Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pen Kimonos

As anyone who has followed my blog or visited my website can attest, I am a penman.

Don't get me wrong. I love working with pencils too, and I wouldn't start an adventure without one (or more) of my pochade boxes. But I'm certainly fascinated (my wife would sometimes say, "obsessed") with fountain pens; I like their history, their technology, their feel and appearance, and most of all I like drawing and writing with them.

the current selection of pen kimonos -- all one-of-a-kind!
Top Row: 1.Teapots, 2.Tropical, 3.Cowboy Boots, 4.Artic Wildlife
Bottom Row: 1.Sunflowers, 2.Fishing Lures, 3.Boots Too, 4.Teacups

Some folks (especially those with large collections) may opt to keep their fountain pens in display cases, where they are safe from dust and grime. But I like to have at least two in my day bag whenever I venture out of the house. Unfortunately, that raises the possibility of damage from the aforementioned dust, grime, and even dings, dents and (every penman's nightmare) drops.

my 24-year-old "daily carry"

Fortunately for me, my wife is creative in a wider range of media than I and came up with a lovely (and equally functional) solution several years ago -- the pen kimono! Using attractive fabric patterns for the pouch exterior, the "kimono" has quilting (to protect against shock or damage due to accidental drops) and two compartments (to prevent abrasions that would otherwise be caused by rubbing up against one another.

I've been carrying the original for over 24 years with no sign of wear or tare to pens or kimono!

applying bias-tape to one of the kimonos

Now my daughter (whose is quickly assimilating the artistic interests of both of her parents) has partnered with my wife to produce a new line of handmade one-of-a-kind kimonos for other fountain pen fans (a bargain at just $12 each!) If you count yourself among this group and see something you like, PM us. Please specify the kimono you're interested in (for example:.e member that these are one-of-a-kind. So, it's first-come-first-served. We invite queries regarding designs that have already sold, and will be happy to let you know if a specific fabric is available for special order.)

freshly ironed and ready to go! The difference between this one (which 
my daughter made for herself) and the two "Cowboy Boot" kimonos shown 
in the top photo demonstrate the one-of-a-kind nature of these pen carries.

Shipping within the U.S. is a flat rate of $6. If you live outside the U.S. PM us with your city and country for a shipping quote. All shipping comes with a tracking number. Please note that, in order to protect your financial security, all billing is done through PayPal. (No PayPal account? Not a problem. PayPal is happy to accept all major credit cards.)


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Back to Basics -- Facial Anatomy

In this week's lesson for the Back to Basics workshop I demonstrated step-by-step how to create a portrait on toned paper (http://www.strathmoreartist.com/artist-studio/about/). As a supplement to that video I thought it might be a good idea to offer some information about the structure of the human face for anyone who may be interested in this subject but who is approaching it for the first time.

We'll begin with a few general notes: first, all measurements will be based upon the overall height of the head (from the top of the hair -- NOT from the hairline on the forehead -- to the tip of the chin) and overall width (from temple to temple); and, second, this system of measurements is intended as a general "ruler" -- each person is unique in a variety of subtle ways, noting how your subject differs from the "rules" and depicting those differences is how you will achieve an accurate portrait.

centerline of the nose

First vertical measurement -- beginning with the face looking straight-on at you, imagine a line down through the center of the nose, from top of the hair to tip of the chin. Dividing that line in half will give you the (general) position of the eye line.

eye line

Second vertical measurement -- divide the vertical line segment running from the eye line to the tip of the chin in half and you have the position of the base of the nose.

base of the nose

Third vertical measurement -- divide the line segment running from the base of the nose to the chin in half and you have the position of the bottom of the lower lip (not the line between the lips.)

bottom of lower lip

First horizontal measurement -- with the eye line extended from temple to temple, note that the vertical centerline divides the face in half.


Second horizontal measurement -- divide the eye line segment running from the temple to the vertical center line in half. This gives you the position of the pupil of the eye.

inner corner of eye

Second horizontal measurement -- divide the line segment from the pupil point to the vertical center line will give you the position of the inner corner of the eye.

outer corner of eye

Third horizontal measurement -- divide the line segment between the pupil point and the temple will provide you with the outer corner of the eye.

