Love, hate and every feeling in between

 

Every single piece of art I create sends me on an emotional roller coaster.

It starts with the inspiration! The adrenaline rush and excitement that comes with the new idea! Yes!! this is a great idea!! This is the most amazing reference photo! This will be the BEST thing I will ever make! Yayyyyy!! I write these ideas down, make a sketch, or find and file reference images. This is the top of the hill at the start of the ride.

Sometimes the idea stops right here at the planning stage… The excitement builds up, I get on with my daily chores, go to work, head to bed full of enthusiasm for my next project… Then by the time I wake up and look at what I have planned… It suddenly doesn’t inspire anymore. Sometimes the ride just stops and everyone gets off.

For the pieces that retain my interest, I am held at the top of the ride. Before I set to work, I need to prepare. I need to get on top of my housework, because I know my art will hold my attention for the next few days and the washing pile will be left ignored. I need to prepare my space, make sure I have the tools, I may need to purchase some supplies. I take the time to draw out my image; measuring, comparing, laying down the skeleton of the piece…I am at the top of the ride, anticipating the moment I can start.

When I finally set to work, I immediately plunge right down to the bottom of the ride. “Oh no, what have I started? I can’t do this! I don’t have the skills… this is too hard?”  the first layers of any drawing always look like crayon or scribble. My colour choices seem ridiculous. I doubt that I can ever build it up into something that passes for art. My hand tightens up and the self-doubt is crushing. This is the biggest dip in the ride. When I was younger many pieces ended at this point, but experience has taught me to hang on tight.

The first  rise comes when the initial section starts to look complete… I usually start with the eyes so I can reach this hill faster. A well drawn eye breathes  the first life into the piece.. and I can start to see how it just might turn out right. “Yes!! I can do this”

And so it goes over the whole drawing,  as I finish and start each section…

I can do this,

No I can’t

I Iove it, this is turning out GREAT!!

I hate it, It’s all going wrong!!

love it,

hate it,

love,

hate.

Up and down around the roller coaster. Until the finish is in sight. And I can settle on my  feelings toward the piece as a whole, good, bad or indifferent..

I have had a good run of late, many of my drawings have turned out better than I expected. They truly are the BEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE!! and the ride leaves me on a glowing high point.  But I don’t feel that way this week. I like my giraffes, they have pretty faces they are fairly accurately drawn …but it is not the BEST thing I have ever done… and it leaves me feeling a little in between.

I wish I had chosen a different paper. I wish I had spent more time planning the composition. I wish I was able to put down more layers of colour before the paper would take no more. To be brutally honest, this ride has left me a little disappointed.

However this ride is not over, and it never really will be over. Now the drawing is complete I will put it away in its folder, post the images and the video. I will see this drawing many times, and each glance will bring me back to the ride. Today I feel deflated, however in a month, or a year I could feel very differently.Time and distance from the project sometimes allows the love to come back into it. I will see the things I did right, and I will probably judge the flaws less harshly or at least appreciate the lessons I have learned from those mistakes.

Why do I do this to myself?

This battle between expectation and ability is one of the things I love most from practicing art…  I suppose I must like roller coasters

 

The effort starts to show.

Art has always been a part of my life in one form or another… it is only recently that have I intentionally made time to practice and improve my results.

It has become a borderline obsession. Some part every single day of the past 2 years, is spent studying my craft. If I am not working on a larger, complete piece, I am scrawling away in my sketchbook,  watching other artists on YouTube, reading books on the old masters, or just spending the time to take in my surroundings and mentally decide which colours I would use and how I would depict the scene.

I have noticed a change in the way I see the world, yes I mean an actual change in my visual perception of the world. Colours are brighter and shadows are deeper and the highlights are brilliant.  I see the way light bounces around objects, light bouncing inside shadows, the reflexion and refraction of light through a body of water… Of course my eyesight hasn’t improved (If anything, it’s getting worse as I age!!) but with practice I have learned to notice more of these little things that build up our visual world. I suppose it’s a bit like physical excercise, constant flexing of my perceptual muscles has made them stronger!

To test out these new muscles, this week I intentionally chose a subject that has been very difficult for me in the past. I have never before drawn a tiger I was happy with. All those stripes and the changing colours of the fur has always left me stumped, but having noticed a great improvement in my work lately, I thought I would “tackle the beast”again.

