Tag Archives: Sketching

Happy Canada Day


“…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 Sketch For 30 Minutes Every Morning


“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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.

Portrait Practice


“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Stephen King

As you can tell from a few of my recent posts, I am in a portraiture phase.  I imagine most artists go through a period of wanting to draw the exact likeness of a human face.  All of our artistic paths start by drawing stick figures and smiley faces.  That might be the best time as an artist, as we draw and paint with reckless abandon.  We don’t care whether the eyes are in the correct proportion to the nose and mouth, or why hair is just so bloody hard to capture.  We just draw.


But eventually, the urge for accuracy takes over.  This may be the point when artistic curses take hold.  We try to draw the shape of a head, and wonder why it looks more like an alien’s than a human’s.  We can’t understand why the nose is just so hard to place properly on the face.  And it certainly doesn’t help that artists like John Singer Sargent and Jonathan Yeo make it look so easy.

BART portrait

As Stephen King advises, to get better, we are left with only two methods, study and practice, with practice being the most important.  Included here is some of my recent practice.


I once read that when you are learning to draw portraits, you shouldn’t practice drawing famous people, as others will know when you’ve messed up the resemblance.  Drawing unfamiliar faces is safer and will build your confidence.  There’s definitely not much room for error when drawing a self-portrait.  I asked my son whether the sketch above looked like me.  He said, “No.  Your neck is too skinny and your head looks like a balloon.”  Apparently, children also criticize with reckless abandon.

P.S. Stephen King suggests that would-be writers should read to become better at writing.  This would-be artist likes reading too.  So Stacie, please feel free to surprise me at Christmas with Jonathan Yeo’s new book, “The Many Faces of Jonathan Yeo.”

Artists Anonymous


No. Artists Anonymous is not a rehab group for people who are overly preoccupied with drawing and painting.  Artists Anonymous, or “AA”, is a collective of artists based in Berlin and London, who are known for using “after-image” techniques in their art. In an after-image, the colors are inverted, so that for every original color, the after-image shows the exact opposite complimentary color. What’s unique about AA is that they paint using the inverted colors first, so that the after-image appears more suitable and intended than the original.

When I first saw AA’s works on Lazarides Rathbone‘s website, and read about their techniques, I had a Stendhalian moment (post-script). I would not have guessed that I would be drawn to this kind of art, but when I learned how AA produced their works, and realized the mastery over color and technique that they must have, I was left dumbfounded.

Knowing that I could not come close to producing quality art using a similar technique, I nevertheless wanted to try. So I grabbed my art markers, and drew the after image of my brother with his now shaved beard. The images above are the original sketch (left) and the after image (right). I can’t play AA ball, but I had fun trying.

Below are after-images of two sketches I previously posted on THP. Flowers appear to be well suited to the after-image.

Flower inv

flower 2

And here are some selections from Artists Anonymous.
AA 1Cloud Cuckoo and Cloud Cuckoo [After Image], 2012

AA2La Poupette and La Poupette [After Image], 2012

P.S. According to Wikipedia, Stendhal syndrome is “a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful…”. This syndrome was name after a 19th century French author, who described his feeling of awe during his 1817 visit to Florence.

P.P.S. It’s often helpful to see things from the opposite point of view. It makes for a better understanding of the whole picture.

Conference Call Sketches

image copy 3

My sister-in-law recently emailed me this Wall Street Journal article about Andy Silton, a retired money manager, who had a habit of drawing during meetings. During his 30 years in asset management, Andy filled 75 notebooks with his drawings. Andy now publishes a blog called Meditations on Money Management and he writes a bi-weekly column for the Raleigh News & Observer where he shares his knowledge of the investment industry along with a sketch or two from his notebooks. I also work in the investment industry, so I applaud Andy for successfully combining his knowledge of finance with his passion for drawing.

I have been busy at the office lately, so I haven’t done much drawing or painting. But I took a page out of Andy Silton’s playbook, and sketched during some conference calls at work. The first sketch is a study of Jonathan Yeo’s Damien 2012.

image copy 2

The second sketch is of one of my sons.


And the third sketch is of Robert Franklin Stroud, otherwise known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

image copy

I drew the last sketch this morning. I had an early morning conference call, but when I got to the office, I realized I had forgotten my keys at home. So I took the call from the Starbucks around the corner and drew the chair in front of me.


P.S. Andy, all the best in your new career as an artist and writer.

Pen & Ink

B on blocks

I belong to a Facebook group called Sketching Workshop, where 150 sketchers from around the world post sketches and provide comments and critiques on each other’s work.  The purpose of the group is to share, and to learn.

Recently, a few of us collaborated to write a booklet called Pen & Ink: Drafting Techniques.  Each wrote a five to six page article on a topic of his or her choosing.  Since I’m not a formally trained artist, and I don’t have any particular advice on how to draw in pen and ink, I just wrote about two of my sketches, and the techniques I used to create them.

All of the contributors have benefited from the Sketching Workshop, and from other artists who share their work online.  So although it took some time and coordination to produce this booklet, we wanted to give back, and to make sure Pen & Ink was available for everyone to read.  So if you are interested, please click on the link below to download the PDF, and hopefully you’ll find something useful that helps you with your own sketches.  And feel free to share it with anyone else who you think might be interested.

Pen & Ink: Drafting Techniques (click on link to download)

P.S.  I enjoyed the process of creating this booklet as much as seeing the finished product.  Despite working with seven people from five countries who I have never met, this was the first collaborative project I have worked on where no one spoke on the phone, and no one called an unnecessary meeting.  Everyone trusted each other to do their part.  Thanks to all of my fellow sketchers for making Pen & Ink such a fun and valuable experience.

P.P.S.  The sketch above is of my son at his conference swim meet.  Although not included in Pen & Ink, I used the same techniques to create this sketch that I wrote about in my article.