Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Not All Palettte Knives Are Equal

Palette knives are great for mixing paint. I made one painting using only palette knives. As a newbie what surprised me is that they are not all the same. I use metal palette knives. Some are springy and too soft and too bendable and others are so stiff that they might as well be a thick butter knife, which to me is not good. Then there is the size and width which varies.

These are the type of little things that you must learn by experience. What you need for your own usage and style of painting will vary from what others prefer so hearing the opinions of others sometimes do not help.

If you jump into learning to paint you will learn lots of things by hands on experience that can never be prepared for and decided upon by thinking before doing. I understand the desire to save money and buy only the exact right supplies before you begin but that desire is just not possible for some art supplies. As you use things that do not work or are inferior quality it gets to a point when you just decide that a poorly working tool is too big a hindrance or a hassle, and the investment in a new better thing is truly worth it. Even when we are talking about a $3 palette knife, because art supplies start to add up!

I use a few at a time for paint mixing to allow each to remain dirty with paint, one for each major color scheme being used (blues, greens, grays or whatever I am focusing on at the time). I also use one designated for scooping out my acrylic gel medium.

P.S. I find packs of wooden handled metal bladed palette knives at discount at Tuesday Morning sometimes. If you have a chance to touch them in person in a fine art store I recommend that, after you know what it is you like and dislike.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Aerial Perspective / Atmospheric Perspective

One of the things I learned in my college Drawing II class and again in more depth in my Painting I college class is about aerial or atmospheric perspective. To be honest I never knew about it before although it's the way the human eye sees the world and I love it in photography and in drawings and paintings. I just didn't know its name or that it's a necessary art technique to use if you want your landscape to look realistic and right to the eye and mind.

There are two main components to aerial / atmospheric perspective: that the distant most part of a landscape has more blurry edges and is not as crisp as things in the foreground or middle ground and that in color works the color of the farthest away things is more gray or blue, cooler tones and not at all the same bright colors as the things in the foreground or middle ground. So a pine tree up close has bright green needles but the same variety of pine tree far away would be a different shade of green, more dull and grayish or bluish.

I was told that to not use atmospheric perspective is an amateur or newbie mistake and it reads so wrong to the eye and mind that it screams "bad art". I had never thought of it before but now when I see it I think to myself, "No! That is so wrong looking!"

I am so new to painting, having only done one landscape in trying to teach myself to do watercolor about five years ago. I am a newbie and am looking forward  to learning how to choose correct colors and to make the farthest away things not crisp and sharp so it looks as we see a real life landscape with our own eyes.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Process vs. Product, Why Make Art (and Thoughts on Crafts)

For my whole life I have been a process based maker. I knew it inside and that is why when I homeschooled my kids I was quite different than how other parents and teachers approached art making with children. I thought my way was normal and right but apparently I am / was the minority.  As I attempted to do group activities with other homeschoolers or neighbors I saw product not process. I also hated coloring books and never bought them for my little kids. Instead we used plain paper to draw and paint on. 

Then my oldest was a toddler I attended a lecture at a parenting conference by an artist, Susan Striker, who encouraged parents to expose their children to art making (not crafts) and she emphasized process not product. I completely agreed but wanted more info so I bought her two books and read them. They are ideas and her philosophy written for parents and teachers. She also had a line of anti-coloring books on the market which encouraged kids to use their imagination by asking open ended questions and having them draw out their answers. I did buy those but my kids wanted no part of them.

The reason to emphasize process not product with little kids is that the goal is to grow their creativity and to have fun with the process because they are too young to learn all the formal art rules that create works that look a certain way and attempts to copy to try those methods will yield ugly results that the child will hate sometimes, then they will turn on themselves, feel poor self-esteem and be discouraged from further experimentation and play with art making. Also the young child's poor gross and fine motor skills interfere with their brain and hands doing what it needs to do for some art making plans recesses. However knitting does help a child's brain prepare for learning to read, as does large body cross movements across the lateral plane, whether that is painting across large canvases, drawing on a big blackboard or using the monkey bars at a playground. 

When you want to have a certain product you need to know the steps to get there (but preschoolers and little kids are usually not developmentally ready for that). If you want a sweater that fits you must know how to get the right gauge by correct yarn selection and consistent knitting tension to match your knitting pattern or you will wind up with something that's too small, too big, too long, or wonky being all of the former mixed into one garment. If you want to paint a landscape of a sunset and have it look like the actual fantastic sunset you must use good paint and know how to mix it just right then how to apply the paints with different strokes and the brush you choose matters.

