Friday, May 30, 2008

Drawing Tip #12: Fur, Part II - Pencil Strokes

calico domestic cat drawingThere are so many kinds of fur: short, long, rough, smooth, fluffy, coarse, thick, fine, etc. I'd like to take each in turn, but I'll start with a general description. In part one I wrote about the direction of fur flow. While this is important on a macroscopic scale, when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, fur doesn't run parallel. Make sure your strokes have some randomness to them. I tend to scribble.

The length of your strokes also makes a huge difference. Be sure to use long strokes for long fur and short ones for short fur. But don't forget to take perspective into account - long fur foreshortened looks short. (See the chest fur on my cat to the right, for example.) For the very short fur on the bridge of the nose, I use a small, circular motion. Usually the tooth of the paper will show just enough to make it look like very tiny lines of fur. (See the in-progress tiger drawing.)

I was thinking of putting together a little sketch for each of these fur drawing tips, but then I figured, what better way than to use an actual drawing? So I'm going to start a lion I've been thinking about for several weeks now, and I'll post detailed photos and descriptions along the way.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Theory of Everything

In keeping with the theme of my work, scientific accuracy in art, I thought I'd start posting some scientific articles of interest. I get a lot of my scientific news from ScienceDaily, and found this article there this morning.

There are three parts to the current mathematical description of the universe: gravity, the electroweak force, and the strong nuclear force (the force that holds atomic nuclei together). Electroweak is the combination of three previously separate forces: electricity, magnetism, and the weak force. The goal of many physicists is to combine the remaining forces into one, called the Grand Unified Theory (GUT) or the Theory of Everything.

They are close. There are several hypotheses out there, some adding or subtracting dimensions, one saying the universe consists of invisible strings, some even predicting the existence of undetected subatomic particles. One such particle is called the Higgs boson, and "its discovery will refine the understanding of exactly how the universe came to be and how it functions, and how mass came to be in the first place." The detector to search for this particle has been built and will be ready to start operations this summer.

Be sure to check out the article, which has a great photo of the size of the detector.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reef Update - Minor Setback

I finally started the layout on the actual paper I'll be using for the reef drawing. I was about an hour into it when I had to stop for a while, and I left it spread out on the bed in my studio/guest room. I forgot to close the door, and one of my cats (yes, this one) got into one of her crazy moods. She ran into the room and lept onto the bed, creasing the paper and leaving one scratch mark. The bad news is I will have to replace it, hopefully I'll be able to this weekend. The good news is I can cut it down for a smaller drawing and use the rest for practice. And it will take me less time to transfer the layout than it took to draw it in the first place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

White Charcoal Experiments

winged white tiger in white charcoal on black paper
This piece was sort of an experiment. I'm trying out white charcoal on black paper, and finding it exciting and challenging. I figured, first, what better animal to test than a white tiger? But then, how to make it interesting? This idea just came to me in an instant: add wings. I have several poses in mind, but chose to do this one first.

Now, I should say one thing here. I hate drawing wings. So why in my right mind did I put wings on a perfectly good mammal?? I still don't have a good answer.

I drew the tiger first. This is probably the most dynamic position I've ever drawn a cat in. But I couldn't add just any kind of wings. To the quiet, stealthy hunter I gave the quiet, stealthy raptor wings of the snowy owl.

I don't think I'll call this a finished drawing, just a test, which is why I didn't sign it. I like the idea, though, and if I find smoother, bigger paper I might try it again. Even the back of this paper had too much texture. I think the head came out okay, but those delicate wings still have visible lines through them. This is a photo, not a scan, so the black doesn't look as black as it really is.

white charcoal on black paperHere are some of my scribblings before I started the tiger. This is done on the front of the paper with the rougher tooth. I copied this black leopard from a photo I found just to experiment. I think this white-on-black has some real potential, I just need to practice a little, first.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Exploring White Charcoal

Charcoal comes in three flavors (that I know of): white, dark and milk- I mean, black and sepia. Charcoal sounds like chocolate to me sometimes... Anyway, I recently bought some black paper and white charcoal to experiment with. I have a great idea for a drawing I'd like to do with them, but since I've never used black paper before, I thought I'd experiment first. Here are a few things I have discovered so far.

First, I greatly dislike the paper I chose. It was the only black paper the store had, and since it was wrapped in plastic I couldn't get a look at the texture. This is Strathmore black charcoal paper, 64lb. It is ribbed. Literally, the tooth is aligned in regularly spaced vertical lines (called traditional laid pattern), which makes it rather difficult to work details on. The back of the paper, however, is much smoother and much easier to draw on, but the downside is it is not as black. This will be okay for some pieces, but I want to do a night scene and need to have the paper as dark as possible. I have heard other artists use black mat board, so I might try that next. But for now, this will suffice to practice on. (It's also bound with a wire spiral, so after you tear off the sheet you have to cut off those annoying tabs.)

Second, drawing white on black is much different than drawing black on white. With regular pencil or charcoal on white paper, you draw the shadows, essentially. You draw the dark parts. I am accustomed to this. With white charcoal on black paper, you draw the highlights. Everything is backward. To make shadows, you press more lightly. To make highlights, you press harder. It sounds simple, but it's almost like learning to draw all over again.

