Category Archives: drawing

Vine charcoal makes sketching easier for me.

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This sketch of daffodils isn’t finished. You can see the smudges from erasing. That’s ok, the smudges won’t show when it’s finished.

To start a sketch I use the side of a small piece of charcoal to blob in the general size and shape of the flower, then go back and erase to get the shape of the petals. I spend as much time erasing as drawing to refine the shapes then I outline the petals, then erase again so the charcoal doesn’t show through when I use my semi transparent oil paint sticks on top.

I did this a few days ago and it’s been raining ever since. When I go back the flowers won’t be the same. I’ll either start again or totally erase these and draw on top of this.  I feel like I get a better finished piece if I get a good drawing to start with. Even if it’s only a sketch and will never get framed or seen anywhere except WordPress, I want to make it a strong sketch. There is a chance I could use it for a painting. If I never do, I’ll still have burned a file for daffodils in my brain which will make it easier to remember in the future. Those brain files are better than looking it up on google. Know what I mean?IMG_2211

This sketch of a slipper orchid is almost ready to go over with oil paint sticks. I need to erase more but I will be able to see it. Then my lines of paint stick will look free. Durn, there’s a smudge on the paper. Maybe I can erase it, or I could try to hide it somehow if it won’t erase. Stay tuned.

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Holly Receptors In The Brain Of Your Plein Air Artist / mixed media

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I could have titled this, “Deciduous Holly” but then the art viewer would dismiss it as just another drawing of a twisted bush. Allow me to interpret it for you.

A few years ago my daughter lived in Atlanta GA. and when I visited her one time we saw a show called “Bodies” at the Atlantic Center. These Chinese mad scientists had taken some John Doe bodies in China and dissected them in unique ways. They injected bright dye into the nervous system then eliminated all the rest of the body’s tissues so all that was left was the neon nervous system in 3D body shaped plexiglass.  They did the same thing to the blood veins. Imagine a clear body where the whole nervous system is visible. I found it a little disturbing. One display had an arm sliced across sections and spread out so you could see the bones, muscles and other guts of the arm going down the extended length of it. I thought if I had a few of those arm cross sections I could use them as coasters since they were in plexiglass and colored so nicely with no smell of death.

Coincidentally, they were running ads on TV for a pill that supposedly stopped the “nicotine receptors” in a smoker’s brain from working. If you wanted to quit smoking, you could take the pill and quit the habit / addiction of smoking. I wondered what the nicotine receptors looked like. I doubt there are really nicotine receptors in the brain at all. I guess if an artist challenged a mad scientist to show the nicotine receptors the scientist would slap a brain out of a jar of formaldehyde onto a plate and make some cuts into the gray matter and say, “There are your nicotine receptors”. Then later, I heard of opium receptors or some other bad kind of receptors in your brain. It seems like there are receptors for all kinds of things in your brain. Everyone started jumping on the brain receptor band wagon. Then there must be receptors for other things that give the brain pleasure, like eating hard shell crabs, or looking at a pretty bush in the winter.

These days, a lot of times I draw trees with bare twisted branches and it reminds me of the neural network of the brain. And when I stood in front of this bush to draw it, those holly receptors went off in my brain giving me a feeling of pleasure. The red dots on my sketch are the holly receptors. The art viewer might see the red dots as merely berries and be bored with the sketch, because that person wants to see not only a tree, but the suffering of the artist depicted in the sketch, or some story illustrated through the art. They would never know this is an illustration of the holly receptors in my brain if I didn’t tell them. This is where you, my WordPress friends, have an advantage over the other art viewers out there. Because now you know some of the things that went through my mind when I worked on this drawing, but if I frame it or use this sketch to do a painting, others won’t see the receptors.

Battery de Russy / charcoal and chalk / corrected and extended

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Funny thing about a woman that goes out alone to sketch, am I in danger or am I the danger? As an old white girl, I’m not usually  looked at as a suspect, but security is watching me.

Fort Monroe. It looks safe to me. Every time I’m there I see so many security cars go past me. It might be the same car again and again, I don’t know because I don’t pay it any mind. I’m just standing out there trying to sketch. Or I’m sitting in my car taking a break. Yesterday the security car pulled in behind my car and sat there for a few minutes. I thought he was running my plates. Then he left. Did he look me up? Did he find me on google? A couple times I saw a cop stop on the other side of the street and take a photo. I ignored him. I don’t know if he took my picture or not.

I chalk it up to people not seeing an artist sketch in public alone, so they don’t know what to think. Yesterday a guy (civilian) drove into the same empty parking lot I was parked in close to the battery and got out of his car. He asked me if it was ok to park there and I said,” I guess so.” He told me he wanted to take pictures and he walked over to the battery. I got in my car and took a little break.

