Friday, August 31, 2012

Chalk Baby: To Smudge, or Not To Smudge

Looking for a fun-to-draw subject, I flipped through my file of very old photos. These aren't of my ancestors, although my mother does have a huge box of antique family photos...but these, which I picked up somewhere along the line, were at hand. Seems I've been sketching mostly ladies lately, so I thought a sweet little baby-type might be a nice challenge. 

I found a photo, and did a preliminary pencil sketch. 

Then I found a scrap of pastel paper and experimented with white and red chalk pencils.

Now it's break time, where I step back, revisit the sketch with fresh eyes, and decide whether or not to smudge the chalks and go for a "rounded, blended" look, or stick with the "unblended, paper-texture-shows-through" look. 

I don't think that looking at him/her* upside down is going to help me make this decision.

*Note on the Him/Her: When we Twenty-first Century People look at a photo of a baby in a dress, our natural inclination is to think, "Baby Girl!" But tots from the beginning of the last century--and surely, long before 1900--wore dresses. Girl or boy. When looking at photographic portraits from a hundred years ago, or, for that matter, painted portraits from hundreds of years ago, we have to look beyond the dress to figure out the gender. Sometimes, the surroundings or the props help differentiate the baby girls from the baby boys. In the case of my reference photo (which was not labeled on the back--Write names on your photos, people! That is, if you even print out photos, anymore.) the presence of the two books and the absence of flowers or dolls or hair decoration leads me to surmise that it might be a boy. But that's pure speculation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Another Lesson in Facial Proportions

As a kind of a warm-up to a more detailed drawing, I set out to make a very quick, simple, rough sketch of a woman from a photograph that accompanied her profile in the September issue of Vogue. A nationally-known person, if I'd done a good job, she should be instantly recognizable. 
I stood back and compared my sketch to the photographic portrait, and immediately noticed that my sketch was a bit off in the Proportion Department: my sketch had an over-large chin and an over-wide jaw.

As we age, do our jaws and chins get bigger?

...because the sketch, above, was of Chelsea Clinton, but it looks for all the world (to me) like a well-rested, Good Hair Day version of her mother!

Side note: 
I'd always heard that our earlobes and noses continue to grow, but can I also look forward to a Manjaw?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Magic of "Photoshop:Old School" and a List of Lessons Learned

I've been trying to draw regularly this summer. If not every day, I have managed to work my way through quite a few sketchbook pages, a couple of watercolors, and that yellow teapot still life. But my main focus has been on simple, graphite portraiture, with enough of a range of values to add a little life. I've pestered friends and relatives to pose, and when I'm alone, I've resorted to reproducing photographic portraits, mainly, from Vogue and other magazines.

Here's yesterday's, which made me cringe a bit. But why? I scratched my head. I went outdoors. I weeded the flower bed. 
I returned.

I walked up to my desk, and in doing so, I saw this girl upside down, and with fresh eyes.

OH SNAP! Her chin and jaw are massive! (Not that everything else was absolutely swell, but that manjaw did stand out.) 

So I did some "Photoshopping." Maybe it should be called "Sketchshopping." 

Or maybe it should be called "Erasing."

Then I went back to work, finally calling it quits when my pencil couldn't lay on any more graphite. 

Lessons Learned, or at least, reinforced:

1. Draw every day; don't give in to the fear of failure that stops the party before it even gets started;
2. Take breaks and return to look at work with fresh eyes;
3. Periodically look at work upside down;
4. Erase! If you can draw something once, you can do it again;
5. Get some soft leads, to boost the range of possible values.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Bright Ideas" for Back-to-School Time

I love summer. Time to do everything I can or don't get to from September through June, and blessed, blessed warmth.*
*Raynaud's Disease is one of my autoimmune conditions. My fingers become frozen and numb (but if they're numb, why do they hurt...) as soon as the temperature plummets south of sixty degrees. I should probably live in a kinder climate.

However, the newspaper has once again made me aware that the blissful season is near its end, because...

"Back to School!" ads are here. 
And there. 
And everywhere. 

Offering smart students smart savings on products that are necessary for getting the most out of the school year.

Previously noted silly ones, like this, and then, this weekend:

Yes! More indispensable items that clever students would be wise to stock up on for the fall. Just imagine how much more learning could go on if you weren't distracted by your under-wires! Imagine being able to focus on the twelfth century literature lecture instead of that single, omnipresent, chin hair! Elementary students would surely score higher on their standardized tests if they could relax, knowing that their Glitter Tattoos would shimmer on for a full 7 days! 

I suppose "Back to School" is as good a reason to go out and buy teeth whitener as "Presidents' Day" is a good reason to go out and buy a new car. 

