Above: 7 x 9 inch page, Pentel fine-point dye-based Colorbrush Pen with color added with two Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens. On Japanese notebook paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I've written a lot about working in a series or with a theme since I started the blog in 2008.
Basically one could argue that my entire life has been one long series—of journal pages.
But within that main series there are subseries and interests which keep cropping up: dogs, birds (pigeons and chickens most of all). There have been themes related to a mood, thought, or passing fancy. And some themes related to use of media, such as working only with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, or working on a particular paper, and so on.
If you'd like to read more about my thoughts on Thoughts and Serendipity read here.
That post led to "More on the Spatter Dog Theme," which you can read here.
That in turns leads up to "Another Spatter Dog," post here.
Switching topics from dogs to birds I wrote a post about how I picked a theme for a collaborative book exchange project here: "The Start of a Journal Exchange: I Pick a Theme."
And that brings us full circle back to birds so let's do one more, this time with Pigeons: "Mixed Media Play and a GIF Animation Experiment with Pigeons of Course." (Note, I could never get the gif to work within the Typepad environment no matter what I tried, but the "after" is shown below so you'll still see it.)
Happy Leisure Reading!
Posted at 04:00 AM in Animals, Backstory, Birds, Book Arts, Brush Pens, creativity, Dogs, Instructions, Journal Practice, Journaling, Projects, Sketching, Visual Journaling | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: dog sketching, dogs, drawing in a series, journaling, Pigeons, series, sketching, sketching in a series, sketching with a theme, spatter dogs, styles, themes, visual journaling, working in a series
Above: 16 x 12 inch sketch on Fluid Hot Press watercolor paper, of the Bell Museum's grizzly bear. Pilot Lettering Pen and M. Graham watercolors with a Niji Waterbrush (large round)—that just wasn't large enough. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Last Thursday night I went to hear my friends Ken and Roberta Avidor talk at the Bell Sketch Night. You can see my warm up sketch of this bear in that post—I was testing light washes on Wave paper.
This is the sketch I did next, spending about 30 minutes on it. (People kept stopping by to chat so I ran out of time, but I actually was working on developing the darks a bit more as time was running down. Sometimes that's a good thing too because with the small brush I had it's starting to get fussy.)
Left: Ken Avidor came to check up on my progress and took this photo of me and my paint-covered hands while we were both talking with someone else. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I don't know what's going on with me these days but my sketches just seem to get bigger and bigger. That means they are a pain to scan, but it also means I get more opportunity to be messy. (I had to make 4 scans of this painting and knit them together in Photoshop.)
Conventional wisdom dictates that you paint with the largest brush possible when working with watercolor. Typically I paint with a 12 or 14 Round brush (or a large filbert) in the studio, even when I'm doing small studies (which for me is something on a 6 x 6, 5 x 6, or 6 x 8 inch sheet). I have large brushes that come to nice points and it all works out.
Left: Detail of the eye section so you can see what the strokes look like on the hot press watercolor paper. The eye highlight is just the white of the paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
So for this piece I probably needed a 20 or larger! Of course they don't make waterbrushes in that size! (I wish they would: hint, hint.) Since my sketch went so large (I really was right at the edge of the paper for the nose and the bottom of the muzzle) I made use of my paper towel to push paint around in the underlayers and even used my fingers in places, and the side of my hand. (In the studio I will often use a 2- or 3-inch flat brush on sketches this size.)
I brought my Whiskey Painters Palette which happened to contain a small set of somewhat oddball M. Graham watercolors squeezed into the half pans.
I say oddball because the colors were part of one of the little limited edition sets that M. Graham sells from time to time. (I just got a Cobalt set the other day.) I don't remember what the set was called, but I think it had something to do with fall colors. Anyway the paints in the palette were Celtic Green (Oxides of Cobalt and Titanium—PG 50), Anthraquinone Blue (my beloved PB 60—why hasn't Art Brought this out in his Gouache line!), Maroon Perylene (PR 179), and Cobalt Violet (PV 14). To those colors I added Aso Yellow and Sepia. (I've been doing some monochromatic sketching with sepia and so it was on the palette.) I also filled a pan with Titanium White (Schmincke Horadam Gouache), but didn't use it on this sketch.
