This is really bad. I’m not kidding.

The photo is totally different.

This doesn’t look a damned thing like the photo. The veins are embossed in the wrong direction, and I’ve drawn them perfectly straight since I’m not even really following the photo except in the vaguest terms.

I can follow a photo with no trouble in graphite, but you give me color, and it’s like an instant inability on my part to just follow the lines; I’m out of the lane markers entirely. I simply cannot figure out why this is the case. And it’s not really an inability, per se. It’s more a total disinclination. I might be able to do it if I forced myself to, but it’s as if I just stop giving a crap about reproducing the photo the minute color comes into it and just grab pencils at random and make it look however I want. I will never grasp what the hell my issue is with that.

Now, it’s not that there is anything bad about this; I found out about a very good artist named Peggy MacNamara whose sense of color reminds me a lot of my own who is an artist in residence at the Field Museum in Chicago; I discovered her through one of Emily Graslie’s “Brain Scoop” videos. She seems to respect appropriate color more than I do but does have a bit of the same semi-crazy shit going on with it.

All the same, I just wish I could focus and learn how to be more disciplined with color and just make something green if it’s green and brown if it’s brown without going, “I like purple better, though … ” It’s better to break a rule after having learned to follow it. I’ve got a good enough eye for it; if something is sage green with a hint of pumpkin, I’m pretty reliable at detecting it and mixing the colors appropriate to create it; I just don’t care. Either that or else I’m so busy worrying about value, which always seduces me, that I stop giving a crap about color. This is part of why I wish there were a grisaille method for dry media. I bought myself a black Inktense block thinking that might help, but it just sort of smushed and turned into dirty dishwater when I tried to use a damp brush with it. I’m thinking about using Chinese ink, but that’s water soluble.

Hm, it might be just that there is once again not a big value difference in this photo. Everything is sort of the same vague value, like with the fennec fox, and the only differences are color ones. There aren’t any “edges” to the fields of color, and my eyes are drawn to significant value edges. That’s one of the nice thing about doing cats; most of the ones that photograph very well are stripey, and you get lots of sudden value changes in their coats. I wonder if black and white is just naturally easier than color for a lot of beginners or amateurs?

I also think that I need to have a physical photo to work from as well. I really cannot stand trying to work from a photo on a screen, even a high-resolution one. It never feels comfortable for me, and given that my eyes are permanently set at one focus now, it’s just not manageable at all anymore. I need a physical photo that I can get right up to, and that gets even harder if you wear bifocals since you have to do that hunching question-mark thing with your neck to see things clearly; bifocals are created assuming that when you are looking closely at something, you’re looking down, and that’s just not the case any more with screens everywhere. 😦

I should buy a nice coffee table book of pretty flowers and plants, or landscapes or something, and see if that helps.

Ooh, there’s a nice coleus book that I’d probably enjoy. I’ll get that. It’s not even expensive. This landscape book would be nice, too. Of course, these photos are all in copyright, but I can still use them to practice, at least.

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Not even the Apple Store.

Why bother with killing people or the Apple Store? There would not be a single untouched pint of Ben & Jerry’s in my local supermarket, and they just started stocking wine. They’ve got Australian reds, and the Wine & Spirits down the street from me has coconut rum.

And there’s nice shoe stores at the local outlet mall, and a craft store with a great yarn section in driving distance.

I’d have to take off work the whole week right after the Purge just for crocheting.

If the craft store sold anything other than those crappy Prismacolor pencils, I’d need two weeks.

This is how you know that men write these shows. If women wrote them, they’d know that right after the Purge, the local Sephora, Naturalizer, and Godiva stores would look like a bomb went off in them.

Études and artistic blocks

The artist I follow online, Lisa Clough* does weekly livestreams during which she’ll work on a project and otherwise chat about things and take questions from those watching.

