Sunday, January 31, 2010

My First Drawing Exercise

My first drawing assignment involves getting out into nature and observing. What catches my eye? What do I find particularly pleasing? How would I frame my subject for a drawing? It's suggested that I use a viewfinder to frame my subject.

It's been darned cold around here and unless I'm in the infrequent frame of mind of loving the cold, I'll look around quickly and grab a few twigs and pods and cones and run for the warm house. That's how the English Ivy has made its popular stand here.

This drawing encompasses many points of this week's assignment:
  • Composition.
  • Attention to negative space.
  • Perspective; foreshortening.
  • Signing work. I've never done this and scrambled to come up with a logo.
  • Showing dimension by lightening background objects. (I only did this slightly and it shows better on the actual drawing that the foreshortened leaf recedes.)
I didn't get any shadows here but I do like the simplicity of so few lines. I did try to thicken a few lines for a shadowy effect. This style is really a whole new thing for me and I'm excited over it. I'd love to try more drawings like this one.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Week 2 With Cornell

With week 2 beginning, we students are beginning to draw!

We are asked to get out and observe nature. How does a botanical artist see? What can we discern about shape, form, shadow, and texture?

We are guided to compose with viewfinder. Draw without preconceptions; draw what we see. Upload results.

There's a reading assignment: Chapter 1 of Beautiful Botanicals.

We are to delve into blind contour drawing and upload results. See this WetCanvas article for a good illustration of that technique. The below YouTube movie is also a fine example.

That's this week in a nutshell. I will post details on these assignments throughout the week.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wrapups - Walnut and Week 1

Here's the little split walnut, and it's done. I learned a bit about taking the time for good layout. That is, not being in a rush to get to any detail until the larger shapes were dropped in.

The Cornell course weeks end on Fridays--they are the due dates for each week's assignments. Besides an introduction and a practice scan with upload, this week's work included some reading, both on the site and with books. A nice feature is the inclusion of short videos by our instructor, Marcia. Mention was also made this week on a journaling requirement, reflections on whatever we see or feel, thoughts on how our work progresses (or doesn't), etc. Many examples of ideas on approaching this requirement were offered. Journals are private writings between the student and teacher are are considered quite important.

This week's reading assignments were the Introduction and Materials section of Beautiful Botanicals and the optional Chapter 1 of The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature.

I want to make mention of Marcia's level of student involvement. Already has she introduced me to a Cornell colleague creating fantastic scanned artwork. See Craig's work here.

You know, in some ways, the course format reminds me of this blog. I scan, upload, and post my drawings, discussing what went well and what didn't. I get loads of encouragement from art professionals. Only thing is that my assignments are self-directed. Having outside guidance for the next six weeks will be so cool and I hope for it to really broaden my horizons during and after this course.

I will begin tomorrow with comments on the new week's assignments.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Walnut Internals

I've started on a split black walnut. There are a lot of textures and shadows, a challenging exercise. It's been another busy evening, leaving little time with my pencils, so I hope to wrap it up tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Black Walnut, another quick sketch

Without much time this evening, I got in a quick sketch of a black walnut collected over the summer. I'd like to revisit this sometime soon for more detail and possibly a peek inside as well.

Sometimes it is so hard getting started. Doubts of ability to gather up the general shape loom about. Then there is worry over the detail. And then it's all about not having the time. If it's not one thing, then it's another. :-) Sometimes bits of a piece come together and it is just so damned exciting. This all must be compared with those times when hours escape without notice and I couldn't be more content.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A quick garlic sketch

I spent less than an hour on this little sketch. I did have to go back a few times, erasing a clove or two to adjust the foreshortening. I didn't get it all--I can see spots (in front) where I could make further adjustments. Even so, there's this cool feeling when some of the sketch actually starts to look like the real thing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Crabapple Scan

This first week on the course is for general orientation--introductions, becoming familiar with the interface, and testing uploads. I thought I'd do a quick scan of my budding out crabapple branch for my test upload. It came out better than expected so I thought I'd place it out here. Scans usually provide a white background but with the scanner cover open...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Collard Greens

An upcoming optional exercise, "Seeing Form and Texture", calls for taking black and white photos to keep color from clouding the image. Here I scanned a collard leaf and applied a b/w adjustment in Photoshop. I'll use this for some experimental sketches. You see, the course requires a project piece and I thought I might try this with pen and ink and ink wash--two media I've not worked with.

