Due Diligence Lessons 5 – 6

We’re on to Lesson 6 I think, and my lack of knowledge bit me in the, uh, backside today.  Rose wanted us to do a graduated scale on toned paper using chalk and charcoal to create the entire range.  My first attempt was an epic failure because I tried to do the whole thing with soft vine charcoal.   I modified it using a couple of my compressed charcoal pencils and it didn’t look much better.  I now realize that I have to take all my charcoal pencils and do a graduated scale for each of them to figure out which pencils I want to use, and what gives me the best representation of a ten-step scale to use in a drawing based on the way I draw, so here’s my homework for the night!  In due time I will also do one for my graphite pencils.  It is great practice and will take my work to a higher level when I train this subtlety into my fingers.

The first four blocks of this grid are empty because they would contain gratuated white chalk except for #4 which would be plain paper.


These past few weeks have driven home just how ignorant I am of the use of charcoal in drawings.  It never occurred to me that vine charcoal would only be used for initial marks and sketches because it is so powdery and easy to remove.  I finally know how to sharpen vine charcoal correctly, using sandpaper and shaping it into a long taper.  This, in fact, isn’t really sharpened into a long enough point.  It should be longer.

I also need to revise my drawing from Class 5, there’s too much going on with my shot glass, too much detail.  Here’s the before:

There is the addition of a shot glass to the original composition.  No, I’m not drawing the duct tape holding the glass down, or the skewer to the right.

And here’s the after:

I’ve limited my highlights to a certain section of the glass to reduce the detail.

It’s amazing that there is so much to learn in such short a time.  I used to think 12 weeks was a long time, and this is a mightily compressed class!

  • Figuring out how to work with vine charcoal.
  • Figuring out which charcoal is used for what.  I should have figured that out sooner.
  • My sight-sizing is getting much better.  The addition of new glasses (for vision) made a huge improvement.
  • Remembering what measurements need to be checked again, and checking everything at least three times.
  • Ellipses I’m starting to get the hang of.  I understand the theory behind them and that is a huge step in the right direction.
  • Shading with charcoal I haven’t been working on as you can tell from the above image.

My focus right now is sight-size accuracy.  I want to get it down on the easy stuff so that when we start statues next Thursday I’m in a good place.  I already notice the difference in ease of drawing when I start a new painting, and this process will continue to improve!

Harlequin Seahorse

The first three paintings are finished and with the photographer now.  Here is the fourth, completely different, and very cute.  This is a rainbow seahorse, an endangered species, and I thought it was a great way to finish off the series.  I’ll post a picture when it’s finished.



Class 4 at the Kipaipai Atelier

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.  Week 4 homework was

  • a continuation of Week 3’s Bargue drawing, working on the shading
  • setting up a simple still life and practice sight-sizing on 3-d objects
  • setting up a simple still life at home and drawing there as well.

I’m astonished at how well my first “bust” turned out.  I continue to tweak the shading as I walk away to do something else, then come back to glaring discrepancies.  Here, let me repeat this quote just in case you didn’t absorb it the last time I shared it:

“For better or worse, we only have a brief window of opportunity to see and correct mistakes in our work.  Over time, we tend to become acclimated to the inaccuracies in our drawings and are unable to see things clearly.  Elements that are stilted or distorted can look or feel correct.  One simple solution to this problem is to take a break every now and then and remember to stand back from your work occasionally.” Pg. 58, Lessons in Classical Drawing, by Juliette Aristides.

My simple still life set-up:

When you look carefully, you will see that the back-right corner slopes down.  The back of my set-up isn’t level.  So when I did my measuring from the “straight back horizon line” and the plumb line (the string in the front of the image), my measurements were off.  My cone was leaning to the right as it should have been due to the downward angle of the right side of the image.  The great news is, I’m getting better at catching this stuff early!

Finally, I worked on Boreas again this week after a couple of weeks off.  Here’s where she is now:

For something I didn’t even think I could do, to begin with, I’m impressed!

Class 3

Yikes this week was hard.  I should have taken pictures during the week and there wasn’t and still isn’t much to look at since it is just a line drawing at this point.


The original plumb line and horizontal were easy.  We used a level to find those.  The angle of the face though, I had to correct that over and over.  I would think I had it correct and start drawing.  Then I would realize that something was off again.  Measure again, move the line, draw again, and it is off again.  Argh!!!!

