Ink-tastic

Since I last posted, just over a month ago, I’ve been continuing to do more or less regular drawing, with both my iPad and more traditional media. As I’d hoped, my life drawing class restarted about 3 weeks ago and I’ve really enjoyed being back there. I also decided to have another go at Inktober this year.

Inktober is one of those month-long daily challenge things that seem to be all the rage these days. This particular one, as the name suggests, takes place annually in October and is based around doing daily drawing. Officially it’s supposed to be done using ink in a pen or brush (with optional pencil underdrawing), but the real purpose of Inktober according to its creator, Jake Parker, is to encourage creativity and help people to improve their skills and develop positive drawing habits, so other things such as digital art are fair game (it says so in the official Inktober faq, so that’s good enough for me). There is an official prompt list that you can follow or ignore as you see fit, and artists of all skill levels are encouraged to post their results to social media, though that is optional.

I first did Inktober in 2019 and that time I did it with black ink on white paper and mostly (though perhaps not exclusively) using a Pentel brush pen that was recommended by Jake Parker (and, as I recall, a pencil for under-drawing on a few of the days though not all that many). I stuck to the official prompt list for that year, though with loose interpretations of some of the prompts (my favourite one being “legend”, which I chose to read as “leg-end” and therefore I drew a self-portrait of my foot). All my Inktober 2019 drawings can be seen in one album on Flickr.

There is also a thing called Inktober52 which replaces the daily drawings for a month with weekly drawings for a year. I’m not sure if that first started in 2020, but that’s certainly when I first gave it a try (and the first year for which I can find a prompt list online). Unfortunately, as we all know, 2020 pretty quickly became pretty hectic and I didn’t get beyond the first 9 weeks of drawings. Still, the ones I did are available in another Flickr album. This time I again mostly worked with black ink on white paper, but with a range of different pens and occasional brushes. The sketch that ended up being my final one of the series was done in multiple colours (using non-waterproof ink and a wet paintbrush to provide a bit of blending) and I think I was intending to do a bit more work with diferent colours and quite possibly try a few other things as well.

By last October I was completely out of the habit of drawing so I don’t think I even considered doing Inktober, and it was much the same for this year’s Inktober52. However, having restarted with my drawing in the last couple of months I was keen to give Inktober another go this time round. Initially I was planning to use black ink again, but since I’m currently still trying to get to grips with using Procreate on my iPad, I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get in some extra practice and perhaps to push my explorations in directions they wouldn’t otherwise go. So for me, this year’s Inktober is being done with virtual ink. To keep more or less within the spirit of Inktober, and to provide a bit of focus, I’m restricting myself (at least initially) to the brushes within the “Inking” section of Procreate’s default brush library and mostly working in black on white, but mixing it up a little bit when the subject matter, or my personal muse, calls for other approaches.

So far I’ve managed to do one drawing every day (although I think one of them was finished slighlty after midnight) and I’m putting them all in yet another Flickr album, as well as on Instagram (where my previous Inktober/Inktober52 sketches went as well – in fact, I haven’t yet got round to using my Instagram account for anything else, although I originally set it up with the intention of sharing my Figuary 2019 portfolio there; in the end those sketches just went into one more Flickr album). All being well, I’ll reach the end of Inktober 2021 with a full set of 31 drawings (plus a few extras inspired by them) and a much better handle on how to use my current range of digital art tools.

Brushing Up Again (Part Two)

As promised yesterday, here’s a bit more about my recent adventures with digital art on an iPad using the Procreate app.

I have mostly been practising by doing a handful of simple abstract paintings and more-or-less daily life drawings (fairly quick sketches from photo references). Indeed, one of my motivations to actually get on with trying to learn how to use my new digital art platform (having bought the hardware components, if not the software, several months ago) is the hope that my life drawing classes may be able to restart soon and the attendant realisation that my drawing skills have got some what rusty through neglect in the last year or so (I dropped out of the daily sketching habit around last April and have only done a handful of random sketches since then).

