Portrait in Black and White

Had to get in one more portrait before the weekend. We’re going to be hiking Mount Monadnock and going to a birthday party, so there won’t be a lot of time to paint.


Grabbed another reference from RedditGetsDrawn and drew out a 4″ x 4″ sketch.


I’ve been putting in the backgrounds first to establish darks to work from. As I work I move back and forth between the background and the figure.


Though the photo is in black and white, I did not stick strictly to a tonal painting. I brought in a few warms, though by the end I was using mostly cool colors.

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I’m in definite need of an actual black. It’s amazing how light the darks get when they dry. Thankfully I’m going back to my parents’ house this weekend and my mom has a tube of black she’s going to let me have.

The perspective on this drawing was surprisingly difficult. I kept having to address the height of the subject’s forehead. I had it too foreshortened at the beginning. My hands and neck are starting to cramp from working so small. Time to work bigger.


Morning at Fort McClary

On Sunday I was encouraged by Lennie Mulaney to join the NH Art Association at their weekly plein air outings. I truly enjoyed the weekend’s competition and decided to tag along today. We met at Fort McClary in Maine around 8:30 am. Several signs said the park didn’t officially open until 10 am and we joked about getting arrested for trespassing as painters. After a quick look around, I set up my easel on the far south side of the fort.
McClary Setup

The large rectangular stones are leftovers from the building of the fort’s walls. After the end of the Civil War, construction was ceased because the McClary style of fort was deemed out of date. The stones were left haphazardly stacked in a few piles around the property.McClary Step 1

I wanted to include both the stones and the fort in my painting and as luck would have it I found a location that delivered a great composition. The stones in the foreground pointed straight back to the fort, drawing the viewer’s eyes in.McClary Step 2The focus of this piece was color. I wanted my darks to breathe a little more life than they have in the past. Once I’d blocked in all the major shapes I focused on color comparison. I brought a lot of warmth into my shadows with Cadmium Orange and broke out the Cerulean Blue to help provide some interesting cools. Since my last few paintings have been somewhat dark I thought these two colors could work to bring more light into my painting.

Fort McClary 7:22:15

Fort McClary 5″ x 7″

Towards the end of the painting a couple masses of clouds collided just behind the fortress, creating a rolling, chunky column that brought some variety to my background. I have had almost zero experience painting clouds from life, but I threw them in. It was a challenge. I swiftly brushed out the purple darks and by the time I was ready to put in the mid-tones the clouds were out of my composition. I watched them float away to the right, still painting, imagining them still behind the fort, still painting, developing the fluffy transitions from darks to lights, still painting, and I was turned sideways by the time I was done.

I’m extremely happy with the final piece. It’s another one of my tiny 5″ x 7″ canvas panels and I’m really starting to fall in love with that size. Lots of work can be done in a short amount of time, making them great for studies.

If you’re interested, you can purchase the original, unframed panel for $100. Send me an email at thewritingmann@gmail.com!


Facebook Friends and a Small Self-Portrait

This week was dedicated to painting. It was my first full week to get back in the swing of things. I have a painting I’m working on that should be done in the next couple of weeks. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, so stay tuned.

When I wasn’t painting I did a couple drawings of friends on Facebook.

Amanda Bronson

It’s been over a year since I posted a status offering to draw profile pictures and I’m still working through the backlog of requests.

Patrick Whearty

When I posted these two drawings, it brought my status back into the newsfeed and I received a couple more requests. I’m keeping a list of everyone. Bit by bit I’m crossing off names.

On July 1st I found myself with a bit of extra time and decided to whip out a quick self-portrait. Since I didn’t want to spend too much time on it, I used one of my 5″ x 7″ canvas boards.


The portrait was primarily a practice in value and light. I first blocked in the darks with a wash of burnt umber.


Trying to keep it simple, I used a few lighter colors to establish the lights and mid-tones.


With everything blocked in, I threw in some background color to provide more clarity in the portrait. With the blue there I could gauge how dark I needed the face to be.


Originally I had only planned on working on the portrait for one day, but I came back the next and figured it needed a little polishing. The eyes had to be filled, the hair adjusted, and the nose widened


I focused on getting my features correct and turning up the intensity of the lights. At this point the background had dried into a nice greenish-blue. I kept it that way. The end result is a rather fair portrait. I think I did a decent job of capturing my likeness, with my only complaint being that in hindsight the distance between my upper lip and the bottom of my nose may be too great. I’ll have to do a couple more portraits this size over the summer. They’re great practice.


Painting in College Woods

At last I am done with the semester. First year of grad school out of the way! To celebrate I headed out into UNH’s College Woods to do some plein air painting. Well, first I bought some 5″x7″ canvas boards, gessoed, and toned them and then I went out.

