening.
When buying coloured pencils, look for a nicely centered core within the wood casing. Off-centre cores will not sharpen properly. Also, do not drop your pencils, as the soft cores will break and you will find that they keep breaking off as they are sharpened
How are Coloured Pencils used?
Coloured pencils can be used on almost any surface. Paper, board, canvas, wood, unglazed ceramic and more are all possibilities. They can be used with almost any other medium, and are often used in mixed media compositions. They are valuable in laying down a non-intrusive sketch for a painting, by using similar colours to those you intend to use in the paint.
Different surfaces can vary the look and behaviour of your coloured pencils considerably. In general, the more tooth (roughness) the surface has, the more colour will rub off on it. On a very slick surface you may find it very difficult to get deep colours, but the coverage will be smooth; on a very rough surface, you may not be able to cover all the “valleys”, leaving only colour on the “hilltops”. Both of these extremes have their uses, but for general drawing purposes, I recommend a medium-toothed paper, Stonehenge (by Rising). Try your pencils later on all kinds of different papers and surfaces, to explore their capabilities further.
Coloured pencils can be difficult to erase. Standard pencil erasers generally do not have much effect beyond smearing them around (which can be used to blend them, by the way). Kneaded erasers, mounting putty, and tape can all be used to lift colour from an area, and white plastic erasers can sometimes be used with good results. Luckily, the slow, controlled manner of laying down colour necessitated by the pencils themselves make erasing a seldom-needed option.
Where does one start?
Get to know your coloured pencils by experimentally playing with them. Doodle a bit, make a chart of your colours. Try overlapping some colours and see what happens. Now overlap them in the opposite sequence — do the resulting colours look the same or slightly different? What happens if you use white on top of a colour? What happens if you put colour on top of white?
After you have tested them out in this way, try making a drawing, from life or a photograph, or even from your head (you have a vast storage of visual imagery in there, learn how to access it!). Try matching the colours you see by blending colours, or laying them side by side in an impressionistic way.
Here’s another character from my doodles of last Sunday night, turned into a finished painting. I tried an experiment that was suggested to me by my mentor today — inking direct on the light-table from a sketch onto a new piece of paper. I’m currently sketching the graphic novel on cartridge paper (kind of like regular bond paper), planning to transfer the messy sketches in pencil more cleanly to the watermedia paper I plan to use. However, I wasn’t looking forward to all that tracing, then inking, then erasing the pencil lines for 64 pages. The suggestion was to ink directly from the sketch, as seen through the light table onto the watercolour paper. This made me a bit nervous to contemplate, but it certainly would be a huge time saver if it worked!
So I tried it with this little guy — I had to scan the tiny sketch and blow it up to print, but it worked very well. I was able to do minor editing over the copied sketch beneath my working paper, just as I would if I had traced it in pencil first. And look, no erasing! I’m sold.
Here’s the little sketch I worked from:
I’m so happy to have learned this, and had a successful experiment — it will save me hours and hours and hours!
Drawing-of-the-Day 16! Blog post number 50! Whoo-hoo!
In the graphic novel I’m working on with writer Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, there is a lady eagle who is quite irate, and telling Spam the cat detective in no uncertain terms about why. Can’t tell you any more, for fear of a spoiler. but I sketched a panel today that I wanted to try out in paint.
I’m still working out the style i want to do the ultimate inked/painted panels in, so I’m experimenting to see how much detail is possible to put in with the colouring. I’d like to just do outline on the main subjects in each panel, and let the rest be indicated by colour and texture with some minimal inking. So I’ll be testing out various panels as I go, as it will inform my pencil drawings from the outset — the question is, how much detail do I actually need to tell the story effectively? I’ll be doing quite a few more of these in the near future, I think, to determine the answer.
My pencils and pens have been flying today — I’ve begun work on the pencils for the graphic novel, so I actually did a lot of drawings today, but I’m featuring a birthday card I did for my hubby, Ron, featuring Mak our cat and my famous birthday cake.
