Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Restrospective

Here is a look back at 2008.

Art Shows

  • I entered two pieces of artwork in the art show On My Own Time at my workplace. My leaf watercolor above won first place in the Amateur's Works on Paper division. Employers around the Dallas metroplex have this annual art show. Each employer awards prizes, and the winning art pieces go to a city-wide art show.

On-Line Groups

  • I participated in Illustration Friday (IF) for most of the year. I love IF because it fosters creativity. Each week, there are a large number of excellent entries which inspire me to do my best each week.
  • I did the Every Day Matters (EDM) challenges through September. Looking back at my EDM drawings, I see how much I improved by doing them each week.

Art Instruction Books

Art History

  • I started out the year intending to study an artist every month, but I abandoned this early on. I studied Maxfield Parrish (January), N.C. Wyeth (February) and Peter Max (March). I do not yet know how to usefully study artists' work.


To grow as an artist, I need to create my own projects to serve my own interests and vision, and not rely only on projects started by others. Towards this end, I created two projects for myself:

  • In June, I did an oil painting almost every day. This was very successful. I am not ready to commit to an oil painting every day for a year, simply because I need to still work on art basics (e.g., perspective). Once I feel comfortable with the basics, however, I will definitely consider becoming a daily painter.
  • In October, I started my 100 Heads project. I originally intended to do a head a day, but I could not keep up with that schedule. I am still working on this series, and I feel that I am improving my portraiture skills as a result.


  • I added oil paints and colored pencil to my repertoire. I know that I will eventually need to settle on just one medium (to be a professional artist), but I am not there yet.

Work Melt Down

  • In August, my role changed to a management one at work. It took me a few months to master my new role, and I did almost no art work. I was surprised at how long it took me to get into the swing again once I returned to art.


  • January through February, I took an on-line colored pencil class with a well-known colored pencil artist and book author. Each week, I accessed a lecture and reading assignment on-line. There were two drawing assignments over the course of the class. I e-mailed the drawings to the instructor, and she e-mailed critiques back to me. There was a student forum, but there were not enough students taking any given class at a given time to get a good dialogue going. This on-line instruction format did not work well for me. It didn't offer sufficient value beyond reading and working through instruction books on my own. I think WetCanvas classes actually work better for me, since there are typically a large number of people working through the classes at the same time.
  • August through December, I took two oil painting classes with Dave Kramer at the Creative Arts Center (CAC) in Dallas. These classes taught figure painting with live models, typically nudes. Dave is an awesome instructor, and CAC is an awesome art school. The students are serious about art, and Dave offers critiques and suggestions as we draw and paint (and he is able to do this in a fun and engaging manner). Having an instructor point out errors as you draw and paint is invaluable. Now that I know what good art instruction is like, I will continue to seek it out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

5 a Day

We all know we should “Strive for Five” servings of fruits and veggies a day to keep our bodies healthy. Peggy Fussell tagged me with the task of describing the 5 things I do everyday to keep my spirit happy & healthy. This fun exercise fits right in with planning for a new year. Here are my top five:
  1. I get motivated by reading Ralph Marston's The Daily Motivator. The Daily Motivator message helps me start the day with a positive and balanced outlook.
  2. Walking my dog Shelty elevates my mood. Bonding with man's best friend is always a good idea, as is walking around my 1970's era neighborhood with its large lawns and mature trees. While walking the dog, I appreciate the beauty around me while also getting some exercise and fresh air.
  3. We always sit down as a family for a homemade dinner served on nice dishes and illuminated by candles. If I have been under a lot of stress during the day, I feel it melt away during dinner. We occasionally try to save time by getting take-out or going out to eat. It never works. It doesn't save much time, the food is not as nutritious as what we make ourselves at home, and going out to eat is harder on the environment than cooking ourselves. Eating at home also saves money, which eliminates future stress over credit card bills!
  4. Exercising every day is essential to feeling good and maintaining good mental health. There is definitely a mind-body connection. I like walking, aerobics, weight lifting, and yoga. This is the one item I need to do better at ... if I run out of time, exercise is the item I omit. Not good!
  5. Finally, I need to do art everyday to feel my best. And I usually do!

    I now need to tag 5 other bloggers. There is no obligation to participate, of course. Only if you have time and think it would be fun!

Monday, December 29, 2008

100 Heads: Head #46

This is a copy of the Julia Margaret Cameron photograph Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (1867). My focus is on using light and shadow to model the human head. I took a painterly approach to this portrait. I first massed in the darks, leaving the white of the paper for the lights. I then adjusted the darks to get midtones. I used a mechanical pencil and tortillion in a Canson Universal Sketch Book.