This time I can say I am truly happy with the results… There are a few areas I would have liked to do differently (but there always are) but overall I am proud to say this is one of mine. The image for this post shows the result of 19 months of solid, dedicated and deliberate practice. Judging by the difference, I can say that I cant wait to see what I can do 19 months from now!!

(here is the video I made of the recent tiger drawing. Learning to video as i work… now thats a whole new ball game!! more to come )

 

 

Can you draw me a……?

The answer is usually YES!! (well for a fee)

Call me a fool, but I really enjoy taking on commissions. I know it can be a touchy subject for some artists, and commissioned work can certainly present a minefield of difficulties, but I find generally find I enjoy the challenges that come with accepting the work.

Accepting a commission always kind of feels like sitting for a test. I spend time most days working to improve my artistic skills, where I get to draw what I like, when I like. However taking on requests is a challenge to my skills. Now my family can tell you that I can be quite obstinate, and very competitive, especially with myself. So when a client hands me a reference and that little creeping  voice of self-doubt says “Can I really do that?” I cant help but to jump straight in and try to conquer whatever challenge has been laid before me.

My favorite pieces are portraits. Especially when I am given a reference photo that shows the personality of the subject/s. A big brimming smile, a gesture or characteristic moment allows me to create something really special. Clients will usually tell the story behind the reference photo and I spend so much time pouring over the details in these drawings, that I feel I get to know these people in some way. The real magic happens when I can get a result that really shows the heart of the subject.

Another favorite challenge is when I am presented with an idea for a piece that I would never have considered on my own. The picture on this post is an example one of these pieces. A client requested a black and white piece with a tree theme. It’s a great idea!! And it is something that I would never had considered without the suggestion. After about a week of searching for images and consulting with my client, we decided to do this bark and fungi. The textures were quite challenging and the values in the reference were a little difficult to work with, but in the end the client  receives a nice piece, and I had learned a few new tricks along the way. Win, win!!

Now there are always issues that pop up.. Terrible reference photos, a difficult client who wants impossible last minute changes and of course the occasional non paying customer.. All of which are annoying, and can be extremely stressful. But like all things in life, I look for my gains, instead of my losses To me, the chance to learn and grow as an artist makes commision work fun and worthwhile.

 

“Midnight Crow” Tutorial

My goal for this piece was to draw a black bird, using as little black pencil as possible. I wanted to find all the gloss and shimmer in the feathers and draw those brighter colours and leave the black just for the very deepest shadows. 

Materials used:

  • Fabriano Academia 200gsm paper 29x41cm
  • Faber-castell polychromos pencils: Black, Indigo, Prussian blue, Smalt (sky) blue, red-violet, burnt carmine, walnut, cool grey VI, cool grey II and my trusty white Prismacolor.
  • Odourless mineral spirits and a small, soft synthetic brush
  • tiny touch of white gel pen (optional)

My reference photo was from Steve Lyddon at PaintMyPhoto.com . http://pmp-art.com/steve-lyddon/gallery/104842/crow you do need to be a member to view the photograph as you are required to agree to some terms and conditions of use, however I highly recommend the site.

The process

I never start my drawing directly on my paper, especially where I intend to leave the background naked white. Every little eraser mark and smudge damages the surface of the paper. So I draw out my pieces into a cheap sketchbook first, then when I am happy I will use graphite transfer paper to get the outlines onto my watercolour paper without any mess or mistakes.

The Eye

I always start with the eye. It is the one place in a drawing that I absolutely do not want to make a mistake. If I mess this up I will ditch the whole piece and start again!

crow eye

eye, close up

I picked up my black pencil first and drew in the areas I knew would be the darkest, which in this piece is the lining around the eyes, the join between feathers and beak and the iris of the eye.I then drew in the “sparkle”of the eye with my white to protect the paper from my darker colours.

I chose the walnut pencil as the eye colour as I knew the rest of the piece was going to be in mainly cool colours and a wanted there to be a hint of warmth in the eye. I blended the area between the walnut and blue with my prussian blue to reflect the birds overall colour. As this is a very small area (about 1.5cm²), I do this with a sharp pencil and a steady hand

The Head and Neck

Next I move on to the fine feathers on the head and upper neck. With a very light hand, and with strokes that follow the form and size of the feathers,  I start with the sky blue pencil and lightly layout the area of highlight on the top of the head. I then do the same thing with my darkest shade of blue (indigo) to establish the areas in shadow. Once I have plotted the structures of the head with the darks and lights, I use my prussian blue pencil as a mid tone to bring the areas together. bringing the prussian blue down into the indigo to blend.

