I got a nice opportunity this morning to do some sketching from life when my friend Bethany and her daughter, N., came over to feed our chickens some leftovers. The girls (the chickens) know them by now and will stampede them as they walk through our backyard gate like ravenous, feathery, pint-sized heat-seeking missiles that haven’t eaten for weeks.
It’s always an interesting challenge when drawing from life in a setting that is absent from the comforts of air-conditioned interior spaces with convenient places on which to sit–the act of being outside in sticky humidity only August can achieve, balancing a sketchbook with no lap for aid while swatting away mosquitoes and sweating in places you never even knew you could sweat somehow drums the drawing experience into your brain, engraving it into your memory in the way photos cannot: because I drew this series of sketches, I can promise you I will remember this day specifically, how hot it was, and that fact that it rained the night before.
I’ve recently been intrigued by dry point etching. Specifically, a linocut/etching mashup technique I recently stumbled upon while researching all things printmaking. I’m so intrigued, in fact, that I am going to give it a whirl. Here goes, folks.
Now: a word about this process. Up until now I have posted one completed drawing on the blog every other day or so, and it’s been very good for my artistic practice, to be sure. However, a technique like this will require more time, and more episodic postings because etching and linocut are both tedious and I only work for a few hours or less in the evening.
Honestly, embarking on something like this will also be good for me artistically, as it will get me used to breaking up my art-making process into bite-sized manageable chunks I can look forward to each night. This way, I can feel more confident about taking on bigger and bigger projects. EVERYONE WINS.
Ok, enough of that. Let’s talk process.
So, the first thing to do for an etching is to make a drawing of what the etching will look like. Then, when you are satisfied with your sketch, you place a piece of plexiglass, mylar, or other clear plastic that can be easily scratched into, on top of your drawing and begin the crosshatch your darks. (More on that later.)
So: here is the finished sketch I made of a little still-life I set up on my drafting table. If any of my former students are reading this blog, which I highly doubt they are, they would immediately recognize this skull and maybe even shudder a little at the memory of having to draw it a bazillion times.
But you know, this llama skull is cool. I bought it because it’s fun to draw, and I know I could draw it a bazillion times and probably not get too sick of it. Probably.
Drawing this skull last evening also told me that I definitely need to acquire more animal skulls. (I mean, can you have too many?? The answer is no.) One of my former professors had a cat skull and a horse skull, both of which I often looked upon with envy.
What kind of skull do YOU think should I get next?
No, I didn’t get contacts, I ditched those back in college. Drawing glasses can be a real pain and sometimes they just doesn’t look good in a drawing, so, there you have it: me, sans spectacles.
I wanted to make a drawing using a “sfumato” technique, mostly because a) I love how it sounds and b) I love how classical it always makes a drawing look, and I was in a classical sort of mood.
I actually just about gave up on this piece because I wasn’t sure if I liked the direction in which it was going (and am still not sure how I feel about the finished product) but I figured I got this far so I might as well finish the thing because any drawing is good practice.
Aside from the fact that the above sentence sounds like either a bad book title or something a hillbilly might tell his doctor when asked what is ailing him, we do, in fact, have a whole family of possums lurking in our crawlspace.
We first caught a possum on a Ring camera we have outside, and after several nights we noticed one possum became two, then four, then six, and then one large one started carrying some nesting material back and forth with its tail. Obviously, this posse of possums found a great piece of real estate and they were MOVIN’ IN.
We will probably end up calling someone to relocate them, but in the meantime we had a fun date hanging out back in the cooling breeze of a summer sunset, waiting to see if any of our new possum friends decided to poke its head around the corner and greet us.
It can be very hard sometimes to limit myself to just a few implements, and there is something to be said for “kitchen sink drawings,” however, it is often best to just grab a couple of markers or a pen or a pencil or whatever is in front of you and go to it, especially when time is of the essence.
For example: this drawing was done in about 10 minutes flat, as my friend sat on the couch and tried to distract my toddler while he was angrily flinging books in my face, slapping my knees with toys, and getting increasingly more agitated at my lack of attention.
Needless to say, I drew FAST.
And honestly? I think this is one of my better drawings. So: once again, less is more, and I’m back to trying to heed the advice of Martin Salisbury of letting the “approach serve the drawing’s purpose” and no more.
