Wow. Been so busy this summer already. I’m in the process of taking two summer classes so I only have to concentrate on my internship next year. In my free time I’ve been working on a painting. It’s coming along wonderfully. Probably my best yet. But because I’ve had my hands full with various things, I haven’t produced any art to blog about. I wanted to change that, so I kept my sketchbook with me and did a couple silly drawings.
There were days in middle school where I would just doodle, letting the pen loop over the page and bring my subconscious imaginations to life. In my freshman math class at UNH I drew a comic of fantastical dinosaurs hatching from their eggs. There were times I’d get lost in my doodles. Still, doodling has never been something I do regularly. I tend to draw from life. Four years of art school trained me that way, I suppose. But I was sitting in one of my classes last week and got inspired by the nose on the guy in front of me and I started doodling. At first I just wanted to capture the nose, then it turned into something else. I was using my pocket sketchbook, so the limited space forced me to get inventive.
It was fun. It was something new. There were no restraints. Who cared if proportions were off? It was plain fun. So the next day I doodled some more.
I wanted to capture some sort of Moby Dick vs. Ahab feeling. Afterwards, I looked up what an actual whale looks like and laughed. Mine wasn’t even close. I guess I got the baleen teeth right at least. But I like my whale so much because my imagination skewed my memory of whales to the point that it became a new creature.
When I got home that day, I did some reading for homework. While I read I idly sketched circles. They somehow formed into a Mickey Mouse head and I knew I had to take a break to finish my idea.
When my girlfriend and I went to NYC the other month I was fascinated by the costumed people in Times Square. Some of their costumes were spot on, but for the most part they were all slightly off. You could see the resemblance to the characters they were portraying and you could also see how they just missed their mark. When I drew the Mickey Mouse head above, my mind didn’t create an exact replica. It was just like a Times Square costume. Something was off. And I like that.
This is the first time in a long time that I’ve really let my mind control my drawings. However, I think that the years of formal practice have given me the skills to best express my imagination. It’s only now that I can begin to bring to life whatever I think of.
I’ve already got some more doodles for the next post.
The school year is drawing to a close and I’ve been inundated with coursework. It’s been stressful. It’s been tedious. But I’ve learned quite a bit. Every week I’m at a local high school teaching the kids about various English things. They’ve been reading The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye and it’s been interesting to return to those texts so many years later. They’re much more enjoyable now than they were when they were assigned. And I suppose I’ve been forced to do closer readings since I have to teach them as well. I’ve had an enjoyable first year of grad school.
But I haven’t been able to draw as much as I like.
This small sketch of one of my teapots was done in a rushed hour before dinner. I experimented with different pen sizes and worked my way from an angular sketch into one with smoother transitions between lines. Not exactly happy with the angle of the teapot, as it feels like it’s leaning to the right, but that’s all right.
Finally, I discovered Jeremy Mann the other week and really liked his work. Check him out!
While in South Carolina my girlfriend’s uncle let me read several art books from his collection. I was working on creating a lesson plan for Maus at the time and he showed me a few comic artists for inspiration. The book I found the most interesting was The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book. I’d seen Crumb before in An Illustrated Life, but I really got to appreciate his style through the large colored pages. It’s gritty and visceral. He puts a lot of emotion into his mark making. So when I sat down to draw a self-portrait last night I wanted to study his style.
R. Crumb has drawn quite a few self-portraits and I pulled up several for inspiration. Here they are in chronological order:
I mostly used the 1986 self-portrait as inspiration. I feel as though it shows a wide value range, which gave me a lot to reference and study. The 2005 portrait has a great range as well, but I was not doing a full body self-portrait.
As I worked, I flipped back through my browser tabs, constantly analyzing Crumb’s hatching technique.
Since Crumb is a comics artist I tried to capture a comic book feel through an exaggerated expression. I had a lot of fun scrunching my face into different positions. And the squinted eyelids were much easier to draw than open eyes. The end result reminds me a little of Fight Club. My only complaint is that I made the mouth recede too much. I think this could be solved by darkening the shirt more and putting the majority of the drawing in shadow. Then the mouth would be on the same tone level as everything else.
While I spent a good part of the week looking at R. Crumb drawings, I also found inspiration in some other locations. I found this short painting tutorial which has made me think about how to deal with dark skin tones. And on deviantART I found the following two drawings:
I love how this drawing by Derek Jones is both sketchy and round. The fullness of the form makes it appear almost lifelike.
Then I found Mattias Adolfsson’s drawing among the Daily Deviations and it reminded me of Where’s Waldo. The level of detail keeps the viewer entertained for a long time. I also like the simple, muted colors. Though it’s a playful illustration, color theory is still very strong.
That’s it for today. If I can find the time to finish it, I’ll have a large drawing for next time.
My body is trying to readjust to the cold and I’m not helping the process. I dipped down in a hot tub earlier today and then relaxed in a steamy sauna. I’m just not built for the cold. I think it’s all genetics. My dad’s ancestors were the Choctaw from the bayous of Louisiana, so a predilection for heat must be in my blood. Still, it’s nice to be back home.