Friday, December 26, 2008

100 Heads: Head #45

This is a drawing of Bernini's Tomb of Pope Alexander VII [detail of Charity]. Actually, I thought I was drawing Bernini's Madonna and Child, based on this article on Britney Spears. As I was drawing it, I thought it was awfully sensuous to be a Madonna and Child. And now I know it is not a Madonna! Lesson: Do not take art history lessons from articles on pop stars. Graphite over pastel on card stock.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

100 Heads: Head #44

Another version of Michelangelo's statue Madonna and Child. Graphite over blue pastel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

100 Heads: Head #43

Angels we have heard on high.

I had fun experimenting with my Christmas cards this year. This angel is based on a photograph of a statue of an angel, but the final artwork doesn't look anything like the photograph. I started by applying blue pastel to a cream card and then spraying with matte fixative. I drew the angel using mechanical, 5B, 9B, and Ebony pencils. The surface was rough and hard to draw on, but the finished product has a unique look.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Illustration Friday - Rambunctious

Rambunctious is a word that sounds like what it means, so I used the word to illustrate the meaning. Those crazy letters! Every time I came back to the drawing, they were doing something different.

Monday, December 15, 2008

100 Heads: Head #41

This is a copy of a drawing by Michelangleo Buonarroti (1475-1564). The drawing is called Head of a Young Woman.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

100 Heads: Head #40

This is Christopher sleeping. I like to draw him in the early morning, when I am wide awake but he is still sleeping. I find he holds a pose for about 15 minutes and then shifts in his sleep.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

100 Heads: Head #39

I am practicing pen & ink contour drawing, as explained in the book Painting by Design by Charles Reid. This is not blind contour drawing. I look at my paper as necessary. My goal is to get the proportions correct and to capture interesting shapes and angles. Anita Davies has talked about lead-free drawing and how not erasing helps you see your drawing strengths and weaknesses. I am finding this to be definitely true.

I experimented with pencil shading on the top contour drawing and pen shading on the bottom drawing.

I drew from a Julia Margaret Cameron photograph of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You can see the photograph here.

Contour drawing is fast, so I can do a contour drawing even on days I am tired or pressed for time.

Monday, December 8, 2008

100 Heads: Head #38

This is my husband Bob. I again used Sarah Simblet's approach to drawing heads.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

100 Heads: Head #37

This is Christopher. He had ants in his pants during this portrait, so I had to draw him partially from memory. He was watching A Christmas Carol, the version with George C. Scott. Christoper is a Christmas fanatic. He has already watched the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol about 6 times. We'll see every version before the season is over.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

100 Heads: Head #36

I drew this head from imagination, using Sarah Simblet's approach to drawing heads.

Friday, December 5, 2008

100 Heads: Head #35

This is my son Andrew. I drew him while he was doing his homework at the kitchen table.

I used Sarah Simblet's approach to drawing heads (The Sketch Book for the Artist). I have scanned in one page of the book, so you can get a feeling for the approach. In Simblet's approach, the cranium, face, trapezius muscle, and neck are the foundation of the head. Using Simblet's approach to draw the head from a variety of different angles requires a good knowledge of anatomy and perspective, since you need to know how the cranium, face, trapezius muscle, and neck look from any angle. I think Simblet's method is good for achieving looser drawings.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

100 Heads: Head #34

This is a copy of the Leonardo da Vinci drawing Head and Bust of a Woman. I used a mechanical pencil and a kneaded eraser, but no tortillion or blending tool. As I draw the heads, I am experimenting with alternate drawing techniques.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Illustration Friday - Balloon

I created this sequence in April 2008. I am reposting it because it is a good fit for the prompt balloon.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

100 Heads: Head #32

These drawings are copies of a Leonardo da Vinci study for Leda. The original is pen and ink over black chalk. The first drawing uses a variety of sizes of Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens and an Ebony pencil. The second drawing uses a .01 Micron pen and an Ebony pencil.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Illustration Friday - Opinion

Although Mildred appreciated her daughter-in-law's efforts at hosting Thanksgiving dinner, she was unable to hide her opinion of the tofu turkey.

In the US, today is National Day of Listening. If you listen to National Public Radio (NPR), you hear a StoryCorps interview every Friday, where an ordinary American citizen interviews someone close to them. The results are amazing. Everyone has a story to tell. Some of the StoryCorps interviews are collected into the book Listening is an Act of Love. The results are in the tradition of the late great Studs Terkel. National Day of Listening extends the StoryCorps program to every household. So grab a loved one and interview them. Maybe Mildred needs to listen more and judge less!