Having begun to get a handle on the basics of using Procreate, and beginning to feel some of my (albeit limited) artistic mojo returning and adapting well enough to the new medium, I decided to have a go at some more painting-styled work.

As my first subject, I selected an avocado plant that’s growing (in a pot) on my windowsill. Here’s what the painting looks like at the moment (it’s probably a work in progress, but I may decide just to quit while I’m ahead):

I started with a rough sketch to establish the basic composition. I then dialed back the opacity of that layer and set up several new ones to contain the painted background, the pot and the plant itself, each with a layer of their own. In each of these I used the “acrylic paint” brush at various different sizes.

My process was quite similar to how I’d approach a painting with actual acrylic paints, and the result is definitely quite a similar style too. It was definitely nice not to have to worry about mixing up sufficient quantities of paint or avoid contaminating one lot of paint with another, nor to have to wash my brushes afterwards or wait for one layer to dry before I could start on the next one. It’s also convenient to be able to go in and rework the background without having to worry about accidentally painting over any of the foreground details and it’s great to be able to try out different options without necessarily commiting to them.

For example, looking at the picture now, I wonder if a little bit of “inking” over the top to provide a bit more definition for some of the leaf edges and other structures might help the overall effect. In a traditional painting I’d have to make a decision and either leave it as it is (no pun intended) or commit to putting pen to paper (and I’m not actually sure how well it work to try drawing over acrylics, though I know it can work well with watercolours). With this digital painting, all I’d need to do (I’m not sure if I actually will) would be to add a new layer, do the drawing on there and if I don’t like it I can delete, or even just hide, it. And I’m not just limited to one experiment either – I could try a bunch of different things and then select the one(s), if any, that work best.

I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of my real paints and brushes just yet, but I suspect that I may well be doing the majority of my artwork (or at least the painting) with digital media from now on.

(And in case you’re wondering, I actually wrote this last night hot on the heels of the previous post – I didn’t get up bright and early to write and post it and I may in fact still be in bed!)

Brushing Up Again (Part One)

A few months ago, I decided to get myself an iPad. There were several reasons for this but one of the main ones was that I wanted a better platform for digital artwork than my cheap and cheerful Android tablet. I decided to push the boat out a reasonably long way and get myself a 4th generation iPad Air. If the experiences of other iPad users I know are a fair guide, Apple hardware seems to last a pretty long time and athough newer, more powerful models come out frequently the older ones continue to work and be well supported, so by getting a new one now I hopefully have a device that will keep going and be useful as more than an expensive paperweight for for a long time to come.

Some kind of stylus is pretty much required for any serious digital artwork on a tablet and the Apple Pencil is, by common consensus, agreed to be the best by far of the options available for the iPad. Unsurprising, as it’s made by Apple themselves. However, it has a correspondingly large price tag and my budget didn’t stretch to getting one of those at the same time as my iPad. Instead I got a relatively cheap stylus (about £15, as I recall, compared to over £100 for a 2nd generation Apple Pencil or around £80 for a 1st generation one that would still work but have some limitations). It’s not quite as fully featured and, probably most crucially for drawing, not pressure sensitive but certainly enough to get me started and learn the basics of the apps I’ll be using. At some point I may invest in an actual Apple Pencil.

Initially I installed Autodesk Sketchbook, a free app that is also available for Android (and, I think, a bunch of other platforms, not all tablet/phone based). I have used this on my Android phone and tablet and got on ok with it, though I never really got comfortable with the interface. My experiences with it on the Mac were slighlty better, due to a bit more screen real estate (certainly compared to my phone), a better stylus and much more responsive handling than my old tablet. Still, I didn’t find myself particularly loving it and wanting to do lots of drawing.

