To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nature Sketching Details Workshop ~ 11-22&23-08

There's never enough time! I've been struggling with this problem with every workshop ~ I have so much I want to teach/share, and so little time to do it in.

During all this last autumn's workshops I tinkered lavishly to find the right balance of time vs. content, guaranteed success vs. challenge, plus adjusting other details ~ all while giving the students results they expected and hoped for. The student evaluations at the end of the classes really helped me figure this out (and the students who won the evaluation raffles appreciated the autographed book prizes ;^)

This fall, I had split the Nature Sketching classes into Beginning (Nature Sketching Basics) and Intermediate (Nature Sketching Details) workshops, which gave the students time to concentrate and complete more projects. Starting in January, I will have further split off the watercolor pencil painting section into its own two-day class, in order to allow the students more time to hone their skills and experiment with the medium.

I will also split the Nature Journaling workshop into two 1-day workshops so that people interested only in nature writing OR in nature journaling could come to whichever class appeals to them. The workshops will be held back-to-back on a weekend, so it's easy enough to take them together, as before.

Obviously, this December I am going to be busy working out more exercises for some of the classes, because when I split them up there was necessarily some repetition of the exercises to bring each class up to speed. The students would prefer a fresh exercise instead of repeating a previous one. In terms of learning, it's probably more useful to repeat an excercise several times, but when you pay for a workshop you expect to get all-new revelations, so I'll work to make sure there are no repeats. I really DO listen to my students!

So that's the update on the behind-the-scenes workshop planning.
Here's what my most recent batch of eager students went through.

This was my intermediate nature drawing workshop, so I was quite pleased to see some returning Basic students appear Saturday morning, along with new students. And I had all ages, from a very mature twelve to somewhere in the late 60s or 70s. Great people.

The format of this class was to spend the first day on pencil rendering, including ways to get the drawing accurate, shading for three-dimensional effect, and learning special techniques for special situations (realistic eyes, hair direction, and rendering symmetry in such things as seashells and leaves, etc.). Here's the class, warming up with the draw-your-hand exercise before launching into the details.

Notice the way the classroom is set up in an L shape ~ I like to coach from in front of the student if possible. This keeps me from jostling the student (and the adjacent student) because I can come in from the top of their drawing instead of beside, although sometimes I need to go around behind to see the subject from the student's perspective.

When I have more students, I add another table to make a U, which still gives me the inner work area. This is especially nice because no one has their back to me, and students can see the demos better.

For this class I now tried out a new project, and the results were thrilling both to the students and to me. Students who had time, took their project home to perfect, but most of these were finished in the class.

Be sure to click on these to look at them close-up, because we did some really tricky stuff with them.

the second day, after admiring and critiquing the mushrooms they'd brought back to class, we concentrated on color, trying pencil, ballpoint, and micron pen drawings combined with various watercolor pencil color wheel combinations to get brown. Then they drew bones and experimented with various ways to use color as shading on the (relatively) white bones.

I encouraged
them to use unconventional colors for effect, since anything white bounces back colors that surround it, and their results were fascinating. Here's a pony tooth rendered in green and blue, and a beaver jawbone rendered in ochre and purple, and they both came out excellent and very natural-looking (as did the bones by other students).

The next project was my standby orchid ~ this is a useful model for teaching brush techniques for edges, because it emphasizes how to get precise clean edges and also how to get soft, blurred edges which blend off to nothing. It always amazes (and pleases) me how every orchid ends up different, even though each student hears and responds to exactly the same instructions.

they had MOSTof the skills they needed to tackle the day's final project, to draw and paint some gourds I'd found in the local farmer's market. There was one remaining technique I showed them about removing color from the pencil tip with the brush to apply to their picture. You can get a nice, intense color this way, and apply it more precisely then you could with the pencil.

I have to say here that my students are really gracious about my taking pictures. I urge them to just keep working as I come by to snap photos (I do turn the flash off for the least intrusion). For the two photos showing how to remove color from the pencil,
though, Randye slowed down a little so I could get the pictures.

