The Hand, Heart and Eye – Josie II

I finished Josie! The last few weeks I have had pneumonia so only worked a little at a time as I had energy. It all adds up! I am really happy with how she turned out for me. It is something to know that all the time and patience comes together. There are always things you think you could have done different, there is always that distance between the thing you say in your mind’s eye and the final result but in this case, the distance is not as great as it usually is.

When I did the original block in I did it on a different sheet of paper and then transferred the final block in to the pristine paper. I do this because I am forever heavy handed in my block-ins, erasing lots, grooving the paper a little too much. I am getting better with practice but it is a slow process developing that pencil control so I want to start my drawing with a fresh, light block in. I use a transfer method I learned at that Neoteric and that Sadie uses as well. I copy the drawing to tracing paper and then on the reverse side put a thin layer of graphite. Then I use a permanent fine point marker to lightly draw over my drawing transferring it smoothly onto the pristine paper. I love this method. You are never pushing a pencil into the paper when doing the transfer.

All that went really well on Josie. But – then I saw some changes, of course, that needed to be made to the block in and I got a little “groovy” on my drawing. That is the biggest bugaboo with the final Josie drawing. If you look closely in person you can see some of those grooves I made when adjusting the transferred block in. I didn’t really need to make those adjustments either, that’s the thing. I could have made the adjustments while drawing, and with a lighter hand.

Sometimes you can become so enamored of your own process and mark making. In doing so you put yourself smackdab in the middle of “thinking” and bugger things up. I do my best when I get out of my own way and just let my hand, heart and eye work. I am a far smarter artist when I am not thinking about the execution too much while executing. I think this is what I learned from Josie mostly…. Think first, think and look, then get out of your way and let instinct take over. Then stop and think again, look again and then fall back into the knowing.

Josie II Graphite on Canson Paper

I am learning the same lesson when applying a print to a fabric in this little pastel study of a potato I am doing. I have never done print on fabric before, much less in pastel. I found the same process rang really true for this… get out of my way. The more I thought about the print the more forced the print became, the more fiddly the detail and the less fresh the result. I took a toothbrush and loosened the pastel up over most of the cloth and went in with a much lighter hand. I looked hard and then I put myself away and let my hand, heart and eye take over.

WIP – Sweet Potato Pastel on Hand Prepared Paper

There is a time to think, and then there is a time to put thinking aside and just do what you know to the best of your ability and instinct. We have so much knowledge inside of us, we actually know how to do so much if we just get out of our own way. You take all this time to learn all you can and you practice all you can so that you can let go when it counts and let the rhythm and instinct guide you.

I think the rest of my art practice, for the rest of my life will primarily be this… learning to get out of my own way!

Making Art in Early June

It’s quite warm in my apartment and it’s hot under my painting lights so I thought I would take a break to show what I’ve been up to these last few weeks.  First off last weekend I did my first “almost” alla prima painting. It went a little longer than expected because I had to learn how to paint and paint and orange fifty times to get it right. Someday when I start a painting I will not have to relearn again everything I have learned before. Could be my memory isn’t what it once was, could also be that PAINTING WELL IS HARD!

The pitcher came surprisingly easy. I was surprised with how quickly the color came to me through the whole painting. I think this is because I did a pastel of this same still life image a while back. Yes, I worked from a photo of my still life on this one. Shame. But I have very limited space for big still lifes. I think in this one I could have paid a lot more attention to edges. It’s a real juggling act. That is the bugaboo of working from a photo. The edges are much more exaggerated than in real life. You also often get your shadows defined and colorful with your lights over exposed or the opposite, your lights defined well and your shadows exaggerated and dark. I think if you take these things into consideration when painting form a photo you a photo can be extremely useful, especially in close quarters. It is important to me though to use original images only.

I will always prefer life. I have arranged a “light box” area next to my easel for me to do very small paintings form life so expect to see lots of little paintings this summer. A still life might be a couple of fruits or eggs, single items, etc. I will be able to paint from life so that will really be great. Matthew, a beloved teacher of mine challenges me to work from life as often as I can.

I miss my teachers and my friends at the Neoteric. It is a terrific school and I will go back one day when I am able to make a consistent commitment at actually being there. My health is improving a lot lately and I know I will be able to rock it in the studio again soon.

I have also FINISHED (!!) my sketch of Josie.  The images of Josie that I am working on are from a photo shoot I did a number of years back. I cannot have a live model in my apartment. I might though have a friend over to sit for me for sketches. They would have to sit a long time though. It takes me forever to finish anything. I also came to the realization that though I love the delicacy and responsiveness of charcoal I prefer working with graphite. This drawing was done using mainly Coates willow charcoal.

I have made some progress on my second Josie drawing in graphite.  Again learning what to do with the edges of the drawing. This is a test drawing, a practice drawing for a real drawing I am going to do of this image. It is a practice drawing because: a) I am really studying my pencil skills in this one and b) in the block in I was too heavy handed and made some deep grooves into the paper. It’s hard to see that in the drawing but that is why it is a practice drawing.

