Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Still Life Genre

Definition:  A work of art that depicts inanimate subject matter, such as food, flowers, or tableware.

Still Life, a descriptive yet rather odd name. I get it being 'still' as in not moving, set in place, inanimate. The 'life' part is what I find strange. I am just supposing that it derives from painting florals. The flower(s) alive but in the setting of the artist choice. Well, whatever, it's a popular genre for art.

 It is certainly appealing to be able to choose from a variety of objects that interest me and then arrange them according to my idea and compositional desires. This is quite different from 'plein air'. With 'plein air' we are painting what interest us from what nature provides. We may change a few things to create interest, contrast, or to improve the composition of the viewed scene, but typically it is what it is.

 Ah, but with still-life we pick and choose and arrange until we get what we want. Sometimes it's just to get a pretty painting. Sometimes it is to make a statement...

 Here are a few examples of still life I have attempted while learning this art thing...

9x12" graphite and white pen
I just wanted to practice drawing and quickly assembled these items. I was sitting at the kitchen table and put this ‘still-life’ together right there on the table to my right. Wine bottle, cork, wine glass, Asian pear and a match box. Hmmm, I wonder what statement I'm making.....?

Graphite, ink, and white pen.
Sometimes when I walk by the lake I will pick up driftwood that interest me. It may be the shape or the texture that appeals to me. I found these two pieces on separate outings.
When I was looking for something to sketch I picked them from my driftwood cache. While attempting to arrange them, on the top of the clothes dryer (of all places), they just fell into this embrace. Why the top of the dryer? To get them at eye level while sitting on a stool. Plus the lighting was good.

Graphite and white pen.
This was a warm up sketch. Never got the perspective right. I think I was sitting too close. Anyway, it was a good exercise with my new General Pencils. It's done on a toned typing paper, but not enough tone to show off the white charcoal. Someday I may learn to get the drawings fundamentals correct at the start. I think I can do one of these items ok, but together, nah. This scene is in the corner of our family room. I see it all the time and think "I'd like to draw that". I'm over it now. It’s a fail. My Sketch Club mentor said she liked it and that I should redo it and really exaggerate my missed perspective. Do it loose, more abstract. Hmmm, not sure I’m up to it.

11x14", Gouache on stretched canvas

I think this is the only “finished” painting I’ve done. My wife does not have a green thumb, but she has managed to keep these succulents alive. My granddaughter is also a fan of succulents. I gave her this painting as a high school graduation gift. This is an unusual painting. It is Gouache on canvas. It was a problem of my own doing. I prepped the canvas with mid gray interior house paint. The Gouache didn’t do well on that surface.

This one is a digital finger painting. An experiment using a 7” Nook Tablet running a sketch app. There are some parts I like. It's a doodle. I was trying to learn the app. The app has a blend/smudge tool. That is what I used to get the smooth transitions.

9x12", 90lb watercolor paper, ink and watercolor.
Does a clock count as a still-life? I'm guessing it does. I did this drawing while visiting my wife's family. Her Aunt asked if I would sketch her Grandfather Clock. I did a quick sketch for reference, along with a photo and then did this drawing at home. When I finished it I sent it to her. After all she had my favorite cream cheese cherry pie for dessert.

6x5.5", General Sketch and Wash pencil, General Graphite pencil

On the same trip I sketched these shoes. She had a whole row of her daughters' shoes displayed on a dresser. Progressing from baby to tween.
Since they obviously meaningful to her I picked two pair, smallest and largest. I was really interested in the folds and creases in the baby shoes. This is a preliminary study. I intend to do a pen and ink with wash of this setting. I'll add a clock to the scene. There was one on the dresser. Passing of time, you know.
She was really pleased with the sketch, rough as it is. I photographed it and left the sketch with her.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What is Art?

Is there a better question?

I occasionally get in a questioning mode. That’s good thing. Its healthy to question, unless that gets obsessive. Anyway, one of those questions I have is about art. I start thinking about "what is art?". If I draw a diagonal line is it art?

Should I write about “what is art”?

So, what do we do when we get that curious, questioning feeling?

We Google it, right? Well, right off I found lots of definitions and opinions about “what is art?”. I mean there is lots. So much so that I realized that I didn’t have anything additional to add. It has pretty much been covered.

