Mono Print

Metallic Glue Relief

Tissue Paper Painting

Crayon Etching

Friday, June 15, 2012

Artful Travel: A Sense of Place

This summer, as people begin to head out for day trips and longer vacations, it's worth thinking about bringing some art materials with you to capture a sense of the place you're visiting. Capturing some images of a new place on a camera is always a good idea, and your photographs can serve as reference for future paintings.

Creating a painting or drawing on site is an ideal way to fix the memory of a beautiful location in your mind. But sometimes even if you bring a very scaled down assortment of art supplies, you may not realistically have the time to paint or draw, and taking a photo might be the most practical way to bring a visual souvenir home. Some of my studio students used their own photographs of places they visited to create wonderful paintings.

Amy made this vibrant acrylic painting based on a photo she took during her family's trip to Hawaii. Makes me wish I was there.

Coincidentally, Matthew's family went to Hawaii at a different time, and he used one of his photographs as reference for his first acrylic painting. Although at first, Matthew was reluctant to switch from drawing to painting, he embraced the materials to create this luscious scene of Hawaii.

The reference for this painting of Isabella's was a photograph of a family friend's boat. She made this attractive piece as a gift for the friend. Lucky friend!

Can movies provide inspiration for paintings of places? Why not? In another acrylic painting, Isabella referenced her memory of the truffula trees in the movie The Lorax, based on the Dr. Seuss book. She also added creative color and design elements of her own.

Megan is working on a beautiful acrylic painting of a Cape Cod lighthouse. Since her family tradition is to spend part of their summer vacations together on the Cape, her photograph of this location had special meaning for her. As she began to block in flat areas of color, her painting reminded me of Fairfield Porter's work, and I shared a book of his paintings with her. Seeing this American master's work validated Megan's decision to continue to explore flat color, with some painterly additions. Can't wait to see the finished piece.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wildflowers in Winter

I'm really thrilled that my Wildflower Paintings are featured this month on Ellen Shapiro's blog, Dig It!. These oversized acrylic flower paintings are based on visits to Outer Island, one of the Thimble Islands near Branford, CT. I love the way these wildflowers burst with color amid the island's stark beach environment.

My wildflower paintings are in the windows of Max's Art Supplies in Westport, CT during the month of January. My husband, photographer Richard Frank's photographs are in the windows too. In contrast to my color-filled paintings, his stunning photographs of Outer Island are in black-and-white. If you're in Westport, enjoy the display!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Training the Eye

There's so much to be learned from doing a white-on-white drawing on charcoal-toned paper. This exercise really trains the eye to look carefully for differences in value. It's those subtle transitions from dark to light, and vice-versa, that create three-dimensionality in a drawing.

Looking for the shapes of shadows, not just amorphous shaded "areas" will create credible volume in the objects you draw. The sensitive drawing above was done by Kristhy, a ninth grader. She successfully established a consistent light source, coming from the right, and carefully analyzed the shapes of cast shadows on the tabletop. Notice especially how Kristhy looked for the shapes of shadows on the objects.

Kristhy worked on this excellent drawing for several hours - time well spent in training her eye to observe carefully.

Revisiting Molly

In a previous post, I presented drawing-on-toned-paper lesson, and showed Jen's drawing of her Scottish terrier, Molly:

Although she was pleased with her results, Jen felt she could go further with her drawing. We both thought the darks could be emphasized more, and Molly's eyes needed to be darker as well.

We also used a nifty tool called an artist's bridge. It's a small transparent raised shelf to rest your drawing hand on, instead of leaning directly on your paper. It helps to keep the charcoal from accidentally smudging, & you can still see your work through the clear acrylic bridge.

With a little more work and thought, Jen was able to give her drawing more impact and depth. There are a couple of important lessons in this process of re-evaluating one's work:

* Sometimes we need some distance and time to evaluate our work.

* As artists, we need to be open to making improvements or changes in our work.

Here's Jen's finished version of the portrait of Molly. Beautiful job, Jen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Drawing Inspiration

I recently saw two beautiful drawing exhibits at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York. "David, Delacroix and Revolutionary France" consists of 80 drawings from 1789-1852, an extremely fertile period in French art. These incredible works are on loan (only at this venue) from The Louvre until December 31st.
The second exhibit, "Ingres at the Morgan," is a group of The Morgan's holdings of drawings by iconic draftsman Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), and it's on view until November 27th. The drawings he made as a 13 year old student are astonishing.

The skill demonstrated in all these drawings is phenomenal, and the sensitivity of line, the subtlety of tonal range and mastery of simple media (graphite, chalk, watercolor) are dauntingly magnificent. The drawings live and breathe before one's very eyes.

The exhibits at The Morgan answer the question, "Are drawings done as preparation for paintings?" Well, sometimes they are, but they are undeniably exquisite ends in themselves.

