Technical Difficulties

I ran into some things this week in the drawing room that I thought might be interesting to illustrate. It was by no means a great week of drawing, but it was a solid week where I learned a lot and felt like I made it past a couple walls. I still really need one of those weeks where you stand back and go “wow – I did that!” but for now “wow – I learned that!” must suffice.


My best efforts this week were with the live figure. After adjustment after drastic adjustment I really got past a struggle I was having to have the chest carry the height that the model had. As you an see, it is a proud pose, great pose.  By the time I got to blocking in the head it was flowing and I was really enjoying the work.

However, I learned some frustrating but important technical lessons. I was using a soft paper with a hard H lead. I didn’t know that was what I was doing but it became clear later. It was a new setup for me because I was feeling a little heavy handed with the HB lead. The Canson paper I used last time didn’t hold up to the erasure as much as I would have liked so I tried out some Stonehenge paper. Variables, variables.

I found that the H lead on the Stonehenge paper lightly indented the paper because I had to press a little harder to get a legible mark. Then when I went to erase and make adjustments the paper started to fuzz. The white tuff stuff erasure I was using grabbed the already fuzzed paper and marred it even more. Result…  a lesson learned and some ugly areas that will stay with the drawing forever but will greatly inform my next drawing.

The second technical lesson I learned had to do with paper again, and my inexperience with charcoal. The cast drawing is really hard for me right now. I began once but the paper was not in great shape so I got another sheet of Canson paper. I began again on this paper; it was not Canson Mi Tiennes paper I discovered.  Wow… Because I am having such a hard time locking in the shadow shapes of the cast I had to make lots of adjustments to the placement of the eyebrow. I was using a bit of a harder touch than I should with the charcoal but even still, the paper just would not let it go when I was trying to erase. By the time I got the eyebrow moved to where I wanted it there was this terrible, really bad ghost mark from where the charcoal would not erase.

Matthew and I looked at it and decided to keep working and get my placement where I wanted it. He then instructed me on how to do a very careful transfer of the drawing onto a new and better sheet of paper. A transfer is rather tricky because we are doing sight size measurement with the cast so I have to transfer the plumb line exactly, etc. Learning how to do the transfer is really interesting but this is the second time I started this freeking cast over.

Here is the deal. The solution to each of these is technical and materials related… change the lead to HB, get another sheet of paper. Simple. But I think that you can adjust tools over and over and that some combinations are just bad, but the really important adjustment is to adjust yourself… adjust the marks you make, heavier or lighter depending on the materials at hand. Personally, if I can do this I will save a lot of money because I can use the materials I have instead of chasing the perfect paper or charcoal. So yes, the problem really was a combination of materials… but the solution is found in knowing all the materials well enough to be able to anticipate and control the results.

So, there is a whole lot of technical mumbo jumbo for you, but it really was good experience for me and I know my tools that much better. The cast thing is so frustrating to me right now, but I know I will have a good run of it this time, right? They say the third time is the charm.

This week… sometimes

… sometimes really, the very best you can do is to just show up (and make some marks). That was pretty much the story of this week, and last. I will just keep doing my best and hope next week my best makes me a little bit more satisfied than the last few weeks…

It’s not all magic and Zen. My first week cast drawing…

I think every painter has moments where they feel like they are really tapped in, they are on the path – they will achieve their goals and vision. I think that we couldn’t last as painters if we didn’t have those times where we feel for a moment some form of the capacity for greatness. The brush flows, the lines appear effortlessly on the paper.  It is all magic and Zen. And then there are weeks like this:

This was one of those weeks where you just do the work. You don’t do great work; magic doesn’t happen, and for the uninitiated it would appear that you have regressed back to the stage of scribbles. In fact 80% (or more) of the work of an artist I am beginning to believe is just this – doing not so great WORK.  No great results, no watershed moments, no rapid progress… another week of drawing and pressing yourself to see even more, even better, even deeper into the thing you are rendering.

My week started with the figure (as seen above). It was the first day of an eight week pose, so I think there is still hope for this one.  I can’t wait to post progress of it in a better shape than this shot finds it. I am however not here to say “hey I make really great drawings.” I am here to offer camaraderie to others on this same journey and maybe in my honesty provide encouragement when you meet with hard times or a challenging drawing.  So back to the figure, I had a really hard time initiating the block in… I struggled keeping the model in the box. I was really intimidated by the beauty of the pose. You simply cannot fake this stuff. You can’t go into the studio on a down day and fake a good drawing.  Truth shows. I am slowly getting to the point though, where I am proud of everything I do in the studio, even if it does not “shine” because it reflects something so important.  It reflects in my opinion a sacred struggle to grow and a commitment to what I am most made of. What’s not to be proud of.

