Thursday, February 26, 2009

The challenge mounts

A few days away from this work and this evening I'm sitting several yards from the easel in order to study and decide what to do next. Yes it's upside down to offer a new perspective, I'll also sit with my back to the drawing with a small mirror held over my shoulder. These efforts make mistakes more obvious and allow me to see what still needs more work. This one is more of a challenge than I had first anticipated. It'll cause me to reach further and I like that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Creating a signature style.

A few days ago a fellow black and white artist, Terry Miller, (who's work I greatly admire) posted an interesting subject on his blog, Terry writes about how an artist needs to follow their own vision of what their work should say. He describes how beginning artists will sometimes emulate the style of those they admire. As a learning process this is valuable but there comes a time when a break needs to be made from established styles, market be damned. There can be a number of circumstance that allow this break to happen. It may certainly be artistic maturity, some personal epiphany, or simply natural progress. In my opinion, anyone that simply sticks with what sells is stagnant, just a practitioner and not a true artist.

Years ago, 20 to be exact, I made the photo realistic drawing above. Every grain in the boards of the canoe, each board perfectly aligned as in the actual boat. Very detailed and precise. I admire this type of work but it simply is no longer me. Over the years I've had a very clear vision of what I wanted my work to evolve into. Years of patience and visualization while I waited for my technical skills to develop to a level to achieve my goal. A method unique to my personality and what might be described as a signature style. I feel confident that this signature will continue to evolve over the next few decades. A process that I welcome.

I used to want to be a full time professional artist more than anything. Reality and circumstances have kept me from this and I've actually become grateful. I do not need to sell a thing! I create drawings that please ME. That's my only criteria. I do submit them for jury consideration but I mostly get turned down. That's OK. I have my integrity to consider first and foremost then my own artistic stimulation and satisfaction. Juries come last. 

I've transformed a jury rejection into a motivational tool. They only serve the purpose of accelerating my growth when I'm turned down. I accept it as a challenge! Recognition from my peers is more gratifying and honest by far.

Fran Sweet, (an artist I also revere) once told me that he could walk into any exhibit and pick out my work from across the room. A compliment of no small measure from an artist of his stature and something I'm very proud of. In a personal letter, Everett Raymond Kinstler described my work as full and rich. He's one of the big dogs of portrait painters! I don't intend to sound boastful, I'm just trying to make a point.

Stay true to your own vision and reap this type of pure, meaningful reward.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Walking a tight rope

I got to draw all day today! It was frustrating work attempting to balance the values and contrast to get this thing to look right but I love a challenge. That's when I feel most alive as an artist.

I couldn't get the water to work until I had the bird complete and I couldn't get the bird right without the water being more finished. ARRGH! Either way I'm finally pleased with the progress. There is still much adjusting to do but I can see the finish line.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deadline approaching

This time of year brings numerous exhibition deadlines that I attempt to meet. Since I am not a full time artist I have to be very deliberate about which drawings I create with specific exhibits in mind. It is necessary to plan several months in advance in order to see them to completion prior to the submission dates. Of course I am rarely on schedule therefore the pressure is on. That's not the way I would prefer but that's just the way it is and I try to adjust.

I took the osprey to my other studio in order to sneak some time in between my business responsibilities. My wife and I operate two custom frame shops. It's funny that I started framing to support my drawing habit and now I have to steal time away from framing in order to draw. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Warm and cool value theory?

I've been told that charcoal and graphite can't be mixed? While in fact there are circumstances where the two are not willing to play well together it has not stopped me from exploring a theory. Long ago I was told about an artist that employed the two medium using graphite for cool values and charcoal for warm. I was very intrigued and experimented at first on paper then on to the gesso surface I now work on with exciting results. A good example of how effective this can be is seen in this detail of a great horned owl drawing. The wing is entirely graphite and it's quite obvious how it recedes behind the charcoal face. Make any sense? I'm certainly no expert.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Eagle portrait

This image shows the bald eagle portrait I've mentioned that I currently have in progress. The drawing is perhaps 10 hours away from completion. The strong light was worked out in the preliminary sketch done a few years ago. Sketches of this type are actually finish pieces that I frame and exhibit for sale along side the charcoal drawings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Establishing a visual plane

Getting the reflection started in the foreground makes it a bit easier to establish the plane of the waters surface. In order for this drawing to work it's critical that this looks correct. Another consideration is making sure the bird appears to be above this plane. The distance between the birds claw and the beginning of the reflection helps develop this height from the surface. The bald eagle drawing can be seen here as well. I often work on two or more drawings at one time.

