Monday, April 25, 2022

Sloppy Copy in Art

When my son was in grade school learning to write, he was taught to create a sloppy copy first--what we call a draft copy. It was a great way to teach kids how to get the words on paper and tell the story. I watched as kids poured words onto their pages as if they were using paint and brush. So many had no fear, which taught me a lesson. 

For years I wrote copy for ads, press releases, radio commercials, brochures and the like. Sometimes it was tough, like pulling teeth. While not as difficult, I still feel the same way sometimes with my drawing and painting. No matter what I do, I find myself not exactly getting the essence of what I want to express. My go-to action is to step away for a while. Put the project aside and concentrate on something else. Invariably, I usually come back with a refreshed approach and bam! I get it from the start (BTW, the same happens with my writing). 

But what happens when taking a break doesn't work. Then what? Well, I start a bit differently. Now, I'm going back to what the great artists have always done. I'm making sloppy copies or preliminary drawings. I also call it visual thinking. Einstein said it perfectly:

“…Words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined…but taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought — before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.” —Albert Einstein

Notice these sketchbook entries by Michelangelo and da Vinci. They both are working out some sort of issue, using visuals instead of words.


da Vinci

I actually started this process several years ago when traveling. I was in Barcelona and purchased a small  3.5 x 5 blank book in a souvenir shop. Normally when on the road, I would take a photo, create a three-minute (or less) drawing, and I later develop it into a more complete sketch in my traveling journal. 

Instead during this trip to Spain, I created sketches with abandon. I just got the "facts" down, and worried little about what was right or wrong. It was freeing. All done in graphite pencil, the subjects were lively, contemporaneous and honest.

Since then, I purchased small books for my students when we went on different trips. And I believe  a lot of them found it freeing as well. Recently, a student told me she occasionally looks at her book from the trip to Canada.  Here a some samples from my "sloppy copy" Canadian book.

Playing with people

Giant fiddle

Now several years later, I have expanded this process to include my studio. For years, I would select a subject, and after gathering my supplies, start immediately. Since I work mostly in drawing and acrylic painting materials, I don't really have to do much planning. If there's something I don't like, I can either paint over it or just erase (even with ink, I can use gouache to correct my mistakes). However, recently I've been trying to pre-draw or create sloppy copies, sketching my thoughts of what the subject looks like with key elements of color, placement, values and so on. 

This isn't a new idea. Most of my teachers pushed the thumbnail sketch, defined by Merriam Webster as:

Thumbnail sketches are small sketches used to plan out your painting before you begin. They're typically only 2–3 inches in size, so they can be quickly drawn and easily changed if needed. This makes them very helpful for artists who want to simplify or update their compositions.

But I'm actually talking about taking this one more stop further. How many times have you encountered a project that you think may be too over the top for you. So you may reject it--"too hard for me, I want this to be fun". 

I'll give you an example of a class I just taught. It was a flower petal with a rain drop on it. Of course anyone can draw the flower petal and be done with it. But the rain drop? That's a bit tricky. But what if I told you that you can use a separate piece of paper and simply draw the drop, over and over again until you felt you got it. You're creating a sloppy copy haven. It doesn't matter how many times you have to draw the same thing. You are just learning, creating on the go. No judgement. No rules. No critic. You are playing, experimenting. Hopefully having fun at the same time.

Of course, being a bit anal, I have now started a sketchbook that includes my trials and experiments--not to punish myself by preserving my imperfections--but to help me that next time I want to create the same. I'm also filling the book with painting formulas, ideas for future works and well, whatever I want. It's not only a good record, it's also fun to do. So far, a lot of my stuff is from demonstrations done in class, which is perfectly fine. 

Experimenting with paper

From a recent flowers class

While I always advocated "just getting the words on paper and revise later, " I'm glad I've finally started doing the same with my art work. The best part is the internal critic seems to have vanished.

What's new in the studio?

One more thing. I used to have this flyer on my bulletin board in my office when I was in advertising. It's amazing how many people want to change your writing! This kept me sane for over 20 years!

Thursday, March 24, 2022

March 2022

 How to safely store your artwork

You have put hours and hours into creating your work, be it paintings or drawings. Not everything can be hung on your walls. You could give away everything you make or even sell the lot as well. But barring that, you must find a place to put all your artwork.

Over 20 years ago when I went back to fine art, I simply stuffed everything in filing cabinets. Not a good idea. First of all, some of my paper yellowed, rendering it impossible to save. I also didn’t have papers or canvases that were the right size for the drawers. So, I often just jammed them into the cabinets. Yup, rather stupid.  I was sloppy and not thinking properly. 

I do things very differently now. For instance, I store all my paintings, especially those that are framed, in a dry, cool place—usually in an extra closet. Because I have created a lot of paintings over the years and have literally run out wall space, I use my “art” closet to do a ‘round robin' of works to put up occasionally. I don’t necessarily wrap each painting in paper, but I do stack them upright since that’s the primary position for a painting.