NOTE: Each eye is one eye width. The distance between the two eyes is one eye width. The distance between the outer corner of the eye and the temple is half an eye width.

"wing" of nose

When the subject's face is relaxed (showing no emotion) --

  • the inner corner of the eye lines up vertically with the outer edge of the nostril (the "wing" of the nose)
  • the inner edge of the iris (the pigmented part of the eye) lines up with the outer corner of the mouth
corner of mouth

ear alignment

When the subject is looking directly at you, the top edge of the ears line up with the eye brow and the bottom edge of the ear lines up with the base of the nose. (If the subject pivots his/her head up or down though be careful to observe how the facial features also move up or down respectively.)

ear alignment with head rotated down

ear alignment with head rotated up

If the subject turns his/her head partially toward profile, note that measurements on the far side of the nose decrease due to foreshortening.(See the article on foreshortened circles for a review of foreshortening.) while the distance between the outer corner of the eye and the temple increases dramatically.

The neck is half the height of the face.

And, finally, once you have mastered the anatomical proportions of the head you can use it as a "unit of measurement" for the rest of the body (7 1/2 to 8 heads high, depending on the system you subscribe to.)

I hope you find this helpful (and human anatomy just a little less mystifying.) Watch for two more Back to Basic posts (which will conclude this series) soon... along with a sneak peek or two at some of the new adventures we have in store.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Back to Basics and the Zen of Traditional Pencil Sharpening (In Three Stages)

a well-used pencil in need of a thorough sharpening

There is something remarkably zen-like about the process of sharpening a pencil by hand with a traditional pen knife.

Phase 1 - the wood sheath has been tapered and lead is exposed 

When I'm feeling particularly frazzled by all the details and distractions of the day, sitting down and investing a bit of time in creating a truly fine point on each of my pencils before I actually get underway with a drawing session allows me to contemplate, to focus, to lower my heart rate and my respiration; it's sublime!

Phase 2 - lead has been tapered

Phase 3 - tip finished and ready to draw

 for quick reference while working I place my sharp pencils point up in the tin, 
and my dull pencils point down

If you've never sharpened your own pencils by hand before, I offer this little demonstration for your consideration. Who knows, you might just find the it as rewarding as I do (and, in the process, discover what a truly sharp pencil can do.)


two examples of the penknives frequently packed in my kit 

PS. If (like me) you travel everywhere with your sketch kit just remember: you can pack your pencils, pens, aper and erasers in your carry-on. But wait till you reach your destination to begin your adventure and ALWAYS pack your pocket knife in your checked luggage.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Back to Basics, Lesson 2 (The Foreshortened Circle)

Foreshortening is a visual effect experienced when objects recede (move away from us) in space: objects appear smaller as they pull away, parallel lines appear to converge as they pull away, and nearer objects may overlap and obscure farther objects.

All of that is fairly clear and, over time, we do a pretty good job of incorporating it into our artwork. But there are two things that can prove particularly challenging: the foreshortened circle, and the subconscious struggle between what we "see" and what we "know" (and which of these two we choose to depict in our artwork.)

(the circle is defined here in yellow)

What we know about circles -- a circle is a curved shape with a constant radius. This is also what we see if we view the shape from a 90º angle. And, if we draw it, the circle could be said to have equal width and height.

What we see -- this is were things go variable.

viewed from the side (width, no height)

If the circle and our eye level share the same plane, we see the circle as a flat line (width, but no height.)

slightly beneath eye level - width and a little height (see the mouth of the pot)

farther beneath eye level -- width and more height (see the incised circles on the pot)

and further down still (see the bottom of the pot)

As the circle moves below our eye level the width remains constant while the "height" increases as the circle drops farther below your eye level. (NOTE: this will also occur if the circle moves above your eye level.)

our eye level is just above the vase, notice how the height of each lower 
circle increases in relationship to its width

If you bisect a foreshortened circle with a line running horizontally through its widest point, the upper curve will be identical to the lower curve.

