Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Portraits #3

Part of the reason I signed-up for the Expressive Charcoal course, recently, was because I started working in mixed media. Which basically means, working in different mediums, in the same picture. I had a thing for working with collage, paint and charcoal.

If it wasn't for the love affair with mixed media, I wouldn't have signed-up for the course, this year. But I'm glad I did, because I'm learning so much about charcoal. It's uncanny however, that all roads lead back to Rome - as you'll see in my next portrait, in the series.

First layer

This wasn't going to be a reverse portrait, this time. I would apply the charcoal straight to white paper. As I was determined to use the stick, more on it's side, than on it's tip. It was great for filling in blocks of colour, without getting hung up on details.

Then things changed. Experimentation, soon evolved into a horrible, dark and unappealing mess. Major frustration! Rather than quit on my picture or give myself a hard time, I turned to my former muse of mixed media. Because collage, immediately covers a multitude of sins!


I finally got the chance to use my new Liquitex, matte medium, to paste on the newsprint. And because it's charcoal, the medium turned grey and stained the newsprint too. Effectively blending it to the rest of the picture, and making the charcoal less intense, overall.

Dark, muddy mess - be gone! Okay, maybe not completely, so I used a touch of white charcoal, under the chin, and in his hair, for highlights.

Unintentionally, looks like, Australian bush-ranger ~
Ned Kelly

In this close-up, you can see the original white paper, black charcoal, collage and matte medium. Which is actually the brush strokes, caused by the medium, moving the charcoal around. I like this effect. It tones down the charcoal - as my eraser, wasn't real good at cutting into the charcoal.

It was a fun experiment, but not strictly charcoal. Which is okay. Because all roads still lead back to Rome eventually! I'm going to return to charcoal. I'm debating whether I'll do another portrait, or just move on to the next exercise though. I'll see where my muse, takes me, tomorrow!

PS: I used the racing guide as newspaper, for this particular collage. Pieces were randomly torn and put down. After blowing up the picture, I find one of the names: "LOVE OR GOLD" on his cheek. Which kind of matches the Ned Kelly theme. Weird, huh?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Stranger things

It's funny how the early incarnations of a picture, can be just as interesting as the finished piece. Recently, I opened Google homepage, and my browsing history automatically appeared. Side by side, were two remarkably similar images.


I was going to mention how the ghostly silhouette of David, bore an uncanny resemblance to the masks, Australian band, TISM, wore. But then I thought, it was a rabbit trail no-one really needed to follow. Especially if you're not familiar with the band.

I never meant for it to look that way. Just turned out, it did! Anyway, consider this random rabbit trail, officially closed.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Portrait #2

Yesterday, I wrote about attempting a reverse portrait of my husband. As much as I enjoyed the exercise, I made two rookie mistakes. Firstly, I went too hard with the initial charcoal layer - making it difficult to erase any white highlights, afterwards. Secondly, I needed a closer view of his face, to manipulate the details better, with the charcoal.

So another portrait was attempted, utilising the same picture - just a closer view.

First layer

This time I went lighter on the initial charcoal layer. Then gradually cut away highlights. Willow charcoal, was better than the compressed charcoal for erasing too.

Second layer

Sketching the outline, made it look very cartoony. I've gotten into the habit of drawing lines around everything! Although, it has a rather abstract appearance about it, also. If I was aiming for abstract, this portrait would be done. But I wanted to see more charcoal.


There was a squinty expression, which made one of his eyes appear smaller than the other. It was more him, than the former attempt, yesterday. But still not entirely him. One thing was glaringly obvious, afterwards though. Where was my "expressive" charcoal? I achieved some character, but I used the charcoal like a pencil - rather than using it like charcoal!

So bear with me, I'm going to attempt another portrait (same picture) without aiming for "likeness" and proficient drawing skills. I want to tackle it very differently. Wish me luck! 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A portrait of sorts

I was looking forward to this particular exercise, in my Expressive Charcoal course. I watched the video on Friday, but couldn't get started until after the weekend - when the kids returned to school.

The concept of working in reverse to form our picture, was intriguing. We had to select an image (the suggestion in the example, was a self portrait) but I chose the one of my husband, dressing up as Wolverine. I wasn't intending to do the whole claws thing, just draw his face.

As much as I loved the ghostly effect of cutting into the charcoal with an eraser, I quickly realised the paper I was using, wasn't compatible. As I couldn't remove all of the charcoal, to reveal the white paper, underneath. It was quite frustrating, but I had to press on!

While I think I obtained a "likeness" of my husband, in some aspects - the portrait kind of morphed into someone completely different. Which was okay, as the exercise wasn't about achieving a picture-perfect likeness. It was more about exploring the different values between light and dark.

One of my favourite things (it seems) is cutting into the charcoal with an eraser. As it added a textural element to the background. One of the most challenging aspects however, was achieving finer details, such as the eyes.

Even my thinnest stick of charcoal, was 6mm wide. With such a bulky implement on such fine detail, the eyes were too misshaped for my liking. As well as too cartoony, with an outline. I really struggled with variation, in those limited spaces though.

