I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen.
-Frederick Franke, The Zen of Seeing
This is one of my favorite quotes about drawing by an artist because it speaks directly to my own experience as an artist. Drawing is visual revelation in action. We "look" at things all the time, but do we really "see" them. Consider this, can you recall exactly what a loved one or co-worker you saw a few hours ago was wearing? We look at people all the time, but do we really see them?
The exuberance of Nature in Summertime is dazzling to the eye and heart. It is easy to be distracted by the new freedom within our personal schedule. In our haste to relax and look at more, we snap a quick picture for memories, and for future reference in the studio. We tell ourselves as artists, we will draw it later...when I have time. But, what do we really remember? Do we really revisit those reference photos in the studio? If we do, what of the vitality of the subject do we bring to the page?
Think about it. How many times were you so pleased by what you drew in the field? Many, many, I am guessing. And then how many times we you disappointed by the results of a studio sketch, seeming accurate, but lifeless?
For me, drawing in situ is the ideal way to to continue learning to see. So this week, I encourage you, just draw what is right in front of you and really see it.
This week's sketch examples are two such drawings. The first was drawn on Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina while I was hiking with friends. It was an amazing forest filled with trees like the one here covered with lichen and ferns. Now it is true that my friends did hike more than me and got to see more spectacular views that I missed, but I would not trade my hour with this tree for those other experiences. Sometimes as artists we must weigh the quality vs. quantity of seeing. The other sketch of flowers I did while waiting for a friend at a bus stop at Stanford University. I don't know the name of the flowers, but their form and the graceful line of their vine I will not forget and it certainly passed the time beautifully!
Cat and Dragonfly, 8"x10", Block Print on Mulberry Paper, 2017, MEC.
Above are a series of block prints of the same image in different colored inks and on different tints and textures of handmade papers. Block printing is a medium that allows you as the the artist to explore the same image with different colors, values and textures. Here is how it is done:
I first created a line sketch on tracing paper. While sketching I consider how I will create a "hierarchy of line." In other words, which lines will be thinner and which thicker. Remember the human eye is drawn to darker, bolder lines, so those lines will appear to come forward or rather be in the foreground; whereas thinner, more delicate lines recede and will appear to be "behind" the bolder lines in the picture plane. Also, I consider where I want the viewer of the work to look first, second, third..etc. By creating a hierarchy of line I can create visual movement that draws the viewer not only into the illusion of spatial depth in the work, but around the work. My composition employs not only line but, value (darks and lights) in order to enhance movement, create emphasis as well as balance and unity through the definition of positive and negative space.
I like to draw the final image on the block with a permanent marker in such a way that I capture the line variety I am trying to maintain. This helps me be able to focus on just careful cutting of the block rather than trying to remember while I am cutting which lines should be thick and which should be thin and which should be positive (left in high relief) and which should be cut away (negative cuts).
Using a block carving knife with a variety of tips, including an x-acto knife for particularly detailed and delicate areas, I begin to remove the block material where I want to paper to be exposed (light values) and keep clean sharp edges area the high areas which will be "inked" to insure a clear, sharp image.
Here is the completed cut print block. The first few prints are "proofs" to see if I need to return to the block with the cutting tools in order to make corrections, edits, or just simply sharpen up some areas. You will notice that the block is inked and ready for printing revealing the "highs" and "lows" of the relief that the original pencil line sketch has become. I like to keep some of the accidental lines to give directional movement and texture to my block print designs. You could say it is part of my style as a block print artist.
On the inking plate I mix my colors. Here I have a combination of brown, copper and a touch of black. I use scrap paper for a few practice rolls of the roller in order to be sure the ink covers to roller evenly before I ink the plate. I try to be sure that the ink is rolled on the plate evenly and thoroughly, but not thickly as a thick application of ink on the plate will cause the image edges to be blurred.
Handmade, absorbent, flexible, soft papers are best. Be sure to use papers that are labeled as being for block printing. The paper is gently placed on top of the plate (you do not "flip" the plate, that would be messy and difficult to keep the image and paper edges square). Once the paper is in place, I firmly, but gently use the round tool with the wooden handle, called a baren, to smoothly and evenly press the paper on the plate being sure that I work from center out to the edges and all around the image. Different tooth (roughness or smoothness) of papers and different textures from fibers and other materials within the paper (I am fond of papers with leaves and flowers embedded in them) will create different effects with the printed image. I enjoy experimenting and trying to create thematic connections between the paper materials and the subject in the image. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!
Watercolor Carp Sketch, Spring 2017, MEC
I have always enjoyed sketching. There is a real pleasure to freeing yourself from concerns about "product" and simply being present to the subject before you. While sketching, I like to be sure that I am also aware of my thought process. e.g. what is attracting me toward the subject? Is it the color? The movement? Its form? All the above? I also like to capture the immediacy of the "thing." In other words, what is important to me to express in my work is to express the subject's being and presence to another person who encounters the subject through my art work. As an artist I see myself as a conduit of an experience rather than "creator."
With this in mind, when working in the studio, I find that revisiting sketches through different media can help me bring further aspects of the subject as I experienced it to the forefront. Therefore, the subject can be encountered in a new way since certain media emphasize various elements of art and thereby emphasis aspects of the subject that perhaps were not expressed as strongly in the initial sketch.
