Drawing Vree

It’s always fun to have a day to myself when I can get out my drawing pencils and sketch. I usually use HB graphite pencils, charcoal pencils, and white chalk pencils on 98 lb. mix media paper bound in sketchbooks. Currently, I’m using a Canson 11×14-inch acid free book, which holds up well when I switch to drawing with pen and ink or use water-based paints.

Today’s drawing is a graphite one I did a few years ago—2018, actually—when I considered adding drawings to my book projects. It’s a drawing of my Vree Erickson character, based on a photo of a teen actor whose name I’ve forgotten. I sometimes pull images of people in the public domain off the web for my morgue files, so she’s probably in her 30s by now. If anyone recognizes her, please comment below.

Vree, sketch 1
Drawing just the basic shapes and proportions

I began with a light sketch and blocked in a basic shape of the girl. After I was satisfied with the proportions, I scanned the drawing for a record of my step-by-step process. Unfortunately, to show you the drawing (in the image above), which was very light, I had to play with the contrast balance to show most of the lines, which pixelated the image. But it’s a good representation, otherwise.

Next, I began shading, which I kept light. I always work from light to dark when I draw.

Vree, sketch 2
I begin adding darks around the face

As I continue, I squint at my reference photo a lot during the shading process as it reduces detail and weakens the value contrasts to a few instead of many. I learned this technique many years ago. I’m an old-school illustrator from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and some of my learning aids (besides classroom teachers) were books written for the beginner illustrator. One of my favorite beginner books is The Illustrator’s Bible by Rob Howard and published by Watson Guptill. It’s a bit outdated (copyrighted 1992) when compared to today’s books on illustration, and not lengthy enough to be a bible IMO, but it taught me a lot about tools and techniques when I thought I knew everything about illustration. Anyone interested can find it at eBay and Amazon.

Another outdated gem is Watson Guptill’s ArtEffects by Jean Drysdale Green, copyrighted 1993. This one is more for the experienced illustrator: less about techniques and strictly about being experimental. Most experienced artists I know (especially the younger generation for some odd reason) HATE experimenting. They stay in a safety zone of proven techniques, which is a shame. Imagine where art would be if Whistler never experimented with technique. His paintings would never have influenced Monet, who would never have influenced the Impressionist movement.

My all-time favorite (old-timer’s) beginner drawing book is The Sierra Club Guide To Sketching In Nature by Cathy Johnson, a first edition copyrighted 1990 (though there are revised editions on the Web). My edition deals with many techniques and mediums to sketch nature, which can be used to sketch other subjects, such as portraits. After all, rendering hair is basically the same as rendering fur.

Vree, sketch 3
I continue adding darker tones

I continue shading (shown above), adding darks and blending and softening edges (as shown below) in her hair, skin, and the fabric of her jacket.

Vree, sketch 4
I begin blending and softening edges while I continue darkening

Since this is a portrait drawing, I concentrated on putting the most detail in her face (shown below). I stopped when I was satisfied with the overall lights, darks, and midtones in her face, neck, and hair. I kept the drawing loose and sketchy the further away from her face. I used the white of the paper shown in her jacket’s drawstrings and the bottom of her hair as directional devices to lead the viewer’s eyes from the bottom of the drawing to the face, which is the point of interest.

Vree, finished, sketch 5
The finished drawing

The tools I used were basic drawing instruments: paper, HB and 2B pencils, a box cutter knife to sharpen the pencils, fine sandpaper to shape the graphite’s point, and kneaded and plastic erasers. I sometimes use blending tools such as stumps, tortillions, cotton swabs, face tissue, and the sides of my fingers, but not this time.

Now I have a (another) drawing (I have too many) of my Vree Erickson character from my Ridgewood stories, based on an actor I don’t remember the name of. I won’t use it to illustrate my books, but it’ll have a place in my sketchbooks, all of which remind me to take a break from writing every few weeks and to keep drawing. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t use it, you will lose it.

Keep doing what you love best.

That’s all for now.