A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and buy myself a copy of Procreate, a very highly regarded (and iPad exclusive) drawing app that costs the princely sum of £8.99 or so (a one-off payment). Most reviews I read that compared it to Autodesk Sketchbook said that Procreate was a more powerful bit of software but harder to learn. Undaunted I purchased it anyway and was pleasantly surprised to find that, for me at least, the interface is much more intuitive and the overall drawing experience much more pleasant. This isn’t to knock Autodesk at all – that is also a very capable app (I don’t want to damn it with faint praise by adding “especially considering the price point”) and I’m sure if I devoted enough effort to it I could learn it well enough, but I think Procreate is the one for me.

There is plenty still to learn of course, and lots of scope for frustration along the way (even just with respect to itself, let alone my own artistic abilities or lack thereof). For instance, one evening I finished a sketch I was particularly happy with and then, noticing that it was showing up in my gallery in landscape format (when it was supposed to be a portrait format sketch), I tried to rotate it by changing the canvas size and inadvertently ended up cropping off the entire top half of the sketch. For some reason, this seemed to be a one-way process and it wouldn’t let me undo the change, which is usually possible with digital editing and is one of the major attractions of it compared to traditional media. I ended up just having to settle for half a sketch. Fortunately, soon after that I discovered how to rotate the images in the gallery without having to change the canvas size, so I should be able to avoid making that particular mistake again, though I’m sure there are plenty of others still to be made.

I was going to go on to talk a bit more about the actual creative process and put in a picture of the painting I’m currently working on, but this is getting quite long already so I’ll save that for another day.

P.S. I originally entitled this post simply Brushing Up, and then made it Brushing Up (Part One) when I realised it was going to be a two-parter (at least). After I published it I had a read back through my earlier art related blog posts and discovered that the very first one was also called Brushing Up. I have therefore reamed this one. Actually, the first line of that post is almost as applicable now (although it hasn’t been quite such a long gap this time): “After far too long a gap, I have recently begun to draw and paint again.”

Deja Vu

I said a couple of weeks ago that I wouldn’t blog about my life drawing sessions again unless anything particularly noteworthy happened.

Well it did (near enough for me, anyway) today.

Last week we had a new model (new to our session, not new to modelling). This week we had her again. This was somewhat unexpected as we had been told that we would be having the model with whom we started the year (and my very first session), but she cancelled and fortunately last week’s model was available instead.

The end result is pretty much the same from my point of view in any case — a second opportunity to draw a model I have previously drawn. I’ve already had that experience with some of the Croquis Café videos but this was the first time in my 21st century experience of actual life classes. Actually, I was quite looking forward to redrawing the first week’s model, since I think my drawing has improved quite a bit since then and the progress is less noticeable since last week (in fact, I think I got better sketches then than today!). Not to worry, as it’s very likely we’ll be seeing both models again before too long (as well as the others I’ve drawn so far, and doubtless several I haven’t).

Speaking of Croquis Café, I have a cunning plan which will be much easier to do with the videos than it would with a real live model. In a few months’ time (or perhaps sooner, though I don’t want to make it too soon) I intend to revisit some of the videos I started with, and then compare my first and second sets of drawings of the same scenes. I’d expect to see  significant improvement from one set to the other. With live models, it may be possible to get more or less the same pose (and in fact, one of our poses today turned out to be quite similar to one from last week, though I was viewing it from a different angle) but it would be relatively hard to get a complete set and to ensure that they were drawn for the same duration and from the same position, with the same lighting conditions in both cases, while the videos are infinitely repeatable.

Also on the subject of Croquis Café I wanted to put in a brief plug for Figuary. This is a month long initiative put together by Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing, with the aim of providing daily life drawing instruction and practice for the 28 days of February (check out this earlier post or just google them if you want links). Each day, there is a short (roughly 3 or 4 minute) instructional video from LoveLifeDrawing and a pose video from Croquis Café to provide practice opportunities for the techniques discussed in the other video. The pose videos have a different model each day; I’m not sure if we’ll be getting 28 different models, but most of the ones we’ve so far had are familiar to me from the regular CC figure drawing resource videos I’ve been working through. Most days the videos are a bit shorter than the regular CC videos  (about 18 minutes), with 6 poses each day (three 1 minute ones, two 2 minute ones and a single 5 minute one to finish) but the Sunday videos are the same format as the regular ones (24 minutes, 10 poses, with 5, 4 and 1 each of the three durations respectively) — in fact, the Sunday videos are the regular videos but have just been rebranded for Figuary.