Woods 5:14:15

Last Thursday was my first real free day and so I got up at six and headed to the woods. Campus was dead, even though graduation was just two days away. It was cold, the sun was barely up, and I bundled up in two layers of sweatshirts. After walking around a bit I finally picked a spot. The lighting was nice and creating a network of interlocking shadows on the tree trunks and ground. I spent about three hours working before the mosquitos drove me away. I met quite a few runners and dogs that morning.

Woods 5:15:15The next day I got up again, though a little later. I made it into the forest by 7:30 and found my spot by 8:00. I parked at a different entrance than last time and found myself on the far side of a pond. I picked a shady spot next to the water and painted the rising trail path. It was a bit more difficult of a painting than the first one. And once again I got driven away by mosquitos. They were horrible. Of course, I’d picked a bad spot as well. But I went out and bought bug spray on Sunday and it was a different story when I went out to paint that afternoon. (I’ll have Sunday’s painting up in the next blog post.)

On Monday the girlfriend and I traveled down to Boston to check out the Leonardo da Vinci drawing exhibit. The da Vinci drawings were mesmerizing and they were juxtaposed with drawings from his contemporaries, like Michelangelo. It was fun to try to compare the artists and see what their differences were. Unfortunately it was a short exhibit. But fortunately there was another major exhibit in the museum, a Hokusai show, so we headed right over to that.

Hokusai was a Japanese artist now known primarily for his print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The exhibit was an exhaustive collection of his works, and though it was interesting to see The Great Wave and the other views of Mt. Fuji, my favorite prints were the ones he did of waterfalls and bridges. Here are my three favorite:


One Hundred Bridges in a Single View


The Hanging Cloud Bridge at Mount Gyodo near Ashikaga


The Falling Mist Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province

There’s a mystical quality about the prints that I absolutely love. While the latter two are from real locations, the first print was concocted after Hokusai had a dream of the place. I’ve been into comics a lot lately and it was interesting to see how graphic and similar Japanese prints are to traditional comics.

After the Hokusai show we wandered around the museum and I decided to do a sketch of Max Klinger’s marble bust of Beethoven.


I tend to gravitate towards sculptures when I’m looking to draw in a museum. It’s hard to replicate a painting through pencil, pen, and white pastel.

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And when I’ve been given the chance, I’ve turned to doing some imaginary sketching. Here’s a recent doodle that started when I accidentally sketched out the outline of the bunny’s head. I was going for a sea lion, but my pencil had other ideas.

I’m gonna try to squeeze in another blog post before the end of the week. We’ll see what happens. I’m headed off on a road trip to New Orleans on Saturday. I’ll be bringing my easel along!


From the Bathroom to the Canvas

I was in the bathroom last weekend watering the lettuce I’m growing in the window when I got to looking at the way the light fell on the wall sconce. The glass body diffused the light while the golden base reflected it sharply. It was a nice contrast. And since I haven’t done an oil painting in a while I thought the lamp would make a good subject for a new painting. Plus I have a lot of 16″x 20″ canvases that need to be used up. I grabbed one and got to work immediately.

Lamp 1 Final

Last time I tried drawing in the bathroom I ran into a space issue with my easel. There was no reason to deal with that again so I just took a picture and worked from that. I kept the painting simple at the start to prevent it from becoming a replica of the photograph. After that I started every session by reminding myself not to get too focused about details. Keep the painting painterly. That was my motto.

Lamp 2 Final

Recently I have been watching videos of how other artists paint and I’ve also spent a good amount of time looking over paintings at museums and galleries. Analyzing the work of other artists has helped me pick up a few tricks. One revelation came while I was visiting the Museum of Art at UNH. It was the end of the semester show where the professors present their recent works. I stopped in front of a landscape painting by Brian Chu and checked out how he dealt with the background. The majority of the painting was clouds and sky and though the clouds were the focus, Brian Chu put an immense amount of effort into the empty sky. It really made me realize the importance of backgrounds. Keeping that in mind, I worked heavily into my background, making sure it helped my lamp pop forward.

Lamp 3 Final

Like usual, I began the painting with large shapes of color and then broke them down. You can see how I distinctly divided the reflections in the gold base.

Lamp 4 Final

Once I got the lamp base to a point I liked, I scraped it down. This prevented me from overworking it. I then left the painting to dry.

Lamp 5 Final

Here you can see I focused on the background, smoothing out the large shadow shape and working in some overall darker tones. I realized I was painting the wall too light and it needed to be darker in order for the lamp to appear as though it was jutting from the wall.

Lamp 6 Final

The body of the lamp was difficult to paint. I struggled to make it “turn” in space and appear rounded. The most difficult part was painting the crenelated top. The edges were a balance between darks and highlights and I fought to keep the shadows from getting too dark. I used my palette knife to scrape it down a lot.

Lamp 7 Final

Throughout the painting I went back and forth between slapping on decisive strokes of paint and smoothing out the transitions between tones. If you compare the above picture with the previous one you can see this seesawing battle take place on the lamp body.

