A Grateful Heart

It’s Thanksgiving day, my favorite holiday of the year. I love having a day to focus on gratitude.  It a time to stop and reflect on what is truly important – the love of family and friends, unselfish grace, natural beauty, and true peace.     I’m sure everyone can put together their own list of things that warm their heart.

Lately I’ve been feeling especially blessed that I get to do what I love.  I draw almost every day! Between teaching, commissions, new work, travel sketching and more, there is always work in progress and progress in the work.  And best of all,  I’m even more enthusiastic about drawing  than I was when I started this artistic life six years ago. I have so many ideas.  Here is the first of what I hope will be a new series on autumn leaves.


A special thank you to all who have encouraged and inspired me along the way.  Blog readers, collectors, students, artists and friends are dearly valued.    May each and all fill their heart with gratitude today too.




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Using a Ruler

When people look at my drawings, their first question is often, “Do you use a ruler?”   My ink drawings are straight vertical lines.  Well, sort of straight vertical lines.  Look closely at any of my drawings and you’ll see the lines are a little wavy, occasionally slanted, and sometimes they’re kinda kinky.  But no, I do not use a ruler.

Drawings should flow.  Lines should be free, varied, expressive and spontaneous. Even though I love the regularity of a fine pigma micron pen, I can still add variety to my lines.  I can push hard, or barely graze the surface of the paper. I can draw fast or slow, precisely or loosely.   Rulers don’t have a place in my drawings.  They’re too mechanical.   That being said, I recognize someone may have a style with rulers that works well.  More power to them.

I thought about doing a small drawing with a ruler to show you the difference, but that would be tortuous.  So instead, here’s a typical drawing.


And here’s some close ups of  lines.  I used fairly regular lines for the distant shore.  Regular lines with no variation in value are good for indicating distance.


On the side of the boat, there’s more variety in stroke and value


The one time I use rulers is when I teach perspective drawing.  In fact, it was searching for rulers for my current class that prompted this post.  When demonstrating the perspective of parallel sides to vanishing points,  a ruler is essential.  But other than that, it’s freehand all the way.


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Finding Time to Draw

This week several people came to me with the same question:  How do you make time to draw?  Life is so busy that despite our best intentions it can seem impossible to set aside time to pull out a pencil and sketchbook.

It might take a little planning, but it is so worth the effort to carve out drawing time in your weekly schedule.  The first thing is to think about your goals and the style of drawing you like to do.  Some people are comfortable with a 15 minute time slot to do a quick drawing.  Others like to focus on detail and require an hour or more to  make the progress they’re looking for.  Start by defining your goal for what you’d like to accomplish.  Then take an honest look at your calendar or weekly schedule and write down drawing times.

For a while when I was working many hours outside the home, I got up an hour early each day to do artwork.   Other times I found time to work in the evenings or on weekends.  I know of someone who draws for 15 minutes every night before she goes to bed. Others set up drawing dates with friends.  Making a regular commitment is the key.  However you do it, stick to it!

Sometimes no matter how hard we try, there simply  isn’t room in our schedules for regular drawing.  When my children were young and I worked full time, that was the case for me.  I only had time to draw and paint during family vacations so I always made sure we went to beautiful places.   This is a drawing from Jasper National Park in Alberta.


We can always find time for the things we really want to do.



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It’s InkTober!

Early in the month I was reminded that this is InkTober!  Many of you probably know what that means but for those who don’t, it’s an online challenge to do an ink drawing a day.  I pondered committing to it, thinking that it would be easy because I draw almost every day, though not always in ink.  Ultimately I decided I had plenty to do with my other commitments for the month.  In the spirit of InkTober I thought it would be fun to share some recent ink drawings.

From casual sketches in a coffee shop . . .


to trees in the park.


Most people love the brilliant color of autumn leaves, but I like them best when they dry and curl.  How do you draw crisp?


At our monthly sketching group I drew this unique trailer, decorated for Halloween.


And preparing for an upcoming show, I’ve started some detailed drawings from my summer travels.



Of course there have been more, including many quick squiggles in my sketchbook because I really do love to draw.

Jake Parker started Inktober in 2009 to improve his inking skills.   Regular drawing is always the best way to improve.  No matter what your style or subject matter interest, keep drawing!

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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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