Workshop Plus


UK, USA and Canadian Workshops and Online Course continuations

Maddy (Studio Foundation Plus workshop - April)
"I finished the work from the foundation workshop. There are a lot of glaringly obvious mistakes!!! My eye got very confused with the bit at the bottom and I struggled to focus on parts of it. I couldn't make myself decide how to work it and then kept getting distracted by other leaves etc..."

Rabbit in shrubbery drawing by Maddy I give a lot of weight to my first impression. In this case, it's that your drawing is lacking depth and, in some areas, an understanding of what you were trying to draw. The latter applies more to the foreground; probably because it required some invention. I'll admit that was part of my devilish plan :)

I'll begin top left and work my way around. You made a very good attempt at the textures of the rusty wheel. There is one major fault, which I'll return to, but the textures are quite realistic. Before you draw anything, mentally run your fingers over it. If it's hard and pitted, such as this wheel, drag your fingernails over it too. Can you feel them catch on the steep-sided pits? Good. Now you know what you're about to draw. And those pits, coupled with a low-reflective surface, are what we recognise rust by - given that this is monochrome so we can't use rust colours.

The major fault I mentioned is one that appears throughout the drawing - outline. Nothing in life has a line around it. We see edges because of changes in value. If you feel the need to use an outline to separate two elements, then your shading needs to be adjusted, even if that requires some exaggeration. Stretch the contrast until it provides the separation you need.

Before: Using values to separate planes in pencil drawing After: Using values to separate planes in pencil drawing
Bricks are fairly dark and rarely contain very light values, so try darkening those first. Then adjust the contrast within the wheel until its edges are clearly visible. If you use the background to foreground way of working that I champion, once the bricks are established, you simply adjust the wheel until it stands out.

You can use sections of outline in places if you need to - and where it might represent an edge curving into shade - but banish outline as much as possible.

Your foliage, left and right, is good, and your edges are sharp. That's ideal because sharp edges separate elements and planes, and soft edges merge them, as if they are somehow connected. You've even incorporated cast shadows, although you really need to study them in Nature to understand them better. Shadows are something we instinctively understand so rarely look at them. They convey an enormous amount of information, so teaching yourself to use them effectively is never a waste of time. Just fix the direction of light in your mind and then apply it to everything you draw. Just ask yourself "Can this point beneath my pencil see the light? Only partial light? Or no light at all?" For example, you've used light remarkably well within the axle hole in the wheel's central boss. I can see you understood it in three-dimensions and shaded it to reflect that. Do the same for every other element in the drawing.

I'm going to skip over your rabbit because it's lovely (ignoring the obvious outline!). It's basically very sound and there's nothing that practice won't improve on. The foliage is well-drawn too and contains depth. But I think you've over-thought its background. You have plenty going on in the depths but too much. That resulted in no areas of pure black. The blacks tell us "this is as far back as you can see". Without sufficient black areas we lose that reference and understanding. As a result, the intended depth is greatly reduced.

Before: Absence of black areas in foliage loses depth in pencil drawing After: Blsck areas define the greatest depth. Establishing them creates more depth
Your foreground lacks the understanding I mentioned earlier, and it lacks true depth due to the lack of rich darks - or any darks at all. We instinctively read darks as being the deepest shade in any area. Blacks create great depth, and give you many more opportunities to use a much wider palette of greys as you progress forwards. Your lack of darks suggests no depth at all.

Foreground detail of Rabbit drawing by Maddy
This is a fairly sunny scene and everything will cast a shadow. I'm not suggesting you draw every shadow - far from it, that will over-complicate - but shadows combine to form areas of shade. Create more grass and foliage and then holes that lead right through to the deepest shade. That will broaden the range of values available to you. Never be afraid to really push some elements right back into the shade - so deep they almost disappear. That is entirely natural.

