Seeing in Black and White

To those new to drawing, seeing values can be perplexing.  Most people see color instead of value.  Then if something is a dark color, they assign it a dark value.  That may or may not be a truthful representation.  A dark color in the light can be lighter that a light color in the dark.  Huh?   Let me explain:  If I want to draw this bowl of green and red apples, some of the shadows are on the light green side of the apples.  You can also see there is a strong highlight on the deep red part of the apple in the front.



Here the green shadows are darker than the red highlight.  Hence I would leave the highlight areas white or very light, and the shadow areas – no matter what color they may be – dark.   Color is really not a factor when you’re drawing in black and white.


This is yet another aspect of learning to see.  Practice looking for just the values as you observe your surroundings.  Squinting helps to accentuate lights and darks.  Another option, if you’re really struggling with this, is to take a photo with your phone and convert it to gray scale.  (I checked my phone to see if it could do that – it could, then I got side-tracked for 20 minutes playing with all the edit options I didn’t know were there).

However, you don’t want to become dependent on a phone photo for your subject matter.  Drawing from life is always best.  Values are more accurate to your eye than through your camera lens.  And, when you draw from an accurate real life subject, your drawings will be full of life too.



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Comparing Pencil and Ink

Pencil drawing is great fun to be sure.  It’s possible to get soft and subtle gradations from light to dark.  Careful drawings come out both lifelike and expressive.   Plus there’s the distinct advantage of being able to use an eraser not only to correct mistakes, but to pull out highlights and to soften dark areas. Despite all these benefits, I continue to enjoy my ink drawings.  I like building values and discovering the subtlety of tone that can actually be achieved simply by varying the line.  I’m fascinated by the graphic quality of the drawings and the distinctive value patterns of fine vertical lines.  Sometimes it may seem like a subject is not well suited for ink, then I discover otherwise.

Take these two drawings of gourds. As a demonstration for a class I drew the same gourd in pencil and then in ink


Even though I changed viewpoints, you can tell it’s the same gourd.   In the pencil version I was confident I could vary the values to get a good representation of the bumps and rough edges.  I wasn’t sure how this would come out in ink, but by carefully portraying the values the result is a crisp rendering of a rough and curvy gourd.



Here’s a rose in pencil and in ink.  Although you might think pencil is best for those gentle petals, ink can be applied in a gentle manner as well.  The ink depicts the depth and design of the bloom.  It’s different, but equally successful.

There’s no right or wrong medium.  The best one is the one you enjoy and that expresses your unique artistic viewpoint.

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Challenge of the Squiggles

Every drawing is an opportunity to see something new, express a new idea and learn more about how to draw. I teach beginning drawing. It’s fun to see students grapple with the basic concepts of seeing and mark making.  And, very gratifying to watch their expressions when they realize they’re getting it, when line becomes graceful and values hit the right gradations. Learning anything new is always rewarding whatever the skill is.

Pushing ourselves to learn  something new can also be downright scary. It’s oh so tempting to cling to comfort levels.  Whatever works best becomes our default.  In my case, that’s vertical lines.  As you can see from the drawings in the gallery, I love those vertical lines.  It was a conscious effort when I first started,  now it’s automatic.  In a recent workshop I encouraged the students to try different ink techniques until they found one that felt right to them.  The goal was to create value drawings with pen.  Lines in different directions, cross-hatching, stippling and even squiggling are some of the ways of creating values with ink.





Since I was pushing their comfort zones, they thought it was only fair that I do a drawing with no vertical lines.   I decided to try squiggles.  It was quite difficult at first, but as I drew this grouping of gourds and pots, it became easier    I don’t think I’ll be switching to squiggles any time soon, but it’s nice to know I’m not totally stuck in a vertical rut.


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Coastal Perspective

One of the many things I love about the Oregon Coast is the mist or light that settles where the shore meets the sea.  The farther the distance, the whiter the light. I know this is atmospheric perspective.  It has to do with the way our eyes see light as it recedes in distance.   Along the coast in Oregon it is accentuated more than any other place I’ve seen.  I’m guessing it has to do with the moisture in the air.  However it happens, it makes for a gorgeous scene.