How to draw foreshortened circles -- if you have a set consisting of more than one circle, begin with the circle on or closest to your eye level.

If you are drawing a complete foreshortened circle, place a straightedge (such as the handle of a paint brush) across the circle's horizontal width.

Observe and draw its upper curve.

Repeat the process with the lower curve.

Modify the upper and lower curves to match. (BE CAREFUL: Observe that the outer-most "points" on the circle are steady arcs, NOT points.)

(note the three incised circles curving down from the straightedge)

If you are only drawing half of the circle (for example, the forward half of a circle that passes around the outside of an opaque cylinder), place your straightedge across the widest part of the circle and draw the visible curve.

What you see vs. what you "know" -- probably the easiest way to discuss this conflict is by giving an example using the vase.

what we see vs...

...what we "know"

If the vase is below your eye level, the visible half of the circle that describes its base will curve downward toward its center. However, we KNOW that the base of the vase sits flat upon the table's surface. And, if we allow our subconscious to dictate what we draw (i.e., we draw what we "know"), we will inadvertently put our viewer's eye level in two places -- above the table and on the table's surface -- at once.

foreshortened circle (yellow oval) to the right of our line-of-sight

Final note: if we stand the circle up on one end we will experience the same foreshortening effects as the circle moves to the left (or right) of our straight-ahead "line-of-sight."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Back to Basics, Lesson 1 (The Bonus Video)

Herons, graphite on Strathmore Skills Series drawing paper

I promised everyone who signed up for the Strathmore Artist Paper company's Back to Basics workshop some free bonus materials. So -- for the next four weeks -- I will post video links, tips, and other instructional materials that I hope participants will find both informative and useful. (And if you are interested in participating but haven't signed up yet, no worries! Just head over to the Strathmore Online Workshops website, create a FREE account, click on "Workshop 1", scroll down and click on "Join Group". Once you've joined the group be sure to print out the Lesson 1 Instruction Sheet -- which will provide both a list of recommended supplies and supplemental illustrations & information -- and let the fun begin!)

Today's bonus material consists of a two-part Hi-Def video offering a second step-by-step demonstration of the materials and techniques of Lesson 1 (Line and Shape). This is intended as a purely visual experience and is accompanied only by a music soundtrack. If you are new to the material covered, I highly recommend that you watch the lesson video first and then watch the bonus videos as supplemental demonstrations.

Heron - Line & Shape, Part 1

I encourage you to pause the videos and rerun any passages of particular interest. Re-watch the videos as many times as you need to fully absorb the information covered. And feel free to ask any questions you may have concerning the lesson material or best studio practices (regardless of whether your "studio" is indoors or out) on the Strathmore Forum or the Comments section below.

Heron - Line & Shape, Part 2

And please, please remember: no question is "dumb" if it helps YOU to learn what you want to learn. (And chatting with you, and answering your questions is what I live for.) SO, let the adventure begin!

PS, I'll also be posting new "Sneak Peeks" regarding upcoming projects and learning opportunities, articles on travel- and nature-journaling, and my "Tools of the Trade" (covering media and studio tool topics) & "Tricks of the Trade" (which cover time-saving suggestions and demos) series-- with maybe an adventure or two thrown in for good measure. 

So, if you're not already a subscriber and don't want to miss a single article, please feel free to subscribe. (There are three options in the right sidebar: "Follow by Email"; "Follow" for Google account holders; or "Subscribe to Drawn to Life" for RSS users.)


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tools of the Trade #9 (6x8… Is Great!)