At this point I use my odourless mineral spirits (OMS) to blend the tones onto the paper. I want to use a fair amount of the spirits at this stage, as i am looking to stain the colours deeper into the paper, and i have not yet established any details that could be lost with too much blending. As I blend, I am conscious to keep blending in the direction of the feathers. This first layer establishes the foundation of the whole piece, so it is worth taking the time to get it right. You can see the difference the OMS makes between pictures 1 and 2 on the image below.

**WARNING!** I found that the prussian blue pencil was very easily soluble in the OMS! A little bit of pencil went a long way and it was very easy to spread the pigment too far into areas i did not want, and my dish containing the OMS was very quickly tinted blue by the pigment.

When the OMS is completely dried. I place another layer of colour using the same technique as the first. Light strokes on the direction and size of the feathers to build up the depth of the colour. When I am satisfied,  I repeat again with the OMS. However this time I blot most of the OMS out of my brush on a piece of paper before touching it to my paper. A saturated brush at this point will start to lift colour off my piece and start to push it into undesired places.

I keep repeating this process of pencil and OMS. When I am happy with the colour saturation, i move onto the last layers , where  I start to add my red-violet pencil in areas where I want to show a glossy colour shift to feathers. I also start to introduce some flecks of my sky blue down into the darker areas to suggest more individuality to the feathers.

The area under the beak is completed in the same manner, but in this area i also use my black pencil to create areas of the deepest shadows.

head feather collage

Showing how I build up layers of colour. Using light strokes, carefully following the direction and size of the feathers in the reference

Back feathers

With the neck area complete I move onto the tiny triangular feathers above the wings. The reference photo  showed a very defined pattern and central ridge on these feathers. I Followed the reference very closely on the placement and direction of these feathers, as the direction changes as they follow the form of the bird. I used my Sky blue pencil to draw the central lines in first. I press quite hard and go over the line with my white prismacolor. This established the pattern of the feathers and also protected that line of paper from my darker colours.  I was then able to build up the colour in those feathers with alternating layers of pencil and OMS. In some shadow areas I add some of the red-violet and burnt carmine to bring in some more shimmer colour. On my final pass on each feather, I draw in a line of shadow along the ridge a and go over the ridge once again with my white to make it pop!

neck feather collage

showing the general form of the back feathers

Wing and Tail Feathers 

The wing and tail feathers of this bird are very well-defined. There are very strong highlights and shadows on the reference pic which made his one of the easier, but most time consuming areas to complete. I study my reference picture  very closely to understand which areas are in shadow and which are reflecting the light. I use my sky blue pencil in the same manner as above to draw in and protect the exposed feather ridges.  I also use my sky blue to plan out the highlighted areas on the left side of the birds and the small highlight on the right above the leg. The lighting on the left hand side of the bird is very bright, so in this area I also put a layer of white and a hint burnt carmine before I set to work with my darker colours.

I go through the wings feathers in sections. Using the same technique of alternating pencil and OMS to build up depth. I am mindful to keep my pencil strokes following the general pattern of the individual strands in the feathers. In the final layers I am using my indigo pencil to strengthen the chevron like pattern in the wing feathers and to create a shadow along the ridge of the feather.

When I am satisfied with the wing feathers, I use my black pencil to draw in the shadows underneath the feathers. These shadows are strongest in the centre of the bird, where the two wings meet, and where the wing feathers overlap the tail feathers. I do this last, as I do not wish to  accidentally spread the black beyond the very darkest shadows with the OMS.

wing feather collage

Showing to progression of the wing feathers, including black shadow.

Leg and foot.

I used my prussian blue pencil to draw in the highlights on the right side of the leg, I then used my indigo and my black pencil to draw in the leg feathers. This was done using short downwards strokes and blended with the OMS.

I use my white  to draw in the highlights on the foot and claws, I then lightly used the black pencil to draw in the shadows. Once I had these landmarked, I used cool grey II and cool grey VI in a somewhat random manner to create the gnarled effect to the skin. instead of using the OMS in this area, I used my White prismacolor as a blender. I strengthened the shadow that I liked with the black pencil, and finished it off sky blue as a highlight on the top of the toes and back claw.

crow foot

leg and foot detail

To complete the piece I use a very light layer cool grey II and VI, sky blue and red-violet to create the shadow under the bird. I decided I wanted a little more brightness to the little white feathers beneath the eye, so I hit them with a few strokes of my white gel pen as a finishing touch.

