My name is Jonene Ficklin, and I'm a full-time wife, mom, writer, and professional artist. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I use colored pencils, oil paints, and watercolors. I love what I do!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lesson 17 - Designing Your Drawing - Horizon lines, Balance, Flow, and Leading the Eye

I want to focus on four things in this lesson:
Horizon lines
Leading the Eye

If you were to draw a scene from nature, you'll want to find the horizon line before you begin. This is where earth meets sky.

Let's try two, one with the horizon up high, and one with it down low. Away from the sea, it may be hard to find, since mountains, trees, houses, etc., tend to get in the way. It's basically the furthest point where land meets sky - such as at the base of the furthest mountain you can see.

Let's draw the Li River in China. (I love the crazy shaped mountains of Guilin.) By putting the mountains and foliage just right, I want to lead the eye to the horizon.

Here is our paper and I'm drawing the horizon line on the upper third. Draw it light, because we'll be erasing this line later.

Now I'm ready to put in a bank and cluster of trees coming from the right.

If you'd like to try a very balance drawing first, put your bank and trees on the left about the same distance above the first strand.

Next, I put mountains on the right, then on the left, again spacing them about the same distance from each other. (But if you continue to do that, it ends up looking too contrived. You'll need to break up the 'sameness' by making the small range of mountains behind them at intervals that aren't exactly spaced.)

Now when you look at this picture, notice how the eye zigzags up. That's called 'leading the eye', and if it goes where you want it to go, that's good. If not, you'll want to adjust the mountains or river until the eye goes exactly where you want it to. A good drawing of nature will take you on a journey.

Okay, let's try a low horizon line, and this time, we won't be symetrical in our placement of trees and mountains. We'll do it nature's way, which is random. But, being artists, we have the right to claim 'artistic license' which means we can adjust it any way we want to balance it out and keep the flow smooth.

This time, my horizon line is on the bottom quarter of the page.

I'm going to stretch things by putting my two banks nearly next to each other. I'm doing this because I want to tighten up the mountains and make the river much shorter. I want to leave a lot of sky. Now, notice I drew an extended bank below on the left one. I'm working the angle the eye will take, guiding it to turn right, curving it into the river behind the right bank.

Here is my horizon line. Let's see if we can squish all the mountains in, and still show distance.

I don't leave a lot of space between the bases of the mountains, but I do leave just a little, again guiding the eye back to the horizon. However, this picture has too much blank space up top. We need to add clouds.

Since the river angles right, I'm putting my first cloud low on the right, pointing left. I'm keeping it thin and light, so it doesn't overpower my mountains. Now I'll balance it by adding a cloud on the left, pointing right. There's still air above, but now it doesn't dominate the picture.

Do your eyes go up the river, then swing left, then right in the sky? If I did this right, they'll go from the bottom of the picture up, then circle right and go down again. I'm trying to draw your eye into the picture again by angling my highest cloud down just a little.

So here's your challenge. Find a photo of nature. Find your horizon line. Look to where your eye goes, and why. Something is leading it there.

Now practice drawing a picture where you deliberately lead the eye on a path, but it is restful, unhurried and enjoyable (that is what Flow means). Practice moving things until they balance. Remember, it's no sin to run through erasers. (The eraser company will love you.) Keep trying until you're happy with the journey you just made.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Would You Like to be a Frog?

Our son came home with a water-filled baggie. In it sat a tiny water frog.

And I cringed.

In the past, my son's brought home several baggies of water, usually from birthday parties or festivals, usually filled with goldfish. We always run down to the pet store, buy all the regalia that goes with goldfish. Pour in distilled water. Put the fish in. Then it dies. And I have a sad son.

The goldfish bowl gathers dust in the storage room until we give it a good cleaning and decide there's no use keeping it, and donate it. Silly us. We should know better.

So, here we are again. And instead of jinxing ourselves, I didn't buy a goldfish bowl. I pulled out a very lovely glass vase and . . . voila. In went the water. In went the frog. And I knew the countdown had begun.

That was a loooong time ago - as in last August. The frog's still alive and he's still in the vase. Every hour or so, he does acrobatics, zipping around like a super ball. Then he settles in again. He seems to like it because every evening he begins singing - which sounds like a mix of harmonics and a bumble bee buzzing.

How can a little critter make so much noise? The water amplifies it until it resembles a chainsaw. My son can't sleep with him in his room, so every evening, froggy goes out on the kitchen counter, which he also seems to like.

You ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? Well, when we do dinner dishes, it's true.

It's like a minature man standing there. It'd be creepy if he wasn't so cute.

Anyway, the other night, my husband, teenage daughter, and eleven-year-old son were in the kitchen when froggy began singing.

"How'd you like to be a frog?" my husband asked the kids.

