Tag Archives: drawing

West Australian Society of Arts Demonstration

white_bowlI had the pleasure of demonstrating to the members of the WA Society of Arts for their August meeting.  I was asked to go back to the basics of drawing.  Thanks to Tim Sewell who took notes and the following summary was published in the latest newsletter 🙂

Demonstration notes August meeting.
Our demonstrator for August was one of our own, Karen Frankel. Her subject drawing the very essence and foundation of all two-dimensional art. Although her father was a commercial artist Karen was self-taught and made use of the readily available materials at home. She cannot remember not drawing and it came easily to her. She has
taught drawing skills for 15 years and was passionate to show her students just how easy it is. She realised however that many do not find it so straightforward.

Karen is very clear that drawing skills are not a matter of inherent talent, talent is overrated, science has established that practice is the key, as it is for a musician or sportsperson. Yet drawing has a mystique and people will readily disown any ability or aptitude. Karen has taught over 1000 students to draw, a matter of justifiable satisfaction. She took us back to the basics; how to see. Our natural tendency is to ‘know’ what something looks like, our brains are programmed to impart that information. The secret of good drawing is to try to overcome this, to look at objects as a Martian might, with no preconceived ideas. Also draw because it is enjoyable process, if it is not, why bother? Forget any imagined end result, adults especially expect far too much too soon.

Karen’s materials for her demonstration were a pad of white paper, a 2B pencil and a putty eraser. Her subject matter for a still life, an apple, a mug and a bottle all painted white, illuminated by a simple desk light in order to focus on values and shadows. The first stage is to execute a ‘thumbnail’ sketch to establish the values, the shapes of tone, the cast shadows, accurate replication of the objects is not the purpose. Squinting or looking through the eyelashes helps eliminate too much detail. Use the pencil at arm’s length as if against a sheet of glass to measure relative distances. Negative space is particularly important because this one area where the brain does not have a preconception, a skyline is a very good example of a negative shape. Mistakes should not be erased but used as guides to getting it right next attempt. The putty eraser, which can be moulded into any shape is used to lift the tone. A tonal range of 1 to 5 is enough. Objects should be defined by tonal variations not a line, unless of course that is your style a la Cezanne! It is a very natural tendency to want to define subjects with a line.

Having made the sketch, it can be used as the basis for a larger more finished work. Karen explained a process of scaling up using an extended diagonal line across the sketch. First gently indicate the positions of the subjects referring to the sketch not the objects themselves. Establish the big tonal shapes, perhaps the darkest darks first so that the limits of the tonal range are established. From this framework the completed work can be established. Karen also discussed the secret of drawing a circle. A true circle is a rarity because unless your viewpoint is exactly at right angles to the centre of the circle it will in fact be an ellipse.

Drawing an ellipse is a well-known hazard. A way of simplifying the process is to turn your work so that a vertical  acts as the centre around which the ellipse is then drawn loosely at arm’s length as often as is necessary for success. This is far easier than attempting to draw an ellipse which is at an angle to your eye line.

This was a very useful demonstration and a timely reminder of the basics of establishing a composition whether for a drawing or a painting; Karen’s enthusiasm for her subject is infectious!
Tim Sewell

Shapes of Tone

My students should have this phrase firmly buried in their subconscious mind by now.  Hopefully it re-appears in the conscious mind, front and centre, every time they observe (with squinted eyes) something with the intention of drawing it.  If you learn to see the shapes of tone in everything, you should be able to draw that thing.  If you draw the shapes of tone you won’t draw the subject as your brain wants you to but as your eyes describe.white_bowl

By shapes of tone, I mean the shading and shapes of the shadows (tones) that appear as a result of light and/or lack of light.  This can be tricky when you observe objects with different colours.  Your brain will tell you that a black item is just black and it may demand that you shade it in as dark as you can.  However, if you observe carefully (with squinted eyes) you will notice highlights – light on the lit side and shadow on the non-lit side.  The same thing happens when you see a white object. Your brain might expect you to draw a completely white object but your eyes will tell you otherwise.  Nathan_portrait

When drawing a portrait the whites of the eyes seldom appear white as the brow, eye-lashes and eye lids create a shadow when the light comes from above e.g. the sun and ceiling lights.  When a face is lit from the side the bridge of the nose also causes a shadow.  Sometimes we can’t even see any differentiation between the iris and the white.

