Time Out for Art: Discipline and Patience

How often do I finish a painting and then “check off the box.”  Been there and done that!  But what happens if I do it again?

Recently I posted a painting of my niece and my daughter at the beach.  My niece, Annie, wanted to see the evolution of the picture, so I have hunted up all my references.

It started out with a day at the beach with my sister and some of our children.  We were both living in Florida at the time, but in different cities,  and met at a beach about half-way between our homes.  I took many photos that day, but the image that stayed in my mind was of our daughters running into the waves.

Annie and Elizabeth, digital photo
Annie and Elizabeth, digital photo

I wanted to paint the scene, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  (This was before I started studying with Gwen Bragg). I decided that the photo had too  much information for me, so I did a pencil drawing, which gave me shapes and values without the distraction of colors.

Annie and Elizabeth, pencil, 11" x 8.5"
Annie and Elizabeth, pencil, 11″ x 8.5″

And here is the painting:

Annie and Elizabeth (#1), watercolor, 15" x 22"
Annie and Elizabeth (#1), watercolor, 15″ x 22″

Several years later, while studying with Gwen Bragg, we had a lesson on painting waves at the beach.  We had already done a lesson on painting people, so I decided to do this picture again.  I am glad that I had the discipline and patience to revisit this picture, as the character of the waves and the sky now help to highlight the movement of the figures.

Annie and Elizabeth, watercolor, 14" x 21"
Annie and Elizabeth, watercolor, 14″ x 21″




Time Out for Art: Teachers

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop taught by Tony Van Hasselt. It was a wonderful learning experience because he is a talented teacher. One of his maxims that we heard repeatedly was, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” as he stressed the importance of taking a few minutes to do a value study before starting to paint.  These value studies shouldn’t take a lot of time and don’t have to be big, just a simplification of the shapes and relative values for planning purposes.

The lesson for my students this week was on painting a still life containing a piece of glassware. In preparation I painted a simple set up with a wine glass and some grapes.  Here is the value study:

Value Study for glassware, pencil, 4.25" x 3"
Value Study for glassware, pencil, 4.25″ x 3″

This week’s photo challenge from the Daily Press is to show a scene from two views, one in a horizontal format and the other vertical.  So, I’m going to paint my set-up again.  Which horizontal format  do you prefer?  Why did you choose that one?

You can see this week’s other examples of pencil drawings at the Zeebra Blog!

Time Out for Art: Drawing a Line (or Knot)

Bowline, pencil, 5" x 7"
Bowline, pencil, 5″ x 7″

Jeff Werner wrote in Sail Magazine, “Once you cut a piece of rope off the spool at the chandlery and bring it aboard your boat and give it a job to do, it becomes a line you have put to work.”  Here I’ve put my artist’s line and the sailor’s line to work together.

This knot is a bowline, probably the most commonly found knot on a sailboat.  It is used when one wants a fixed loop in a line that won’t slip or jam, such as fastening a mooring line to a ring or a post.  The bowline is strong, but unties easily once it is not longer needed.  It is a poor safety knot since it can work its way untied when there is no pressure on it.



Time Out for Art: Does a Magic Carpet Need an Anchor?

Z, of Zeebra Designs and Destinations, took a bunch of us on a magic carpet ride during the full moon earlier this week.  And that got me to wondering if a magic carpet ever needs an anchor?  Just in case, here is one, drawn in charcoal pencil, as my submission for this week’s pencil drawings.  You can see the other entries here.

Plow Anchor, charcoal pencil, 3,5" x 6.5"
Plow Anchor, charcoal pencil, 3,5″ x 6.5″

This style of anchor is called a plow, and is good for anchoring in sand, rocky bottoms, weeds, or grass, but it does not do well in soft bottoms.


Time Out for Art: Know Your Pencil!

We’ve been posting pencil drawings at Zeebra Destinations for several weeks now, and today I want to share the exercise that was the most helpful to me when I started drawing as an adult.