My online work with Sadie Valeri’s Atelier continues, this time with block-ins and a final sphere. She gave me the go ahead to start her first painting lesson which is – value scales!! I am learning so much about the basics one step at a time through this program and it is paying off in my work. I see it all the time. These things seem small and unromantic but they are like backbones to build your hopes on.

Finally, My Varo copy continues and I with it…..


What’s been on the table this week…

My discipline has been good lately, though I am torn three days a week when I have to work on my side business that actually brings in a meager amount of money. I will say that it is gratifying to have your own business, but not nearly as gratifying as making art.

Lisa, the Director of the Neoteric Renaissance School of Art and dear friend was over for a visit the other day and looked at some of my recent endeavors in progress. She said the most encouraging thing I have heard in a great while. She said she always recognizes my work. She said that the decisions I make regarding moving light and line through a piece, what I accent and what I down play are delicate and consistent. We talked about how these things happen unconsciously, the real signature of an artist being the little things like where you begin and end a line, the way you choose to accent the light moving through a work, etc. Delicate is not a word that I think of when I think of my work. I constantly struggle with a heavy hand. It was good to hear though, and then to let go of and get back into the learning. If it happened unconsciously then I best just be true my studies and not become too self-conscious of it.

I was quite tired today and found that it actually helped my art work a lot. It slowed my mind and all the thoughts that tend to dart all over the place and tire me out much quicker when I’m working. I put in a good five hours today.


I have made progress on the Varo! It should be done within a couple weeks, definitely by the end of June. I had a great go at it Saturday and made lots of progress. I really just have the table and box to do, the final touches to the cloth and then the face and hands of course. The face and hands will go fast, because it has to be on the money the first pass. I have been working on this one for almost a year, a little at a time.

I work slowly and I still find the act of close comparison fatiguing over time. So I just work on spurts. I generally do not work longer than ½ hour without a break, and around three or four hours before a longer break. Sometimes that is all I can put in for the day. Sometimes I go back to it after a few hours of doing something else. Often I work on my writing or book studies in between painting sessions – or play a computer game – another way I like to take a break. I do not know why I fatigue so quickly, but it does get noticeably better when I consistently work every day.



The less I think about what I’m doing the smoother what I’m doing becomes. It is a luxury to not think about what you’re going to do next, especially when you’re learning because you’ve always got this dialogue running in your mind coaching you, the voices of teachers, of books, instructing you into the correct way to do things. I do my best when I shake all that.

With Josie, I wanted to smooth the effect in this session. I was not happy with the scratchy marks and the cumbersome execution with the charcoal. I wanted something fresher, cleaner. I looked to my right and I saw one of my super soft paint brushes. To my surprise I just took it and I started brushing the charcoal around. That’s a really bold move when you’ve spent a month working on a portrait and have never done the technique before. I could have lost everything but I got lucky. Actually, after so much study, I don’t know if it’s all just luck anymore! I was able to reconcile some problem areas and add some fresh spontaneity to the background and achieve that flat neat black background that I wanted. About three times I should have stopped and I by the end of the session I had created and lost about 3 completely different drawings. Must work on more control.


Getting ready to work the print in the cloth. Right now it appears like a blank canvas but will have a very complex French vine and floral print. The potato came along very easily. The paint tube still needs a lot of work. I am getting faster with my pastels and more confident.



I have been working on my Sadie Valeri Atelier Online projects – more spheres, value strips and a couple block in progression. It was a challenge to get the block in consistent and identical in each stage. What a great exercise, doing each stage from the beginning. I am very much enjoying and learning from Sadie’s curriculum and approach. I also think I finally am happy with my value sphere!

My goal this week is to finish Josie and continue to make progress on the Varo. I have a new block in to do for Sadie and want to start a couple of small graphite drawings as soon as Josie is done. I am not enjoying the charcoal much at all. Also, it poses the same storage and framing challenges as the pastel. I still want to work in oil and graphite primarily. That being said, I am setting up to paint this week so will be focusing on that as well.

Art Notes from March – Working on Josie

March 1
Started Josie Reclining
Charcoal on Stonehenge drawing paper

This will be a difficult drawing because the figure plane has very little value variation to give the eye interest. It is very subtle the transitions across the form. The contrast of the image and the expression on Josie’s face are what make this an interesting and beautiful picture to me. The challenge will be to communicate those well in a very small drawing with such light values – in charcoal.

This will be my first real charcoal figure drawing and I just have only a teensy clue as how to proceed from watching Matthew and Lisa. In the figure drawing room I have not even gotten to shadow shapes yet but I have watched them enough to try my hand at it at home.

The key to success will be SHARP SHARP charcoal, a light, light touch and going really slow. I would like to be done with this drawing in a month.

