Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Developing Talent with a Sketchbook in the New Year

Keeping a notebook, or a sketchbook, is the "one best habit" which highly talented people have in common, according to this article by Daniel Coyle at The Talent Code

If my year in art is any indication, that's true!

Not that I'm any great artist like the notebook keepers Coyle mentions in his article (DaVinci, Franklin, Twain to name a few).  But the daily practice of making art and experimenting with ideas and techniques really paid off in the development of my abilities.

If you've been wondering if you could ever keep a notebook or a sketchbook to capture and develop your ideas and inspirations--you can!

All you really need is to figure out what capturing "device" you really, honestly, would carry with you each and every day--and that you would actually use.  For me that was 90% of the battle!  You might be surprised what is--or isn't--for you!  (For instance, I carry my cell phone with me almost all the time, but I can not use it as an idea-capturing device.  Don't know why, but I just can't.)

Check out the notebooks for sale at!

If you want to have a look at lots of luscious notebooks, check out Jet Pens!  I am not affiliated with them, at all.  Just an enthusiastic customer.

Or just grab some paper you like, staple it together, glue some thicker paper on the outside for protection, and go.  A sketchbook doesn't have to be fancy or expensive.  You just have to want to carry it (and something to write with) with you all the time.

Why not make a New Year's resolution to keep a notebook and/or sketchbook with you every day for the next year and jot things in it as often as you can?  Then this time next year you can look back through the things you've captured and see how far your thinking, skills, and talents, have come.

Need more inspiration?  Consider this:  Near the end of his life, Ben Franklin credited his notebook-keeping habit for "the happiness of my whole life."

That's some endorsement for keeping a book of scribbles and scratches!

I have four pages left to finish the sketchbook I'm currently working in.  I think I'll try to fill them all today.  Then I can start the brand new year with a brand new sketchbook?

Which sketchbook will I use next?

What about you?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Gift to Us All: Brené Brown's TEDx Houston Talk

I believe that Brené Brown is one of today's greatest writers and thinkers and speakers on creativity, the spirit, art, and living a quality meaning-filled life.

I have read her books.  Watched her videos.  Taken two online classes with her.

Her explosion into the cultural consciousness started with this talk for TEDx Houston, delivered in June 2010.   I rewatch it every so often because really, it is incredible.

Vulnerability as a strength.  As a path to courage.  As the key to authenticity.

So many of us need to remember these things as we draw and write and scribble our explorations into our own lives and that which is meaningful to us.

I hope you enjoy it.  You can learn more about her work here.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas to Me: Jinhao X450

I bought myself a little Christmas present the other day:  a Jinhao X450 fountain pen from China.  Can't wait to try this new pen out and, I hope, add it to my art supplies.  I think it will be a fun tool for sketching--and it only cost $4.50 on ebay!

So my interest in this pen started--as so many of life's adventures do--when a friend sent me an email with the subject line "Interesting!!!!" and a link to a video review of the Jinhao x450 fountain pen.

It was those three exclamation points that got me.  Three!  How could I ignore that?

Here's the video she linked me to:

After watching this and wondering how I could have missed out on such an inexpensive pen that seemed so wonderful, I googled it.  First stop: The Goulet Pen Company site, where they sell the pens.  I read the reviews, watched the videos, and learned that people love these pens but tend to swap out the nibs for better ones which Goulet makes and sells for $15.  People raved about this great pen for under $20.

More hits on Google brought up the same theme.

I had to try this pen.  I mean, my friend told me it was "interesting!!!" with three exclamation points.  And I need very little encouragement to purchase a new art supply.  So I ordered one.

Well, okay, the truth is, I ordered four, in four different colors, as a package from an ebay seller in China.  I paid $4.50 each with no shipping, so got for for $17.95.  And I ordered two fine nibs from Goulet.  I don't expect that the pens will arrive in time for Christmas, but when they do arrive, I intend to give at least one away as a gift.

You might think I'd give one to the friend who turned me on to them in the first place.  She of the "interesting!!!" email.   I might have; however, when I contacted her to curse her for tempting me into buying yet another pen...and did she want one too (because, of course, buying art supplies is always more fun if you share it with a friend), she told me she had several of them already.

