Time Out for Art: The Difference a Pencil Can Make

Being in a beautiful garden makes me want to capture the scene on paper!  Last weekend I participated in an art show at Historic London Town and Gardens, a county park south of Annapolis, Maryland.  As we were setting up the show, I looked outside and was enthralled by the sun hitting the gazebo in the gardens.  So after I had finished my chores, I took some time to go out and paint.  As I sat down to sketch out the scene, I found to my dismay that I had forgotten a pencil. Instead of going back inside to get one, I decided that I would just paint directly without drawing first.

London Town Gazebo, watercolor, 5" x 7"
London Town Gazebo, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

I don’t remember why I stopped before I had finished the painting.  There aren’t any shadowed spots in the overhead leaves and the small tree in front of the gazebo doesn’t have a trunk or branches.  I remember not being happy with the depiction of the sun on the wood or the roof of the gazebo, but liking the feeling of spontaneity conveyed.

I made sure to bring a pencil the next day and managed to get a sketch done outside before it started to rain.  (I have enhanced the drawing with a photo editor so that you can see the lines, as I usually draw lightly on the watercolor paper.)

Sketch for Londontown Gazebo, pencil, 5" x 7"
Sketch for London Town Gazebo, pencil, 5″ x 7″

Several days later I painted this picture in my studio, using the first painting and my memory as references.

London Town Gazebo #2, watercolor, 5" x 7"
London Town Gazebo #2, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

So what difference does a pencil make?  It helps me plan before I start painting.  I can save light spaces better if I delineate them first. A pencil sketch lets me see the composition before I start painting, and allows me to measure elements for their relative sizes.  Maybe with more experience I could do it without the pencil, but for now, I rely on it to sketch.




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: 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?

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.