Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Practice Scribbling People Using Blind Contours and the Television

I always like to change things up in my scribbling, so after drawing a bunch of different single-line blind contour portraits of TV personalities (I shared my work with Lester Holt of NBC news in my last post), I decided to try a few modified blind contours on a game show host.  These exercises were just as fun for helping me pay new attention to something I had seen many times and for improving my drawing.

Here is one example I did, with apologies to Alex Trebek.  I didn't label it clearly, but the drawings are blind, five looks, and ten looks (with hair and shadows added later).

I had great fun doing it and feel like I want to try him again.  Even in the final scribble where I looked ten times, I couldn't get his chin right.  Ah, well.  There is always another drawing to come!

(Plus, I just realized I spelled the man's name wrong in my sketchbook--apologies!  But I don't proofread what I write there...)

Here are the steps I used for practicing drawing portraits using modified blind contour drawings and TV personalities!

Practice Drawing Portraits with Modified Blind Contours

1.  Find someone to sit for you.  Or choose a TV show (like many game shows or talk shows) where the people sit fairly still.  If you have a DVR and want to freeze the screen, I would not consider that cheating!

2.  Grab some paper and smooth quick flowing pen.  It's important to be able to move your pen as quickly as you wish.

3.  Decide what part of the person's face you are going to start on.

4.  Look at the paper and select where you are going to start the drawing.  Put the pen down.  For the first sketch, do not pick it up again!

5.  Look up at your model.  Move your eyes slowly around the person's features.  As you move your eyes, move your pen.  No matter what the speed, keep your eyes and your pen together.  Remember not to pick up the pen if you can help it!

6.  Finish and look at your drawing!  Appreciate for just a few seconds what is lively and keen about it. 

7.  Pick a new point on the person's face to start your next drawing and put your pen down on the paper.  Draw the person pretty much the same way as you did before, only this time, allow yourself to look a few times.  Maybe twice.  Or three times.  Or five.  It's up to you.

8.  Have a look at this drawing!  Appreciate it.  

9.  Pick a new point on the person's face and put your pen down on the paper.  This time, draw the person, but allow yourself to look a few more times.  Maybe twice as much as you looked during the last drawing.

10.  Do as many as you wish!  Try to do at least three, so you can see the differences in your drawings. 

When you are done, sit back and have a look!

What do you notice about the similarities and differences among your drawings?

What do you appreciate about your subject that you hadn't noticed before (no matter how many times you've looked at him or her)?  Any surprises there for you?

What did this drawing exercise help you learn, not only about drawing, but about seeing and appreciating?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Practice Scribbling People Using Multiple Single-Line Blind Contours and the Television

Recently, I put together a few different techniques to help myself practice drawing portraits, even though I have a nasty cold and no one wanted to be near me, much less sit for me while I drew them.  So I used multiple single-line blind contour drawings and the television to help be get some scribbling practice into my sketchbook.

I have done a few more blind contour scribbles in the last few days to help myself warm up before I do something more "serious" in my sketchbook.

The funny thing is, often I kind of like the weirdness of the blind contours better than the slower sketch!

On the other hand, the blind contours always warm up my hand-eye coordination and help me do a better scribble of anything, no matter what I'm working on.

The other evening I decided to give it a try using two television personalities.  First, Lester Holt, the anchor on the NBC Nightly News.  These are single line contours for the most part.  In other words, I drew them with my eyes glued to the TV, and without lifting my pen.

You can see how some sections of the face stay together pretty well, but once your hand loses its spot, well that's when things go wonky!  On the left scribble above, I really like how the glasses moth and chin stick together, but the nose is all on its own there in the middle.  And the eyes--how did they wind up so far to the left?   You really learn a lot about how your brain receives information from your eyes and transfers it to your hands by doing these.  Look at the upper right:  where is the man's chin?  I don't know. 

To me, perhaps the most amazing thing about this exercise is how you can look at the same person or picture and do several blind contours one right after another only to have them turn out so completely differently!  I think this happens in part because I challenge myself to start from a different place each time.

Here is a scribble I did of Mr. Holt after the blind contours, looking at the page as much as I liked:

I'm rather pleased with this as it sort of looks like him!

So, to summarize, here are the steps I used for practicing drawing people using multiple single-line blind contours and--when no one else is around to sit for you--TV personalities!

Practice Drawing People with Multiple Single-Line Blind Contours

1.  Find someone to sit for you.  Or choose a TV show (like the news) where the people sit fairly still.  If you have a DVR and want to freeze the screen, I would not consider that cheating!

2.  Grab some paper and smooth quick flowing pen.  It's important to be able to move your pen as quickly as you wish.

3.  Decide what part of the person's face you are going to start on.

4.  Look at the paper and select where you are going to start the drawing.  Put the pen down.  Do not pick it up again!

5.  Look up at your model.  Move your eyes slowly around the person's features.  As you move your eyes, move your pen.  No matter what the speed, keep your eyes and your pen together.  Remember not to pick up the pen if you can help it!