On a blank sheet of paper, make a 1″ x 10″ rectangle, and divide it into 1″ squares.  Number the squares from 1 to 10.  Starting in the right-hand square (#10), use the pencil to make the square as dark as the pencil will go.  (Holding the pencil with an overhand grip and using the side of the lead will enable the artist to cover more paper faster and helps to avoid a streaky look from indenting the paper with the point.)

Leave the left-hand square (#1) blank because the white of the paper is the lightest value.  Starting in square #2, pencil in as light a tone as possible that is visually different from square #1.  Continue, making each square darker and working to get an even progression from the lightest square (#1) to the darkest square (#10).

The second part to this exercise is to draw another rectangle the same size as the first rectangle, but this one is not divided into squares.  Leaving the left hand edge the white of the paper, try to pencil in the same values as in the first part of the exercise, but this time in a smooth progression from light to dark.

Pencils vary considerably in how dark a mark the lead will make.  This is due to the ratio of graphite to clay in the lead.  Clay is added to give the graphite some hardness.  More graphite makes a softer and blacker lead.  There are several designation systems used in classifying pencil leads, but no set standard for how soft or how black a pencil is.  I have several pencils in my studio and made squiggly swatches with them above to show some of the variation available.

I’d like to hear about your experience if you try this exercise.  Does it make you more comfortable with this art medium?

Painting A Tree in Watercolor

Painting a tree in watercolor is not difficult if one does not try to paint each individual leaf.   Here is one way to paint a deciduous tree.  Start with an outline of the foliage shape.  Although I was not drawing each leaf, I made sure that the edges of this shape indicated a leafy texture.


I also drew in the shapes of a river in the background, a path leading down to the river, a bench beside the path under the tree, a couple of figures near the river, and assorted bushes.  Because I’m going to make the foliage darker than the sky, I painted in the sky down to the horizon so any “bird holes” in the tree will be the same color as the sky.  Watercolor paint is usually transparent and I didn’t want a hard line behind the tree, so while the paint was wet, I softened the edge of the horizon line that would be overlapped by the tree.

PaintingATree-2Next I painted all of the foliage of the tree a yellow-green, the lightest color that I wanted my leaves to be.  Although I have a couple of greens on my palette, I find that my greens look more natural if I mix them myself.  For this light green, I used a warm yellow and a cool blue so that it would remain fairly bright.  I didn’t mix the puddle of color entirely but left areas of  blue and yellow on the edges so that I could vary the color as I picked up each brush-full of paint.

After painting a strip of beige to represent the sand on either side of the river and letting it dry, I also painted the trees on the far side of the river.  I wanted this green to be darker and duller, so I added a warmer blue to my previous mixture. Touching a small amount of orange into the wet bushes and tree shape gave me some variation to indicate individual trees without painting each one.  Watercolor is a wonderful medium which will often do the work for me, if I let it!


Using a darker  and duller green mixture, I painted in the foliage that was in shadow.  I also dropped in some darker greens while this area was wet to be areas that are in deeper shadow.  I made sure that these edges also look like leafy shapes.


In order to keep these darker shadowed areas from looking pasted on, I went back after the paint had dried with a damp brush and softened some (not all!) of the edges between the sunlit areas and the shadowed areas.  Now I can see some depth in the tree.  I added blue for water and yellow-green for grass.  Making these areas darker in the front and lighter in the back helps to create the illusion of depth.

Painting A Tree (?), watercolor, 7" x 5"
Painting A Tree (?), watercolor, 7″ x 5″

The last step for the tree is to weave in the trunk and branches.  Because the lightest green represents the foliage in the sun, I don’t usually put any branches in front of these spaces unless the tree is lit from the back.  I start from the ground and “grow” the woody parts into the leafy mass.  Weaving the trunk and branches over the darker greens and through the bird holes, I make sure that the trunk and branches get smaller as they get farther from the ground.  Growing them in this way also lets all the branches seem connected to each other in a logical way.  I make sure that I imagine the part of the branch that is hidden in the leaves.

I painted in the rest of the picture, making sure to add some shadows so that the other areas appear to be in sunlight.