Often, the most bland photographs make for the best drawings. (Likewise, the best photographs make the worst drawings. No one looks good in a drawing when they are smiling. EVER. And I stand by that!)
Take this one, for example.
As I said in a prior post, it is best to draw from life–especially if you aren’t very familiar with drawing the human figure–but this is not always possible once you step outside of art school. People generally have very little time or patience to sit for long periods of time like a paid model is willing to do.
This picture was just a snap shot, one of those you take with your phone that you’ll likely completely forget about soon afterwards. However, it stood out to me in a way that all of the other smiling family portraits did not. The composition of the figures, the positioning of the limbs and fabric (ok, I added the stripes. Artistic license.) and the contemplative look on both girls’ faces screamed to be turned into a drawing.
A long time ago I was fortunate enough to see a special exhibit on Andrew Wyeth at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it was AH-MAY-ZING.
They had just about every scrap of painting and drawing the guy ever did, all collated into one, huge, fantastic show. The opening picture, smack in the middle of the wall when you walked in, was “Soaring.” I could almost feel the wind whipping at the feathers of the birds depicted in the surreal landscape, as I felt somewhat sorry for the hundreds (thousands?) of gallery-goers in various museums around the US, sadly staring up at blank frame-shaped patches of wall once holding these beautiful works, now displaying a “temporarily on loan” sign in their place.
Ah, well. C’est la vie. Meanwhile, I feasted my eyes.
Tonight’s monotype print was inspired by one of my favorite Wyeth pieces, a painting entitled, “Trodden Weed.” (Feet modeled after yours truly.)
One of the things I love about Wyeth’s work is how his paintings cannot help but make you feel.
So, I leave you with this question tonight: How does this monotype make you feel?
You know how at some fine dining establishments they often have those dishes that are supposedly served “two ways?”
Well, here is my friend, Lora, who now appears on tonight’s blog in two ways!
The below image is a pencil sketch I made in order to create a trace monotype print (like the image from the last post), only this time I used standard Kozo paper (a good idea–the Strathmore was really too thick for it, and I knew that at the time, but I figured what the heck, why not give it a try?) and burnt sienna Akua ink to give the finished product a warmer tone.
I drew the sketch during lunch–dodging M’s spaghetti-flinging and meeting his rowdy, medieval tavern-esque demands for more milk–in the hopes that it would save me time on the printmaking end, which it did. Huzzah! This also means an earlier bedtime for me, DOUBLE-HUZZAH!
M. has been waking up at those hours where no matter WHAT you do, you just can’t fall back asleep. (I’m looking at you, 3 and 4 am…) So, in light of this situation, all I’ve got tonight is just a simple, tiny bather, using a not-so-simple method.
There is a second kind of monotype printing process besides the dark field monotype (still my favorite) and I wanted to give it a quick go because why not?
In this type of monoprint, a thin layer of dark ink is rolled onto glass–much like what you do for a dark field–but this time, you delicately lay a sheet of paper down on top of it, practically letting it float on top of the ink. On top of this you can add a sketch, carefully tape it to the paper on top of the ink, and trace the sketch with a drawing implement (preferably a sharpened pencil or pen) bearing down upon the sketch so the paper underneath picks up the ink on the bottom. Peel away, and hopefully, the drawing comes out without too many smudges (or worse yet, just a big black blob).
These types of monoprint are really a pain. But I will say that they do give a very interesting-looking line effect that cannot be replicated by any drawing tool.
Many people erroneously think they would make terrible models.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” they say, and list off a myriad of excuses, “I’m not attractive enough. I’m too tall/short/old/petite, I don’t like my face/arms/flab/wrinkles/scars”…you name it.
But I’m convinced something magical happens when a person is drawn.
One of my college professors once told me about a figure drawing session in which the model, after taking a look at all of the artist’s studies of her, said, “Wow, is that me? I didn’t know I looked that good!” To which, everyone responded emphatically, “UM, YES! You do look that good!”
And guess what? The model was a regular person. not a swimsuit model, not a runway model, not a Maybelline model, not super young, not super fit, just….an average person with an average life.
We artists see the beautiful in the average. So go ahead, artists: talk your friends into sitting for you in a drawing session. They may be pleasantly surprised.