A few times in my years of sketching in plein air alone, I thought perps were checking me out. I didn’t get robbed. Sometimes these characters talk to me but I’m not afraid of bad guys, so I’ll talk. Once I thought a perp was planning on robbing me but changed his mind when I saw him and didn’t act afraid. Then he saw I’m left handed. A lot of criminals are superstitious. Maybe my being left handed saved me that time, but I don’t like to push my luck and I didn’t go back to that spot in Richmond overlooking the James.

I wish one of those security guards at Fort Monroe would talk to me so I could better assess the situation. Should I finish this sketch? I kind of wanted to try to paint the battery. I wonder if they think I’ll try to go into the battery, which is off limits. I’m not interested in going in there. It looks spooky, but I’m not superstitious.

It might take some time for me to become a fixture there like I do at other places I hang around drawing. Maybe in the whole 400 year history of the fort no one has ever just hung around drawing. but a lot of people take photos. why don’t I just take a photo like everyone else? Taking a photo won’t help me improve my drawing skill like trying to draw the battery freehand will.

Wind Swept Trees / charcoal and chalk

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I can draw outside if it’s 40*F, like today, but the wind coming off the water stopped me from getting out of my car.  It’s too blustery.

I went back to Fort Monroe to work on my sketch of the Battery De Russy and then changed my mind and drew these trees while sitting in my car. The battery is so long, I was planning to extend my sketch from before onto another paper and continue  drawing the architecture. It would have been awkward to hold my sketchbook in the wind. Forget  about standing up my easel. The wind would blow my drawing board away.

These trees were on my list of things I want to sketch there, so I got into drawing them  today. The battery will take a long time. I’ll get back to it another day.

I kind of like these trees. Think I’ll prime a canvas for it. This could be a painting I can do at home on rainy days.

Bald Eagle after William Turner / charcoal and chalk

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This is my second try on a larger piece of sanded pastel paper. I think it looks better than the first one which I tried to draw on a smaller sketchbook. This time I took my easel and drawing board with the large paper  instead of holding a sketchbook in my hand like I did on the first try. It’s easier for me to work larger. Compare this sketch to my previous post and tell me if he looks better this time. I’m not sure if the proportions are exactly right, but not too far off.

I thought the sculpture was by David Turner but it was done by his dad, William. I can’t tell their work apart. They both make the most beautiful wildlife sculptures out there.

It’s great to draw the Turner guys’ sculptures. I think I see some kind of attitude in my bird’s face, but that could be my imagination because I was only trying to copy the bronze, not put my own personality into the drawing. With all that beauty out there for me to copy it takes the pressure off an artist to be “original” all the time. And copying some other artist’s masterpieces is improving my drawing skill slowly but surely.

Even if an artist tries to copy as closely as possible, they still put information about themselves into the drawing. I can’t avoid it. The savvy art viewer will see it. Know what I mean?

Wine makes her happy

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When I started drawing this statue I thought she looks high. She’s smiling and her eyes are half closed. Then I saw she has grape leaves in her hair. She must be drunk!

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This is my model. She’s in a large formal garden at Norfolk Botanical. I’m still doing portrait practice by sketching statues because they’re free and they don’t move. My friends and family don’t want to pose long enough for me to get a finished drawing. At least if I do find a free live model some time in the future, the time I’ve spent sketching statues will help me get a likeness.

After sketching a bunch of statues of male artists, it was nice to draw a pretty girl. I’ll go back to the sculpture garden with the famous dead guys again and do more of them but I took a little break from them.IMG_2049

This is another pretty girl in the same formal garden. Unfortunately, her nose is broken which will make it more of a challenge to draw her. I’ll have to use the magic of art to fix her nose after I get a little better at portraiture.

About ten years ago I practiced figure drawing and portraiture in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. I got the inspiration to draw the stone angels and was working on that for about six weeks when a good friend died suddenly and I was totally shattered. I hung around in the cemetery a lot for a couple years and drew most of the angels. It was the best therapy for me. Every day I was reminded that I’m still alive because I was standing over all these dead people. Hollywood Cemetery is very special. I’m not superstitious. I never saw a ghost, but the cemetery was my refuge from the world and it made a better artist out of me. And it helped me recover in some weird way, when my life went down the tubes back then.

After spending a lot of time sketching in the cemetery I wanted to draw some angels that were broken. I figured out how to draw a missing hand on a broken angel by copying a hand of another angel to fit. I felt like I kind of fixed the broken one when I could do that, and I knew my drawing skill was improving. That’s why I want to try again by putting a nose on this broken statue’s face.