I don’t recommend attics or basements unless they’re finished and don’t go over the temperature of 75° and with a humidity of no higher than 50°. Sunlight is a killer for artwork, so always keep it away from windows, even if the art product says its colorfast. Of course, you want to keep your paintings clean, dusting occasionally. 

If you can’t store anything in your house and the only space you have is in the garage, try to keep it cool in the summer and dry in the winter. Use risers or some sort of shelving to keep the artwork off the ground and try avoid making a pile without some sort of archival paper in between. 

As for oil pastel paintings never, ever store them in a hot spot (even your car on a hot day). The pastel paint will melt, believe me. It’s happened! One more thing, refrain from using bubble wrap or just plain plastic wrap to cover your paintings. It’s easy to trap moisture or even mold spore inside, causing a bloody mess.

My recommendation

When I’m not storing my work in my closet, I use two storage items: Archival storage portfolios and/or Archival storage boxes. Both products are easy to store by placing them in a bookcase. They come in a variety of sizes.

Also I would suggest purchasing some Acid-Free Interleaving Tissue Paper to place between each piece to keep things as pristine as possible.

Lastly, I would also suggest you create a list of what's inside. I can't tell you how many times I have had to go through my storage containers to find what I want.

What's coming up in April?

Drawing Flowers in Colored Pencil

Hope you have a wonderful Spring!

Thursday, February 10, 2022

February 2022 Newsletter: Composition/Classes: Root Vegetables

Principles of Design
Unknowingly, you already have a good sense of design. Through our constant bombardment from magazines, television and Internet, you have been exposed to thousands of visual messages. You know what looks good and what doesn’t. Sometimes the unusual will be used to grab attention (a negative is as good in some cases). But in general, you intuitively know if a design is off. So relax. It’s not as hard to create a good design as you think. Here are the eight principles we will cover:

  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Scale 
  • Proportion
  • Pattern
  • Rhythm
  • Emphasis
  • Variety
  • Unity

Why is learning the principals of design so important? Just like when composing a letter or a blog, you want to make sense, offering some continuity from one paragraph to the next. The same goes for a piece of artwork. I like to think of my work, especially landscapes, as stories, inviting someone in to enjoy the sight. What’s more, I want my viewer to stay a while and see the beauty I have seen.


Balance can be symmetrical (formal balance) or asymmetrical (informal balance)


Contrast can be accomplished with white, black and gray, monotones or colors. 

Vincent van Gogh, Café Terrace at Night, 1888
Rules of thumb:
  • A dark color put next to a light one makes them both look brighter.  
  • Dark next to bright makes the bright one look brighter.  
  • Dark next to light makes the light seem lighter and the dark darker.  
  • Warmer colors look warmer when placed next to cool ones. 
  • Cool colors look cooler when placed next to warm ones.  
  • A bright color next to a muted color makes the muted one look more dull.  
  • If two colors are of a similar brightness, the less bright they'll both look when placed next to each other. Source

“Simultaneous contrast refers to the way in which two different colors affect each other. The theory is that one color can change how we perceive the tone and hue of another when the two are placed side by side. The actual colors themselves don't change, but we see them as altered. “ Marion Boddy-Evans

Proportion & Scale
Proportion does not deal with how big or small something is but rather the relationship between two or more objects. Scale refers to size. Thus, the earth and moon are different in scale but share the same proportion.

Of course, patterns are fairly simple to grasp. Simply defined, a pattern is the repetition on the same thing over and over again. They can be geometric or organic. You will find patterns to be most prominent in nature.

Rhythm is just what it says, movement. The photo below offers a wonderful example of rhythm just in the models pose. I can even hear the music.

Here's another example:

Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa or The Great Wave
1830-1832, woodblock print, ink on paper.

Generally, you may want to pick a spot (some call a hot spot or sweet spot) that you want to emphasize. I've had teaches who would demand I find that spot and center my entire painting around it. Not sure if that's necessary always. In any event, the painting below by Goya definitely has a sweet spot and is emphasizing it by using color.

The Third of May 1808
 is a painting completed in 1814 
by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya

Variety or how to avoid BORING
When painting or drawing a narrative, such as the piece above, you don't tend to be too boring. However, with a flower sitting in the center of a canvas without anything surrounding it, could be interpreted at being boring--maybe, maybe not.

I think the Ambassadors painting below is far from boring and even intriguing. See the skull on the lower third. Some would say it's too cluttered. It's amazing when seen in real time.

The Ambassadors 1533 
by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8 – 1543)

Every work should have some unifying element--something that ties things together. Sometimes you can see it immediately, sometimes you have to look for it and sometimes it just doesn't exist, but the piece still works. I enjoy The Musicians for that reason. I love the unity of the characters, the colors and repetition of the circle. It simply works for me.

Putting it all together
I love the painting below. Probably because I see a great composition, especially regarding the topics we've covered here. There's rhythm, unity, fluidity of the models and subtle colors. I hope you agree.

What's coming up?

Here's a chance to study some botanical drawing, using a variety of materials: pencil, colored pencil, watercolor pencil, watercolor paint, pen and ink.

For more information or registration, please write me at this address: