Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring 2010

Spring Break – Homework

Guess you just can't keep a good teacher down. Even on my time off I am looking for things to show you.

While looking for something that we can do this coming semester, I found a cactus photo I took several years ago and thought it might make a good subject, however, as I started to draw it, I realized that it might make a good "homework" assignment while you have a break and are in need of something to do and it also shows you the process I go thru when I'm finding things for class.

While it is more a photo study (see picture page), I do want you to keep in mind that if you want to be a good painter, you really need to improve your drawing skills. Don't think of drawing as a chore, or that it is hard, remember what I tell you in class: Think of it as a challenge. Don't set yourself up for failure by starting out stating your defeat – "It's hard to draw!" "I can't draw!" "I'll never be any good at drawing" – think more along the lines of this as a puzzle you need to solve, how are you going to make it happen? It isn't a race, so take your time. Don't think about the finished product but only about the shapes that make up the final picture, if you want instant, get a camera, but if you want to improve your art, get out the paper and pencils and draw.

I started out by putting a simple grid on my paper so I knew where the center was to avoid it. Next I roughed in a sketch of my cactus and flowers by putting in just basic shapes. This is how I start a lot of the designs I use in class.

Once I am happy with the placement of the elements – they are just basic shapes right now, nothing more – then I refer to my photo and start looking for the shapes that make up those elements so I can start on some detail and work my way round the drawing checking and refining my shapes.

When I am satisfied with my drawing at this point, it is usually where I stop and make up the design I use in class. It is the basic elements of the picture and it is my road map for my painting.

However, this is an exercise in drawing so once I copied what I had in case we do use it in class, I used my #4B pencil and "toned" over all of my paper. I wanted a nice medium/light tone that wasn't too dark or too light. Error to the light side if you try this, it will make life easier. After I had my paper toned, I used a paper towel to smooth the tone into my paper.

Next, looking at my photo – always have it handy – I erased out my brightest areas and areas that have light. You may have to look close but the pads of a cactus are not flat, they have bumps and ridges which give them texture. In watercolor terms, I am lifting my light areas sometimes as a positive move, sometimes as negative drawing. In pencil terms it is subtractive drawing because you are removing the graphite or chalk. I have an eraser that looks like a pencil which is very handy. There are many kinds out there and they do come in handy when you need to erase small areas and not touch everything around it or you can cut a small piece off a big eraser with an Exacto knife, it will work as well.

Then I start looking for my shadows. Some are dark shapes others are very faint but all are important. All the time I am refining my shapes adding detail, looking for areas where I can do light against dark and visa versa until I have my finished drawing. Going back and forth between positive drawing and negative drawing, what ever is needed to get the job done.

If the line drawing is the road map, a detailed drawing is the scenery along the way. It makes for a much more interesting trip and you get to know your subject in all its wonderful detail, then when you get to your painting, you have a much better idea of where you are going and how you are going to get there.

I do encourage everyone to practice their drawing even those of you who think you are pretty good, it can't hurt and it can only help in the long run.

Remember to sign up for classes. See you soon. – LP

PVAC – 5504 W. Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes 90275 310-541-2479 class schedule on web at

Torrance: Community Services Dept. 3031 Torrance Blvd. Torrance 90503 310-618-2720 or register on-line at

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