My first official day back is September 4th. I sure hope that the Boom Cube gets here in time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Difference Between Men and Women, Part II

The September Issue of Vogue--Lady Gaga cover--was indeed in my mailbox when I got back to my City Home after a few days at the farm, so it was time to follow up on the "What Makes a Man's Face Different from a Woman's Face" hypothesis from my previous post.

However, the cover photo of Gaga was a full-figure view, so I went inside, to page 282, to find a full-face view. Here she is, in full face "Olympic swim racer cap" mode (which nicely served to take hairstyle differences out of the equation):

I set about making a pencil sketch of the portrait, making the subtle alterations in reverse from the way I sketched the "man" from a woman in my previous post. Here "she" is, with those alterations:

1. longer face/head
2. proportionally smaller features
3. indication of Adam's apple
4. less white eye highlight "sparkle"
and a couple of others, not noted in the last post:
5. less-groomed eyebrows
6. fewer, shorter eye lashes, and I left off the eye shadow.

I'm not sure if it looks more like a man or a woman, and he'd never have been the art director's choice to model for The Marlboro Man, but he/she does look more manly than the Lady Gaga photographic portrait. I don't think men generally pose with their mouths in that slightly open, "take me, take me now" fashion, though. Thumbing through Vogue, the pose almost seems de rigueur for women. 

All-in-all, a fun exercise, with some points to keep in mind when drawing portraits.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Difference Between Men and Woman

In My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins asks the rhetorical question, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" He cannot understand Eliza's behavior, or understand what makes her tick; he's not actually questioning why men and women look different.

But I am. 

Since I've spent the past few days sewing instead of drawing and painting, I wanted to do a little "limbering up" drawing exercise. I opened my sketchbook and looked around. The photographic portrait on the front of a magazine looked like a good thing to render in pencil.

Not bad, right?

Lovely woman...except that the photographic portrait that I was copying was of a man!

Cover of Contact Sheet, a publication of Light Work, Syracuse New York. Photo by Angelika Rinnhofer

What is it that makes a woman's face look like a woman, and a man's face look like a man? There are some aspects that don't merit examination: obviously, a dark-haired man has the shadow of his beard, even if freshly shaven, and the woman doesn't.

1. Photo Man (hereafter known as Man) has a prominent Adam's Apple. But so does Sketch "Man" (hereafter known as Woman) So the presence or absence of an Adam's Apple alone probably doesn't define a face (throat?) as that of a man. I suspect that a pronounced Adam's Apple, in profile, might.

2. Man has a cleft chin, but so does Woman. Apparently, it's not chin clefts that distinguish a man's face from a woman's.

3. They have the same long, straight, dark hair. I don't think it's the hair.

4. They have the same angled jaw.

5. Face shape! Woman's face is very square, and Man's is quite long and rectangular. Is this a key to differentiation? Are men's faces longer than women's faces, in general?

6. Woman's upper lip is much more padded out than Man's upper lip. Are women's lips really plumper than men's lips, or are we just used to looking at women's lips with lipstick that makes them look plumper. Actually, all of her features are plumper, or just a wee bit larger in proportion to the entire face, than his.

7. This is a minute difference, but Woman has bigger white highlights in her eyes than Man. Do women have more sparkly eyes than men? (Eek. Now that I've stared at her eyes, she's giving me the creeps.) 

Or is it something else?

I think that an experiment is in order. I'm going to grab the cover of Vogue--the infamous September issue should hit my mailbox in the next day or two--and sketch the cover model (Gaga!?)... with a longer face, slightly smaller features, a narrower upper lip, and very minimal eye highlights...and see if I end up with a man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Miracle on Main Street

Although I'd love to report that the World's Ugliest Dress is completed and altered and made into something great, I'm still working on that. Instead, I am about to relate the true story of a miracle!

Okay--no one's life was miraculously saved; no one saw a vision of angels; and this miracle won't win anybody sainthood. It's a miracle, nonetheless.

The story begins in 1987, with the birth of little Cassidy. On the way out of the womb, she grabbed a book off, no, no. But she did love books and reading so, so much, right from babyhood.

She read and read.

She'll be TWENTY-FIVE in a couple of weeks, and she is still a voracious reader. 

One of our favorite books to read, together, back in the day, was Tommy at the Grocery Store. 


We used to take this book out of the library all the time. Never did find it at a bookstore, but I can't remember if we even looked, back then. I'm a real library advocate, and library visits were always one of our favorite outings. 

Then Owen was born, and we moved a couple of hours further upstate. To a lovely village with a lovely library lacking the classic tome TOMMY AT THE GROCERY STORE. But all was not lost! The "big city" library to the west did have the book, and we borrowed it many times. Mucho enjoyment for the whole family. 

