Time Out for Art: Tree Surgeons

We had tree surgeons from Expert Tree Removal here this past week.  They were cleaning up the “widow makers” or “hangers” as they called the large limbs of trees that had broken off but not fallen due to a storm earlier in the summer.  I took time out to watch them and drew this picture.

Tree Limb Removal, pen and ink with watercolor, 9" x 12"
Tree Limb Removal, pen and ink with watercolor wash, 9″ x 12″

I don’t remember being fascinated with machinery as a child.  I think my interest started when my sons were young and they liked to look at all the trucks and machines that we passed while driving.  Now, in addition to being distracted by the noise of the chipper and the chain saws, I felt compelled to watch as they lopped off branches and large sections of the trunk, calculating and making them fall between pilings, without hitting the electric light fixtures that were there.

The men liked this drawing and insisted that I show it to their boss when he returned later in the day.

A Commission: Together, Again!

My friend has presented me with a challenging commission.  She gave me several pictures of some friends of hers, parents and two siblings, who are close, but now sundered by distance and death.  Could I put them all together in one picture?

After studying the photos and tentatively deciding on a composition, I started drawing.  This is the hardest part for me because it is the most crucial.  If the drawing is right, the picture will usually turn out well.  If the drawing is wrong, no amount of finessing with the paint will make it right.

I started drawing the figures on one sheet of paper, but I have had to correct so many times that the old lines are starting to confuse the images.  The spacing is also wrong, so I decided to “divide and conquer” by putting the individual people on tracing paper so that I can move them around before setting them into the composition.

I have several pictures of the brother, but wanted to have his legs crossed the other way, so that it appears he is interacting with the others more.  I can tell that I don’t have the arms of the chair right and the left leg is not convincing. The cropping of the photo doesn’t show his feet, nor the father’s.  I haven’t decided how to handle that yet!

The sister is the only one standing, so I want to place her a little behind the others, as if she has walked up and joined the discussion.  (My apologies for the crooked drawing; it is too tall for my scanner except on the diagonal and won’t straighten any more than this without loosing part of the drawing.)

I’m having some trouble with the father, because I want him to be smiling (at least a little) and enjoying time with his family!

The picture of the mother is the least distinct photo, being a photo of a photo in a glass frame.  I’ve taken her out of the car and had her join the group on the patio.  Adding the dog she is holding actually makes the drawing easier since he is just a white fluffy area with a few shadows.

Now to put them together on one piece of paper!  Drawing the people again (and again) will give me more practice until they look like who they are supposed to be.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning!

Today is the last day of this week’s challenge, and so far my plans for pictures for this theme have all been thwarted.  Although I have coffee paintings, and early morning scenes from the boat, I wanted something new to post.  But, alas, the morning following our night on the boat was dreary despite the glorious sunset the night before.  I thought I might put my morning coffee next to a rain-drenched window today, but the wind died and the glass stayed dry.  So here is my “good morning” picture, drawn with a graphite stick:

Good Morning, graphite, 8" x 10"
Good Morning, graphite, 8″ x 10″

I’m thankful for a warm, dry place to sleep, and the strength and health to get out of bed each morning!

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?

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.