There’s this cake, you see, that I’ve developed over the years, and it is not only the cake of choice for our household birthdays, I also get requests sometimes from other people. It is a spice cake that I have tinkered with until it has reached a pinnacle of some kind, probably addictiveness. But no mere mortal can withstand more than small piece of it, for I pair it with Ron’s mum’s Penuchi icing recipe, which is kind of like coating the whole cake in butterscotch fudge. A dollop of vanilla ice cream completes the decadence. I’m still surfing on the sugar high, having just finished the big cake feast.
Not only is the cake famous in itself, but I wrote a song about it, which we recorded with our band, The RabbleBerries. You can listen to it here. It’s the first one on the list, but feel free to listen to the rest of the songs too! And here’s the recipe and song lyrics.
Anyway — the card I made to go with the cake! It’s watercolour pencils, pigma micron pen for the lettering, and ink brush for the outlines.
And here’s what else I’ve been up to:
It’s about time I posted another comic — here’s a very silly one-page thing that I did for a class assignment last year. In our character design class, we had all made little maquettes that were caricatures of ourselves. Let me tell you, self-portraiture is painful enough, but then to have to draw a caricature — I am not made of such stern stuff! The actual construction of the thing was pretty easy, but it took me a long time until I got a little bust that I thought I could live with and not stick away in the closet somewhere. In a way, it was exercise in exorcising vanity. Goodbye, dignity.
Then we had to make a comic using our maquette with one of our classmates, and have them interact in some way. This was to be heads only, because we were using busts — no putting in hands to help with the expression! That is hard. Even if you don’t like to draw hands (and I do), they are still one of the best ways after the facial expression of conveying emotion. However, I decided I could do that.
But then… then I had to think of something for them to say to each other. When in doubt, turn to Shakespeare. The Bard has great quotes and with the deadline looming, I feverishly searched the internet for some that could be thrown together and make some kind of sense, at least if you are in some kind of altered state of consciousness. This is the silliness that resulted:
And here is the little maquette from which I drew this mad, mad me.
Today’s sketch marks two whole weeks I have been doing this. Sometimes I’ve only gotten a sketch in before midnight by the skin of my teeth, but I’ve done it, so I’m feeling pretty satisfied.
I’ve been trying to post more finished drawings, but I spent a lot of time today on a sketch for the first page of the graphic novel I’m working on. This is a rough sketch that I’m using to work out the composition and a few of the details; I’ll probably refine this again with a tracing on the light table, then transfer it to the watercolour paper I’m planning to use for the finished drawings.
Last night my hubby and I went to our usual Sunday evening haunt, the Victoria Folk Music Society’s weekly coffeehouse. I like to sit and doodle while I’m there, in a little notebook that I keep especially for whimsical doodles. It helps me listen, much like doodling in all the margins of my school notes when I was a kid did. I often got in trouble for those, until I would recite back to the teachers what they were saying when I did a particular doodle. It was my way of taking notes. One of my junior high history teachers actually took an interest in these margin drawings, because I was drawing what she was talking about, and suggested other kids could do the same!
So whenever I look at these little doodled characters that I did, I’ll be able to hear echoes of the great Celtic sounds of the band playing last night, Jane’s Way. I did several little guys, which I will make into more finished drawings like I did this one. I think he’s a kind of elite librarian or scribe, the Keeper of the Sacred Quill, or some such — at some point, probably after I get them all drawn out and coloured, he and the other doodle characters will take on personalities and positions in life and their stories will start to emerge.
Today I taught my introduction to Watercolour Techniques class. I love beginner’s classes — it’s like getting to show your beloved city off to someone who’s never been there. And like shepherding a visitor around, it seems like there’s never time enough to show them everything!
I always do a lot of little demos in class, and try to keep them quick and simple. Here are some that I did today, and I’m counting them as my drawings for the day. They are all 4×6 inches, on Arches 140 lb cold-press paper, and they took about five-ten minutes apiece to paint.
(Gratuitous Historical Art Fact: did you know that watercolours were not considered paintings until fairly recently? They were considered drawings, and are still filed as such in the archives of many museums and galleries.)
It’s time for another dive into my vast pile of workshop handouts! I have been using this technique a lot lately, as it is my favourite method of colouring comics. Usually I like to do the ink work first and then colour inside the lines with watercolour, but I’m considering being daring for one of my current projects and starting with the watercolour, then adding the ink lines afterwards, with a light touch, as needed. Updates on that after I actually work up the courage to do a whole long project that way!
