12 December 2007

Jonathan WIP, part 2

Here's an update on the drawing of my nephew, Jonathan, that I started ages ago. I'm still hoping to get this finished in time for Christmas!

11 December 2007


Hi everyone! Sorry not to have updated my blog for so long...I've just been through a very hectic couple of months in my life! But things should be reasonably quiet for, well, a week or so before Christmas madness really kicks in. In fact, I managed to pick up my pencils for the first time in weeks last night, but didn't have time to scan the work, so I'll do that tonight. Meanwhile, if there are any fans of Philip Pullman's work out there, here is what my daemon is, according to the Golden Compass website. Not sure quite what to make of turning out to be a gibbon...

31 October 2007

Book Review: Beautiful Landscapes by Diane Wright

Diane Wright (2007) Beautiful Landscapes. Walter Foster.

It's the last day of October, so just time for one last Big Draw Book Review. This will be a quick one, but as I've only just received the book from Amazon, I can't resist it.

Diane Wright is an extremely accomplished graphite artist, rather in the mold of Mike Sibley, the subject of my previous review. Indeed, Diane is a great admirer of Mike's work, and considers him to be her mentor. Therefore, the style of work shown in the two books is very similar. However, Diane's book is a very slim volume, just 64 pages, and can be picked up very cheaply ($9.95 direct from her web site). In a sense, then, it is an "entry-level" version of Sibley's book, though this description doesn't give Diane enough credit as a fine artist in her own right.

As the title indicates, this book focusses entirely on landscape drawing. The first part of the book is devoted to drawing major landscape elements, with particular emphasis on trees. Diane's tree drawings are a delight in themselves, and I personally would love to have a book of hers devoted entirely to this subject. In fact, you can follow a tree tutorial on her website, and also find it in the Drawing and Sketching forum on WetCanvas!

The largest part of the book, however, consists of Diane taking us step-by-step through a series of wonderful drawings of subjects as diverse as Kirkwall Harbour and the Sonoma Desert. The book is worth many times more than its price just to look at the finished drawings, but the advice contained in them is invaluable. I haven't had the chance to read through the whole book in detail yet, but I'm sure it will repay careful study.

Diane is a lovely person, as well as a great artist. I hope this book does very well for her; it would certainly do very well for your art! Highly recommended.

21 October 2007

Book Review: Drawing from Line to Life by Mike Sibley

Mike Sibley is a well-known British graphite artist. His book, Drawing from Line to Life, was published last year. To his many fans, this was a long-awaited event, and it created a lot of excitement. The book even has its own Yahoo group. For anyone interested in graphite drawing, especially in a realistic style, this book will provide a feast of information. There is bound to be something new to learn for everyone as Sibley is a very experienced artist who has developed many tricks over the years. I have to admit that I don't particularly like his art, but one cannot fail to admire his technique.

The book has twenty-four chapters.
The first set deal with tools and techniques, including line drawing, tone drawing, erasing and indenting. Sibley's own technique is sometimes surprising, but always clearly explained. Here, for example, is what he says about blending.

Personally I wouldn't entertain the use of foreground blending except in circumstances where the texture produced is exactly the one I wish to depict. Such exceptions include muddy or dusty floors, uneven plastered walls, anywhere that doesn't include sharp edges or hard shadows. The slap floor and walls in this Bearded Collie study are totally blended - in fact much of the 'detail' was drawn with an old graphite-coated tortillon. Graphite, mainly 2B and F in this case, was repeatedly applied to the floor and blended until I achieved the desired appearance. The initial blending was carried out with a piece of toilet tissue wrapped around my finger.

The section ends with a step-by-step demonstration of a drawing of a young girl. This is very useful, with many detailed descriptions of technique and detail view of the work in progress, such as this one showing the technique he uses to render hair.

When I wrote that the first part was about technique, I may have given the impression that the other parts of the book were about something else! In fact, section two is also about technique, though perhaps more advanced. It includes chapters called Fooling the Brain, Working from Photos, Negative Drawing and Perspective. Interestingly, Fooling the Brain deals with some of the tricks discussed in Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, in particular the use of negative drawing. This technique is something of a Sibley specialty, and the chapter devoted to this method is one of the highlights of the book.