On the whole, it was still an enjoyable exercise.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Expressive charcoal

I'm doing an expressive charcoal drawing class at the moment. I didn't intend to sign-up until next year, but the recent intake happened to coincide with my experimentation with charcoal in mixed media.

Here are some examples from a recent exercise...

 Stretching with umbrella

 Yoga pose


Dog running with Frisbee


The idea was to work quickly, with time restrictions on how long you could observe the subject. Which is why I drew such basic figures. Yet clearly, they do possess movement.

While some of the exercises feel uncomfortable, as I'm not used to working within some of the limitations, I'm still enjoying the class. Some pennies are dropping for me, in areas I've always wondered - how do I incorporate energy, without making it look unnatural?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Challenges & mixed media

While quiet on my blog, I've still been creating, here and there. I'm part of a lovely group of artists, via Facebook, and every month a reference photo is supplied, and everyone who wants to - can attempt their own interpretation.

I'd love to show you how amazing (and varied) the other artists' works are. However, it's a private Facebook group, so that's not possible. I can share the works I have completed, over the past few months though.

Monochrome sketch

July was the first month, I decided to participate. I didn't have much time to commit, so completed a quick pen-ink sketch, first. Thanks to my recent experiments with spirals and pen-ink, I was able to sketch quite loosely and without fear of making expected mistakes.


Then I wanted to play with colour a little more, and incorporated my Inktense pencils. I really enjoyed the exercise, because I truly love to sketch. However, I also realised sketching is ALL I had committed to doing artistically, lately. So for the next month of August, I decided to be a little more daring.

Mixed media

The reference image was of an old castle, nestled into the green hills of the countryside. It was quite beautiful, however, I wanted to do something different.

Now for some reason in my brain; brickwork, masonry and stones in general, remind me of newspaper print. So that's what I used, after putting down some acrylic paint. I also used charcoal and oil pastels, for a bit more definition, afterwards.

My mother actually saw it on the fridge, and asked if my 5 years old son had done it. Mostly, I guess, because I'm known for doing quite detailed work. I decided to take it as a compliment, because children have no inhibition when it comes to expressing themselves through art - and that's what I was attempting to do. I was trying to push myself into new territory, and you have to start somewhere.

 Mixed media

For this month, I decided to stick with the collage newsprint, with more brickwork involved. I actually ran a black and white filter, over the reference image, and it just confirmed, how much brickwork reminds me of newsprint! So I added some to the facing wall, in the ceiling and the 3 standing pillars.

Once again, acrylic paint was used for colour, and charcoal for adding details. I actually like this combination of mixed media. Because it encourages me to view the image in blocks (ie: newsprint) and in finer detail (paint and charcoal).

One of my goals for this year with my art, was to loosen up. While I know my work is still leaning towards the detailed side (something I'm trying to move away from) I can actually see through these monthly challenges, how much more variety I'm incorporating. The way I sketch has changed, I use more blocks of colour/collage, and even my painting has become a little more impressionistic.

Collage paper ~ not my work

I've so enjoyed doing mixed media, I intend to do a bit more. I have a collection of collage papers I can experiment with, but I also wouldn't mind making my own collage paper, from printing experiments. As that is another aspect of art, I wouldn't mind exploring.

To that end, I have reserved some books at the library to teach more about technique, more art supplies are on their way, and what better time than spring for new creations to emerge.

Happy creating in your neck of the woods, whatever season you're in.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Men & spirals

I just realised, I didn't share the further experimental sketches, completed, not long after finishing the 7-day challenge. As I was determined to find a way to incorporate spirals, into the appearance of men, who are naturally more angular, than women.

The first sketch to evolve, was inspired by the sea - of waves, and locks of hair, being caught in the wind. Mixing sketching with doodling, means, the composition didn't have to make sense. I captured what I wanted, and didn't need to explain more.

Which was extremely liberating, when I'm normally such a stickler for details.

Sketch number two, began with the focus on hair and glasses, to see how I could incorporate more round lines. The model in my reference picture, had a shirt on, but I thought muscles are round - so why not emphasise those? Once they were sketched in, however, I found the arms rather bare and uninteresting. Like they wanted to say, more. But what?

What else, but spiral tattoos!! Then the cigarette smoke was added, to lift the eye upwards again, because the heavy use of hatching (lower left, corner) was weighing the picture down.

Now I had tattoos on my mind, and found the ones, unique to New Zealand culture, were almost exclusively round! So my final sketch, became an exploration in more intricate detail, specific to the tattoos.

Doodling even allowed the tattoos to leave the skin, and become part of the background. So in the end, I discovered there were many more opportunities to introduce spirals, even when the subject I chose, didn't naturally posses them. What I loved about this specific challenge, was getting me to think outside my normal focus. Which is always fun.

So next time you think of sketching, challenge how you would normally do it. Explore how you make lines. It doesn't have to be with spirals. You might want to draw with dots or squares. Change the tools you use, as well. I eliminated the eraser and pencil, and went straight for permanent pen ink. You could even use a brush with any medium you want (watercolour, acrylic paint or ink) or why not charcoal?

The gist is, it doesn't have to make sense, and it doesn't have to fall within the regular rules - because it's purely about exploration. So liberating!