Don't miss this rare opportunity!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Value of White-On-White

In previous posts, I've written about the process of creating a toned-paper charcoal drawing. High school students made animal drawings, and Jen drew her Scotty dog, Molly, by first applying charcoal all over the paper, and then drawing lines on top of that layer with soft charcoal. Next, tones or values of gray were added and blended, and a kneaded eraser was used to remove charcoal to gradually create lighter values or whites.

I love teaching this flexible method of drawing to both children and adults, because it's so easy to make changes in your drawing this way. It's a thoughtful process of making judgements about the "darkness" and "lightness" you want to show. Sometimes the color of an object makes it confusing as to how the light source is affecting it. That's why I like this technique of drawing groups of white objects on a white cloth. It helps the artist concentrate on light and shadow, and therefore helps to achieve three-dimensionality.

"How do I make it look real?" There are no fancy tricks. It's all about taking your time to make careful observations, critical judgements and keeping an open mind. My students often spend several hours working on white-on-white drawings, and they're invariably happy with the results.



White drawing paper of good quality, 16"x20" or 18"x24"
Paper towels


1. Set up a group of white objects on a table with strong light from a lamp on one side. Consider using white eggs, white cups or bowls, white boxes, etc., and arrange them on a white cloth with a white background.

2. What to look for before you begin:

*Notice how the shapes of the shadows form around the objects and lead your eye from one thing to the next.

*Notice how it's the value (degree of darkness) that separates one object from another, not dark "outlines."

*Be open to seeing not only the shadows cast on the tabletop, but also the shadows on the actual objects.

3. Now tone your paper: using the side of a short piece of charcoal, make broad, dark strokes on the paper, evenly covering the whole surface. It helps to work on top of a pad of paper for smooth application.

4. Using a paper towel, gently smooth and blend the charcoal as evenly as possible all over the paper. If too much charcoal is removed, just apply more, and smooth it again.

5. Draw light lines with your charcoal, and make decisions and changes as you go, always comparing the size and placement of drawn objects to what you actually see in front of you.

6. Start putting in large areas of darks where you see then in the set-up. Keep comparing and varying the degree of darkness to approximate as closely as possible what you see. Sometimes you need to do more looking than drawing!

7. "Pull out" any light areas you see, using your finger tips or your eraser. You can squeeze the kneaded eraser into pointed or knife-edged shapes to erase small areas that are hard to reach with fingers.

8. You can work back and forth from dark to light and vice-versa, until you are finished. When all your objects look consistently lit from one side, and all the shadows are consistently cast on the opposite side, your drawing will look convincingly three-dimensional.

9. In a well ventilated area, or outside, spray your drawing lightly with fixative to prevent smudging.

I can't overemphasize how important it is to allow yourself the time to really look at your set-up of objects and be open to changing your mind about your drawing, or comparing degrees of darkness. Keep looking!

Amy with her white-on-white drawing - beautiful work!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Drawing What You Love/Sketching Scottie

When Jen wanted to make a drawing of her delightful Scottish terrier, Molly, I suggested she use a photograph of her dog for reference. We worked with the same toned paper technique I taught to a group of high school students in my Drawing Animals lesson.

After toning her paper, Jen drew Molly's features with charcoal lines. Then she established all the darkest shapes on Molly's face by making intuitive repeated bold strokes within those areas, suggesting fur. She achieved beautifully loose movement and texture with this approach. Jen also used her kneaded eraser to remove the charcoal in selected areas of her drawing, establishing lighter tones, as well as near-whites.

Jen's close familiarity with her dog contributed meaning and enthusiasm to the process of drawing Molly. When you decide what to draw, think about using something or someone close to you as your subject. Try using this charcoal-toned paper technique to draw animals, people, landscapes or still lifes. It's a very forgiving process that allows for easy modifications and changes. To change a line, just rub it out with your finger or a paper towel, and redraw it.

I really love drawing with charcoal, & I created a series of large drawings of fruits and vegetables, including the charcoal diptych drawing, "Three Peppers." I'm thrilled that based on this drawing, I was recently awarded a solo exhibition at John Slade Ely House New Haven in September 2012!

Here are the steps for making a toned paper charcoal drawing:



soft willow charcoal in 1 1/2" lengths
white drawing paper
kneaded eraser
paper towels
photograph for reference, optional
spray fixative


1. Using the side of your charcoal, make broad, dark strokes on the paper, covering the whole surface. It helps to work on top of a pad of paper for smooth application.

2. Using a paper towel, gently smooth and blend the charcoal as evenly as possible all over the paper. If too much charcoal is removed, just apply more, and smooth it again.

3. Draw the basic shapes of your subject, and fill in the dark areas with charcoal. You can blend and lighten any areas with your finger or paper towel. Also, use your kneaded eraser to "pull out" charcoal in order to create very light areas. Keep adding darks, middle tones and lights, to establish a three-dimensional representation of your subject.

4. In a well ventilated area, lightly spray the fixative on your drawing to prevent smudging.

"Molly" by Jen