 

 

What’s my “style”?

I am struggling!!!

It’s been over a month since I claimed this little corner of the internet, and I still have not found a way to describe my artwork for the “about” page of this site.

I’ve never had to describe my art before. I just think something that might make a pretty picture,  pick up a pencil and dive straight in!  I have spent hours looking over pictures of my pieces, looking for points of similarity or something that would be described as “my style” but for the life of me, I just can’t see it!!

I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s artwork, and so many of them have a distinctive style. I find that I know who did the piece before I even see the name. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but find myself feeling a little jealous of people who have found themselves a unique and recognisable approach to their artwork.

Me, I just can’t sit still enough to create such a body of work.  I love to draw using my colour pencils, and they are my favorite medium. However I quickly become bored of doing the same thing, day in day out. I tire of doing similar subjects. I love to draw portraits, but doing them everyday would become a mindless chore. I love drawing animals and birds, but they can only hold my attention for so long. I enjoy the challenge of realism, but it can be tedious and time consuming to analyse and render the details. Sometimes I just want to draw for fun, without reference or with consideration of accuracy.

For example, after last week’s experiments with oil paints,  this week I have found myself playing with my copic markers in my sketchbook. While my colour pencils sit lonely in their box upon the shelf. Of course all these different mediums result in a different style of artwork! I never try to be anything more than cartoonish with my markers! attempting realism with these wild and free creatures would send me into an uncontrollable tail spin of frustration and tears.

All this chopping and changing means my artwork always looks different to me than the piece I did yesterday. Maybe it is a case of being unable to see the forest for the trees, but from where I stand, I couldn’t tell you what my style actually is! I am going to keep working on a description for the sake of this page.. but for all my searching, so far the only thing I could tell you, is that I really seem to like the colour blue.

An old dog learns new tricks

I can draw! I love to draw! I know when I pick up a pencil, whether it be graphite, charcoal, pastel or colour, that it is going to do what I want. My hand knows how to hold a pencil. I know how much detail I can add with a pencil. I know what the result will be before I even start. I really love drawing.

I have attempted to paint in the past .. I have acrylic paintings on my walls at home, which are….meh! But let’s be honest, I’ve never really put in the effort to learn. Painting is messy, it requires space and drying time and is certainly not something you want to leave around the house with toddlers lurking. But now my youngest child is in school, and I have a little space and a tiny bit of time, I have branched out and purchased a bunch of oil painting supplies.

I am an absolute beginner with this stuff. When I was about 14, my father bought be some oil paints and set me to work in the yard with a bottle of turps and no instruction at. I had a great deal of fun, but i didn’t know anything about mediums or thinning down paint, so I ended up with these big thick impasto blobs and a wreck of a painting that couldn’t be touched for the next 6 months. It’s no wonder I didn’t fall in love with painting.
These are my first attempts and there are plenty of mistakes. I’m sticking to subjects that are easy to draw out, that way I don’t have to feel bad when I stuff them up!  I keep accidentally mixing my colours together, I have no idea what brush does what, I have no idea what I’m doing with that palette knife (although I like the results) and I’m doing horrible, horrible things to my brushes trying to clean them… but I sure am having fun.

 

The story so far

How did I become an artist? That’s a long story

I think I was born with a pencil in my hand. I was always the child drawing funny little cartoons on every surface I could reach. When a serious illness in my tweens left me bedridden for over 6 months, I used drawing to fill the endless hours. This endless practice vastly improved my skills and consequently I found a great love for graphite and charcoal.

I was aimless in my youth. At 19 I enrolled in Certificate III in fine arts at Goulburn TAFE.  I did not study with the intention to work as an artist, but  purely for the enjoyment and for the opportunity to learn about mediums and methods that I had not yet experienced. I had some great teachers and some even better classmates, however i fell pregnant halfway through the first year, which stopped me from participating in many classes. All those noxious substances we artists use and I was willing to expose myself to, suddenly became an absolute no no!!!