A frequent question is how to deal with artistic blocks, when one can’t manage to sit at the table (or piano or laptop) and work on an idea for whatever reason. Her advice is pretty steadfast here: just paint or draw anyway, since it can stimulate creativity and will at least make you better for when your Next Grand Idea shows up.

I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier for artists if they thought of some paintings or drawings as études, practicing for the good stuff? When one plays an instrument, one will often play études or scales, and while one should always try to be creative while playing, études aren’t really supposed to be approached as if one is pouring one’s soul out to the stars. While you’re doing them, you are well aware that you’re just sort of working the muscle memory to keep the feel of your instrument in your fingertips. You’re released from the pressure of having to Be Creative™ and are just keeping the machinery in good working condition.

I think it might release visual artists from that sort of pressure as well, if they could just work on things and see that work as just practice; people often do “studies” as part of art class, after all. Maybe artists can also do what some musicians do and keep a list of “stuff I can’t seem to do well” that can be used to prioritize practicing. I have never done a picture of something transparent, like a crystal glass, for example. Shiny metal surfaces also blow my mind. Things like that boggle me, and it amazes me when I see them. Someday, I’ll probably need to do that.

For now, I want to still get the machinery cranked up, so I’m doing pleasant-looking but unchallenging things and trying to get them as perfect as possible. But someday, I hope I’ll have a list of things I need to get better at: perspective, transparency, odd angles, etc. — the typical things that artists have trouble with.

Anyhow, I think that artistic block might be less of a problem if artists, especially amateurs with no set deadlines, could conceptualize it as scales and études when they want to sit down at their work but don’t have what they think is a grand idea in mind.


* I hate to keep bringing this woman up like a weird online stalker or something, but she really makes a lot of sense.

“Just layer until it looks good.”

I’m beginning to appreciate Lisa Clough‘s advice. Compared to the photo I’m working from, this looks like warmed-over ass, but it’s improving with each pass. I just have to keep working with the lightest possible hand so I can keep layering color.

Besides, it doesn’t really need to look like the photo. It just needs to look good. If no one ever sees the photo, people will think I know what I’m doing. 🙂

So not too bad. Better than anything else I’ve ever done with color, that’s for sure. A lot of that I think is because of both Clough’s advice and the fact that these pencils feel infinitely better than any colored pencil I’ve used. Typically they feel like rubbing soap on a pane of glass, but these have that grabby friction that I love about graphite (an amusing thing to like about what is essentially a lubricant, but there you have it).

When I’m done, I want to put in a light shadow as if they’re sitting on the paper. That’ll be fun.

I’m also very pleased to see that the cold-pressed paper I’m using, which has a decided weave pattern pressed into it, is much smoother on the other side. I was wondering if I shouldn’t have gotten hot-pressed paper, but now I think I’m just going to use the back side of the Arteza cold-pressed and see what happens. I’ll find a pretty picture of some flowers or plants or something. Maybe this. I’m nuts about coleus. There is something about that burgundy and hot lime combination that just kills me.

BTW, I’m not planning on selling any of these; I know these photos are all under copyright by someone else. They’re just me practicing.

Me and wet media

You see, the problem is …

… this is what happens when I start messing with it. I’ll keep messing, but at the moment, I’m planning to get one white and one black inktense block and then put these things over top — or at least just mess with the black inktense block and a waterbrush for a bit.

The thing is, I’m not generally a fan of wet media because they always smell, they’re messy, they’re not portable or neatly confined to a small space, and they swallow up an entire room of your living space, none of which I can tolerate. The neatness and compact portability of graphite is a huge part of its appeal for me. I just like universes in small spaces.

I’m also super-anal when I do art in that every time I do anything, I like being able to put a dot that’s exactly this big in exactly that spot. Wet media always have this thing about them of sitting back away from the paper and putting your hand far back on the brush, and I want to be right the hell up on the paper so close that I have to take my glasses off with my hand as far up on the pen as possible. I turn into a neurosurgeon when I use black ink.

