Workshop Plus


UK, USA and Canadian Workshops and Online Course continuations

Karen (UK Studio Workshop November 2016)
Hi Mike....Karen from Tennessee here. I have attached the homework in progress. I'm really struggling with leaves...and my small boulder looks a bit like a brain. Definitely a work in progress.

Rabbit drawing critique for Karen Hi Karen! Good to see you working on this. I'll reply to the leaf problem but I'll give your drawing an overall appraisal too. Please bear in mind that I've attempted to correct the directional lighting and variable contrast in your photo, so what you see here is what I'm looking at right now.

Your drawing is high contrast and that's good, but there are minimal mid-values - everything is either dark or light. Deep darks are good for providing depth; they increase three-dimensional understanding; and they add impact to a drawing. But everything in this appears to possess dark portions so it's become a collection of equal-value parts, rather than a natural scene where some elements dominate and others recede. For example, your wheel looks rusty and rough, but the multiple dark marks in the bricks behind echo the dark marks in the rust, which reduces the importance of both.

The same applies to your very dark leaves in the top left-hand corner. The values are very similar throughout and the ribs and veins are very light, so they read as flat objects. And they merge into the wheel because the dark values are very similar. Never mind what you see in the reference - it's a composite so it never existed in reality. Change it to suit what you need. Would it help if the top left leaf was lighter than the wheel? I think it would, because the darker wheel would emphasise the leaf's outline. That will immediately signal that the leaf is in front of the wheel, especially if the edge of the leaf is drawn very sharply - which it should be. Sharp edges divide elements and soft edges merge them together. Realistic leaves Incidentally, the little leaves behind the wheel are really good! They conform to the lighting, and they have depth, texture, and a sense of reality.

The rock has three-dimensional form and good lighting, but it's soft - hence the "brain" appearance! Sharpen some of the edges and maybe introduce a few more highlights too. And consider the lighting direction - You have one blob shape on top that has equally dark shadows on both sides. The light appears to be shining from the left, so surely that left-hand dark shadow would not exist? Even if it's a deep fissure.

The grass is progressing well, but it would stand out from the rock a lot more if it was lighter. Try using very light values for the foreground blades, slightly darken the midground blades, and then make the background blades darker still. The foreground blades will stand out and be instantly recognisable, and the others will provide depth and recession.

Can you tell me what sort of pencil and stroke you use for the typical leaf?

It depends on how I see the leaf - glossy and dark, light and shiny, hairy and dull... However, I use the same approach for all. First I break it down into manageable sections. That's easy with a leaf because its veins and central rib provide the divisions.

Examples of drawn leaves Examples of drawn leaves
Stop and think about the lighting direction and the three-dimensional form of the leaf - the way you see its curves, or the way you'd like it to curve. It doesn't need to match any references. Also consider cast shadows - any that it will cast on other leaves, or shadows they might cast on yours. Place your pencil in one section. Is it touching a light or dark part of the leaf? Light? OK. I use circular shading for leaves so I don't have to stop, and it produces no visible lines. Leaves are smooth so try to eliminate line in your shading. Now sculpt that first section. I talk to myself when I'm drawing: "I'm going uphill towards where the light will be brightest" - I decrease the pressure on my pencil to draw lighter - "Now I'm over the top and heading down into the central valley that the light cannot reach". I increase the pressure and draw progressively darker to create that downward curve into the shade. All the time I'm "seeing" it as being a solid three-dimensional object that I'm working around and exposing on my paper.

Examples of drawn leaves Examples of drawn leaves Examples of drawn leaves
Mike Sibley's 'Bindweed' I use the flat face of a chisel point because it draws with soft edges that easily merge into prior shading. Grades? HB mainly. I might change to 2B for really dark areas but only if HB won't do the job. And 2H as a final overall layer. The 2H dulls any unintentional white holes, gaps and spots I've missed, so only the highlights remain white. If the highlights now look too bright, a very light layer of 2H solves that.

Two final points:

Only draw what you know and understand. For example, you won't know what value to use for the veins and ribs until the leaf is completed, so leave those white - as you have done. Now use the 2H layer to tone them down until they fit comfortably into the leaf that surrounds them.

And don't forget that leaves have a thickness. If one leaf overlaps another and you're having problems making one stand above another, use a tiny highlight around its edge to represent its thickness - only, of course, on the side of the leaf that is facing the light.

I hope that helps.

