Monday, October 19, 2020

In Which I Try Soft Pastels

 YouTube can be dangerous to my pocketbook.  I watched a few colored pencil tutorials there a while back, and one suggested combining soft pastels -- specifically a brand called "PanPastels" -- with the pencils.  The idea was to use the pastels to cover larger areas, and for smoothness.  So of course I had to check them out.

I was delighted to find a portrait set to test out, and it came with application tools.  Those things to the right are sponges, and you slide one of the smallest ones onto that blue implement.  Then you dip the applicator in the pastel color and brush it onto your surface. 

You can add colored pencil on top of the pastel, and put more pastel on top of the pencil and build layers as needed.   Blending is a bit labor intensive, because the sponges quickly get dirty and you're not supposed to put a dirty one back into the color again.  They did not clean easily with water, as the product info claimed, either.  I wound up using one tool for lighter tones and another for darker tones, and just tried not to mix them up.

For this portrait of Crowley, I used three pastel colors for his face and two for the hair and background.  I added colored pencil to the background and went back over it with more pastel.  I used pencils for the details of the eyes, nose, and mouth.

The overall effect was more painterly, with a smoother texture.  I like the result, but the process was very messy, and now all of the sponges are dirty and won't come clean.  Most vexing!  I may try them again, or they may wind up in the closet -- we shall see.

For our two weekly Zoom sketch drawing sessions, we chose photos of some interesting buildings in Europe -- no idea where or even what they are, but hey, they had fun challenges.

Arches are hard to get right, but I got this one fairly well, I think.  For the one below, it was getting the perspective lines right, and they got a little wonky here and there.   I spent most of my time drawing the stones of the walkway -- I found drawing all those ovals sort of mesmerizing.  

I do enjoy the Zoom sketch sessions because I never know what we're going to pick to draw, and it gets me away from Yet Another Crowley or Aziraphale portrait!

Finally, Truman is much better after ten days of restricted movement and medications, and his back legs are about 90% normal now.  The next challenge is to get his weight down, which definitely contributed to his recent spinal disk issue.

Here he is celebrating his recovery:

Monday, October 12, 2020

Drawing Things That Aren't Entirely There

 This was the challenge I gave myself this past week:  draw a portrait of Aziraphale while he's "discorporated".  What does that mean?  Well, Aziraphale is an angel, dwelling on Earth in a "corporation", which is a body that looks and acts as a human body would, more or less (angels are asexual, and don't need to eat or sleep, though he rather enjoys good meals anyway).  If something harms this body, it might "discorporate", sending the angel back to Heaven for a new one.  Fun notion.

Anyway, in the Good Omens series, Aziraphale does, in fact, get accidentally discorporated, and while in this state, he tries to manifest his spirit to his friend Crowley on Earth, with his usual human appearance.  But it's difficult to keep it looking solid.  He finds Crowley in a bar, and while speaking to him, bits of the window and the street beyond keep breaking through Aziraphale's form.  He is also fairly washed out, thusly:

I naturally thought this would be a fun colored pencil drawing challenge.  And it was!  I chose a moment when Crowley tells the poor angel that his beloved bookshop has burned down:

He's devastated by that news.  I didn't want an overall washed-out drawing, so I wound up toning down everything except his key facial features, so that his sad expression would stand out.  Basically, I used colors with values one to two shades paler than I would normally use for a portrait, and added a lot of white over the top in all the faded-out areas.  Only after drawing the whole piece did I then go back and erase out the bits of window showing through him.  It's not entirely what I was aiming for, but it's close.

Next, I drew another portrait of Crowley, one that had only a minor challenge--in this shot, his dark hair sort of disappears into the dark background.  He's in his car, driving away from the burned bookshop, believing he's lost Aziraphale.  So I guess I did matching portraits of each character looking sad.  

There are issues with both portraits, and I will likely try doing them each again at some point.

In other news, poor Truman has had a spinal disk issue arise--his rear legs were suddenly wobbly this past Thursday.  Examination showed some herniation, so he is on strict bed rest and anti-inflammatory/pain meds for the next 1-3 weeks.  Hopefully this will improve matters, because if things worsen, he'll probably need surgery, and the only place that does this is a 3-hour drive away.  

Sometimes Pippin keeps Tru company in his pen, but most of the time Truman has to sit in there by himself.  Poor little hound.  Please set happy healing thoughts his way!

That's it for this week.  Stay safe out there, everyone!

Monday, October 5, 2020

Step by Step

 This past week, when I drew YET ANOTHER Crowley portrait, I decided to take more photos of the process--just because I could.  So if "step by step" pics of work in progress is something you find utterly fascinating, do read on.  If not, skip to the end where there are cute dachshund photos--which are always the best part of a blog post, right?  