The final set of chapters deals with drawing particular elements of a drawing: ellipses, textures, reflections, foliage, hair and features. This may well be my favourite part of the book. The chapter on trees and foliage is especially good; but that might just be because I draw a lot of trees! Here is some of Sibley's advice.
There are three major aspects of a tree that are important to its appearance - surface texture and shape, internal bough structure, and gaps through which you can see through to the other side. A tree is not an amorphous collection of leaf-shaped items or random marks that, you hope, will fool a viewer's brain into reading as 'tree'. A tree is an ordered, layered object with an outer covering around an inner armature or core. It's only by analysing what you see that you will gain the full understanding that allows you to draw realistically.
You can't argue with that! The book is 287 pages long, and contains far too many illustrations to count. I find I am constantly dipping in to it to get ideas, advice and inspiration. For example, I'm off to look at the chapter on drawing hair before going back to my drawing of Jonathan! I can't recommend it highly enough.

Oxford Art Society

Yay! My drawing was accepted by the Oxford Art Society for their annual Open Exhibition. It was on the blog a few months ago: you can see it here. I know this isn't really a big deal in the great scheme of things, but I'm very excited. I've never had a picture exhibited anywhere before; in fact, I've never submitted anything before. I went to the private view yesterday, and I have to say, I don't think my modest little drawing looked totally out of place among all the works by professional artists. No one seemed to be laughing at it, at least! So, if you happen to be in Oxford before 3 November, stop in and see it.

17 October 2007

The Big Draw Book Review: Drawing by Daniel M. Mendelowitz

This review is inspired by Katherine Tyrell's (of Making a Mark fame) October Book Review project, timed to co-incide with the Big Draw in the UK.

This book was first published in 1967, and is now out of print, but you can find used copies on Amazon and elsewhere. The author, who died in 1980, was on the faculty at Stanford University for over 30 years, having himself studied at Stanford and also at the Art Students League of New York. Although Mendelowitz taught drawing at Stanford, and aimed this book at art students, it is not a "how to" book of the sort that we have become used to. Rather, it is a tour of the history of drawing; meant to be inspiring rather than instructing.

The book is over 450 pages long and contains over 300 illustrations of masterful drawings, many familiar but also a large number of more obscure pictures. It inspires by reminding us of the sheer variety of possibilities encompassed by "drawing." It was the most important single thing that finally made me do what I had wanted to do for a long time: begin the lifelong process of learning to draw.

The book consists of three main sections. The first is a history of drawing, starting, inevitably, with cave drawings and finishing in the middle of the twentieth century. I have read some reviews of this book written in the academic literature soon after it was originally published, and they are rather sniffy about this section, perhaps because Mendelowitz was not an art historian. To someone who, like me, is not an art historian it is wonderful to be guided through the major developments in the history of drawing by someone who is so obviously in love with this form of artistic expression.

There are lots of familiar drawings in this section, though who is going to object to seeing favourite drawings by Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael in chapter 3, which deals with the Renaissance in Italy? I did learn that Leonardo was left-handed: look at the direction of his hatching for the proof of this. This drawing, from the Royal Library at Windsor, is one of the many illustrations in chapter 3. In many ways, Michaelangelo is the real star of Renaissance drawing, as he often treated drawings as works of art in their own right, rather than as preparatory studies for paintings.

Chapter 4 deals with Italian Baroque drawings. I was struck by the gestural quality of many works in this chapter, such as this one by Guercino. The next chapter shifts to the Northern Renaissance, and it will come as no surprise to know that the most striking drawings in this chapter are those of Durer (including the famous "Great Piece of Turf" from the Albertina in Vienna) and Rembrandt. One of the latter's drawings really struck me the first time I read this book because of its amazing economy of line. This, it seemed to me, was the real magic of drawing: the ability to produce a wonderful work of art with just a few strokes of a pen.

Moving on to France, England and Spain there are a few surprises; or, at least, they were surprises to me when I first found this book. For example, I had never seen Claude Lorrain's wash drawings before (my favourite one, of the River Tiber, is actually in a later chapter). There is also a wonderful charcoal study of a monk by Zurbaran and a typical work by William Blake.

There are even more surprises in the chapters on the twentieth century. I shouldn't, I suppose, have been surprised by Picasso's skill as a draftsman, but his simple contour drawing of a seated nude was a revelation. The quality of line is breathtaking. There is also a wonderful sketch of Fritizi, Paul Klee's cat that was so often his model.

The second section of the book departs from this fairly conventional, chronological treatment of the subject. Instead it deals with what Mendelowitz calls the Art Elements: line, form and value, and texture. Drawings illustrating the use of, for example, different types of line are presented and discussed. Ingres is used to demonstrate the line as a delimiting edge, Raphael the use of value to model form, and Degas the representation of texture. In many ways these three chapters are my favourites in the book, because this is when the huge variety of effects that can be produced with a pencil or a stick of chalk is made most apparent. Even if one just looks at drawings in which line is the dominant element there is a huge range of art, from formal academic work through to abstract art.