I have taken to sharpening whole boxes of charcoal at a time so when I work I have a ton of sharp charcoals and don’t have to worry about sharpening all the time. It is a relaxing activity sitting at my desk with my materials sharpening my charcoal slowly and one by one. Very meditative. I do my pencils at the same time.

March 6
Initial Block in
Here is my block in and my first crit. Aside from a few measurement adjustments the main gist of the crit was to apply broader comparisons across the form to relate shapes and not just compare and reference areas with things in close proximity. Work across the form.


March 8
Filling in the main plane
Here I filled in broad areas with a light marks in order to define the form even closer and understand negative shapes easier. This gets to my most challenging area… filling the space with marks. I am starting to understand how to fill in the spaces between the spaces. You fill in the spaces between those spaces. By spaces, they actually mean the valleys of the paper grain itself. THAT was an important revelation I made. Lift out where things get dark then fill in so it looks even. Do this until you get an even surface (I have not yet achieved that here or anywhere yet in charcoal). I am realizing why you must start soooo light. By the time you have filled in every hill and valley of the paper texture you have darkened stuff up quite a bit. If you start to dark that is a disadvantage.


March 12
Keying the drawing
I love this part – keying in the darks in order for me to be able to navigate the form better. Everything is in service to the form, to understanding the form better, revealing those small adjustments you need to make. I am totally winging it but for some reason getting those spots of dark dark in place makes me really happy. I keep telling myself to go slow. Go slow.


March 17
Filling in the background and darks.
The main thing that I have to say about session is this drawing and art in general is a process of discovering and then letting go of beauty over and over. I would even go so far as destroying beautf in order to reclaim it over and over. You get your work to a moment where it looks beautiful in youreyes, and you have to demolish it in order to build on it and take it to the next level. It looks beautiful again and then you have to undo it once again – each step building on the last.


March 20
Starting on the body.
I worked for about 2 hours last night. I feel like I made some real progress on understanding the application of charcoal. My impatience gets the best of me when making the directional marks of the charcoal but in little spaces I’m very good with the light touch. I’m amazed at the way the charcoal respond to almost a breath or a thought. It seems to read your mind. IN the area of the face I am able to control the charcoal very well and I can feel the sensitivity of what I am doing. It feels amazing. The rest of the body looks like a hairy gorilla. I may have ruined a good drawing.

March 29
Refining the form and the marks
I’m very anxious to bring the drawing to a state of completion but I can’t believe how much harder it is than I thought it would be. I have no idea if it looks like it is supposed to look. If the marks are correct. At this point I am just going with my own instinct and trying to elevate the work so it looks good. I guess that’s what really matters. I would like to do a very traditional classical figure but I’m just not set up to really immerse myself in learning that technique through and through right now. She doesn’t look like a gorilla anymore which makes me very happy. I am starting to work on the background and cloth now, and start shaping the hands.


I am not going to finish this by April 1 but I am happy that I am close. It will be close.

The (art) week in pictures: February 7 – 14

2/7 – Sunflowers
I painted today. I feel like I keep saying/painting the same thing over and over and over. I go from very being very effective to falling into a primitive idea of painting what I think I see. I gain control and lose control over and over again and that process not only disrupts the unity and confidence of the marks I am putting down but it exhausts me. I have painted these leaves at least ten times and every time I redo them completely. I create something I like and in trying to push it further lose it. I am getting much better about blending my edges really well though, after I have worked on an area and am stopping for the night or until it dries. It makes it much easier to go back and rework the area.

Also and importantly, I have discovered my “painting music”! Choir music! For me, it soothes the mind, raises the heart and steadies the hand. I just discovered some contemporary composers who have composed such timeless sublime pieces as  Morten Lauridsen and Arvo Part. It took my over-simplistic generalizations about the clasical music of this time by surprise. PS. Lauridsen is going to be talking about his music at a community college this week and we are going!

2/8 – Sunflowers
I surprised myself painting today. I worked on the petal part of my sunflower painting. For the longest time I had no idea how I was going to approach them. At first I started with extra care, brushing each petal slowly and very carefully. It was all wrong. I wiped it all out and looked at my brushes. I needed a bigger brush. I needed a bristle brush. I picked up a nice medium round hog bristle. Filled it with paint and then just let go. With the bigger brush I let go of the controls and let my instincts paint for me. I think that in painting our head can get away from us and we lose track of our instincts. Just like we can walk and talk at the same time without thinking about it, when you paint your best you are applying the paint without thinking about the color, value, temperature, textures all at once. Instinct. The process of learning is becoming aware of every little thing but the process of mastering is letting go of every little thing and letting your instincts take over. I know that when my instincts paint I always exceed my own expectation. I match colors and make brush strokes that I never could make if I were thinking about every little thing. Freedom in painting is discovered in those moments of trust that you will make the right mark. If you are really practicing often, seven out of ten times you will make the right mark. The other few times you just correct yourself. Realizing this is causing me to be a better painter.