One technique we used for these gourds was an under-wash to help blend the color values. Varying shades of yellow seemed best for most of these gourds. You can see the wash at right. The students had a choice of doing the original drawing with pencil or ink. I was pleased when some of them chose ballpoint, because we had tried it out earlier in the day.

While drawing in ink would seem impossible for a beginning or even intermediate student, they discovered (as I had hoped)(and MOST counter-intuitively) that drawing in ink is sometimes easier and more freeing than drawing in pencil. Some students not only drew the original gourd in ink, but then went back after coloring it and put in details with a pen, with excellent results ~ particularly for a first-time effort. Here are their gourd paintings. Be sure to click on them to see them close up.

As I was saying in the beginning of this post, there never seems to be enough time to finish. These gourds, first time watercolor pencil renderings for (I think) all of these students, were completed (or not completed!) in about an hour and a half. Amazing, huh? While the students learned an immense amount, I think with less pressure and more time they would have been able to produce even more satisfying paintings, as well as learning a few more subtleties. I think the two-day watercolor pencil workshops from January onward will be a very pleasing improvement over this one-day experience with color.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nature Sketching Basics Workshop ~ 11-8&9-08

I love teaching beginners. There are two kinds: Those who want to draw but are scared to death that someone else will see they can't draw already. They're halfway expecting to fail miserably ~ but they're determined to get out there and try anyway. Then there are those who want to draw even though they suspect it might not be possible ~ but are gung-ho eager to test the waters and don't care what others may say.

I suppose there are nuances of these, too, but most people who pay good money to take a beginning drawing class fall in one or the other.

I love both kinds. I love the bold ones who'll try anything, and I love the tentative ones who need the gentle encouragement. I suppose there's a bit of both of those in me, so I really connect at both levels. Lest someone wonder how a person who is already an established artist (and an instructor, no less!) can feel tentative and fearful at the prospect of an art project, I assure you, it happens to me all the time.

But what I've learned over the years is that just pressing forward with determination and as much fearlessness as can be mustered usually overcomes the barriers.

Anyway, the workshop I held a bit over a week ago had both kinds of beginners. I'm not going to go through all the details of the class process this time. I'm just going to put up a gallery of their wonderful work and let you appreciate. If you want details of what happened in each class, scroll back through previous workshops (or pull down the archives at the top of the page and read through one of the previous ones).

The students assembled themselves around the tables at 9:30am on Saturday, and we had our usual introductions during which everyone tells their name, why they are there and what they hope to accomplish. Below is what they accomplished. Click on an image for a larger view. And remember, some of these artists haven't drawn since they were children!

They were only able to work on these shells for half an hour or so before we had to go on to the next exercise, the sequoia cones.

In the cone exercise, I show the students some techniques for drawing conifer cones. Here are some of their results. They worked on them for about 45 minutes in class; later some students took them home to finish. In the pair below, you can see the grid technique the students were using ~ this student tried a couple of different renditions. I apologize for not attaching names to some of these masterpieces ~ I ran out of time.

Now, in case you are wondering what on earth would take so much "time" in getting these pictures up on the blog, take a look at the dark photo. This is what many of the photos look like straight out of the camera. In this particular classroom, I always photograph under fluorescent room lights plus natural north light on a table near the window. The pictures would be lighter if I used the flash, but that often causes even worse problems of glare and lost details, so I take these dark photos with all their details intact (albeit a bit dark) and fix them up in Photoshop.

If you look at the dark picture, you'll also notice some additional work that had to be done. The two cone drawings were quite far apart on the page. If I had used that picture with the cones in their original positions, it would have had to be very large to show the details, and that would take ages to load on your computer. So sometimes I have to move things around on the page, then crop.

Since I'm intent on showing my students' work as they did it, I have to be careful to not mess with or misrepresent their work. Students come to the blog and look carefully at their artwork, and they'd know if I changed it. And they'd surely comment, as well. So I try to make it look exactly as it did when they allowed me to photograph it.

By the time we got to the second day, they were getting quite proficient, and really buckled down to the serious business of rendering their landscapes. An additional student joined us on the second day ~ she had to miss the final day of the class she had attended a few weeks before, so I'd told her she could attend the day she missed this time. She fit right in. We used the morning to learn how to show tree and shrub forms, then texture them.

