Who Says You Can’t?

A long standing student returned to class this term after having spent last term welcoming and enjoying her new grandchild.  I had introduced the concept of zentangles a couple of terms ago and she decided it what something she wanted to explore. What a great relaxing doodling technique?  Although it’s nothing new – take a look at some of Escher’s work.  But I digress…

Frances proudly showed off some small cards with beautiful and precise patterns and designs.

Who says I have to?
Who says I have to?

She named each little picture and the photo to the right shows what she wrote on one card.  As she made ‘errors’ with her mark making according to the instructions she realised that she didn’t have to follow them if her work wasn’t going that way.  “Who says I have to?”

Who says I have to?
Who says I have to?

So, indeed! Who says you have to? Who says you can’t?  Who says you can’t mix one media with another? Who says your can’t follow your own patterns? Who says you can’t colour outside the lines? Who says you can’t draw?

Get Drawing

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Warm ups

We began our new term this week and, as usual, the mix of students, drawing, painting, catching up, laughing and story telling has filled the studio once again – Yay!

My favourite thing to to with the adult drawing students is to take them out of their comfort zone.  However, I do have to remind them that the reason I do that is not for my pleasure but to show them how far they can go and to learn from the process.  Most of us fall straight back into that zone when teacher stops bugging us!

So I devised some warm up exercises that you might like to try too.  Use the photo below or set up your own crazy and full still life.  For all the exercises it is not necessary to draw everything that you see and your drawing shouldn’t take up too much space (about A5) size as you will only take 5 minutes for each.

This weeks challenge
This weeks challenge
  1. Leave your pencil down and simply observe your subject (or part of the subject).  Look at the proportions, tones, shapes, directions of line etc.  You are observing the still life so that you can draw it without referring back to it.  Time yourself for 2 minutes.Then cover your still life with a cloth or place something between yourself and the subject. How about moving to another room?  For the next 3 minutes draw what you remember.  Don’t cheat as you’re only cheating yourself and that’ll defeat the object of the exercise.  One of my students remembered that there was a pear in a short bowl and so drew a pear in a short bowl.  However she drew a pear standing the right way up.  So take note of the kind of observations you had to make so that you could draw the subject as accurately as possible.  Interesting, isn’t it?
  2.  Do a blind contour drawing for 5 minutes.  Imagine a tiny tiny creature traveling along the edge of each item that makes up the still life. Follow that creature with your eyes and don’t take your eyes off it.  Use your pencil to move and draw in exactly the same direction that your eyes are going – automatically!  Don’t think about what you’re drawing.  Don’t lift your pencil off the paper just as you don’t lift your eyes from the edges you’re following. Draw and draw and draw for 5 minutes.  Draw all the details if you get that far but DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PAPER. Everyone laughs nervously at their work because it often looks dreadful to their eyes which are expecting something that, at least, looks like what they are drawing.  On closer inspection they begin to find a surprising amount of accuracy in proportions, correct shapes and directions of line even if the whole piece doesn’t come together.  This is a great way to connect your eyes with your hand i.e. warm up.
  3. Hold your pencil in your non-dominant hand. (If you’re right handed use your left and vice versa) Now draw your subject again.  No rules except don’t use your usual drawing hand.  At first you may try hard to control your lines and hand.  However pretty soon your brain decides for you that it’s all too hard. So you begin to relax a bit and just draw softly and as best you can.  That’s the point! Just relax and let the marks go down on the paper.  Stop worrying so much.  One long standing student wrote (with his non-dominant left hand – CRUEL KAREN! and the proceeded with the exercise.
  4. For the last warm up exercise we ‘took a line for a walk’.  Use a pen and, once again, for 5 minutes, draw a part of the subject.  This time the only rule is that you may not lift your pen off the paper.  You can look at both the subject and your work but you must connect items together.

The point of all these warm ups is to relax and have a free flowing drawing that does not have to be exactly the same as the subject.  When you look at your work you may find that you quite like some of it even though it is less than perfect.  I hope so.  Please feel free to post your results so that we can all see. I’d love to see how you go.

Here’s how one of my students did 🙂


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Awareness, Attention, Focus



Joy of Life Sometimes a painting just seems to paint itself.  "Joy of Life" sprang off the brush about 4am one morning.  It was a break-through and seemed to grow on the page.
Joy of Life
Sometimes a painting just seems to paint itself. “Joy of Life” sprang off the brush about 4am one morning. It was a break-through and seemed to grow on the page. – Tony Smibert

Over some years I’ve had the privilege of participating in workshops given by a wonderful artist and generous tutor (amongst other extraordinary talents), Tony Smibert. I took the following notes during one of his workshops.  Having observed hundreds of drawers (including myself) at various levels of ability I am often reminded of this unusual analogy.