Pen and Ink can be added to watercolour after the paper is dry to enhance details, sharpen lines, create textures, and bring up contrasts. Any pen and ink technique can be used: crosshatching, stippling, scribbles, patterns, contour lines, etc. — think about how the pen and ink technique you choose will interact with the look of the watercolour passage to which you are adding it. If your ink is waterproof (test it first!!!), you can work back and forth between the ink and the watercolour.
Besides black inks, there are also beautiful coloured inks that can blend well with watercolour; again, just make sure they are waterproof. These can also be used instead of watercolour, but be aware that they don’t lift out like watercolour does if you decide you want an area lighter.
There are many styles of combining the two media, and experimenting will help you find your own style. Here are a few examples that you can look for in books, in galleries, and all around you in advertising, illustrations, packaging, and more. And of course there are as many styles as there are artists — this list is just a rough categorization to get you started thinking about all the ways these two mediums can combine.
Ink Drawing First methods:
- The colour-in-the-lines method: This involves making a solid, sometimes quite detailed, pen and ink drawing, and then treating the outlined spaces as fields to be coloured in solidly. A simple example would be the comic book style. The focus in this style is the outline.
- The watercolour-as-shading method: A variation on the previous style, this uses watercolour to provide the impression of 3-d to the drawing. The spaces are filled with colour, not flatly, but using variation of darks and lights or colours to show light and shadow. The drawing may or may not have details such as stippling or crosshatching supporting the shading.
- The splash-of-colour method: This is where the watercolour is brushed on loosely in a rough correspondence with the ink drawing. Sometimes it is used in just one small area to highlight a center of interest.
- Watercolour First methods:
- The toning-the-paper method: Using watercolour, the artist ‘”tones” the entire paper with washes — to provide some nebulous forms to spark the imagination, or just to to get past that “blank white page”. The wash can be smooth or textured, flat colour or graded. Sometimes the toning is used as a middle ground and the artist uses both dark inks and white to bring out the three-diminsionality of the subject.
- The suggestion-of-colour method The watercolour here is used as a loose pre-drawing, perhaps in conjunction with a light pencil sketch. The ink work is then drawn using the colours as a rough guide, but without worrying about an exact match between the colours and the drawing.
- The ink-as-final-enhancement method This is using the ink drawing as a final detailing of a complete watercolour painting. It can be for additional shading, to highlight a center of interest, to strengthen linear features or contrast, or to add details difficult to achieve in watercolour alone.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this technique and try it out!
Today I won’t be able to post my regular post, as i will be out of the range of the internet (what?!? is anyplace out of range of the internet nowadays?). I’ll still be drawing, but will have to post it tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m trying out the “aside” button in the format column to see what it looks like on my blog, since I’ve never used it and have no idea what it does! (Artists are adventuresome)
And to complete the experiment, I’ll try adding a picture.
I can’t help it, I just like alliteration. Really, this is more of a painting today, but that starts with a P.
Yesterday I posted the beginnings of a dragon drawing which was to be the central medallion of a book cover, one of a series by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. The designs are all similar, with a kind of heraldic feel to them, but need to be different enough in colour and subject that readers can tell the books apart. Nothing like going to the bookstore (or online in this case) and scratching your head trying to remember if you already bought that volume of the series or not because it looks so much like all the others!
I’m gradually being seduced by the wonders of Photoshop, as I get more comfortable with it. I’m still using it in a very simple fashion (if you can call using a machine that none of us could have imagined a few short decades ago simple), but it’s just so darn much fun! And the colours look so pretty on the screen with the light coming through them.
But really, it’s not that much different than doing paintings by hand. I’m still doing the drawing part in pen and ink, though I could do them on a digital drawing tablet too, and may soon. When I add the colours, I’m choosing them based on my knowledge of what works from years of experience; I’m not indecisive about colour schemes, though of course I could easily try out lots of different ones if I were. I choose the tools according to what effects I want, just as I would choose a physical brush or a pen or a pencil. It’s a huge amount of stuff to learn, but I’m starting to get the hang of it, and of course enjoying it more as I do. I don’t think I’ll ever give up my traditional materials, but someday when I’m old(er) and my brush wobbles, you may find me more often at the computer, pushing pixels around instead of paint!