6.  Finish and look at your drawing!  Appreciate for just a few seconds what is lively and keen about it. 

7.  Pick a new point on the person's face to start your next drawing... and repeat.  

Try to do three or more of these single-line blind contour drawings in a row of the same subject.

When you are done, sit back and have a look!

What do you notice about the similarities and differences among your drawings?

What have you noticed and appreciated about your subject that you hadn't noticed before (no matter how many times you've looked at him or her)?  I am always humbled when I draw something I've looked at many times before and feel like I have really seen it for the first time.  Even, it seems, a TV news anchor...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Scribblers: Enjoy Kermit the Frog's TED Talk on Creativity

Kermit the Frog.  Creativity.  Scribbling is creative!  A TED talk by a frog.

Not much makes me happier, so I thought I'd share it with you all.

"You're all sitting here listening to a talking amphibian.  That alone is a radical act of creativity.  It's what I like to call a conspiracy of craziness...that's what being creative is all about."

"We literally create every single day for manifesting our particular view of the world."

A fun approach to some great information.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Window Sketches for When You Have No Time!

Sometimes scribbling means just that--super quick marks made, splashes of color put down.  I don't have a lot of time some days to think up an idea about what to sketch or to mix up the right color of paint or even to spend a whole lot of time really looking at my subject.  I want to have one of those slower, more meditative drawing sessions, because I know how much better it will make me feel, and how much more it will make me appreciate my life.  But in all honestly, I have a lot of other things to do and some days I have only got about five minutes.  At best.

I still try to manage to scribble something every day.  And one thing that is always there at my house, at least as long as it is day time, is the view out doors.

I am lucky.  I live in the woods.  But even if you don't, if you have a window, you have some sort of view and odds are it changes from day to day. Thanks to the light, the weather, the seasons, your neighbors, an intruding bird--if you take a look, you'll probably see something different. 

And even if you don't, what the heck.  You change every day!  So even if you draw the same thing--the exact same thing--the drawing will be different because you are.

Here are two examples of quick scribbly sketches I did looking out the window in the last month or so.  This first one took about five minutes total. 

As you can tell, I used a thin pen (Univision fine, black ink--very permanent and a very cheap pen!).  I spent probably four of those minutes getting a little bit of detail into the tree shapes.  But then I whipped out my waterbrush and put down some colors to approximate the sunrise.

Here's the thing about this funny little drawing.  It doesn't really look like the sunrise light through the woods that I see every morning.  But it evokes it.  When I look at this drawing, I know exactly which trees those are.  And I know exactly what that sunrise light looks like.  So this silly little scribble has the power to make me remember.   Totally worth the five minutes I put into it.

This second sketch is completely different, though it took about the same five minutes.

As you can see, it is a double page spread in a sketchbook.  I did it all with brush from the start--no ink work at all.  The trees are loosely based on the actual shapes in my yard, but I do not look at this and know which trees are which, like I do in the first sketch.  Here, my intent was to capture the sense of seeing the blueberry bushes, which are red in the winter, through my leafless trees.  They are the only splash of color in the gray wooded world between the snow melt and the coming of the green.  Here they are a bit yellow as they picked up tint from the sunrise.  This scribble takes me immediately to a scene I look at every day, every late winter, year after year.  It even brings with the associations of the deer and turkey and coyotes I've seen and heard there.  Absolutely worth the five minutes, even if it isn't much of a piece of "art."

That is the joy of scribbling with spirit--one that undergirds all the pictures I make, even the one where I take a lot of time to try to create a lovely picture.  But really, the loveliness of any sketch is, for me, just a bonus.  The point is to capture a piece of my life that is important to me.  So I notice it more in the moment, and can notice it more again and again in the future.

And isn't it amazing--and wonderful--that I (and you!) can do this in as little as a few minutes?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Warming up with Fast Blind Contour Selfies

Credit for this idea goes to the artist lapin, who shared it on a Q and Art video about warming up which you can check out here.

He recommends warming up by quickly scribbling blind contour drawings of people.  Less than a minute or so on each, and you do it without looking at the paper.

Of course, what results is often a mess in terms of looking like the person!  It can be hard to place the mouth in relation to the nose when you can't look at the paper.

But blind contour drawings help train your eyes to see and your hand to follow.  The process is good for your skills at paying attention.

Plus, sometimes the resulting wonky drawings have a vibrancy and charm all their own.

Today, when I had a few spare moments before I had to leave for an appointment, I did four blind contour selfies--all four in under two minutes.  Here they are:

None of them looks like me.

They all look like me.