So far I’ve managed to work through all the Figuary videos on the appropriate day, and I’m just about to do the ones for today. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep that up for the rest of the month too, so my figure drawing (and my general drawing, for that matter) should continue to improve quite a bit over the coming weeks.

Incidentally, I’m putting photos of all my sketchbook pages from Figuary into the same Flickr folder as my other Croquis Café drawings but if you just want to see the Figuary ones you should be able to get them here.

Third time’s the charm

With this post, you could be forgiven for thinking that my blog is moving to a regular weekly publishing schedule and turning into a dedicated single-subject blog about life drawing, as this is the third consecutive weekly post on the subject (see also the first and second such posts).

However, I’ll endeavour to keep writing occasionally about other things, doubtless with my usual lack of regularity (although perhaps a slightly higher frequency than last year) and, although I’m intending to keep going to my weekly life drawing classes I probably won’t blog about them unless anything particularly noteworthy happens. I’m intending to keep posting the results of my labours in my life drawing album at Flickr (I haven’t posted today’s output yet, as by the time I’d finished drawing them it was a bit too dark to take successful photos, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow), therefore if you keep an eye on there you should stay more or less up to date with what I’m doing. I generally put at least some commentary along with most of my photos as well, so if you’re interested in more than just the visuals you can check that out too.

Anyway, back to the subject of today’s life class. This was, of course, my third (not counting the ones I went to 25 years ago – I think there were 3 of those too, though hopefully the current lot will continue for significantly longer). As mentioned above, I’ll be commenting on most of the individual drawings when I post them on Flickr, hopefully by tomorrow evening, so for now I’ll confine myself to a handful of general observations.

I think my drawing is already starting to show definite improvement since I started. Paradoxically, I think that in many ways I’m finding myself less satisfied with the results, but I think that’s largely because I’m beginning to look at my drawings more critically (as well as learning more about anatomy etc.) and am becoming more aware of their deficiencies. Fortunately I have no aspirations to become a professional artist so I can afford to enjoy the journey without worrying too much about the destination, or how long it takes to get there.

And I certainly have been enjoying the journey. In between the life classes I’ve been doing more or less daily figure drawing practice using resources such as Croquis Café, as well as a fair amount of other drawing and a bit of painting. All that is both enjoyable and useful, but nothing else quite compares to the sheer visceral thrill of drawing a real live person while in the company of other artists also making their own interpretations of the same model in the same pose (albeit from a slightly or radically different angle), and knowing that there is a definite (and often pretty short) time limit to the opportunity I’ll have to study the particular pose I’m working on, and that my work can be seen by all the other artists and potentially by the model herself (or himself).

Today, I managed to catch the very start of the session and I got so engrossed in the first few poses that I quite forgot to go back to the office after 20 minutes or so as I had intended. Since I’d been having a pretty quiet day in terms of phone calls and emails, with absolutely no visitors to the office up to that point, I decided to stay for most of the session and just nip back into the office a couple of times to check my email and the answering machine, and then stay on afterwards to catch up on the work I’d been intending to do in the afternoon. That seemed to work out pretty well (although I probably won’t try to do the same every week), and it was great to have a bit more time to draw more poses, including several relatively long ones. Perhaps largely due to this, though perhaps also just because some of the faces are becoming more familiar after a couple of weeks and I’m more able to overcome my natural shyness, I was able to have quite a nice chat to some of the other artists over our tea break and at the end of the session (we’re all far too busy drawing the rest of the time) and am beginning to feel more like part of the group rather than just someone who parachutes in briefly from time to time. I even had a quick chat with the model (Lauren), as we happened to reach the teapot at the same time, so she poured me a cup of tea and I reached the milk for her.