I look at all the lessons I’m learning and how hard it is and it is such a simple little panting. Here is the Sunflowers so far… now all I need to do is get into the details on the leaves, etc. I am not going to do too much more with the petals.

Sunflowers. Swalton. In progress
2/11 – Josie
I drew tonight for about 3 hours. I worked in charcoal on paper from a photograph. The photo is of a dear friend who modeled for me one night and allowed me to take some photos of her poses. At first I really fought with the charcoal but as I worked, I saw how the nature of charcoal actually lends itself to a very sensitive application. It seems to read my mind simply said. I ended up having a really easy time with it and was really able to focus on the drawing. I made good progress and got a complete block in done. The only problem is now I’m not really sure what to do next as I head into the shadow shapes and starting to examine the shadows. Lisa and Matthew are coming over for critique this weekend. I think I will leave it alone until then. Tomorrow I am going to try to make class and draw from the live figure.

Here is my drawing of Jose so far:


2/12 – Figure drawing class
I went to class tonight and drew from the live figure for 3 hours. It was the same pose as two weeks ago and the same drawing. I struggled at first because the poste had drifted considerably over two weeks. After I talk to Matthew about it, he said I could either start over or I could re-work and re-block in the figure working up from the feet and legs (which had not drifted in the pose). I chose to stay with my drawing. It was a lot of fun to actually turn the figure around dimensionally in my drawing and by the end of the night I had a successful revised block in. I felt very comfortable drawing tonight. I was able to really feel and see more my growth, drawing from the model used to be such a fight for me, almost painful. Here is my drawing from tonight. I’ll continue with this drawing for the next 3 or 4 weeks, through the end of March.

Here is a snapshot of my reworked block in:


And Again We Begin!

Happy New Year! This is quite a good time to start blogging again, being that we are starting a new year and I will be starting a new term at the Neoteric. Also, my friend and dear co-student successfully encouraged me to go for it again. Thank you Joel – this one is for you!

I have not been posting because technically I have not gone to class for the last two terms. As I might have mentioned I have a chronic health condition that keeps me from being able to make it to class as much as I would like.

I say “technically” not going to class because while I have not been at the school, the school has come to me. I have been working very hard on projects that my teachers Lisa and Matthew are involved in. They come to my house/studio for critique periodically so that I can continue to grow and stay connected to the tradition and community. They constantly believe in me and encourage me to continue the work. I could not be more grateful.

The last two quarters of last year I spent applying the things I learned in my first year studying on site at the school part time. I work on block ins from art model books and life, am still working on my Master’s copies, I began painting a self-portrait and have three still life paintings in process that were started blocked in and the under-painting and first players done from life and the finishing is being done from memory and photo reference. It is too bad my work space is so small that I cannot leave a still life set up for very long but we do what we must – and I accept that for now, photo reference is necessary.

Matthew has pointed out some of the bugaboos with photo reference that I keep in mind when translating things into paint, such as edges that are unrealistically sharp and a broader area of focus. Photos are more clear and crisp over the entirety of the image, whereas in life, there is smaller clear focal area and the rest sort of softens in our field of vision. So, I attempt to compensate for those things as best I can.

It seems that I have so much work in progress and nothing finished from the end of last year. I could find that discouraging, and be frustrated with myself for taking so long to finish a thing. But considering that I am drinking up every lesson and every mark from each work – I allow myself to take it slowly and be very thoughtful of my marks and efforts. I let myself play some, creating work that I  don’t care to take to completion – quick drawings from life, pastels that take a couple of evenings to do. I recently played with Pan Pastels for the first time using the black and whites to create some value studies. These are works that I either do not save or that never see the light of day. You must allow yourself space to play, to reach out, to gesture, to confidently make marks without the fear of screwing stuff up. I think in the study of classical realism this is really important, at least for me – because the “work” of learning and training the eye can become so contracting and slavish in the domain of the critical mind. You have to let the kids out every now and then or they start to sabotage your efforts, at least for me it’s that way. It took me a while and some tears to figure that out.

Next week I begin classes again at my school, the Neoteric Renaissance School of Art. On site, not remote. I am feeling a little better so I am committing to the classroom again, and also am just trying to really develop more grit so that my life does not pass me by. So, I am back to blogging here and I will leave you with my group of works in progress and a few of my figure block ins. You will see them again, hopefully complete. The Holbein and the Angel Masters copies are taking FOR-E-VER but I work on them a little at a time, only when I feel my eyes and mind are very clear… which is not as often as I would like – thus the slow going on those. I am almost done, so close.