Ideas and Message Communication

In the adult world of art making there are three fields. 

One is to create a visual representation to convey a message someone else thought up, think of a children's picture book where an author wrote the words and the publisher needs the illustrations, in America we call that person an illustrator. Think of the Magic trading card game where game creators think up new characters and they need an illustration on the card, so an oil painter is hired to paint a dragon in a fantasy setting. 

The second field is graphic design where a company is selling something or marketing a product or service and they need everything from the company's name written in a font, color, and size that appeals or conveys a message, or they need a logo or an advertisement created. Packaging is also the realm of the graphic designer sometimes. The graphic designer doesn't invent the original product or company, they are hired to create marketing and promotional materials. 

The third field is what we call the fine arts. In my layperson's eye this means the artist is the one who conceived the idea and who carried out the process to make it. They are in full control and are working for themselves. The question becomes why are they making art? Presently it is considered in the art world to be most pure if an artist is making art to share a message or idea. A writer may write an essay and publish it on a blog or do freelance to rant on their hatred of rape but the artist uses primarily visual tools (not words on paper or on the computer screen) to convey emotion, thoughts and messages they want the viewer to learn, be exposed to, or influenced by. Sometimes the driving desire is to promote or lash out at an issue or a main goal of influencing others while at other times the artist is using art making to work out their own thoughts or emotions and the fact that someone else will see it is secondary or maybe not even cared about. 

There are artists whose goal is commercial sales and money making. Their original idea may have been to make something for fun or some other purpose and then it may change into something that is reproduced on a grand scale. I guess also comic strip artists fall into this category, I'm not sure. A comic may start as a way to share a message, silly, funny or serious but if hired for regular production  it starts to be about meeting a deadline and forcing creative content to be thoughtful for a deadline. 


Crafts of the type that uses a kit or specific detailed set of directions are about product making and the strictest types have little room for customization or freedom of choice. I was going to say these are very constricting and terrible as that is my personal opinion and experience with them but then I thought of my second child. After having a firstborn that was gleeful in making art and anything that was maker-generated with freedom of choice my second was the opposite. By the time he was in elementary school he firmly preferred a perfect final product which he seldom could make at age 5-7 and he wanted to be told directions. To him following directions strictly was rewarding. He wanted acceptance by the authority figure and he wanted to feel competent by feeling he could do a thing that was expected of him. It boosted his self-esteem to know he did a thing well and correctly. This is the opposite of my older son and I who never thought of the other people when creating. We had fun playing and experimenting with the materials. We wanted options and choices. We worked with spontaneity and the constant choice to change one's mind gave us freedom. We rebelled against sets of directions or the person who was dictating to us to do this then that then this then that just so. We wanted to improvise. 

To me when wanting a final product to be a certain way that is designed and conceived by another person, it is usually a craft. You can do the steps without feeling any emotion about it, there is no message or idea being communicated. There is usually no personalization. But if you change things with your own techniques or ideas or content then it transforms it into art and it stops being a craft. 


To put it simply to me art is when an individual creates something out of an idea or with a desire to share an emotion or message. The extent to which the viewer may understand or perceive the intended message cannot be always guaranteed as people have their own minds and opinions, ideas and perceptions. Even if an artist intends that their work should be interpreted or understood in a certain manner the viewer may reach a different impression or may miss the message entirely. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Believable vs. Unbelievable Landscapes in Art

Something to consider when making landscapes and other realistic art: it has to be believable.

Today I saw a photo of a sunrise along the shore, over Long Island Sound in my hometown. I have never seen anything like that in real life. This amateur photographer has a history of using Photoshop and filters. I immediately wondered if it was altered. The colors of the autumn grasses and other clues led me to believe indeed it was probably unaltered. It was just a crazy spectacular sky with outrageous rare colors. My next thought was if this was painted to record the wow factor the viewer may reject it as being unnatural and therefore unappealing.

This is like reading fiction when the story is too bizarre so we reject it and hate it. Or a movie. Yet sometimes in real life there are crazy stories that hit the news or celebrities or politicians so things in real life that are so over the top we are stunned and say, "Real life is stranger than fiction". But real life can get away with it and human-created art cannot get away with it.

In a landscape when considering the real scene sometimes also we have to edit out or move a thing here or there so that the work is more appealing. If being extremely true to life is the goal then the scene should just be photographed not painted or drawn.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Basic Acrylic Painting Steps

This is what I have learned about the basic steps of acrylic painting.