Also, I recently joined NESBA and have the opportunity to submit a piece for the Boston Flower Show on the topic of a plant or vegetable that grows in New England. If this all works out and I feel good about it, I could use this piece all the way around. How's that for multitasking? :-)

There may be a challenge in keeping a fresh sample. These leaves seem to wilt slightly within an hour out of the fridge. I'll be working on this. Also going to visit a local flower shop for some of those little water bottles that I've seen on roses.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's A Wrap

It's been a full week of English Ivy. It's done. How do I know? Well, I penciled in the core shadowing with a 4H and lightened the edges with a kneaded eraser. Dropped in some gentle shadows under most veining. Those were my intended wrap up tasks, I's not always easy to know when a piece is done.

I didn't keep track closely but I think I put in about twenty-five hours on this piece. During this time, I began to pick up some comfort with my pencils and their sharpening. Same for using tracing paper with a cutout--that became important due to the size of this drawing.

I am still working on scanner settings. In fact, this image was from the camera. It's a reasonable approximation of the tones except I think the whites of my drawing are a bit lighter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A bit of green, an introduction, and of course the ivy...

Not long ago I clipped an ornamental crabapple branch as a model and never got to it. But, I did drop it into a glass of water and look what happened! :-) If the blossoms come through, we'll get a peek at them right here. More later...

My botanical art course officially opens on Monday. This evening I placed my introduction out on the web site. As I promised that you will be following along with me as I work my way through, here I share with you my intro:

Hello everyone!

I'm John from Bridgewater, Massachusetts and truly excited to be here. But, it did take me a few weeks to finally join up. I came up with all kinds of excuses not to take this course, but all the time I really knew that I was nervous about putting myself on the line, about exposing my work as a true beginner.

I've been interested in botanical art for a couple of years and tried to jump in with watercolors. But without experience in drawing, light and shade, and perspective, I struggled and then gave it up. In December I picked up a pencil and drew a Bosc pear that actually looked like a pear! I was hooked! Since then I have been drawing every day, mostly with dried leaves, and having a wonderful time. I now feel like drawing is a part of my life and I hope to build my abilities. I must say that the pen and ink leaves me with a bit of trepidation but I'm ready to give it a go.

At fifty-six years old, I'm in that pre-retirement planning mode and the idea of delving deeply into botanical drawing and painting seems most inviting. I'm hoping that this course gives me a good push in the right directions towards that goal.

-- John

And lastly, here's a little bit of progress on the ivy. Soon I will need to balance out the tones and work out some selective shading. (As you can tell, I'm still working on the scans.)

p.s. The comments display misbehaved today, refusing to let go of a spam comment that I had earlier deleted. Not sure yet if it will return. Perhaps something new can take it's place... But, please, please, keep commenting! I love 'em! :-)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Closing In

I didn't have time to draw last night but I did just get in a few hours this evening, long enough to roughly block in all the veins. Now it's time to tighten things up.

I'm testing a couple of new settings regarding my scanned images:
  • The scanner resolution was set to 300 dpi; it's now maxed to 1200.
  • Worked with the gamma setting in Photoshop's Exposure adjustment after setting the white level.
More later as I research and play around with scanner and software.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plugging away...

It's coming along, slow and sure. I'm trying various methods of altering tonal value with the scanner. This one came out not at all as expected. Testing to continue...

I think I'm getting a bit faster with the veining as my mind-muscle connections establish. Maybe a few more days?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An English Ivy Afterimage

Gulp. Did I really put in twelve hours yesterday? Is that why today I'm seeing afterimages? Everywhere I look, I see veining matrices. Oh my... :-)

Monday, January 18, 2010

English Ivy On An Icy Day

The storm should be moving out within a couple of hours. There's been lots of rain and little bits of snow and sleet, just enough to slush it up here. Earlier this morning the temps slipped to freeze up the crabapple branches.

