Courage – Daily Therapy for Artists

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“Let the situation or relationship be what it is for now, let it move and change on its own. Become a mountain in the middle of it.”  Unknown


Questions and Answers

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“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”  Rainer Maria Rilke


Drawing: Great Masters – Giorgio Morandi

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This post I will talk about one of my all-time favourites…Italian artist, Giorgio Morandi. He completed many beautiful etchings and paintings.

Most of us would probably run away from working in Morandi’s tedious, time-consuming style, although it is helpful to know about the way he works. To describe his style in a nutshell it could be said…. “control.”

Giorgio’s handwriting is completely in the “controlled style” because he builds up his work by way of what is called “hatching.”

To start off, Giorgio makes a series of short parallel strokes.   For a darker tone he introduces another set of strokes over the top of the first ones, mostly at right angles.  “Hatching” one on top of the other at angles is called “cross-hatching.”  To ensure the tone is under control, Giorgio keeps his strokes short, usually about 1” long.

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Morandi adds a still deeper tone by working another series of strokes at another angle and so on until he gets the darkness he wants. In other words, the picture is built up piece by piece.  Giorgio liked fine lines so usually did his work in pen and ink with a fine pencil drawing underneath.  This pencil drawing was erased after the cross hatching had been completed (many hours later!)   Morandi also loved the etching process which married very well with his style.

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This is the work of a methodical and deliberate person and one can’t help but wonder how long one of these drawings must have taken.

The beauty of Morandi’s style is that the hatching cannot be seen from a distance.  If one stands back from the work, no outlines can be seen, just gorgeous soft shades of grey.

His tranquil still life paintings are contemplative, a lesson in colour harmony and composition.

For the record, Morandi mostly used four tones…a light, middle light, middle dark,  a dark and of course the pristine white of the paper (the most important tone of all).  It has been said Morandi not only investigated the essence of the objects he painted but he also suggested their aura.  When you look closely at his many drawings, etchings and paintings I think you will agree.

You can read more about Morandi in this interesting article.

Since my attitude towards this type of drawing is cavalier at best, perhaps you would like to check out the other end of the “hatching” continuum.

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Drawing: Great Masters – Edgar Degas

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Edgar Degas, La Chanson du Chien. Lithograph, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (top above)

In these spontaneous, scribbly drawings you will see that the handwriting of Edgar Degas.  His handwriting is the total opposite of Van Gogh’s.

Degas had an elegant and graceful line and used parallel tonal strokes to create the contour of the figure.  Thick strokes placed close together show the darker tones and the more spaced tones show the lighter ones.  Degas loved to use thick sharp pencils, crayons or pastels. Here the tonal strokes in the bodies are evenly spaced yet the ones in the background are crazy scribbles with directions changing every which way.

If you look closely at the drawings you will see the artist changing directions with a back and forth scribble.

The first drawing looks rather clumsy yet in contrast, the hands and face are indeed done in a “controlled writing” style.  You may also see some restatements on the arm and torso.  These help to lend character and liveliness to the drawing.

Degas loved the light and shows it elegantly here by leaving clear white areas on both figures.

“What I do is the result of reflection and study of the old masters. Of inspiration, spontaneity and temperament I know nothing.”
Edgar Degas

Well, all I can say is that the drawings above look pretty spontaneous to me. There are just enough marks to make a drawing, no more, no less.

Are you willing to practice leaving some clear white areas to show light as Degas has done?  Take this chance and your drawing will really turn a corner.  “Overworking” kills a drawing, and a painting too.  “Overworking” reminds me of hairdressers who keep cutting and cutting until your hair is way too short!

Drawing – Can Your Ear Inspire You?



“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities, purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

After reading this quote, I became inspired and decided to draw to music in charcoal. The top drawing was done to a Metallica track and the bottom drawing to a romantic Bach piece.  How different they are, one lively and curvo-linear and the other geometric and fragmented.  I love both of them!


Put on the wildest craziest track you know.  Block out the world and go for it!  Willow charcoal is best because you can go back into it with an eraser or fingers if you like.   Next put on something completely different, something you don’t usually play.  Perhaps an old song loved by your parents.  The nostalgia of something heard repeatedly in childhood can reveal some amazing marks!  TIP: This is best done BIG using butcher’s paper and working on an easel.

If you like, you can take these drawings further; they can then eventually form the basis of a larger abstract piece.


Drawing: Great Masters – Vincent van Gogh


Vincent van Gogh possessed spontaneous passion in his handwriting and it showed in his drawings. The character and rhythm of his marks are riveting.