The great thing about these colors is that the Anthraquinone Blue and Maroon Perylene make a fantastic range of dark neutrals when mixed, skewing warm or cool depending on which pigment you let take the lead in your mix. You might look at this sketch and think there's a lot of sepia in use but in fact the only place I used sepia was to underpaint and dull down the yellow.
At various times I spattered over the bear because I wanted more "color on the muzzle but didn't want to use the brush. The fact that it went everywhere else was just fun.
As to spattering I was surprised at the number of people who came up to me while I was sketching (and in a spattering lull) who didn't know how I got the spattering done. If you are new to spattering it's really simple: I had a dark wet wash in the lid of the small palette. I pulled the wash over to the lip of the lid by tilting the palette. I ran my Niji Waterbrush across the puddle of color, across the lip of the lid, and stroked out into space over the drawing while pushing the brush down on that lip. That caused the bristles of the brush to release a couple at a time and send spatter to my paper.
You can also just load your brush with color and then stroke the tip against your finger, over your painting. Some people pull the bristles back with their thumb (that's easier to do with a stiffer brush than the Niji Waterbrush). Really prepared people go everywhere with a toothbrush because they make the best impromptu spattering tools because of their stiffer bristles. You get the idea, there are lots of ways to do this.
If I'm being careful and don't want spatter everywhere I'll take one of my paper towels and tear a rough mask to cover the areas I don't want splatter to reach. That works pretty well. I didn't do that on Thursday.
Oh, you can also flick paint, but you can't do that in a museum, so I didn't do that on the day. If you want to flick paint you need to fill your brush fully with your very wet pigment. The paint should just about drip off the brush tip without any help if you just hold the brush suspended. Then you take the brush in your hand and with a loose wrist or a huge arm movement or both, you snap downwards towards your painting in a flicking motion of course. For very dramatic flicks you want to follow through with an upstroke of your arm.
You'll get some spatter, but you'll also get (depending on the liquid medium you're using: paint, ink; and how full the brush was) some lines and squiggles of paint. You can see the linear spatter, curving about in this dog sketch here, which was made by whipping the brush. And in this dog sketch you can clearly see the flicked lines curving below the dog's chin (blue) and within his body you can see some rust lines that are pronounced near his abdomen. There is spatter in both of those sketches, but the linear effects were from flicking. And both dog sketches were done at home where my wooden floors testify to my penchant for flicking acrylic paint and not getting it cleaned up before it dries!
Oh, I just thought of a better example and it's on the covers of my books. Check out the very clear splatter lines on the back left and center covers in this batch of books. That was done by flicking acrylic paint. I used a Sumi brush. The cool thing about such brushes is that they have long limp hairs but hold a ton of ink or paint. When you whip one of those puppies you actually can see the line of paint come off the brush in the air and settle down onto your paper (well just about—and you could if you had some slow-motion video).
Well after today's post you know why I always have paint on my clothing. I wouldn't change a thing.
Technorati Tags: Bell Museum, brush size, flicking paint, Fluid Hot Press Watercolor Paper, grizzly bear, M. Graham watercolors, mess, photo, photo of Roz by Ken Avidor, Pilot Lettering Pen, spatter, Whisky Painters Palette, working large
Left: Quick two-minute warm-up sketch of the grizzly bear taxidermy at the Bell Museum of Natural History, using a Pilot Lettering Pen (number 10) and light washes of M. Graham watercolors on Wave paper. The tooth portion of the bear was sketched without pen, simply to see how drawing with a watercolor-loaded brush worked on this sheet. I was working with a Niji waterbrush which didn't have much of a point. If your habit is to simply use a fine-tipped watercolor round loaded with paint to create quick sketches this might be a suitable sheet for you as long as you keep in mind the paint stays where you put it. Read below for more details. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
On March 3 I wrote a quick review of Wave paper and Pilot Lettering Pens (which referenced an earlier post on Wave paper which you'll find if you go to that post, but the essentials are in the second review).