1. Select your stretched canvas. If prepared in the factory it is ready for use. If homemade, you must gesso the canvas cloth first.

2. Blend white paint with a neutral color to make a lightly tinted color. Paint this over the entire canvas as a base layer wash. You can add water to this to make the wash. The goal is to cover all that white up.

3. Plan your painting with thumbnail sketches for composition.

4. Make some studies on smaller canvases where you work out details like how to paint that bark on the tree or whatever it is you are painting. You want to work through some challenges on small canvasses where the stakes are lower when you fail. You are NOT doing test runs on on the big canvas.

5. Take a pencil or a light gray paint with a fine tipped brush, and sketch crudely on the canvas, the major things.

6. Block in the colors. This is like filling in a coloring book. If you sky will be blue paint it a light or medium blue. If your tree will be green, use green in that area. Paint the background into the objects as the back layer. There should be no white on the canvas now.

7. Paint in the objects starting at the back, the farthest away objects. Start with darkest values. Paint the lighter values on top. Even if you use retarder in your acrylic paint you need to learn your drying time. Do not mess with the paint layer once a skin starts to form or you will get balls and clumps of paint and medium kind of like lint blobs on clothing (but the acrylic  cannot be removed). Work an area until it starts to dry then move on to something else.

8. Work the entire painting. Move around the canvas doing some of everything. It is like a cycle. In a landscape you could do sky, trees, ground. Then the next pass after that layer dries is sky, trees, grass. The painting goes from base blocks of color to very detailed in the end, if detailed is your painting style and intention. You don't make final finished grasses when your sky is one flat blue swath. You move around in stages all over the canvas.

One reason for this is if you mess up a placement and need to correct something you won't want to widen the tree trunk if your grass on the ground next to it was 100% complete and perfect. You will have lost time as you have to redo even more, and you will be upset at losing work you felt was finished.

9. If using a glazing technique like I do, you use the opacity of the blended paint to cover up or bring out colors you want to hide or see more of. This is a constant process throughout the painting process. I also add in solid layers of acrylic gel medium in between some layers to add to the glowing effect and I put a clear coat as the final coat too.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Summer 2016

My summer ends this weekend.

What a summer. I started with a six week intensive Drawing II class. It is tiring to be in a classroom for four hours and to create on deadlines and to struggle though art processes. Then there is the homework.

I got a bunch of decluttering done in my garage and have stacks of boxs ready to donate to the fundraiser garage sale to be held in September. We moved some sentimental toys up to the attic, we just could not part with them. Mostly me but some my older son wants.

I got my older son ready to move away to college for the first time, then he did move. I shuttled my younger son around to summer school and we traveled out of state for two national sports competitions for him.

I took no "fun vacation" with family or by myself.

The last big thing this summer was while exhausted cleaning the garage out and doing daily tasks I made the decision that I was ready to take on fitness as a daily project. I have not been truly in shape for 22 years and have not been able to exercise more than two or three times a week in 22 years. I lacked the motivation and drive to do it as a project. For me it has to be an intentional goal, a project, and a major effort. I decided with my upcoming fall art classes at college I will not get what I need from my gym so I quit that gym and invested in a bigger fancier club that offers more classes (up to four held at one time) and has tons of yoga also. Friends had tried talking me into joining a hot yoga only studio for almost $200 a month and another to a regular yoga only place and another to a Booty Barre only place. I decided I need variety. So today marks day 30 in a row of me exercising daily and I have lost at least 10 inches. I didn't take measurements until day 5 so in 24 days lost 10 inches. I am getting stronger and feel fantastic, plus sleep better. But due to a terrible new bus schedule for my son and the coach wanting the athletes to do morning cardio my son and I decided on this new schedule: we wake at 4:45 and are out the door before 5:15 to get to the gym by 5:30 for a one hour workout. I then drop him at the close by high school. About three days a week I return to the gym a second time for yoga to stretch. Since leaving my career I have preferred to sleep until my body naturally wakes up, which is between 7:30-9:am, with the only exception when I had a not really negotiable morning appointment like a college class I really wanted to take this summer.

Oh and I reorganized and decluttered the master walk in bedroom closet which is also household storage.

I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos about contemporary artists, their process, how they got into art making and how they live their life, by John Thornton of Pennsylvania, very interesting stuff. I have been reading books and doing product reviews for the Amazon Vine program. I also have been teaching myself about encaustic painting.