This is head #31 in my goal of drawing 100 heads. This was practice drawing a character. What does an opinionated person look like? I went for an upturned head, pursed lips, slits for eyes, and raised brows. My husband says she looks worried, not opinionated.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

100 Heads: Heads 28-30

I am practicing head rotations. No, this is not a scene from The Exorcist. And it is not a mug shot. Rather, this is practice drawing heads in different positions from imagination. The grid helps me size the head and place the features on the face. This exercise requires a good understanding of anatomy and a lot of practice. This is my first attempt. I am not too good at it yet. There is so much to remember: the skull, muscles, planes of the face, standard proportions, and male vs female variations. I can't keep it all in my head yet. I am going to switch between drawing from imagination and drawing from life and photographs. Drawing from imagination tests my knowledge and skills. I realize what I do not know and as a result I start to observe more as I draw from life and photographs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rape of Europa

This is one of the most moving World War II documentaries I can recall seeing. Many World War II documentaries focus on battles, leaders, and military strategies. This documentary, in contrast, looks at World War II from the perspective of culture and art. In doing so, it makes clear the great human suffering of all affected civilian populations.

The documentary focuses on Nazi Germany's obsession with stealing all the masterpieces in European museums that it deemed worthy, and destroying all art and culture it deemed inferior or degenerate. It also highlights the contribution of European citizens, museum workers, and the US Army's Monuments Men in saving European art.

The narrator, Joan Allen, has a very soothing, calm voice, which provides a balanced background to the emotional content of the film. The film includes interviews with people who lived through the events, which adds to the authenticity and emotional impact of the film.

The film examines controversial questions and allows different sides to present their case. For example, is a soldier's life or a great work of art more important?

Perhaps the most moving part of the film is the look at restoration and reparation. There are still many pieces of art missing. Some may have been destroyed, but many are in a collection somewhere, waiting to be discovered. The film also highlights the effort of one German man to try to identify the heirs of Jewish religious items stolen by the Nazis; he returns the items to the heirs so they can be used in religious ceremonies once again.

The only negative thing I can think to say about the film is that it might lead the uninformed viewer to think World War II was solely caused by Hitler being rejected from art school and wanting to acquire a good art collection. But that is nitpicking. This is an awesome documentary with a unique point of view. Rent it!

Monday, November 24, 2008

100 Heads: Head #27

This is another portrait inspired by a Wisconsin Death Trip photograph. You can see photos from the book here and here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

100 Heads: Head #26

This portrait was inspired by a photograph in Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy. Wisconsin Death Trip, published in 1973, is a very, very strange book. I love it. The book provides a pseudo-scholarly look at the dark side of 19th century American life. It is a collection of Wisconsin photographs and newspaper articles from the late 1800's that chronicle suicide, disease, death, murder, and insanity. The book is divided by year, but beyond that, photographs and newspaper articles are random. The reader has no idea what photo goes with what article or exactly what the photos are depicting. Here are a few articles, to give you a taste of the book:
"Judge Perry sentenced Mrs. Ira C. Miller of the town of Irving to the Mendota insane asylum ..."

"The body of Mrs. Ira Miller was brought here from Mendota asylum on the early train Sunday morning ..."

"At Ahnappe 5 new cases of diphtheria were reported, and every precaution is being taken to prevent the spread of the disease. No deaths have occurred and the schools are still open."

I quickly tired of the articles, but I love the black and white photographs. There are family portraits, funeral scenes, advertisements, and individual portraits. Here is the photograph I used for my drawing. I was struck by the graphic quality of the image. Who is this young man? I can see his image as a basis for a Greek statute or for a 1960's pop star.

Here is one more photo from the book. In many of the photos, the humans are separate from one another. They remind me of Hopper paintings.

