Drawing – Still Life, Puzzle Pieces and Giving Up Control

3010 001 3010 002 3010 003

Remember when you played with jigsaw puzzles as a kid, the same principle can help you to make amazing artwork.   “Puzzle pieces” are geometric shapes including highlights, shadows, reflections patterns and textures.

“Puzzle pieces” add so much vitality and variety to our drawings and if we are not daydreaming, we see them on or around objects every day.  At first, it may be hard to see them as shapes but sure as eggs, they are indeed two-dimensional shapes.  A shadow or a distorted reflection, both stand tall as geometric shapes in their own right.  They could be elongated triangles, dented circles or weird shapes with their own crazy contours.

Putting these shapes together is like making a jigsaw puzzle.  Each highlight or reflection is an added detail to make your work look soooo much better. This is what makes your work the real deal.  A work rich and beautiful is created by the looker’s awareness of the “puzzle pieces.”

Exercise – Allow 30 minutes for this drawing.

  • You will need a pencil (HB, B or 2B) with a sharp point.
  • Paper for drawing large enough to draw your object life size.

Find a jar or bottle made of tinted glass and place if in front of you. I did a stainless steel coffee pot and that is okay too.  Draw the hugest shapes first, make an effort to keep that pencil on the paper.  Try drawing “blind” 3 or 4 times. That means looking at the bottle, not your paper!  Scribble in the smaller shapes next then the many reflection-shapes in the glass.  If there is a label, you can draw some crazy letter shapes if you like.  Allow three or four restatements (going back overs) to give character and freshness to your incredible drawing.

Do not be concerned with the finished result of your drawing, chill!.  Try to give up your white knuckle control on doing a perfect drawing just for now.  After all, is there such a thing as a perfect drawing?

Unless you want to spend years (about 10!) learning to draw (as artists did in the olden days) you had better get used to your shapes being somewhat distorted, fresh and original.  Those who have practiced drawing for many years find it very difficult to go back to the childlike, fresh and lively drawings you see here.

Your best drawings are the ones that come from your heart.  They come not from your mind but from your spirit.  Look at these amazing works by Peter Arscott.  Was he freaked out about his drawings? I think not!


And this awesome work by Picasso.  No stressing about drawing here!

Pablo Picasso

You can paint and draw just like this if you just let go! 🙂

Courage – Daily Therapy for Artists

2208 040

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ~ Vincent van Gogh


Drawing – From the General to the Specific

28102 002 28102 003

The pencil is poised, the subject is before us and the blank piece of paper is screaming  “START!”  But where? How?

It seems easier to work from the general to the specific rather than the other way around. Starting with the largest thing you see, drawing that shape and forgetting everything else helps make marks to guide you to make other marks.  Drawing the whole idea gives you a frame to start putting the details into the correct place.

It could be a vase of flowers or the outer silhouette of a person sitting on a chair as above. Your drawing may include one or more shapes together as in both these examples. That way, you capture them as a whole idea.

The drawing does not need to be executed perfectly and if yours looks wonky, do not despair.  You now have something to build on, something to restate, compare with surrounding shapes (see previous drawing posts) and subdivide into smaller shapes if you think fit.

Choosing your large shapes is up to you and if problems beset you, try squinting first then draw the shapes you see.

Tips and tricks to help you along the way:

  • All drawing is process.
  • Be brave and courageous by making some marks on the paper.
  • Those marks help guide you to make other marks.
  • Actually, you don’t always know where you’re going until you get there.
  • A large shape is the start of that process.

Away with you to your studio/loungeroom/study or whatever to START!

Contrapposto – A Traditional Pose

28102 004
28102 001

Contrapposto” is an Italian word meaning counterposing one part of the body against another to maintain a position in balance.”  It is a Renaissance principle in which the whole weight of the trunk is supported by one leg.   For example, when the model places almost all her weight on one leg, the shoulders then naturally relax and drop down over the side of that leg.  The shoulders counter the upward thrust of the hip and the head tilts in the opposite direction to the shoulders.

