Drawing – Imagine….

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Imagine that every object in front of you is a shape.  Further, imagine that every space in between those objects is also a shape.

This means that everything around you can be seen as a series of interlocking shapes.  The objects and spaces all fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

With the addition of light and shadow shapes, you have that many more pieces to play with. Light and shadow are shapes in their own right. The variety in these pieces is so arresting and evocative that you will be left in complete surprise.

My next post will talk about how to use this knowledge to take your drawing practice to another level.

Are you prepared to be surprised?



A Strangled Laugh?

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Today’s quote: “For me, painting is a way to forget life.  It is a cry in the night, a strangled laugh.” Georges Rouault


Drawing – Draw Your Own Eyes

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In our last drawing post, we established that your memory is inadequate compared to your visual experience.

A good way to break old seeing habits is by assuming nothing about your subject, looking at it with absolute curiosity. Logic does not come into it.  You need to move past a language of “things” to a language of “line and shape.”

In the following exercise, you will draw your own eyes as they are reflected in a mirror.

To prepare yourself visually and to draw a sensitive and accurate pair of unique eyes, the following question will help you to see with the eyes of an artist:

  • Are the two eyes exactly alike or are there small differences? If so, what are those differences?
  • Could you say your eyes are one eye width apart?
  • How much of the open eye does the iris cover? One third, one half?
  • What is the shape of the upper lid?  Is it a semi-circle or an asymmetrical shape?
  • The highest part of the eyebrow appears where in relationship to the eye?
  • Can you see any prominent character lines or folds around the eye?
  • Can you see some dark shadows and some light areas?
  • If you turn your head to three-quarter view, can you see how the eye shapes are now different.?
  • In this three-quarter view, is one eye higher than the other on the page?  Is one eyebrow higher than the other?
  •  Is there any of the eye obscured from view by the bridge of the nose?
  • If you wear glasses, the size and shape of the lenses will appear different in the three-quarter view.  Do you notice how the near lens is larger and more open in shape?
  • KEY TIP! Look at the whites of the eyes.  What shape are they? By drawing this shape, rather than the shape of the iris you will usually end up with a convincing set of eyes.

When you draw from observation these and many other questions are often automatically answered.

Exercise in Drawing Your Own Eyes – allow 20 minutes for this exercise.

With your head turned to three-quarter view, (half-way between front and profile.) Draw as accurately as possible only the areas of the eyes, eyebrows, and the bridge of your nose. Remember to always draw what you see rather than what you know.

Using a 2B pencil with a sharp point, work mostly in line with some added shading to show the lights and darks.  Try drawing “blind” at least three or four times and include at least two restatements.

Here is a drawing I did for this exercise.  I kept the drawing loose and spontaneous and was pleased with the result.

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Please send in your drawings for appraisal to christine@zenschool.com.au, I would love to see them!

An Acrylics Exercise after Vincent van Gogh

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This exercise in the Expressionist style can be done at home and is suitable for beginners.  Painting in an Expressionist way means responding to the subject with your emotions. Bold use of colour, distorting forms or painting them more simply as blocks of colour that interact with each other are some of the features of Expressionist painting.  If you are keen to research, some artists who worked in this style are Van Gogh, Oscar Kokoschka and Edvard Munch. Now if you are ready to get started the following “night sky” exercise is an easy one for artists of all levels including beginners.

You will need:

  • 8 pots of acrylic paint, warm primary coloursUltramarine blue, a warm yellow and a warm red.  Cool primary colours, cool blue, Lemon yellow, Alizirian Crimson.  1 black and 1 white. Ask at your art shop for the different cool and warm colours.
  • 2 long handled paint brushes, one small, and one medium.
  • A small canvas, canvas board or paper suitable for painting with acrylics.  The size is up to you.  If using a canvas prime it first, otherwise wash with warm soapy water and dry.
  • Rags, a container for water.
  • If using paper, you may prefer to tape it to a board to make things easier.
  • Palette, I used two old kitchen plates.

You will need to allow about one hour for this exercise.  Do not be too precious about this process.  As you can see, I have slapped the paint on and the end result is loose and spontaneous.  You can do likewise!

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Firstly, draw in a simple village scene with pencil.  With ultramarine blue and a small long handled brush, draw over your pencil lines.  Holding the brush by the end of the long handle will allow your drawing to be loose and flowing creating a harmonious painting

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Complete all parts of the drawing with the blue paint.

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Paint in some crazy swirls for the starry sky.

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Mix in a small amount of cool red (Alizirian Crimson) into the Ultramarine blue to make a sky colour.  Paint in the sky with your medium sized brush. This cool colour will show the sky as receding.

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This is how your painting should look so far.

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Make up a green by mixing Ulttramarine Blue and Warm Yellow plus a very small dot of red.

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Paint in the foreground trees.  This warm green will bring the trees forward.  Cooler colours in the background will allow the scene to recede.

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Mix up a brighter green by using warm yellow and a small dot of ultramarine blue.

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Paint the yellowish green into the trees here and there using small strokes.  This will show the highlights of the foreground trees. Be bold with this and don’t be concerned where the highlights are placed, just allow the darker colours to show also, do not cover them completely.

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This is how your trees might look after putting in the highlights.

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Next, add some white to your ultramarine blue mix to add to the sky.

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Place dotted swirls through the sky in a flowing pattern and continue to swirl it through the areas previously defined for the stars.  Use dot strokes with your brush to get the Expressionist look.