The children grew. Their reading tastes changed. The library lost the book, or discarded it, and it was no longer there when I went to check it out to read to my elementary students. I tried to buy it...and was told that it was out of print.

So began my fifteen-ish year quest, scouring library book sales and used book stores for Tommy. To no avail. Being a bit slow on the uptake, it didn't occur to me to check on Amazon until last week--and there it was! Or there THEY were--about a dozen copies of used Tommy at the Grocery Stores! I scrolled through the offerings, clicking to purchase one in "good" condition. 

Yesterday, there was a package in the mailbox. The Book! It had come from half way across the country, from a dealer in Indiana. I opened the package and savored the cover, its library-plastic cover a bit rough, its pages a bit torn, so very like the original copy that we'd read and loved at the Ellenville Public Library twenty plus years ago. A tear welled up in the corner of my eye.

I wondered about the provenance of my special find, so I flipped the book over to see what library it had come from.

And then, I really started crying.

It wasn't just A copy of Tommy.
It was OUR copy of Tommy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Sewn Disaster

I took a 2 day break from fine arts experimentation to dabble in the applied arts: couture sewing. (I'm not sure of the exact definition of "couture," but I'm sure someone will tell me.) 

I need something dressy to wear to Gideon's wedding next month, and I had originally purchased a flimsy, satin-y, cobalt blue halter dress. It looks OK; it hangs in my closet.

Then, about a week ago, I went to an outside, evening event, and in order to be warm enough and comfortable, I wore a long sleeved dress. As soon as the sun went down, I had to top it off with a sweater. It became clear that I needed to modify my plans for wedding attire. After the sun goes down in Mid-September will simply not be warm enough for the flimsy halter dress.

But, feeling the need to economize (and having already bought one dress that's going to get zero wear) I decided to sew a dress.  

The Pattern

 Possibly a leftover from 1985. 
But it looked good in the sketches on the envelope!

Sewn, but with basting stitches still in and no zipper, 
yet (or maybe, ever.)
 Ugliest Dress Ever! On, it looks like pajamas. Or worse, like UGLY pajamas stretched too tight across broad shoulders 
with the bust place hanging saggy-baggy and 
way-too-roomy-empty over my


And what am I going to wear to the wedding?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Watercolor Learning Experience

There came a point when I was just...done...whether or not some more work would have made this watercolor still life better. 

I swear, it was straight on the scanner.
Please tilt your head slightly to the right.

Some lessons I learned at the hands of this painting:

-- Plan ahead, or at least, get some masking fluid. After the drawing was penciled in, I washed light pink over the whole background, completely forgetting that some areas should have been left white. That didn't matter so much, in fact, the whites of the broken china actually look OK. But I lost the highlights on almost everything. Highlights are important! The ones I was able (or remembered) to leave nearly white (or light pink) make those pieces look pretty nice! The ones that I hit with a little white gouache, at the end (particularly the blue glass shard) look awful.

-- Work for longer stretches. I proceeded from the pink wash to the green bottle bottom. I was off to a good start. Then I walked away from it, and when I went back to the bottle, I had lost my mojo. Or my color mixture. 

-- Set up a lighting situation that can be duplicated, or complete the painting in one sitting. Shape, color, and position of shadows were different every time I sat down to paint.

-- Keep Trying! On a whole, I can look at this and be encouraged to keep painting in watercolors. I like many aspects of this painting.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Instill Fear

Try as I might to be one of those teachers whose students' parents would have to take note of this particular "Back To School" ad...


...I've just never been able to pull it off.
Or in this case, "pull it up" ?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Still Life with Ancient Trash

As previously noted, one of my "extracurricular" activities during River Restoration Week was poking around the farm's woodland trash heap. Like many well-established (=old) farms, Rivermede had a spot in the woods at the edge of the property where generations of family members had thrown, tossed, heaped their discards. Of course, the decomposables decompose, and the metal rusts and the glass and ceramics break. Especially when excavators and skidders drive over them. 

I had a good time walking through the woods and looking down, and scavenging interesting bits of glass and ceramic, and imagining their past lives. Then I washed the bits up, and drew an array of them, and I've been painting them with watercolors. 

I'm relatively new to watercolors, but I can see why people like them. I can also see that the paper choice is important, because I should have used a hot press (I think that's the smooth one) paper instead of what I had on hand, which was an old spiral-bound watercolor sketchbook with rough textured paper. The slick texture of the glass isn't coming through. But practice is always good, and learning through practice is even better.

Another lesson learned: Remember to leave whites unpainted! I think there will be masking fluid in my future.

Back to work!