Sketch: Eye

Last month, a video post from April Rains Fine Art reminded me that I had been meaning to try another sketch in ink (and all the reasons that it would help me in the long run, including learning to place lines correctly at the beginning of a drawing. No erasers allowed!). This time I just used a regular old ballpoint pen, which I found to be much, much easier to work with than the fancy archival pen I used last time I tried sketching in ink. The ballpoint allowed me to create more distinct values and put down finer lines. Maybe that other pen was not intended for sketching, or for finishing an entire sketch? It did run out of ink after one session…Anyway. On to my current sketch.

I started by outlining the elements of the eye and the eyebrow.


Then I began to fill in some more detail using light pressure.


I was really focused on getting the values right, so I used light pressure most of the time, except for the darkest areas, such as the pupil, where I used harder pressure but still built up the value in layers.


It was pleasing to build values slowly, concentrating on the overall effect and value range rather than trying to be perfect with directional lines. It was a little intimidating to admit that the whites of the eyes were not actually a straight, bright white and give them a little shading. The only area I didn’t touch at all by the end was a single reflection toward the bottom of the inner corner of the eye.


Finally, I decided that it would be a good idea to suggest the skin around the eye and its shadows rather than just sticking to the eye itself and the eyebrow. I also filled out the eyebrow and lashes a little more.


Overall, I am very pleased with how this sketch turned out. While it may not be identical to my reference in terms of shape or exact placement/proportion, to me it looks like a relatively convincing eye. This was a fun sketch to do, and after this experiment I am definitely eager to tackle other subjects in ink. Also, it was just such an easy medium to work with—no mess (except the stray smudge or blotch) and only one tool needed. No erasers, no sharpening, no switching from color to color. I’m a fan!

Drawing What You Know Vs. What You See

Some people are really good at drawing from memory. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I did an experiment to see what it would look like if I drew something—in this case, a carrot—from memory, and then again with the carrot in front of me. As you can see, my first carrot is not very good. It does look pretty much like a carrot: it’s long, orange, and pointy. Some shading suggests its roundness and the shadow shows that the light is coming from the right. However, I definitely did not imagine or take into account the many intricacies of the carrot (which revealed themselves to me when I had one in front of me).


When I actually looked at the carrot, I could immediately see all the detail I had forgotten in my first sketch. In reality, I know that carrots aren’t always perfectly straight and free of imperfections. I did include that ugly greenish part at the end of my imagined one! But for some reason, my knowing these things didn’t translate into drawing them; I needed to see the object in front of me to make a more accurate reproduction. I was also able to achieve more realistic highlighting. Behold: the “real” carrot:


So the question is: when should you draw what you know instead of what you see? As a realist, I’m definitely an advocate for drawing from life. But sometimes that just isn’t possible. Or it isn’t the effect you are looking to create. You may not have a reference for what you want to draw, or be drawing a scene from your imagination. In certain circumstances, it might serve you well to draw the carrot that is recognizable, rather than the one that is perfectly true to life. In that case you are representing the carrot, which people are likely to recognize and believe. For some styles, such as illustration, the first carrot might be just what you’re looking for. And hey, some carrots really are that straight! Just saying…



Colored Pencil Painting

“Colored pencil painting is a brand new approach to challenge the viewer’s eye. Make them determine the medium themselves!” (Alyona Nickelsen, Colored Pencil Painting Bible, xi)

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I have been working with colored pencils for a few months. Today I want to share with you the method I am working on and how I found out about it. This method, dubbed “colored pencil painting” by artist/author Alyona Nickelsen, involves layering many colors and blending until no white from the paper shows through, making the final piece—with full coverage of the paper and a waxy sheen—appear to have been painted. Blending can be achieved with colorless blender pencils/ markers or with solvents such as odorless mineral spirits (paint thinner).

As an artist, I have always strived for realism in my work. With a little research online, I saw some examples of photorealistic colored pencil drawings, including works by Lachri Fine Art and various tutorials on YouTube. At the time, I didn’t know that there was a name for the technique they were using. But for Christmas, in addition to my first set of Prismacolors, my husband got me the book Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen (published in 2009). This was where things started coming together. Having just begun to use the professional level pencils, which blend much more readily than your typical box of Crayolas, I was starting to see the realistic effects I could get with layering and blending. Now I had a name for what I was trying to do.

