Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tips About Sketching People

When is the last time you sat and drew a picture that had people in it?

I see.

You don't do people.

Well, don't be afraid. Jump in and draw. 

Keep a sketchbook in your purse or briefcase and whip it out when you are sitting in the doctor's office or when you are waiting to have the oil in your car changed. 

When I have a spare moment (it happens on occasion), I take out my sketchbook and start drawing.  Not only is it therapeutic, but it's challenging to capture the gesture of people - especially when you only have a few minutes to work.  

Sometimes, when I'm drawing a picture of a person, it's a matter of seconds before they move or shift their body position! When that happens, I simply start again.  I have a page in one of my sketchbooks that has a drawing of a two-year-old. It's really a compilation of six heads in various positions.  He moved around so much that I never had time to sketch the rest of his body.

When I draw, I like to use a sharpie marker. It's cleaner than using graphite (pencil) and because I can't erase my errors, drawing with permanent ink causes me to ignore my mistakes. It's a quick capture.  You are forced to draw continuously and the moment your pen hits the paper, you have a committed mark. No turning back.

Let's talk for a minute about mistakes.

If you look at the above drawings, you will see many mistakes - that's what I used to call them. Now, I don't even think about them...they're just there. For example, look at the boy seated with the laptop computer. You can see the computer through his leg.

Big deal.

Notice the guy seated in the round chair. His head is composed of two perpendicular ovals and a triangle nose. Who cares? Seriously. Sketching is all about the joy of drawing people. 
Take the challenge. 
Sit down somewhere and begin to draw.  Sketching is like everything else. You get better with practice. Here are some handy tips:
  • People are made of shapes. First, learn to see them - then draw them. Squares, rectangles, circles, etc.
  • See relationships between the shapes.  How far is the triangle from the square? How far is it from the hip to the knee and from the knee to the ankle? Is the length similar?
  • Leave out the face. Anonymity has a certain universal appeal.
  • Go for the big stuff like legs, arms and torso. Leave out the details.
  • Keep a piece of blank paper underneath the page on which you are drawing so that the ink doesn't bleed through.
  • Draw on ONE side of your notebook page (not on both sides)
  • Practice. Draw anything: objects, landscape or even people.

On occasion people will be aware that I am sketching them. They usually shift their body position and turn away from me. Sometimes they walk over to see my sketch. Once in awhile they say, "It doesn't even look like me." 

You get all kinds of reactions. Try to respond to them politely.

Most folks don't mind if you draw them, but some do. If I am going to render a detailed sketch (one that takes more time than a quick gesture), I usually ask the person for permission before I begin.  Otherwise, be discreet and try not to let them see you staring. If your drawing turns out nicely, you can email the person a copy of it (get their email address). 

Don't be afraid of how your drawing looks and avoid comparing your work to other artists. Each artist has their own style; their own interpretation of what they are seeing.

Here's Picasso...

And Matisse...

You will have your own style too.  It's like a signature - unique and original.

Buy a small sketchbook and a good pen.  Keep them nearby so that when you have some time in your schedule, you can practice drawing people, or for that matter - anything!
Drawing images of people is daunting at first, but it's a learned skill that can be rewarding.
Mostly, sketching is just plain fun!

Why not try it and see what happens?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Workshop For Children!

Yes, indeed.  

I am going to teach a six-session workshop for children.

I'll be teaming up with the Clark Planetarium under the umbrella of Art Access, an organization in Salt Lake City that provides equal opportunities to inclusive arts programming for Utahns with disabilities and those with limited access to the arts. It's part of their program called "Kindred Spirits."

Kindred Spirits Workshop
Designed for children whose chronological and/or cognitive age is 5 to 13, the Kindred Spirits program offers young participants an opportunity to engage creatively in a variety of visual arts projects in an inclusive environment. By integrating children with and without disabilities, Kindred Spirits works to eliminate barriers, empower participants and foster growth.

A Workshop That Appeals to Astronomy Enthusiasts!
Painting Nebulae with Susan Jarvis
Wednesdays, February 5-March 12 from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.

Design and paint your own nebulae using a variety of mediums. Participants, under the instruction of the Clark Planetarium education staff, will explore nebulae – interstellar clouds of dust and gas. Students will create compositions of their own star-forming regions. Under the instruction of the teaching artist, participants will design their own nebulae and paint them. 

To register online, click here.

Artwork created in these Kindred Spirits workshops will be exhibited at The Clark Planetarium in honor of the Planetarium's 10th Anniversary at their location in The Gateway. The exhibit will open on April 4, 2013 and will also contain juried artwork from other youth in the community.