Probably the most frustrating part of my studies this week was starting a cast drawing of Michelangelo’s eye in charcoal, in sight size. This meant for me learning to see far away from the easel. You stand way back from your drawing and look… then look at your drawing and project where you want to make a mark. Memorize it… then walk to the easel and make your mark. Walk back and check your mark. So that is new for me. On top of that there is the ongoing charcoal learning curve. I am using vine charcoal for this and I like it much better than the Nitram I am using for the Bargue. It is softer and does not grit and jump.

This will be the first drawing that I start over since I began my studies here. Partly, well mostly it is because the only paper I had to draw on that day was a bit beat up. But it is also because in all my learning and erasing I created “unsightly ghost lines”. So I am going to let this one go and start fresh on Wednesday.  Ghost lines… that is the topic for a while other blog post!

I worked on my Bargue angel at home – though did not get a critique on it. I will be getting critique next week so expect a lot of change on it in my next post. The Holbein didn’t come out to play this week at all.  I am hoping to spend some time with her a little this week.

There is so much that goes on in every drawing for the student. I assume for the professional or accomplished artist as well – but the nature of the struggle is different. I think the most important thing I got out of the week was some advice from my new painting/cast drawing teacher Matthew Riggs – “Don’t fight it, don’t make it fight between you and the drawing. “ He also instructed some about capturing the expression of the  form a little earlier in the block in process as opposed to just connected well measured dots of a grid. In the end you might have something that looks like the thing you are drawing but has no energy.

I was also told that I am going to be taught to draw like a painter. This made me giggle like a school girl!  Have a great week!

First week and off and rolling!

My First Charcoal Bargue:

While I am pleased with the progress of my new Bargue, I am struggling with both using the charcoal for the first time and with moving from the block in to the interior of the form. My biggest struggle with the charcoal right now is the fluidity of making a line. I keep running into some sort of grit in my charcoal that makes my line uneven or I have to push down too hard and imprint on the paper. I am use to the consistency of line I get with the graphite. I have tried both H and HB. The HB seemed to have less of an issue with it for me, but still! I am encouraged by my fellow students who say that you learn how to handle this distraction with practice.  Instructor, Jonathan Chorn gave me some pointers and a way to sharpen the charcoal that might help with this problem. You sharpen the charcoal into a very sharp chisel shape instead of the rounded point.  I like that shape more for a number of reasons. It gives you a sharp point longer and it gives you the option for different line expression.


Regarding moving into the form from the block-in, I got some fantastic advice from my new teacher, Florence Academy Graduate Matthew Riggs. He will be teaching cast drawing starting next week, moving into Grisaille painting and his painting program – (SO excited!) He said that if I am hesitating to move into a next step or I am finding it difficult, then I am not finished with the previous step/area yet. The steps of the work evolve naturally leading one into the other as you progress. Don’t fight it or force yourself into things, just work on the adjusting the block in, fine tuning it until you naturally start moving inward. GREAT advice that can be applied to creative work across the board. He speaks my language which is so important for a student and teacher.

In the Drawing Room:

The last two sessions were each 3 hour block-ins. This has been really good warm up for me for the next session’s longer pose. I feel real progress with the live figure. The most important thing is that the sight-size “fight” to keep the figure between the head and foot lines (The box as I call it) has become considerably less. I do not really know what has changed but I am able to consistently come back to the form in the right size. This is a breakthrough as I spent many drawing sessions in deep frustration with the form changing size over and over as I tried to keep it constant, in the box. I still have trouble with my vision going from the distant model to the close up paper but it also was less of a fight. I am ordering progressive lens glasses this week that will make that struggle even less of a problem I hope. Overall, I am enjoying the figure room more and more as the fight become less and the focus shifts more to the drawing itself and less to the set-up.


The school itself is really growing by leaps and bounds. With Jonathan, Matthew and Lisa all teaching now, and sometimes all present in the studio providing critique and feedback the level and quality of instruction just keeps getting more robust. There are many new students that add to a really special and charged atmosphere. it is a very, very good group right now and I am so happy to be active in the community there again.