The problem is that it’s very hard to draw.  I confess I have not yet figured out how to draw mist, fog, even clouds for that matter, with ink.   Even though I can get some subtle values with my vertical lines, that softness eludes me.  I tried a quick drawing in ink – it’s such a disaster you don’t get to see it.  Then I tried a small pencil drawing.  Better. Pencil is perfect for soft gradations.


I also love the colors of coastal scenes so just for fun I tried a watercolor version. My watercolor skills are a little rusty.  Its still not the end result I’m looking for.  I’ll keep at it.  It’s good to have a goal and I want to figure out how to express this wonderful atmospheric condition.


I was hoping to have many more drawings of the Oregon Coast to share, unfortunately vehicle problems ended my trip early.   I will be back as there is much more to see and draw.

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About Drawing Locations

Finding something to draw is no problem on the Oregon Coast.  In every direction there are wonderful subjects.  But finding the right place to sit and draw these fabulous views can sometimes be a challenge. I like to find places where I blend in to the surroundings, where it’s fairly quiet so that I can concentrate, and where I will be comfortable for the duration of the drawing.

The small village of Nehalem offers charming store fronts painted in bright colors and decorated with lovely flower baskets.  After taking a walk around this one block town, I found a great place to sit opposite the grocery store.  It was in the shade, quiet and  nestled between some planter boxes.   Although I was sitting on Highway 101, it was easy to ignore the traffic and focus on the lines and shapes.  I had worked through the proportions and was adding in the details when a large white pickup truck pulled up and parked directly in front of me, completely blocking my view.  There were so few people in town it never occurred to me that someone would  park there. A woman got out of the passenger side and I asked her if they planned to be there long.  But just as the words left my mouth  a semi roared by.  She never heard me and kept walking. Sigh.  I went to a nearby porch to finish adding the important aspects of the drawing. One more lesson learned – never sit down in front of an empty parking space!


Later in the day I wandered around the marina in Garibaldi.   The backside of the main dock with its many colored buildings, bins, hoists and fishing gear was my kind of subject.  I looked at my viewpoint options.  There was a handy bench where I could sit along the boardwalk facing the view. It was a quiet spot with only the occasional fisherman wandering past.  The parking lot and road were behind me.  I sat peacefully for a couple hours to complete this drawing:


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Picking Up Where I Left Off

Some  may remember that I did a trip to the Oregon Coast in the Spring.  I didn’t have time to get very far.  In fact I only went from Astoria to Cannon Beach, a distance of about 30 miles.   Thirty miles with so much to see and draw!  The entire Oregon Coast is equally impressive and it’s my intention to eventually draw it all.

I’m back.  I’m continuing down the coast to see what wonders I can find.  Just south of Cannon Beach is Hug Beach.  I had been here before.  In fact, I remember doing an oil painting just the left of the stairs to the beach.    This time I came equipped with only a sketchbook, a pencil and a pen.   I did a simple drawing of the very scene I  painted.



Because the tide was out I decided to venture further and go north past a rocky outcropping.  I’m so glad I did!   I found a beautiful beach nestled up against sculpted rock formations, complete with a small waterfall cascading down a rock.  Best of all I had the whole place to myself!  I let my dog run on the beach and I sat down to draw.  Inevitably, people, and dogs, came along and my attention was diverted to the mischief my dog was getting into.   I managed to complete a good portion of the drawing and finished it up back at camp.    I was hesitant to put color on it because I rather liked the drawing by itself. So I held my breath and added the first splashes of watercolor.   As usual, once the color goes on, I always like it better.


Can’t wait to see what further wonders await on this journey!


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Tacoma Sketches

As I mentioned in the previous post, the premise of Urban Sketching is to drawn within an allotted time frame then meet up to share drawings.   There’s not a lot of time to pick the perfect drawing location.  With the temperature in the 90’s on the first day of last weekend’s Urban Sketchers West Coast Sketch Crawl, my primary consideration was a place in the shade.  After wandering for a bit midst a mix of old and new architecture, I finally found a  cool spot with an interesting building beyond a small park.

Tacoma 1

I loved the designs on the building but with a time limit  and only a 7 x 9 piece of hot press watercolor paper, I knew I couldn’t focus on the details.  This had to be about placing the building in it’s setting and coming away with a reasonable representation.

