November 5, 2007

Drawing pets from life

I’m often asked “Do you actually draw pets from life?” by pet lovers who wonder what my secret must be to keeping a dog or cat still for the hours it takes to finish a portrait. The only magic I employ for long sittings is the magic of photography. It’s hard enough to get a pet to stay still long enough to take a photo, much less to do a portrait!

gesture sketch of poodle eating boneI do draw from life, but the detailed drawings drawings I’m known for are not the result (they take 8-10 hours to do)! When I draw from life, I try to capture the lively movement that would drive me crazy if my goal were a detailed portrait. In these sketches (called “gesture drawings” by the artists, for obvious reasons) I quickly try to follow the movement of the animal with the movement of my hand without letting my brain interfere too much. No erasing — I just leave the lines be to record the action. I love looking back at these sketches, since they trigger vivid movie-memories of the live action.

These two drawings of my Standard Poodle Rosie record her chewing a raw knuckle bone with great gusto right beside my desk chair.

gesture sketch of poodle eating boneI don’t expect anyone else to appreciate them (that’s not the point) and they usually stay snug in my sketchbook. I’m surprised that occasionally someone does respond to them, which made me decide to post some of my favorites here from time to time. If you don’t “get” them, ignore — it’s like trying to read someone else’s notes. If you do “get” them, enjoy!

February 13, 2007

Mini-art experiment: Combining graphite and scratchboard

Rosie's First Night Home
This was a fun little experiment! After admiring all the scratchboard work on Ampersand’s Clayboard, I picked up a free sample at the art store. In my graphite drawings, to make soft lines, I can always use the eraser to draw with to lift graphite from the paper. But I always have to plan ahead when it comes to fine, sharp white lines. Before I even begin to apply pencil, I incise fine lines into the paper with a sharp point (I like small knitting needles for this job). If I’m careful not to “bruise” the paper with too much pressure on the pencil, the lines stay below the surface of the paper and stay white. That’s the secret to white whiskers on drawings like this Cocker Spaniel or this Havana Brown Cat.

So, the scratchboard drawings on clayboard made me jealous of the ease of being able to make fine white lines anytime during the drawing. I wondered if the clayboard had enough tooth for graphite — paper has to grab the graphite particles and hold onto them. if you’ve ever tried to write in pencil on slick magazine pages (whose slickness comes from the same clay coating on clayboard), you’ll know why I had my doubts. I hadn’t heard of anyone using graphite on clayboard, but, I figured, what the heck: Why not give it a try on the free sample I had?

I chose my favorite, but most challenging, subject, my black Standard Poodle Rosie (when she was a puppy). That black, curly coat is so tempting to draw, but so hard to capture details and highlights hidden in the layers of black, very black, dark black, dark dark black, and black-hole black! Wouldn’t it be great to combine the subtle shading of graphite with the sharp detail of scratchboard? But could I get the darks dark enough on the slick clayboard?

I was pleasantly surprised at the results, displayed here in close to actual size (about 3×6 inches). The slickness of the board emphasized the texture of each pencil stroke — both a feature and a bug, depending on whether the subject is a Poodle or a Doberman. The scratchboard lines were a lot of fun to do and really make the highlights pop in a way that would be hard to duplicate on paper. Meanwhile, I could still use pencil techniques that would be difficult in standard solid black scratchboard. It was promising enough that I plan to experiment further. Stay tuned…

October 4, 2006

Memorial portrait: Sadie, the beagle who launched a hundred portraits



Somber Sadie, originally uploaded by sdonley.

I felt so badly for my friends when their beagle Sadie died, that I wanted to do something for them. At the time, I thought it was going to be an oil pastel portrait, because I was just rediscovering this under-appreciated medium. In preparation for that portrait, I did a pencil sketch to work out the composition. The sketch captured Sadie’s expression so well that I decided to go ahead and render it fully in pencil (or “graphite” as it known in art circles to distinguish it from all the others kinds of pencils artists use).

My love of working in black and white reawoke and I got lost in the pure pleasure of building up shading with stroke after stroke of soft lead. It turned from sketch into finished drawing and the oil pastel portrait was forgotten. My friends received this portrait of Sadie instead!

Thank you, Sadie, for reminding me of the pleasures of black, white, and gray! Once I started, I couldn’t stop! The graphite doggie and kitty portraits have just kept coming — 30 years of pent-up pencil portraits!

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