Well, until next time…


<Paintings Studies in Progress>

<“Relatively” Quick Block Ins>

<Masters Copies In Progress… still…>

The Art Tree of Knowledge

Hi all — The bad thing about not writing a blog for a long time is that I have a ton of images to share and things bottles up you want to say. The good thing is that I have a ton of images to share!

This has been a hard few months for many of my fellow students and for myself. A few didn’t make it and left the program. That always makes me so sad. I know the feeling because I left the program once but within a few months came back. I think there comes a point where we question the pay off. “It” seems impossible, impossible to make a “good” drawing while struggling with technique and learning to see. Also there is the way that the pursuit of classical realism seems to rain on your happy-art-making parade. I compare it to eating from the tree of knowledge. Once you see what you do not see you can never go back to not seeing it again. Once you realize the level you ‘could’ create at – you have a hard time settling for the level you once created at.

So you are left in this very uncomfortable middle ground of not being able to create at the level you want to create at, and not being able to go back to before you got bitten by the realist bug. It is a painful place to be and the place most people quit at – especially perfectionists, the easily fatigued and those who ride themselves the hardest.

For me, art was once a place where I could excel without really trying to hard. The creative process was always just a joyful, good feeling place to be. After I was out of that ‘making’ space and looking at my work I was always, always dissatisfied. On some level I knew I was capable of better, of being able to create the pictures my mind saw and not just settle for the pictures my ability allowed. When I discovered classical realism and my atelier I understood that there was a way, there were tools to kick up my ability to the level I wanted. I did not realize at first that learning those tools and techniques would be so difficult, and that results would be so slow. I was impatient and in pain actually. I quit. What I discovered was that I could not go back to my old way of making art. I was even more acutely aware that I needed to learn how to see better and to be able to translate what it was I was seeing. I needed to learn the techniques… I needed to give myself time. Most importantly I needed to learn to be gentle on myself in the process.

I believe I will get to where I want to be. I have seen periods of incredible growth followed by what seems to be periods of no growth at all. Weeks of drawing where my ends result looks even more pained than the first week and my paper is shredded under all of the effort.

In the drawing below I compare my last long pose drawing week one with week five. When I first finished I saw nothing better about week five than the first weeks block in. I put the drawing away on frustration and disgust. Taking it out again and looking back, it’s true – the progress was very slow, my technique not refined which resulted in butchered paper… but –now I see the second figure has some much more effective observations than the first. The first is nice and loose, attractive in a generalized, modern way. The second however, is full of hard won observations that create the faint emergence of a form really turning in space. Subtlety to the movements of the muscles moving into each other. It looks more like the real model. I was able to just being to work the inside of the form and outline shadow shapes and that occurred naturally as I worked more and more subtly on the block in. I am slow, it takes me forever to get the block in to where I am ready to move into the shadow shapes, I over work the outline terribly – but I am learning and I see the difference and building on one experience after another. The skill we learn in the learning of classical realism is quantitative and the real necessary tool is patience.


Anyway, I had a lot to say today so for the rest of the post I am going to just post some pictures of the current status of my work. You can scroll down for comparison. Because I am a part time student at the Atelier I am moving slowly through the work. I know that if I could focus full time like they do at the Florence Academy where my teachers are from that I would move forward comparably to the students there. I accept the slow process because I accept my limitations. In fact, accepting yourself is the biggest secret ingredient to being able to sustain study in classical realism. Accepting where you are at when you are struggling as well as really accepting your successes.

Two hour live figure block in:


Cast Drawing week three – just really starting working with the values.


My Holbein Master’s Copy – moving to more subtle movements in the block in.


My Angel Master’s copy – just now moving into the shadow shapes.


There was an incredible painting workshop with our painting teacher Matthew Riggs a couple weeks ago and I am going to share some of that work in a separate blog post.

Finally once again my favorite quote about the study of classical realism from Atelier Founder and Art Educator Sadie Valerie: “…art is the kind of hard work that brings you to the bleeding edge of your ability and makes you stare hard at your limitations.”

The study of classical realism really takes courage and patience. Give yourself a break and be proud of every effort you make. I’ll hang in there if you will!

Catching Up on Things

I haven’t posted in a while because I just haven’t had any words. Lots of thoughts, lots of learning, just no words and that is not really a good quality in a blogger! So instead of just letting this poor blog sit unattended until I rediscover my words I thought I could at least post some progress shots of what I have been working on at the school.

These have been hard times for me in my studies. I got completely lost on a 8 week pose figure drawing and basically just drew the block in over and over moving with the models movements and barely getting into the interior of the figure. I was really disappointed but I learned so much and I know the next pose will go better. You can see the progress shots and my final guy looks worse for wear.

My cast drawing is just now starting to gel for me as I am understanding the concept of keying and seeing values. The main thing is that I am still fighting with the charcoal a little and wondering when, if ever, it will become my friend. I have a long way to go but it is starting to get some dimension.