Monday, March 3, 2014 -- Two days ago the temperature here was in the 80s, I was in shorts, trees were beginning to bloom, and I was thinking that I might be heading out to the Texas Panhandle to do some work on my next drawing/painting/video project in a week or two. Then the ice storm rolled in yesterday, and the temperature this morning was quivering at the 18º F mark. So, the Panhandle trip will likely wait till April -- but preparations are certainly underway nonetheless. (Stay tuned for details.)

the new 6x8 panel vs its 5x7 sibling (both have been toned with W&N Mars Yellow)

If, like me, you are a fan of pochade boxes (and especially if you own more than one) there's a good possibility that you have one designed for 6x8in. (15.24x20.32cm) panels. But, unfortunately, 6"x8"x1/8" panels haven't been available commercially in the U.S. for years… until now!

the new panels stack up nicely

The Ampersand Art Supply company of Austin, Texas, has just added 6x8 to their 1/8" Flat line in a very economical 3-pack. (Interestingly, they've offered the size in their 2" "Deep Cradle" line for years.) It doesn't appear in their online catalog just yet, but two major firms -- Jerry's Artarama and Dick Blick -- have already committed to stock them. And, in fact, after patiently waiting in "back order limbo" for three months I just received my first shipment of 30 panels. (Yea!)

the line comp sketch

the 5x7 color study

the final work (First Morning, First Impressions, 18x24)

Personally, I often enjoy doing a small-scale study, followed with a full-scale panel (either on my French easel or in the studio, when I got home.) Until now this has usually meant using a 5"x7" panel and then modifying the composition to do an 18"x24" panel. No more! Now I can begin with the 6x8 and simply up-scale to the 18x24.

for extended expeditions, 20 of the new 6x8 panels all fit nicely in the 
beautifully crafted wet panel carrier from Easy L


some of the beautiful cherry wood "bits & pieces"

For quite some time I've thought that it would be really nice to have a pochade box that could handle a wide range of panels (say, from 5x7 up to 9x12 maybe) and that would be light enough to trek about the wilderness with. My rusty French easel can easily handle the panel range. But -- when loaded out with a full complement of paint tubes, brushes, rags and brush cleaning pot -- it sometimes feels like I've packed the entire studio.

the main palette begins to take form

So, when I received the little "windfall" (thanks to this month's Strathmore workshop), I looked at all of my options (and there are some beautiful options out there!) and decided to invest in a piece of fine, light weight furniture that could handle small to intermediate panels and carry enough paint and brushes for a productive day of sketching in oils. My final choice -- a Bitterroot Lite ingeniously designed and beautifully hand-crafted in cherry wood by Ben Haggett of Alla Prima Pochade LLC

from the front…                                                              ...and from the rear

the Bitterroot Lite -- with trays & easel in stored position...

…and opened for business -- with a toned 9x12 panel in place

(Watch for the Bitterroot to play a starring role in some of my plain air videos later this spring.)   

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tools of the Trade #8: Using a Composing Frame

Com•po•si•tion -- the placement or arrangement of the component parts of an image in harmonious relationship to one another; the placement of those parts relative to the format or frame of the image.

composing frames come in a wide range of sizes and materials

Composing frames -- Albrect Dürer used a large one (with an aiming device) in his studio; Vincent Van Gogh had one that could be anchored to the ground when he was painting plein air. Today's models are more compact, and far more portable. They not only aid the artist in composing his or her image, they also allow us to test several compositional options quickly and effortlessly before we decide on the final arrangement of format and subject before we commit our image to paper, panel or canvas. And yet, today most artists make little or no use of this handy tool... if they even know about it in the first place.

Why use a composing frame? For most of us, our subjects are part of something else. The head and shoulders you wish to portray are attached to a body. And that breath-taking landscape you want to capture is attached to, well, everything else! So, you find yourself asking, "Where to begin?" and "Where to leave off?" Or you just start along one edge of your sheet of paper and hope that you've included all the important bits by the time you reach the opposite edge.