When you're working on areas like this, work from the background to the foreground and imagine what you might see in there. Believe you are pushing your pencil deep into those depths and draw what you think you might see in real life. The chances are what you see won't be understandable, which exactly reflects Nature - but do keep all your edges sharp. You're creating overlapping layers, so you need clarity, or it might become one muddied mess. And don't forget you can always change your mind and use Blu-Tack to pull anything forward again.

I really enjoyed the April weekend. Thanks for being a great teacher and kindly giving us your hard-earned knowledge with a smile. I learned a lot. I am trying to make myself be more confident to make the darks darker and the lights lighter i.e. more contrast for greater depth but it is taking time!
Element by element, this has a lot of good work in it. I can see you lost the plot in the foreground :), but carry what you learned on to the next drawing. Do think about shade and shadows, and develop the courage to introduced lovely rich darks, so you create a lot more depth. I know that can scary at first, but I introduced you to Blu-Tack so you do have he means to reverse a decision if you need to! Thanks for joining us, Maddy - we really enjoyed your company.

Mark (Studio Foundation Plus workshop - 2017)
I have finally completed my second drawing since the workshop. Slow, but enjoyable! I would appreciate your critique of "Harvest mouse on a poppy seed head". On the whole, I am pleased with it. The top of the seedhead was a struggle. The light was from above on the original image and the fluted parts were partly translucent.

'Drawspace Intermediate Week 8 final drawing - Whippet by Jennifer Overall, I like the result. I hope the image here properly represents the one you drew. Your multiple scans left a gap across the mouse, so I used your photo, suitably adjusted, to fill it.

Overall, I really like this. It shows the diminutive size of the mouse against the poppy seed head; its bright eyes attract me to it immediately; and the poppy doesn't attract attention away from the main focus. There is little that I think could be improved, but there is one source of assistance I want to mention.

The little mouse is sharply drawn with good three-dimensional shaping. The placement of its feet - especially that single claw on the hind left-hand foot - give a totally natural sense of it clinging on to the stalk. And I think its expression is perfect - as though it's just noticed us and is really unsure of its next move.

You mentioned not being happy with the troublesome seed head. I don't think it's in any way substandard. In fact its less-defined appearance forces more attention onto the mouse. However, there is a simple solution whenever a reference is lacking essential detail - as long as it's a known and identifiable object.

You probably can't find a poppy's seed head, in this case, when you need one. So use references and illustrations from books. Search the Internet too for similar images. There are often countless sources available.

The original reference will give you the outline and the internal structure with the correct perspective. Now rebuild it using the information garnered from elsewhere. You're not copying, and not infringing any copyrights; you're simply extracting the information you need and incorporating it into the body of the original reference.

You omitted the background. A good choice, in my opinion. I have a basic personal rule: if the background adds nothing of value to the story, omit it. Including it simply adds confusion.

This is a lovely drawing of a delightful and timid creature. You should be very pleased with it - even if some parts are not as you'd hoped they might be. But, remember, only you know that. Everyone else will enjoy your drawing in the way they personally see it.

Jennifer (Drawspace online - Intermediate)
I was having trouble getting excited about spending many hours working on Henrietta and the thieving dog, so instead I did a portrait of my (now deceased) whippet, Maestro.

'Drawspace Intermediate Week 8 final drawing - Whippet by Jennifer Probably a wise decision. The elements are similar - wood, foliage, grass and dog... but no chicken!

Overall, this works well, although there are a couple of things that don't sit too happily with me. I'll begin at the back and work forwards.

The wood of the fence is nicely pitched: it contains detail but remains a secondary element. The knots, splits, and variety of grain add interest and realism without any of it fighting for attention with the primary character. I'm not certain if the base board is forward of the fence and forming a bed for the plants, or if it's ivy growing through the gap between the two. In either case, it's not important to the composition's success.