The final section deals with the different media that can be used for drawing, though this is rather conventional: metalpoint, pencil, chalk, crayon, charcoal, and ink are the main ones covered. There is also a chapter on imaginative drawing. Interesting though these chapters are, though, it is the first two sections that, for me, really make this book special. It is a massive book, but that didn't stop me reading it cover to cover when I first bought it. Now, I tend to dip in to it for inspiration or just to admire the amazing achievements of so many wonderful artists. It's a shame it's no longer in print, but it is well worth seeking out.

Pencil rating: 5 pencils

16 October 2007

Jonathan WIP, part 1

I haven't done a graphite portrait for a while, so here goes with one of my nephew, Jonathan. I liked the pose, though I'm still not sure if it will make a good drawing because you can't see his eyes. Worth a try, anyway! This is done on Bristol smooth, so far I've only used a mechanical 2B pencil. The hair is going to be a challenge!

Tomorrow I'm going to submit a pen and ink drawing I did a while ago to the Oxford Art Society open exhibition. I've never done anything like that before. It's very scary; it's a society for real, professional artists! But the secretary is a friend of mine, and she twisted my arm. Unfortunately, she's not on the selection committee! I'll let you know how I get on...

11 October 2007

Ink sketches

It's been over a week since I posted. Life's been hectic, mainly because it's the start of a new academic year, with it's seemingly endless number of welcome receptions, induction briefings, and dinners. The college Freshers Dinner can be slightly excruciating, but this year's bunch were fun to chat to. I just wish they would vary the menu; this was my 14th Freshers Dinner, and every year they serve chicken Kiev and profiteroles!

Anyway, mainly inspired by Anita, I've got me a bottle of Noodler's red/black ink. It's a great colour. Are any others worth checking out? These are some sketches from my bedroom. Yes, OK I admit that I sometimes sketch in bed...I'm not sure whether that makes me a very keen sketcher or a very, very lazy one!

26 September 2007


Continuing with the autumn theme, here is a watercolour sketch of a horse chestnut, or a conker as they are better known in the UK. I haven't seen anyone playing conkers for ages. Do kids still play it? When I was a kid is was a big thing. Everyone had their own method for hardening them!

20 September 2007


Autumn is definitely in the air these days. The leaves are beginning to turn, there's a bit of a chill in the air in the mornings, and there are hips on the old rose in our garden. Here's a quick watercolour sketch of some of them.

12 September 2007

More fruit

Here is the peach with some added colour, using Inktense pencils. I was going to sketch a banana, but then I ate it! Luckily, an empty banana skin is, if anything, more interesting to sketch than a full one. This also uses Inktense pencils and a Copic pen. And just to round off today's post and old-style red telephone box. This is a K6, the most common variation on the original design by G.G. Scott.

09 September 2007

EDM #133 - a peach

I've been enjoying our annual street party today. Lots of good food, wine, a band so we could dance in the street. We even had a fly-past! One person in the street has a part share in a single-engined plane and flew over the street during the party!! That's one up for us over our rival streets! As I rest my sore feet (I'm sure they didn't used to get sore from dancing!), I did a quick sketch of a peach for EDM # 133. Now I look at it, I think it would be nice to add some colour, so perhaps I'll do that tomorrow. At the moment, I'm not sure you would know it was a peach...it could be a plum, or a nectarine!

06 September 2007

EDM #30 -- a chair

This is a chair from my mother's house. It's my attempt at EDM challenge number 30. My parents have had it for many years; I remember sitting on it when I was a child. It was my favourite because you could swing round and round on it!

05 September 2007


I've always had problems drawing boats, so when I was down on the South Coast recently I took the chance to spend some time sketching at Lymington. This is a great place to find boats; there are almost too many to choose from, from large fishing boats to tiny dinghies.

It's one of the most popular sailing centres in the country, located on the sheltered western Solent. I've sailed there a lot in the past, but don't currently have a boat.

These are all very simple boats, though some of them are done from quite tricky (or me!) angles. All done with a Rotring art pen.

EDM #10 (a hand) and #13 (a telephone)

Continuing with my efforts to get back into the (more or less) daily sketching habit, here are a couple more EDM challenges. The first was a blind contour drawing done with a Rotring art pen, with the wash done later. The mobile phone was done with a a Copic multiliner. More to come soon!

