From Little Acorns Mighty Oaks Do Grow

I love acorns, their shape and texture. This may turn into a series of drawings of different types of nuts, they all come in such cool packages (shells). Who but God could have done that?

Did you know that acorns (also known as oak nuts), along with other nuts are termed mast? Mast is the "fruit of forest trees".

The acorn has been used as a motif in Roman architecture and has been used as an ornament on cutlery, jewelry, and furniture. It even appears on finials in Westminster Abbey.

Maybe I'll do pecans next.

Color is Easy, Black and White is Hard?

I have a friend who once said to me “color is easy, black and white is hard.” I must have looked confused because she added “to look at.”

Then I realized exactly what she meant. We see in color, so we tend to take what we see for granted. We don’t notice the details. So, when we see something in black and white, we work harder looking at it.

We see the detail we don’t pay much attention to when we are looking at something in color. We work at looking, therefore we see more.

It’s also why many artists who work in color will create value studies for a painting. They do small “paintings” in black and white focusing on the values—the lights and darks—they will use; where they place them will make a better and more pleasing composition for the finished painting.

This is why I love working in black and white. Seeing and drawing the values from the lightest lights to the darkest darks and all the values in between, including the very subtle changes.

I think it’s wonderful when people who own my drawings tell me “every time I look at your drawing, I see something I hadn't noticed before and I love it.”

I smile because, if for example the drawing is of their home, it is the details that make it their home and not someone else’s—the beauty in the details. Two reasons why I create every drawing--value and detail.

Moments in Time Saved in Black and White

All of us have moments in our lives that are etched in our minds as memories. Many are significant events that hold special meaning for us. But, they don’t have to be. They can be a moment in time—a moment when you see something you see every day that strikes a chord with you. Something about it suddenly seems extraordinary. 

Or, it can be something you've never seen before that will always be memorable because it was not what you thought it would be. Like something you've seen in photographs many times or heard about all your life, but seeing it in person almost takes your breath away because it is so much better than anything you had pictured in your mind’s eye.

Saving moments in time is what my black and white drawings are all about. During my first trip to New York City over 20 years ago, I was walking around taking pictures. When I arrived at Carnegie Hall, it was bathed in sunlight with wonderful deep, dark shadows in the arches above the marquee. I knew I had to draw it, saving that moment in time.

When Sarah and Charlie were little, playing with a big, flop-eared bunny, is another saved moment in time. The way they were both squatting down exactly the same, completely focused on the rabbit. 

It also shows how completely different they are. Sarah was not afraid to pick up any animal. Her arm is outstretched with her hand under the rabbit. Charlie’s hands are on his own feet. He is intently looking, but not about to touch the bunny. Every time I look at the drawing it makes me smile. It IS them!

Sophie, my cat, climbed into this bowl one night. My first thought was to get my camera to take a picture. My next thought was that she wouldn't still be there when I got back. 

I decided quickly that it was worth a try. She not only was still in the bowl, she stayed there, without moving, long enough for me to take several pictures. When I was finished, she immediately got out of the bowl and has never gotten in it again. If you have a pet, you know what I mean when I say it was a moment in time to be saved.

What moments in time are you saving?  

Pen and Ink Medium

One of the most important characteristics of pen and ink is its directness. The first touch of the pen to paper makes a mark that has a look of finality. The medium makes serious demands on the artist; it calls to his strengths and draws attention to his weaknesses—it is a medium that challenges. A painter once said that he was almost afraid to handle the pen,--“It is so fearfully direct.”

If the mastering of ink technique had to be summed up in a single phrase it would be “incessant practice.”  Incessant practice is a necessity to develop the skills required to get desired results from pen and ink. There is perhaps no other medium offering a better chance to develop a personal technique. Pen drawing is akin to handwriting and just as no two people write alike, so no two people draw alike.

I create full-blown drawings executed slowly and deliberately paying attention to the details—not sketches which are hastily executed simply giving essential features without the details. I spend anywhere from two hours for a two inch square to 70 hours for my largest work. A lifetime of experience, skill and ability go into creating my original drawings.

The Fruitful Moment

This is an excerpt from "Lifeviews: Make a Christian Impact on Culture and Society" by R.C. Sproul. I like what he has to say about quality in Christian art.

"The Fruitful Moment: Rembrandt used a fascinating technique whenever he painted his portraits, much like Michelangelo did when he created his sculptures. He used a technique later described by German philosophers as the "fruitful moment."

"One of the problems an artist must deal with is the question of how to capture the essence of a human personality in a single painting. Life is a process, it is dynamic, A sequence of many different events shapes and forms our lives. For 'Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem,' Rembrandt approached his work by reading the biblical account of Jeremiah. He immersed himself in the text of the Scripture trying to gain a comprehensive understanding of the style and the movement of the life of the weeping prophet. He then got out his pad and began to sketch scenes."