Mary (online - Beginners)
My final project for the on line beginner class. I confess I didn't like Kitty, at first, I wanted to make her a real dog. However, I realized attempting to make her look ceramic was part of the challenge. There were many other challenges, as you intended!

Drawing critique for Mary There is some really good work in this, Mary. The first thing I noticed was the quality of the glass, which I'll return to. The overall three-dimensional rendering is good too. 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, although it didn't need that line along its edge, and the background itself is nicely muted and devoid of interest. The curves of the dresser's end are very well constructed, with prominent highlights, which is something many artists on this course have problems with. The dresser itself is good too although, again, it includes outline that damages its reality. Try to use opposing values to describe edges rather than line. There are no lines in real life; we see edges because of tonal or textural differences.

Conversely, the lamp has both solidity and a sense of reality. It also has lines around the sides of the chimney, but that's OK - we're looking through a great thickness of glass as it curves around both sides, so a broad line is equivalent to what we'd expect to see. The silky sheen on the brass collars and their soft highlights perfectly describe their round nature, as do the perfectly receding cutouts as they disappear around each side. I think you have employed excellent artistic licence with the brass base. It really needed to match the brass collars rather than the glass in value, and that's exactly what you've done. There's no possibility of mistaking brass for glass.

Drawing critiques of Yorkshire Terrir ceramic figure In the glass chimney, the reflections are bright and hard-edged and the shading is smooth. Those all add up to a surface that can only be glass. The reflections in the glass oil reservoir are good too, although there is linear shading that looks less like glass... but it does read as a reflection of the dresser's wooden top. If that's what you intended, it looking great. If not, don't use visible linear shading where line doesn't belong. We expect glass to be very smooth so visible line just creates confusion.

Kitty has lots of character, excellent three-dimensional form, and she's definitely ceramic and not hairy. Her dark eyes with their bright highlights draw my attention to her immediately. The thin highlight beneath the left-hand eye is a good device for defining its shape and adding extra contrast. I would have replaced her strange triangular eye highlights with circular ones, but that's just personal preference. Kitty's attention is obviously focussed on the lamp but she does look very worried! It's the downturned mouth that gives that impression. We humans instinctively look for human emotions in what we see. You could have created the beginnings of a subtle human grin by turning up the corners of the mouth. What you did was not wrong, but it does generate a feeling of concern.

The cast shadows was the biggest challenge. I did read about cast shadows and attempted various combinations but what seemed to be the right location for accuracy did not seem to work artistically. I think it would have been okay to place a shadow to the left of kitty, just a bit lower than her position. However, I couldn't come figure out how to work the lamp's shadow. Any suggestions? Or is that a problem to be solved in the next class?

Drawing critiques of Yorkshire Terrir ceramic figure I cover the science of shadows in the Advanced course, but I'll give you a quick primer. Imagine where the light is shining from - it's direction from above (A) and across the ground (B). I'm using sunlight for simplicity because the light rays are parallel.

C/D is the lighting direction passing through the base of the lamp. D/E is now the centreline of the lamp's shadow. Point E is the top of the shadow, because the light is above the lamp and shining down. You use the same system to find the top and position of Kitty's shadow (F). Personally, I find it useful to imagine I'm the light and then ask myself "What can I see from up here?" Everything I can't see is in the shade of something.

The shadows are not copies of the object casting them. For example, the lamp's shadow has to travel across the wood to reach the wall and then travel up the wall to point E. That will elongate it. Kitty is closer to the wall so her shadow will be very similar to her shape.

You need not be accurate. And, if you blur the edges of the shadow to suggest diffused light, you can be even more inaccurate. As long both shadows are treated in exactly the same way. Shadows tie all the elements together, much as your contact shadow around Kitty has grounded her to the wood.

Finally, there's one aspect I deliberately missed out. The shelf itself will cast a shadow on the back wall. That shadow will overlap the shadows of Kitty and the lamp BUT... as it is exactly the same value (because they share the same light source and strength) all three shadows will fuse into one. Shadows, unless you have multiple light sources, never sit on top of other shadows.

Don't be dismayed by any of this. The exercise was designed to stretch you - to move you right out of your comfort zone. Your work on Kitty is lovely! The lamp is equally as good. Looking over my notes from the course, I think you've done exceedingly well!