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This is how your painting might look at this stage. It is best to take a break now and allow 20 minutes for the work to dry.

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Using a cool yellow (e.g. lemon yellow) continue to use small strokes to define the stars and sky even further.

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Mix up a cool green with Lemon yellow and Ultramarine blue plus a dot of Alizirian Crimson for the distant and foreground hills.  Paint them in using broad strokes.

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Add warm yellow in small strokes to the foreground hills to bring them forward.

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Mix up a lightish purple with Ultramarine blue, Alizirian Crimson and a small amount of white.

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Paint broad strokes of this purple into the night sky, particularly close to the hills and bring strokes of this purple throughout the painting into the hills.

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You can use the purple and other colours you may have on your palette to paint in the houses.  Stay with the colours you have already used.  It is best not to introduce new colours at this stage.

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Mix up a dark colour with warm red and cool blue.  If this colour is not dark enough for your liking, you may add a very small amount of black.  Use this colour to go around the houses.

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You can also use this colour to define the hills.

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Don’t forget to show where the moonlight hits the tops of the trees and houses by using dots of a light yellowish white on the tops of the trees and the roofs of the houses. Notice how I have left the foreground warm and light.  You have artistic licence and if you want to change anything just go over it once dry.  That is the beauty of acrylics!

A related post after van Gogh can be found in “Copy the Great Masters” category.


A Few Facts About Acrylics


These are some of the amazing benefits of painting in acrylics:

  • Wonderfully  versatile and a joy to handle
  • Lends itself to a whole range of techniques e.g. delicate washes, glazes, bold thick juicy layers.
  • Quick drying, good covering power.
  • Great brilliance of colour (depending on brand.)
  • Doesn’t fade in the sun.
  • Once dry, the synthetic plastic coating is almost indestructible.
  • Can be used on card, paper, board, canvas and wood, metal glass, fabric provided they are non-greasy and have enough tooth to hold the paint
  • Dissolves in water.
  • Once dry, can be painted over and mistakes corrected.
  • Can be used as an underpainting medium for oils.
  • Can be over painted within 30 minutes of application.
  • Can be used with modelling compounds and texture pastes (gels) to create relief surfaces.
  • Easy to clean up although it is not wise to put left over paint into the sink because it may end up in our waterways.

My next post will show you how to get started with an easy exercise in the style of Vincent Van Gogh.  With all these benefits, why hold back?

The Naked Form



My quote today is from sculptor and artist Auguste Rodin.

Man’s naked form belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages.”

Attending a life class and drawing the human form can have benefits you may not have realized.

Semir Zeki, a former professor of neurobiology at the University College, London and co-head of the Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, published an article, “Artistic Creativity and the Brain,” in Science Magazine, in July 2001.  Zeki detailed the relationship between the development of cognitive abilities and the creative process. He stated artistic expression is the key to comprehending ourselves. He also considered art and its expression as an expansion of brain function. In other words, art helps the brain in its search for knowledge.

I guess this means we, as artists, are well comprehended (most of the time!)

Green Banality

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My quote today is about colour and green in particular.

“They’ll sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like; but that particular green, never.”
Pablo Picasso, 1966.

Have you ever seen a painting that screeches green or do you avoid using green altogether?  Myself, I am not fond of the “lavatory greens” found ready mixed in tubes (and Viridian in particular.)  It seems green can only be mixed by oneself using all three primary colours, red, blue and yellow to make a vibrant tertiary green.

Do you suffer from green banality, i.e. are your greens devoid of freshness or originality?

Green Banality

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My quote today is about colour and green in particular.

“They’ll sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like; but that particular green, never.”
Pablo Picasso, 1966.

Have you ever seen a painting that screeches green or do you avoid using green altogether?  Myself, I am not fond of the “lavatory greens” found ready mixed in tubes (and Viridian in particular.)  It seems green can only be mixed by oneself using all three primary colours, red, blue and yellow to make a vibrant tertiary green.

Do you suffer from green banality, i.e. are your greens devoid of freshness or originality?

Drawing – Mental Images

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It is easy for us to imagine how an apple, a horse or the face of a good friend looks and sometimes we think this is an exact duplication of how these things actually do look.

Not so, because if we try to draw these mental images, we suddenly realise we don’t have enough information to put down the shape, proportion, contour or texture to make a drawing with any character at all.

Below is my “memory” drawing of how I think a lemon looks in my mind.

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The following drawing is of two lemons using observation, drawing “blind” and including some restatements as detailed below.

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The difference between these two examples is quite dramatic and proves that mental images are really only symbols of reality.  The mind could not possible store all the information necessary to draw a convincing lemon.  That is the job of the eyes, leaving the hand to readily follow.


Make a pair of drawings of a fruit or vegetable.  Allow yourself at least 30 minutes for the drawings.

The first drawing should be from the mental image in your head without the object being present.

The second drawing should be done from observing the actual fruit or vegetable in front of you.  To make an accurate drawing, use line and some shading, try to draw “blind” at least some of the time and include at least three restatements.  See previous posts for a more complete explanation of “restatements” and “drawing blind”.

When you have finished your drawings, check out the difference between your mental image drawing and your drawing from observation. This reinforces the notion of Seeing vs. Knowing as per my previous post.

Superficial Features



My quote today is from Auguste Rodin:

“If the artist only reproduces superficial features as photography does, if he copies the lineaments of a face exactly, without reference to character, he deserves no admiration. The resemblance which he ought to obtain is that of the soul.” 

Does the character of your subjects get a look in?