We plan to get together to swap out the nibs over coffee as soon as mine arrive.  That is the kind of geeks we are.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sketch Your Holiday Decorations for At Least Three Times the Beauty

Looking for something creative to do with the kids home from school this holiday season?  Seeking a little private quiet time for yourself?  Feeling like just stopping--even for a just a few minutes--will help you regain the Christmas spirit and maybe a healthier perspective on the late-December madness going on all around us?

Give this idea a try:  sketch or draw or paint your holiday decorations!

You'll be surprised at how complex and beautiful each piece is all by itself.

Last night I sat down at a table with family members, each doing their own thing.  I sketched two pieces from a Jim Shore creche which I've had for years.  I love those figurines and I look at them a lot.  Still, not until I drew them did I see the intricacy of the designs, or really study the shapes and postures.

The Donkey

I drew the donkey directly in ink, then added the watercolor.  You can see that my Noodler's Bulletproof black ink (which I so very much want to love) ran a bit, even though I had given it a good fifteen minutes to dry.   The small drawing at the top I did second, because I felt that the proportions on the first big drawing weren't terrific and I wanted to give it another go, just to see if I could get it a little closer to what I observed.  I loved the banner draped across the donkey's back.  If you had asked me to describe this donkey before  I painted it I would have told you he was brown and lying down.  But I wouldn't have described a blue banner with a red flower.  

You can see why I have to draw stuff.  I'm not very observant otherwise!


I drew this one directly in ink, using Noodler's Purple Martin ink in a very fine point Namiki Vanishing Point fountain pen.  This ink is water soluble, so I used it with the intent of going back in with a water brush for color and shading.  You can see that when it is wet, the ink breaks into some component blues and pinks.  I can't really control that, but I thought the result was pretty cool.

Twice the Beauty
Drawing the ornaments helped me appreciate them at least twice as much as usual.  I love them as part of my holiday decorations.  As I mentioned earlier, I look at my creche a lot.  But focusing on just one piece at a time and drawing it gave me so much more beauty.  I could appreciate Jim Shore's artistry in creating the work--the colors and shapes and themes across the pieces in the set.  I meditated while in the flow of the challenge of drawing the figures.  I let my mind wander over and around who these figures represent and their role in the Christmas story.

Third Beauty Came in the Writing
When I finished the pictures, I did a quick who, what, where exercise.  We always think we'll remember the details of so many ordinary things later in our lives, but the truth is, we don't.  So it is always good to capture them.  So, on the facing page, I quickly jotted the figure's name, the art supplies I had used for the drawing, and then wrote the answers to the questions:

Who?  Joseph
What?  From the Jim Shore Creche
Where?  On my fireplace mantle
Why?  Because I love it, but also because you can't buy them any more
When?  Got it when my mother gifted it to me and my spouse early in our relationship
How?  I described how we display it with other decorations each year.

Writing about the figure in the context of those questions reminded me of the history of the figures in my family, the love we feel for each other, and made me remember all kinds of nice stuff from the past!

Other Options
You can draw ornaments from your tree.  Decorations outside of your house.  Presents wrapped and waiting.  You can even draw food!

I have a friend whose cooking is her art.  I drew one of her cookies.

Then I ate it.

Best wishes for a holiday full of peace and spirit and art and fun!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sketching Volume: The Dreaded Chair

Chairs.  Drawing a chair is a bit like climbing Mount Everest to me.  Too much to tackle for my sketchbook and I.   I've tried and produced only really wonky designs.  For me it has been too hard to draw a chair.

Chairs.  We sit in them all the time.  We appreciate the antique ladderback and the overstuffed recliner.  We occupied many at desks in school.  Some of us occupy them in offices.  We sit in them to enjoy entertainment.  We sit in them to wait for doctors or dentists or to get our driver's licenses renewed.  We are are plenty familiar with chairs.  But, sheesh, they are hard to draw.

Chairs.  It's the common things in life that so often confound us.  But when we can start to see things in different ways, we find new ways to approach old mysteries.  Like how to draw a chair.

In Liz Steel's Sketching Now Foundations class, our recent lesson instructed us to draw volume.  To draw all sides of an object in 3D as if the objects were transparent--so that you can work out (in pencil!) all of the lines and edges and angles which you cannot see.  That way, when you ink the drawing, you can be sure that the visible lines are correct.