The reference photo I chose comes from a scene where Crowley is wondering where he can go to escape the coming Armageddon -- he has taken photos from a book of astronomy and is thinking about zipping off to Alpha Centauri or somewhere equally exciting. The pages float around him as he ponders his dire fate.

Here he is looking at a nebula -- when Crowley was an angel, he helped create the stars, and he says here, "I helped build that one." I wanted the nebula in the drawing, but he never faces the screen while looking at it.  Drat.

This is the best shot I could find of him looking forward, so I went with it, and I'd just switch out the photo near his head with the nebula one.  

Here is my setup on my whiteboard drawing surface.  A sheet of Strathmore 400 Series Bristol Vellum taped down, and the reference photo held with a magnet.  The ruler is used to do some basic measuring of head height and width, and location of the main facial features, as this drawing will be done on a 1:1 scale.  (When making a drawing larger or smaller than the photo, a grid system is usually best.)

Here is the pencil sketch with the major planes and features blocked in:

Next, I map out the darkest areas using Burnt Umber, refining the features as I go along:

Next, I map out the medium and light tones.  The Faber-Castell colored pencil colors I use for skin tones are Beige Red (lightest areas) and Cinnamon (medium).

Then I add solvent to smooth everything out -- I used to use Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits, which are toxic and need ventilation, and careful handling, but during the Big Smoke from the wildfires, when I couldn't open any windows, I switched to baby oil, which gives a similar result, though it is non-archival.

At this point, the portrait doesn't look that great, but there's a ways to go.  Detailing comes next -- the eyes, nose, and mouth need a lot of fine lines and subtle shading of skin tones.  You can draw right on top of colored pencils that have been blended with solvent -- it dries almost instantly, and the surface is smoother, but Strathmore is a great, highly durable paper that can take multiple layers such as this.

Crowley's eyes are golden-yellow with a black snake-like slit.  I use two yellows -- Cadmium Yellow and the slightly darker Naples Yellow for his eyes.  Lips are usually done with Medium Flesh (light areas) and Pompeian Red (darker).  After working on the details, I start working on deepening the shadows with Nougat (medium shadows) and Walnut Brown (darker areas).

Having drawn a lot of Crowley portraits by now, I've got his hair pretty much down.  First, I cover the entire hair with Burnt Umber, using light pressure:

Then I use stronger pressure to add highlighted areas with Light Yellow Ochre, and quite strong pressure to put Burnt Sienna over the whole hair.

When I add solvent to it, magic happens!

Okay, that's enough of the step-by-step stuff.  Hope you enjoyed it.  I didn't take step-by-step pics of the background, so you're off the hook there.  The walls were simple (three shades of gray plus a light ochre).  There's a statue in the far back which I left indistinct so as not to distract from the foreground. The nebula was challenging -- I used a lot of different blues and some ivory, cream, and a yellow-orange, using multiple layers of color, solvent, more color, and burnishing.  His clothes are always easy -- lots of dark gray and black.

I'm pretty happy with the result:

Now for the puppy pics!  Hoorah!

Pippin Pup turned three years old on October 1, when I snapped this early morning shot:

He is a very sweet dog.  Here he is as a puppy, just a few months old, letting Truman know that his world has forever changed:

As you can see from this photo from a year later, Truman got used to the little guy:

Such sweet boys.

So that was the week that was, and I imagine the coming week will be much the same.

Have a good one, and stay safe out there!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Clearly I Can't Keep Track of What Day It Is

 It is 4:42pm, and I have just now realized that it is Monday, and that I was supposed to write something here today.  Oh, well. This is pretty typical behavior now, and I suspect it isn't only me who has this issue in this particular year.

So, what did I do this past week?  Well, I drew another portrait of Aziraphale, and one of Crowley, from Good Omens, because, hey, why not?  

Above is a photo of my working area -- I have a white board on which I've taped the drawing-in-progress, and it has a magnet for holding the reference photo.  The photo is from a scene set in 1601, thus the Elizabethan ruff, which was ever so much fun to draw.  The ref photo is 8x10 inches but I decided to do the drawing smaller -- it came out 5 x 6 inches, and I also altered the expression to make him less perplexed and more wistful.  Or at least, that was my intent. Regardless, I love the result -- it's my favorite so far of all the portraits I've done.

Next, I did Crowley, using one of the promotional pics, which isn't ideal, but it's the only reference I've found that shows his wings really well.  And I liked drawing that golden decorative bit of architecture and the reddish orange background a lot.