Another factor that enhanced my enjoyment today (and perhaps gave me some slightly better drawings, though I’ll reevaluate that tomorrow when I look at them afresh) was that in addition to my A4 sketchbook and a bunch of pens and pencils, I managed to take a slightly larger sketchbook and some charcoal and conté crayons (sanguine, bistre, white and black), which are probably my favourite drawing media and enabled me to work on a slightly larger scale. I’m slightly limited by the size of my bike’s panniers, and I wouldn’t easily be able to carry A3 or larger paper to and from home, but my 12×9″ sketchbooks fit the pannier fairly comfortably, so I’ll probably be taking them fairly regularly.

At some point I may see if I can find somewhere in the office to tuck away an A3 or larger sketchbook so I could work even bigger. My next plan, however, is to try taking some watercolour paints along and have a go at line and wash drawings for some of the longer poses. I’ve tried a couple at home (the first week and this evening) from sketches I’d done earlier, but it would be better to work directly from the live model so I don’t have to guess quite so much about the shading.

 

 

Second Life

In case you’re wondering about the title, I’m not talking about the virtual world Second Life, although I do still visit there from time to time.

Rather, I am referring to my second visit to the life drawing class I wrote about last week.

After I blogged last week, my brother (also a keen artist) drew my attention to a couple of figure drawing resources available on YouTube. One is a series of lessons at Love Life Drawing. The other is Croquis Café, which has a number of different things available including several of their own tips videos (effectively short lessons) but, to my mind, the best of them is a whole set of virtual life drawing sessions (roughly 25 minute videos each featuring a model, or occasionally two, holding a series of short poses to give a slightly better approximation of a real life drawing session than just using photos).

I’ll probably write a bit more about the pros and cons of using videos such as those found at Croquis Café in another blog post soon. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve worked through several videos (mostly CC ones, but also about half the beginner lessons at LLD) in the past week, as well as doing quite a lot of more general drawing practice and reading a bit more on figure drawing and anatomy.

I think that preparation paid off as I felt a bit more confident at today’s life class, and I think my results were slightly better too, although it will take a lot more time and practice before I really get a handle on life drawing (and at least a lifetime to master the subject).

Rather than give a blow by blow account of today’s session here, I’ll just direct your attention to my album of life drawing pictures at Flickr, where you can see my sketches from today’s session, as well as last week and hopefully in future plenty more to come. I’ve used the description area of each photo’s page to provide a bit of a running commentary on the sketches. This particular album is reserved for my actual drawings from real life (although I’m including artwork I’ve based directly on such sketches as well), while I’ve got another album set up for drawings from Croquis Café resources.

Is this the real life?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had restarted drawing and painting.

I didn’t state it explicitly in that post, but around the time I posted it I more or less set myself a goal to try and draw or paint at least one thing every day for as long as possible. So far, and I realise that 3 weeks isn’t an exceptionally long time by any reasonable standard, I have managed to do this. Some days it has pretty much been just one or two quick sketches and some days I’ve managed to spend several hours working at arty things and come up with several pictures that I’m quite pleased with.

Today I have taken another step that will, I hope, help me to keep this goal going for quite a bit longer, as well as to provide a significant boost to my drawing (and hence painting, and perhaps even at some point sculpture) skills and give me a great deal of pleasure along the way. I have joined a life drawing class.

Life drawing has traditionally been considered an extremely beneficial exercise for learning to draw, perhaps because the human body is an intrinsically complex (and fascinating) subject offering a wide variety of challenges. As traditional wisdom goes, I think that viewpoint has a lot to recommend it. I’m also of the school of thought that the figure (both draped and undraped) is a worthy subject in its own right as well as being an excellent stepping stone to mastery of drawing more generally.

I got an opportunity to attend a handful of life drawing sessions when I was studying for my GCSE art exam 25 years or so ago. I’m still not quite sure how I ended up doing that, as it was actually a course for A-Level students, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity as it was an excellent experience (and furnished several items towards my GCSE portfolio).