I recently tuned my zoom telephoto autofocus and I'm noticing an improvement. Some Canon cameras have a micro adjust for individual lenses that allow for correcting front and back focus--that is, when the lens autofocuses slightly off true. I'm pleased with the new found crispness, even if this isn't my finest lens. (Click to enlarge and see the feather detail.)

I was up into the early morning hours with this piece...lots of experimentation on those small veins. Still not sure where I'm going here but it's awfully entertaining regardless. :-) I've been scanning my drawings exclusively so today's camera shot of the ivy drawing was surprisingly adequate. Some lighting issues to be addressed but not bad at all. I've been counseled by a professional photographer (thanks, Bob!) that these kind of shots in daylight shade will come out very nicely. This could be a useful alternative for when my canvas size exceeds my scanner bed and I don't feel like stitching together a bunch of scans in Photoshop.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

English Ivy

I just started work on a cropped macro of English Ivy. You know, sometimes getting started can be the most difficult thing. Whether it's coming up with the subject that feels right or a matter of confidence or even simply overcoming inertia, getting to the initial layout can be a chore. Once I get over that hurdle, I can settle nicely into a kind of meditative involvement. It's just that darned getting started...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Walnut and a Walk

Here's another little nut drawing. Or nutty little drawing. ;-) The warty texture was a bit difficult but still quite fun.

There's a bit of a thaw under way with daytime temps in the 40's, warm enough for me to get the itch for a walk about with the camera. While out, I gathered up dried specimens of ferns and Sweet Fern. And with today's addition of a nice little desk lamp, I have the makings for some interesting drawings.

Friday, January 15, 2010


A while back I pondered on the need to use basic geometric shapes to study shading and perspective. Since then I've wavered back and forth. At the moment, I think that nuts will do nicely. With almonds and walnuts in stock, I'm good for now; brazils and hazelnuts to probably follow. Additionally, I'll get really great practice drawing the innards of some cracked open nuts.

I think this is my first drawing making use of cast shadows on a supporting surface. I positioned the nut with the lighting to put together the shading effect I was looking for. I'm feeling the need more and more to set up a dedicated spot, one where I can easily play with lighting.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The course asks for the student to try out various nibs. Dickblick supplies Hunt nibs and not Gillott, but I found a good source for both at John Neal Bookseller. I have Hunt 102 and Gillott 290 and 659 nibs on the way, along with the various penholders--it seems there are quite a few different sizes. I checked out some very cool looking holders but I'll refrain for now.

I easily became hopelessly intrigued at the John Neal site. Pages of books on calligraphy and illumination. Then the books on bookmaking. Wow... Wheels within wheels...

No more hemming and hawing, it's now time to pull back into the rhythm of daily drawings, as it's over a week until the course begins. Next up? Nuts! :-)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book List

Last night I spent my time reviewing books that I will use in the course. Lucky me, I already own all the titles! :-)

This course is based on the first four chapters of Bente Starcke King's Beautiful Botanicals. As the book is rather hard to come by (I do have a copy!), the chapters are offered as pdfs downloadable from the Cornell site.

1. Basic Form and Perspective
2. Graphite Pencil
3. Pen and Ink
4. Ink Wash

It's because of the pen and ink work involved that I recently tried that out medium. I've discovered that the nibs are delicate--one has already seen its better days after a nosedive into the hardwood flooring. Yipes! :-)

There are supplemental books mentioned but not required:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Dried Groundnut pods have the curious habit of twisting up like corkscrews when the pods split open. How do I know this? While settling in to wrap up last night's sketch I accidentally leaned on the pod. That did it! Seeds went flying. The pod ended up in two twisted up halves. So, what I present below is remembrance and imagination. :-)

Monday, January 11, 2010

A New Development

Today I enrolled in a botanical art drawing course! I am very excited!

Upon asking my instructor, Marcia, what she thought about blogging my course experience, her reply was, "That sounds like fun! What a great idea!" I'll take that as a "yes". ;-)

The course starts in two weeks, but the first week is general orientation with interfaces and a test upload. I just got logged in today; I'll have more to say in the near future.