"He sketched up to 80 scenes from the life of Jeremiah, all the while searching for the fruitful moment, that one moment in the life of the man that would, somehow, capture in freeze-frame the essence of his personality. In the painting of Jeremiah, one can see the pain etched into the lines on his forehead. The conflict between the light and the darkness that was so much a part of his life is evident. The disappointment and the frustration of the prophet are captured as his head has become too heavy for his neck to hold up. We can look at Rembrandt's painting a thousand times and see something in it that we never saw before."

"Michelangelo had the same approach. After drawing many sketches, he chose to depict David with stones in his hand. As we look at that famous statue, there is that sense of readiness, as if David were ready to spring into action."

"The substance, depth, and thought behind the works of the masters gave their art an enduring value that far transcends the cheap, the boring, and the superficial...Great art has the ability to persevere through time."

Quality is never cheap, never hurried, never just slapped together. Sproul continues "We must encourage Christian art--good art...I think it is wrong for Christians to demand of their artists that they paint only themes which are overtly and directly religious. There is nothing wrong with religious themes, but the theme does not have to be religious to be 'Christian.' "

We need to strive for excellence in our work--do our very best.

Exploring Themes

In his book, "Keys to Drawing with Imagination," Bert Dodson suggests that by creating a series you can more fully explore an idea than if you did just one drawing of a subject. He says "a workable theme has two qualities: 1) It must arouse your interest enough to carry you through a series of drawings; 2) It should have defined boundaries."

"A theme gives you sustained focus. You can create a limited series of maybe a dozen drawings in quick succession. Or a theme can take years, or even a lifetime. Once you've chosen a theme, give it a title, being specific. Example: if you like to draw your cat, by titling a series The Many Poses of a Sleeping Cat you have given your project a particular shape. Simply draw the things that interest you. The artist chooses and executes the theme. The theme inspires and energizes the artist."

He suggests "do a dozen drawings on a single theme; make them relate visually as well as conceptually...create a unified look to this work, so that if you displayed the pictures, they would appear to belong together. Choose a theme that you can generate some passion about--something that will hold your interest over time. Try combining different subjects (masks, circus, etc.) with different kinds of approaches and methods (puzzle pieces, mirror images, etc.). As you work , display the drawings and leave them up a while. You can learn a lot by studying your work over time."

I have a series that I started several years ago: Terra-Cotta Faces. I am currently working on a drawing in the series of a terra-cotta lion head "mask" that was once one of twelve that were on all four sides at the top of a bank building here in Montgomery. In the late 1800s and early 1900s builders began to use terra-cotta for the ornamentation pieces that were to go anywhere above the first floor of a structure. The real material (granite, marble, etc.) could be used at the first floor and the lighter weight terra-cotta was used for everything else and could be painted to look like marble or granite or what ever was used. I will post the drawing once I have completed it.

So, think about doing a series. It can be fun to come up with different ways of drawing the same subject over and over. Use your imagination!

About Values in Drawing

I have been reading Margaret King's book "An Artist's Handbook: Materials and Techniques." She has a lot of information about drawing and drawing materials. This is some of what she has to say.

"Draw to study, record, express, and clarify your ideas as you engage in a direct and spontaneous medium."

"Since the Italian Renaissance; drawing has implied spontaneity and has been regarded as the embodiment of artists' ideas, free expression, and the foundation for training in all the arts... It now encompasses a broad and deep range of expression...The function of drawing changed significantly in the 20th Century. Some artists persisted in their exploration of the observed world, while others favored abstraction and nonrepresentational imagery."

"Great painters have always been great draftsmen."

"Ink--for fine-art practices, it is advisable to use inks that are a compound of pigment (not dyes) and shellac to ensure that they are lightfast and durable. Manufactured india inks are made of carbon-black pigment ground in water with shellac, which makes them water resistant. Lightfast in normal indoor light conditions, they can be applied in washes with a brush or with pens such as steel pens with a variety of nibs, crow-quill pens, feather quill pens such as turkey, goose or swan and reed or bamboo."

"Drawing inks may also be bound with acrylic, and they will dry water-resistant."

Of course there are many, many pens on the market today that use lightfast inks such as Sharpie, Micron Pigma, Faber-Castell Pitt pens, etc.

One of Ms. King's "exercises to encourage seeing and drawing:"
"While observing drapery shade by hatching and cross-hatching with pen and ink to show the gradation from light to dark."

You will need to train yourself to see "in" values--not just the darks and lights but also the subtle variations. The more you draw, the more obsrevant you become and seeing values becomes easier. The more values you see and draw, the smoother the transition from dark to light and light to dark areas.

Many people don't understand how important it is to have a full range of values in a work of art. They make the mistake of showing only two or three values very close to each other in range which results in a very dull, flat work. Handling values properly will give depth and dimension to your work that you can't achieve any other way. You will also become a much better artist in other mediums you choosse to work with when you have mastered the use of values. A painter once said that if you get the value right, the color is usually right.

I have a friend who is a painter and he really didn't understand values until 2 or 3 years ago. It has made all the difference in his paintings.