I was very happy to find all these statues at Norfolk Botanical so I can continue to what I started ten years ago.

one hellofa crabapple tree / work in progress

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One day a couple weeks ago I was walking in the garden carrying my 12 x 16 sketchbook when I came across this beautiful tree in the last stage of blooming. A few pink flowers were still hanging on and I wished I could paint real fast so I could capture it like that with some flowers and new leaves coming out. It’s a big crabapple tree and famous because it’s in a book of VA’s 100 most beautiful trees.

I knew I couldn’t sketch it on my 12 x 16 paper because it’s easier for me to draw large if I’m drawing a large subject. That’s one reason why I know my drawing needs improvement. Why can’t I draw small? I can usually draw a figure with a 1.5″ head. A one inch head is too small for me most of the time, but I try to sketch small  figures sometimes.

I decided to use a piece of paper out of my 18 x 24 sketchbook and give it a try. 12 x 16 is the largest size sketchbook I can hold in one hand to draw and don’t need my easel. When I tried to sketch the tree on the big paper it seemed like it kept getting bigger and bigger as I was sketching. ( a sign that my drawing is out of control ) I wasn’t going to show this sketch because the tree looks crowded on this big piece of paper but I wanted to paint it and I thought if I had a larger canvas I might be able to do it. I bought a 30 x 40 canvas.IMG_2025

I did a detailed underpainting of the tree and it looked ok on the 30 x 40 canvas. It’s not squished to fit.  It was a little easier to sketch the second time. There’s another five feet of tree off to the right which I couldn’t get, though. The branches come back down to the ground and form a thick bush next to the tree. Now I’m over half way finished but it might still take another week at this rate. The background trees, sky and grass are finished but the tree and leaves are still mostly in the underpainting stage. The new leaves have a red orange tint and are shiny. It’s too soon for me to tell if my painting will work out. It could be an epic failure, or it might be ok when it’s finished. I missed the time to paint the tree with flowers but I think it’s beautiful without flowers. If the painting is ok I’ll post it when I’m finished. If it’s not ok, I’ll try again next year.

Eastern Redbud / charcoal chalk and pastel / with photos

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Here’s a strappy young redbud for you, appropriately planted in the childrens garden. It looks like it had a growth spurt last year but didn’t fill in yet.

I filled in the background with pastel on this study because I had some smears that wouldn’t erase all the way, and also to make the light on the tree show up more on the light paper.

It’s fun to spot these redbuds when you’re driving. They’re out there by the side of the road all wild and crazy. They don’t get very big but they’re bright and cheery when they bloom. Then when the flowers are down they blend back into the underbrush and you can’t see them again until next spring.

Some other trees of interest are in the photos below.IMG_2020

This tree has roots that have been formed into a circular bench all the way around  for people to sit on or kids to climb on. I wonder how they got the roots to take that shape.IMG_2021

Can you see in this photo how they criss-crossed the stems of these crepe myrtles to make xs? I like the window pane effect of it. And some of the trees look like they merged together into one at the places where the stems cross. Isn’t that a cool thing to do with crepe myrtles?

Korean Rhododendron / pastel

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Loving a rhododendron. This week it’s the rhododendron. Next week it will be a red bud tree. I’m fickle like that.

It caught my eye because the flowers seemed to float over these  graceful stems. The flowers were so bright with the dark green evergreens behind them. And the branches crossed to make odd shaped window frames with lines of sunlight and shadows.

The day I found it I tried to sketch the branches in my sketchbook. My sketch didn’t work but I wanted to try to draw it larger, because I find it more difficult to draw small. When I went back with this larger piece of sanded pastel paper the next day I sketched the branches with charcoal again and it looked better. I blobbed in violet to save places for my flowers and picked some colors for my background.

I simplified the background a lot. There’s more of these bushes, more trees of different kinds, more plants on the ground, a path, etc. All I wanted to see was the dark green behind my flowers and dried leaves on the ground with shadows, and a line of lighter green grass behind my rhododendron. Even though I simplified the background, it was still time consuming because I like to build up layers of pastel until the paper won’t hold any more color. I do an underdrawing and blend it down into the paper. Then I can put heavy coats of pastel on top of that. It takes a lot of time but a pastel can have a solid look if you fill in the tooth of the paper.

I was in the garden working on this 4 times for and hour or 2 each time, but then I worked on it for hours at home on 3 or 4 different days. So, over 20 hours in it, I guess.My hand was getting tired by the end.

The reason I’m excited about this drawing is because I didn’t know if it was working till the end when I drew the branches. To me, it looks feminine and strong. ( and I didn’t have to draw a vagina! ) hahahah ( sorry for mocking feminist art )

I hope you get the feeling of fresh spring air blowing through the branches and moving the flowers.