I have the book out from the library but will have to return it because another patron wants it. I don't know if I will be able to part with it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Illustration Friday - Pretend

Kids love to pretend. My husband took a bunch of photos of my son Christopher dressed up as a lawman from the old West, in different action poses. These drawings were inspired by these photos. The top drawing is a free-hand contour drawing (no pencil), and the bottom drawing is a pencil drawing inked over. I like the top drawing best; I think the lines are more expressive in free-hand drawings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

100 Heads: Head #24

Here is an attempt at copying the Mona Lisa. I didn't particularly like the painting when I started (too dark and dreary), but it grew on me as I copied it. I guess to know a painting is to like it. The model's face is fleshy, which makes it interesting to render. I think I am starting to approach achieving likeness in portraits, but am not quite there yet. Achieving a likeness requires precision, precision, precision, which requires excellent drawing skills.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Forger's Spell

I just finished The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick. It was a page turner. I got it from the library on Friday evening, and I finished it at 11:30 pm on Saturday. The book tells the story of Han van Meergeren, a Dutch artist who forged Vermeer paintings at the time of World War II. The book weaves together several threads:
  • The Nazi occupation of Denmark.
  • The Nazi obsession with acquiring (a.k.a. stealing) European art treasures.
  • The science and craft of forgery (e.g., purchase a mediocre, relatively inexpensive painting from the correct time period and paint over it, so scientific tests on the canvas will check out).
  • The psychology of forgery (e.g., Art historians really, really wanted to believe they had found a lost Vermeer. This enabled them to completely overlook the fact that the forged paintings were pretty bad.)
  • Art collectors' obsession with rarity over aesthetics (e.g., Wealthy art collectors sometimes want a painting so no one else can have it and for the prestige, not because the art speaks to them in some way.)

Rather than copying a known Vermeer or creating a "lost" Vermeer in the style of Vermeer's mature period, Van Meergeren created "lost" Vermeer paintings in a new style that could plausibly be between Vermeer's early and late periods. Because there are so few Vermeer paintings, there could be a whole period of lost paintings. The fact that so little is known about Vermeer made the forgery easier. Van Meergeren managed to sell a number of fake Vermeer paintings before he was caught. Interestedly, once Van Meergeren sold one bad Vermeer, it was easier for him to sell more, since they were all in the style of the first one. Van Meergeren essentially created a standard by which Vermeer paintings were thereafter judged for authenticity!

After the war, Dutch investigators investigated Van Meergeren because his name came up in conjunction with selling Vermeer paintings to Hermann Goering. He was charged with collaborating with the enemy, which was a serious charge. The Dutch investigators accused him of selling Dutch art treasures to the Nazis. Van Meergeren defended himself by saying they were forgeries, not real Vermeer paintings. Because his forgeries were so successful, no one believed him. He had to work very hard to get collectors and art historians to believe the paintings were fakes.

I found the discussions on the psychology aspects of forgery to be the most interesting part of the book. Overall, I recommend the book highly.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

100 Heads: Head #23

This is a 30 minute sketch of my 9-year son Christopher, drawn before our Sunday morning breakfast of homemade strawberry pancakes. Christopher watched an educational video about the Middle Ages while I sketched him.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

100 Heads: Head #22

This is my son Christopher, drawn from life. Sleeping children make reasonably good models. Even during sleep they move around a lot, but at least you can get a 10-15 minute pose. I spent 30-60 minutes on this drawing. Christopher shifted during that time, where upon I adjusted the drawing or drew from memory (which ever was easiest).

I prefer drawing from life over drawing from photographs or master drawings. I am finding, however, that copying master drawings is improving my life drawing. And if a model is not available, a photograph is better than nothing.

Christopher was a great help to me over the weekend. He loves to help with chores. He wanted to wash the floors. At first I said no; I thought it would be easier if I did it myself. But then I came to my senses. My son wanted to save me a lot of time and effort. Who am I to deny him the opportunity to be helpful? So I told him he could wash the living room floor (it is tiled). Christopher's response? "I've washed that floor before, and boy, was it fun!" He did a great job. I drew.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Illustration Friday - Wise

Mature trees seems wise to me. This pen & ink drawing is from life and imagination. I started with a real tree, but exaggerated the knots and bark to create a face.

My last Illustration Friday entry was in July. Wow! I took a one week break because I was overwhelmed by my job, and it turned into a 3 month hiatus. I love Illustration Friday, because it exercises my creativity muscles. I believe artistic development requires both technical skills and creative skills, and they need to be developed in tandem. Technical skills are required to effectively express creative ideas, and creative ideas are the whole reason for acquiring the technical skills in the first place.

I am back on the saddle, so to speak, and vow once again to contribute to Illustration Friday every week!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

100 Heads: Head #21

This is a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's well known self-portrait. This drawing proved an opportunity to practice bags under the eyes.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

100 Heads: Head #20

This is a 30 minute self-portrait, done in the style of the Degas drawing I posted yesterday.

Friday, November 7, 2008

100 Heads: Head #19

This a copy of the drawing Giovanna Bellelli by Edgar Degas (1834-1917). I love how the features on the left side of the face are suggested by masses of tone. This is a very painterly drawing.

