Getting my own reference pictures

So, I admit… I have been somewhat lazy in the past when it comes to reference images for my artwork. I am a huge fan of photo sharing sites like Paint my photo. com  and I certainly don’t mind paying for the super high quality of the photos found on wildlife reference photos.com. I often turn to sites like these when I’m looking for inspiration.. or when I have a “Great idea” which i need to research further.

However, relying on outside sources for reference photos can be very limiting. When I have a great composition in mind, and no one has taken a photo that fits what is in my mind…  ugh!! well it can be extremely frustrating, and I can waste hours searching for the right image.

I recently purchased a DSLR camera, which I intended to use mostly as a video camera for YouTube. Although the camera is doing a fabulous job so far, it does seem like a waste of a rather nice (and reasonably expensive!) camera to relegate it solely to this task.

Small problem… the last SLR camera I used took film, and I only used it for a few months with  black and white film for a photography class. This new camera came with a thick booklet, and WAY too many buttons; and once again I leave myself in a position of having no idea what I’m doing.

So I have been watching videos and reading magazines and trying to get my head around this thing so I can get out and document some of the things that inspire me. My daughter and I went for an early morning trip to my local beach to see what we could do. A local bushfire gave the morning light a strange red cast, but we both got some great shots to add to my big book (file)  of reference photos.

That afternoon I set up a still life with a wine bottle, glass and some fairy lights and fired away. It took some efforts to get the look I wanted. My black glass table stared again, and with the help of a stereo speaker, my iPhone torch and a bottle of ajax to prop things up, I had some great successes (and many, many, many failures) getting the right reference for my next colour pencil piece.

Ooooh, the opportunities this opens up for me! I can’t wait to get out and take as many photos as I can!

Advertisements

But, what does it mean???

Ugh, the big questions!!

So many great pieces of art come with considerable meaning attached to them. The teachers and historians explain with great detail the significance of each element of the piece and how the artist was trying to tell some great story, highlight a social issue, or depict their own personal struggles.

And so many artists have impressive stories to tell!  They have seen something in the world and they wish to show their vision through their art. These artists are story tellers. Sometimes it is the good and sometimes it is the bad, but these artists hold a mirror up the world and demand that we LOOK!

I always quietly wished I was one of these artists. I wanted to have some huge, important story to tell as I handed over my pieces for assessment at school.  I wanted to be able to stand up and hold my art to the world and say  “This means something!!” However I have never found it to be in my personality to intentionally create art for this purpose, and at times this has made me feel like “less” of an artist.

I certainly have my own share of personal demons, and I see so many things in the world which I think demand a closer look. But I am not as bold as those story tellers. While I see plenty of stories to tell, my personal approach to life is quieter and much more optimistic. While the storms of life rage on, I take time to look for the little things, the pretty things, the millions of tiny wonders that surround me every single day. While the daily news jabbers in the background telling me to be afraid, and the thousand pressures of modern life try to grind me into submission, I try to shift my focus to studying a bee working on a flower or breathing in the colours of the afternoon light.

Now I am older, I understand that my outlook on the world IS the meaning behind my art! The two concepts are inseparable.  I want the people who see my art to stop for a moment and appreciate the little things; for example, the way the light shines through an onion skin like a stained glass window, or the moment a frog is balanced precariously amongst the flowers.  I want to hold up that artists mirror and show you magnificent things and uplifting moments! If I don’t achieve this lofty goal, I hope that my art gifts the viewer  a brief moment in their day to let go of the stresses of the world and rest their mind upon something beautiful. That is more than enough meaning for me.

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.