Mono Print

Metallic Glue Relief

Tissue Paper Painting

Crayon Etching

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Painting" with Tissue Paper

This wonderful technique combines drawing, bleeding tissue paper and glue to create a colorful one of a kind painting. You can find two different kinds of colored art tissue paper in art supply stores. One type keeps its color when wet, and the other type "bleeds" its color out when wet. Using bleeding tissue paper for this project will allow the colors to run and blend into each other in beautifully unpredictable ways.

You can see my video lesson on Tissue Paper Painting here:

Here's how you make one.



white recycled mat board or cardboard, 9"x12" or larger
pencil with eraser
Bleeding tissue paper, assorted colors, torn into small pieces
Old brush
Small recycled plastic container for water


1. Cover your work surface or table with a plastic tablecloth or newspaper to protect it.

2. Using your pencil, do a line drawing on the white board, keeping your lines simple and bold.

3. Go over the pencil lines with a thick Sharpie pen. Erase any stray pencil lines.

4. In your plastic container, make a mixture of 2/3 glue and 1/3 water. Stir with a brush.

5. Working a small area at a time, paint the glue mixture onto the board, apply a small piece of the bleeding tissue paper on top of the glue, and paint another coat of glue on top of the tissue. The pieces of tissue should overlap, creating transparent mixed colors, and the colors will also bleed into each other and onto the white board. Allow your tissue shapes to fall outside the black lines once in a while.

6. Continue this process, until you have covered most of the board with colored tissue. If you wish, some white spaces may be left uncolored. When the glue mixture is wet, the colors may appear cloudy, but once it's dry, it will look clear.

7. Don't forget to wash the glue mixture out of your brush very thoroughly.

8. Allow the board to dry overnight. If thin boards buckle when dry, they can be flattened by placing the completely dry board under some heavy books for a couple of days. You may want to mount your "painting" on a larger board of a contrasting color to frame it for display.

Graham's Tissue Paper Painting

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Under the Sea - Watercolor Resist

It was a pleasure working with seven year old Rachel last week on an "Under the Sea" watercolor resist painting. Rachel's concentration and inclusion of detail paid off in the beautiful results she achieved. Brava, Rachel!

Here's how we did it:



Watercolor paper, approx 11"x15"
Oil pastels, select any light and bright colors, except for dark blue
Thick watercolor brush
Water container & water
Water spray bottle, optional


1. Using oil pastels, draw an imaginary underwater scene, including any of the following: fish, whales, sharks, crabs, eels, sand, seaweed, coral, bubbles... and use imaginary colors and patterns.

2. Make your lines bold and solid by pressing hard as you draw, and go over your lines a second time to make a thick layer of oil pastel on the paper. Be sure to leave some areas on your paper white.

3. Dip your brush into the liquid watercolor, and let it gently glide right over your drawing. You'll notice that your bright oil pastels lines resist the watercolor, and will pop out from the watercolor wash. Use plenty of paint, and allow puddles to form and dry in place.

4. While the paint is still damp, you can create interesting patterns by using the water spray bottle to squirt a few random sprays on your painting. (Don't overdo this step, as too much water will dilute your blue paint.)

5. Allow your painting to dry flat.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wonderful Exhibition/Two Sisters

I saw a great exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York City, called "Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore." This is a show of over fifty modern paintings that were collected by Dr. Claribel & Miss Etta Cone, including works by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, van Gogh and Gauguin.

At the time that these two visionary collectors amassed their collection, avant-garde art was not yet appreciated or understood by the general public. The Cone sisters acquired their art by buying directly from the artists in their Paris studios in the early 1900's, and developed professional relationships with the artists they patronized.

It's fascinating to see what the Cone sisters bought to display in their home for their own enjoyment. Of course the collection now has enormous value, and has been donated to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where the two women were raised and lived as adults.

The Exhibit will be on view at The Jewish Museum until September 25th, 2011. You won't want to miss it.

Drawing Animals: Kittens & Whales & Giraffes, Oh My!

Last week I taught a "How to Draw Animals" lesson to a group of high school students. Most of the students provided their own reference photographs to work from. Having the students copy their reference materials, would have produced acceptable results, but I wanted the students to get the most mileage out of this one-day project, and go beyond copying.

First, I discussed and demonstrated how to look for the main shapes of a subject, whether it's an object in a still life, a landscape or an animal. I advised them to look for and establish the shape of the animal's largest part first (usually its body), and draw an abstract shape, such as a rectangle or oval to approximate it. Then, keeping aware of relative size, distances apart and gesture, the other body parts could be added as general abstract shapes as well. I explained that while developing the drawing, the artists would be able to keep refining their judgements to make appropriate changes, as they gradually added detail.