Pay equal attention to
Be aware of the whole space within which to draw. Sometimes we don’t see the edge of the paper and either draw too small or too big. It helps to put a frame on the page.
Eg. A tennis player has to be aware of the size of the court so that he doesn’t hit the ball out. So that he puts his service into the serving box

Pay attention to what else is in the composition. Where are the objects in relation to each other. How dark is the tone compared to other tones on the page. Many times we think a shadow on a particular item is very dark – in relation to the item – and do not see the tone in relation to the whole composition.
Eg. The tennis player has to pay attention to where his opponent is on the court and anticipate where he will move to so that he can decide where to place the ball.

Draw the particular line, item, tone focusing on how to do that.

Eg. The tennis player has to focus on the ball coming towards him and how to hit that ball for maximum benefit.

We often concentrate on how to do the best for one small part of our drawing i.e. focus, to the detriment of awareness and attention. This leads to a disjointed drawing where things don’t appear to belong together. It is so easy to move from one line to another, one item to another without being aware or paying attention to the whole picture.

The drawer has to keep all three mind-sets to produce a successful drawing as does the tennis player for a winning game.


Eraser Rules

Charcoal still life
Charcoal still life

Most students I have taught (and me too) tend to quickly judge that a drawn  is not good enough, is bad, or at least, could be better. So, what do we do? We rub it out and start again. At the extreme end some students hold tight to their ‘adjuster’ and correct and adjust to such an extent that they don’t allow themselves to draw freely. They usually don’t enjoy the process based on their frustration at not getting it right. The work they end up with shows that frustration. It is tight and controlled and not particularly pleasing in it’s attempted accuracy SO…. If you want to erase then here are some tips.

  • Draw the new line based on the old one. Use the already drawn line to give you a reference point to draw the new one. Chances are high that you will not ‘correct’ the line sufficiently if you don’t.
  • Don’t erase everything. We have a habit of doing that because we have a ‘This is terrible – start again -‘ state of mind. However often it is only one small area that needs correction. If we rub the whole thing out then we might make the same mistake again or introduce a new error.
  • Once you have made the correction it is easier to leave the original line. Not only does it not matter, it may improve the drawing. It shows the process and it hints at the subject having movement (even in a still life). It shows something interesting and may be a hook to engage the viewer.
  • Use the eraser as a creative tool. ‘Draw’ with it by making light marks that compliment your drawing.  This particularly useful in charcoal work with a kneadable eraser.

Get Drawing!

Teaching and Talking

This face was drawn by only looking at the subject and not at the paper in blind contour style.
This face was drawn by only looking at the subject and not at the paper in blind contour style. Karen Frankel

A while ago I ran the second class of an 8 class drawing course during which I introduced the students to blind contour drawing. I often come away feeling energised from the classes and that day I had one more example of just how much I enjoy sharing my passion for drawing and art.

I have come to understand that I feel as passionate about sharing my art knowledge as practicing art itself. I bubble over, sometimes uncontrollably, in my enthusiasm to fill my students up with information. To excite them and to inspire them to find their own artistic space. I strive to open their eyes not only to the world in front of them but to the extended pleasure of the process.

“Don’t care what it looks like” and “Dare to stuff it up” are strange comments in a drawing classes but these are some of the words that I repeat to give students permission to have a go and learn and grow.

I love to laugh and tease and try to do so only when I feel that I am trusted. I feel that it is important that each student is valued and learns to value themselves and their work in a discipline that often brings out much self-judgement. However, I also appreciate it when my students feel comfortable enough to return that teasing in kind.

While the students were concentrating on a blind contour drawing of their own hand the room fell quiet. As I walked around the room I commented on how quiet it was and that it demonstrated how difficult it was to use both the left (talking/language) side of the brain and the right (intuitive/creative) side of the brain at the same time. A short time after the hand exercise, I was demonstrating an extended version and used the blind contour line method to draw a plant. About 5 minutes into the demonstration one of my students commented “Gee Karen, you don’t seem to be having any difficulty talking and drawing at the same time!” I had been talking non-stop! Well, I packed up laughing. Another student (who had done a term with me many years ago) piped up “Karen can talk underwater with marbles in her mouth!” Said and received with love.

So, to all my students – past, present and future – It is all of you that inspire me to share and talk and talk and talk. I give you what I know with openness and pleasure. You all give me so much in return.
Thank you

Drawing with Pen

One student adamantly wanted to work in pencil because she felt she needed to improve her graphite skills. In actual fact the real reason is that she didn’t trust her skills and said later it was about her observation and getting proportions right. When I pointed out that that didn’t relate to what media was used she said “This is what I am comfortable with”.

Stick and Ink
Stick and Ink

So getting out of one’s comfort zone is partly why we use pen.

Most people who have never used pen think it’s too difficult because you can’t rub out.

On the contrary . In my experience with many many students the mind seems to say “Oh well, I’m obviously going to make mistakes which I won’t be able to rub out so I give you permission to not get it perfect”.

Get drawing!