That wasn’t exactly a dead end, though. My curiosity began to take me in another direction. I began to wonder, “When is art”? Was that diagonal line art when I drew it? Was it art when I imagined it? Or perhaps, was it art when someone else saw it? I found these to be interesting questions. In fact, I found these questions more interesting than “what is art?”.

Let’s say I go on a walk and I have my little sketchbook with me. I see this interesting scene. I stop, I sit down and take a careful look at this scene. What was it that I found interesting? Why would I want to draw it? Before I start sketching, I start imagining how that scene might look on my paper. An image starts to form in my mind. So, did I create art at that time?

Ok, lets say maybe not. Maybe generating an image in our mind is not art.

Let’s take the next step. I do a light pencil sketch.
Just enough to start working out the proportions and composition. Is it art now?

Continuing. I ink in the lines I want to keep. I emphasize some lines, let others disappear. Is it art now or is it still becoming art?

What if I stop now, declare I’m done? Have I also declared it “ART”?

Is it art now because I declare it so? Am I the only one that has a say in this?

There seems to be something missing. That is a closed loop. Shouldn’t there be more to it than that? Does it require someone else to see it? Someone else to take the image of my drawing into their imagination and conclude that it is art.

I wonder, because now it seems we have come back to “What is Art?”….

I am interested in getting your thoughts.

I am also thinking "why is art?". But, that's another day.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Benefits of Sketch Partners

An invite to a Sketch Club

It’s been almost a year since I was invited to join a very small Sketch Club. Initially there were only three members. It was very low tech. Very private. Everything communicated via text message. The rules were simple. Text a sketch every day. No sharing others' sketches.

Eventually there were five of us, but only myself and the club originator stayed active. Although, I missed many more days than I posted, she was very consistent. We are very forthright with each other. Commenting on each other’s sketches, making suggestions, what worked, what needed another look.  The other members occasionally make comments and suggestions, also. They are our passive sketchers.

A few months ago we decided to post work that was a little more than a sketch. Occasionally we will post a complete painting.

I have enjoyed being in the Sketch Club. I don’t know if this activity is for everyone, but its worth a try.

This is a sketch I did this past Wednesday. When I posted to the Sketch Club it was just the light initial pencil concept sketch. The members couldn't even make out the subject. Then Thursday night I added some washes and ink.

I did the sketch on location. I took a walk to the neighborhood lake. There are paved walking paths in some areas. Along the paths are benches. I was looking for an interesting view to sketch. I wanted something with a sweeping movement. Unfortunately, the benches are located to take in the vistas of the lake. I ended up sitting sideways and sketching a mooring post that was close to the bench. It wasn’t much of a subject.

Here is the sketch and a comment from my Sketch Club partners…

Meet Me at 3
Meet Me at 3
pen and ink with wash
the wash is from watercolor pencils
mixed media sketch book 8.5 x 5.5"

Comments from Sketch Club

This gets a thoughtful Hmmm, with a plus. I like it but I am not sure why.

This one is good, and yet I don't know why. Maybe Melanie can help.

It seems to merge representational with very abstract. Surreal. It works well.

okay. Being me. Think about placement on the page. The big blob--maybe too centered.

Mostly really good.

Hats off!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Portraits - I've been thinking...

Talking ‘bout Portraits

Today I’m thinking about portraits. I belong to a Google+ Community (Sketching, Drawing, Painting). I see some amazingly skillful portrait drawings there. Frequently the subject is a celeb, model, movie star, etc. I presume the drawings are from photos. Some of the drawings are photo realistic. Truly amazing.

So, I’m thinking when does a portrait become more than, well, a copy of a photo. Don’t get me wrong, I use photos as reference, but I usually don’t try to do an exact copy.

Typically, I select a photo reference because I am intrigued by the lighting or the pose or the facial features. I may try to capture what intrigued me, but not directly copy them. OK, sometimes I do try to copy the facial features to get a likeness. Also, a direct copy can be a good exercise, but I don’t see doing it for a final piece of art.

What do you think?

Am I way off? Am I getting in trouble here?

Portraits in different media/techniques

This is an exercise sketch/print.
 I did the first one using General’s Sketch and Wash pencil for the face and General’s Carbon Sketch for the hair. The sketch was on a sheet of copy paper.