Since then, even when I have been going through artistically productive phases, the closest I’ve got to life drawing is a handful of sketches from statues seen in museums or from photographic references, and perhaps a couple of times when I’ve attempted self-portraits beyond my usual head-and-shoulders approach. Personally, I think that both self-portaiture and life drawing have enough challenges individually that they are probably best kept largely separate!

A few months ago, a life drawing class started meeting on Wednesday afternoons at the community centre where I work. Since I wasn’t doing any drawing at the time, it didn’t cross my mind to consider joining them, and I just let them get on with their own thing while I carried on with my work in the office next door. However, once I picked up my pencils again it didn’t take too long for the idea to occur to me.

The group usually runs from 1 to 4pm on Wednesdays and while my working hours are fairly flexible I am supposed to keep the office open until 3pm. I figured that I might be able to catch the final hour of the session and perhaps sneak in a quick bit of sketching earlier on during my lunch break. I was quite busy with Christmas preparations for the final couple of weeks before the group broke up for the holiday, and they didn’t start meeting again until today, so this was the first opportunity I had to see whether this would be feasible.

My first life sketches for quite a long time The good news is that it is. Shortly after 1pm, nervously clutching my brand new A4 sketchbook (a comfortable compromise between the smaller ones I usually take out for sketching on location and the bigger ones that I prefer to use but can’t easily carry on my bike) and a tin of pencils, I made my way into the hall, where the group were already well under way, doing drawings or paintings in various media from short poses held by this week’s model. I think she was called Elen or Ella, but I didn’t catch the name clearly.

From entering the room I had about 30 seconds to make my first sketch before the pose came to an end. I can’t remember whether the next pose was held for 5 or 10 minutes but I managed to get four sketches out of it, before heading back to the office to actually eat my lunch and then carry on with my work. Here you should be able to see my first page of sketches.

A bit later in the afternoon, I came back through to grab a cup of tea and another quickish sketch. At this stage they were working on 20 minute poses and I caught the last 5 minutes of one. A fringe benefit of having joined the group is that I can now nip through the hall and get to the kitchen to make myself tea on Wednesday afternoons (normally I have to stay out of the hall when groups are in there).

I’d managed to get through today’s work load by the time the clock struck 3, so I hurried back in to catch almost the whole of the final hour of the session. They were still working on fairly short poses when I got in, but after a couple more of those we moved on to a 30 minute pose to finish the afternoon. I spent most of that time on one pen drawing and finished off with another quick pencil sketch.

It was certainly very exciting to be drawing from life again. Apart from anything else, there is the knowledge that you only have a very limited time in which to complete the drawing (which is not generally the case if you’re working from a photo or a sculpture), and at least with the shorter poses, this has the positive effect that it becomes much harder to overwork the drawing, which is something I’m quite prone to doing. Also, the slight movements that even the best models make while holding a pose help add to the dynamicism of the drawings, while there’s something about being in a room full of artists all working feverishly to produce their impressions of the model and all coming up with quite different results, even when looking from more or less the same angle, that adds a dimension to the creative experience that isn’t there when you’re working alone in your home studio.

Line & wash drawing based on first life sketchesI must admit, though, that I was feeling so inspired by my hour and a bit in the life class this afternoon that when I got home I spent another hour or so working up a few more drawings and paintings based on my earlier sketches. I mainly wanted to use the opportunity to try a few different media (e.g. charcoal, working on a slightly bigger scale) and to make use of the sketches while they were still backed up with fresh memories of observing the model.

I have taken photos of pretty much all of today’s output and put them up on Flickr, with a fairly extensive commentary. If you check out my Life Drawing album there, you should find them in more or less chronological order.

Having got off to a great start, I’m looking forward to more life drawing over the coming weeks. Doubtless at least some of my sketches from the life class and subsequent works based on them will be appearing in my Flickr photostream. There may even be one or two more blog posts to come.