27 August 2007

My Crayon Colour is...

I just took this quiz to find out my crayon colour! Who'd have thought it!

You Are a Green Crayon

Your world is colored in harmonious, peaceful, natural colors.
While some may associate green with money, you are one of the least materialistic people around.
Comfort is important to you. You like to feel as relaxed as possible - and you try to make others feel at ease.
You're very happy with who you are, and it certainly shows!

Your color wheel opposite is red. Every time you feel grounded, a red person does their best to shake you.

EDM #131 -- Spray bottle

Time to get back into the EDM weekly challenge habit after being away so much over the past month or so. This is a spray bottle, which I use to wet my paints and keep the paper wet when I'm working in watercolour. This is done with a Rotring art pen and Pentel water brush.

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23 August 2007

New York

We had a great time in New York, getting there two days before the second of my conferences started. We took the Circle Line tour around Manhattan, which was excellent. It's amazing how much of the Upper West Side looks from the river to be rolling, tree-covered hills! We also went up the Empire State Building, went to see a Broadway show, and generally acted the typical tourists! The girls were very excited by the shops, especially given the very favourable exchange rate at the moment. And I enjoyed a trip to Pearl's on Canal Street. Sketching time was again very limited, but here are a couple from an afternoon in Central Park.

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21 August 2007


I'm finally back in Oxford and have cleared the backlog of work sufficiently to have a moment to scan some sketches. We had a great trip. I was last in Philadelphia about 25 years ago, and was surprised to see that it now has skyscrapers. When I was there, you weren't allowed to build higher than the statue of Penn on City Hall. I think it's a shame (and apparently some think it has resulted in a curse on the city's baseball team, though it didn't seem to hurt them on the night we went to see them play!). But there were a lot of familiar things too, like Reading Terminal Market, Society Hill, and Penn's Landing. Of course the two highlights are Independence National Historical Park, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and the Art Museum. At the latter I couldn't resist running up the steps, Rocky-style! Even though it was close to 100 degrees!!

The collection at the latter is really outstanding. We didn't have time to do it justice, really, but concentrated on 18th and 20th century European works. One of my favourites is the painting of the Houses of Parliament burning by Turner.

Unfortunately, it was a working trip really, so there wasn't much time for art. But I did manage to do a couple of quick sketches, of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

01 August 2007

Another trip!

I'm off on my travels again tomorrow, this time slightly further from home. I'm going to be in Philadelphia and New York City until 15th August. Unfortunately, this is mostly a working trip, but I should get a few days of down time to roam around with my sketch book. See you all when I get back!

26 July 2007

Ardrishaig Harbour

This is the small lighthouse at the entrance to Ardrishaig harbour, which is at the eastern end of the Crinan Canal. This was done with a Rotring Art Pen in my small W&N sketchbook.

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25 July 2007

Sound of Jura

This is a very quick sketch, done at Castle Dounie, which overlooks the Sound of Jura. I didn't have long because my rather impatient family weren't keen on hanging around in the cold wind, despite the stunning views. You can see the entrance to the Gulf of Corryvreckan, which lies between the islands of Jura and Scarba. It is famous for its whirlpool (at the other end of the Gulf), which is created by strong tidal flows and rock pinnacles on the sea bed. George Orwell was once caught in it, and was lucky to survive.

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23 July 2007

Another holiday painting

Here's another painting from my recent holiday. This one is a bit larger, a 1/4 sheet. More practice with grey skies!

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22 July 2007

Loch Fyne

I'm just back from my trip to Argyll on the west coast of Scotland. We were staying in a small village called Ardrishaig, which is on the banks of Loch Fyne, a large sea loch on the eastern side of the Kintyre peninsula, famous for the quality of its seafood. It is a beautiful part of Scotland, with sea, mountains, islands, beaches...everything you could want, provided the weather stays fine! This is a watercolour sketch of part of Loch Fyne.

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21 July 2007


I've been away on holiday on Scotland for the past week, hence my lack of posting. Over the next few days I'll post some of the sketches I did while I was away. In the meantime, here's a photograph to wet your appetite.

05 July 2007

EDM #126 -- Draw a sponge

I haven't done the EDM weekly challenge for a few weeks, partly because I've been busy. Also, I think maybe it's one of those things that if you can just get out of the habit of doing. But since I have several sponges lying around, I don't really have an excuse not to do this one. So, here it is. I hope this means I'm back in the habit again! This is done with Copic multiliners and Inktense pencils.

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More lavender

Another attempt at wet and loose lavender.

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