Anyway, without, further ado and ramblings, here is the new cover for “The Christening Quest”. The dragon’s name, by the way, is Grippeldice.
Sometimes an artist has to take some time to do other things in life. For some reason, housecleaning, social obligations, the procuring of supplies, unexpected phone calls, and spur-of-the-moment expeditions just… happen. So my drawing of the day is very simple today, although it will be the hand-drawn component to a new book cover that I will do mostly digitally. It’s the last one in a series, and when I get this one done, I’ll post them all!
I didn’t forget my drawing of the day, but it’s been a very busy day, so I decided to go with the theme of this evening’s main post and build a drawing on top of a couple of one-minute gesture sketches. The basic drawings were quite rudimentary, only a few sketchy lines, so I had lots of room to give the two figures personalities and costumes. I think they are a couple of time travellers from the future, waiting to be sent off on their next assignment — they are character drawings waiting for their story to be told!
There’s an old musician’s joke: A fellow is walking down the street in Manhatten, looking lost. He sees a couple of guys on the street corner, busking, and asks them, “Hey, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” One of them stops playing long enough to say, “Practice, practice, practice!”
Practice is important for visual artists, too. The more hours you put in, the more you learn, and the more sure of yourself you are. I always say there are no mistakes in art, only learning experiences. If a line or a colour falls short of what you intended, try it again and again until you get it right. Looking critically at what you’ve done and asking how it differs from your vision helps you make a different decision next time.
One way that many artists practice is to do life drawing. You can find sessions in art schools, artist co-ops, and anywhere there are a bunch of artists banding together to hire a model. Usually the models pose in the nude, but sometimes there are clothed or portrait specialty sessions. Practice in drawing the figure is essential if you want to put people in your art, and even if you don’t, it’s great practice for your hand-eye coordination.
You can also just sit around in public places and draw people, but they usually don’t hold still very long. Except for people texting – I once drew for an afternoon in a food court, and almost everyone there was texting! This got very boring after a while, especially since it seemed everyone was dressed pretty much the same — hoodies and jeans. I also feel nervous when in a public situation that people will notice I am drawing them when I’m in public, so I tend to draw a lot of backs!
The sessions that I go to begin with ten or so gesture poses — these are poses the model holds for one minute, then flows into another one. The idea is to warm up your ability to see and translate it to paper. When I first started I found it incredibly frustrating to try to do a drawing in one minute, but as I did it more, I learned to hone down what I drew to the absolute essentials.
This need to draw really quickly also helps get your left-brain nattering to hush up and let your right-brain functions take over. The left brain is the part that creates symbols for what we actually see, as an aid to more quickly analyzing life as it goes on around us. However, when we are trying to truly see something in order to draw it, this can get in the way. Instead of a tree with a twisty, brown/red/grey trunk and myriad shades of greens and reflected blues from the sky on an irregularly shaped leafy canopy with branches showing through and disappearing again, our left brain wants us to reduce it to a fluffy green lollipop on a brown stick, so that it can get on with paying attention to stuff that is important for our survival. When we are able to get out of left-brain mode and into right-brain mode, we are able to draw far more accurately what we actually see. An excellent, and classic, book on this phenomenon, and how to apply it to your art, is “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (the link is to a review of the newer edition) by Betty Edwards.
One thing about being in right-brain mode is that it feels incredibly relaxing. When you are drawing and lose track of time, the world outside, and the fact that it is dinner time, you’ll know you’ve achieved it. When I’m drawing a model at a session, that’s two hours spent in totally focused right-brain bliss, and that’s the best therapy for an unsettled mind that I can think of! (Not that I’m generally unsettled — though some might call me unhinged — but I always come out of it feeling more grounded.)
Drawing from life is also different than drawing from a photo. You are looking at your three dimensional model with binocular vision, and have to make choices about how what you see will translate to two dimensional paper. It is easier to draw from a photo (and it holds really, really still for as long as you want!) because it has already been translated into two dimensions, and all you have to do is copy it. When drawing from life you have more information, and while at first this can seem harder, eventually a photo will come to seem limiting.
