Leaping Squirrel and Suggesting Detail

Squirrel Drawing
Graphite and white charcoal on grey paper, 8.5″ x 5.5″

Today I drew this squirrel, and although it took awhile to finish it would have been much longer if I hadn’t of just suggested most of the detail, so I thought I’d write a bit about that.

Basically, some areas of an image will benefit much more from high detail levels, while in other areas a lot of detail would either contribute little to the image or would even distract from the main focus. A lot of time could be wasted trying to perfectly draw or paint things that really only need to be vaguely indicated to get a sense of space or setting. These are the things that inform the viewer of what sort of a scene it is and generally what’s happening, but aren’t the actual subject of the image.

Here, I put the most of the detail in the squirrel’s face and paws. The further you look in the background the more vague details become until they’re just shapes, and that spared me having to painstakingly draw thousands of pine needles. Even the needles in the foreground are quickly sketched, and the shadows are really just dark shapes with no detail at all. Still, I hope it gives the illusion of a scene set within a dense mass of branches and needles.

This approach is often seen in portrait paintings where the face and maybe hands are carefully painted with high detail, but folds of clothing may simply be indicated with broad single brushstrokes. Part of that is because those are interesting portions of a person and tell us a lot about who they are and what they’re doing. Accurately painting every detail of the buttons on their clothes, for example, would not normally tell us any additional or useful information. By only suggesting the existence of detail, without elaborately describing each detail, an artist can direct the focus to what’s actually important while also saving time.

The narrower depth of field on the left has fewer distracting details.
The narrower depth of field on the left has fewer distracting details.

In photography, a similar idea would be referred to as subject isolation, meaning that the subject that’s in focus is clearly distinguished from the rest of the scene that’s out of focus. The rest of the scene is still important, because again it gives the viewer at least some idea of where the subject is and maybe what’s happening around them, but when everything is in perfect focus at once the other details can sometimes just be a distraction, like in the example above. Of course this isn’t to say you should never have everything in focus, such as in landscape photography, just that in many cases there’s benefits to letting extraneous details blur away.

For me, in the case of drawing and painting, it’s saving time that’s the main attraction.

Amazon Affiliates links:
Strathmore gray toned sketch book, 5.5″ x 8.5″
Pentel GraphGear 500 pencil
General’s black and white charcoal pencils

Desert Sunset

Thin Red and Gold Sunset
Conte crayon and pastel pencil on grey paper, 8.5″ x 5.5″

I don’t think I posted the photo for this before, but it was taken five years ago while on a train crossing the desert. Probably somewhere in Nevada, looking back while traveling east.

Desert Sunset 1 ref

Amazon Affiliate links:
Strathmore gray toned sketch book, 5.5″ x 8.5″
Conte crayon 4 color set
Stump and tortilla paper blenders

This past week I also worked on a couple of large drawings, one of which I posted on Instagram here.

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep on Rocks
Graphite and pastel on grey paper, 5.5″ x 8.5″

A few months ago I went to the Denver Zoo and took a photo of a Dall sheep, which is like a bighorn sheep but white. Wikipedia says it’s a subspecies of thinhorn sheep, so I guess the horns aren’t so big either. By the way, I’m posting things on Instagram now, here, and I’m thinking that I might post things like sketches or works in progress there before posting them here.

Amazon Affiliates links:
Strathmore gray toned sketch book, 5.5″ x 8.5″
Pentel GraphGear 500 pencil
Tombow MONO Zero Eraser
Conté à Paris white pastel pencils

Yellow Ochre and Mars Yellow Oil Paints

Yellow Ochre and Mars Yellow Comparison Chart

There’s a large variety of both natural and synthetic yellow ochres, and as one least expensive pigments it’s been a way for me to try different brands while also getting a useful paint. The natural version is normally called yellow ochre, and the synthetic version is Mars yellow, but paint makers can label their paints with whatever name they want. This includes using the name yellow ochre for paint made with the synthetic pigment. I’ll just call them all yellow ochre here.

Obviously most of the common yellow ochres, seen in the top half of the chart, are very similar to each other in color, so I would suggest just choosing only one or two at the most. Synthetic ones tend to have higher tinting strength, which is seen by how well the paint retains its color when mixed with white, and are also almost always more opaque. The exception would be the transparent mars yellows at the bottom.

Other aspects of the paint, such as how loose or stiff it is, may be very different even between paints that are similar in color. For example, the Old Holland paints above are the stiffest, while the M Graham and Winsor & Newton paints were much looser. Blockx was smooth and buttery, but not as stiff as Old Holland. The paints I made were loose and had no stabilizers added.

The more exotic ochres at the bottom aren’t seen as often in paint lines but have a greater variety of opacity and hue. A few of them I made myself from dry pigments. In some cases, such as the orange ochre from Rublev, those can also be bought as already made paint. I just don’t have those paints myself and my efforts to make paint shouldn’t be taken as good examples of what the already made paint would be like.

A couple of especially notable paints in this chart are the lemon ochre for its brightness and clarity and the orange ochre for how similar it already is to certain skin tones when just mixed with white. If I were to just choose two, those would be my favorites.

All of these swatches were mixed with Williamsburg titanium white. I tried to mix equal amounts but could have been a little off. The photo was taken in sunlight and white balanced in Photoshop, but may not be perfectly accurate. Some of these tubes were old and may not represent what these brands currently produce.

Amazon Affliates links:
M Graham yellow ochre
Winsor & Newton yellow ochre pale
Williamsburg yellow ochre (domestic)

Draw a Bird Day – Savannah Sparrow

Draw a Bird Day - Savannah Sparrow
Graphite and white pastel on tan paper, 9″ x 12″

This little sparrow had his portrait taken by me last spring, and although I’ve probably drawn this exact same bird before in another pose I wanted to do another sparrow.

I was thinking about when Jesus was reassuring that God has taken a deep interest in each of us, saying “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 NIV)

I’m glad that Jesus chose a common sparrow for that illustration, and not something more majestic. Otherwise, there might be room for someone to think that they were too small for God to notice.

Mountains Into Plains

Colorado Front Range
Watercolor on 140lb paper, 10.5″ x 8″

This view is seen near the view in the last post. When traveling east it’s one of the first sights of the plains beyond the mountains.

I taped the paper to a large acrylic sheet to give it a firm back while on my easel. It’s lit from above by a long LED shop light as part of the new setup I’m trying. The brushes used were two ox hair brushes. One was a small round and the other a medium large flat. For paints I mostly used my own Payne’s grey mix (1:1 of ultramarine and raw umber), burnt sienna, and ivory black. There’s also some cerulean blue gouache, mostly in the sky, and a little bit of green earth hue and Indian yellow.