Super fun.  Super quick.  An interesting way to look at yourself and others.  I can't wait to give it a try out in a public place later this week.

I also think this will be fun to try with other members of the family.  Imagine how closely--and sweetly--you will have to look at each other to draw each other in this way.  What wonderful things, other than the drawings, might result?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Object A Day for a Week

Recently, Liz Steel offered this challenge to folks through Sketchbook Skool's free weekly lesson:  draw an object a day for a week to construct the story of your week.

I know that scribbling the regular things in life helps me pay attention, helps me appreciate the world around me.  I hadn't thought much about how scribbling a particular object, chose not for its beauty but for its narrative significance, could bring a different sort of value to my sketchbook.

This was a great exercise.  And it occurred during a week in which something significant happened.

But I'll present a few of the drawings here and let you see for yourself:






This is an exercise I will do again, and plan to give to my students.  Even during a week when no big events happens, this exercise asks you to think for a bit at the end of each day.  What happened to me today that was important or meaningful?  What object represents or captures that?  How can I draw it?  What do I need to write, if anything, to fill in the story?

By the way, boring as it might seem, a phone is a very hard thing to draw... at least for me!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Scribbling on Scraps

Recently Brenda Swenson, a fakulty member from Sketchbook Skool, posted a challenge:  use your watercolors on an unusual, colored background.  People did terrific work on the sides of brown paper grocery bags and shipping boxes from amazon.  Me?  I headed for the basket I keep in a corner of my studio full of scraps for "some day."  You know, that piece of bright pink paper that is just too darned big to throw away, even though you have no clue what you'll do with it.

Scribbling on scraps.  Even less pressure than normal to produce "art."  Good for me because, as I've mentioned recently, my dog Desmond was suffering from bone cancer, and I have been feeling the pressure to take good care of him.  And to take good care of the other dog, Nik, who is wigged out at the changes in the household now that Desmond has passed on.

I wanted to share my experience of doing my daily sketching on colored scraps.  Even though I've been pretty sad lately, it was a bright spot in my days.  Here are few of my pieces from the week:

First, pure play.  I got out my one of my plastic dinosaurs (a great tip on learning to draw animals, thanks to Roz Stendahl--practice with high quality plastic toys!  They are 3-D but don't move!).  I also tried to remind myself what my Pelikan gouache would do on gray paper.

Then as luck would have it, a new set of Acryla Gouache arrived from Dick Blick, and I got a chance to try that out.  First, I painted a scene based on a pastel sketch I did on the beach in St. John, the USVI.  

This was the first time I had ever done a piece of art based on a piece of art of my own. I promptly fell in love with the Acryla Gouache, and its opacity (which I can never seem to get out of my other gouaches--expensive or cheap).  Of course, my next step was to try it on even darker paper.

Since I had fallen into total experimentation mode, I drew a circle in a square of black paper, then painted an imagined scene based on what I see when I watch the moon rise in the winter through the woods behind my house.  Interesting results. 

Not easy to scan or crop, however, especially since I don't use Photoshop.

Next, I decided to do some more quick observations of Desmond, but on a color of paper that had nothing to do with German Shepherds.

I really liked the result.  And again, that Acryla Gouache added nice color, even over the hot pink. This piece in particular is one I never would have come up with if not for this assignment.  And I am glad that I have it now that he is gone.

Finally, I decided to return to a more sedate gray paper, but to challenge myself with colored pencils. I admire the work people do with colored pencils, but pencils are not my friend.  I suspect I don't have the patience to add dozens of layers to build the color up in a vibrant way.  But I also know I need more practice.  So I practiced on Desmond as his slept in "his" chair.

I love the time I spent doing this and really studying a scene I've seen every day for the last ten years, but which, now, I will not see any longer.  I have to admit that seeing this chair empty makes me especially sad.  I am glad I have the drawing.  I have a ton of photos, of course, but somehow, the drawing connects me to Desmond more.

Overall, this was a terrific exercise.  Here are the benefits I got:

  • First, I got to feel a little righteous about keeping all those scraps and finally using them.  I even announced to my spouse, "I am using scraps!"  That felt good. 
  • Second, I drew a little more loosely than usual because, heck, I'm drawing on scraps after all. Plus, who expects a German Shepherd drawn on hot pink paper to look good?  
  • Third, I busted out some less familiar tools that I struggle to get good results from (the colored pencils) because it didn't really matter anyhow.  
  • Fourth, I connected more closely to a dog I knew I was about to lose.
  • Fifth, I played.  And this week, I've sorely needed some play time.

I hope you give yourself a shot at scribbling on scraps.  Be sure to glue them into your regular sketchbook when you are done.  You never know what they might mean to you later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Discovering Something You Didn't Know Was There

One of the greatest gifts of keeping an artist journal or sketchbook over time, even if it is only now and then, comes when I look back over my past work.  What I created, then forgot about, always surprises me--and usually in a good way.