So that is what I have been up to this summer. I have done no drawing or art making. I just have focused on projects and tasks and house stuff.

Monday I start two college classes: Ceramics I and Painting I.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Who We Are Is What We Do

Many Americans want to do so much that we feel we need more hours in our day. Since that is impossible, instead we need to figure out how we spend our time and if it's doing what we really want. A certain portion of our time is spent taking care of our house and our possessions, or reorganizing them or for shopping for more stuff. Thus owning too much can become a burden and prevent us from doing what it is we think we really want to do.

The key to feeling content in life is knowing what you want and to do that thing and feel satisfied. It is not a good feeling to try to do too much then fail at doing it all or fail to meet deadlines, because we then feel negative about ourselves.

We need to make time in our lives but stopping the doing of things that are unnecessary or extra or stupid or that are time wasters. There is nothing wrong with taking an intentional break from reality o watch a TV show or a movie but if you spend more time looking for stuff you already own so you can use it, or dusting saved things on shelves, you have lost time from doing what you want to do now.

We need to let go of old hobbies and stuff related to them because that stuff is in our face or in our way and preventing us from doing what we want to do now. Even if it is just visual clutter it is a reminder that "I failed at watercolor painting" and "Scrapbooking is a drag". Who wants to be reminded of the negative?

Today my game room has nice built in bookcases filled with homeschool high school educational materials. I already ditched the SAT prep books for the old style SAT that stopped being used as of this spring. But why am I keeping all that stuff when my last high schooler is in public school? I am getting excited at the idea of getting rid of more of it. While I am busy working on the garage I am psyching myself up mentally to be alright with letting go of the books we used and loved and those we used and hated or the ones we never got around to using at all.

Look around your home. Does it support the lifestyle you are living right now and those of your present goals? If not, start culling and letting go of the possessions that do not represent your life and your lifestyle. Make room mentally and physically to do what you really want to do right now.

Saving Stuff For Projects

This is a conundrum for creatives. We have real life to live that takes our time and interferes with just making what we want. Then other times we have time to create but may lack inspiration, have no motivation, or are dealing with illness or emotional stress that wrecks our muse. These times of real life living sometimes derail us from doing art and craft projects we did want to do at one time. Times change and then maybe we decide we want to do something different.

The thing is we should let go of what we own that we are not using. It is hard to let go of perfectly good stuff that we invested money into. I get it.

Before I moved long distance I donated a lot of craft supplies to an artist who was going to be teaching craft classes at children's summer camp. It helped me to know my investments were not wasted and instead would be enjoyed.

Here in Houston I have found Texas Art Asylum. They accept donations of art supplies and craft stuff and other things like old board games and old dolls and almost anything, books, magazines, vintage ephemera, costumes, seashells, rocks, vases, cameras, some construction materials, anything. Some items are put into a separate room for free for teachers to use in classrooms. The rest is sold to the public in their retail store. I have been giving some of my stuff to them.


When looking at what I own I ask myself:

How am I living now?

If I have free time what will I do with it?

Do I want to ever do that pursuit again?

Do I own too much material for that hobby? Example I think I own a hundred canning jars at this point and even if I make a ton of jam I will never need 100 all at one time. This week I am culling my  cookie cutters as I don't forsee using these shapes going forward. When making cookies with my young sons the car shapes were fun but I don't think I'll ever use those again.

Can I access the materials? Are they organized well and reachable and ready should I need them or are they buried so that if I want to do that thing this afternoon I will have to go buy new supplies to do it with?


While decluttering I keep asking myself what kind of home do I want to live in and do I want to park in my garage and do I want to really go to the steaming hot attic to fetch a thing or is it really smart to cram 500 books in a closet and have none accessible?

I also try not not be negative with myself. I am taking some cues from Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizer who says we should thank our belongings for their usefulness in our life or the joy they brought us at the time or the emotion of buying them having felt good in that moment, to feel that gratitude then say goodbye and let them free into the world to get into the hands of someone who will actually use them now and have joy added to their life with our old stuff.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Thoughts on Packratting

My main priority this week is getting some family and house projects done. One is trying to finish unpacking boxes in my garage. They were packed five years ago and have sat in those spots for four years while I was doing other things. I want to actually park cars in our garage. While doing this I am all alone, and have time to think. Mostly I am thinking about what I wish I was doing instead. This gets me to thinking about stuff and clutter and how I spend my time and why.

