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Starts and Fits

February 25, 2016

It’s been a slow start getting back into the studio after family obligations kept me away for several days. My young student has gone from weekly to every other week, which is good, because we have a good two-hour session each time. That’s enough for her to get some good solid help and encouragement. In between times she will no doubt keep drawing, the way she always has. This past Saturday she left here very proud of what she had done.

Progress in the studio includes working on 12 new panels – such glorious fun – and the occasional collage session just to break up the blocked times. Yes, I’m blocked, or stuck, on some of the panels. They are giving me fits. Can’t afford to dwell on them for too long. It only makes matters worse. Here they are in progress as of today.

Boxes 02_16

I consider 7 of these finished and ready for signing. The other 5, not so much. When I’m sure of them all, I’ll show individual photos.

And a couple of new collages . . .


A New Season Cropped

A New Season – Collage, 4×4″ on 8×10″ backing

Beneath it All Cropped

Beneath It All – Collage, 6×8″ on 8×10″ backing


Happy arting to all!

Art with Kids

February 3, 2016
Ethan Painting 1

A little friend of mine exploring color with brushes and a brayer

This post is to answer a reader’s questions about how I approach teaching drawing to kids. Perhaps it’s of interest to all my readers. So here goes.

I take an open approach, with the structure tailored to age-appropriate activities. Young preschool-age children greatly benefit from just having plenty of materials in front of them so that they can explore making marks and putting down colors. Washable markers are great for this age group, and watercolors are fantastic for them, because they are easy cleanup as well. It’s OK to mix it up. Pencil, marker, and paint all in the same work of art.

Provide protective clothing — an old t-shirt maybe, plenty of space at a table, and let them go. For watercolors, they need larger brushes than those that are included with a kids’ watercolor set — perhaps choices of brushes. A few small brushes (about an inch wide) from the paint aisle in the hardware store work great for spreading lots of color. Another good choice would be a couple of small sponge brushes. White construction paper is cheap and great for painting with watercolors. Show them how to keep their brushes clean, by rinsing and blotting the brush on a folded paper towel when changing colors. This is a skill even little ones can learn.

Preschool kids will draw and paint a complete work of art that only they can interpret. It’s best just to be encouraging and appreciate what they’ve done without critiquing. Even though it might not seem they are learning anything, they are. They’re learning how to express themselves, how to make their own marks, and are reinforcing eye-hand coordination. They’re seeing how colors mixed together make a different color. And most importantly, they are receiving encouragement from you to keep exploring and learning.

It’s not until 9 or 10 that kids become concerned about drawing objects realistically. Before that age, they have already developed their own symbols for things. In the last post I mistakenly stated my current student’s age as 8, but she is 9 and her 10th birthday is very soon.  I’m seeing her already struggling with looking at things as they are and simultaneously attempting to just resort to her own idea of how she thinks they should look. This is a crucial time for kids learning to draw. I want to keep the experience a positive one, while helping her see things as they really are. I give her some warm-ups and then a longer session in which she draws from an object or a still life. After the focused session, we go back to a less structured time for a little while, when she gets to draw things from memory and create something just for fun.

Since taking on a student again, I have gone back to the principles contained in two books that I used to own, but had long ago donated to the public library. Now I guess I need to get them again. I highly recommend these, if you want to brush up on your drawing skills, or teach a young person to draw:

The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

Late Night in the Studio

January 24, 2016

I sat here into the late evening, doing some sprucing up on my blog, and then for some reason decided to go out into the studio with the intention of maybe resuming work on the panels that I hadn’t gotten to since the holidays. But they had been set aside for my weekly drawing student to have room to work.

Boxes 06_15

So I got those out, laid them out on two tables, and in the process there were several things that needed to be put away or tossed out, and then one thing led to another. And another. But with some great music playing in the background, it was nice out there. Now I have everything ready to go in the morning. It’s too late now. The kitty wants me to go to bed.