I received some great critiques from Matthew on my Bargue (Speed, actually) and Holbein copy and am making slow progress as I move through those. Such a slow process for me. I think I learn the most about seeing from the copies though.

In Progress - April 2
In Progress – April 2
In Progress - April 6
In Progress – April 6

Finally, Here is a pastel I did that brings together much of what I am learning at the atelier. It is not a class assignment but something I do on the side. It is from a live still life and later a photo reference. Pastel on prepared paper. I would have never, ever been able to do this without the lessons that I am learning in drawing and seeing. Seeing is key. Seeing is the most important tool in the toolbox and it is what we are really learning to do at the atelier.

The Pitcher | Hard and Soft pastel On Prepared Paper | 11" x 15"
The Pitcher | Hard and Soft pastel On Prepared Paper | 11″ x 15″

At times, when a student looks at the rough figure drawings they keep putting out there and the slow moving Bargues and cast drawings you wonder if you are really getting anything from your studies. My advice would be at that point where you doubt the most… do something on your own, do something that you might have done before your journey began. I can guarantee you will see a million more flaws in it than you would have seen when you first began, but your work will also be miles better and you will see that, and you will see why.

My studies at the atelier have changed me forever as an artist and they have introduced something so special into my life that I will never be the same. I have found a home in the classical study of art.

Lesson of the week: The conversation happens in the light. Mass the shadows. That has changed the game for me.

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.

Finishing up the year…

I am slowly getting my mind framed around going back to school in the spring. I cannot wait. Over the last few months, I’ve had to take a step back from my classical art studies and admin work at the school to take care of some time consuming personal stuff. I am really missing it. I am SO very much looking forward to the start of 2014 and getting back into an academic discipline and structure. It is really good for me, even when it is hard. The irony of it. I miss my friends too from the school, very much.

We had our First Annual Student Show and I was so excited to have my work a part of it even though I was not able to make the opening. Here is the beautiful flyer Mary Weeks did for the show and my ‘all dressed up’ leg. If you scroll down to previous posts a bit you can see the in progress shots of the Bargue Leg.

Before I had to take off from the school I was able to spend one day with my new Bargue! I spend a couple hours just working with the medium. I have never used charcoal before in any serious way. I spend a good fifteen minutes just sharpening some Nitram and another hour and a half making marks, learning to dust them off with the chamois, trying to get some weight behind my marks but not too much weight – ha! I gave myself a sheet and basically did a box of the form and played a whole bunch. Then I set up my sheet of paper that will have the real drawing on it. This will be the hardest drawing I have ever done I think but not for the reasons I am expecting, I suspect. Below is my first date with the Angel Bargue. You should definitely let loose sometimes. This was a really good exercise.

Bargue Angel 1

Just looking at this Bargue makes me so excited to get back to the studio and get to work!

Lisa told me some exciting news and rumors of a painting program abound. During my break I have been working on my Grisaille diligently and have nearly finished the still life and have gotten quite a  ways into the woman in a chair. The figure is a study I just started from a psychiatric patient photograph by Dr. Diamond from the 1850’s. I eventually want to bring color into the work but I am taking really slow steps and probably wont touch it with color until I am ready to get into color in oils at the school. I hear, and I am so excited that they will begin with Cast Painting in Grisaille! That is exactly where I want to start!

So that about wraps it up for 2013. What a year. What a really significant year for my growth as an artist. I have no doubt that 2014 will be even more remarkable.

It’s A leg! Onward…

Lisa stood back from the drawing and said “Well, you have a leg there.” It felt pretty good. We decided that it is time to move on to my next Bargue! I don’t think  a student ever finishes a Bargue completely because the nature of the exercise is to see more and more to adjust. If you stopped seeing more to adjust it wouldn’t be perfection, it would be the stopping of progress. I really love how I can measure how well each Bargue notches up my ability to see and my hand eye coordination, etc. The progress is visceral. I am very excited to call this Bargue a done leg!

101813_completedFor a while I am going to just focus on the Bargues and Casts and go back into the figure drawing room in a couple of months. For personal reasons I needed a reduction of my time at the school but not in my commitment to this path. I will be working from home on my Bargue on Tuesdays and then on Thursdays going into the studio to draw and for critique.  I am also working on my grisaille oil painting and my other artwork not a part of my atielier training program. I do drawings and pastels, some painting (and I write poetry). I have noticed a huge, huge difference in the quality of my work since beginning this study.  I post all of that work on my blog grok-art and on my personal website

My next Bargue is going to be a huge, huge challenge for me. When Lisa first suggested it I didn’t choose it. Then I thought about it.  It intrigues me on so many levels. I love the form and expression of line and it exposes me to drawing the figure angel_originaleven though I am not in the live figure drawing room. And it is a completely new medium for me. I have never used charcoal. Well, I have and I never picked it up again. Dislike.  They use charcoal very differently at the school than the way I was introduced to it at the University years ago. They use Nitram and they use it very, very sharp and lightly.  The fluidity and expressive quality of the line in the Bargue drawing will be a real challenge I think, the greatest challenge of the work. I am used to working very methodically and very tightly on my Bargues. Just the nature of reproducing the motion of this drawing will require that I loosen up a little while staying in control of my eye and the medium. I think it was a very good choice on Lisa’s part – and I am not convinced at all that I can do it. But I will learn a lot trying, that is assured.