Monday, February 9, 2009


An osprey can position it's toes two different ways. When the outer toe is swiveled back like this it's known as a zygodactyl arrangement creating a perfect 4 pointed spread. The size of this claw is massive in relation to the body size and contributes to the high success rate of this unique bird getting 4 of 5 strikes. The toes have special little spikes on pads that help hold a slippery fish. Working on critical details such as this poses a challenge on the heavy texture as seen in this close up.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Drawing continues

Today I worked more on the right wing and the water. Next I'll be refining the reflection because I feel it's the key element in establishing space and depth. As this picture shows I work with the board in a vertical position. A mahl stick keeps my hand away while doing fine work and standing allows the effort to come more from my shoulder. A trick I learned from my uncle who was a very talented sign painter. If you compare this to my previous entry on 2/6 you'll see how it is progressing toward the compositional sketch. When I approach a drawing of this size it's good to have a solid idea of the end result.  Being satisfied with the sketch gives me confidence that 75-100 hours will be well spent.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Beginning the drawing

Before transferring the linear drawing to the final board I worked out several anatomy details using my reference materials.  After transfer the next step was to start a light overall tone that covers the entire drawing surface. Having that done helps to establish the proper values in the bird. Now anatomy becomes more critical as the main subject is developed. I absolutely love drawing open wings!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Adjustments to light and value

I changed the lighting and darkened the values to make this more dramatic. I like the back light and increased intensity of the setting sun on the water in the foreground. I find this much more interesting than the last version and will use this value study as the foundation of the work. The original finish drawing will measure 27"x40".

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gathering further reference

Since the osprey photo I took was not properly exposed and the bird was so small within the frame there was barely any detail. The homework starts with researching the proper anatomy of the osprey. I've drawn them many times, I've observed them in the wild for at least the past 20 years. To supplement my knowledge I reach to my bookshelf. One excellent book on the subject was written by Floyd Scholz.  Mr. Scholz is a highly respected carver and published this book as a tool for other carvers and artists. Each time I make a drawing of this type I open up "Birds of Prey". A must have for bird lovers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Finish drawing detail

I would like to show a detail of the title image of this blog to give an idea of the texture in my work. This particular piece was a turning point in my artistic development. This Cinereous Vulture portrait (13.25"x11") was the first truly successful combination of charcoal and graphite I'd been working toward for several years. The birds beak is purely graphite which on gesso creates a mellow silvery tone. The area around the eyes is charcoal which offers a deep velvet black. Mid tones are careful combinations of the two depending on the effect I'm looking for. Carbon is reserved for the deepest black possible. I once heard of a theory of warm and cool value in B&W by using this combination that riveted me and changed the course of my work. I'll share what I understand of it as time allows.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Preliminary Sketching

By contrast to the other approach I take in preparing for a finish drawing I'll post this graphite sketch I'm using for another current work in progress. This bald eagle sketch is a very comprehensive graphite study (9"x3.25") that is the basis for a piece that is part of a continuing series of avian portraits I'm working on. Several years ago I established this narrow vertical format (24"x9") that I've held onto for this ongoing project. I'll post the work in progress in the near future.  You can see other portraits in this series on my website.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The next step

Using the photo to create this composition was simply a matter of cropping.  My approach is completely intuitive.  I cropped, moved and shuffled this bird around until one idea simply said yes. Sometimes it's right on, sometimes I fall flat. There were many other viable options but I settled on this one. The reflection on the water is a key element.

This is the final crop and value adjusted image but it's not that simple.  I wanted it to say more, or at least be more dramatic so the next step is to adjust the values and lighting more to what my initial inspiration was from that day last summer.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Development of a composition

The following reference photo was taken while on vacation in the 1000 Islands this past August. The initial photo was very poor and chosen from a series I shot from the deck as this osprey made a passing strike on what turned out to be a pike. The picture was quick and off the hip so to speak but that black speck of bird provides enough information to get started.

I sometimes work with Photoshop to develop my sketches. I've done and still do all the traditional sketching that I have for decades, thumbnail after thumbnail working up a composition ad infinitum.  Now I use my years of experience with a different format that's all.  Cheating?  I read a comment once that if a Master had tech like this that they would take advantage of it as well. Why dig a hole with a spoon when you can use a back hoe? 

Most compositions are much more complex than this one and using software really improves my ability to explore dozens upon dozens of variations.  I actually find it ironic that I use it to develop something as simple and pure as an original drawing. The photo compositions are simply thumbnails that need comprehensive research, personal knowledge of the bird and expanded reference sources as you will see.