One of the most irksome tasks, when doing a drawing, is taking a photograph of it when it's done.  Because it's never done!!  Here's what happens:  I think the drawing is finished, so I take a pic of it, upload it, and pop it into Photoshop to adjust the cropping and the brightness/contrast.  And in Photoshop, it always looks different from the original, and I always notice tiny flaws.  So I go back and fix the tiny flaws, take another photo, upload it, adjust the lighting etc., and notice another flaw...repeat ad infinitum.

Here are two examples, of drawings I did earlier this month -- these are screen shots of the photo storage Trash Bin, where all of the pics I uploaded and found flaws in wound up:

Each of the photos above (except for the last two) represents a "finished" drawing that I found a flaw in, which necessitated a fix.  There are 23 of them.  Which was 23 times I took a photo, uploaded it, fixed the flaw on the drawing...yadda yadda yadda...I believe that I sometimes spend more hours on these final details which no one else would likely notice than on the original art.

The one below wasn't quite as bad -- only 20 of the pics represent failed attempts.  I had a lot of trouble with one of Aziraphale's eyebrows.  Often, fixing the flaw means erasing a line that's about an eighth of an inch long, and redrawing it slightly higher or lower.  Maybe no one else would notice, but I would!

Anyway, just thought you might enjoy seeing what a crazed perfectionist I can be at times.  

Not all of my week was devoted to Good Omens -- I went on lots of dog walks in the sunny, mid-70s weather!

Here are a few pics from one of our favorite places, Leslie Groves Park, which runs along the Columbia River.

It has a section of sandy beach, which Pippin loves.

And there is plenty of grass for them to romp around in.

I also did several Zoom sketching sessions with my Seattle friends, where we look at photos that Tina has collected of all sorts of things, and choose one to practice on.  She has photos of pretty much anything and everything.  We did these starfish:

And this French street:

And a Japanese garden:

And that was it!

I hope to post on Monday morning next time.  Until then, have a great week!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Eight Days A Week

 The Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you when it's healthy to go outside.  For eight days last week, here in the Columbia Basin, which is called a "basin" because it's basically a big geological bowl into which air can settle (and under the right conditions--such as an inversion layer and no wind--stay put), the AQI was often off the scale.

This does not work well when the air in question is full of smoke from Pacific Northwest wildfires.

Here is what a normal sky over Richland looks like:

And this is what it looked like for eight solid days in a row this past week:

The AQI informed me every day that it was either "Very Unhealthy" or "Hazardous", both of which meant "DO NOT GO OUTSIDE."  There were no dog walks.  Except for one quick trip to the grocery store, there were no outings of any kind.  It was so bad that I put on my facemask with the special microparticle filter just to open the door to let the dogs run in and out to do their duty.

It was clearly a good week to draw chainmail.

Aziraphale, the angel character from Good Omens, turns up in medieval armor during a flashback scene (all the back to 537 AD...he's an angel.  He's immortal, and has been on Earth for quite a while).  Naturally, a fun historical costume called out to me as a drawing challenge.  Could I draw chainmail?  
Or at least, enough of a semblance of chainmail to make it look like medieval armor, more or less?

I'm not sure what I was thinking.  I mean, look at how complex it is!

And how much of it there is!  Not only that, his outfit has lots of shiny metal, and a feathery fur cloak.  

So it was a good thing that I had oodles and oodles of time, stuck indoors day after day after day, to work on this piece.  

Somewhere around the third day, I lost track of where I was in all that chainmail, and wound up having to just make it up as I went along.  By that time, I was slightly boggle-eyed anyway, and much of it became a little blurry around the edges.  

But hey, I drew nifty feathery fur, and the shiny metal turned out okay, and all in all, it was worth the effort.  And I'm sure my eyes will get back into normal focus any day now.

After that, I drew a picture of Crowley in about two hours.  It was quite relaxing.

Also, during one of our Zoom sketch sessions, I drew this Hornbill eye:

And then I spent the next 48 hours checking and rechecking the AQI for our area.  

At last, on Saturday morning, I awoke to clear blue skies!  The air was healthy again, so I tossed the Hounds in the car and off we went, hither and yon, on more than one walk, to make up for all that idle time.   (Yes, I did try to exercise during the Big Smoke -- I put on some rocking blues music and danced around the living room...and discovered how much my knees have changed since my twenties).

During one of our walks along the riverfront, I spotted a bunch of painted rocks.  The one above said "Mountains on My Mind" on the back.

This one was hiding on a kiosk:

Pippin was not impressed by the rocks...

Truman showed a distinct lack of interest as well....

During a half-mile or so stretch of the trail, I spotted all of these lovely rocks -- obviously, other people get creative when stuck indoors, too.  

Well, that was certainly a different kind of week.  

Hope you have a smoke-free week, wherever you are!