In the afternoon I did two quick drawings in my sketchbook.  Again, looking for a cool spot, I perched on a concrete bulkhead above Foss Waterway with a handy tree to block the sun.  In the shade and with a slight breeze of the water, it was a delightful place to be.  First, looking across the marina to the far bank,


then looking back up toward the Glass Museum.   Those white things are supposed to be the lovely glass sculpture that arises out of a pool.   I’m going to have work on depicting glass with more definition.


On Sunday morning, the weather had changed completely, it was overcast, breezy and  barely 60 degrees.  My kind of weather.  I wanted to do a detailed perspective study and I quickly found my subject.  Sitting in front of a triangular building, I drew the sidewalk, trees and buildings receding into the distance.  Fairly early on, I decided this would just be an ink study.  Sometimes I think they’re more powerful that way.  Yes, it was a bit tedious drawing all those vertical lines, but I thoroughly enjoyed the two hours I put into it.  My Stillman and Birn Epsilon Sketchbook is 7 x 10 inches.  I don’t usually fill up so much of the page, but there it is.


This is my favorite of the four drawings.   It feels like Tacoma to me.  It’s always a challenge to express a sense of place in art.  A topic to explore in future blogs!

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Sketch Crawl!

This past weekend was the Urban Sketchers West Coast Sketch Crawl in Tacoma, Washington.  What a blast! More than 150 lovers of drawing gathered to sketch and share their work. We had three designated drawing sessions, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning.  After each session, sketchers came together to show their work.  I don’t know if other Urban Sketcher groups use this term, but this group calls sharing the drawings, the “Throw Down” because the drawings are usually lined up on the ground, but not actually thrown down.  Once on the ground, the group tours around them, admiring each and every one.


It’s so much fun to see the drawings.  With a group that included children to seniors, beginners to experts, there was a wide variety of subjects, styles and techniques.

A note about the photos that follow:  We all snapped pictures indiscriminately of drawings that generally weren’t signed or identified.  While it would be ideal to give credit to each of the artists, in nearly all cases below I don’t know who the artists are. The pictures that are shared here are simply a sampling of hundreds of wonderful drawings that resulted from the weekend.  For more information see the Urban Sketchers Tacoma website.


There were line drawings to value studies,




and panoramas to details.




I was intrigued by several artists who used accordion fold sketchbooks.  Doing a drawing that large in the two and a half hours allotted for each session was impressive. All of the results were spectacular.  One of the reasons I enjoy doing Urban Sketcher outings is that I always come away inspired.



I can’t finish this post without expressing my appreciation to the many selfless people who organized this event. It was a friendly and casual gathering that flowed well through the weekend.  I just wish it would have lasted longer.



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Sketching at the Marina

This week our sketching group went to a nearby marina.  Boats are such interesting subjects.   Putting curved hulls in perspective, adding masts, pilot houses and all sorts of marine gear,  drawing each boat to look like they’re floating on moving water, all adds up to a worthy challenge.   Everyone did a great job.



What I love is that everyone has their own unique approach.  John works carefully in pencil,


Allison enjoys ink and and wash,


And Susan likes to work in watercolor.


With a variety of styles and mediums we always have a great time seeing what everyone has done at our show and tell at the end of the session.  It’s inspiring to see everyone’s vision as well as the progress they are making by drawing weekly.

This weekend I’m off to the Urban Sketchers’ West Coast Sketchcrawl in Tacoma.  Fun. Fun Fun!!


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Olympic Perseverence

“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign myself ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”

Hokusai, The Drawings of Hokusai


I love this quote!  Hokusai didn’t make it to 110, but he did live a good long life and his art is legendary.  With the Olympics going on in Rio right now, we are inspired by the effort and determination of the  world’s best athletes.  Great artists have worked equally hard.  Those who excel do so because they dedicate hours, months, years to their craft.   I find this motivating when I struggle to achieve the results I’m striving for.

To be sure drawing is a skill that takes a lifetime to perfect.  Yet  the wonderful thing about drawing is that you don’t have to be a Hokusai or a Rembrandt to enjoy it.  Simply putting pencil or pen to paper is a joy that everyone can experience.



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