Lamp 8 Final

By now you’ve probably notice the little winged dot below the lamp. That’s a hole in the wall with flaps of sheetrock. It wasn’t the easiest thing to paint, but I think I got it down okay. It pulls together towards the end. But I included the hole because it gives the painting an extra bit of character. It helps prevent the lamp from just being a lamp. The hole gives the viewer a little more information about where the lamp could possibly be and the physical state of that location.

Lamp 9 Final

To give the painting more depth I darkened the lamp shadow considerably.

Lamp 10 Final

While the lamp base gives off the overall appearance of being gold, I used mostly green and brown to paint it. I would mix the green with a decent amount of white until it was quite light and then I would mix in some brown to give it the yellow color it needed. Of course, I used cadmium yellow when this combination could not get me the proper color.

Lamp 11 Final

Painting the base demanded that I measure and remeasure. The slightest inconsistency or straight edge ruined its roundness and threw the painting askew. I stepped back often to see where I was going wrong and where I needed to make adjustments.

Lamp 12 Final

Here you can see I added white to the right side of the hole and that helped sell the idea that the sheetrock was being pulled off and away. Also, I’d like to mention here how much I like the reflected yellow light right above the hole. For some reason I got so happy when my eye caught that detail and I joyfully included it in the painting. It does a good job of demonstrating the reflectivity of the lamp base.

Lamp 13 Final

And done! I think. While writing this post I noticed a few things I’d like to fix, but I probably won’t go back and adjust them. I’m ready to move on. And now as I stare at it, it’s starting to look wobbly and funny. Oh dear.

I don’t often name my paintings, but I thought of one for this painting while I was working on it. I think I’ll call it View from the Toilet. Cause after all, that’s what it really is.

Below you can see an animated GIF of the progress photos:


New Years 2015

On New Year’s Eve I went down to Boston and stayed at a friend’s apartment. I’d never been to her place before and my girlfriend was talking it up all the way down. Well I got there and I was totally blown away by the view. So I suppose it lived up to the touted expectations.

I sat in the large windows watching ambulances and firetrucks speed by, used a pair of binoculars to follow pigeons as they swooped from rooftop to rooftop, and counted the number of people jaywalking

That night went by incredibly fast and it wasn’t until the next morning that I had time to sketch the skyline.


I started out with a blind contour drawing to warm up. I think I will be warming up with blind contours more often. It helped me really see subtle aspects of buildings.


I got a decent way into the actual drawing, but did not finish before we had to leave. I snapped a couple pictures and used them for reference when I got home. After finishing the drawing, I added watercolor. It was a bit of a struggle. My understanding of painting is derived from working with oils and the skill set use with oil paints is completely different than the skills used with watercolors. I’m all about laying down color and moving fast. It seems this method doesn’t work that well with watercolor. At least yet. I’m not sure I understand the basics enough to be able to push for speed. I’m going to have to check out some YouTube lessons and figure out how to better work the watercolors.

That being said, I enjoyed this drawing immensely. It was a breath of fresh air to work on a cityscape.


Facts About Pirates That May or May Not Be True

For the final project in my grammar class I worked with a classmate and constructed a children’s book that teaches modal verbs. The title of the book is Facts About Pirates That May or May Not Be True…if you couldn’t tell by the title of the blog post. The pages are meant to be side by side so that children can see the difference between the sentences with modal verbs and the sentences without them.

Grammar Book 1

Grammar Book 2

Grammar Book 3

Grammar Book 4

Grammar Book 5

Grammar Book 6

Grammar Book 7

Grammar Book 8

We chose to put the modals in red to make them noticeable. Hopefully this helps demonstrate the differences between the sentences.

The idea to teach modals through pirates came through a brainstorming session. My classmate and I looked up a list of things kids enjoy and debated each thing. We talked about everything from ice cream to bugs. For a little while I really wanted to do a book based on dinosaur princesses. Maybe I’ll someday get around to making that book idea a reality. We settled on pirates because we felt it was a flexible subject matter that appeals to both boys and girls.

Once we had that figured out, we went through our grammar notes and decided to work with modal verbs. We chose modals because there are only 9 of them: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, and must. Also, the concepts behind them are not often touched on in younger grades. That’s not to say we are hoping to completely teach modals with our book. No, we just want to introduce them to younger kids.

For the final piece, I drew and wrote 8 pages and my classmate drew and wrote the other 8.We also devised a workbook to use with the pictures to help parents teach their kids more about modal verbs.

I spent between an hour and two hours working on each page. I had done the thumbnail sketches a couple weeks before, so I just scanned them in and used them as base drawings. I used a 100% opaque pastel brush in Photoshop. Occasionally I adjusted the flow from 100% to 70%, but not often.

Since I worked very quickly on the pages, several of them are not as well done as I’d like them to be. There are perspectival and proportion issues in a couple of them. But it was a nice test run of a different art style.

Man would I love to just draw children books all day.