In that review I mentioned that I had not tried doing washes on the paper yet. Then Thursday night I was at the Bell Museum of Natural History Sketch Night (more on this in an upcoming post) and I deliberately took out some Wave paper from Kunst & Papier to test the use of light watercolor washes.
Wave paper is a drawing paper and as such isn't sized for wet media in the way that watercolor papers and some mixed media papers are. As would be expected then the wash sits stubbornly on the paper and you have to drag it about, leaving streaks and edges. Edges which you can't go back and lift up without degrading the paper by over work.
But this lightweight drawing paper was surprisingly amenable to the watercolor washes all the same—if you keep in mind it's a drawing paper. By that I mean: 1. it didn't buckle horribly (it did pucker a bit wherever a light wash was added); 2. It did allow for restatements of color if you waited a little bit for the paper surface to dry off.
Everyone applies light washes differently. Within that continuum I have to explain that for me the light washes were diluted on the palette, not by adding more water to the page, except for the area under the bear's nose where you can see I smoothed out the grey tone. (In otherwords not only was my pigment saturation light but these were not very liquid washes, certainly not dry, but at that end of the continuum.)
The paint sank into the paper, part of the "I'm not budging from here" response of the paper. It didn't soak through the paper at any spot, however at the eye where I have the most layers of paint added the most furiously (while things were still wet) it came very close to soaking through—so expect that to happen if you aren't careful.
The paper can withstand light pressure and drag from a paper towel (see cheek) without pilling and falling apart.
My assessment of this paper remains pretty much the same. I don't find the surface draw with most media on it pleasant (though others might) so it will remain a quick sketch paper for me. The tooth is such however that interesting variety in line can be achieved with one pen and with several different types of pen. Light washes are possible, and one could achieve an interesting use of such watercolor washes or ink washes in quick sketches for life drawing for instance.
I like (and love) a lot of different papers, all for different reasons. I find it helpful to have different papers handy to use depending on how I think I might approach a sketch, or the type of effect I want to achieve, or the level of fun factor (result be damned) I want to enjoy. Because of all that I think Wave paper will have a continued presence in my life-drawing sketch bag (that bag that's ready to go at a moment's notice to a life drawing session). And I may just find myself reaching for a sheet while making quick sketches in the studio. The key is simply, as is always true, to accept a paper for what it is and then set about bending it to what you want it to do. When you find something that works even in a limited way it's worth keeping in your mental file of "possibilities."
Next week I'll post the larger more involved sketch (it's also very loose in approach) I did of this bear, immediately following the execution of this warm up sketch. That second sketch is 12 x 16 inches. Since it was too big for my scanner it's sitting in a computer file right now as 4 scans I have to knit in Photoshop. See you soon to discuss that.
Technorati Tags: drawing papers, grizzly bear, Kunst & Papier, light washes on Wave paper, light watercolor washes on drawing paper, paper review, Pilot Lettering Pen, sketching paper, the Bell Museum of Natural History, Wave paper
Left: The two images in today's post are quick sketches made to study a particular bird and explore how best I could capture that bird. The sketches are like giant (7 x 9 inch or so) thumbnail sketches. They don't mean anything to anyone but me. How do I see this bird? What is characteristic about this bird? What is individualistic about this bird? How can I capture any of that in a painting of this bird? As I work through these sketches I also think of what type of media might work best to create a finished painting based on what I'm learning as I sketch. So my mind is always working. There is no drudgery in this type of repetition, but only exploration. And sometimes, after six or seven such sketches in a session the fun factor is actually breath-taking. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I've written in the past many times about how I draw the same things over and over. Indeed, last Friday's Project Friday was one such post.