I started a groundnut pod drawing last evening. It was very lightly sketched in with a 4H so Photoshop did the value enhancement here. I'm thinking that just a few lines with varied weighting can hold a lot of information.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Goldenrod Gall

My first try with this gall a couple of nights ago proved a struggle so I opted to simply spend time on shapes and shadows within the specimen. I think the strategy of study and easy exploration paid off. Last night after some trouble placing in the overall shape I used dividers to measure out key points. After that, things began clicking.

I used the 600 sandpaper for pleasing points, mostly with HB, some 2H. There is very little 2B in this drawing. It took less than two hours for this little piece.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Gold Pencil

I recently came upon a 14 karat gold mechanical pencil and thought I'd share it with you. It's the first time I see anything like this but have since found a few similar pencils for sale on ebay. Some info refers to this as a pendant. Cool, eh?

Here's a closed up view.

Now tugged open a bit.

And here fully extended.

The tip twists to extend and retract the 2mm graphite.

Fully twisted out reveals an inner collet for mounting the graphite.

Here's the manufacturer's mark.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Making a Point

Between being a bit under the weather and struggling with a gall specimen, I didn't get in much drawing of substance. But I did recognize that I'd need a really tight point for some sharp-edged shadows. This evening I picked up a hundred pack of razors and some 600 grit sandpaper. I wasn't sure about the grit grade--I want to make a fine point without loading the paper. The 600 makes an awesome point and I'm not sure yet how quickly this paper will fill in. Sometime I may try out 400 and 320 grit but for now I couldn't be more content with my new sharpening aid.

After a few days with the Canson and Strathmore papers, I really enjoyed going back to the Stonehenge. I'm using only pads so far but I think I want to try out some sheets of Stonehenge--it comes in some nice-looking colors.

A new entry for the art library arrived today: Leonardo Da Vinci: 1452-1519: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. I'll be up late tonight! :-)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rhododendron - All Done

Well, that's a wrap. A bit of cleanup and a few buds seemed to do the trick.

Hmm...what's next?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rhododendron - Closing In

Getting close... Maybe one more night...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rhododendron 2

After posting last night, I spent hours absorbed in this drawing.

Here's how I set up this drawing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I've Got An Idea

I've been poking through my bags of twigs and leaves with nothing jumping out at me. Tonight I shoveled out a path to the crab apple tree for a branch. Still nothing. I've had a rhododendron branch tip in water for a while... I cut out a round hole in a sheet of heavy paper... I think I have the makings of a fun drawing...

And a couple of hours later, I have an initial sketch using my very first real setup--lighting, branch, and mask all set in place! :-)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Beech Leaf

I did well this time not to indent the paper, and that sure made adjustments a whole lot cleaner. Now I must remember to leave plenty of room around my drawing. It wasn't until I was nearly finished that I realized that the leaf tip was just a half inch from the perforations.

This piece is on Canson Classic Cream 90 lb with perhaps a bit more tooth than I'd like for smoothness and detail. Of course, this is merely an initial impression and could easily change.

I tried to be more "light source and shadow" aware with this piece. I was also trying for roundness between the leaf veins, something I may have missed a bit by not placing the highlights above center.

I like leaf studies. I often read that a set of objects--blocks, cones, cylinders, and balls--are useful for learning dimensional drawing and shading. I'm thinking that I can achieve the same effect with dried and curled leaves. Besides, aren't leaves just a wee bit more interesting than a bunch of styrofoam or wood cutouts? :-)

Hmm...maybe basic shape studies would be useful. I'm thinking that they are the building blocks of more complex shapes. Maybe I should be mixing it up?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Gathering and Planning

It's a quiet and relaxing day. Yesterday left a couple on inches of snow with more promised for tonight and into the next couple of days.

I got out today for a walk up the road, taking along the camera and specimen nippers. I grabbed a few shots and collected some interesting little things for drawing. I plan to spend some time over the next few days sketching out some of fall's leftovers for upcoming drawings.

Here's a bit of white pine, goldenrod, and winterberry--subtle organic colors in the midst of winter.