I hadn’t given it much thought before reading the book, but colored pencil art tends not to be considered “fine art.” In her introduction, Nickelsen notes that some people “traditionally consider only oil painting as a real art and…arrogantly dismiss other mediums as amateurish and hobbyist” (x). Nickelsen argues that “painting” with colored pencils, where the medium is not readily obvious, “successfully competes with more traditional mediums” (x). When you look at Nickelsen’s work, including her portraits (which you can view in the galleries on her website), you don’t think “colored pencil.” Perhaps you think “painting,” or even “photograph”; it’s that realistic. To me, that is certainly fine art.

In the drawings below, I compare “traditional” colored pencil usage with “colored pencil painting.”

Here is my example of a “traditional” colored pencil drawing, which employs minimal layering and no blending.

Traditional butterfly

Below is my version of a “colored pencil painting,” with a significant amount of layering and fully blended with a colorless blender pencil.

Painted butterfly

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the first style—for certain artists or projects, it may be ideal. But, for me, the second style offers a certain vibrancy and impact that is very appealing. I like that it is not immediately obvious that it was done with colored pencil; this increases realism and decreases the chance that the piece will be dismissed as “just” colored pencil art and not fine art. Here is the side-by-side comparison:


Discovering “colored pencil painting” has allowed me to do more with the medium than I thought was possible. I hope learning about this technique inspires some of you to try it!

Project: Stay

Note: This is a longer post, but you can just scroll through the pictures if you’re in a hurry!

Finally, finally, I was inspired to complete a piece. In the past, I haven’t given much thought to what I’m drawing. I was just imitating what I saw, usually something that looked pretty or interesting to me. This time, I actually had a specific idea and planned it out. The project ended up a little differently from the way it started in my mind, but I like where it went. This was a challenge for me in that I ventured away from the reference, inventing a scene through the window and changing up the placement and type of wood for the table and window frame. I took more pictures than usual because I wanted to show some more of my layering process.

This is not a self-portrait, per se, but I did have my husband take a photo of me that I used as a reference. I do see some of myself in her (at least, how I see myself). I drew my initial sketch using a 4H graphite pencil. After I took the picture below, I erased as much of the graphite as I could, particularly in places where I knew I would be using light colors.


First I put down some light layers, starting with the main figure.


I probably should have taken another picture or two in between these stages, but when I get going I sometimes forget. I used a few different shades of brown for the hair, leaving lighter areas which I then blended with White to achieve the highlights. I rarely use straight Black pencil but I thought it appropriate for the pupil. I knew what color I wanted the wall to be at this point, but hadn’t yet made a plan for the table or the window. This is always a problem for me when I create projects in my mind that aren’t entirely based on something I’m looking at: I get excited, get started, and then am left to complete the concept at the last minute, often unsatisfactorily.


At this point, while I wasn’t quite ready to work on the window, I dove in anyway. I knew that the view through the window, while not the central focus of the drawing, was nevertheless significant. I didn’t want something too mundane, or unattractive and therefore distracting. I practiced blending some colors on a scrap paper and liked the effect I came up with, which reminded me of an abstract version of how it might look through the window of a moving train. This actually took the idea in a slightly different direction and helped me come up with the title. Again, I started with light layers of the base colors I wanted to use.


Then I layered additional colors and blended with my colorless blender left to right until I achieved the desired effect. Honestly, I had been hoping to create a warmer feeling, but it shouldn’t be all that surprising that I didn’t succeed considering I used so many cool colors. I’m not entirely happy with how this aspect of the drawing turned out, as it wasn’t what I had imagined at the beginning. But to be realistic, I hadn’t made much of a plan for that part anyway. I had decided that I wanted a watercolor effect (without the watercolors, which I am not practiced with and feared would drip down and ruin what I already had). I am glad that I took a risk and did something a little abstract, which is totally new for me.


