Keeping a Sketchbook: value studies

This 9 by 12 sketchbook doesn’t travel with me, but stays on my drafting table. The top three sketches were made with a range of pencils from 5B to 5H. What I really needed to punch up the dark values is a super-duper dark, almost charcoal, pencil. So that’s on the art supply shopping list. No matter how many layers I put on, I just could not build up really velvety blacks with my old pencil collection. I don’t like to mix my charcoal pencils with the graphite pencils. They seem to resist each other. The shiny graphite makes a weird base for charcoal. The charcoal just floats on top.
To draw the ducks, my teacher loaned me her darkest pencil. You can see the very dark necks on the ducks are darker than anything in the previous sketches. The finished duckies will star in a future post.
Sketch of fruit

Apple and orange, pencil

Flower sketch

Black-eyed Susan, pencil

Flower sketch

Daffodils, pencil

Sketch of ducks

Ducks, pencil

Art Boot Camp – the portrait

I joined a new art class last spring and my teacher explained that all new students go through ‘art boot camp.’ So back to basics for me for the last six months and back to blogging about the process which helps me focus on what I’ve learned and where I’m going.

This pencil portrait is based on a black and white photograph that I selected from a folder of photographs that my teacher supplied as source materials for the portrait assignment. I don’t know who this woman is. I even did a reverse Google image search and could not find her. So apologies on that, if you were wondering.

The task set for me was to catch a likeness. That means, in my case, I can draw people and the drawings look human and not appallingly amateurish, but it’s really difficult to make the drawing look like that particular person. The trick, advised my teacher, is to use relative measurements. You know, that thing where artists measure by holding up a pencil and measuring how many partial pencil lengths it is from hairline to eyebrow and from eyebrow to pupil and from pupil to nostril and so on. Then you make little dots on the paper as guidelines. Well I feel I got to know this lady’s remarkably arched eyebrows and deep smile lines and exactly how her earlobe lined up with the bottom of her nose and so on. Now if I watch a debate on tv, I might be thinking about someone’s short upper lip or long nose and not realize whatever policy they espouse. That’s probably less stressful – catching a likeness, not catching a policy.

Pencil portrait of a woman

Portrait of a woman, pencil on paper

It’s September- back to art class

After a summer of swimming, gardening, and traveling, but not much sketching, today I started art classes for the semester. Our teacher rightly figured that her students might need a little warm up after our relatively art-free summer. Thankfully not asking for a picture of what I did on my summer vacation, she had set up still life stations, each with a silver or pewter pitcher set on a white cloth. The choice of medium was charcoal or oil. Below: my one hour charcoal sketch of a silver vase. What I was hoping I remembered from before summer break was how to really catch the dark and light values and the reflections in the metal. I think those turned out well enough – exaggerated for dramatic effect. The drawing itself is fairly accurate although I would have futzed around endlessly, but ran out of time. I’m calling this piece finished and I’m ready to move on to…further art adventures…

Silver vase drawing

Silver Vase, charcoal on paper

Salt Marshes, again, and again

Last May while visiting Stone Harbor, I took an iPhone picture of the salt marshes along the causeway leading to Seven Mile Island, a barrier island along the southern end of the New Jersey shoreline. The marsh grasses were a spring green with some winter browns mixed in at that point.Landscape New Jersey

View of Stone Harbor, NJ

Last summer, I took a charcoal drawing course and drew the scene of the salt marshes in black and white, with soft vine charcoal on watercolor paper:

Landscape

Today, I revisited the scene in pastel: 12×18, Canson pastel paper:

Salt marshes, New Jersey

This part of New Jersey is so beautiful. I enjoy revisiting it, in person, and in different art mediums. Next, sometime this winter, I will paint the scene in watercolor then oils. By then, it will be time to drive ‘down the shore’ again, as we supposedly say in New Jersey.

Art is never finished

“Art is never finished, only abandoned,” Leonardo da Vinci

This quote came to my attention recently on a day I had finally decided a drawing was as finished as it was ever going to get. The journey to get to that point follows.

Here is the drawing in its first incarnation after an evening at a charcoal drawing class.

Still life conch charcoal

Still life conch, charcoal on canvas

I drew this using soft vine charcoals sticks on a stretched canvas. I sprayed it with a home-made fixative, a mixture of water and gel medium which gave it an interesting drippy, watery background and some vivid white craquelure effects. Then I dried it with a hair dryer and went back at it trying to get darker, rich, velvety black charcoal effects. I repeated the homemade fixative but lost the vivid whites in the process, never to be regained. So that was a disappointing materials failure just as the class ended.

The homemade fixative is less toxic than store bought workable fixative and the idea is that it also produces some happy accidents with its watery effects. The unhappy accident of losing the lightest effects might have happened because the canvas was not primed enough. Regardless of the cause, the drawing had gone from good to not so good in one studio class. Ugh!

Still life conch

Photo of conch on books

Here is the photograph I used as my source. The conch has featured in many of my drawings and paintings over the years and my mother’s paintings before that. In addition to the very old shell, it is perched on an ancient Larousse French dictionary my father gave me. I arranged the still life, shot it with my iPad, turned it black and white and cropped and edited it a bit and then printed it out and took the printout to class.

The problem, as Leonardo said, was, should I try to finish the drawing or abandon it? The beautiful whites and watery effects were gone for good and the drawing lacked oomph. I left it on my drafting table for weeks and would add more charcoal marks to it and scrub at it with erasers and a stiff oil brush dipped in water as I wandered by over several weeks, but it continued to look blah.

With nothing to lose, I added some color using conte crayons. The black, sanguine and buff colors did the trick and I was finally happy enough with the results to spray on store bought fixative, (outside and careful not to breathe it.) I affixed a sawtooth hanger to the stretcher and hung it above my drafting table. Here it is. Not abandoned, probably finished. For now…

Conch still life

Conch still life, charcoal and conte crayon on canvas