Life happened.  4 kids, a husband and 2 step-children,  meant no time for art. Pencils down.  I took a job in a deli at the supermarket and  got on with the business of daily life. I didn’t even think about art . I had my little box of supplies tucked away high in a cupboard. Dusty and forgotten for many years, until about 7 years ago, when my husband met a man named Paul who had a framing business, and happened to mention to him that I could draw. This man asked to see what I drew, so i pulled out the old charcoal pencils and bought myself a new sketchbook.

Art is a little bit like riding a bike… you don’t really forget how.. but oh I was rusty. After several days of drawing, I showed Paul what I had done and he commissioned some charcoal faerie drawings from me on the spot.  I was making money! I did about a drawing a month for him and as I did I started to post my completed drawings on my Facebook page for my friends to see.  From there my friends started to ask me for drawings. This was never planned and the requests were always a surprise! I did not consider myself an artist. People were willing to pay good money for my work, and I did a large number of pieces, but I would never have called myself an artist!! Just someone who was lucky enough to make some extra money doing something that i enjoyed.

2 years ago, my husband I and decided to pack up our lives and move 1500kms across country to the Sunshine Coast.. Chasing the sun and surf and all the beautiful things in this part of the world. We packed our belongings into a shed said goodbye to our friends loaded kids and pets into the cars and drove off. When we found a house to move into, we had no furniture!1 it was all packed neatly in the shed down south waiting for a moving truck… so we sat in a big bare empty house.. just a basic set of cooking pans a  set of uno cards and an outdoor furniture setting that we picked up from the Salvation Army store for $15. to relieve the kids boredom I picked up some art and craft supplies including a couple of sets of 50c colour pencils and a new sketchbook for me to use. As we sat in that big, empty, quiet house, i picked up that set of 12 colour pencils and drew an apple. more of a doodle really… but i kept colouring that apple. To my surprise as i kept putting on more and more layers of colour, the pencil started to blend together! I had never used colour pencils as an art medium.. I didn’t know they could do this!!!

POW!! at that moment a whole new world opened up before my eyes! i bought a set of cheap student grade pencils and set to work learning everything I could… YouTube tutorials opened my eyes to even more possibilities!!! Wow!! The things pencils can do!! I posted a piece to Facebook and was bought by my friend Sheree, who insisted that I used the proceeds to buy more supplies..I owe her a lot!!!  A set of shiny new Derwent Artists pencils in the sexy wooden box became my new prized possession. More drawings, more tutorials. With coloured pencils I found a new drive for art! I upgraded to a set of Polychromos pencils and BANG!! again, everything stepped up a notch!! more pencils, more drawings!!

2 years on and I have surpassed anything I thought i could do with my art. I set up a facebook and Instagram page exclusively for my art. I won a contest on  Facebook group full of very talented people!! I had my art published in Colour Pencil magazine! I have recently started selling prints of my work and have a list of commissions on my board. Finally now, at 37 years of age.. I call myself an artist.

 

An itch to scratch

I have so much to do with each day. With so many kids, the household itself is a full time job. Throw in a paying job… well it doesn’t leave many hours in the day for art.

I have learned to squeeze it in around the sides. I rush around and plan meals and compositions at the same time. I think about which colours to use while I’m loading the washing machine. I study my customers as I work and plot how I would draw their skin tones or hairstyle. I always loved drawing, but lately it has become so much more a part of myself, an ingrained piece of my personality. Maybe even an addiction.

I set aside this week to put together this little website,  but the itch needed to be scratched. I store reference photos in my phone for occasions like this. This colour pencil drawing came from a magnificent photo I found on Paint my photo.com by Kathy Throop. I really do love drawing glass, and looking how the light reflects and bends. The itch has been scratched, and I love the result.

A leap of faith

There’s a good reason I use this picture so often. It’s not just because it stars my very own husband and daughter (although that is a good reason) it is also because this was my first “Oh yeah!! I can do this!” piece.

My very talented sister-in-law took a quick candid photo, and I knew I had to draw it. But, AARRGGHH!!  look at all that blonde hair and tricky hands and those dreadlocks??  Oh i really bit off more than i thought I could chew, but 4 days later and I had created something better than I had ever imagined I could. This piece reminds me to aim just a little bit further than I think I can reach.. I might just succeed.

I feel much the same way about starting a website and blog around my art. It feels like too big a gap, and I don’t know what I’m doing? I’m just going to take a deep breath, jump straight into that deep end, and see what I can do!!