At first this seemed too easy a concept to really be valuable, but as I've admitted in previous posts, this is a lot harder than it looks.  Even for "simple" objects like stacked books.

Then she told us to try a chair!  In public!!

I admit I put it off.  But inevitably I found myself in a waiting room (as we all do) that had no decorations and no other people in it.  So, left with no alternative other than reading months-old magazines, I decided to try to sketch a chair.

All I can say is, wow.  It looks like a chair.  I am pleased.

For me the biggest Aha! moment is not how to draw a chair.  The meaning comes in the reminder that the lessons someone wants to teach me, which at first seems to be too simple to really make a difference, might be exactly what I need to solve a problem I've carried around for a while.

Drawing is life.  Scribble on!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Great Interview with Seth Godin, The Art of Noticing, and How it Connects to Creativity

What I love most about sketching:  it requires me to notice.

I find that noticing the world around me makes me more alive.

It inspires my creativity.

It helps me see beauty in a broken world.

Author Seth Godin has more to say about all of this.

The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating
We live in a world that is recreating itself one life and one digital connection at a time. On this landscape for which there are no maps, Seth Godin is a singular thought leader and innovator in what he describes as our post-industrial "connection economy." Rather than merely tolerate change, he says, we are all called now to rise to it. We are invited and stretched in whatever we do to be artists — to create in ways that matter to other people.

You can list to the very interesting interview blurbed above by checking out the always valuable site/podcast On Being with Krista Tippet.  This link should take you straight to the Godin episode, but I urge you to explore the entire site.  Great stuff!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sketching Volume: The Challenge of a Glass of Water

Such simplicity.  A glass of water.

How can something so simple be so very hard to draw?

I think there's a lot to be said for the complexity of the simple.  Water.

My mind starts spinning a little:  water, so easy from my faucet.  People who walk miles to find water.  Unclean water in so many places.  Innovators making self-sustaining wells for clean water.  Diseases carried by water.  Universal solvency.  Most of our bodies--water.  Most of our planet--water.

It is so hard to draw!

As are the container holding the water and the leather-covered journal into which the watercolor paints will go.  And I can hardly even talk about the scissors!  (Look close and you'll see the pencil lines from the many times I redrew these!  And we won't talk about the ellipses in that glass of water...)

Drew this as an exercise for Liz Steel's Sketching Now Foundations course, which I am loving and finding a good solid challenge.  Our task:  to sketch multiple objects as if they are transparent, sketching the entire volume of an object in pencil, over and over until we get the lines, the angles, the edges right.  Then ink the edges as the if the objects are again solid, leaving the pencil lines to help us learn from our mistakes.  Then add color.  Then add shadow shapes.   Great exercise.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sketching Volume in Round Things

Having practiced sketching volume with books, which really are fairly simple rectangles after all, I thought I'd try the same lessons and approach with round things.  Or, at least cylindrical things.

Here's the pencil and ink.

The practice introduced by Liz Steel is to draw in a watersoluble pencil the volume of each object as if we could see through them to the back side.  That way we can try again and again until we get lines and angles and intersections correct.

You can see from the mess of pencil that the ellipses at the top and bottom of the pencil sharpener gave me a tough time!

I enjoyed painting this sketch because all three objects were shades of black and gray.  I used only Payne's gray, with just a touch of Moonglow (a Daniel Smith color) in the shadows.

You probably noticed the heavy waxed cord stitching up the center of my spread--I am working in the very first casebound book I ever made!  Since this first one, I use a lighter weight cord for most of my sketchbooks so the stitching isn't so intrusive.  Still, I like the handmade feel of the whole thing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sketching from Period Drawings

I love to sketch using drawings or paintings from other artists, with other distinct and different styles, as inspiration.  It stretches me.

Plus it gets me to look a lot more closely at things I might otherwise not notice at all.

And noticing always makes the world a richer place.

A friend of mine recently purchased a very old copy of The Courtships of Miles Standish by Longfellow.  A painting graced the front cover in which the young Mr. Standish and the young lady he presumably courted sat visiting, neither of them looking too happy.

It cracked us all up.

So I sketched it.