Third, the kneaded eraser doesn't work as well. I actually use my Clic to do most of the erasing, while saving the kneaded for lightening- I mean, darkening areas. It is making detail work difficult, especially where I would use a pointed kneaded eraser to make texture.

Fourth, the blending stump works about the same. I started a fresh one for the white so I wouldn't mix in the black charcoal. It is helping to spread out the white into the crevasses of the ribs of the paper.

And fifth, white charcoal is very soft, like 6B black charcoal. The pencil version is hard to sharpen because the charcoal keeps getting crushed. I have to do it carefully by hand to prevent this.

I'm going to experiment a little more, and I hope in a few days I'll be able to post a completed drawing. If this works out, I have a lot of ideas to try.

Edit, Jan. 11, '09: The sepia sticks and pencils I thought were charcoal were actually Conte', a drawing material made from charcoal mixed with clay. It turns out that Derwent makes a pack of tinted charcoal in 24 different colors that I may have to try out at some point. This charcoal is tinted with clay and other pigments, but lightfastness varies by color.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Frilled Lizard

frilled lizard drawing, frill neck lizard drawingLike I mentioned in my post on choosing a subject, you have to draw what you're in the mood to draw. So when this little guy came to mind, I knew he had to be my next drawing. Frilled lizards always make me laugh when they run, so I had a blast working on it. I kept chuckling. The frill took the longest, with layers of charcoal, blending, and kneaded erasing. My original plan was to do a full background, but I'm glad I changed my mind on that.

The original is charcoal on 11"x14" paper and took just under 9 hours. Prints are available.

Frilled lizards live in Australia. When they feel threatened, they open their frill and hiss, and if that doesn't scare off the threat, they run at it, taking the first opportunity to run up a tree and hide. With the frill flattened, they blend right in to tree bark.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lilac Breasted Roller

lilac breasted rollers colored pencil drawingWhile I was researching the rhinoceros, I came across one of the most beautiful bird species I have ever seen. I knew at once I had to draw it. This bird is called the lilac breasted roller, so named for the lilac-colored breast feathers and for the rolling action they do in flight while trying to impress a potential mate. These birds are so unique that I couldn't find one position to show off all their colors well enough, so I put two into my drawing.

I typically try to avoid drawing wing feathers because they are so complicated. I much prefer fur. But I have decided that colored pencils are best for colorful birds, so to make my drawings more interesting, I've taken to drawing bird wings. I have a book on scientific illustration (which I will review at some point) that shows the pattern of wing feathers on the top and underside, with a count of each type of feather. Using this as a guide in addition to my reference photos, I believe I was able to reconstruct an accurate wing.

The two birds took about 9 hours total. A good amount of time was spent trying to figure out the right color combinations, and there are a lot of colors. The branches and leaves took another 4.5 hours, and the background yet another 6.5 hours. But I screwed it up so I spent another 2 hours in Photoshop fixing it (as a result, the original won't be for sale).

I did this drawing for several reasons. First, as I mentioned, the birds are just too beautiful NOT to draw them. Second, I do like colored pencils and need some practice, especially in backgrounds. And third, I want to get into color-mode for my reef project.

As usual, I have prints ready.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Choosing a Subject

I am not short of ideas of what to draw. I like to keep a running list of potential subjects with little sketches of poses next to them if I have one in mind. My list is currently running about two dozen for colored pencil and over 50 for charcoal/graphite. I like the colored pencil, but as I am inexperienced and it is much more time-consuming than charcoal, I hesitate to do many (although, how else will I improve?). I also want to make sure I have a really unique composition. For example, I think a scarlet macaw would make an awesome color subject. However, no unique striking pose comes to mind immediately. So I move on to the next.

My charcoal list is so long, though, and I have so many ideas that I sometimes find it difficult to decide what I want to do next. I started prioritizing my list, marking about five highest-priority items, five high-priority, and five medium-priority. But each time I cross one off the list, I either get excited about some brand new idea or totally change my mind about my classifications.

I like to look ahead to the next project. I've been working on these darn birds for two weeks now and can't wait to get back to charcoal. There's a lionness I've wanted to do for several weeks. But then I got a few votes for birds of prey in my poll, so I found a falcon I'd like to do. Since I'm working on birds now, I'll still be in bird-drawing mode. Then I bought some black paper and thought a black leopard in white charcoal would be fun. I wrote out my list, but then, just last night as I was falling asleep, the frilled lizard popped into my head. I got really excited about that one. So how do I choose? I want to do them all, but with so little time to draw each day, I can only focus on one at a time. So I have decided that I'm going to put my list out of my mind until I am just finishing a drawing. And for the next one, I'll choose whichever I feel like doing the most at that time. I've discovered that doing a drawing just because it's on my list only results in a poor drawing. I need to get excited about it to have it come out well.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

WIP - Coral Reef

Work is slowly underway on the coral reef project. I have amassed dozens of reference photos and came up with this layout. I started a color sketch to see how the colors would look, but it wouldn't scan or photograph well because it's too light. So this is the sketch from my notebook. I'm working on another color drawing at the moment and trying to get that one finished before clearing off my desk to make room for this one. The dimensions will be 30"x15", and if my current piece is any indication, the coral reef will take over 60 hours.