There is also a tendency with photos to copy slavishly (I’ve noticed this not only in myself, but in my students) rather than create a unique interpretation. I’m not sure why this is, but it possibly has something to do with the fact that the photo is a static thing, and you have all the time in the world to copy every detail. When you’ve only got five, ten, or twenty minutes to capture a likeness, and then that pose, that lighting, will be gone forever, it really sharpens up your ability to make fast choices about the marks you are going to put on the paper!
If you like to draw, I hope this has inspired you to try figure drawing if you haven’t already. If you have you know what I’m talking about! I’d love to hear your stories in connection with any of this — your experiences with drawing models, the first time you reached drawing bliss, ways that you practice your drawing skills — please comment!
My drawing a day challenge is going along swimmingly, though I’m starting to obsess about it a bit. Tonight I went to life drawing at the studio co-op I belong to, with the intent of posting one of my drawings for my drawing-a-day (I actually complete about seven on a typical evening, not counting the one-minute warm-up gesture poses). I found that I was distracted by thinking about which one would be good enough to be seen! Stage fright!
But I calmed myself and just decided to pick whichever one came out best. Tonight I was concentrating on the model’s face, as I have a lot of trouble with portraiture. I can make a drawing that looks like a very plausible person, but just… not… that person. The one I was most pleased with looks a lot like the model, and in fact her friends might recognize her, but then again they might not. But as a twenty-minute drawing (the longest we do any poses), I’m pretty pleased with it. So here it is:
Tomorrow I’ll post a little more about life drawing and what it can do for your drawing!
I had a great time at Tsukino Con this weekend, hanging out at the Camosun Comics and Graphic Novels Program table in artist’s alley, going to panels, admiring all the costumes, and generally basking in the upbeat, geeky atmosphere. I wasn’t up to standing in the long lines for the movie screenings, but now that I’ve been enlightened (or at least had my interest piqued) I’ll be watching a lot more anime!
I didn’t neglect my vow to draw every day, though; Iris the Muse wanted a day off, however (I suspect she went shopping for manga wigs at the convention) and she delegated someone who looks suspiciously like Spam the Cat to stand in for her. I sketched this while hanging out in artist’s alley, lots of creative vibes there! His legs are a little short, though, so I suspect it’s one of Spam’s half-brothers, offspring of his father Hank, the ginger-striped ladies’ tabby of Port Deception. There were a lot of cute animal-character costumes around to help inspire me, though I didn’t see any ginger tabbies.
I sketched this in pencil on cream-coloured Stonehenge paper, then inked it with an ink cartridge brush, and coloured it with watercolour pencils, using a few swipes from a watercolour brush to blend the colours.
(For those just tuning in, Spam the Cat is the main character of a graphic novel I’m working on with author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. You can find out more about Spam’s other adventures here.)
Almost everyone has made a collage at sometime in their lives; often by cutting up pictures from magazines and reassembling them to express a theme or an inspirational message. This is a great way to explore ideas or your inner landscape, but do you know that collage is also a respected painterly medium, used by such famous artists as Picasso and Matisse? Many graphic artists and illustrators also use collage, and there have even been comics done entirely in collage! While I’m not against making magazine collages, there is so much more to it!
Almost any material can be added to a collage, as long as it is able to be glued onto a piece of paper or a board, and can be used to do artistic exploration of a different nature — textures, colours, and composition. I have often put together combinations of colours or textures in a collage that I would never think of using paint, and the radically different way of building a picture leads me to think differently about composition as well, though the same principles apply as would for any painting.
Learning to make collage is largely a matter of doing it; you glue paper and other things together until you have a picture. But it helps to know some practical stuff, and I’m going to list some ideas here about materials and ways to use them.
Glue: Use quality glue. My favourite is matte acrylic medium, PVA glue (basically fancy white glue) or a good quality white glue such as Weld-Bond. The PVA has the advantage of not making your paper curl; the matte acrylic medium has the advantage of not leaving a shiny sheen on your paper as the PVA or white glue will. However, sometimes I want to just lay down a protective, shiny coat, in which case the other glues are fine. Often I even give a final coat all over the piece with gloss acrylic medium, which really brings out the colours.
Some people prefer flour or rice based pastes, which you can make yourself (numerous recipes exist online) or buy in ready-to-mix form. These are archival, and nice to use, but have one serious disadvantage as far as I’m concerned — mice and bugs love them!