I feel I have to address it a little more today because this weekend several people asked me at different times (so frequently that at one point I turned around to look for the hidden camera that would confirm I was being punked) how I can bear to draw something over and over again.
I think it's essential to draw and draw again the same subject because you gain skill.
This repetitive sketching also gives you access to learning more about the subject you're sketching or painting. I think of all my bird paintings (after we get past the fact that they are all self portraits) as ways to understand how the bird's beak is structured. (I could spend my life on that one question.)
Last fall I wrote "Why Draw?: The Tautology of Drawing—Drawing is love." It's one of the shortest posts I've ever written. I think it's 3 short paragraphs. It's basically what I believe, you can go read it there.
Also in the fall I wrote a "Why Draw?": Because It Leads to Something…Drawing is Subversive." Another fundamental point of my philosophy.
My point in writing today is to state clearly (to all those still in line to ask me if I'm bored yet) that in seeing something clearly over and over again because you are focusing on sketching it you open up whole new ways of being aware and conscious in your life, and of showing others what you see and what you focus on.
This isn't a trivial thing.
It's part of why I teach sketching and journaling—it's been so positive a part of my life I want everyone to partake of that as well.
Left: See caption above for explanation. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
But I do realize that everyone has a different mental make up.
I remind myself that I was once a distance runner who ran the same route over and over, simply working on refining my times. It didn't really matter that I was running along the Mississippi on one of the most gorgeous parkways in the world, beautiful and different in all seasons. For some people that repetition, mile after mile, day after day, would have been boring.
I also remind myself that when I returned to biking in the summer of 2008 I reverted to type and rode the same route over and over with some slight additions (which were repetitive).
And I live with a long distance swimmer who swims the same pool length over and over—that and the fact that we agree on the three most important Founding Fathers (though our rating order amongst the three differs) is probably the single most important factor in the longevity of our relationship (I've used that point before, but there you have it, there's no getting away from it.)
With all that force of behavior behind me it is obvious I'm going to embrace repetition, in many things, but as being particularly useful in sketching.
My mind is just made that way.
But I can't help trying to convert folks.
The fun factor is immense. This is the way what is perceived as work by the general population actually proves to be play. I don't see myself as repetitively slogging down the same bike trail day after day, I see myself joyously peddling (if only the snow would melt) down a wonderland of path, pavement, vegetation, and animal life, that I know so intimately I know exactly when to start kicking in when the path rises up a hill, and still maintain my speed, and not even (well hardly) ruffle my breath.
And in drawing I find that the repeated experience of observing something pays me back with a more intimate knowledge of the subject. I can put away past aspects of learning, such as the basic shapes and component parts, and begin to see something as a whole. I can understand something as a whole.
I really hope, whether you are new to sketching, or have a daily sketching practice, that you take a moment to think about why you draw, how you observe, and what it all means in your life, and means to you as a person.
Then I hope you'll try a little stint with repetition whether it's the same subject in three positions over the space of an hour, or the same subject in a different setting and pose each day for a week, or a month, or for several years. Change your view and approach—it will make you stretch your creativity muscles.
Engage your mind as you embrace repetition and you'll be rewarded with a depth of understanding that will change your mind and your heart, as well as your drawing skills.
Technorati Tags: conscious looking, conscious observing, creative repetition, drawing the same subject over and over, embracing repetition, learning, parrot sketches, repetition and learning, repetition in drawing, why draw
Above: That's me and a small friend on the left. I'm taking my first "selfie." (No filters were used. No adjustments were made to this image.) Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Actually I've taken "selfies" before—like the time I came home from the allergist and started to get huge, unsightly welts all over my body, even though I'd waited the required 30 minutes; I like to have visual aids when talking with the doctor—but that was before they were called selfies.
Friday I went off to visit a bird friend TJ. Her owner Jennifer wanted me to meet two other birds I'd not had the privilege to meet before. (More on that some other day.) I've sketched TJ at Paws on Grand and Wet Paint on numerous occasions.