Today I ran into one of my old professors and we were talking about the art I saw on this week’s trip. Here are a few of my favorite paintings:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bellona – Rembrandt
I saw this painting and immediately fell in love with one thing: that shield. Rembrandt’s mastery of light is quite apparent in the shadowed face of the Medusa and the slow progression of scattered light over the shield’s surface. It feels so metal and yet so real. But I could only stare at it for so long before I had to move along. If the week was a whirlwind, our museum trips were super-cyclones. We tried to see as much as possible before moving on to the next stop. I don’t regret that. It was what I wanted to do. But I also look forward to the vacations where I can relax in these museums and take time to study the art.
Chrysanthemums in the Garden at Petit-Gennevilliers – Gustave Caillebotte
The photograph doesn’t do this painting justice. Of course, I could say that about every painting. This photograph just doesn’t capture the transitions from light to dark. It was great to see how Caillebotte dealt with lights in the dark and darks in the light. And I just love how the canvas is almost split in half at a diagonal by the light.
Marie Julien – Vincent van Gogh
I’ll admit that I wasn’t always a van Gogh fan. Back in school we would look at his paintings and I’d struggle to see what the big deal was. Then I saw his other paintings. That’s when I started loving van Gogh. Take this painting for example. It’s a blend of texture, large shapes, small shapes, line, saturated color, and complementary and contrasting colors. There’s something firm and solid about the painting and yet it is built up by small brush strokes.
Irises – Vincent van Gogh
I saw a lot of van Gogh on my trip. And I came to like his flower paintings the most. I’d like to incorporate more flowers in my own paintings.
The National Gallery of Art
The Island and Bridge of San Bartolomeo, Rome – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
On our way back north we stopped in DC and managed to spend a little time in the National Gallery of Art. It felt quite small compared to the MET.
I like this particular painting because it is able to represent a city with simple shapes.
The Tragic Actor – Edouard Manet
I see this painting as a counter piece to James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1. If only because of its heavy and all encompassing use of black. I’ve lately been intrigued by paintings that focus mainly on one color.
Degas’ technique attracted me to this painting. Everything seems scraped and blurred to the point that the colors flicker and glow. It’s as if the colors bleed through each other.
I first saw this from across the room and then was surprised at how loose it was when I got closer. It works well from afar because of Monet’s use of light. The mind fills in the small details that the large shadows don’t distinguish. It would really be a great painting to do a study of if I could get into the museum with my easel.
Inspired by all the art I saw, I made sure to get some drawings down in my sketchbook.
On Monday we journeyed from Columbia to Charleston and relaxed on the beach. We were there for four hours while I worked on the above sketch. I’m not exactly pleased with how it turned out, but I learned I was really working too big to be effective with markers.
We arrived at 12:30am and the beach was mostly empty. It didn’t stay like that. For the rest of the day I had people asking me questions about my drawing. One guy asked to take pics of me drawing so he could prove to his art teacher friend that not all students were getting non-stop wasted on spring break.
I applied and reapplied sunscreen all day long and I still got burnt. The backs of my knees and my ears got the worst of it.
Man my neck looks weird and elongated in this photo. I definitely was standing too close to the drawing.
When we were done with the beach we drove into Charleston proper. The city is like a beautiful movie set. I’d love to live there some day.
Because I was unsatisfied with my beach drawing, I drew a portrait of my girlfriend as we waited for dinner at Kickin’ Chicken. Then it was a two hour drive back to Columbia, where we fell immediately asleep and woke up early for more fun.
On Tuesday we went to Congaree National Park and explored the swamps and hanging moss. We didn’t have real hiking equipment and thus were confined to the boardwalk. Though were still able to take in a huge chunk of the park’s beauty. I’d like to go back and travel deep into the swamp and see the amazingly tall champion hardwoods.
From there we went to the Riverbanks Zoo.
There were very few people at the zoo and we only ran into crowds when we crossed paths with school groups.
My first few sketches didn’t turn out too bueno, but I hit my stride once I got to the flamingoes.
I enjoyed the reptile house since those lizards were kind enough to hold still for me. My favorite drawing of the day is the one of the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana.
After seeing all the animals, we went to the flower garden and I got in a quick sketch of a brick arch and its surroundings. We were exhausted at that point and called it quits for the day and returned to Columbia. The rest of the trip we drove from city to city without a home base to return to at night. We arrived back at my parents’ house at 2am on Friday. It was a hectic end to our week, but I’m happy with all we got to see.
After doing my last self-portrait with the new markers, I noticed that I’d been a little careless and let the ink bleed through to the next page. Usually I avoid this by popping in a piece of scrap paper behind the drawing I’m working on. I thought about skipping to the next page so I would have a clean sheet, but then I realized the blotches didn’t really matter. They would probably get covered up anyway. And so I drew right over them. I guess I’m mentioning this because it’s important to work through mistakes and see situations like this one as opportunities. It made me think a little more about composition and how I could include the blotches so they would be less noticeable. Be adaptable.
