Always Drawing

We had our final Summer class at the Academy this last week, and because I have some serious drawing aficionados in our group, I wanted to sit with them and work out a portrait head from start to finish.

Lee, a last-minute life-saver of a model, came in unknown to me and quickly became a favored male head to draw and paint.  Lee sits cheerfully and  as unflinching as the Great Pyramid of Cheops, and we had six hours to make something happen.

Carbon pencil on white drawing paper, 11 x 14″

I used five grades of  Wolff’s carbon pencils (HH, B, 2B, 4B, 6B) on a sheet of regular Strathmore drawing paper, with a little eraser work at the end. I worked seated rather than standing so that I could be looking up at him slightly, he has an aristocrat’s head and it was a good decision.

 I can’t overstate how much I see regular drawing practice helping my outdoor work, and vice versa.  I’m very happy and fortunate to have both opportunities on a regular basis.

New Figure Study in Oil from Life

We have a great model in my portrait class, and I think it’s beneficial to arrange to have us paint a nude study to break things up and get us all away, briefly,  from fixating on the head alone.  This is a multi- hour pose, and I’ve worked on this 9 x 12″  study between making the rounds in the group.


Above all else, I’m trying to find the color notes, state them simply and let them do most of the talking.

Something in sanguine

DSC_0001 Sanguine seems to be very sympathetic to the rendering of human form, and so many of my favorite figure drawings are executed in it that I enjoy putting it to use from time to time.

Kohinoor manufactures the sanguine crayon I used on this, which I place in a brass holder and sharpen with a beautician’s callous remover.  It’s got a slightly waxy binder, barely noticeable, and  works fine for what I want to do.

My first step is to lay down a light tone with broad and easy strokes, which I rub loosely into the paper (a warm straw-colored Canson Mi-Teintes, the non-golfball-textured side)  with either a bit of soft, unprimed linen canvas or  paper towel, and then develop the drawing working from the outside-in, getting the big outer shape of the head established as best as possible, and gradually bringing the entire drawing along from there.

The longer I can resist adding the features of the face, just working with the underlying forms ( kind of like the look of a nylon stocking over a bandit’s head!) the better.  My own taste is for the drawing to emerge somewhat loosely and casually from the paper, not suffered over to the point of being hard on the eyes of the beholder, if possible. I’ve seen drawings that have that sense of growing out of the page effortlessly, somewhat rarely I admit, and I’d like to get that sensibility into my drawings. I’ve used the term “casual elegance” to try and describe it, but that’s not sufficient.

If I ever get it, I won’t need to explain it. We’ll both know I think.

In the darks, moistening the tip of the crayon slightly gives a richer note.  Removing highlights with a kneaded eraser is the last step. This pose was a little more than an hour, and is carried about as far as I wish to go with it as far as rendering.  I always want to get a better expression though. Any fatigue of the model should never show.

Maintaining an edge~ new drawings from Life

These are some images from the last few months or so. Relatively short poses, mostly under an hour.


I’ve been pursuing a more seasoned and sensitive description, allowing for more construction and “thinking out loud” with line.

I’m sticking with charcoal and carbon pencils for a few months, and I’ll possibly go into a Cont’e crayon-mode or other red chalk next. They have possibilities I haven’t explored enough. I make it a habit to work with a single medium for a several month stretch, and then rotate to another so that by the end of a year I may have worked in three or four drawing media. So much of progress is showing up, being energized and diligent, but without going stale. Switching up mediums like that helps, but it doesn’t affect structural or perceptual problems.


I’m still not (often enough) seeing or taking-in the whole form at once…something I’ve been able to do on occasion in the past.  By this I mean seeing the part, an arm or whatever, and it’s place in the entire figure almost simultaneously and drawing it that way. Tricky stuff, but I know there’s a groove where I’ve managed it before, and when it happens it’s where you know you ought to be.


I’m thinking that each drawing, good or bad, is a brick in the wall of your experience.  It’s the sharpening of the eye and refining one’s shortcomings that really matters with these, a nice drawing is the by-product. Not that I don’t shoot for a nice drawing each time. I do, but I find my own criteria for that drawing has changed a bit.  I like chatter in my drawings now, and enjoy seeing bits of construction showing about, maybe even a finger print or two.


I found myself telling a student last night that one shouldn’t “speak in monotone”, that is, draw with a line that has no inflection or personality.  I was surprised that analogy came up, but I think it’s helpful.


There’s a nice season where one measures diligently, renders exactly, and goes as far as they can that way, as far as their talent, training, and knowledge can take them.  I wish it could last forever sometimes, because to get buried in a drawing for hours, for it’s own sake,  is fun. But, now I need to make use of what skills I may have obtained to make things that find their way into the marketplace, my objectives being in paint these days.