But, by taking just a few seconds to use this simple device, you can take all the guess-work out of the creative process, while assuring yourself that all the time and effort you invest in creating your drawing or painting will produce the exact composition you had hoped for.

match the comp frame to the proportions of your paper

Matching the format -- make certain the proportions of your paper/canvas/panel are the same as your composing frame. Using a 2x3 composing frame to find the composition for a 3x4 panel will likely result in a great deal of distortion or an equal amount of guess work.

holding the compositional frame farther away produces a tighter cropping

bending the arm slightly produces a more inclusive composition

and holding the frame close to the eye produces the most panoramic composition

Too much, too little, just right -- look at your subject through the CF. Slowly moving the frame toward the subject will produce a "tighter crop." Slowly moving the frame toward your eye will show more of the subject and its surroundings. Experiment with both until you find the cropping that is most satisfying to you.

notice how the shrimp boat's window is intersected by the horizontal and vertical centerlines

with the shrimp boat now moved to the left, the background trees are at the centerline 
intersection and the boats face that point
(and notice that both images are divided by an implied diagonal running from upper left to lower right -- 
with  the lower left predominantly dark, while the upper right is predominantly light)

Left, right, up, down -- slowly move the frame side to side and up & down while noting what details are included or excluded in each position. Repeat the process as many times as necessary to find the composition you feel is "just right."

a compositional sketch on gridded paper (15x21 squares)

an oil sketch done on the same spot (5x7 panel)

Compositional sketch -- consider carrying a pocket-sized notebook in which you can produce a line drawing of your final composition before beginning your final drawing or painting. This can further clarify the compositional arrangement in your mind, and help "sharpen your eye" for future compositions. (I use a small pad of gridded paper so that I can quickly draw in the specific format I'm using. Alternately, you can use the CF itself and trace the inside edge of the window.)


4 compositional format options (clockwise from upper left): 3x2, 3x3, 4x3, 16x9

Using your digital camera/smart phone as a composing frame -- my digital camera allows me to choose from 4 different format shapes and even offers a grid on the viewing screen to make composing easier. This can be a very handy tool and, of course, you can also opt to photograph your subject for reference later.

The View Catcher goes digital -- The Color Wheel Company, the company that markets artist Patti André's original View Catcher, now offers a View Catcher app for smart phones. This gives you all the features of the original, plus allows you to take gridded photos of your subject (reference images for use in the studio), black and white images for tonal references, and even rudimentary "line drawings" of your subject for shape references.

focal point centered (rising sun dominates)              and moved to the lower left (sky dominates)

Being a bit eccentric -- most people place their subjects (particularly when creating portraits) along the vertical center of the format. And why not? It's the most "stable" composition option. However, that also makes it the most commonly used and, therefore, the least creative. So, consider exploring eccentric (i.e., "off center") options for a bit more originality. (It certainly worked for Degas.)

Thinking "outside the box" -- certain subjects bring to mind certain format arrangements; portraits most often utilize slightly vertical formats, while landscape formats are most often horizontals. Why not explore the opposite from time to time? You may find that it breathes a bit of fresh air into your creative options.

Don't settle for always seeing the world horizontally -- children not only see the world as a more magical place than most adults, they also frequently see it with more varied perspective; they spend a great deal of time looking up at the "adult" world, or looking down at the world from their perch in a tree. (When is the last time you climbed a tree? Or laid in the grass?) Don't forget to look up. And don't forget to look down.

one subject - four (or more) compositional options

And, if you want to strengthen your compositional skills try this little exercise: select a single subject that you find interesting. Now see how many different good compositions you can come up with. You can use your format horizontally or vertically (or, better still, use it both ways); move it up or down; move it side-to-side; turn it at an angle (this is called a "Dutch oblique" in filmmaking); use different rectangles; use non-rectangles (very popular in the 70s), circles (sometimes called "tondos"), or ovals; or even change your vantage point. But, to get the most out of this creative exercise, keep the subject, and your lighting on the subject, constant. (Like doing push-ups, at first you may find it a strain to do six. But, with practice, you may eventually be able to do dozens without breaking a sweat.)

Watch your borders -- we generally focus most of our attention on the bigger things near the center of the composition. But don't forget to consciously observe the little things around the periphery; what you choose to include (or exclude) at the edges can have a profound effect on the final image


scraps of watercolor paper and a few simple tools are all that are required to make your own

Making your own -- If you don't want to purchase a commercial compositional frame, consider making your own in your favorite proportions. (If you make more than one be sure to mark the window size on each for quick and easy reference.)