You can see a bit of the bleed-through next to my chin, though the rest of it is pretty unnoticeable. I’m starting to get a better idea of how to use the markers. They’re forcing me to think in strictly dark and light, which will help better my oil work as well. But because I spend the majority of the time sketching and working out the base drawing, I spend little time actually using the markers. It will be a while before they feel completely natural. They feel good so far though.
I’m a little behind on achieving a drawing a day. Been so busy. I’m not worried though. The goal was to get 365 drawings done in 365 days. Perhaps I’ll wind up with a day where I can crunch in a bunch. For now I’m focusing on two or three a week.
The notebook my mom brought back from Italy is now full. Through the last minutes of November I sketched away on its toothy pages, pursuing my goal of 50 drawings. But when I got to the end of the notebook I only had 32 sketches. I ran out of paper and time. Still, I’m happy. Completing 32 sketches is better than doing none. (If you’re lost right now and don’t know what I’m talking about, go back a couple blog posts.)
I scanned all the drawings and combined them into one large picture in order to show my progression over the month.
After the 14th drawing I started to focus on the motion of the figures. I watched several Youtube drawing videos that emphasized the movement of the figure. Successful drawings embody movement, flowing in a specific direction. Having flow in a figure drawing is what gives it life and prevents it from becoming stiff. Since the notebook is a little larger than pocket-size, I had to work fairly small. You can see how cramped I was in the first few drawings. But I got used to it.
I’ve been drawing a lot and neglecting painting, but I think it will benefit me. Drawing forces me to focus on line, something I don’t normally think a whole lot about when I’m painting. When I go back to the canvas, I’ll definitely be using more line.
Here are all the individual drawings that weren’t uploaded in the last NaNoDrawMo post:
I love this pose. I’m gonna have to come back to it some other time and try to loosen it up. I think it would be better to have her arms follow a more exaggerated swooping, bowed line of movement.
Here you can really see the flow I was talking about. The whole figure curves out from top left and back down towards bottom left. The eye is forced to follow this movement.
Probably my favorite sketch of the whole lot. The forms of the body have a roundness to them that accentuates the sweeping motion of the body.
I’ll definitely be doing NaNoDrawMo next year. It’s excellent practice. And because I spent so much time drawing on small sheets of paper, I went out and bought another small drawing pad for my chest pocket. That way I’ll always have a drawing pad to use when I’m out and about and have nothing to do.
The packages were squeezed together, their paper bag exteriors crinkled and flopping out the top of my mailbox. The books were here. One for class, one for pleasure. Together they were less than $10.
The class book was okay. It was full of poems and short stories about schools and teachers and students. Interesting. But for class. The other book? Woah. “An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators, and Designers.” What a mouthful. What a book. The book I’d really wanted. The book that sat on my wish list for a long time. The first paragraph of the introduction explained my feelings perfectly:
“I have been looking for this book since I was a boy drawing at the kitchen table. I’ve looked for it in dusty secondhand bookshops, in the art sections of libraries, in online bookstores and in auction houses. Because I never found it, I had to put it together myself – a book full of sketchbooks and illustrated journals from all sorts of people who love nothing better than to hunch over a little book and fill its pages with lines and colors.”
That was it. I read that and I had to agree with author Danny Gregory. I wasn’t really a sketchbook keeper myself, but that was what I was drawn to. All the blogs I followed, all the Facebook pages I liked, all the forums I browsed were focused on the sketchbook art of other artists. But I’d seen a few compilations of sketchbooks. Sometimes I’d stumble upon a compilation of graffiti artists, but that wasn’t what I wanted. This book is what I wanted.
I read the first several sketchbook bios the night I got the book. Then the next day I started adding sketches to my own journal.
I’ve been too precious with my drawings. I don’t need to make something perfect every time. I realized that from looking at the sketchbooks in “An Illustrated Life.” You get better at drawing by just drawing.
This self-portrait was done in my girlfriend’s bedroom on a cracked vanity mirror. I made mistakes, but it’s a sketch. I got it to a stopping point and then I ended it. Having lined paper helped me. The imperfection of the lines prevented the drawing from becoming perfect and professional. I won’t be selling this and I knew that right from the beginning.
A couple days later I was walking from class to the library, booking it across the lawn, and there was Thompson Hall in a great composition. I’d thought of drawing it before, but I’d never found the perfect angle. But there it was. So I plopped down in the grass and I sketched. And I felt bad. My girlfriend had an architecture assignment to draw a campus building and she’d been excited to draw Thompson Hall. I was basically stealing her idea. Ah. But I couldn’t ignore the serendipitous composition. I texted her an apology and sketched away (she later drew her own excellent rendition, so I felt better after that).
Hopefully, there’ll be more sketches to come.