At this point, best to look at an example. See above the watercolor sketch of the carp. This was done initially as an in class demo for fish anatomy, specifically the line of the spine, fin placement and posture as the fish moves through the water. Movement was a primary principle of design I was seeking to capture. As I worked on the sketch, I began to think about how values underwater are reversed, with the highlights on the underside and the dark values on the back of the fish (this is Nature's way of giving the fish a camouflage advantage). Working in watercolor, I find it impossible not to think about color. Here I sought to harmonize the palette as a reflection of the smooth, rhythmic movements of the fish as it swims rather than be a slave to exact colors of the specific fish.
I liked the sketch. (which does not always happen, but remember for each one you don't like you are one step closer to one you do!) So much so that I decided revisit it in a different medium, silk painting. Now silk painting is all about color, value, and line. Notice how those elements of art take precedence just because of the nature of the medium.
Next, I decided to emphasize the elements of value and line in order to create a strong sense of movement so I brought the sketch to the printing block. Here composition and the play of light and dark, which is an essential element to the fish's survival in its natural environment became the focus. Balancing the composition both in positive and negative space as well as values of light and dark was essential to create a unified whole while (hopefully!) making the fish moving gracefully in its environment present to the viewer.
Here are some links to some amazing creative projects in a variety of media that I hope you find insprational to you:
The Silk Pavilion Project:
The Crochet Coral Reef:
Paper Engineer and Artist:
Dance Your Dissertation:
The Wave Organ
Check out the work of artists Robert Johnson, who began his career as an abstract painter, then a scientific illustrator, and now paints realistically as he is inspired by natural environments and the people who live there...exciting story, exciting work! I had the privilege of hearing him lecture about his life and work.
Check out the work of Ron Miller!
A mandala (Sanskrit: मण्डल, lit, circle) is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. In common use, "mandala" has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm or small universe in itself.
I am back after two weeks of travel and I hope this post finds you well, rested, relaxed, and being creative! Wondering what professional artists and educators do during the summer? Part of the time I have that is my own I spend time with other like minded artists and educators doing things like getting feedback, sharing ideas and our current work, and discussing topics that are important to us. What do professional artists talk about? They talk about things like: new techniques and media and subject matter we share a passion for. We also spend time together drawing, painting and hiking in the great outdoors, making music, and dancing...just generally having enjoyable, creative time together.
Why is this essential? Because even though creating art often demands many hours of hard work alone pursuing your own personal vision and ideas, one cannot remain positive, and sustain your own growth and creativity in a vacuum. You have to have feedback and input to reenergize and restore your creative spirit. It is also valuable too to try new things. This can inform your work in surprising and wonderful ways. It's all about balance! New people, new conversations, and new places can go a long way to help. That is why I belong to three professional artists groups: The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, Silk Painters International, and the Maryland Federation of Art.
This is past week I spent in Asheville, NC with the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. While there I presented a paper I am writing on the American Artist, William Hamilton Gibson, but, I will discuss more about him in a future post, so stay tuned. I also gave a workshop on silk painting in order to share a medium that I have been discovering in a deeper way over the past three years. Most importantly, I got input! There was an amazing portfolio sharing from over 70 artists. All are currently working as illustrators, animators, and fine artists. I also attended lectures by current working artists that were inspired by the natural world, as well as astronomy. I will be sure to include links for you to explore their work as well. There were also presentations of new media and techniques and round table discussions about art education, how drawing can help humans learn, and professional practices including everything from how to use social media to promote yourself as an artist to best business practices for artists...all good stuff!
By far one of the highlights for me was the community mural. Over 70 artists at the conference worked together to create a 15'x5' mural of three mandalas, each representing different aspects of the flora and fauna of the mountains of Western North Carolina. Each piece of the mandala had a pre-determined design and subject so that in the end it appeared as a unified whole, but each piece was hand drawn and hand colored by individual artists and then all the pieces were assembled, digitally scanned and high resolution printed and mounted for permanent display in the Asheville Museum of Science. Fun! Here are some pictures below to give you a sense of the scale and process.
Your fearless art teacher at a portfolio sharing event.
Here are the Guild members working together on their respective pieces of the nature mandalas. I learn so much during this time about new techniques with colored pencil, watercolor pencil, as well as mixing the media of watercolor, colored pencil and ink...a conversation and demo to look forward to when we return to school!
I focused on using colored pencil with a soft blending technique, especially because I was illustrating a butterfly that had a great deal of white in its wings which require subtle shifts in color and value. You also have an image here showing you how the pieces were laid out and the mandala assembled on large tables.
Here are some details of my work in the assembled mandala of insects and flowers. Note my colleague, Charles, work with the squirrel. He use colored pencil and ink in his piece and added the squirrel for some visual interest. I really loved his work!
Above are the three completed mandalas on display in the Asheville Museum of Science. There was a fun opening for the work with an ice tea and dessert buffet. It was a wonderful evening to celebrate all our work and nice to think the work will be on display helping create exicitement and interest in the natural world for years to come!