I was raised by two packrats and one grandmother was a hoarder the other was also a packrat. The grandparents all lived through The Depression so they blame that as the cause. I have been battling my packrat tendencies for almost twenty years. By that I mean I had decided the status quo was not how I wanted to live so began taking steps to let myself let go of the stuff.

My thoughts are kind of a jumble and all these issues and ideas swirl together to intertwine so just bear with me here.

I basically realized that all people save things for a reason.

One type seems less emotional than the others, that type is the "it's usable and I might need it" type. That type has two issues going on: 1) they are thrifty or resourceful and see discarding it as wasteful and therefore irresponsible fiscally speaking, and 2) choosing to not set limits or expiration dates on things. By that I mean, to say to oneself that saving 25 screws  of that size is enough and all beyond that must go, instead of collecting up 350. The expiration date idea is something like, "I will restring those windchimes someday so I can use them" but it's been six years so maybe it's time to say that the project is not a priority and should be abandoned and the broken windchimes should be gotten rid of.

Another less serious type is the lazy or busy person. They are just too busy doing other things to think about making priorities or projects so they just let the stuff sit and they keep gathering and keeping and it builds up. They are not in a struggle of the mind with their stuff.

The more serious type has an anxiety as the source. A person who fears they may run out of food may always overbuy food. A person who fears not having enough stuff may start couponing and wind up a hoarder of five year's worth of shaving cream and in the case of my grandmother, thirty year's worth of aluminum foil. The problem is it is not usually one single item, they save up many things or overbuy lots of stuff.

A related emotional saving is the person who is sentimental about things and wants to remember the good times. This is one of my big things. This person feels the only way to remember a good memory is to save a material possession because seeing it again will trigger the memory. Sometimes it can seem that the item has life, such as it would be painful to throw away a loved doll. I almost said the doll is alive and it would be like a death but I know that sounds exaggerated, but that's the gist of it.


The bottom line is we have one life to live and to ask ourselves how we want to spend our time. In my almost fifty years I have gone through times of plenty and times of unemployment with a very tight budget. Living through tight finances I believe makes packratting worse but I'm starting to digress.

Basically I've learned this: the most joy comes from living and doing what you want. We do have base life responsibilities to do such as grocery shopping and cooking meals to survive. But the way we live can be frantic with looking for something misplaced due to clutter and chaos in the home or we can have less material possessions around and just have what we need and keep it organized so we can put our hands on what we need whe we need it. If it is so valuable to keep it should be out and accessible. My eighteen year old asked to see a favorite childhood book, I said it was in a box deep in a closet mixed with hundreds of others. So what good did that do to save it?

And this week I am spending time sorting yet again through saved things instead of doing other things I wanted. I wanted to take a stab at painting and I wanted to keep drawing daily and read a certain book on my nightstand. But instead I am touching and moving and sweating in the 100+ degree hot and humd garage going through saved papers and things from my hoarder grandmother. She was filled wth anxiety and a was a textbook case of OCD And I keep asking myself if that is what I want to be.

My goal is to get the cars in the garage before hurricane season really hits us. The next project will be to cull the educational books in the game room on the shelves then go through boxes of books in the closets and put the ones out that I want and to get rid of even more.


The other type of packrat is the collector of project stuff. For the creative that means things like watercolor painting supplies, rubber stamps, and all kinds of art and craft supplies. We buy up the stuff to prepare to do a thing then when we choose to not do it, we still keep the stuff. I am trapped in this right now. I say some day I will do this and that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Drawing II Class Is Over

It was a whirlwind to take Drawing II at the community college with four hour long classes held four days in a row. Plus homework. I gained a few more pounds due to missing good lunches and eating in restaurants for dinner as I was too busy to cook from scratch. And eating candy bars for fast energy when fading fast in class.

I learned things in the class during the lecture and other things from directly talking to my professor during class with 1:1 help. I also had more reinforcement about what I already knew or suspected about how to learn and how to master something. I already knew things from my own life experience and also from self-teaching and from having homeschooled my children. So much I am now hearing and seeing I already knew, such as the following:

It is okay to make a mistake. Learn from the mistake.

Redo (redraw) the same thing to try to get it right, redraw over and over until you nail it.

Drawing teaches the foundation needed for painting, animation and digital art. You must know composition, value, proportion, perspective, and figure drawing to do all those things unless you plan to only be an abstract painter. If you want that you still need to know color theory or have some natural talent for it that didn't need instruction.

Practice, practice, practice.