Well during my visit TJ convinced me once again that baggy clothes are the way to go! After sitting happily on my shoulder for a couple minutes, and nuzzling my neck with her feathered head TJ dove down the wide open collar of my 2-sizes too large sweatshirt and t-shirt. She stayed down there quite sometime, stopped in her downward progression by the belt of my camerabag. It was like having a pouch, with something squirming around and nesting.
After a long while TJ did emerge, only to return again for a long sojourn, bored as the "adults" talked about what was going on with the two young men stuck in the alley ruts just outside the window—"Oh, they've got Arizona plates," I finally realized, that explains it. Minnesota boys know how to drive in the snow.
The following images are sort of sequential. TJ's owner took them as TJ disappeared, reappeared, and did it all again. Each time she probably wandered around in my shirt for 15 minutes or more. I just laughed and continued talking. You get the general idea. No captions necessary. I didn't sketch any drawings of TJ or the other birds because it would have been impossible to hold my paper near me while I sketched. I didn't want to squash her! And then I simply ran out of time as I was needed at the folks'.
The first sketch I could find of TJ is this study I made from a photo, but you get the idea of how she looks when she isn't blurry.
Click on any of the photos to view an enlargement. (I'm not quite sure how to line rows up in Typepad, so all I can say is they are 1, 2, 3 from left to right.
Later that night when I got ready for bed I took a shower and was surprised by all the tiny little claw marks all over my chest. "It looks like I had rough sex with the tooth fairy," I told a friend.
Below: I check out what TJ is up to down there. (And no, that's not Dottie. That's Emma my first Alaskan Malamute Bitch, on a shirt I made for clients one year. It reads: "Track with Your Dog…Find Jimmy Hoffa.")
Above: Squirrel sketch made with a fine-point, dye-based Pentel Colorbrush on inexpensive primary school paper. Washi tape used to add additional paper (Piecemeal Style) when sketch went off the edge. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I talk to my students all the time about a "visual vocabulary." I'm not advocating the use of symbols, or lapses in observation. I'm encouraging students to discover ways to apply media to different papers (or surfaces) to create marks that stand in for what they are observing. This is essential when you are transforming the 3-dimensional subject into a 2-dimensional rendering.
Some pastel artists create a series of straight hatching marks that blend visually when the eye takes in the whole. This approach allows them to capture anything that they want. Watercolorists work at blending paints to create realistic gradations and color that lend a sense of three dimensions to something. Anyone working in color may elect to employ alternate, non-realistic color schemes to reach a variety of emotional effects.
When you work in black ink regardless of whether you're using a brush or a nib, you have to "come up with” strokes that convey the realm of gradation black and white don't contain. This can be accomplished by various hatching techniques—typically by placing lines of black next to each other thus creating something that is not white, but by virtue of the amount of white paper still showing through is also not black, but is a middle value.
There's more to think about—the nature of your strokes, their individual quality. I've seen masters with brushes drop great globs of black ink on a drawing and when they are finished they have you believing that a world of nuance and fine detail exists in that dark blob. (I have in mind Rembrandt’s etchings and many great Japanese masters.)
If you already sketch with a particular style most of these issues may have been resolved by you. But if you are just starting out you need to work out how to handle what the world throws up at you. Also if you are not a slave to style or work in many media and are continuously observing, you will meet new issues.
How you ultimately render something is a little bit about the techniques you learned or observed (through your analysis of great works), your own eye, your own analysis, and your own conviction.
There isn't one way to do something. There are a million ways to do something. I think of these ways as a vocabulary used in the dialog between you and your subject and the paper, and then between your drawing and the audience.
To say there is a vocabulary is not to suggest that there are only set ways to create certain effects so that you can stop observing.
In fact I believe that by encouraging people to create a vocabulary of strokes and approaches I'm actually insisting that you look harder, that you see more clearly, and that you know your medium intimately so that you can turn it to your chore.
Vocabulary exists. How you string it together in a sentence will determine how effective you are in communication.