Now, I had come to the stage where I needed to make a few more decisions. I had originally imagined dark wood for the table and the window frame, but I realized that this would make a whole lot of the drawing dark brown, and be noticeable for the wrong reason. I settled on a lighter wood for the table (vaguely reminiscent of oak) and a darker wood for the window frame. This was my first light layer of color for the table and window frame. I did look online at different types of wood to get a slightly more realistic idea of what the colors might look like. I also realized that I had given no indication that the scene was being viewed through a window so I went in with White to suggest some reflections on the glass.


Second layer of color:


Even more layers of color:


Next, I blended everything out with colorless blender pencil and added a shadow to the table (there’s that warmth I wanted! Although I later realized the placement of the shadow is probably way off from where it should be, depending on the actual angle of the window and the light coming in).


Finally, I made some minor adjustments and put on the finishing touches, like filling in any blank spaces with white (when you skip this step, the drawing tends to look slightly incomplete). I added some more color to the eye, darkened the pupil, and added a tiny bit of pink on the cheeks. I also fixed a few hairs, added/ enhanced some shadows, and completed the hand. This was one area that frustrated me because the shadows came out too dark and I couldn’t lighten them enough with White/ blending. However, I think it is still an improvement over the ghostly hand in the previous stages.

StayStay, colored pencil on Bristol paper, 2018 (11×14)

I don’t know how realistic this drawing ultimately is in terms of proportions and shading, but I like that I came up with the idea and actually drew it. It mostly fits with my usual style, which I think is a little reserved/ conservative (clean, straight lines, aiming for realism), but veers away in the sense that I drew partially from my imagination. I’ve still got some work to do as far as the colored pencils go. For example, even though I used my drafting brush excessively to clear away debris, I still got some clumps of pencil stuck in the paper, particularly on the table.

I don’t want to do too much explaining about the piece, because I don’t want to take away the enjoyment of letting the picture mean whatever it might mean to you, but I’m happy to answer any of your questions.

Sketch: Red Onion

Colors used (all Prismacolor Premier):

Dark Purple
Dark Umber
Crimson Red
Light Peach
Indigo Blue
50% Warm Gray

For this sketch, I did something I almost never do: I started over. Even though I was almost finished, I wasn’t happy with how it turned out. Usually at that point I just give up and move on to something else. But for some reason this time I gave it a second chance.

I drew the first version on recycled sketchbook paper with a medium tooth. It was very hard to layer enough color to mask the white flecks of paper showing through, even after blending multiple times. I’m sure that the paper was part of my difficulty. Another problem was that I forgot to leave the paper blank in areas of highlight. It’s very easy to get coloring and go right over places that were supposed to be light or white. This leaves the sketch looking one-dimensional. The first sketch:


For the second sketch, I used my Mixed Media paper, which has a smoother vellum surface. This took the color so much better. I still had to do a lot of layering and blending, but it was a lost less frustrating. I will have to try to find a similar paper that costs less for when I’m just practicing.

My initial sketch was very similar to the first sketch but there were slight variations (one being that I centered it better on the page).


I started off by making an underpainting with Dark Umber to get a feel for the dark and light areas. I was careful to mark areas of highlight.


Next, I added Dark Purple with relatively light pressure.


Then I put in some Pink.


I didn’t take any other pictures before I was finished, but the majority of completing the sketch was layering and blending the colors to reduce white flecks showing through. I blended out using a colorless blender pencil and then went over some areas again and blended in lighter areas with White or Light Peach. I also used Light Peach for the top of the onion. I used Indigo Blue and 50% Warm Gray (in addition to Dark Umber) for the shadow underneath the onion and layered Crimson Red on top of Dark Purple for the part of the onion that is showing through the skin.


It’s not perfect, but I definitely think it’s an improvement over the original! I’m glad that I started over and I will have to keep that in mind in the future, especially when it’s not just a sketch. I think part of the reason I don’t typically start drawings over is fear that I just can’t do it. But if I keep trying, it ultimately gives me the chance to produce something better. And that’s totally worth it.

The Evolution of a Signature

Recently I began to wonder if an artist could change the way in which they sign their artwork. Naturally, I Googled it. I didn’t exactly find what I was expecting or hoping to find (“yes” or “no”), but I did come across some interesting perspectives. I guess what I really wanted to know was: could using a different signature affect your body of work in a negative way? The conclusion I came to was that it should not. Henri Matisse had seven known signatures, and other artists even more. When it comes to assessing a piece as part of an artist’s body of work, the style of the work will likely speak for itself. And a particular way of signing could potentially show the work as part of a certain period in one’s career.

