Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drawing on location

Are you traveling this summer? We are taking a couple of road trips and I will take my drawing gear along as I always do. It isn't always easy to find the time for drawing when you are traveling with other people. You don't want to bring everything to a halt while you stop to draw something, but often I find a space of time here and there. Here is a drawing I made in Ecuador in 2004.

My daughter had climbed to the summit of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world the year before. She wanted us to experience part of it, so we hired guides to take us up Cotopaxi in a van to the highest point you can drive to. From there our plan was to hike up to the base camp—the yellow-roofed building in my drawing, just below the glacier. Incidentally, because Cotopaxi sits very near the equator, it is the point on all of the earth that is closest to the sun. We stopped at the parking area at 13,000 feet altitude to start our climb. When I stepped out of the van I was overcome by dizziness and nausea. My heart was pounding alarmingly. Altitude. The guides said I could not make the hike. (As if I didn't know that!) So, I stayed behind with the van. Fortunately I had my sketchbook in my pack and for part of the four hour wait, I sat on the back bumper of the van and drew my view of the peak. I took photos as well and, in fact had to complete my drawing from memory when snow and fog rolled in. I look at this drawing and I can feel the pressure on my chest, the sting of the thin, cold air in my nostrils and the buzzing in my head from the high altitude. I am so glad I took my sketchbook. Even now, I hold the book in my hands and love that it was there with me on that mountain and here with me today.

Here's a less dramatic drawing.

A couple of years ago I had some time to take a walk around downtown Boise, Idaho near the hotel where we were staying. We lived in Boise many years ago and I remembered this charming old building in an area of town that has been completely changed since we lived there. This building is one of the few buildings that remain from the time we lived there and it now houses a Starbucks coffee shop on the main floor. I bought myself a latte that I took across the street where I found a wall to sit on, drink my coffee and draw the building. As I was drawing the bicycle parked out front, the owner appeared, climbed onto it and rode away. I was happy that I had gotten the main details down before it vanished. I am always a little shy about drawing in public places, but I find that most people ignore me and the ones who stop to see what I am doing are always so nice and appreciative.

We are on our way to Idaho and Montana tomorrow. I have my sketchbook and supplies ready to roll. If you are on the road this summer, don't forget your drawing supplies.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Computers, Photoshop, Perfection and the Hand of the Maker

I have been told that drawing is dead because computers and cameras can provide all the images one would ever need! Well, first off that presumes that the only reason one would draw would be to create images. I hope you agree, or are at least are considering the idea, that drawing is as much about what the process is doing for our perceptions, our view of the world and our sense of  connection to all that surrounds us as it is to creating something we can frame and hang on the wall. But leaving that aside, let's just take a look at images—the product.

Photography is a fine way to create images. Here is a photo of the chair I drew the other day. I like the photo. By removing the background the graphic qualities of the chair are emphasized. This would be a good image to use if I were trying to sell the chair. It shows the style, the condition, the color and the shininess of the finish.

In Photoshop, I can apply filters to this photo to give it the look of a drawing—kind of.

Even a contour drawing.

I can even switch it up to emphasize the negative spaces.

As a graphic designer I have used these techniques extensively and I will be the first to tell you how much I love using Photoshop and Illustrator to create images.


Even more, I love the look of a hand-drawn image because it is not perfect. It is not clean and perfectly proportioned. It is influenced by the hand of the maker, which is what gives all handmade work its soul and personality. Imperfect as it is, I think my little sketch of the chair is more interesting to look at and reflects something about my way of drawing; the choices I make; the parts I see well; the parts I don't see so well. Perfection may be overrated, in my opinion.

Am I wrong? What do you think?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Contour drawing of a chair

I love drawing chairs. They are hard to draw. Lots of funny angles and fancy details. Then, of course, there is the matter of making the legs look like they are all sitting on the same floor. Here's today's drawing of my old bentwood chair. It came from the YWCA in Pocatello, Idaho. My mom was the executive director and bought it when they did some redecorating. She knew I loved it, and 40 years later I still do.

I have drawn this chair many times and I never get it right, but I think it is better each time. This time, at least, it seems to be sitting firmly on the floor. Don't look too closely at the seat. I started with a simple outline, then added some additional lines to indicate shading.

Then I tried the trick of drawing the negative space, lightly drawing, with pencil, an imaginary border around the negative space. I thought it might really emphasize the positive/negative aspects if I filled those negative spaces with a texture.. Those lines were very meditative and are purposely uneven and a bit wavery.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

positive and negative contour drawing

"The concept of  edges is a fundamental concept in art, having to do with unity, perhaps the most important principle in art. Unity is achieved when everything in a composition fits together as a coherent whole, each piece contributing to the wholeness of the total image."

-Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

For me the practice of contour drawing—really focusing on those edges—is the most valuable drawing exercise I can do. Last night I went to my local guild meeting. The program was given by the wonderful Kerr Grabowsky and I was pleasantly surprised to hear her talk about how much she likes contour drawing and how valuable it is to her art.

One of the contour drawing exercises I really like and find challenging is identifying and drawing both the positive and negative spaces. Drawing negative spaces is a real right brain exercise if you can ignore the positive image and just focus on the shapes of the negative space.

Place an object or several objects on a contrasting background—a sheet of paper, a plain cover book, a place mat or napkin, etc. Be sure that your object(s) extend over the edge of the background in one or more places.

Start by drawing the object. Draw the contour, carefully observing the edges and the angles and the shapes, trying not to think of what object you are drawing, rather following the line of the contour with your eyes and observing it as line only.

