Category Archives: Sketches

Drawing Tommy Kane

Tommy Kane_smres

Tommy Kane is a New York-based illustrator and ad agency creative director who travels extensively, and draws on location wherever he goes.  His work has been profiled in a number of books, and he recently published An Excuse to Draw, his first full-length book featuring a collection of his drawings.  I ran across Tommy’s work almost exactly two years ago, when I saw this drawing of the Red Hook Yacht Club on the Urban Sketchers website, and I have followed his blog ever since.  Tommy is a talented artist, and if you are interested in drawing, particularly on location, I recommend checking out his blog.

Tommy is also on the  faculty of Sketchbook Skool, an online course that teaches anyone who is interested in drawing how to see the world, and to get the most out of their drawing and journaling.  Recently, Tommy asked his students to draw his portrait, and the result is an amazing collection of different styles and techniques, all based on the same subject (you can see them on Tommy’s Tumblr page).  Tommy also offered to send a high rez photo to anyone else who was interested in drawing him.  So I emailed Tommy and said that I would be happy to give it a shot.  The drawing above is the end result.  Thanks for inspiring me Tommy, and I’m glad you like the drawing.

Happy Canada Day

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“…It wasn’t long before one, then another of the little shell brothers, timidly emerged.  Some of them immediately scurried back when they saw the immensity of the sea and the sky and the overwhelming blackness of the Raven.  But eventually curiosity overcame caution and all of them crept or scrambled out.  Very strange creatures they were, two-legged like the Raven.  There the resemblance ended.  They had no glossy feathers, no thrusting beak, their skin was pale and they were naked except for their long, black hair on their round, flat-featured heads.  Instead of strong wings they had stick-like appendages that waved and fluttered constantly.  They were the original Haidas, the first humans.” – Bill Reid

According to Haida legend, we have a lot to thank the Raven for.  So what better day to appreciate one of Canada’s finest artists, and one of his most impressive sculptures.  Happy Canada Day.

P.S.  I sketched this portion of Bill Reid’s The Raven and the First Men, while visiting the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.   If you are in Vancouver, I recommend you see this sculpture in person – it’s a national treasure.

Why I Sleep Better

Opa

My grandfather once told me that the hours of sleep before midnight were better than those afterwards, so he recommended that I get to bed at a reasonable hour.  In order to wake up early in the morning to draw, I try to get to bed before 10:00 P.M.  I always thought my grandfather’s suggestion was just some folksy aphorism, but when I go to bed early, I sleep better – go figure.  Thanks for the advice, Opa.

P.S.  My grandfather’s favorite expression was, “Courtesy costs nothing, gains much.”  He was a wise man, and I miss him.

Why I Sketch For 30 Minutes Every Morning

CJ

“We have failed to recognize our great asset: time.  A conscientious use of it could make us into something quite amazing.” – Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805)

In high school, my art teacher advised his students to sketch every day.  Even if it was just for a few minutes, he said that daily practice would result in dramatic improvements in our work.  It seemed like sound advice, but I could never last more than a few days before I got side tracked by some other activity.

In the last two years, I have been better about finding time to draw, but until recently, I have struggled with doing it every day.  But the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which I read based on Tim Ferriss’s recommendation, convinced me that not only could I manage my time better, but also that in doing so, I could draw and paint more often.

Mom

In Daily Rituals, Mason Currey writes about the habits of 161 creative people (writers, painters, scientists, composers, etc.), “to show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work, and vice versa.”  Currey just describes the respective rituals, and does not suggest which ones might be better than others – although, I would not advise adopting Jean Paul Sarte’s daily habit of chewing twenty pills of Corydrane (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin that was “legal in France until 1971, when it was declared toxic and taken off the market”) to increase your writing productivity.

Although some favored creating whenever they felt the desire, many stuck to specific schedules, and would work at their craft at the same time every day.  Some had other jobs or obligations, so they would have to create either early in the morning, or late in the evening.  For example, in order to earn extra money to support her six children and sick husband, Frances Trollope, mother of novelist Anthony Trollope, “sat down at her desk each day at 4:00 A.M. and completed her writing in time to serve breakfast.”  Since my evenings are not always predictable, I decided I would try to draw early in the morning.  Since the beginning of June, with few exceptions, I have woken up at approximately 5:15 A.M. and sketched for 30 minutes.