When I started out, I used to sign my full name. I would always put my signature in weird places, working it into the curves of whatever I had drawn. Sometimes, for no particular reason, I signed my initials in various ways. In the past, there was no thought behind changing up my signature. I simply did whatever I felt like at the time. I suppose I was having fun. I didn’t even realize just how many different ways I have signed my name on my artwork until I started looking.

When I got married last year and changed my name, I started out by signing my initials. I wasn’t happy with how that looked, so I came up with a monogram instead. I still think it’s cool but it might be more appropriate as a logo. One site made me think about the importance of having a legible signature. That way, someone can readily identify the work as yours and also (in this day and age) easily look you up online.

I don’t think my signature has really “evolved” in any kind of linear way (though hopefully my work itself has). Unnoticed by me, it was just always changing. If I had to give an artist starting out advice about how to sign their work, I would tell them: do what feels right to you. If it’s fun to hide your signature within your artwork, signing differently every time, do that. If you prefer a more orderly approach, that’s okay too. And do consider dating your work, either next to your signature or on the back of the piece. Someday you (or someone else!) will want to know when you made it.

Here are some more things to know about artist signatures.

Just some of the variations of my artist signature, starting from the early 2000s

A few examples of old sketches signed in different ways/ places.

Lately I have been using a standard bottom-right approach for my signature, but looking back at these makes me remember the whimsy and creativity that used to be a part of something as simple as signing my name. I’m sure there are plenty of artists who don’t give signing a second thought. But ultimately your signature does end up being a part of each piece. What that signature says is up to you.

Sketch: Figures

A friend shared this two-and-a-half hour video with me (originally a live figure drawing session on Facebook at 4pm on January 5, 2018; from Friday Evening Figure Drawing by Draw This)

This inspired me to do a figure drawing session, something I haven’t done in many years. It felt like being back in art class, sitting and just practicing and getting lost in the process. It’s been a while since I had that feeling, as I’ve been trying to produce finished pieces to get a portfolio together. I don’t claim to be any good at figure drawing, but I had fun!

I did these sketches in pencil on Newsprint paper (18×24). I apologize for the quality of the photos; I really need to get a better setup for taking pictures of my art one of these days.

The session began with twenty one-minute poses. I started by sketching out the shapes of the torso and limbs. Once I had a general idea of where everything went, I traced the contours for definition and to add detail, such as the placement of muscles. I’ve always been very slow at drawing, so the whole concept of timed poses was a challenge for me. In the first session I didn’t get very far since the poses were so short. I was able to get further more easily as time went on and I got more comfortable (I couldn’t even complete the first pose), but the poses themselves also seemed to get harder and harder. Great model!

IMG_3133IMG_313420 x 1 minute poses

Next came ten two-minute poses. It was nice having more time to spend on each pose, but unfortunately that didn’t help me much with proportions. I think I had the most trouble with getting the length of the torso right.

IMG_3135IMG_313610 x 2 minute poses

I had the same torso issue with three five-minute poses. I think I did the best job on the one in the center. With the five minute poses I had a chance to add some very basic shading.

IMG_31373 x 5 minute poses

Next up were two ten-minute poses. The model held a stick, creating even more interesting poses. I wanted to try a few different things, so I concentrated on shading with the time I had left on the first pose and focused on the model’s face in the second. (The poses were separate, but I wanted to continue with the same piece of paper.)

IMG_31392 x 10 minute poses

The final pose was fifteen minutes long and the model sat in a chair (I imagine it would be quite hard to stand very still for fifteen minutes). She did move a little occasionally but not so much that I felt it affected my ability to do the drawing.

IMG_31401 x 15 minute pose

I would have loved to have had more time to flesh out many of the poses, but so is the nature of live figure drawing. Yes, I could have paused the video, but that sort of defeats the purpose of the type of practice I was going for. All in all, I feel that I had a productive and enjoyable session and I’m looking forward to doing it again. I definitely recommend the video series, and it’s great that the video continues to be available after the official live session.