Marlene (San Antonio, TX - July 2016) completed final project from the workshop in San Antonio, last July. It was a great time with endless amount of material to absorb. This project has truly been fun and I like using the clutch pencils. I used the full range of Staedtler pencil grades including the 9xxb by Generals, though mostly the 4H - 4B.

Rabbit in Foliage drawing by Marlene Thank you, Marlene! I'm so pleased you found the workshop helpful. My first impression was that I like this a lot! It lacks a little depth, but it is very well drawn. However, before I comment I should tell you that I've straightened the perspective of your photo and corrected the contrast. Hopefully, it looks like your original, but bear the changes in mind as you read on.

Working from left to right, Your rusty wheel is definitely rusty and couldn't be mistaken for any other surface - well done. My only criticism is that it's similar in a value to almost everything else - or everything in the drawing shares similar values. That's what creates the flat appearance. Nothing dominates or recedes. The bricks are nicely underplayed but, in my opinion, lack sufficient interest for close inspection. The dark features draw my eye to them but there's little else to see. Also the differences between the smoother bricks and grittier mortar aren't obvious, although that's not essential. However, you have created depth between the wheel and wall. The wheel's cast shadow at the top really tips it at an angle to the wall. That shadow helps to tie the wheel and wall together, then it's absence lower down breaks them apart and reinforces the leaning angle of the wheel.

I like the left-hand solution to the insipid rock problem, but the right-hand side doesn't possess the same degree of three-dimensional form. The left-hand side is instantly understandable but the right isn't. I'm reading it as a hollow curve, in which case the lighting should alter internally to reflect it's three-dimensional curve.

Removing the complex Cow Parsley leaves was an excellent choice! I too would have chickened out, and I would have stuck a big leaf over them :o) Your leaves on that side are very well-crafted and possess solid three-dimensional form.
Drawing critiques
Your negatively drawn grass at the base works well too, although you've lost depth by using a low contrast range of values. I think you'll be surprised how dark the spaces between blades of grass become with depth. You could have used rich blacks in the deepest shade, which would give you plenty of values to use as you worked towards the front. And you'd create plenty of depth with an element of mystery built into it.

Moving to the right - the leaves above the rabbit have wonderfully believable body and three-dimensional form. I could literally run my finger over them and feel each undulation. Your background behind the leaves is rich and dark so you could have broadened your range of values quite successfully. Never be afraid of really pushing some elements right back into the shade, which can be very deep because you've created intense darks as the absolute deepest shade. Don't forget you can always change your mind and use Blu-Tack to pull anything forward again. A quick tip: try to achieve a good balance between the deepest blacks and the more forward layers. Your blacks are rather minimal and lost within the leaves. You need to make those blacks obvious so the eye can instantly compare the background to the foreground. Result - instant depth! This might give you an idea of the possibilities...
Drawing critiques

Rabbit - drawing critique Your rabbit has loads of character! And a lovely dark, attention-grabbing, eye! It has a believable hairy texture, although it lacks the delicacy of drawing that represents the softness of the surface. If you'd looked a little deeper and had more time to spend on it you could have emphasised the change from coarse hair on top of the nose and head and the softer hair down the side and cheek. A touch of contact shadow beneath the paws would have helped to ground them, but well done for noticing I'd copied the right-hand paw to be its left-hand paw! Your alterations have definitely made each unique.

The stone block beneath the rabbit's paws has a really lovely texture, and the dead ivy clinging to it, which is a little lacking in tonal shaping, is well-studied too. Element by element, this is really good. It just needs a little more attention to finer detail. That itself will generate the midtones that are principally missing. You tend to jump from dark to light too abruptly, which is why it looks tonally similar throughout. But I think you should be justifiably proud of this drawing, Marlene!

I also love the very smooth surface paper and have several other smooth ones to try. The graphite shine still worries me and plan not to "fix" until I know the drawing is truly complete. Thank you again and I am looking forward to the intermediate on-line tutorial next week.

The Conqueror Diamond White you were working on is, in my opinion, an excellent replacement for the deceased Mellotex. It suits me very well too, because it is virtually free of surface texture, so every mark I make is the mark as I intended it to be. I really detest working on interfering textured papers! :o)

As soon as you've decided the drawing is going to be as good as it ever can be - fix it! And use a matt workable fixative. That will create a surface that diffuses light and removes almost all of the sheen from the graphite. As a bonus, you'll see your darks instantly strengthen and add more impact to your drawing. It's quite magical!

I'm looking forward to working with you online at soon.
top of page