The way to mastery is intentional practice. So if taking a class don't  just do the homework and move on when the deadline is over. Keep practicing on your own.

Classes do not give enough practice before moving on to the next thing. Extra work outside of class or done after the class ends is what helps you improve.

Mastery comes from your own motivation and drive to get things done. If you only work when you have a deadline from someone else it's not enough. You will not get good let alone excellent.

Many of the successful working artists (including animators and video game character developers) have their foundation in the traditional art education as taught to fine art students. A human like monster needs a body and you build out from there. You don't start with the costume then do the body parts. So, traditional figure drawing is what is required to draw humans and monsters from your imagination.

Daily practice is essential even if it's only sketching your surroundings or figure drawing in gestures.

Information can be in books and you can self-teach but you probably won't see your flaws and/or know how to fix them. Therefore a (good) live human teacher is essential.

Books for self-teaching only do so much, it really all relies on practice. Owning the book will not make you good, and reading it once won't work either. Practice, practice, practice.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Charcoal Is Messy

Well I did my first charcoal drawings in my Drawing I class and I learned it is super messy. I mean my shirt got wrecked, my pants got dirty, my arms, hands, everything. The charcoal is also very drying and my skin actually tightened up and felt uncomfortable during the three hour class. The professor said we could use gloves. I brought in a box of 500 gloves and donated it to the classroom's art supply closet.

After the charcoal experience in class I changed my clothing choices for drawing class. I wore black shirts or old shirts and dark denim jeans. We did some landscapes outside and it started to rain and my suede sandals got wrecked. So then I switched to my "rain sandals" which are the foam bottom sandals that water cannot ruin.

I had a hard time using charcoal around my house. I could not sit in bed or on the couch in the living room to draw. The kitchen table or outside was my choice.

As a result of black charcoal being such a mess to work with when given a choice of pencil or charcoal I chose pencil. However by the end of the class I was bored with the medium. I got a good feel for what the 2B, 4B, and 6B pencils could do so I was using those to do the various effects I wanted. Honestly though the charcoal is fun to work with regarding how it goes down on the paper and its ease of blending with a chamois.

One prof told us to use the same chamois for pencil and charcoal. After doing that the chamois seemed ruined and was not usable for pencil again. I don't like blending or the blended look so I am not a big chamois user anyway. I bought a second chamois that was just falling apart and leaving lint and bits all over my paper so I threw that in the trash. Then I bought a new one for the next semester though. We never did use the stumps to blend.

Oh and charcoal drawings will rub off over time unless they are fixed. Prof 1 told us to buy the cheapest hairspray we could find in an aerosol can, I got one for $4 in some brand I'd never heard of at the grocery store and used it. The spray fixatives contain neurotoxins so I prefer to stay away from them.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Art Materials Details Not Taught

 The most surprising thing about taking a Drawing I class at my community college is that we are not really being taught about the properties of the materials and how to actually use them. The course started with one professor who was ill and the class was taken over by another professor. So with two professors it remained consistent that we were not being taught how to use the materials before we dove in.

With the first professor I started just asking aloud to the class, every question I had. The way I see it, as a student I am the customer and the professor works for me. I am there to learn and what is not being directly told to me I have a right to inquire until I get the information I want.

Prior to this class I had taken some workshops. Every workshop I ever took was very hands on and it taught every single thing you needed to know about the material in order to work with it optimally. You can even get this information free on YouTube in tutorials now.

Sometimes in the Drawing I class the professor would criticize an artwork during the critique and the problem was based in poor choice of either the paper type used or the drawing implement. For example one prof kept saying one student's work was too light and I finally butted in and asked her which pencil she was using and she said 2H. Then the prof said 2H is only good for architects doing fine draftwork of blueprints. We were never even taught which pencils are hard vs. soft and which to use. The second professor said near the end of the class that he likes 3B. I had been using 4B and 6B only and I found I liked the softer pencils. In the start of the class I wound up using google to search for some answers about what is the difference with the pencil's numbers.

Some homework assignments were so vague I turned to YouTube to get the gist of the art project we were tasked to do then I followed the tutorials online to do the work which was indeed what the professor wanted.