So anyhow, I bought one black inktense block and one white one (for error correction), and will probably use the waterbrushes with that, and then slap the graphitints on top if I feel like I want a titch of color. And I will lean so far into the paper when I do it that I’ll rub the tip of my nose against it. 🙂

Calling done on the kitten

The first art I’ve done in close to 20 years

Once again, cheapie Staedtler graphite is my first great love. 🙂 Very happy to have gotten back into this. It’s not perfect, and I will probably not be able to stop myself from fixing little things about it from time to time until I stop seeing things about it that bug me, but overall, I’m really pleased that I got back into it after such a long hiatus and ended up with something that looks pretty decent. (Unsolicited advice: you can end up with fairly good stuff even when you’re out of practice if you just start somewhere familiar and slow down.)

I remember working on a very large version of this kitten when I was in high school using a rapidograph, and unfortunately ruining it by trying to work a clog out of the pen and putting a giant blot of ink over the forehead. What an experience of frustration. (No more rapidographs; from now on, it’s Pigmas only.)

Now, 30-some years later, I’ve finally completed at least one much smaller version of this.

Now to play around with the graphitints …

Rats.

I figured I’d hop over to Michael’s and see if I couldn’t grab a set of the tinted graphite pencils that Derwent makes, and they didn’t have them. They did have a zillion sets of Prismacolors which I have no interest in, and a few sets of Staedtler graphite which I already have, but nothing else which was a bummer. 😦

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the tinted graphite though, since I think one needs to wet it down in order for the color to really show, and I’m not that fond of that. There are also missing some colors including yellow, but I can’t stand yellow colored pencils anyway. I think I tend to use warm lights in my living spaces, which makes it almost impossible to see yellow, plus the yellow pencils are always the ones that feel the soapiest. Indeed, if the spectrum of colors in tinted graphite is what people always say it is, I might like them. The thing is, I generally just dislike wet media.

I think for now, I’ll stick with graphite although I may buy a set of tinted graphites, a water brush, and a pad of thicker watercolor paper rather than the thinner sketch paper I’m using right now. For now though, I’m sort of looking forward to just getting my sea legs back with graphite, finishing that kitten, and then starting in on the barn owls.

I really don’t know why this came back up, and I’m suspicious of it since it resurfaced after finding those Lachri YouTube videos, and I’m hypersensitive right now to the prospect that my enthusiasm reappeared only after seeing someone else’s enthusiasm. I always said that one of the reasons why I preferred knitting and crochet is because one made useful items with them as well as beautiful ones, whereas “art” just sits there.

But I also feel like I’m getting back to what I liked as a kid: drawing, crochet, and music. That was what I liked when I just liked things out of my own preference: drawing, crochet, music, math, languages. Those are my preferences as burned in at the factory, and they are now resulting in one more graphite kitten sketch, which I have no desire to analyze. I just want to draw some goddamned fluffy kittens.

Closer to done

For whatever value of “done” one chooses to apply:

Again, I have no idea what caused this to shake loose suddenly this weekend — at close to the end of the weekend.

I’d like to scan this and scan the photo I’m using, and then overlay them and see how close I got on my foundation sketch. I know that I got fairly close with a fennec fox I started in colored pencil before dropping it, although I had the ears too “up” and not “out” enough. That was a bad picture to start with, though. Fennecs are very light-colored, and I’ve found that animals with stripes or spots or some areas of high contrast throughout their fur are much easier to manage. The edges give one “handles” to approach the coloration, rather than a fairly uniform beige-ish pale peach and yellow of the fennec.

On the whole though, my freehanding is not bad. Animal faces are more forgiving on this, though; getting a few things wrong here or there on a human face would ruin a portrait whereas animal faces are more forgiving. As long as the kitten is cute and furry, no one really minds.

I have a nice picture of barn owls I might try next. These guys give one a bit more to grip onto, given the spottiness.