During a workshop on portraiture I demonstrated how these shapes of tone are observed and used as a visual guide to drawing the 3 dimensional form of the face.

Thanks to Elise Kooperman for filming and editing this video.

Outliners Anonymous

I never cease to be amazed at how many ingrained habits surface during my drawing classes.  No doubt some of you have them too.  The habit I’m on about today is putting a strong outline on a drawing once you have finished adjusting a sketch to your liking.  I can imagine the automatic thought process-  “Yep, that’s right.  Now to firm it up and make it proper!”

In class this morning Lee-Anne, my longest standing student, asked “Do you think they have an outliners anonymous?”

Which one looks more three dimensional?

Outlining automatically, because you think it’s the right thing to do, is NOT a great idea.  If you are after a stylized, decorative drawing then that’s wonderful.  Then outline deliberately, because you want to emphasise the lines and not out of habit.  However, if you wish to render your subject in traditional 3D then strong outlines are not your friend.

The quality of your lines should vary depending on whether you wish to show a light or dark edge, or make things come forward or recede.  Tones that change depending on shadow and light do not need outlines.  The change between one tone and another does not need a line to emphasise it.  Strong lines tend to make your drawings look flat instead of three dimensional.

Which one looks more three dimensional?


Oh yes. Strong lines are also really difficult to erase.  Even if you’re sure that you’ve made all the adjustments you need to, chances are you’ll need to change something.

Get Drawing!

Apple – take one

I am continuing, in fits and starts,  with the journey of producing my “Get Drawing”  book.  In the process I am also filming myself drawing the sketches that may eventually appear in the book.  So the journey is one of broadening discovery as well.  Discovering how to set the camera up in the best possible way; how to edit the resulting video; how to make it interesting;how to add a narration (still to come) etc.

My home video studio
My home video studio

On one of our recent hot nights (27 degrees Celsius at 11.30pm!) my thoughts found their way to ideas for the book and I remembered that I thought my new camera (purchased for my trip overseas last year) had some sort of way of connecting to my smart phone.  So the very next day I experimented and discovered that the camera could, indeed, connect via wifi to my smartphone so that I could remotely see what the camera could see, zoom in or out, and then take a picture or start recording a video.  Woohoo!

So, I’d love you to take a look at my first try and leave any comments.  Just in case you think I’m working very fast, I have sped the video up.  Future videos will hopefully have tighter editing etc. but I was excited to get this out there.  The beautiful music accompanying the video is my talented brother, Ilan Zagoria.

Click Apple video to view.

Get Drawing

Space & Time

You don’t need a dedicated studio or a large amount of time to get back to (or continue) with your creative pursuits.

Dedicated studio = a place where you can leave things set up; where you don’t have to pack things away; where you can step back in and carry on where you left off.  What a great luxury that not many of us have.  I’ve got a great excuse to have a studio for myself – I have over a hundred students coming through my large teaching art studio every week so I’ve kept a corner for myself.  Perfect.

Augusta - South West Australia
Augusta – South West Australia

So, how do you keep the creative spark going?  The first thing you need is the attitude that art can happen anywhere and anytime and drawing is the perfect vehicle for that.  An A5 visual diary and a pen is all you need to start.  It can  be a simple ball point pen, a special waterproof ink pen or anything in between.  It doesn’t even matter what colour it is.

A pen works instead of a pencil (although that’s also fine) because you don’t have to sharpen it (and carry a sharpener or knife), it won’t break or mess up a bag .  You won’t get your hands covered in graphite as you draw and you won’t have to worry about erasing!  Believe me, all of  that frees you up.

Drawn while dining at the beautiful Leeuwin Estate Winery – Margaret River
  • You can draw for one minute or many.
  • Just draw something you see or doodle as your mood takes you.
  •  Don’t wait for a spare half an hour or a beautiful subject.
  • Draw something small.
  • Draw a part of something.
  • Draw leaf litter, a half eaten apple or dirty dishes before you wash them.
  • Don’t be perfect.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration.
  • If it’s not working then work over it or turn the page and draw something else.

It actually doesn’t matter what the end result looks like.  It matters that you are involved, observing and following where the line takes you.

Get Drawing

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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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.