Another huge learning curve this week has been working with charcoal.  My hands are used to working with graphite more than any other drawing media.  Charcoal is both clumsy and subtle at the same time and requires practice, practice, practice.  The charcoal pencils are not the same thing at all.  They don’t erase, the texture of the pigment is coarser even with the softest charcoal pencil.  I didn’t figure this out until I started practicing my “scales”.  1 and 2 were done with a soft charcoal pencil.  The far left was done with soft vine charcoal.  It is much easier to blend, easier to erase, and horrible to put any kind of point on.

This was a mighty frustrating week.  The line drawing above is about 15 hours worth of work.  I know this wasn’t an easy drawing to do even for a Bargue drawing.  I do think, however, that I’m learning more because it is an increased level of difficulty.  I don’t know what I was doing wrong with my measuring, and next time, I will be even more careful at the beginning and document my line lengths.

Update –

I began adding the darkest shadows to the drawing, and look at this!  Yes, there are many things I have to fix (thank you charcoal…) and this is about an hour and a half of additional work.

So the one thing I truly understand is that measuring is hugely important.  Because I was able to get those lines precisely where they belong, the short time I put into this sketch working on the shadows is a likeness of the original!  Never mind that I don’t have any of the subtle shading in place.  Since the lines and proportions are correct, it reads as the same person.

Almost There

I’m so close.  I’m so close I’ve actually signed the paintings.  I still can’t let them go.  There was something about the third painting that just wasn’t quite right yet, and I didn’t know what it was.

This month, my focus, in general, has been on asking the right questions.  It’s easy to ask something silly like, “Why do I always do this?” to which your brain will answer, “because you’re a schmuck!”  It takes thought to ask the right questions, and the right questions are the ones that propel you forward in whatever you are doing.  The movie I Robot was all about asking the right questions.  Here was my dilemma.  I have this set of paintings.  They look awesome.  However, the large one just isn’t up to the level of the other two.  I looked at them on my phone.  I turned them upside down.  I went outside and looked at them through the window.  I turned the easel around and didn’t look at them at all for days.  I’ve been stewing in my own juices wondering what I’m missing.  Yes, I’m stubborn.  I wanted to figure it out for myself!  Since my theme this month is about asking the right questions, the answer was, obviously, that I was asking the wrong ones!

How can I look at this differently?  Since I’m focusing mostly on a drawing class right now, I decided to take my photograph and convert it to black and white to see what that showed me.  The subtlety of shading is far more pronounced in a black and white picture because the distraction of color has been removed.  Look what I found:


See how the smaller two paintings jump off the canvas?  The third one in comparison looks flat.  It is still gorgeous, it just isn’t there yet.  This is what was missing, the delicate shading that brings the other two to life.  Soon… I’m almost there!

Class 2 Part 2

Here is where I ended up, I ran out of time.




I may come back to finish it later.

I’m still working on softer and lighter lines.  Here’s a quote from the textbook, Lessons in Classical Drawing, by Juliette Aristides that says it all:

“One of the most immediate things beginners can do to improve their work is to draw lightly.  When a student gets too dark right away, it creates an emphatic statement, essentially saying, “I know I am right.” This presumption is bad for the work.  An artist who starts off too dark and specific in their work will find their drawing finished long before they intended and not know how to go back.  Furthermore, it is often difficult to erase heavy beginning lines.”

Kipaipai -Class 2 Part 1

Week 2 of Kipaipai Atelier Drawing Class — Part 1:

  • I’m already much better at discerning differences.
  • I still need to work on my grey scale.
  • I could easily spend all my time drawing, I’m falling in love with it all over again.
  • Rose started us with blocking in tonal shapes, not letting us use many measurements. I think she wants us to get a feel for the shapes and worry about measuring it later.
  • I’m still having difficulty controlling the pencil for “side of pencil” shading. Practice, practice, practice…
  • The kneaded eraser doesn’t leave crap all over the drawing or the table and erases more cleanly. Who knew?  Rose did of course.
  • On the sheet of “what to do before drawing”: Observe:
    • Gesture
    • Relationships
    • Repeating lines
    • Repeating shapes
    • If these are in place, your finished piece of work will stand on its own. This is a missing piece of many of my previous paintings.  I just draw or paint what I see, whatever it is that interests me about a certain subject.  Luckily, what I see often corresponded with these relationships.  Here’s an example.  This is the painting I analyzed by Bouguereau.  I converted it to black and white to make it simpler to work with, and I was fascinated by it:



The energy in this simple painting is amazing.  I thought it was all about the curves, and the more I looked, the more I realized it’s all about triangles.  There are relationships EVERYWHERE.  The elbow to the nose.  The end of the hook through her skirt to her elbow.  Left elbow to the hat.  Even her head with hair makes a triangle.  It is simply amazing.  These relationships are what keeps the eye focused on the painting.  I knew I liked it when I picked it, and I had no idea why until I actually LOOKED at it.  I thought; corset, Irish, wench, sea.  Then, I saw relationship, relationship, relationship, and more relationship.  I only detailed a few of them in my drawing.  I sincerely doubt that I will ever plan my paintings the way I used to ever again.  This alone will take my art to the next level.

  • I’m already pulling my hand away from the drawing to do the measuring. Each day I use that skill I get better at it.  Today was difficult again because holding my arm still while outstretched is a completely new thing to do and I have to develop those muscles.
  • In looking at master drawings I found some of Waterhouse’s preliminary sketches.


This is a preliminary sketch for Lady of Shalott and the finished painting.

His sketches look a lot like mine!  This is an incentive for me to stop judging my initial drawings.  This is all about getting the idea down on paper so that you don’t lose the thought.  Fleshing it out happens later.  It is nothing more than shorthand; a mnemonic reminder of the image in an artist’s head.

I have barely started my drawing for the next class.  I’m too busy exploring all the other wonderful stuff I’m figuring out as I go along!

Back to School at Kipaipai

I finally found a classical atelier where I could take classes here on the Big Island, and classes began this month. I have permission from my teacher, Rose Adare, to post my insights from our classes here to my blog.

As you may know, I’m almost completely self-taught, since I didn’t have any interest in painting until I moved to Hawaii in my 40s, and believe me, I am well aware of the gaps in my knowledge and constantly strive to correct them.


Here is my first drawing after the first class.

  • I picked this image because I thought it would be easy. Funny me.
  • Early on, I realized the importance of padding my drawing paper.  The texture from my drawing board was coming through on my actual drawing.
  • Measure once.  Mark.  Measure twice again, from different directions.  THEN make a darker mark.
  • It is important to begin a drawing with lighter lines, and this one I have to work on.  It leaves room for changes.  Darker lines seem more complete and close off a drawing from further improvements both physically and emotionally.
  • I’m too lazy to use multiple pencils at this point.  I’d rather use one and figure out how dark is dark using pressure than having to figure that out for multiple pencils.


Here is my second drawing:


  • It isn’t finished, and it is significantly better already.
  • I used a 5B pencil rather than the 2B I used on the first drawing.
  • Even during the second drawing my measuring skills have increased dramatically, especially since I am measuring with my left hand while drawing with my right.
  • This is the sight-size method, we are drawing images the same size as the original.  Not having to adjust for scale (increasing or decreasing the size of the original image) makes this process much easier.  No grid, no ruler.  We use a bamboo skewer or a pencil to measure from the master drawing to the paper.




Not to worry, I continue to paint at the same time!  Seahorse update to follow!

Seahorses on the Way

I’m sorry for the delay in posting.  I have been focusing on finally getting the website up and running.

Currently, I am working on a triptych of seahorses.  Two paintings I have done at the same time, but three is a new thing for me.  This is only the first layer, and my goal is to have each of these paintings stand on their own or as a part of the set.  I’m “deep in the uglies” as I like to call it, and I can see glimmers of where this will go when I’m done.  The theory is, by working on all three paintings at the same time, I can keep the style the same throughout.  If I completed one painting at a time, it is likely that my style or choice of painting methods would change, and end up not working as well together.

I have been working on these at my weekly “paint at the farm” events on Tuesdays.  Names for the paintings haven’t come to me yet.  They will as the personality develops.

Thank you for looking!

Dreaming of Home Complete!

Dreaming of Home, oil on canvas 24″ x 30″


This is my first painting from working under the tutelage of Rose Adare.  I have learned so much, and I have so far to go!  There is so much I love about this painting.  Papa goose looks toward Maui, as though he longs to go home.  Mama is keeping an eye on us, protective of her goslings, and the two babies mirror their parent’s poses as children do.  The name of the painting came to me long before the mountains appeared in the background.  I didn’t know why, but that was the name of this painting, Dreaming of Home.