In the final landscape exercise, copying a photo landscape onto their page without any aids, they're not only trying to get the proportions right, they're having to translate and create their own textures to show what's in the landscape: trees with various sizes and shapes of leaves, rocks, water, distant mountains, etc. Having practiced this with a photo, they will now have enough skills to take on an actual landscape outside with a degree of confidence.

[You hear that, dear students? I hope you go out VERY soon to practice this, or else the heebeejeebees will getcha and you'll be afraid to try. Just get out there and DO it! If you feel nervous about it, come back to this blog and look again at the marvelous landscapes you produced in class. That should encourage you.]

The landscapes below were produced by a bunch of ordinary people (heck, who's ordinary? Let's just say they're people who worked very hard and had phenomenal success because of it.).

I'd like to point out something in Sandy's landscape (the two left-most pictures in the bottom row above). Sandy did her drawing not in a pad but on a single sheet lying on a textured table ~ with interesting results. I didn't notice until she was nearly finished that the hills and mountains, which she had darkened with heavy pressure, had picked up texture from the table surface beneath. Since it was a serendipitous texture, it made the trees look great. If you click on the enlargement you may be able to see what the texture did for the natural scene. Cool, huh?

So that's it for this class. Students, ya done good! This coming weekend, for the Nature Sketching Details class, I have a couple of returning students from this Basics class who plan to continue their education. I'm looking forward to that a great deal.

By the way, I put up my new Workshops 2009 webpage this week. I think this one is a lot easier to use than the 2008 page. I'd love feedback on it if you want to visit and let me know what you think. Any ideas for a better layout or way of doing things (or if I forgot something) will be accepted with good cheer. And if you've been waiting for a newsletter with drawing tips, I'll try to get that out soon. It's on my list.

So, until next workshop, just keep thinking about what these beginning artists did with just a few hours of guidance ~ and think what you might be able to do if you apply yourself! Hope to see you in class

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nature Sketching Details with W/C Pencils~10-25&26-08

Last weekend's workshop almost didn't go. Normally I have a lower limit of five, but when three signed up I decided to give it anyway since it was the first run of this particular workshop ~ one I had split off from the beginners' class in order to spend more time on details and watercolor pencils. [remember to click on an image to see a larger version]

So it was a teeny-tiny class, and I discovered the first morning that I already knew everyone! Helene was from the Basics class from two weeks before, Jackie was from the Journaling class I gave in September at the Siskiyou Field Institute, and Chris had been a fellow student (lonnnnnng ago) at Oregon College of Art in Ashland (OR). That made it a special treat for me, and fortunately, they all seemed to like each other.

This Intermediate class offers a more in-depth look at pencil techniques, using nature as a model. I emphasized the nature aspect with the new cover for the first day's workbook ~ sketches of red fox pups which I sketched at Wildlife Images, a nearby rehab center.

Starting out with an intermediate class with previous art experience was great fun, as we could skip much of the right-brain warm-up exercises. I enjoy those exercises, but they take awhile, and being able to jump past them gave us lots more time for drawing. Another difference is that with some experience under their belts intermediate students need less guidance, so they can select their subjects instead of everyone doing the same one.

After some instruction on making internal right-brain templates, and discussions and experiments with drawing fur, eyes, seashells, leaves, and pigeons, they settled into their day's project: to draw and shade a subject of their choice from the box of goodies I had brought.

One especially nice thing about a small class is that it has a very intimate feel. With just four of us, I could sit across the table from the entire group and we could watch one another work and I could demo a technique which could be seen with ease by everyone as I did it. Demonstrations are always a minor problem ~ I wish I could invest in a projector like the one I used to use in my scientific illustration classes as SOU. The camera picked up the tiniest detail of a demo and projected it onto a screen or monitor which could be seen by the students even better than if I had been showing them one on one. But I don't have one (they cost a small fortune), so, as nearly all art instructors do, I generally make do with walking around the classroom with results, working on the blackboard, or repeating the demo for several different groups.