I was using a 300 series Strathmore drawing paper and I had trouble erasing charcoal. We should have been told with the supply list to buy a certain specific paper weight. Also some students were using sketch paper, they bought the wrong paper but the profs said nothing in class about this. Then in the critique some students said the drawing got messed up as it was falling apart when they tried to erase back to get to white (because it was too flimsy). We were never told that the different papers have different tooth and that matters for the texture. I figured out some of this by just using the materials. Actually the second prof near the very end did suggest that if we were doing our final project in charcoal we should use bristol paper. That was not on the supply list and neither prof even explained to us what bristol paper was.

These is a very basic art supply information. If that is not appropriate to learn in Drawing I, I do not know when it is right to learn it.

I also read the textbook cover to cover and these things were never taught in the text. The text focused on showing famous artists' work from history and telling about different types of drawing techniques used. It did not teach how to do the technique but it would say, X drawing by -- done in charcoal on ___ substrate or it would say chiaroscurro is ____ and here is a drawing done in that style.

Near the end of the class professor B mentioned how he holds his pencil. We were all fixed already on pretty much holding it as we hold a pencil to write with. Why was that not taught on day one?

The professors had a different focus on what should be taught in Drawing I. I'll blog about that in the future. I want to get some of this written out before I begin taking the Drawing II class so the information does not meld together.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Why Draw In Pencil?

In my college Drawing I class we started off learning with pencil. It seems this is the norm. So why this is was a mystery to me until I started working with the materials then I understood.

1. Pencils are cheap. A high quality pencil is under $2. You actually don't need a huge pencil set to start. I favor the soft pencils so I worked with 2B, 4B, and 6B. Most basic pencil sets come with various H pencils, I have no use for them personally. Pencil sets are often about $10 or even $15 if you buy one that has an eraser and a sharpener. To me the best investment is a high quality sharpener, a kneadable eraser, a white eraser (rectangle shape), a chamois, a 2B, 4B, and 6B and a 2H if you simply must have that hard thing, perhaps for base sketches. You can get all that for under $20 which is low cost as far as fine art supplies goes. Therefore it's affordable for a college student or anyone on a budget.

2. Pencils are easily portable and pretty durable. Pencils do not melt. They do not shatter and break apart. All you need is some basic care such as not dropping them on the floor or slamming them around. They do well in dry weather and in humid weather, in heat or in cold. They do not dry up or erode over time, you can use a 50 year old pencil just fine. Not all drawing supplies are like this!

3. Pencils are clean to work with. The act of putting pencil to paper is clean so you can do this in a public place, in a car, on your couch, in bed, or anywhere else without muss and fuss. As you use the pencil it does not make dust that falls off onto the surrounding surfaces. When smearing around the pencil on the paper you should use chamois not your finger. The only possible mess is if working on large paper you may get a dirty hand but the graphite comes off quickly with plain soap and water.

4. Pencil drawings hold up well in storage. After making a pencil drawing there is just some risk of rubbing off onto the page next to it. Other than this no special storage is required. The pencil will stay on the paper nicely without special storage needs like chalk pastel or charcoal requires.

5. With one pencil you can get a lot of value shades in your drawing. The same cannot be said for paint. One marker cannot do a full range of value either. By erasing back to plain paper, you can get white without the use of a white pencil.


1. It's hard to get a true black. You can use an ebony pencil for this or a charcoal pencil.

2. It's hard to get a tiny bit of white, erasing can be challenging for a teeny spot, so you can use a white conte crayon pencil if you must.

3. If you don't use a decent quality sharpener you will go through your pencil faster and you might not be able to get a sharp tip. Spend the $10 or so to get a decent sharpener at a fine art store.

Speaking from my own limited experience these are the benefits I see to using pencil to learn to draw with.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Why Start To Draw in Black and White (Grayscale)?

I didn't care a thing about drawing in black and white (grayscale) but it's what is done. When I started the Drawing I class I still did not know why that is the standard. I wanted to learn to see color and draw and paint in color. In the past in college back in the 1980s we shot in film and in my college class we used black and white as we did our own lab developing and the chemical process for developing B&W is far easier than developing color film. So we were told back then that's why we were shooting B&W photos.

What I have come to learn by doing is that there are two main challenges with learning to draw. (And learning to draw is a skill foundation to learning to paint.)

The first skill to hone is to actually see a thing for the value and shapes that it is instead of seeing the sum total of the thing. I remember doing nature study with my kids in our homeschool and we were looking at a dandelion flower and my son was six years old and he drew a daisy looking thing even though the flower in front of him was nothing near that shape. He was drawing a flower that he saw in his mind and memory, a generic flower shape instead of the shapes of the dandelion flower in front of him. When a person tries to draw a self-portrait they may draw two exact looking eyes when in reality one of their eyes droops and one has a larger eyelid.