A visual vocabulary doesn't just spring up in your mind. You have to expose yourself to art you admire. You have to involve yourself in a dialog with that artist's work to understand what he or she was up to and why and how they made the decisions they made. You have to filter all that through your own mind and hand until you develop your own "speech patterns" using the vocabulary you've been gathering.
So I don't believe you can sit down and do 30 blocks of different types of hatch marks and then go out and sketch something convincingly using one or all of those approaches.
I believe that such practice gives you exactly one thing: eye and hand control, with, if you're careful, value control.
With that type of control you can then go out and try to apply those various methods to real-world subjects. And in that moment your own eye and understanding steps in and you search for ways to use those approaches to communicate what you see.
If you don't do the practice you don't have the control.
If you don't move beyond the practice exercises to view the world you don't have to decide on the fly what you're seeing—you never make a statement.
I think the process of developing a unique, personal visual vocabulary is one of the most exciting things about art. You are constantly learning, experimenting, testing, trying. Just as sometimes you make a verbal statement that falls flat, so sometimes a visual one might. And then you can look at it and approach again from a different angle. Select a different vocabulary and try again.
This might seem daunting to new artists who don't know where to begin. That's why I wrote that it's important to learn skills, to get control. The more of that you have, the more fun the testing and experimenting will be. And the more quickly unique responses to a given situation will appear to you.
Today's image is an example of me working on my vocabulary building, with the brush pen—in this case a fine-point, dye-based (fugitive) Pentel Colorbrush—which is a dream to move across this cheap primary school paper. (And you can see from the tape showing through under the pink top tab, that it's also a thin paper through which the black ink is going to show. But that doesn't diminish the fun factor of using that pen on this paper.)
For me the starkness of black and white is appealing and convenient (you don’t have to carry a lot of materials around with you). However, you do have to tap dance around the substantiality of the universe surrounding you when you only have an on and an off stroke.
Transparency then is something that interests me—especially the transparency as well as the merle coat of a squirrel.
Squirrels are frustrating subjects for me to sketch. Here, close to the pizza-filled garbage cans of the University students, we call squirrels “rats.” They are everywhere, but not charming in the way that pigeons can be to me. (It’s all personal preference.) They move quickly. They can be quite a blur.
Relying on sketches made from taxidermy at local park reserves and historical societies, I thought I’d have another go at the issue of transparency. I picked up an Aquash pen (with light black ink) by mistake, and you can see its strokes in the eye and near ear where I started the sketch. But I quickly switched and picked up the black ink brush pen and began to think in terms of on and off, dark and light, and beyond white, which is transparency, but in this drawing has to be rendered as white because if I add more strokes, even light ones, it will become muddied. So I’ve asked myself to see clearly, and then I’ve allowed myself to step off and say, no, I have to stretch the use of the paper in this way (here the white areas around the outside of the tail).
This sketch isn’t totally successful, but it is the best squirrel sketch I’ve ever made—and the most thoughtful. I refused to lose myself in tired random strokes but required myself to wait until shape was somewhat in place. I listened to what was most important to myself (in other words I was focusing).
I know that I will continue looking for ways to say what it is I want to say about a squirrel’s tail my entire sketching life. Tomorrow I might come up with a totally different tack.
That’s exciting to me because it tells me that I’m going to increase my vocabulary. It tells me I’m still engaged. It confirms for me that there are still things I can learn from a squirrel’s tail.
All this extra work ahead of me is an invitation, not a homework assignment.
When things don’t go well I can learn from them and decide where to go next, even if I only have a vague idea that I simply want to go away from the general direction of my last solution.
You understand something by working out how to draw it.
When things do go well there’s a happy feeling, like that of writing a clear sentence, and of knowing what I’ve done before has been made useful in this moment.
There is also the sense that I’m building a visual vocabulary useful not just for squirrels, but at the ready when some unimagined subject pops into view and presents a new visual puzzle for me to work out.