Thankfully,  I have the blessing of regular weekly classes and motivated students where I can maintain some edge to those skills, an endless process I thoroughly enjoy.


“Painting the Figure en Plein Air” first demo

We had an absolutely delightful time starting up our plein-air figure class at the Spalding House campus (formerly known as the Contemporary Museum) here on Oahu, Hawai’i.


We had a very nice turnout of around 16 eager students, my terrific model Tina as our first subject, and all arranged on the beautiful, tree filled acreage overlooking Diamond Head.  We got to work right away with sketches in various mediums, and a fine time was had by all.

The small (8 x 10″) sketch above was my introductory oil demonstration piece, hammered out a bit at a time over our three hours together.  Can’t wait for next week, it’s too much fun.

3/03/11 A Figure in Watercolor

My one-hour demonstration at the Honolulu Academy school at Linekona
My one-hour demonstration at the Honolulu Academy school at Linekona

This is from an impromptu watercolor demonstration at my Life Drawing class last Thursday. I did this to demonstrate the connection between the drawing approach I teach and painting.  The painting is only an extension of the drawing into color and form, and not a separate thing.

I consider an hour to be a minimal amount of time to spend on anything in color, and fully anticipate anything resulting in that hour to be a sketch at best.

Incidentally, I don’t believe in pushing oneself to work quickly, as if speed was somehow a virtue. I know others may disagree with me, but I’ll post more on this later if you are interested.

Drawing, because

I’ve had studio visitors lately, and sometimes when that happens the flat files get opened to a collection of drawings in a variety of mediums, some that have rarely seen daylight in years. This accumulation is to the point where I now am regularly  surprised to uncover pieces I’d forgotten about.

Drawing was my first love in art. I imagined just “drawing”  as a profession long before painting began to come into the picture, and I return to it as often as I can in some  form or another.

Often if there is an emotional upturn or downturn in my life, I’ll eventually find myself  drawing somewhere.  Alone with a tree, a person, or other subject, drawing centers my attention outside and away from myself.  That’s a very good thing, a creative and constructive place for that sort of emotional energy, and it leaves something tangible that may be of value to others.

DSC_0015 Tree Study               Conte Crayon on paper

Trees are great subjects for learning to grasp the large shapes (something I  struggle with) and for experiencing as beautiful, living forms.  I draw them out of  a desire for the discipline that accompanies outdoor drawing, done carefully but not with tedious detail. When one draws something with a certain degree of fidelity, it’s most certainly not “slavishly copying” but absorbing the subject, bringing it into cognition at an intuitive level.  Inside one of my watercolor palettes, I have written a three word maxim: ” Suggest, don’t explain”, which applies to drawing as well as conversation.  Don’t we all know the person who, when asked a question, offers far too much information in response,  to the point where you’re sorry you asked?  To be able to distill a paragraph into a sentence or two has so much more gravity. I think it works that way in drawing and painting.

Here are some other examples I hope might be of interest,  graphite pencil on Strathmore drawing paper, 11 x 14′ or so, and drawn from nature for various reasons.

The ocean pieces are especially challenging because it’s moving, and you have to harness that somehow, make it intelligible by giving it direction. The values are pretty high, and the usual line conventions can’t tell the full story. Homer (Winslow, not Simpson) worked wave themes out in black and white on toned paper, as painters so often have.


With enough practice, you begin to anticipate certain characteristic motions in the sea, and once it gets under your skin a bit, your ability to recall it increases. I don’t know that you can develop that sense with photography. I’m reminded (and invigorated) by that great story about Frederick Waugh being able to draw a wave at any point in it’s progression convincingly out of his head, the result of the effort he put into studying them while living on the island of Sark in the English Channel.


Architectural subjects are always great to sharpen my eye, almost the opposite of the wave drawings.  The visual measuring was a real difficulty, but I love this old steeple and wanted to work it out with a “loose correctness”. That required a lot of seeing past and through the details,  finding the big blocks they’re covering.  Just like the figure, come to think of it.


Speaking of which, here’s one of a number of the figure drawings that I work out in my figure classes, and there’s no end to what can be studied there. Just showing up, as in so many things in life, puts you on the right track, and the incremental investment over time of studying the live model is invaluable.

Last night, I was just rereading the Drawing chapter in Birge Harrisons’ classic “Landscape Painting” (1910) where he wrote the following:

“…you will find it difficult to place your finger on the name of a really fine landscape painter who is not also a fine draughtsman…inquiry will disclose the fact that the best of them have devoted at least four or five years exclusively to the study of drawing. This is none too much. But the best place to acquire this knowledge, even for the landscape painter, is not out of doors before nature; because it is so much easier to study drawing indoors from the nude.” (p.81)

So, I guess we know what we have to do. It’s endless, thankfully.