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.

Project: An Apartment in Germany

I recently went to Michael’s (the arts/ crafts store) and picked up some supplies, including a drawing board, artist’s tape, and a fabulous Faber Castell sharpener that has a section specifically for colored pencils.


I also picked up some new paper, Strathmore Bristol. It is still a vellum surface like my mixed media paper, and it seems to accept the pencil in a similar way. It is acid-free, 100lb, and intended specifically for finished works in dry media.


I decided to make this an 8×10 drawing for a few reasons, including variety and a small reference photo. Working on the Bristol paper (with my Prismacolors, of course), I outlined the image. I tried to be as detailed and accurate as possible, since I knew how much it would affect the outcome of the final work. I still missed a few details that I found and added later. Some simply got lost in the shuffle. The windows did not appear to be straight up and down in the image, but I think I ended up with more of a tilt than I intended to. Another challenge was that the photo was somewhat washed out, making it difficult to select and blend colors.


I started by filling in the sidewalk, the bottom of the piece. I don’t really have a method to where I start; it’s just what I feel like at the moment. I suppose it might be smart to be more intentional with this. But in charcoal I have had successful drawings that moved from left to right and ones where I went all over the place. I wanted to use a range of colors to try to imitate how things really look to the eye, and to avoid ending up with a flat or monochromatic drawing, but I had the same problem starting out here as I have had on other projects: making the colors too vibrant in comparison with what I’m seeing. Working with color will still take some getting used to.


One reason I chose to draw this image was that it had an element that I find difficult, and that I had never attempted in colored pencil: a lot of greenery. It is one thing to draw straight lines and curves, even by hand, and another to mimic the natural shapes found in foliage. I tried to use a loose hand with short strokes to imitate the leaves and filled in larger, darker sections to represent shape and shadow. I realized that I needed to map out the trees first so that I wouldn’t accidentally go over spots where leaves should be. Because I completed the tree on the right first, I wanted to consistently repeat the same method for the other trees. This involved layering lighter and darker greens, along with an indigo blue for the darkest spots, burnishing with a colorless blender, and then layering white on top for highlight. I like the overall effect and the fact that no white from the paper is showing through, as if the image had been painted, but in the future I would be more careful to better suggest distinct leaves if aiming for realism.


The small details that make up this image break up the background into manageable pieces, and that, coupled with the smaller paper size I chose to draw on, allowed me to stick strictly to the colored pencils and blender and not use any paint thinner to finish off larger expanses of color.


At first, it was fun to dig in to the reflections in the windows, but it eventually became frustrating and I started to get bored. I was also discouraged that the drawing was not looking realistic enough. I briefly set the piece aside, but soon after became determined to complete it.


My ambition for ultra-realism may not have been fulfilled by this drawing, but I think I was still able to create an attractive scene. It turned out more like an illustration, which is something I’ve wanted to try in the past. I just wish that had been my intention all along. Part of me also wishes that I had been more imaginative with my color choices—why not try out a façade of blues and purples, for example—but I’m still at the stage where I’m trying my best to imitate what I see in front of me.

I think that I completed some of the details very successfully, such as the window reflections on the balconies on the left. Others suffered (like the greenery and some of the shadows). I may have taken on too ambitious of a drawing as a beginner with colored pencils, especially since I was going for realism. But what I like about the finished drawing is that it is interesting to look at. There are many places to look, but the color scheme makes everything cohesive, so it’s not too distracting.

German ApartmentAn Apartment in Germany, colored pencil on Bristol paper, 2018 (8×10)

Projects like this make me think about what I really want to be drawing and portraying in my work; do I want someone to simply say “Wow, that looks exactly like what she was trying to draw,” or “I’m interested” and maybe even “I connect with this” or “I’m moved”? That is the goal that I’m starting to work toward.


Critiquing Your Own Artwork

I have a couple of projects in the works but nothing yet ready to share, so I decided to post about a relevant topic.

My art teacher was not particularly impressed by the drawing pictured here. I remember that one problem he found was that the skeleton is distorted, which was something I hadn’t noticed but don’t disagree with. It turned out that I was supposed to do a larger drawing (I think 24×32), which might have made the final piece seem less crowded. But when I look at this drawing today, I feel very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I did this drawing within 6 months of learning to use charcoal. The sheet, the ceramic jar at the bottom center of the drawing, and the hat and broomstick all look very realistic to me. However, there are also mistakes in the drawing that my eyes immediately go to, such as the leaning jar on the bottom right and the curved spokes of the umbrella. I don’t know if I noticed these things at the time, and I was under time pressure. But I’ve learned that sometimes it takes quite a while to be able to step back from a project and critique it fairly. This may be because of the high that one sometimes feels when finishing a piece of artwork (an overly kind critique), or the endless barrage of could-have-done-betters that afflict a perfectionist (overly harsh). I’ve been guilty of both. Lately I’ve been in a negative mood when it comes to critiquing my own work, so I’m trying to remind myself to be fair, and to appreciate the work regardless of the criticisms I may have.

Being able to critique your own artwork is a useful skill. It is still important to get feedback from others, but if you have the ability to critique yourself, you won’t be entirely reliant on other people to tell you what you could be doing better (or what you are already doing well). While it would be ideal for every piece of art to turn out “perfectly,” in the end each oversight or mistake is an opportunity to create something better the next time. Because of this, it is important to be able to step back from your work and give it as objective a critique as possible. Just as you would if you were critiquing someone else’s work, it can be useful to first and lastly notice the positive attributes of the work while sandwiching constructive criticism in between. I think of constructive criticism as an acknowledgement of a flaw in the piece that allows for the artist to adjust the flaw (if still working on the piece) or to carry new, useful knowledge into the next piece. Instead of just noting that a part of the piece looks “wrong” or “bad,” try to figure out what it is specifically about that area that isn’t working. That way, you can fix your mistake or apply what you learned to your next work. And don’t forget to take pleasure in the process of creating artwork in the first place!


Smith Final ProjectFinal project for Drawing I at Smith College, charcoal, 2007 (18×24)

Sketch: Sunglasses

This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time. As I’ve said, I’m terrified of working with anything I can’t erase. So I forced myself to do a sketch in ink, and not start over. I happened to randomly have a Pigma Micron pen with archival ink lying around (random, I know), so I used that. I had to be very deliberate with each line I put down. The perspective is way off (from what I saw in real life), but at least you can definitely tell what it’s supposed to be.


I experimented with cross-hatching, which is what I usually see in ink drawings. I don’t have a lot of experience with light/dark values in cross-hatching, so I didn’t like how it looked when I just left the lines farther apart to indicate a “lighter” area. I could use some practice with cross-hatching.


I also used directional lines and, at times, an oval motion. More of a scribble, if I’m being honest. I am so used to layering and trying to fill in every little space that I got impatient. Unfortunately, this led to all my values ending up too dark. I knew that the shadows were not a deep black, but that’s how they turned out once I had to adjust the values as everything else became darker. However, I think I still managed to indicate the translucence of the sunglasses a little bit, and was able to leave a few areas of highlight. I prefer the look of the right lens to the left, even though as I mentioned it is not in proper perspective. I like how it looks rounded and gradually transitions from lighter to darker areas.


For my first drawing in ink, I think I did well. I’m happy with it considering my lack of experience with this medium. I think it is something I would definitely try out again, but I admit that right now I’m still unlikely to do anything more involved than a small sketch. It might benefit me to try out different methods of cross-hatching before even attempting to complete a sketch. When I’m not working on another project, perhaps I will pursue this. I do have another colored pencil project in the works, which I hope to be able to share with you in the next few weeks!