CB

My morning ritual looks like this.  After I wake up, I go to the kitchen and make coffee.  I could make it the night before, and set the timer to brew so it’s ready for when I wake up, but I like the process of making coffee in the morning.  Doing so also allows me to start my day by completing a simple task.

Then I make a smoothie, or bacon and eggs, and once I finish breakfast, I draw for at least 30 minutes.  After which, I pack up my materials, have a shower, change for work, and then join my family for 20 minutes or so before I leave to take the train to San Francisco.

Me

If you want to increase your creative output or productivity, I highly recommend reading Daily Rituals for inspiration.  And wherever you are Mr. S____y, thank you for your advice.  I wish I had followed it 20 years ago.

P.S.   “Be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

Searching for Anders Zorn

B @ Legion

I am a John Singer Sargent fan.  When I first saw his portraits, I thought they were not only expressive, but also accessible – Sargent’s use of broad brush strokes seemed like a style that was within reach for this would-be-painter.

To learn how to paint more like him, I wanted to look at his portraits up close, to see how he put paint on the canvas.  Unfortunately, the de Young Museum in San Francisco only has a couple of Sargents on display, but earlier this year, the Legion of Honor hosted an exhibition by Anders Zorn, one of Sargent’s contemporaries, someone who also employed a healthy dose of bravura while laying down his paint.  On the last day of the exhibition, I went to the museum in order to convince myself that, with a little practice, I too could paint like Sargent and Zorn.

I took my eldest son with me, and before we left the house, he said, “Can we bring our sketchbooks?”

I thought the exhibition would be crowded, which would make sketching difficult, but I said, “Sure, that’s a good idea.”

So I grabbed our sketchbooks and some pencils, and off we went.

I was most interested in seeing Zorn’s large oil paintings: his portraits, and the paintings in which he captured Swedish life in the late 19th century.  I had heard his watercolour paintings were also stunning, but I wasn’t prepared for what we encountered when we entered the show.

Zorn.Anders.Fiskmarknad.I.St.IvesZorn.AZorn.AFiskmarknad I St Ives (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

 My response to seeing Zorn’s watercolours was similar to Emmet’s reaction when seeing Wyldstyle for the first time in The Lego Movie –  “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” (although my son enjoys visiting fine art exhibitions, he also likes going to children’s movies).  I was speechless.  Controlling water on paper is difficult even for the most accomplished painters, but Zorn’s techniques go beyond what I thought possible.  In Portrait of Cristina Morphy (my son’s favorite), the details of the lace on the girl’s right shoulder are so fine that I felt like reaching out to make sure it wasn’t real (I would have included a picture of the painting in this post, but the online images don’t come close to doing justice to the real thing).  And even after staring at a few landscapes, I still can’t grasp how Zorn captured the water’s surface and its reflections.

Summer-Fun-largeSummer Fun (courtesy of www.anderszorn.org)

It wasn’t long before I thought my view toward the “accessibility” of Zorn was beyond naïve.  But when we walked into the second half of the exhibition, where Zorn’s oil paintings hung, I gained renewed confidence.

Zorn’s oil paintings are impressive, particularly his self-portraits, and Midsummer Dance, which is a Swedish national treasure.

Zorn_Self-Portrait-in-RedSelf-portrait in red (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Anders_Zorn_-_Midsummer_Dance_-_Google_Art_ProjectMidsummer Dance (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the river of visitors who strolled through the exhibition, stopping for only a handful of seconds to view these paintings, I crept up as close as the security guards would allow, to study the brush strokes of each one (here I must commend my son that after an hour and a half of such behavior, he never once asked me to leave or quicken my pace).  I saw the thick layers of paint.  I saw the different brush sizes that Zorn used to paint the faces and the clothing.  And after seeing touches of similar colour throughout a painting, I gathered that Zorn did not always clean his brush between strokes.  I was inspired, and I left the exhibition feeling the artistic thermals push my wings outwards and upwards.

After leaving the show, I figured my son would be ready for lunch, so I was surprised when he said, “Can we sketch now?”

So for the next hour and a half, we strolled through the rest of the Legion of Honor, and periodically sat down to sketch a sculpture that caught my son’s eye.

