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.)