"No way," our daughter answered. "It'd be so boring."

"I'd love it," our son said. "I'd get to swim around, get fed, watch everything. It'd be great!"

"No it wouldn't. You'd be dumb," our daughter answered.

"But you wouldn't know it, so you'd be perfectly happy," our son shot back.

She couldn't refute that.

So there you have it. It makes sense. I wonder if the frog thinks the same thing about us?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lesson 16 - Designing Your Drawing - The Grid

Okay, now we're ready to talk about designing a work of art. Good art doesn't just happen, no matter how practiced you are. Well, maybe it might, but not for me. I've found that putting a little thought into the design of my picture BEFORE I get started saves me many, many headaches down the road.

So, first, if you're serious about art, I highly recommend taking a class on photography, or researching its basic principles. It teaches you how to 'frame' your point of interest, while keeping the balance.

The same applies with art.

What you don't want is a boring, very well done picture. You want a work of art that is alive, interesting, and 'moves'.

I know. It can seem overwhelming. But here is one simple way to add interest and keep the balance.

You use the rule of thirds. Here is a grid, divided in thirds both horizontally and vertically.

Now, let's take a photo that we're interested in using for our next drawing. You want to decide what your main point of interest is. In this photo, it's the hawk.

We can use the photo as it is, or we can crop it. Let's say I needed to draw an 8x10 picture, so I make my grid an 8x10. Here, we put the hawk directly in the center of the grid. This is NOT necessarily good. It tends to feel boring.

Here is the cropped version we chose above, without the grid. Yeah, it's okay, but it could be better.

It's more interesting if you push the limits of centering. I've moved the grid so that the bird is still in the center, but just barely. You can place the bird anywhere in the grid, as long as it's touching (even if only by a little) the center grid, like below.

Now this is not a hard and fast rule. There are great ways to break it, but then we have to look at counter-balancing. For today, let's explore this one.

Here is the cropped version of the picture from above, without the grid lines.

Now you want to think about several things. This hawk is moving. Where is it moving to? Where do you want the eye to go? Let's shift the grid, so that the bird is on the left, leaving lots of room for it to 'move across the page'.

What do you think? Like it? Yes? No? Maybe? There is no wrong answer.  As you compare, you'll find some you like better than others. Explore a little, and let the bird say something by its placement on the page.

To me, the bird is moving right and up, so I'm going to shift the grid and put it on the lower left third, leaving lots of room for it to soar up and over.

Now this leaves lots of  blank space, which is interesting. Is it interesting enough, though? To me, it's got too much space and I miss seeing the cool rocks.

So, I'm going to reframe the picture, adding much of the rock into it, but leaving the hawk with plenty of room to move right.

Here it is cropped and the grid removed. What do you think? Are we there yet? I see cool rocks, lots of space (so the bird has room to move and it's easy on the eyes), and I know what the point of interest is.

Hm. You know what? I like one we did earlier. I want to see even more of the rocks. The bird is more interesting with their broken shapes and lines.

Here's my favorite pick, but I wouldn't have known unless I explored the possibilities.

What about you? Go ahead. Shift the grid around on your subject and see which one you like the best, then make a masterpiece out of it! And I'd love to see what you do.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tempest Raging Above

The leaves are long gone. Skeletal trees rattle in bone-chilling gusts. My grass is smothered by a foot of snow. Everything is lost in black and white.

The world is dull. Dreary. Lifeless.

Unless you look up.

Winter is the time that the skies come alive. Now you can see it. It has many moods, all of them interesting.

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a little photographic problem. I can't stop. I love snapping pictures, especially of the sky. It's a beast. It's a lamb. It's full of passion, affecting and reflecting off the world below.

In the last two weeks, these are the skies I've collected. (Be ye therefore warned. I tend to wax poetic.)

1. The hunter. Silently closing in. Fog creeps along the  ground. The sun struggles to break free, peeking through, first muted, then bursting out, then hidden again. And cold, eeking icy particles that climb your spine, sinking into bones until you have no choice but to quiver.

2. Anger. Heavy. Pewter fingers jabbing over the sky. Closing off light, which breaks loose, ringing the enemy in triumphant glory.

3. Gentle. Soft as a lullaby. Caresses of powder-blue and delicate pink.

4. Love. Sinking. Purple and pink, shyly smiling.

5. Joy. Leaping off mountain faces into clouds spinning upward, soaring heavenward with outstretched wings.

6. Boldness. See. Here is a mountain. You may NOT look away.

7. Peace. A deep sigh at the close of evening.

8. Strength. Like trees, always reaching, knowing that some day soon they'll flourish again. Any hour the snow will melt. Any moment the sun with shine through. And reveal us. Still standing, but on purpose. With a smile.