Vincent used a variety of strokes in his work, usually starting in pencil and going over with a bamboo pen dipped in ink.  He sometimes used a broad flat pen point, switched to other points and also incorporated fine brushstrokes, all in the same drawing! Vincent was a mixed media artist ahead of his time.  Some of the strokes were made in diluted ink as can be seen from the examples below.

“I want to progress so far that people will say of my work, “he feels deeply, he feels tenderly – notwithstanding my so called roughness, perhaps even because of it.” Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent had a delightful clumsiness in his work; he did not care less about conformity.  He sidestepped the academic structure which may have restrained him and made up his own mind about his tools and techniques.  As Vincent mastered his technique, he came to recognize its power and beauty.


Count as many different types of strokes you can see in one of Vincent’s drawings.  Practice these strokes using a bamboo pen and black ink.  Vincent drew as quick as lightning in short strokes.  After all, bamboo pens run out of ink very quickly.   Now refer to the drawing immediately below and select your favourite tree. Incorporate as many of these different strokes as you can.  Don’t forget the clouds!

PS I can’t resist it!  Here is a gallery of some of Vincent’s amazing drawings.  They are indeed a graphic dance across the paper, musical and fluid.


Vincent van Gogh, “Cypresses, Saint Remy 1889” Reed pen and Bistre-coloured ink, with preparatory pencil on paper, The Brooklyn Museum.

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Unfortunately, I cannot reference these, I found them in a book when I was only 16 years old!

No Perception At All

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My powerful quote today is from the amazing Eastern philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti.

The quote is from his wonderful book, “All the Marvelous Earth”.


Our perception is not only with eyes, with the senses, but also with the mind, and obviously the mind is heavily conditioned.  So intellectual perception is only partial perception, yet perceiving with the intellect seems to satisfy most of us, and we think we understand.  A fragmentary understand is the most dangerous and destructive thing.”

To judge and make knowledge without use of the five senses creates no perception at all.



Drawing: Great Masters – Matisse

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Study of a Girl, Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse had a signature which was all about the curving decorative line.  His simplicity and elegance of line is balanced by a methodical approach with his patterns of decoration.

Matisse’s drawings are spontaneous in that he would draw in a long single line which took him wherever.  The lines seem to lack planning, and proportions were not as important as contours.  Light, shade and perspective were not his main focus, neither were accurate proportions as can be seen from the girl’s hand in the study above.

For Matisse, line was all!  He loved decorative linear patterns and did not bother with restatements.  The faces of his subjects usually had no expression or individual character which added mystery to his work.

Below are some lovely drawings I saw a couple of years ago at a Matisse exhibition at GOMA

The reclining ladies are called odalisques.

Here is an easy exercise…

Try going over the face of a Matisse drawing holding your pen in the air.  Follow the shorthand way Matisse drew the model’s features.  Doing likewise with the model’s dress will help you to feel the speed and pressure of Matisse’s long contours.  As you do this, think of the artist himself (you can read about him in the link above) and imagine you are he.

Now go ahead and do your own drawing from a magazine in the style of Matisse.

Drawing: Great Masters – Rembrandt

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Rembrandt Van Rijn “Saskia Asleep”, The Pierpont Morgan Library, NY

What is a drawing study?  A drawing study is a rough sketch drawn to gain information only.   The above work by Rembrandt shows how a study can become a delightful piece of work in its own right.

In this work above, Rembrandt has used loose brushstrokes with washes added for tone. This piece shows mainly an “uncontrolled” style, however, there are small areas of control in the faces and hands of his subjects. The switch to the “controlled” hand gives a delightful balance to the carefree strokes elsewhere.  Rembrandt usually used pen and ink/brush in his studies, ideal for showing the quality of line (changing thickness of line weight.)  His rapid style lends much vitality to this work.

Beautiful soft tones surround the figures and you will see thick black accents under the head, arm and pillow to ground and give weight to the figures. Rembrandt was highly aware of light and shadow and in this sketchiest of works he shows the presence of same.

A calligraphy or “sumi” brush can attain different width of strokes like Rembrandt.  Bear down for the thick strokes and use only the point for thinner lines.

Do you like Rembrandt’s style of drawing?  Do you enjoy being influenced by the great masters?  Does this influence help you to try new ways of drawing?


Welcome It!

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My quote today is from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

Are you ready for anything and everything this year, for things that have never been?

Are you prepared to embrace any experience, even the incomprehensible?

Or do you know only one corner of your room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip where you continue to walk back and forth?