My friend Laurie sent me a link from "This is Colossal" about Noel B. Pugh. That first link goes to the article where you'll see some of his gorgeous pen and wash botanical illustrations. You need to go and see them now, because they are crisp and beautiful; and because he shot his illustrations as part of delightful compositions with his pen and the actual blossoms.
The second link goes to "Full Pollen Basket" where he posts his work. There you'll find progress shots, and a variety of illustrations, and even a shop with cards and prints.
If you love botanical art or have an interest in flowers, or bees (Pugh illustrated the "Field Guide to the Common Bees of California"), then you'll enjoy looking at his artwork.
And for those of us in Minnesota, we can be cheered by the reminder of spring; maybe we can actually believe that the current, slight warming trend, means that we'll see spring eventually! (I'm not complaining about the winter, I'm just observing it's been COLD.)
And what would spring be without more birds? So while you are over on "This is Colossal" also check out the post on "New Paper Hummingbirds by Cheong Ah Huwang." This Korean paper artist cuts thin paper to layer and create the effect of feathers and her little birds fly right out of their frames into your mind.
Above: A male Gouldian Finch, sketched with a dried out red Tombow (non-lightfast). 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal.
I have some sad news. Around the middle of December I noticed that I'd walk by the aviary in the nursing home and I couldn't see the female Gouldian Finch. I regret not saying something right away; perhaps things would have been different. I didn't see her peeking out of any of the little covered nesting baskets. The male, always a bit skittish, seemed more so. This went on for three days. I thought she'd been removed and he was responding to being alone (without his partner, there are several other pairs).
Then I came in one day to see my favorite bird dead on the floor of the large aviary. (I did sketches and may make a finished painting, but it's rather a personal image right now.)
I let management know because I wasn't sure when someone would notice. I was told they'd take care of it at the end of the day. The male disappeared after I made this sketch. I don't know if he also became ill and died or he was just removed.
I miss the female very much.
I remember the day she arrived with her partner.
The little doves had been removed. Of course they had been my favorite and I was at first a bit disappointed to lose them, and startled by the bold blobs of color the Gouldians brought.
Even in the beginning she would come to the end of the branch nearest the window and peer right back at me, fearless and inquisitive, calm and intense. She had large beautiful eyes with which she held my gaze. She was patient. Her feather colors were a muted match to the saturated flash of her mate. I preferred, as usual, the more neutralized approach.
She got me through countless stressful days. I was quite smitten.
For about 15 years I did a lot of artist residencies in the public schools. I would be hired for a week to come in on a daily basis and teach bookbinding and journaling, or to teach colored pencil drawing techniques, or to teach creative brainstorming, or to teach observational techniques (both visual and written). Sometimes I'd be hired to come in once a week for several weeks, but I still focused on the same things.
Whenever the classes were visual (or we were at that point in the class when we focused on the visual) students always seemed to have difficulty letting go of perfect. They worried that their first sketches would be lousy. They wanted their sketches to be exactly the way they saw them in their heads.
Of course I explained the need for drawing practice, for warm ups, for revision, for just being in the moment.
But in every class at least one kid (aged somewhere from 7 to 17) would always grumble about his or her sketch not looking right.
I would do tons of drawing demos where I produced less than stellar drawings—because 1. I had not warmed up yet, or 2. I had been talking and not concentrating.
I modeled balanced behavior that showed them how bad drawings didn't deflate my desire to draw. I modeled positive analytical skills to show them how to break down their process and see where they could improve it to end up with better sketches (though not necessarily the first sketches of the day).
Some kids would go to my website (I didn't have a blog at that time) and look at my posted journal selections. Some of them would get that I'm not "precious" about these sketches, they are just what happened on the day.
Fewer kids would absorb the idea that I was simply higher on the learning curve than they were and that was why even some of my bad drawings weren't that bad in their eyes.
Of course this opened an opportunity to talk about that phenomenon, but again…your mind hears what it wants to hear and for these kids it was that they didn't have skills and couldn't do something perfectly the first time they tried it.