The ivy (I'm assuming that's what it is) could contain more depth, and have fewer repeating patterns. Almost every leaf is facing us and displaying the same formation of light veins. It's not a huge distraction, but its sense of reality suffers a little. What I do find distracting is the composition of the foliage to the left of Maestro's head. My eye tends to travel along his spine, up his neck, and across his head to follow the sweep of foliage that takes my eye up and out of the frame. Repositioning that foliage slightly lower, so Maestro's head and ear cut through that line, would prevent that journey occurring. The extreme left-hand mass also attempts to drag my eye out of the frame. On close inspection, it's the single large lower leaf that's causing that - because it's quite dominant and so obviously continues outside of the picture frame.

'Grass detail from 'Maestro' Whippet drawing by Jennifer My first reaction on seeing this drawing was that the grass looks flat and lacks recession. I think that's probably the result of the white content throughout the area. If you reduce it towards the back, the eye will be attracted to the foreground "highlights" and be drawn back into the drawing. And further back, grass will shade grass so less highlights should occur.

Also - and I'm really nit-picking - the grass appears to be mown but to still have some depth. I expect Maestro to sink deeper into it, yet the few blades that overlap his legs and body suggest he is on the surface - or the grass is shorter than it appears to be.

Maestro is looking resplendent on the grass! He has good three-dimensional solidity, a subtle hint of rib cage, a very believable hair texture, and I suspect the white areas are more detailed than they appear to be. Domestic scanners most often fail to capture the lightest 10% of values. His collar is nicely played down. I would have preferred to see some sharper drawing in that area, but that's just personal preference. His head says it all. He has a dreamy expression, partly generated by the dim highlight in his eye, and the underlying bone structure is suggested very well.

The drawing of the Hooded Merganser actually received a couple of awards: It was selected for display at an exhibition of artwork here in San Francisco, and was also chosen as one of about 115 winners in the international Strokes of Genius 10 drawing competition.
'Hooded Merganser' graphite pencil drawing by Jennifer Arthur As you graciously supplied this, and because I greatly admire it, I wanted to include it here. It contains the sharpness of detail, and the superb use of contrast that Maestro would have benefitted from. It's no longer a drawing but an experience. And it has wonderful recession and focus.

You've developed so far in the two years spanning the drawings, and if I helped with that development in any way, I'm profoundly pleased.

Mary (Drawspace online - Advanced)
My computer composition for the Advanced Class. This class gave me wonderful building blocks on which I can continue to build and develop as an artist. Thanks for a great class!

'Drawspace Advanced Week 8 computer composition exercise' by Mary This is a good arrangement, Mary, and, as you discovered, it's a breeze in Photoshop. The ability to resize, move, flip, turn elements off and on, all makes composition so much easier. And you receive an instant visual impression of the final work.

I should have mentioned the ability to mix sources too. Your wheel, basket of apples, and churn are all photographs, but your background is a rough pencil sketch. It could just as easily have been a Photoshop-generated line drawing from yet another photo. The sourcing possibiliies are endless.

There's good balance in this, coupled with an interesting journey for the eye. I find myself beginning at the foreground apples. They lead my eye into the basket and from there to the churn. The wheel then swings me around to the start point.

The background might not have worked if you hadn't removed a part of the lower right pane. That breaks up the symmetry - avoiding the patterns the human brain loves to detect - and the angle of the break points me back down to the wheel. Overall, I think this would make a very pleasing drawing.

Kara (Drawspace online - Beginners)
Well, Miss Kitty and I have spent the better part of the past 2 weeks in the company of one another. But, I believe it is time that she and I part ways and move forward.

You intended this assignment to be a stretch, and a stretch it was! There were 2 challenges in particular for me: first, I have never attempted to draw hair or fur before, so that is quite foreign. Second, I look back at the end result here and am still a bit perplexed about the best way to approach this drawing. My initial thought when reviewing this is that Miss Kitty is overly detailed -- but then again, figurines by their very nature are over-detailed, which makes composing a drawing strategy here challenging indeed.