Class Schedule:
Every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:00 PM (see dates above)

Max Enrollment:
7 students  (14 when including their partners, a parent or a sibling).

$50 - includes all art supplies and snacks (no fee for partner companion).

Art Access Gallery, 230 South 500 West, #125 in Salt Lake City

Amanda Finlayson 801-328-0703, option #5

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Come With Us To Italy!


Have you ever wanted to combine your travels in Italy with an adventure in painting and sketching? Well, now is your chance to join us for a two-week art study abroad!

Yep.  we're going!

Join us for a memorable exploration of the Italian countryside through illustrated journaling and watercolor sketching featuring you as the artist.

Let us teach you!

Enjoy an introduction to watercolor techniques and new painting surfaces by team teachers Steven K. Sheffield and Susan N. Jarvis. Make new friends as you paint side-by-side with your fellow artists. Discover your hidden talents and bring home artwork that was painted by you in sunny Italy.

Here are samples of the type of work that you will be learning: 

If you want to learn more about this trip, you can click on the "Italy" tab of my website or check out the La Romita website at


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Illustrated Journal - What's Your Story?

An Illustrated Journal is similar to a diary but it usually has more pictures. Your journal can be a record of your adventures or travels.  You can use various media in an illustrated journal such as collage, sketching, painting, pasting, photos, and much more. It can be a statement about your life experience; what you think or how you feel. It can be public or private.  

It's about self-expression. 

Here's the title page in my new "sepia" journal:

Do you have to be an artist to create an illustrated journal?

No, anyone can make one! Usually the process of creating a visual record unleashes the artist in you. Consider yourself warned!

Last week I ate lunch at Paradise Bakery and thought I'd draw the chairs around me.  It was more complicated than I thought and the biggest chair turned out to be too short and wide...oh well, who is going to know?

Why should you journal?
It's a record where you can visually document your world. Journaling is a way to unwind, a meditation of sorts. It provides a wonderful outlet for your emotions and feelings.  Besides, your posterity will have a chronicle that is not only interesting to read but it will be beautifully illustrated.

What if you mess up?
There is no right way to do it.  No one will judge you, you're not going to receive a grade and there's no contest.  You simply will have an archive of your life as it truly is, mistakes and all.

So, what types of things do you draw into your journal?

Anything you want! 

The other day I gathered various objects from around my studio, placed them under a light source and drew the shadows that they cast. 

Here's a sketch of the skeleton in my studio.  
Her name is Anna...Anna Recksick (ha-ha).

This coat rack is on the wall of my studio where my students and I 
hang our paint smocks and aprons. 

When I make an entry in my journal, it doesn't have to be perfect. I can do a hasty sketch or a more thoughtful and elaborate drawing. You can even glue photographs onto the pages. That's the beauty of an illustrated journal - you can create whatever you want!


If you want to see more of my journal images, click on the "Artwork" tab of my website and then click "illustrated Journal" .

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself a journal and get started!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Which is More Important? Color or Value?

It's almost like the chicken and the egg.

In abstract art, the relationship between color and value is not as important as it is in representational or realistic art.  In non-representational art, the whole idea is to excite the senses and create a visual feast about texture, color, shape and other principles of design. In abstract art, an artist can head in any direction he pleases! Any of the art principles such as color or value can be the priority. It all depends on what you want to emphasize.

In an abstract painting, a ball might look like this:

However, in realistic art, the viewer must take his clues from the values depicted in the painting in order to understand the form of the subject. For example, we believe that the ball below is round because we can see the value changes from the light side to the shadow side. In this case, value is more important.

 In a realistic painting, a ball might look more like this:

Another funny thing about value is that even If you use strange colors in your painting, as long as the values are correct, your representational work will still read accurately. So, in the case of realistic work, I believe that value is more important than color!

When when you are trying to capture the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional canvas, your values must be portrayed accurately. 

A common error for most painters is to put too many details in a painting at the beginning of the block-in process. Another area that can weaken a painting is to select values that are too light for the shadow side or too dark for the light side. When the values get scrambled, the painting becomes confusing for the viewer. 

So, how to you learn to see the values and paint them accurately? 

Here's a great exercise. 