Blueberry Waiting for More Crab


Oh, and here’s a new collage:

Early Morning

Early Morning – Collage and Acrylic on Magazine Paper, 6×8 inches



If the Kitchen Is Too Cold, Just Bake Some Bread

January 18, 2016

kitchen studio

On days when it’s a little too cold in the studio, I sit at my kitchen table with the nice big light just above me and I sketch, and doodle, and make collage papers, and actually sometimes even make collages. And my laptop is never far away, of course.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking online at ideas for my weekly drawing lessons for an 8-year-old. In an odd way, I feel pressure to get it right, since I haven’t taught in a long time. Therefore, I tend to obsess endlessly about that one thing. But a funny thing has happened as I’ve gone through my searches. I have been inspired by some new discoveries for my own work, tons of tempting new products, and by some older ideas and approaches that still work just as well as they always have.

As I come across some of them, I tell myself I should share them with my blog readers. I’ve been out of the loop for way too long, so maybe you’re ahead of me on some of these things, but it doesn’t hurt to share what we learn.

For instance, what is the absolute best white pen? It turns out that for best coverage, flow, and whiteness, you might want a  Whiteout pen from the office supply store. Who knew? For a full demo and comparison of various white pens, you can check out this video. I love white lines on black paper as shown here in my newest collage. (I think these white marks were made with a very skippy paint pen, plus some white colored pencil.)

Subterranean - collage, 5x7 inches on 8x10 backing

Subterranean – collage, 5×7 inches on 8×10 backing


Another “aha!” moment I have had after watching several different videos is that if you want to make precision brush strokes in your chosen color, and for brush lettering, you don’t have to buy an expensive set of brush pens. Instead, just get a water brush and use it with watercolors or inks. For my own use, I am always looking for different mark making tools. I may not do a lot of brush lettering, but having that kind of precision and control is sometimes useful. If the idea of brush lettering intrigues you, I recommend this video.

Here are some painted papers and magazine pages with doodles on top that I’ve created in recent sessions in my “kitchen studio.”

Assorted Papers Jan 2016

If the kitchen is too cold, that just means I need to bake some bread.

Sourdough 05_15


The Importance of Drawing

January 8, 2016

It’s become a cliche by now, but is as true as it ever was:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain
an artist once he grows up.”

― Pablo Picasso

I have accepted the challenge of giving drawing lessons once a week to an adorable 8-year-old girl. She has an above-average ability to make art that is charming and whimsical. Her family had recognized this, and wanted to see if she might sharpen her skills with a few lessons.

I showed her some photographs and asked her what she’d like to draw. She chose to draw a kitten. I took her through a slow and detailed lesson on how to “see” the kitten in the photograph rather than just drawing what she thought it should look like. She ended up with a nice drawing of a kitten in the middle of a very big piece of drawing paper.

So immediately she wanted to paint it. I gave her some paints and brushes and she painted the kitten and added her own environment to it — grass, flowers, the sun. It was a happy painting.

Another day, I showed her how to make prints on my gelli plate. She fell in love with that and made a big stack of prints to take home. We also went through some exercises drawing basic geometric shapes and how to make them three-dimensional. During those first sessions, I was just getting a feel for where she is, and how to proceed.

We took a break over the holidays, and now she will be back tomorrow. I’ve decided that it’s time to buckle our seat belts and focus on drawing, because that’s what her family wants her to do.  I happen to think she’s a little young to be pushed into difficult drawing lessons, for fear of turning her off completely, so I’ll try my best to keep it fun and interesting. I’m going back to my old resources for that. We might do some blind contour drawing, some upside-down drawing, and of course we will do still life.

In the meantime, I feel it’s important to sharpen my own drawing skills. After all, I might be called on to give her a demo at some point. In the process, I’ve become rather addicted to doodling and drawing in the early mornings. It’s become almost an obsession, and I mean that in a good way.

This week I sat in the studio with my little dog Angie sleeping on her bed beside me. I looked around for something to draw, and there she was. I meant for it to be only a sketch, but I was trying out my new gray-toned paper with some colored pencils, and one thing led to another. She noticed I was staring at her, so she woke up and lifted her one ear a little. I was able to get that pose fairly quickly, but then she closed her eyes again after a while. This is the final result:

Angie Sm

The important thing that I want to convey about drawing is that if you think you’re bad at drawing, it only means you need to draw. We didn’t learn to write without a lot of practice in elementary school. I believe that if drawing were taught as a regular school subject, we’d all be pretty good at drawing too.

This is a great video that will introduce you to a world of good drawing resources. If you find it intriguing, you might want to explore the links and videos from this channel.


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