Sketching Critters

I enjoy watching small animals skittering and dashing about with their daily activities. I have my favorites, like chipmunks and squirrels, that I try to capture with pencil and paper. But lately I have been studying birds more than usual. Although I’m not a bird painter, per se, I have done a few paintings with birds in them based on life sketches from my wildlife sketchbooks. And I did a finch painting based entirely from reference sketches.

Sketches in the Sun
Sketches in the Sun, Oil Painting, circa 2001

With so many species of animals, each with its own particular charm and beauty, the wildlife artist never lacks a subject. No matter where you live, there are always animals to sketch—in cities, gardens, parks, forests and farmland. Sketching them in their natural habitat gives you an opportunity to study their fascinating behavior. Whether sitting in a park, at a roadside, at the edge of a river or lake, sketching critters is a wonderful way to spend a day. And your sketches give a rich source of reference for your paintings.

When you have found a subject and settled down, spend a few minutes looking hard at the animal, in the same way as you would carefully consider a still life before starting to paint it. Ask yourself questions such as, “How long is the neck and how much of it disappears when the animal stands up?” This will help you understand the form better. Then, when the animal adopts an interesting pose, begin sketching. You’ll find this is when your patience is tested. The subject moves all the time, so you have to wait until it returns to either the original pose or something close. It might even scurry off or fly away and leave you with an unfinished sketch.

If the animal changes pose quickly and a lot, don’t continue with the sketch—it won’t be precise, and therefore useless for reference. To use your time well, have several sketches of different poses going at once, and dart around the page as the subject shifts position. This is challenging, but you should end up with a page of interesting studies. Don’t worry if the animal you’re sketching doesn’t return to the same pose—just a few lines can be full of information. And get down those shadows too. Their shapes help describe form and make your sketches more convincing.

Spend some time looking at the pattern of fur and feather masses, too—this is essential reference when you come to paint. Try to catch the “personality” of the animal by noticing any characteristic features that make it unique as a species.

You might find it useful to use cubes, oblongs and cylinders to describe the general body shapes. You can also use these to show the relative shapes and sizes of different species. If you are sketching many ducks on a lake, for example, do a whole page of these simple shapes. This is invaluable information when it comes to painting various ducks together. Try to show the size of an individual duck—or any animal, for that matter—by sketching its surroundings.

It goes without saying, of course, that you should take a note of the date, place, and time of day in your sketches—these will help you recall the scene later when working in your studio. Also, note the colors of the animal if you’ve not sketched it in color.

My favorite sketching tool is a box of watercolor pencils, but you should use whatever feels comfortable to you.

So make a day of drawing critters … and happy sketching.

Some Sketchbook Drawings

I like to draw. Figure drawing, cartooning, doodling … you name it. Graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses. Line drawing, shading, hatching, cross-hatching, broken hatching, stippling, entopic graphomania (you make a dot at the location of each imperfection in the drawing paper, then connect the dots using straight or curved lines) — the list could go on if I had more time.

Drawings 01

I have no favorite medium, drawing instrument, or even subject matter. I like to draw … period. As artist Grayson Perry said, “Until we can insert a USB into our ear and download our thoughts, drawing remains the best way of getting visual information on to the page.” But I don’t draw haphazardly unless I’m doodling ideas. And even then I’m aware of what I’m doing, which is usually observing size and viewpoint. The drawings can look childish, but I never toss out any childlike drawing. Most children instinctively draw objects from the viewpoint that gives the most information. So they draw a house from the front, but a truck from the side — because it’s from there that you can see the truck’s cab, trailer and wheels. I still draw that way today; whichever drawing has a viewpoint that gives the viewer the most information is going to be the easiest to understand. That’s what I look for in my artwork (and my writing).

Drawings 02

Everyone has their own ways of expression, and finding ways to say it can be a battle. The power of any kind of art is keeping it simple and understandable. Anyone who can do that can make the uninteresting things in life look complex, advanced, and largely exciting. That’s the true power of art.