Print - transfer from above sketch
The print was produced by wetting 90lb watercolor paper, from a sketch pad, and placing it over the sketch. I then rubbed the back of the watercolor paper with the back of a large spoon to activate the transfer.
Old Man - Pen and ink with acrylic wash.
My reference here was a small picture in a newspaper. It was b&w. I was intrigued by the composition. The dark patterns of the background.
Girl Gazing

I was warned that Gouache was a difficult media to start learning to paint with, so that's what I did. I figured if hadn't tried anything else I wouldn't know it was difficult. Well, I know now.....

Miss Pauline
8.5 x 5 watercolor paper, 140 lb from sketchbook

______________________________ Dylan(ish) – digital paint

This was done last year about this time. I had not started using traditional media at that time. I had just joined a daily sketch club. We are supposed to submit a sketch a day. I was about miss a day. I grabbed a Dylan CD cover for a reference and got my submission in.

Old gent sitting - I did this first as a pen and ink and wash about 4x6". Parts of it I liked but overall it was a fail, I learned a few things and tried again.

Here is my redo.
A light pencil sketch, then pen and ink with watercolor.

This one is better, but there are proportion issues. Also, I missed his expression. Too bad, since that was part of my reason for doing this one. He had a gentle, sweet expression. Reference, a picture in the newspaper.
9x12" 140 lb cold press watercolor paper

Monday, May 8, 2017

Figurative Art - not necessarily nude

Figurative Art

Figurative art is drawings/paintings that contain people as the emphasis. At least that's my understanding. It is often associated with the nude figure. I took a figure drawing class. Our models wore bathing suits.

Drawing people is very challenging. Humans are very sensitive to subtle differences in proportions, angles and shapes associated with the figure. Some errors they accept, while others errors they find very distracting.

This first sketch is a digital sketch that was primarily made with the app 'Fresh Paint'.

I later added a second figure.

Then I put them in a concert.

This second sketch was drawn in pencil on the back of a 3 x 5 index card.

I took a photo of that drawing and then "painted" it in a digital paint program 'Paint.Net'.

The Bracelet

I did another version. This time adding a second figure. This one is done with watercolor pencils and ink.

In a future post I'll show some more digital work I've done with photos.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Landscapes - Plein Air (French for plain air, meaning painting outside)

Learning by trying many things

I probably jump around too much as I learn, but I'm enjoying exploring the variety of subjects, styles, and techniques available for doing art. In this post I'm showing some of my excursions into landscapes.

This first sketch is digital drawing. Comically juvenile. It was drawn on a "new" to me sketch program. It was done fast and badly. I do a lot of driving in rural areas. There are a lot of scenes similar to this on the roadside. 


The grouping of sheds, barns, and silos catch my attention. There is something about the angles, patterns and contrast that I find appealing. This is a sketch done in Gouache (opaque watercolors). I stopped on the shoulder of the highway and took a photo. I couldn't quite get in the correct position to get the view I wanted. Later I realized that the view I was after was a combination of views in motion I would see as I drove by.

9 x 12"

This next sketch is Plein Air (chuckle). I was sitting in a rocking chair at the Homestead in Hot Springs, VA. This my first outside real life sketch. There is no particular subject. I just drew what was there. I later decided that it was the sweeping lines that appealed to me. I went back later (second pic) and added emphasis to the curves and a touch of color.

5 1/2 x 8"

From the same visit I sketched a spring fed pond. Initial sketch.

 Finished (or where I stopped) colors added with watercolor pencil

My sketch kit:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sketching with a story in mind.

This sketch was done with a story in mind.

I sketched this in pencil then scanned it to get a digital version. I edited that version in Paint.Net (

The short version of the story. I was visiting relatives in the late fall. Their yard and carport were full of leaves. It was the time of year that a yard needed raking almost daily. I decided to pinch in and rake a bit. The problem was that the only rake I could find kept separating at the handle. Leaving me holding a stick and the rake part tangled in the leaves. What made it worse is that there was a professional landscaping service working next door. It consisted of several immigrants with all the pro tools at hand. Every time they saw that rake break they would laugh, point their power blowers in my direction and rev them up.

You can read the full story in dialog here:
Click Little Black Dog and the Visiting Man

Original pencil sketch.


Sketch of The Little Black Dog