Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Portraits from Magazines

Every now and then, when I don't know what to draw,  I practice drawing people (often celebrities) using magazine photos.

This doesn't give me the same feeling of connection to the world around me that most of my sketching does.  Probably because I'm drawing someone else's vision of the world--and a retouched one at that.

But it pleases me as a sort of game and an exercise in skill development.  I can go slowly and really try to practice my skills at rendering people in minimal line drawings.

I still have dreams of being a graphic novelist one day!  So it's good to practice.

Here are a few of my recent ones.

Both of these are after images which appear in the October 2, 2015 issue of Entertainment Weekly.

These are a good warm-up for Inktober, which starts Thursday!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Favorite Tutorials about Sketchbook Making

Some friends asked me recently to post links to the sources I've found most helpful when it comes to making my own sketchbooks.

I'm happy I found--by accident!--the tutorials made by Sea Lemon which are available on YouTube.

Here are the three I've used over and over.

Coptic binding a text block:

Creating your own bookcloth:


Once you get in the hang of making your own sketchbooks, it doesn't take too much time.  And the results are worth it!  You get to pick the paper, the size, the orientation and the cover of the book which will hold your art!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Revisiting The Peace Pole, Not Quite a Year Later

How well does a peace pole made with PVC pipe and basic acrylic paints hold up in the weather?

I've had a few readers as me that recently, so I thought I'd give a report on the peace pole I made last year.  You can read all about that process in my earlier post here.

Here are two photos which I hope show you how well the colors have resisted fading.

You can see some of the late summer dirt from the surrounding trees on the pole:  I did not wipe them down or clean them up at all to take these photos.  I thought you'd probably just like to see them as they are.

I thoroughly inspected the pole and found only one place where the paint was compromised--you can see that in the second photo above.  The paint has chipped in a few places from the cap.

I would guess the chips have resulted from being hit with stuff from trees--leaves, branches, and now acorns have begun to fall . I also know that I have seen birds sitting up there, so could be their claws did some of the damage.  It is also possible that when I sanded the PVC to prepare it to better hold the primer, I missed a spot.

The good news is that the cap is removable.  I can easily repaint it, or toss it entirely and run to the hardware store and buy a new one.

None of the vertical surfaces have any scratches or chips that I could find.

Overall, I think this has help up pretty well!

One important reminder regarding fading:  my peace pole is in the woods, and so stands in the shade about 90% of the time.   Even so, I invested in a can of UV protection spray, which I put on after the protective acrylic varnish.  If this stood out in the sun, I would be very sure to respray with UV protection every year.

So, so far so good.  I think the key to good adhesion of the paint to the PVC pole is careful sanding, and then wiping down the sanded surface to expose a clean, slightly rough surface.  Then primer.  Then paint.  Then sealer/protectant.

I plan to leave it out all winter (as I did last winter).  It adds a fun bit of color to an otherwise white (I hope!) landscape.

Thanks to those of you who asked and inspired this update!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Wisdom in Scribbling it Again

I've been looking through my scribbles from the last two years, and really noticing the differences, not so much in my art itself, but it what my art shows me about how I see things.

Here are two of the very first little pieces I did early in 2014, about the time I got serious about keeping a sketchbook.  They feature an old beat-up birdhouse that someone nailed to a tree long before I moved here.

In the one above, I had just begun to learn about pen and watercolor.  I did this on super thin paper--which was what I had in the journal I was using at the time.  You can see that it buckled pretty badly.  Still, I liked it then.  I remember being amazed at how much more I saw in my own back yard as a result of doing this drawing.  I live in thick woods, and before this time I rarely saw individual trees.

The next one I did in response to a lesson in using colored pencils, which I had never used before.  I had to buy a set in order to do this sketch!

I look at that birdhouse several times a day.  My brain had registered it as "old" and "beaten up."  But I had never actually noticed the cracks and crevices in the homemade piece.  Or the way that moss had begun to discolor the roof.

I've scribbled this birdhouse and tree many times over the last many  months.  Here is my most recent rendition:

Unlike my dogs and cats, which move all the time, this birdhouse and tree remain pretty much the same.  Still, scribbling it over and over has been worthwhile.  The light changes.  The seasons change, bring new growth in the plants all around.  I grow and experiment as a sketcher, using new materials and new paper.

I guess I'll keep drawing it as long as I live here.  Or until, eventually, it rots away.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Then and Now--Comparing Your Art to Learn About Your Life

This past weekend I've been preparing to give a little talk and workshop on my experience keeping a sketchbook over the last year and a half or so.

That led me to go back through the work I was doing before I started Sketchbook Skool klasses, which was mostly playing with color and design.

I loved doing this kind of work, and I still do it.

But if you had asked me to draw a tree or a realistic animal, as much as I would have liked to, I wouldn't have done it.  Because I believed I couldn't have done it.

But now...

It's really worth it to look at your art from a year or more ago and compare it to what you are doing now.  Not to judge it--not that kind of comparison.  But to ask yourself "What was I doing then?  Why was I doing that?" and then to ask the same questions about your work now.

It tells you as much about yourself as it does about your art.  How did you pay attention then?  How do you pay attention now?  Has your relationship to creativity changed?  Are you using your sketchbooks differently?