Jackie chose a seastar, opting to tackle the challenging underside instead of the topside. Helene selected a buckeye pod and seed, and Chris decided to try a sequoia cone. Chris is a graphic designer in real life, and was taking the class to get back in touch with hand-drawn art as opposed to computer rendering. (As a person spending a LOT of time at the computer designing books, and workbooks for these classes, I sure understand THAT.) He became entranced by the amazing design of the sequoia cone after examining it carefully with the magnifying glass, and had to force himself to blur the clean design lines with shading.

The day ended with some good beginnings on their projects, and they took them home to finish. Here's Jackie the first evening, hard at work on her homework seastar.

The second day of this class is devoted to watercolor pencil painting, but before we began we admired and critiqued the homework ~ an exciting session with great results to show. Nice, huh?

As always, I had the student whose work was being critiqued explain what he/she did and didn't like about his/her artwork, then the rest of us suggested improvements or techniques that might make them even better.

After the critique, we got right down to working with the watercolor pencils. On the agenda was experimenting with color blending on a color wheel in the workbook, applying washes, trying out techniques unique to watercolor pencil renderings, the care and feeding of the waterbrush (filling the barrel with water constitutes feeding, wouldn't you say?), and other techniques.

Just to get the strokes ~ both pencil and paintbrush ~ down, we practiced on my usual orchid. Maybe I should work up another demonstration for returning students, as this was Jackie's second try at that orchid. However, I've painted it any number of times now and I haven't gotten tired of it yet ~ I find that I learn something new every time. So it may be okay. Here are their orchids in progress.

We also tried drawing a eucalyptus seedpod with ink, and using watercolor pencil over that. I discovered that the pens I'd selected weren't as waterproof as I'd expected, with a tendency to run ~ but that coincidentally gave us interesting effects with the seedpods and later drawings, so it was a useful experience anyway. Plus, it's a great object lesson in choosing the right pen if you plan to do a watercolor pencil painting over it..... These were razorpoints, and I think I'll just have to bite the bullet and fork over the moolah for micron pens. These were roughly 40 cents apiece, whereas the micron pens are $3-4 each.

Just before lunch I brought out some outrageously gorgeous orange, yellow, cream, chartreuse and deep green gourds I'd picked up at the market the night before. I had the students draw them with a modified contour technique in ink to free up their sketching moves a little. The results were loose and cheerful, and appropriate since I knew we wouldn't have time to do greatly detailed jobs on the gourds ~ this technique would make even an unfinished gourd look great.

After lunch, we did a short exercise on foliage techniques, and I showed them how to quickly and easily show light and shadow, sunlight and shade on foliage masses, then I turned them loose to do what they wanted with all they had learned so far.

Jackie continued on with foliage, while Chris and Helene decided to finish their gourds, and while we didn't have time to do justice to those beautiful things, the results were fresh and vibrant, and the students were happy. So was I.

As always, I was sad to see the class end at 2:30. The evaluations at the end (which they filled out in exchange for a chance to win the raffle of one of my books) produced encouraging comments:

"Though somewhat familiar with the tools and the exercise of sketching, I found that this class gave me some valuable new perspectives (and tools) for going at my artwork. A "gift of seeing."

"This intermediate class is chock full of information on techniques, stylistic shortcuts, etc. The color component is an exciting and wonderful addition. Instructor covers techniques fully. Use of pens are interesting aspect. I feel like I can obtain the materials and feel confident to begin drawing with added color."

I also got some good critique on the class. Here are some of them:

"I thought there might be a landscape component,"
"I'd like a brief outdoors session,"

"thicker [workbook] paper would be nice,"

"...with the critiques I would have liked to hear from the rest of the class more."

So, as always, I have areas to improve. The thicker paper in the workbook is easy. I'll have to give some thought to the outdoors part ~ it is a time consumer and cuts down on teaching time, so THAT might bring dissatisfaction.

At any rate, it was, overall, a good class and I think my students would agree. Hey students, chime in with a comment if you like. It's always cool to get comments from the students ~ particularly if you disagree with something or want to add to the story.

Here's a grab-bag of other entries...

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