Michelangelo’s “David” and “The Porch of Maidens”  are great examples of contrapposto poses.

Porch of the Maidens (south porch), Erechtheion, 421-406 BCE
Acropolis, Athens  artsy.net accessed 04/09/2016

Related articles

When the Mud Settles

Contemporary drawing

Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles?” Zen saying

“Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.” Lao Tzu

After all, mud is just mud, we’ve walked in it before and we will walk in it again.

Relationships can sometimes be our biggest challenge.  Developing patience can help us when we are not sure which way to turn.

Come Naked Before Me…

Women of the South

My quote today is from Eshin, Zen Master

“We create a mask to meet the masks of others.  Then we wonder why we cannot love, and why we feel so alone.” 

Is your mask completely blank like my characters in the drawing above?  Is there something that needs to be revealed or said.  Showing your true self without that mask is a profound statement of your beautiful individuality

An Easy Exercise with Oil Crayons after Modigliani

Mogdiliani Process 61311 007

Modigliani was an Italian painter who painted mainly in France during the 1920s.   He was a figurative painter who was known for his modern style.  His style was characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form. Sadly, he died at age 35 from meningitis caused by poverty, overwork and addiction to alcohol and narcotics.

Here is a simple way to copy the unmistakable style of Modigliani using oil crayons, baby oil and a pencil.

Allow 1 ½ hours for this exercise.

You will need:

  • 1 set of oil crayons (these are usually inexpensive)
  • 1 A3 size piece of good quality paper which will take some heavy duty “crayoning” (you can use a smaller piece of paper if you wish.)
  • 1 bottle of baby oil (I used coconut oil.)
  • 1 6B graphite pencil
  • A clean rag or disposable kitchen cloth.
  • A picture to copy from.  It is best to use a person with their neck and shoulders visible in the snapshot.  Great photos are obtainable from www.morguefile.com with no restrictions on copying.
  • 1 medium sized paint brush (watercolour brushes are good)

In true Zen style, you will approach this exercise with no purpose in mind; you are doing it for the fun of it, the joy of it.  If you can let go and enjoy the process, you will be surprised at the result.

Step 1

Tape your paper to a board (optional).

Taping the Board

Step 2

Loosely draw in the figure with a black oil crayon. Make sure to show the head, shoulders and clothing.  The more elongated the face and neck the more like a Modigliani your work will be.

Mogdiliani Process 1

Step 3

Fill in all over the drawing with light coloured crayon.  I had only a dull orange so went over it again with white.  Don’t worry about staying within the lines, just colour over everything.  The grey smudges will add life to the work.

Mogdiliani Process 2

Step 4

Select your colours and place them out of the box.  To obtain colour harmony it is best to restrict yourself to either:

You may use various tones of these colours so get out all the reds, all the greens, black and white or all the yellow/oranges, all the blues, black and white.

Colour the shapes with the selected colours.  Go over them again with another colour to blend and make interesting shades.  Go over the colours a third time to make sure there is a thick coating of oil crayon.  The more oil crayon on the paper the more the work will look like an oil painting.

Mogdiliani Process 3

Step 5

Paint the baby oil on all sections of the drawing.  Make sure to wipe your brush clean with a kitchen cloth before painting over a new section. This will help to avoid “muddiness” of colours.

Mogdiliani Process 4

Step 6

Draw in the outlines again with your 6B pencil to sharpen up the image.   Make it nice and dark and keep your marks loose.  You may wish to hold the pencil by the tip to loosen up.  Don’t worry if you go outside the lines.  That’s what makes a loose authentic picture drawn by a unique person – you!

Mogdiliani Process 6

In the end, I thought my painting made the girl look too pretty.  If you research Modigliani’s work, you will see the elongation much more pronounced and the faces more mask like.  If you would like to paint Modigliani’s “Woman with Black Cravat”, in acrylics follow this Zen School post in the Copy Famous Artists series.

Here is a portrait done by Modigliani for you to compare your work with.


A Few Facts About Oils

4.1 Three

Oils have a quite unjustified reputation for being difficult so I will detail a few tips that may change your mind!  At the end of the post you will find a great link to help you preserve your masterpieces.