In the last day, I've needed a good surprise.  If you've been reading for the last few weeks about my frustration about not being able to draw my dogs, and then about my sadness at the diagnosis of my dog, Desmond, with advanced bone cancer.  His pain increased suddenly over the weekend, and we released him from that yesterday.  I am so sad.  Though I am glad to have spared him more suffering.

Even in the midst of a sadness that I know will last for a long time, I still managed to smile when I discovered these little comics of him which I had forgotten completely about.

Lately I've been reorganizing some of my haphazard scans and digital art files.  Doing so I've discovered a lot of the comics I drew in 2011, usually drawn and inked by hand, then colored in the iPad.

Here is one:

Sure, this is a comic.  Not "realistic."  And while I have been trying to draw more from life lately, still, this captures exactly what has gone on in my house between these three animals for years.  As I look at it, I am surprised at how accurate it is!  The animals' body shapes and positions.  The purple blanket.  Desmond's always twisted up leg positions, his head always propped on some sort of pillow.

Here is another:

In the foreground, my Dutch Shepherd, Nik, always prodding for another game, more love, or something exciting.  And in the background, steady German Shepherd Desmond, sitting cattywampus, waiting to see whatever I decide to do so he can accompany me.

In these drawings I can see the little, but spectacular, things about Desmond that I will miss.  I am so glad I have these drawings to help me remember him in the future!

I had no idea my little comics held this much meaning.

Not only am I excited to keep going back through my old work (and I am so thankful that I kept it all), but I am going to start incorporating my comic style back into my daily sketchbook practice.  There is something in these drawings, I think, that feels authentic.  I don't want to lose that "voice" as I continue to develop new skills.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

When the Scribbles Become Really Important

Amidst my fussing last week about not being able to draw my dogs very well, one of my dogs, my ten year-old German Shepherd, Desmond, was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive bone cancer.  Suddenly it seems like my inability to even scribble him is a tremendous failure on my part.  He's going to be gone from my life in a matter of weeks.  And yes, I can always work from a photo. But it isn't the same.

So now I'm spending a lot of time sitting with him, because he's happy, sedated and slow on his limp.  Every now and then I take a break from my "real job" work and try to draw him.  Here's an example, three blind contours I did of him in a total of under two minutes.

I feel like these quick contour scribbles catch the essence of him lying in his chair, gazing out the window at the coming spring.  Even if no one else looks at them and sees this--I do.  And because I drew it, I will always remember it.  I am reminded:  it doesn't matter if the scribble is "good art."  It only matters that I pay attention, create the scribble, and look at it.

The other thing I've been doing these last few days is scanning and organizing older sketchbooks and iPad art.  I'm finding some amazing things as I look back on this old work:  I actually can scribble my own dogs and capture their spirits quite nicely when I'm not thinking about it.  Here is a snippet from a comic I drew in 2011, when a close friend of mine was dying of cancer.  I was thinking about him, not my dogs--and looking at it, I can feel again the simultaneous dismay and comfort of this rainy March walk with my dogs in the woods.

Finding this old scribble (drawn in ink and colored on the iPad, fyi) has renewed my belief that daily sketching changes lives.  Well, at least it changes mine.  I am changed now, today, because of that sketch I did in 2011, and because of everything it calls to mind about presence, life, comfort, death, rainy walks in the woods, and love.

Not bad at all.

Scribbling a Puppy

Sometimes scribbling the thing (or person or pet) that has the most meaning to you is the hardest drawing task of all!  I know it is for me.

Since I confessed last week--twice--that I want to learn to sketch my dogs but I struggle to produce anything that even resembles a dog, I thought I should get the courage to show you what I mean.

I drew this messy page sitting on the floor watching my recent foster puppy eat her breakfast.  The pup has been gone, off to her permanent home for a little over a week now and I have to say, I am so glad I drew this page!  And I'm so glad I kept it in the sketchbook (I have a rule--never tear a page out).

You can see that when I did the page I wrote my curiosity about whether or not that mess would become a page I would like later--and the answer is yes!!

Mind you, I'm not saying I like the sketches as art.  Sheesh--I can NOT draw a dog.  But I am glad I did these drawings, because looking at the page now, I can feel the energy and happiness of that spritely little pup.  It brings back the memories--just the way I know a travel journal can do.

Of course, all of life is a journey.  We're all travelers here, aren't we?  So I guess it makes sense that pretty much anything we sketch is part of a big "life travels" travel journal in a way.

So there you have it.  Scribble and don't worry about the results.  Don't throw the results away, even if you think they are laughable!  The meaning of the experience still reverberates in the thing you created.  And that makes it very valuable indeed!