Using the four values below, paint a simple black and white study of your subject. Observe your subject closely. Even though you can see 10 or 12 different shades of gray, try limiting yourself to only these four values.
  • white
  • light gray
  • dark gray
  • black
Use your eyelashes as a filter by squinting your eyes.  This will help you to mass together areas of similar value and help you to eliminate unimportant detail.  This is what the ball might look like in this value exercise:

Now apply this concept to your painting.  Before you begin painting with color, try painting using the four values. Remember to simplify! Give it a go and see what happens. 

Of course color and value are both important in your painting - but if you are trying to get a good likeness of a scene, simplify your view and make sure you get your values correct before you paint the details into your painting!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Are Animal Paintings Considered Figurative or Landscape?

When there are animals in a painting, should you categorize it withing the figurative section of your website or post it in with your landscapes? 

Good question!

According to the experts, figurative art, beginning in antiquity, has a lineage that runs through many schools of modern and contemporary art. The term figurative art commonly refers to art that has the human figure or animal figures as its subject. 

Human and animal figures bring animation into a painting.  Where there are animals and people - there is movement. A sense of life. 

I first became familiar with this concept when I tried to enter a landscape painting into a competition. Even though the majority of the work was indeed a landscape, I had painted some little tiny cows into the background area!  

Much to my disappointment, my painting was considered to be figurative work and I could not enter it into the landscape competition. 

So, now you know.

When entering any competition, find out in advance which categories have been listed for artwork submission. Besides the media classifications such as watercolor, oil/acrylic, and mixed media, there could be divisions such as:
  • Figurative
  • Landscape
  • Animal/Wildlife
  • Still life
Find out in advance which categories apply to your painting, then go ahead and put some life into your work!   

Sunday, October 14, 2012

In Spite of The Rain

We braved the October rain to paint en plein-air at a six-hour workshop held in Sugar House Park yesterday and in spite of the cold damp air, we put our brushes to the canvas and persevered until we each had two or three creations. 

Yep, we totally rocked it!  

Sugar House Park was rich and colorful and the end-of-summer greens were beginning to show the first signs of autumn. Lavender clouds skimmed the top of Mount Olympus and in the foothills below, the red and orange hues peeked out in a softer note.  

We began by focusing on painting a value study using four values: black, white, and two shades of gray.  This enabled us to work out our compositions and freed us from the complexity of having to deal with color.

Once our value studies ware complete, we worked on a producing a color study.  The most difficult concept with both paintings was learning to simplify the shapes and eliminate detail. Learning to mass like-values together proved to be a challenge too. Hopefully, both studies will be a tangible reminder of how "less is more."

I think we all grew as we endeavored to capture the mood of the scene and replicate the subtlety of each beautiful color. I believe that growth occurs "on the edge" and if we don't push ourselves to broaden our limits, we will not grow!

Yesterday, I completely immersed myself in the experience and soaked up the sight of the pond, the sounds of the gulls and even felt myself enjoying the chill in the air... spite of the rain!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Plein Air Painting? Get Out!

You notice an artist who is painting along the side of the road and you say, "Could I learn to do that?" It looks fun and it sounds...well, adventurous. Why not try to see if you like it?  Here is your chance.

Beginner's Workshop - Oil Painting en plein air

Sugar House Park 
Saturday, October 13, 2013
9:00 am - 3:00 pm (one-hour break for lunch)
All-day instruction for $50

Learn step-by-step painting in an outdoor landscape. 
Along with the demo and the exercises, you'll receive written information so you don't have to take notes. Imagine how fun it will be to feel the beauty of nature and to be able to take several small paintings home with you! 
  • Compose and block-in a landscape scene
  • Simplify your subject
  • Paint with four basic values (black, white, charcoal and light gray)
  • Paint using full-color
  • Block in local color masses

We limit the class to 8 students. Please call to schedule (801) 455-3551. The workshop fee of $50 must be paid in advance to reserve a spot in the class.
Sugar House Park, in Salt Lake City, Utah, is bordered by 1300 East on the west, by 2100 South on the north, by 1700 East on the east, and by I-80 on the south. There is a traffic light at the 1500 East entrance. Enter the park at the light, turn right and drive until the hill starts to drop down toward the pond. Look for me and my silver VW passat station wagon (just below the top of the hill).

There are several restaurants nearby so you can grab a bite to eat (or you can bring a sack lunch).

Click on the "Classes" tab (above) to view the plein-air painting supply list.
Most of you already have oil painting supplies but check the supply list to be sure you have what you will need. For this particular workshop - you will need at least four small panels (5 x 7" or 6 x 8"). I have these available at the park for $1 each.  

Questions? 801-455-3551


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