I just returned from a business trip to Kansas City. I stayed up late Tuesday evening watching the election returns, and then got up early on Wednesday and did this drawing. Tuesday night was too exciting to do any artwork! Both McCain's concession speech and Obama's victory speech were moving, and it was wonderful to see excited masses of people celebrating across the United States. I am so proud of my country.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

100 Heads: Head #18

This is a 10 minutes sketch of my son Christopher sleeping on the couch. Christopher shifted after the first five minutes, so I had to draw from memory.

Monday, November 3, 2008

100 Heads: Head #17

This is a copy of the drawing Study for St. Bartholomew in the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519). 4B pencil in my Strathmore 400 Series Sketchbook.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

100 Heads: Head #16

This is a copy of the drawing Portrait of a Young Lady of the Court of the Infanta Isabella at Brussels by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). When I copy, I do not mindlessly copy using a grid. Rather, I construct the head using one or more of the methods described in books on portraiture and figure drawing. For this drawing, I put the head in a cube in an attempt to get the correct perspective on the features. I think about the underlying structure of the skull and muscles and study how the artist renders this structure. I also am studying the facial features (i.e., eye, nose, mouth, ear) and seeing how the artist renders each one.

I plan to re-do these master copies periodically to help gauge my progress.

4B pencil in my Strathmore 400 Series Sketchbook.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

100 Heads: Head #15

This is a copy of the drawing Portrait of Lute Player Mascheroni by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). 4B pencil in my Strathmore 400 Series Sketchbook.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

100 Heads: Head #14

This is a copy of the drawing Head of a Woman by Correggio. 4B pencil in my Strathmore 400 Series Sketchbook.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

100 Heads: Head #13

I was unhappy with Head #11, so I redrew it. In Head #11, the lower face (mouth and chin) was a little too far out, so I moved it in a hair. I think Head #13 looks much better. Portraiture is very exacting. 2B pencil in my Strathmore 400 Series Sketchbook.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In the Realms of the Unreal

I recently saw In the Realms of the Unreal--The Mystery of Henry Darger, a documentary on the life and art of recluse Chicago artist Henry Darger (1892-1973). His art is considered to be outsider art, since he had no art training and worked completely outside of the art establishment.

Darger's life story is a sad one. When Henry is 4, his mother dies giving birth to his sister. Henry's father, who is both sick and poor, gives Henry's sister up for adoption, and Henry never knows his sister. Henry lives an impoverished but happy life with his father until the age of 8, when Henry's father becomes too sick to care for him any longer. Henry's father goes into a home for the poor, and Henry is put in an orphanage and later an asylum. When Henry is 16, he escapes from the asylum and makes his way back to his birthplace, Chicago, where he works as a janitor, lives in a single room, and avoids human contact for the rest of his life. He retires in 1963, and eventually dies in the same Chicago poor house as his father. After his death, his landlords discover in his room a 15,145 page manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. Here are two of Darger's paintings.

Darger felt very protective of children (perhaps as a result of his own childhood), and his story centers on children and their battles. Strangely, in his paintings, naked little girls all have penises. One theory is that he was so socially isolated he did not know that females are anatomically different from males.

Darger was very poor, and could not afford expensive art supplies or training. He created art on phone book paper. He went through the Chicago garbage cans to find newspapers and magazines that could provide material for his art. If he like a picture he found, he would trace it or practice drawing it until he was satisfied. He apparently did not have strong drawing skills, but instead relied on tracing and collage to create his pictures. Composition and artistic vision seem to have been his strengths, not technical skills.

Darger never showed his art to anyone.

The documentary is informative, not sentimental, and shows some of Darger's artwork. It features interviews with people who knew Darger, which I found to be the strongest aspect of the documentary. The film animates some of Darger's artwork. I did not like the animation. I would prefer to see it as Darger produced it.

Overall, I found the documentary sad, because Darger's life seemed to be a sad one. The one thing that struck me, however, is how Darger devoted his life to creating art that no would ever see, and he did this despite the fact that he was very poor his entire life. This I find very inspirational. Here are the questions this documentary raises in my mind:
  • What if I never showed my art to anyone? What if I did art for my own enjoyment or psychological well being only? How would that change my art? What if there were no Internet or blogs?
  • What if I didn't depend on purchased items to create art? How would my art change?
  • What if I didn't care what other people think?
I have not been able to find a reasonably priced book of Darger's artwork. Amazon says used copies of Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal start at $495.00. The Dallas Public Library has this book, but it is for reference only, meaning it cannot leave the library.