I know.
It drives my kids crazy, too.
Have a great day, and I dare you NOT to look up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lesson 15 - Prismacolor apple

Drawing with Prismacolors requires that you add your colors layer by layer, or LAYERING.  I'll show you how to do it today with an apple. It isn't much different from Lesson 4 - Shading an apple. You still shade, you just add your colors in one at a time.

Here is a list of the pencils you'll need for this lesson:

French Grey 70%   1074
Dark Umber   947
Dark Brown   946
Light Umber   941
Yellow Ochre   942
Cream   914
Crimson Red   924
White 938
Sienna Brown 945
Colorless Blender 1077

New terms:
Layering (see above)
Saturation Level (explained in step 10)
Burnish (explained in step 10)

Okay, we'll start with a photo. I'm taking artistic liberties for the sake of keeping this simple and drawing only the apple and shadow, not the leaf. I am also drawing the apple on two surfaces, one smooth white heavy-weight paper, and a light pink mat board, so you can see the differences in technique. (Basically, with the white board, you use the white of the paper for the highlights. On a colored board, you add them with a white pencil.)

Step 1: Using your French Grey 70%, VERY lightly draw in your apple, stem, and shadow.

Step 2: On the white board, VERY lightly circle in all areas of highlight. I included the skiff of lighter area on the upper left of the apple, the areas of yellow behind and around the stem, and around the shiny highlight on the body of the apple.

(You can click on the pictures for a closer view.)

On the mat board, I roughed in the highlights with my White pencil.

Step 3: Using your Dark Umber, begin putting the darkest area of shadow directly beneath the apple.

Step 4: Fill in the rest of the shadow, but make it just slightly lighter than the area underneath the apple.

Step 5: Using Dark Brown, begin putting in the shadow on the apple. This is the first step of layering. You put all the shadows and highlights in, just like a black and white drawing. Colors come after.

Warning: Keep your strokes even and right next to each other as you shade. If you leave gaps between your pencil strokes, they will show up when you put the next layers on and it won't look as smooth.

Step 6: Finish your shading around all areas of the apple.

Step 7: Now that you have the basic shading down, we'll add the other colors (except red) seen in the apple. Don't put red down yet. Here, I added Light Umber to the lighter shaded areas, and Yellow Ochre to the yellowish areas.

Step 8: Now you're ready to work in the red. The main color should be almost your final step. As you lay in in, the other colors you put before will tint the red shade, showing shadow and variation of color. I put the first layer in lightly, using Crimson Red.

Step 9: I continue putting the red over everything except my white highlight and stem.

Step 10: Now comes the fun part. Before, you probably weren't putting much pressure on the pencil, but now that you have a thin layer of red on, you get to go back and BURNISH the apple. You do this by adding another layer or two (or three if needed) of Crimson Red and you are putting a lot of pressure on the pencil. Burnishing mixes the red into the layers below and makes a sheen. Keep your pencil fairly sharp, and it will fill in all the little texture pockets in the paper that leave tiny white dots. Now, I'm going over every part of the apple, EXCEPT the brightest highlights. You can see the areas I left untouched below.

Warning: The paper will only hold so much pigment. When you find that it won't take any more, and you pencil is, instead, scraping OFF the layers below, you have reached your SATURATION LEVEL. That means you need to ease off the pressure just a bit.

What is neatest about this step is seeing the layers below show up through the red. Where there was no layering below, the red will be pure, like right around the highlight on the body of the apple.

Step 11: Now I go back with White and work over the highlighted spot upper left side of the apple (on the mat board, I touch up the edges on the white), then, using Cream and Yellow Ochre, I touch up the highlights to the right and below the white spot and around the stem.

Step 12: We're ready for the stem now. Using the same concept as when we started, we take Dark Umber and lay in the shadow on the right.

Step 13: Using Light Umber, we put in the midtones on the left and right sides, avoiding the highlights on the stem. Go over your shadows also, that you've already done with Dark Umber.

Step 14: Using Yellow Ochre, go over everything except your little spots of hightlight.You will get those with Cream as soon as you are finished with the Yellow Ochre.

Step 15: Now I take my Colorless Blender and soften the sides of the apple, stem and shadow so I don't have hard lines. If there are spots in my shadow, I go over the whole shadow with the colorless blender. The reason you do the whole area is because the colorless blender changes the tone a little bit and you can tell where it wasn't used.

You will use the same steps you did here on any drawing with color pencil:
1) Sketch it in
2) Lay in the shadows and highlights
3) Lay in the variations of color
4) Lay in the main color lightly
5) Burnish with the main color
6) Go back and accent your highlights, shadows, and any colors as needed
7) You're done!

Your apple will look good enough to pick up off the page and take a bite.

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