  • Oils are the most forgiving of all the painting media.
  • Oils dry very slowly and give you plenty of time to think about your approach.
  • You can easily rework the paint if you change your mind.
  • Oil-painting is less technique led than say, watercolour.
  • Right from the start, a would-be artist can produce pleasing images with a richness and depth of colour unmatched by any other medium.
  • With tube paints, the pigment is held in an oil-binding medium, usually linseed oil.
  • Paint from the tube can be thinned down with solvent, (preferably the odourless variety) turps or a mixture of either with linseed oil.  (I do not use turps due to its toxicity.  I thin my tube paint down with either linseed, walnut or safflower oils only.)  The choice is yours.
  • Various effects can be obtained by thinning down the paint or using it fresh from the tube. Other types of thinners are available at art shops. Odourless thinners seem to be most popular with artists nowadays.
  • Work can be built up in a succession of thin layers or applied directly as thick dabs of buttery, creamy, textured colour.
  • Paint surfaces can end up either smooth and glossy or thickly encrusted with swirling paint.  Australian artist Ben Quilty shows us great examples of the latter style in his work.
  • Oil paints can be used on hardboard, canvas boards, stretched canvas and paper.

With the above work, I chose to paint the goup in oils and in a Sfumato style. I thinned down the paint and applied probably 6 or 7 layers allowing the work to dry for a couple of days between each.  It took ages!

“Sfumato” is an Italian word meaning “to evaporate like smoke”.  The Mona Lisa was done in this style. There are no harsh outlines with areas of different colours blending together.

The following site is a great reference on how to preserve your oil paintings.

Drawing – Shape Consciousness

2208 018

“There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another. “ Edouard Manet

This statement is a major key to improving your drawing.  Each “shape” or “area of colour” is in fact a shape.

This leads us to the conclusion that drawing shapes is easier, much easier than drawing things.

Below is a magnificent painting by Paul Gauguin called “The Seaweed Harvesters”.  Can you see the series of shapes the artists has put together to make a picture?

2010 030


EXERCISE – Allow 35 minutes for this task.

  • Trace the outline of an object in the air as if you were actually drawing it along its outer edge.  Begin anywhere and continue all around the object until you meet your starting point.   Did you notice that your eye and hand do all the work; there is virtually nothing to think about.  This exercise is just a slight step away from actually drawing the shape.
  • Now choose an item to draw from around your house.  It is a good idea to check out the helpful hints below before commencing.  Keep your eye on the object and do a real drawing only briefly glancing at the paper as you work.  You are now working in the “language of shapes”.  The great thing about this language is that it bypasses conscious thinking and critical dialogue and allows you to record only what you see.

The more we stay in the language of shapes, shutting down the language of things temporarily, the more our drawings look like the reality of the things we have observed.

To break away from the language of “things”, these helpful hints can become your pocket guide to learning this new vocabulary:

  • Draw larger shapes first, then smaller ones.
  • Join shapes together.
  • Draw the shapes of highlights, shadows, reflections patterns and textures.
  • Recognize “trapped” shapes and draw them. (Trapped shapes could be the area between your arms and body when you have your hands on your hips.  Trapped shapes are usually the areas where there is space between parts of the object.)

Understanding these hints will make drawing easier and help you see things in a fresh new way.

2010 038

Would you like to know how to do this?  Check out my next post for all the info.

The Great Man is He Who….

Experiments 003

“The great man is he who does not lose his childlike heart.” Menicus

My quote today is from a wonderful book called “Zen and the Art of Falling in Love” by Brenda Shoshanna.

She goes on to say “The childlike mind is a mind without clutter.  It is not carrying around years of wounds.  The childlike mind is Zen mind: open, free, eager to delight and enjoy. The childlike mind itself is a manifestation of a life of love.”

Children are always looking for the next place or way to have fun.  I think we secretly are too.  We are all “open, free, eager to delight and enjoy”  but sometimes we don’t realize these gems are with us every waking moment.

Go ahead! …Make your own day, be as a child again!