My working title for this has been “Painting A Tree” but I don’t think that will do. Any suggestions for a title for this picture?

Robert Genn, who puts out a newsletter for artists twice a week, wrote recently about painting with greens.  You can read what he said here.

Time Out for Art – Get out a Pencil!

My pencil drawing this week is from an overnight trip on the sailboat last week.  We sail on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and crabs play a large role in the state’s economy and gastronomy.  While on the water in the summer months, it is not unusual to be awakened (early!) by people, both amateurs and professionals, who are out catching crabs.  The professionals, especially when working alone, tend to be quieter than those who do this for fun and good eating.  Shouts of delight and exclamations over the size of large crabs woke us before sunrise as this group worked several lines of bait.

Value Study for Crabbers, pencil, 9" x 12"
Value Study for Crabbers, pencil, 9″ x 12″

After drinking a cup of coffee, we were less grumpy and able to rejoice with this group as they shouted, “Jumbo!”  Since sound carries easily over the water, we soon surmised that for two of these crabbers English is not their native language, and “jumbo” was a new word, one that will not be easily forgotten.

Doing a value study like this serves several purposes:  Having already drawn the picture, I am more familiar with the subject matter (practice) and will be able to paint it better.  I can spot corrections that need to be made before doing the painting.  (e.g. The man holding the pole needs to be up a little higher because he is standing in the boat.  The pole needs a slice of the net above the water to allow viewers to know what it is.)  If the value study conveys the idea, then the picture will work in color if I get the values right  (i.e. “color gets all the credit, but value does all the work.”)

Timeout for Art: Drawing a Tree

In last week’s Time Out for Art, we had some discussion about how to draw a tree without drawing each individual leaf.  This week, Lisa talks about negative space in her post, Timeout for Art: Both Sides of the Line.  So in keeping with this theme, I decided to draw a tree and explain the steps.

Here is the tree I used for my model.  I was not trying to draw a portrait of this tree, just using it as a guide.


Because the tree was in the late afternoon sun as I looked at it, the leaves in the light seemed lighter than the sky (although it doesn’t seem that way in the photo). My first step was to draw in the negative space.  Because I made the edges look “leafy” the mass looks like foliage.

Negative space - everything that is not the tree.
Negative space – everything that is not the tree.

Making a darker value by pressing harder with the pencil, I shaded in the parts of the tree that were clearly in shadow, again paying attention to make the edges a leafy shape.


The final step was to add the trunk and branches.  These are woven into the foliage: behind the foliage in the sunlight, in front of some of the foliage in shadow, and through the “bird holes.”  Tony Van Hasselt always says to leave enough bird holes so that the poor little birdies don’t bump their heads!  Part of the trunk is in sunlight and the shading on that area helps it look round.  Note that the bottom end of the trunk ends in grass or roots.  A shadow on the ground helped anchor the tree.

Sunlit Tree, pencil, 7" x 5"
Sunlit Tree, pencil, 7″ x 5″

If the leaves in the sun had been darker than the sky, I would have made the sky the lightest value, the leaves in the sun a slightly darker value, with the shadowed leaves and the trunk and branches even darker values.

Time Out for Art: Watering Can

My pencil drawing this week (for Zeebra Design’s challenge “Time Out for Art”) is a watering can.  I decided to draw in only the shadows, as drawing the shadow shapes gives us the form of the object.

Watering Can, pencil, 5" x 7"
Watering Can, pencil, 5″ x 7″

Lisa talks in her post about the concentration needed to draw correctly and how others talking around her disrupt her concentration, making her lines go astray.  I, too, find myself drawing best when deep in concentration.  My husband can tell when my brain shifts into “drawing mode” because I may start a sentence and trail off mid-way through, leaving him to figure out what I would have said.  Although I did some drawing and painting while my children were growing up, I decided to delay pursuing it diligently because I recognized this intense concentration I have. I didn’t like being interrupted while in that state and I decided that I never wanted to tell my children to “go away!”  Hence the delayed start to my being a professional artist.  Others find different solutions to this concentration-interruption dilemma.