What I most liked about the original and did manage to capture was the placement of the two candlesticks.  I'm not sure why they intrigued me so.  Her placement by the hearth, with the home-making tools (the wheel) and the symbol of faith (the book in her lap which I suppose was the Bible) also stand out.  The interesting extension of the arms, resting on furniture, but somehow reaching toward each other.  The shared color of his shirt and her dress.  And of course, their very grim expressions!

The half hour I spent looking at an old piece of art which I otherwise would have dismissed with barely a glance brought us all a lot of fun.

(I could find no identification of the original artist in the book.)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sketchbook Sketched Books (Or Learning Volume with Volumes)

Once again I am reminded that the world around me is spectacular and complex and full of meaning--just because I drew a stack of old books.

This week in Liz Steel's wonderful Sketching Now Foundations online course (you can link to her blog from my Goodies list and find out more about Liz and her courses), we are learning to see through objects and sketch the complete 3D shapes.  This is to help us better understand how to depict objects accurately, especially in groups, or when parts of an object are obscured.

The first exercise:  draw a stack of books.  First in pencil, drawing each object completely as if we could see through the others.  Then in ink, picking out only the edges we actually can see.

Here's my pencil and ink in progress:

If you look closely you can see the pencil lines of the objects going through each other--and the many different lines I made over and over attempting to get them right (or, at least, closer to right).

I always think sketching objects is fun at least in part because of choosing the object itself.  There are more than a few books in my house at all times.  Which to draw? 

I'm not sure why, but today my attention rested on an old, kind of beat up copy of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Anthology from 1966, an old Modern Library volume entitled Three Mystery Novels and last winter's Tin House magazine.  I guess the represent my life's span of reading interests:  from the 1960s until now, stories of all kinds, especially mysteries.   What better subject for the mystery of figuring out how the heck to draw volume?

I had such a tough time getting that middle book to work (and I never did get it right).  I have to do the exercise again.  But ever mindful of Tommy Kane's advice that if you start a drawing you must finish it (great, life-changing advice), I spent the time painting this and adding in the shadow shapes.

Of course, one brush stroke in and I realized I had inked it with a brush that had water soluble ink in it.  So that led to some challenging watercoloring.  And, I think I had too many strong light sources going in the room when I worked, because I couldn't see clear shadows at all, so they didn't come out as well as I had hoped.

So much more to be learned about what you see, what you think you see, and--and here's the important part--communicating what you see (or think you see) to others.   No wonder we have so much conflict in the world!  We hardly slow down to really look (or listen) at what's going on around us any more, and when we do, we are just not very good at it!  We are so out of practice.

Now, back to drawing in my sketchbook.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New Multi-ink Pens--Pick Your Own Inks

Hi to all of you multi-pen fans out there (thanks to Andrea Joseph for reintroducing me to that little bit of art supply fun),  

Jet Pens one of my favorite places on the web, has just introduced a new product:  Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto Multi Pen Body Components. As I understand it from peeking quickly at the page, you order the pen body, then you can pick your four colors of ink.  You order each ink separately, so you can change up when you want to.

You know, in case anyone is still constructing their holiday wishlist.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DIY Bookmaking: Scraps Become Gifts

I'm not sure everyone appreciates a handmade gift.  But sketchers, writers, keepers of sketchbooks and art journals and most kids love a handmade blank book.  Even simple designs bring delight to these creative folks.  Maybe it's because by giving a blank book as a gift you cast your vote of confidence that your loved one can and will fill it with something meaningful.  

I made these three matching accordion books today as gifts for the three daughters of some friends. Used 11 x 17 mixed media paper, cut in half horizontally, and glued together to make a nice long accordion. Then I used mat board scraps I buy very inexpensively at a local frame shop for cover board. Covered that with fun handmade paper scraps. These three cute little gifts were together in only a few minutes. 

That got me looking at other nice paper scraps I could use to make cute gift books. This tiny, two inch square accordion contains the trim of some Arches watercolor sheets I used to make a big sketchbook earlier in the year. 

I have a friend who loves to paint "tiny" and I think she'll enjoy this for Christmas. 

Then I snagged some wider but shorter scraps from other bookmaking projects and trimmed them to make a 3 x 4 inch book which I sewed with Coptic binding. 

Not sure to whom I will give this little book yet. 

It was a fun set of projects and I put a lot of my saved scraps to good use!  Cut down on some art room clutter and gained few Christmas presents too. A good day!