What does your art mean to you?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sketchbook Skool Klasses Available Any Time

If you've read this blog much, you know how my participation in Sketchbook Skool changed my life!

My drawing got better.

But more important, my whole life got better.

It used to be that Sketchbook Skool klasses only ran at certain times during the year and you had to take them at those times, but they recently changed that and I wanted to share that news with any of you who have been interested in taking a klass.

You can learn more about it here.

The klass material remains available to you indefinitely.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Thinking About Scribbling Maps

The other day I stood in a bookstore admiring a book of photos of old maps.  Wonderful works of art in which the maker recorded what was "known"--including seas full of monsters.  These maps showed the imagination of the artist, not just the accumulated knowledge of explorers.

With our ability to photograph the earth from space, we can make more accurate maps, of course. But somehow Google's maps, which are wonderful for getting from here to there (at least most of the time), lack the character of a map which depicts monsters to remind me that the ocean contains mysteries and dangers.

It got me wanting to draw more maps in my sketchbook.  Not necessarily maps of the streets.  Again, we can go to Google for that.  More like maps of my experiences in a place.  Or something like that.  I'm not actually sure what I want to do with these maps.  But the notion has caught me and I want to think more about it. And the scribble some maps.

Lots of sketchers include maps in their sketchbooks.  Maps of gardens, houses, towns.  Maps of journeys.  Maps of imaginary lands from childhood.  Maps of future plans.  I always love looking at these.  But I've never really thought about practicing this.

I went looking through my sketchbooks to see if I have drawn any maps and I found two, both from some months ago.

First is, as I called it, an inaccurate view of the campus of Hope College, in Holland, Michigan.

I assure you, the campus is more attractive than what I've draw here.  And of course, this is not the whole thing, but one little corner of the campus where I've spent the most time.  I did it from memory.  The distinctive Dutch-inspired architecture makes the campus a fun place to draw!

I continued looking and found a map I drew of my yard (prompted, I think, by a Sketchbook Skool assignment to map out and then journal about a journey).

Not super imaginative, though, like the first one, personal in that the landmarks I recorded are things important to me.  There is a level of authenticity that I like, even if accuracy is not high.

I'm going to think more about this notion of imaginative mapping.  Of taking a "high altitude" view of a familiar place or path, and then filling it in with landmarks significant because of personal experience, or the "on the ground" point of view.   I like the idea of thinking about place in this way--having to pay close attention  to two different vantage points.

I feel a particular sort of energy, thinking about the intimate, specific moments which occur inside such a big space.  And of course, the "big space" of my home is minuscule in the context of the space of the nation, or planet, or solar system, or universe.  Yet the building where I had my classes, or the twin tree that stands in the center of my property hold so much meaning for me.

Yes, I like the juxtapositions here.  I think I'll work on drawing some maps.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Scribbling While My Car Gets Fixed

One of the best things about keeping a sketchbook:  you never get bored.

Any time I find myself in a waiting room, I can find something to draw.

Below are two I did, months apart, while my car got worked on.

First, a portion of the mechanics' office, as I sat in the waiting room.

All the angles in that proved quite a challenge for me.  My oil change got finished before I knew it and I was actually kind of sad to have to go on my way.

Second is one I drew this summer.  My car needed more extensive work, so a friend took my out for coffee while I waited.  We sat in a local park by the water.

Really, the magic of keeping a sketchbook is this:  it helps ground me in the present moment.  Instead of fussing about how long the car repairs are taking, or how inconvenienced I am by the situation I am in, instead of worrying about all the work I have to do or how much the car repairs are going to cost--in other words, instead of living in my mind's spinning negative thoughts--I get to settle my thoughts and pay attention, through my senses, to the world around me.

I get to be in the now, which is really all that there is.

When I can become more aware of what is really happening in the world around me, I always feel better, more alive and joyful.

Scribbling in my sketchbook helps me go deeper into what really is.  I almost always find more beauty there than I find in the world when I'm lost in my busy busy thoughts.  In fact, when lost in thought, I hardly even notice the world as it really is.

This is just one of the ways that scribbling in my sketchbook supports my spiritual life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Scribbling Turkeys

Not long ago I did something I haven't done in a long time.

I pulled out my crayons and drew a hand turkey.  Because I grew up in the United States, I drew a lot of hand turkeys in grade school.  It's just something teachers taught us to do...

Scribbling that turkey using a kids' method was a lot of fun--I particularly enjoyed the tactile sense of tracing my hand with the crayon.  And I also enjoyed using a brand new crayon!  The smell.  So wonderful!  So many memories!

Then I decided to try drawing a more realistic turkey, just for fun. 

I live in the woods and turkeys often visit us.  One of my favorite photos captures the moment when a turkey came up to the house and looked in a lower floor window, only to be stalked by my cat who stood inside the house on my studio desk.  I decided to do a quick sketch based on that photo.

I drew this quickly in pen on my sugar cane paper notebook, then filled in with the watercolor.  As I've posted previously, the properties of this paper cause really interesting effects with this paint.  I love the way it patterned the bird's feathers in particular.

Two very different turkeys sketched in two very different ways.  Comparing the two made me think about the methods, how we draw as kids, what we see, what we remember. 

I'm inspired to do more scribbles of the same subject in different ways just to see what I can see!