The second skill is to see the values. I have blogged already about values and my challenge with learning to see value. I believe that drawing is taught in graysale because color is too complex and color matching or color mixing of paint adds too many variables to the situation. In order to draw something that looks realistic you must see and replicate value correctly and it is simplest to train your mind and eye to convert the colored world in front of you to grayscale then use the simpler drawing materials of one thing such as graphite pencil, charcoal, or an ink pen in one shade. Perhaps you use a sienna colored conte crayon to draw what in reality is a green tree, that's okay, Focus on getting the value right and the brain will see and comprehend the object for what it really is even though it's in a monotone drawing.

Now that I am learning to see value I realize things are not what they seem. The leaves in my garden outside are not green. some are almost black, some have light reflecting off that makes it white, and then there are the many shades of actual green. Some are yellow green, some are gray-green and some are deep green. When trying to learn to draw something in perspective and to draw a correct shape, and to draw with a good composition in the scene, by narrowing down from full color to a grayscale it takes one variable in the equation away so we can focus just on the other foundation of making art basics.

So even if you have no desire to draw in pencil, it's really the easiest way to start so that is why every drawing class startss off with drawing with pencil. I'll blog more about why pencil in my next post because there are some other good reasons.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Wanting To Learn vs. Mastery vs. Over-Shopping

Today I was in my art supply closet putting away some supplies and looking to see if I owned odorless mineral spirts (I do not). I am very carefully, slowly and thoughtfully selecting supplies to start oil painting with and do not want to overbuy.

I have a lack of knowledge but an overabundance of curiosity. I want to do things but lack the know how. At certain points in time I have had an excess of cash so have found it easy to purchase supplies that I never use. At other times I have been in the presence of discounted art supplies and was tempted as it was on sale or at an overstock store for 90% off so I bought it not even having a real plan to use it.

Right now my current debate is which oil paint brushes to purchase and how many. I had overbought synthetic brushes at great discount from Tuesday Morning. What good did that do me now that I am tempted to buy natural bristle brushes?

One thing I have learned from taking and finishing the Drawing I class is that really all that matters is doing and practicing. Art making is a process and you learn by doing. You have to do, do, do. When it feels scary or intimidating you need to push through and just do it as that is when you learn. The struggle and frustration and trying to fix a mistake or make a thing look better is how you learn and grow because you learn through trial and error and by correcting and improving.

With the drawing class I was able to use a lot of the previously purchased art supplies from our homeschool days. However I realized that by using sets of pencils that the ones I really used were a small number compared to the set so I have untouched supplies here. Lesson learned: sometimes you save money by purchasing a la carte even though seeing a set somehow seems to be a bargain or gives you the idea that it has all you need to help you learn that medium. Also I later found out that some of what I owned was crap that only belonged in the trash bin or a pencil that was repurposed for daily writing or maybe should go to the library for patrons to use to scratch down notes of book numbers.

My advice to myself and others at this point is this:

1. Explore possibilities by reading and watching videos

2. Choose a art method to try.

3. Use a limited supply list to try that medium. Buy decent paper and decent supplies but keep it to a small number. Avoid buying sets unless you have a plan to use 90% or if you would spend more buying basics a la carte.

4. Dive in and make art with that medium.

5. Avoid shopping until it is absolutely necessary. I found myself needing a better pencil sharpener and an eraser that actually worked, for example. When I ruined one chamois by accident I had to buy a replacement. Buy the smallest size paint tube to start.

6. If you are frustrated by your end product it may be due to you lacking art fundamentals such as how to draw in general, not undestanding how to represent value, scale and/or perspective, not knowing how to draw a face or bodies or people.  Knowing color theory and helps with harmony, sometimes what is off or wrong is due to the color or too many colors being used. A decent understading of composition is necessary. Knowing to know how to use a material is self-limiting if you are frustrated with trying to represent something that looks awful in the end. Go back and learn the fundamentals so you can use that knowledge to make the art you want look the way you see it in your mind.

7. My new mindset is before you break the rules you can learn a lot by learning the rules.

By chosing to not overspend on art supplies you have no real plan to use, and therefore have no real intention of ever using, you are helping yourself focus on what it is you really want to do and how to spend your time.

The only way to get really good at someting is with practice and practice takes intention, time and energy. Get the smallest amount of necessary supplies with your money then spend your emotional and physical energy on making the art and on learning.