Finally, I have been working on my grisaille some more struggling with the lemon and trying to keep values consistent while working on completely different areas of the painting at a time. I do not think I like this method of painting that is so precise. I want more brush stroke and I want to work on the whole painting at a time, have a conversation going with all the parts at the same time… as it is I work on one section and move on to the next. It is a conversation but a very, very slow one. It is good for me to learn this indirect method first though before getting into alla prima and direct painting. I think it is teaching me a lot about how to handle careful application of paint and value. This work I am doing now will pay dividends when I open it up a little and especially when I move into color.


Sept.22 Live Figure & Bargue

“…art is the kind of hard work that brings you to the bleeding edge of your ability and makes you stare hard at your limitations.” Sadie Jernigan Valeri

That quote about sums up my last week – smack up against ability and limitations both. This is really hard stuff, drawing in the classical tradition. I honestly sometimes want to quit, but I don’t. My eyes hurt, I struggle with my glasses, I get blurry eyed, my feet hurt, I make slow progress and any illusions about being one of the naturally gifted students fly out the window as I learn more humility… struggle with my own self expectations and make a study of determination.

It was a rough week in my personal life. I OD’d on looking at the best current figureative artists out there today. I felt small. I put away my brush and pastel for a while just to focus on the drawing. Classical study is a task master. That task master seems to like to join up with my inner critic for a beat-fest that lately has been taking the joy out of the work for me. I was self-taught and I was happy within my own little world – I played with pastel and colored paint, making up pictures and selling some – but I always knew I could be better, that I was mediocre. I wanted to learn the classics, to learn to really draw so I would have a language to rise above that mediocrity, if I could. I wanted to do that AND stay safe within my little art bubble. Well I got my little bubble burst. I see now that the classical study, for me… is a way of life that is changing up fundamentally how I approach being an artist. But sometimes… I want to go back into the bubble. Impatience works against me, but determination drives me forward. The honest truth to “why do I do this, why do I do something that I struggle with so much?” The truth is I do it because there is no other honest way for me to be, I do it because I must. I have met no one that understands these feelings, and the feeling of being small. I would have thought that many artists struggle with this stuff – but I talk about it and I get looked at like I am an alien. Ah well, it might be the poet in me as well. It is not an easy path to be both poet and artist.

Technically this week I ventured into identifying shadow shapes in both the live model and the Bargue.  Jonathan Chorn critiqued us. He had me go back and delineate the shadow shapes in the Barge more clearly than I had done. In the figure drawing class he helped me with my on-going struggle to sight-size; to fit the model into the “box”. This is the hardest challenge for me. I spend a good hour in the three hour class just looking for the fit. Once I got it, Jonathan helped me to do some measurements to better capture the pose and showed me how to start marking in the shadow shapes.

All in all I was not disappointed in my work this week… the struggle was more personal and about myself as an artist. Next week with the hope of a new season will flow better…

Trusting my eye – This week’s Bargue and Figure Drawing.

Ahhh Thursday nights always feel great – six hours of drawing time. I can only imagine what it would feel like to do six hours a day, every day, five days a week like at a full time Atelier program… or how fast one would grow. I go to a total of nine hours of class a week plus add another seven for drawing at home, that’s about 16 hours a drawing a week. (I also paint but I am not including that.) I am growing so fast even at two days a week that even though I feel down and frustrated at times, I can not help but notice my growth.

The bargues this week were amazing. I started a new one, the leg. I had my block in done in three hours (!) – a full, correct, solid block in. I was not rushing, or going for time – I know this Bargue is easily going to me 30-40 hours. It just flowed like water from my eye to the paper. It happened before I could even think about how it was happening.

I have done some nice art in the past, some paintings, some pastels. When I get it right I always have this feeling of “ya but, can I do it again” or “how on earth did I do that?”. It always felt ‘lucky’ when I hit it, and most of the time I did not hit it. In this case, I had a successful drawing session and know exactly how I did it and that luck had little to do with it. This is a revelation. This is why I am stydying classical drawing. What really excites me is that it will just get better and better.


The live figure drawing is always more of a challenge for me and this week was no different. However, this week something subtle happened that I think will be key in my progress as I move forward. I trusted my eye. The Bargues are teaching me that I can make correct marks. The tools support my eye and my eye is not enslaved to the tools. Find your place (measure), look hard, think and make your mark. Check it… adjust. What is amazing to me is how often when I check it I am right on. I used some of that ‘style’ today as I slowly worked my block in. I would trust my eye, use my eye THEN go back to the tools to validate my judgements. I progressed much faster this way and had more on the paper for the teacher to work with at the critique. Again, it’s only going to get better.