Now, go back to your setup and look at the shapes of that background paper or book that your object is laying on. Try to make that little eye/brain flip that lets you see the individual shapes of the background, ignoring what is on top of it.
Observe that you have probably broken the background into more than one shape, by extending the foreground object over the edges. In my example I have three separate shapes to consider.

 Now draw those shapes, observing and following the edge, but this time not as the edge of the leaves and branch, but the edge of the negative spaces.


Jamie sent her contour drawing of several items, including the same key drawn from different angles.

There is a really nice loose, free feeling to these drawings! I especially like the keys, with their subtle hints of dimension. You can tell she was really feeling the shape of that key.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Contour drawing - irises

This is a great time of year for drawing flowers. I have some Japanese irises that Ray cut the other day and I worked on a contour drawing of a couple of them. Nice organic lines to follow. It becomes very meditative to just let your eye move slowly around each petal and notice how fluidly they blend into the stem.

It was tempting to "fix" that chewed leaf and simply extend it out into its natural point, but I pulled myself back into that space where things don't need names and lines are not leaves, but simply lines.

I like drawing with a permanent pen. For this I used a Pitt pen with a super fine point.

Don't be afraid to draw with a pen. You will love the crispness of the line. So, you can't erase if you make a mistake? Who's checking?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Contour drawing

"The essence of drawing is the line exploring space." ~ Andy Goldsworthy 

I hope you have had a chance to explore the idea of "right brain drawing." Did you try drawing the faces? Did you get the idea of drawing, not the recognizable object, but the lines and angles and shapes without thinking about what they are?

Contour drawing is a great way of getting into your right brain and really observing your subject. Contour drawing is drawing the outer lines of the object. As much as you can, you follow the contour of the outer edges of an object with your eyes, as your pencil follows along. Don't think that you are drawing a bowl or a roller skate or whatever, just think about where the line is going. Think about the shape it is taking, the ins and the outs and where it curves gently or turns a quick corner. Remember that poppy I drew last week? That was a contour drawing, with a few details added.

Pick an object with an interesting shape. A key is a good small object to start with. Nothing that is iconic or, if it is, try to put the stereotypical image aside while you draw.

Contour drawings tend not to be perfect or even as realistic as you may want, but they are so good for training your eye to really see, and I find they often have a lot of character and a certain charming quirkiness. Strive for a confident line, not a wimpy or sketchy line.

Pick a more complicated object and draw its contours. Don't worry too much about exact proportions or proper perspective. Let your eye just move around the outlines. Don't add any shading. This toy had some good lines.

I think if I did a small contour drawing every day for a year I would get good at it! Maybe that's a good goal.


Janet Burns drew a sunflower. I love the sense of movement in the petals.

Karen Miller did a sketchbook theme page of  a couple kinds of flowers. Then added color.

Jean Shute drew her foot and shoe. Nice value range in this drawing. It's good to see a black black, grays and white in a drawing.

This is Jean's geranium. Isn't this a nice technique? Not sure how Jean did it, but if I were doing this I would start with a very light pencil drawing, add the inked dots, then erase the pencil.

Jean says, "The flower drawing is certainly not a quick way to draw, but it can be somewhat meditative to sit tapping on the paper until it comes to life.  Also easy to camouflage a misplaced line. "

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sorting out your brain for drawing

"An individual's ability to draw is... the ability to shift to a different-from-ordinary way of processing visual information – to shift from verbal, analytic processing to spatial, global processing. (Betty Edwards)"

My favorite book about drawing is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. If you really want to learn to draw the very best advice I can give you is to buy this book and use it.

I will be suggesting some of the exercises from this book, but you really need your own copy. You won't be sorry.

Dr. Edwards explains that the brain is divided into two sides that house different kinds of thinking processes. The left, most commonly accessed half of the brain is the analytical part, and also includes language. The right, less-used side of the brain is the intuitive side and also where the functions of space perception lie. Her theory is that in order to draw effectively you need to access that right half and suppress the left side functions—at least while you are drawing. You, of course, need to figure out how to access that part of your brain and how you will know when you are doing it! Here is an exercise she suggests to feel the difference between the two ways of thinking as you draw:

Begin by drawing a simple silhouette of a face on one side of your paper (left side for right handed people, right side for left-handers.)

This does not need to be beautiful or even terribly realistic, but as you draw think about what parts of the face you are drawing, naming them as you go—forehead, eyebrow, dip where the eye goes, nose, etc. etc. This is the left brain approach of using language and memory of what a face looks like.

Now move to the other side of the paper and draw a mirror image of the first silhouette. This time concentrate on the position of the line, the angle, how long that angle goes until it changes direction. You are not thinking of a face, only following the contour of the line. Now you are working in your right brain.

When you have finished both silhouettes you can connect them, if you like, to form a goblet or candlestick shape.

Try it again, adding more detail to the silhouette by making it a grotesque face, like a witches face. Again, as you draw the first silhouette, name the features as you move your pencil.

Then draw the mirror image again, concentrating on the shapes and angles only.

Could you sense a difference in the way you were creating the second drawing? This is a great exercise to continue to work on until you can really tell you have made a transition from one part of your brain to another.


Lisa Flowers Ross sent a lovely flower drawing.

Kristin La Flamme, in the moving process, says everything is packed up. She must now draw from memory.

Janet Burns drew a shoe. I think she has done this before!

Drawing is like handwriting. Everyone's style is unique.