Next I introduced the students to the process of working with vine charcoal and kneaded erasers on white paper toned with charcoal. First each student covered his/her paper with a layer of dark tone, using soft vine charcoal. This was smoothed over lightly with a paper towel. Then, using the same charcoal sticks, they drew the basic shapes for their animals. As the drawings progressed, I showed the artists how to use their erasers as drawing tools to "pull out" whites from the paper, and to blend grays. Erasers could also be used to add light strokes for background texture or fur. Fingers were also very useful for blending, adding and subtracting values and practically "sculpting" the darks and lights.

None of the students had used this drawing approach before, and all found it satisfyingly forgiving, effective and fun. Many of the artists were pleasantly surprised with their results, and parents and other adults were surprised at the sophisticated level of work that was accomplished in only two hours.

You can use this technique of initially toning the paper to draw an animal, a portrait, a still life, a landscape, a seascape or an abstract fantasy. Your fingers and eraser will be a mess, but you can always clean up, and I think you'll really enjoy the results.

The Students' Drawings

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Middle School Artists - Old Friends

It was great to work with three middle school students I knew from prior teaching experience, who came to the studio to paint and draw. Isabella and Olivia worked on acrylic still life paintings from observation, while Adlai drew with Conte (hard chalk) pencils, from imagination.

Isabella's painting is an inclusive composition of the studio set-up, while Olivia's is a stylized and closely cropped approach. Adlai's fascinating and skillful drawings refer to Greek and Roman warriors and mythical beasts. The studio was alive with their creativity!

It's always a privilege to observe and nurture the intellectual and artistic growth of young artists, as I did with these three maturing students. What a delight to reunite with old friends.

Mother & Daughter: Painting Together

Inwha and her daughter, Shira, each painted the same still life set up over a series of art lessons in my studio. Although they both painted from
observation, each created her own unique version of the set-up. Inwha chose to paint it in a vertical format, and Shira's was a horizontal, and their color schemes differed as well.

It's a real joy to see the successful expression of individuality in art. It's an affirmation of the multitude of ways art can be done. I couldn't help but notice how Inwha and Shira expressed genuine respect and admiration for each other's abilities and work. "Mom, how did you get that color?" "Shira, I love the color you made for the pitcher."

Brava to Inwha and Shira!

by Shira

by Inwha

Friday, July 8, 2011

Drawing/Painting - Father/Daughter

Last week, Isabella and her father, Goran, took an art lesson together at my studio. This father/daughter team have bonded over exploring the art process together for many years. While they worked with me in the studio, the respect and love they have for each other was obvious.

Isabella worked on an acrylics still life painting from observation, while Goran did a powerful charcoal drawing based on a childhood memory. They worked independently, but also supported each other's efforts, as they shared a creative moment together.

At the end of the lesson, Goran paid me a high compliment when he said, "Thank you for transporting me to a different place." Art has the potential to take us on wonderful journeys.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summery Tube Sculptures

This week I taught a series of art lessons to a small group of Lower Elementary students. Our focus was on cardboard tube sculptures, and we also made colorful sun catchers and collages to welcome summer. The directions for making cardboard tube sculptures are below, and you can see how to make sun catchers in my May 15, 2011 post.



Recycled cardboard tubes from paper towels or toilet tissue
Recycled corrugated cardboard for base
White glue
Masking tape
Acrylic gesso & an old paintbrush
Acrylic paints
Paint brushes
Water container
Assorted decorative craft items (felt, buttons, googly eyes, etc.)


1. Think of an invented creature, an animal, a person or a thing you'd like to make using tubes. Decide what is the biggest or main part of what you're making, and begin construction with that part. Decide if your sculpture will need a cardboard base in order to stand on its own. If your sculpture has 4 legs, it will probably stand by itself, and won't need a base.

2. Cut 1/2" long slits about 1/2" apart all around the bottom circumference of a cardboard tube. Bend the slits out to make tabs for gluing. Slits may also be cut in the ends of tubes to fit one inside the other.

3. Apply a dot of glue to each tab and press into place either on the outside of another tube or onto the base. Apply strips of masking tape over all glued tabs; long strips of tape should extend from tubes onto other tubes or onto the base. (All tape needs to stay in place and will not be removed.)

4. The next day, when the glue has set, paint a thin, even coat of white gesso over your entire sculpture, including the base, and allow to dry overnight.

5. On the following day, paint your sculpture with realistic or fantasy colors, and allow to dry again.

6. Glue on any decorative collage or craft items, such as fabric, buttons, feathers or googly eyes to make your sculpture special.

Adam made a fiery, smiley sun.

Abbey made a fantasy flower with a hovering butterfly.

Elli made a sculpture of herself playing soccer.


by Adam
by Abbey
by Elli