Resting Tiger

Relaxed Tiger
Ink and white gouache on tan paper, 7″ x 7.5″

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.

Winter’s End

Snowy Cliffs
Oil on canvas, 10″ x 8″

A couple of weeks ago I took the train again to visit family across the mountains and I noticed a distant mountain that still had snow on it. Using a Nikon P900, which zooms really far, I got a photo and then later sketched it before making the painting above.

The reference photo isn’t very clear because of distortions from the train window, which happens with other cameras I’ve tried, but it works for my purposes. The sketch is entirely gel pen a new Stillman and Birn sketchbook. A lot of it was drawn while waiting in the lobby of a tax preparer’s office or while my niece and nephew were getting haircuts while surrounded by the chaos of little kids.

After that I colored it in with some watercolor pencils, which are very useful when traveling, and used a waterbrush to turn the colored pencil into watercolor. A lot of the brown in the foreground is walnut ink that I had loaded into a brushpen with an extra piston ink converter that lets me use any compatible ink in it. For those areas I didn’t use the waterbrush and instead just let the ink hydrate the watercolor pencil if there was any. The shadows in the foreground are actually a regular colored pencil because I accidentally discovered that one pencil in the set, the indigo, is partly water soluble for some reason. A couple of the others were too, but not as much.

The final oil painting is the first finished oil painting that I’ve made in about five months, and it was a nice change of pace from watercolor. Some of the paints used in it are ones I made myself, such as burnt sienna, orange ochre, and one of the white paints. The others were from various brands. For a medium I was mostly using a small amount of safflower oil mixed with odorless mineral spirits.

By the way, lately I’ve been a lot more active on Instagram than here, so if you guys haven’t looked yet there’s a lot of new drawings and paintings posted here.

Mule Deer in Snow

Winter Mule Deer
Watercolor on Yupo (synthetic paper), 7″ x 5″

It’s a new week, the very last week of 2016, and yesterday on Instagram I posted the palette theme for the week. All of the blueish black is sodalite. The brown of the deer is a mix of everything on the palette except green, which didn’t get used in this painting.

The paper is called Yupo, a polypropylene sheet that’s very smooth. Watercolor works completely different on it. It’s easy to completely wipe it clean. Actually, it’s so easy that it can be a little challenging when you’re accidentally removing paint. Working on this is almost like digital art in a way, because you can edit and undo each brushstroke to a degree that normal paper never can. That was very important for this scene, as I kept modifying various elements while working. While I’ll need some more practice to do finished paintings on this well, it seems like it’ll work great for compositional planing, since it can be changed so easily.

Rocky Mountain

Evening Mountain in Watercolor
Watercolor on printmaking paper, 4″ x 6.75″

I want to start a fresh approach to this blog by using a weekly palette theme. Yesterday on Instagram I posted this five color watercolor palette. That’s the palette used here, with all five colors being used (viridian + burnt sienna made some of the darker browns). Over the next few days I’ll try painting a variety of subjects with these.

The goal with this approach is to grow by finding and overcoming challenges. Also, it’ll be a motivation to get out some less used paints. If you guys have any suggestions, maybe in another medium as well, let me know.

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.

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.