This is my third block in and is part of a five week pose taht I really want to do a good job on because the pose and the model are really beautiful. There is a movement in the pose up the figure that inspires me in this one.


September here we are!

Wow, August was a busy month! Our school has a really great article written about it in the local “big” paper, the Sentinel. Click on the image to check out the article. This is a picture of Artist/Instructor Lisa Silas in action.


I finished my first Bargue figure drawing! At first I thought that I would be finished with this in a week… that is in a week as in six hours, two classes and add some extra time for homework. Call it two weeks even.  36 hours later Lisa finally said I could move on to another. That is 30 hours more than I expected.

36 hours later and I understand a little more now. I get that I am not drawing something ‘like’ something else or something that is open to interpretation. I am striving for an exact duplicate and in the process I am learning the reason for each line, the many “movements” hidden in the seemingly simple curve of a muscle, reaching for the right mark as my eye struggles to see more and more detail, developing my own spirit as I grapple with issues of patience, self criticism and even hope.  As we learn to draw we learn things about ourselves on many levels. The deeper we commit to its pursuit, the more we change fundamentally.

In the figure drawing arena I did a partial block-in on a one night pose with a wonderful female model and began the block-in for a longer five week pose with a male model. Both block-ins were wrought with frustration.

Drawing the live figure is such a task master to me. I have some physical limitations that are constantly pushing me out of the “zone” such as glasses issues and an ankle/back that aches after the first hour. Then I have the struggles of a beginner. Like the way your head sits on your own neck. I am not kidding. I spend most of my time in the drawing room squinting, adjusting my feet and head and I am lucky to get a mark on the paper before the figure somehow auto-magically grows a head size bigger than its set space. This is where I struggle the most. But just when I start feeling comfortable, like I can see into the next line… I am reminded that I am not holding the pencil correctly when making my marks. Lisa has had me move to the side of my drawing many times to just make lines.  Just make lines.

A couple weeks ago, when I couldn’t even make a mark right I wanted to walk out so bad I was almost tearing up. I looked at my peers and there were actual figures on the paper and I had only “make marks” scribbles and some measurement lines. Lisa looked at me and could see it in my face and gently reminded me that it wasn’t easy but that I could do it, that I was doing it and that it would become different.  My fellow students were so helpful, and I could tell that most had faced the same feelings along the way.

Meanwhile in grisaille land, the work is paying dividends already as I was able to begin to translate the “cloth” in my painting. I have spend most of my time so far on the cloth and I have a lot of work still to go. I am learning so much working ion grisaille and letting go of color for a little while is freeing me up to really explore shape and value.  Mmmmm…. value!


Final thought: It is very humbling and enlightening to let yourself be an absolute beginner at something.

Bargue, The Figure and Grisaille in Oils!

Wow – A lot to post today. The fruits of a busy and really productive week. First up – The figure!

This is my second figure drawing from a live model using the sight-size method I am learning at the studio. It is a really slow start in that this is about eight hours of drawing. I have so far to go but I have come so far since my first attempt. I am focusing on the block in now. I cannot even grok shadow shapes yet and it feels like getting there is akin to going to mars. I know one day I will be doing shadow but I want my block ins to be confident and strong first. Below is my first attempt at a figure, my first session with this figure and my final session. Lisa and Jonathan are amazing teachers and help me to really understand what I am seeing, how to prioritize all the input and how to capture it.

And then there are the Bargue drawings.  This is my previous work compared to this weeks work. The Bargue drawings are incessant. The big realization I came to last week: The closer you get, the farther you are. Truth.

Finally, to the oil painting. This is not under the direct instruction of LIsa but it is under her guidance. In a traditional atelier you would spend months to years drawing before you ever pick up a brush. Well, I am getting a late start at this whole training thing and I am burning daylight. So I must paint. It is my heart. Under Lisa’s direction I am re-beginning my oil painting studies using indirect painting in grisaille (gray values) only. For most additional instruction I seek to find the best sources of information and apply it to the best of my ability. I applaud the atleliers and artists that are so open about methods and materials.

Below are my under paintings and the “open grisaille” beginnings along with the reference material I am working from. I have no room in my very small apartment for a still life so I am relegated to working with photos of still lives I have put together. The drawings are done using the techniques I am learning in my program. The under painting is a burnt umber. The grisaille palette is a value string made of a mixture of ivory black and burnt umber for the dark and titanium white for the light. I am using a nine value string. My lean medium for my open grisaille is turpenoid with a tad of liquin to assist drying time. My fat medium will have a little more of the liquin.
Other than that, in terms of application I feel like I am learning to drive for the first time and I am out of control of the car.