I always thought it odd that when we did the written portions of the residencies they had absolutely no problem working with drafts. They had been doing that since they were very young indeed.
So this tells me that we need to get more artists in the schools to show kids that there is a revision and drafting process to finished illustrations as well as written work. That the drafting or warm up process is fun even when it is challenging. That doing warm ups allows you to refine your idea and improve your final drawing, even if you are going to do the final drawing from "scratch" (and by that I mean, you are going to draw it freehand, without revised overlays and such, but after you've had a warm up and worked out the idea).
Kids need to see all approaches to creating art so that they can experiment and try what works for them.
I don't teach in the schools any longer—taking a week off to teach meant arranging my work schedule to accommodate the time off, a difficult thing for someone who works for herself to do. Also I always ended up coming back to the studio with some virus or other that I'd been exposed to. (When you work alone you aren't exposed to much). Frankly I couldn't afford the additional time off from being ill.
I still try to impress my adult students with the need for warm ups.
I wanted to write about this today because many of you may have a young artist in your life. I wanted to encourage you to start modeling this behavior—sharing your process, sharing your use of thumbnail sketches and drafts and revisions in your artwork; showing them that while magical results may occur, the process isn't magical.
Modeling behavior is a way to really make a lasting impression. Some kids pick it up at first exposure, some don't "get it" until they reach college, art school, or even their first job, and realize what they saw modeled earlier is a necessity. But I think if we get to kids early and start modeling this behavior it's easier for them to have the "aha moment" later.
Start it now with the kids you are encouraging to be artists. Let them work with you, watch you solve problems. If they are old enough and interested, go over your thumbnails and warm up sketches with them. Walk them through the process. You'll know if it's the right time.
And while you're at it you can model adult, balanced ways to receive praise and criticism. Stop responding to their "wow I like that" comments with all the reasons your drawing is shit. Find a new way to talk to them that tells them what you like about the drawing and what you see you still need to work on. This gives them a positive way to work on their own and look at their own work, always allowing for the small victories to translate into ongoing growth.
If you don't have kids in your life to turn into artists but are whining about your own art life now is the perfect time to model adult, balanced behavior to yourself. (Reread the previous paragraph and apply it to your own internal dialogs.)
While I don't go into the schools any longer I still encounter so many adult students who haven't learned that a first sketch might not be perfect, haven't learned to keep working when everything is looking like shit and you know its shit, haven't really learned to tell the difference between what is shit and what is a logical next step.
A lot of what I write about on this blog is about just that. I'm writing it because I know, young or old, past students don't "get it" the first time they hear it.
Whether you decide to change a kid's artistic life or your own is up to you, but I hope you start thinking about how warm ups matter when sketching.
Below: Immediately after sketching the first warm up in this post I did this Pentel Pocket Brush Pen of a finch in the aviary of the nursing home I was visiting. It's on a sheet of 9 x 12 inch paper that I tore off a spiral pad. Since I started with the eye (as usual that's where I start), and it was too low, the left foot went off the page. So I turned this into a "piecemeal style" sketch later, and added the branch. I'm ending this post with this image because I think it makes my point for me (in a lot less than the 1151 words it took me to get here, but hey that's the way I roll). I can tell you several reasons why this is a good bird sketch. (I liked it so much immediately that I decided not to paint over it. Though I may use this drawing as the basis for a painting later.) I can also tell you a couple ways in which it isn't a great sketch and needs some improvement and attention. Doing the warm ups first allowed me to connect my brain, eye, and hand. And warm ups spilled off some of the excess adrenaline and caused me to focus my breathing. Even the restating of the top part of the beak isn't random. I knew I wanted it that way for the top of the head to be adjusted the way I wanted. And I had the patience to wait for the bird to come back roughly to the same position over and over (frankly I think this bird really likes me because she is always coming close to the windows of the aviary when I show up). I show you this sketch because there isn't any way to get to this sketch without the first sketch in this post. And the sketch below is the way I'm going to get to the next sketch. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
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