Drawing critiques It was intended to stretch you, and it included elements that I hoped you had not tackled before. But I think you've achieved a remarkably good result. Once you realise the "hair" is a collection of peaks and troughs in a ceramic body, it is no different from drawing the lamp. I'll tackle each area in turn but, for now, this has solidity, three-dimensional reality, great textures, good observation, and a courageous approach.

The first thing I noticed about this drawing (I place a lot of weight on that first impression) is the superb three-dimensional rendering. Your drawing tells the simple story very well and Kitty is clearly connected to the lamp. The dresser top runs almost unnoticed into the background, and the background itself is nicely muted and devoid of interest, so it correctly appears to be behind the dresser. The dresser's curving end is constructed well, which is something many artists on this course have problems with. And the dresser itself is good too.

Kitty is the focus of the drawing so over-detailing is not a fault. She has bags of character, wonderful three-dimensional form, and she's decidedly ceramic and not hairy. In fact I think you've achieved just the right balance to state both "hair" and "ceramic" at the same time. Her rich dark nose and eyes draw my attention to her immediately. That said, bright sharp-edged highlights in her eyes would have been an improvement. Generating the maximum contrast within the eye would guarantee their position as primary elements. The thin highlight under her mouth is a great device for adding prominence to the jaw. The upward curve at the corners of her mouth, suggested by the shadows, give her a very warm and friendly appearance, and her attention is obviously focussed on the lamp.

I nearly omitted the cast shadows from a lack of confidence, fearing I would misdraw them and ruin the drawing. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am certain that they are incorrect, but I am also quite certain you will point out the error of my ways. LOL.
Porcelain dog figurine drawing by Kara Kitty has a shadow that is lower than her height, so we can assume the light is shining from above. If the light was higher her shadow would be even shorter. The lamp also has a shadow that conforms to the same lighting source height but... the shadow has been cast from its base to its top as though the entire background is flat.

In reality the lamp is further away from the wall than Kitty is, so the shadow would travel back across the top and then up the wall, and be positioned further away and to the right of the lamp. Also, as the lamp is further forwards, the top of its shadow should be lower than Kitty's, but that's covered in the Advanced course, so now isn't the time to explain it :)

However, the human brain is quite capable of reading your intention without demanding complete accuracy. Even though it is incorrect, it doesn't greatly affect your drawing.

The lamp has both solidity and a sense of reality. The silky sheen on the brass collars and their soft highlights perfectly describe their round nature and satin finish. The receding cutouts correctly narrow and disappear around each side. Not noticing that is a common error made in this drawing - well done!

You've used a degree of artistic licence with the brass base and ensured its overall values don't equal those of the glass reservoir, which was an excellent decision. Your base and collars are definitely not glass and contrast very well with the harsher reflections from the glass. That's especially true as you've correctly used hard-edged reflections in your glass. We expect to see brilliant highlights with hard and sharp edges, and smooth surfaces. It's how we recognise glass - it's the predominant visual clue.

In hindsight, I also find the end product here to be overly grainy for my personal taste. While I constructed most of this drawing with HB and 2H, the 2B and small amount of 4B that I added have introduced too much graininess, I think, and I'll likely use the latter much more sparingly next time.
I agree but only in one instance - and there's an easy solution. The graininess doesn't distract except in the lamp's oil reservoir and chimney. We expect glass to be very smooth so visible grain creates confusion.

There's no reason why you shouldn't use 2B or 4B for darker values - but, use it first. Lay down the darker value and then burnish it with the harder grades. The result will have the dark value with a smooth appearance.

Thanks again, Mike, for all the feedback in this past course. It has been very enjoyable and immensely helpful, and I'm looking forward to meeting up with you again in a few weeks in the next class.
I'm looking forward to working with again too. This exercise was, as mentioned, designed to stretch you - to move you right out of your comfort zone. Your work on Kitty is superb! The lamp is good too and just needs a reversal of your shading layers. Hard over soft is always preferable, so the hard grades smooth the softer ones. Looking over my notes from the course, I think you've done exceedingly well!
top of page