Support: This is the thing you glue the collage bits to. Anything flat that you can glue something onto can be a support. You can even collage 3-d objects such as boxes, chairs, guitar cases, or your car. Here are some types of supports I have used for creating wall-hung pieces of art: card stock, matboard, foam-core, plywood, masonite, and stretched canvas.
Paper: Now for the fun part! There are so many different kinds of paper. If you are using the acrylic mediums or white glues you don’t even have to worry about archival qualities (basically: how acid-free is it?) because the paper will be coated in plastic, though colour fading due to light is still a consideration. Here’s some paper ideas:
Found papers: old letters, postcards, tickets, fragments you pick up off the street, discards from the blue box, stamps, wrappers, the general paper detritus of our everyday lives — you get the idea. If it looks interesting, collage it!
Exotic and decorated papers: The art stores are full of gorgeous papers, and nowadays you can even get sampler packs of small pieces in many colours. Handmade papers, hand-decorated papers, printed papers, gift wrap papers, Oriental papers; these are all like a treasure box for creating collage.
It’s fun to further embellish your collage after you glue it. The collage below was embroidered on the white part of the paper with thread (you can just barely see it here), and I often go back in and add paint or pencil in spots, or sometimes glaze over the whole thing with a layer of slightly tinted acrylic medium to bring it all together.
Recycle your art work! Every artist has a pile of “failed” paintings, test sheets, and rags with paint all over them. Printmakers in particular always end up with lots of proofs. Don’t throw them away! Paint and paper are expensive, and you meant them to be paintings anyway, right? It’s incredibly liberating to tear up a painting that was causing you agonizing waves of grief every time you looked at it, and reduce it to little bits of pretty colour that you can glue back together in another form. Have a paper-ripping party! (Can you tell I really like doing this?) If you don’t like the raw ripped paper edges, colour them with coloured or metallic pens; in the collage below, I used a gold metallic pen. Shiny!
Hand-decorate your own paper: Haven’t got that exact colour you need for the collage? Paint a series of sheets with solid colours in your chosen medium, then you’ve always got the right colour to hand. Try some marbling, or make some linocut or potato stamps and make printed patterns. Or just throw paint at the paper, or pour it on!
Photos: Using your own photos is much more personal than cutting images out of magazines. If you don’t want to use the actual photo (and there are often possible fading issues here anyway), make a photocopy of it. Black and white photocopies can be particularly compelling, and you can always add colour back in with paint. You can also photocopy your own artwork, such as sketches in this way. Either glue these directly into your collage, or use a transfer method on the photocopy.
Text: newspapers, old books, letters, spreadsheets — these can be used in an aesthetic way or for their actual content. I usually try to see any text or markings first as just part of the way the thing looks, as if they were in a foreign language, unless I am actually using them as the theme of the piece, as I sometimes do with fortune cookie fortunes or book clippings. Sometimes I add text after the main picture is composed to give an ironic, humorous, or mysterious twist to the subject matter.
You can also add three-dimensional objects to a collage, as long as it isn’t too heavy for the support and the type of glue you are using. Here are some ideas: Old jewelry, trinkets, souvenirs; fabric scraps or trim, perhaps from a treasured but defunct item; strange bits of hardware or wood that you think are cool or beautiful; natural items from last summer’s vacation or your backyard: shells, driftwood, rocks; string, wire, thread, fur… If you think the glue won’t hold it, drill some holes in your support and sew or wire it on.
The most rewarding thing to me about doing collage is making connections between seemingly unrelated materials and melding them into an aesthetic (and sturdy) whole. I try to see each piece as an object on its own merit; the colour, the potential shapes it could be torn or cut into, its texture, and put them together as if I were making a painting.
One last helpful hint: don’t start gluing until you have at least most of your pieces selected and laid out in the layers you want to add them! Then take each layer and set it aside in a separate place, so that you can begin with glueing the first layer. If it is an especially complicated piece, take a photo of the layout or sketch it before you disassemble it.
Happy collaging! I hope I’ve inspired you to try it, if you haven’t already, and if you have, I hope this information will prove useful for new collages. If you have any questions about collage, please ask them in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them!