Lately I’ve been practicing with a newly bought dip pen. I like the tactile sense of the nib on the paper. The white is white gouache, thinned with a little water and applied to the nib with a brush. It’s not as convenient as ink, but opens more possibilities.
The reference photo was one I recently took at the new tiger exhibit at the Denver Zoo. I had wanted to practice sumi-e painting and tried it with an ink stick on an old roll of paper. Then I started trying other papers, and on every painting tried a different brush. In the end they didn’t seem very successful, so I’ll have to more practice again, but after a few days I decided to revisit the same photo with the dip pen.
This is one of a couple of deer I saw while taking a long walk at the Highline Lake State Park last week. I liked the pose as it stepped over a branch.
On the reference photo I made a grid and some diagonal lines to make it easier to see where different areas of the body are in relation to each other, but there was no grid on the paper. Transferring a drawing from a photo to paper using a grid on both can really help to get good accuracy, but the process is so slow that I don’t enjoy it. This was still slow because it was partly relying on that method, but I feel like if a drawing can’t be transferred by sight then it means more practice is needed, which is still something I need. Besides that, I tried using some sight-sizing, which is where you hold a pencil between you and the subject and use your thumb to measure the length of various things. That way you don’t accidentally draw a line disproportionately long and it’s faster than using a grid.
In the first try the proportions were off because I was going purely by sight and not measuring anything. Since the drawing was going to be started again anyways it was an opportunity to try different pencils and charcoal on that paper, so that’s why it looks a little messy.
The second try was drawn just with my favorite pencil, a .3mm Pentel graphgear 500 with either 2H or 4H lead. I have both and I’m not sure which is actually in it. The eraser was a thin Tombow mono. The drawing was going pretty well, but there wasn’t a finalized plan for what to do in the rest of the composition or what kind of background to use, so I decided to place everything in an oval with a simple background. After watching a video on how to draw ovals it went surprisingly well.
The background sky is just a Prismacolor light cerulean that’s heavily applied in two layers and smoothed out with a Derwent blender pencil.
This is the same valley in the Rocky Mountains seen in this post a couple of weeks ago. The brown is walnut ink from a fountain pen, which is not waterproof and in some places I used a wet brush to blend it. The black is from a Micron brush pen.
Mostly I just started drawing this to try out the combination of tools. I haven’t used this brush pen for a long time and wanted practice making something with the tools that I’m planning on taking on a trip. It was kind of tedious doing all of the shading though. Getting some grey ink might have been better than crosshatching with the very tip of the brush pen.
A couple of weeks ago I saw this American robin in the aspen tree in front of my house. For some reason birds always act like they think you’ll reach up and grab them, even though my arms clearly aren’t that long (and I wouldn’t, anyways). All of the paints for this I made myself from dry pigments.
Here’s a drawing from yesterday that was made with a fountain pen. It’s actually a copy of one of the photos I posted here about four years ago.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I saw these two deer from a distance and got a few photos to use as reference material, but the photos really weren’t great for just copying as they were. Between being on a moving train, to the sky being overcast with poor lighting, and using an old manual focus lens at a distance, I’m just happy that I got anything useable. So here’s an example of using a reference photo or two just as a reference that I can adjust while drawing, rather than something to slavishly copy.
To start with, the original crooked photo was cropped and edited a bit for contrast and sharpness. Then, I decided the tree on the right should be much closer in, because otherwise it wouldn’t have even been in the framing of the drawing. The viewing angle in the drawing was also lowered from the original photo so more vaguely vegetated background would be visible, because at the original angle none of the background would have appeared on the page. The far left foreground tree was added to give a little weight to that side of the drawing, hoping to help the composition, and a second deer was added so the scene would be a little less empty. The composition really wasn’t thought out as well as it should have been though.
This is a crop of another photo taken a moment later after the two deer started moving away, which was when I realized that there was a second deer. I’m not sure which of these two deer was in the first photo, so I may have just drawn the same one twice. That’s a useful approach because a few photos of the same animal in different poses can be drawn later even as an entire herd.
Back when I was in school I remember feeling like drawing just from imagination was what I should always try to do, because people would always ask if I had made something “out of your head” and would always act more impressed if that was the case. The result of always doing that was things didn’t really look right, or even recognizable, because I didn’t have a good understanding of how they actually did look. That’s gained from practice and thorough study, not from just making things up based on how you think they should look.
Since then I’ve kind of gone the other direction and often feel like I can’t draw anything if I’m not looking at something. Then I often just copy what’s there. I think the real point and usefulness of reference photos is to have something that you can conveniently look at later for ideas or to see the details of how something naturally looks, but then to build a composition from that, not to just copy the references in a way that’s only transferring the image from one medium into another.