BB_LOH sketces

Finally my son said, “Can we go now?”

I was as impressed with my son’s staying power, and his genuine desire to draw, as I was with Zorn’s paintings.  I didn’t want the day to end, but after three plus hours of walking through the museum, I was also ready for a cheeseburger.  So we left, and over a plate of fries, we looked at each other’s sketchbooks and talked about drawing and painting.  In this post are a few of our sketches from the day (frankly, I like my son’s better than mine).

DB_LOH sketces

Later that night, after our boys were asleep, I told Stacie that I was going to the back room to start a portrait.  Zorn was fresh in my mind, and I wanted to get down to what I knew would be my best painting to date.

Zorn makes it look easy – he lulls you into a false sense of confidence that once you squeeze paint onto your palette, magic will flow.  That night, after only two brush strokes, I realized the foolishness of my thinking.  Zorn and Sargent are special, and no one should assume that he or she can paint like them.

I don’t paint like Anders Zorn.  I paint like me, and with practice, I will improve.  But artists like Zorn and Sargent motivate me, so I will also keep visiting museums and galleries to seek inspiration, particularly if it means I can sketch with my boys, and share a cheeseburger and fries with them afterwards.

P.S. Although the Anders Zorn exhibit at the Legion of Honor has come and gone, the exhibition is currently on display at the National Academy Museum in New York City.  But it ends on May 18th, so if you are in New York, make the time between now and then, and go see Anders Zorn’s works in person.

Mentors


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I recently read a blog post by Seth Godin about mentorship.  He wrote, “the primary driver of mentor benefit has nothing to do with the mentor herself, nothing beyond the feeling of obligation the student feels to the teacher.  Whether or not the mentor does anything, this obligation delivers benefits.
“We can simulate this by living up to our heroes and those living by example, even if we never meet them, even if they’ve passed away, leaving us nothing but a legacy to honor and live up to.”

hand sketching

My drawing and painting skills have improved because I was lucky enough to find mentors.  Some gave me advice, and others were (and are) just an inspiration.  Most notably, I owe my art instructor, Patsy Taylor, a debt of gratitude for all of her guidance.

Peony

I even received encouragement and specific recommendations from some artists whose work I admire the most.  I learned a tremendous amount by studying their art, and I am humbled that they took the time to point me in the right direction.

Weeping Buddha

I am grateful for my mentors, but as Seth Godin notes, mentorship “works because the person with a mentor has a responsibility to stand up and actually get moving.  The only way to repay your mentor is by showing the guts it takes to grow and to matter.”

In this post are a painting and a few sketches that I recently completed with my mentors in mind.

P.S.  Have a Happy New Year, and all the best to you in 2014.

Digital Experiments with David Hockney

DH_brushes

“I haven’t stopped painting or drawing – I’ve just added another medium.”
David Hockney

Last weekend, I saw David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, which focuses on Hockney’s work over the past decade.

The variety of art, which includes landscapes, portraits, video collages, and sketches, is impressive.  Even at the age of 76, Hockney continues to experiment with all sorts of media, and one of the most interesting parts of the exhibition was his collection of digital drawings and paintings that he did on his iPhone and iPad.  He used an app called Brushes, which includes a cool recording and playback feature.  The de Young displayed a selection of Hockney’s digital works on a series of flat screens, so you could see exactly how Hockney created his art, stroke by stroke.

flower_brushes.

I was so taken by this display that when I got home, I downloaded the Brushes 3 app on my iPhone so I could try it out.  Included in this post are three of my digital paintings.  I completed the flower on my iPhone in about 20 minutes between the Orinda and West Oakland BART stations.  With the apple, I took more time so I could learn more about the app’s functionality.  Finally, I used my iPad Mini and a Bamboo stylus, to paint the above portrait of David Hockney.

apple_brushes

If you have a chance, I recommend you visit A Bigger Exhibition.  The art is fantastic, but it’s also a reminder to keep experimenting.

“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
– David Hockney

P.S. Although the new version of Brushes includes the playback feature, you can’t export the video, as you could on older versions.  Apparently, the developers are working on an upgrade, but unfortunately, I couldn’t include the videos in this post for any of you who actually care about seeing the steps I took to create these paintings.