The Passionate Pedagogue

My third semester of giving life drawing classes starts today … and people don’t pay for me to tell them, “Draw figures for 4 years and keep up the daily practice.” (Although, I do mention that in the breaks, if somebody is so foolhardy to ask.)

That’s why I attempt to set up a curriculum every semester.

As last year I heard quite often (even if only from a few individuals) that they had been expecting more anatomy, I’m introducing more anatomy (even if I’m not the expert). I may have a few clever insights for the one or other and we can learn from each others mistakes.

Here’s the plan for the 10 week course:

  1. Explore proportions
  2. Gestural drawing, finding rhythm
  3. Ribcage and pelvis
  4. Shoulders, arms, hands
  5. Legs, bottom, feet
  6. Perspective for life drawers
  7. Portrait, the face, the head
  8. Light and shade
  9. Blind drawing, contours
  10. Facial expression

The topics currently fit very well to the models I’ve managed to get in advance and every session has a different model, which I think is grand.

To finish this post off, here are some of my latest gesture drawings, I have now drawn gestures for way over 500 hours. I started slowly in August 2014. I now often draw longer (90 second) poses, but this morning I tried out 45 second poses again.

Getting serious again

I came back from one of my life drawing sessions  …. (yes, I have more than one each week … privileged, little, snotty boy, right? Hah! Jealousy will get you nowhere!) … where was I? right, life drawing … and I’d moved back to lines again, which is kind of getting on my nerves a bit, but this is what that evening brought about:


So, that’s … pencil marks first (finding the basic lines, 1 minute max), fineliner directly afterwards (to commit to the lines, 2 minutes or more) and then a reduced set of coloured pencils (10 to 15 minutes of cool Zen-ness). These are all on the same sheet of A3 190gr/sqm “1584” paper. The paper is great for me and my selection of tools.

Note: I must admit, I’ve been spending some time with a new book I’ve been given as an early birthday present from my gran, it covers Figure Drawing in a refreshingly modern but also academic manner, I may mention it in a future post. The studying of books is starting to pay off, if I’m allowed to say that myself at all.

In the meantime, because I can’t go to life drawing more than twice a week (can I?), I’ve been posing for one or two daily self portraits in front of a mirror. 5 minutes per sketch, all in an A6 Moleskine diary with a fineliner and with limited success. Here’s one of the better ones, if you ask me:


Note: Probably I should also mention that I’m currently taking Paul Heaston’s latest Craftsy course, all about making lines and crosshatching and all that stuff he’s famous for.

My daily gesture practice was interrupted a day or two, which is ok once in a while. But I feel I’m not stretching myself enough here, so I’m going to be cranking up the seriousness and attitude in the next few weeks. Here’s an example of 30 second and 90 second gestures using :


And to end the post, here’s a little painting I did on a very windy day at a sketch meeting in June (I haven’t posted this yet, right?). It’s just lovely knowing you’re painting and sketching surrounded by other painters and sketchers. Good to get out, mingle, feel like you’re sharing an experience, not just stay shut away at home, drawing cups, shoes and selfies:


Good night!

Days of Doubt

I’ve just finished a 30 day challenge of drawing at least one portrait per day and now that the emails are no longer arriving, I’m feeling a bit lost. Additionally, I’ve had one or many bad head colds the last 4 weeks.

Whatever, I’d started to doubt myself the last 24 hours, asking whether I actually know where I’m going with this and if there is any progress I have achieved (“What?” Yeah, that’s doubt for you).

Anyhow, I was on a business trip yesterday, spent hours at airports and in planes and in retrospect, the time seemingly flashed by  in minutes because I was sketching people most of the time. Just sketching, nothing rendered in great detail. And I find myself asking myself where all that time had gone (I was on a 15 hour trip). And, “was it used sensibly?” I can’t find a simple answer to that question yet.

I’m quite sure I should be doing more to increase my skill set, because it seems like I’m using  a lot of my precious time, just sketching and not drawing or painting. I still haven’t sat down to practice any anatomy, although I have started collecting female body builder pictures on pinterest, because that’s something I picked up somewhere on the net, I think while reading up how to study with George Bridgman’s study notes. Which is also something I never considered looking into. I just found the link again, after searching for “bridgman alcoholic stick” (would you believe it?). You could also try “Studying Bridgman properly”.

There is a three step study recommendation:

  1. understand the text as well as possible
  2. make a tonal study of Bridgman’s sketch
  3. find a photo reference covering the studied area of the body and copy from the reference using your newly learnt knowledge (the recommendation is to use female body builders because they are lean and the muscles stand out)

Just need to do it …

contour lines, paint, then crosshatching
crosshatching then paint
Flight home
30 second gestures

The Art of Practice

I had an interesting conversation a short time ago while I was in Barcelona on an Urban Sketching workshop. I’d asked my host if anything had surprised her about me, because we had only met and chatted for 5 minutes in December the previous year.

She said, yes, there had been one thing: I’d mentioned to her during our online chats that I get up at 6am and practice gesture drawing for 30 minutes, make breakfast, and then continue the practice for a further 20 minutes. But what surprised her was that I really do what I say.

I guess we’ve all been there at one time or another, telling ourselves we practice or sketch regularly, but are we being honest to ourselves, are we really keeping to our planned routine? I noticed, half a year ago that I was giving myself a lot of slack, not keeping to my envisioned schedules, so I changed my routine and my setup at home to make it as easy and comfortable as possible to just get up and practice, and it seems to be working (even worked for a week in Barcelona).

However, the invested time and regularity of practice is just part of my way to achieving my goals.

Mindfulness is a further important part. I have to be completely present in that very moment. I have to understand or try my hardest to understand what I am doing then and there.

Gesture drawing is about a few lines and shapes that must tell a clean story. What story is the pose telling me? Which lines and shapes can be used? Where is the rhythm? How can the rhythm be tamed, accentuated, put to work for telling the story?

I have the first volume of Walt Stanfield’s Drawn To Life, which is a collection of evening session life drawing handouts and quite hard to read actually. Anyhow, I’ve been chewing myself through it and what I’ve taken out of it is a nagging, self-criticizing voice which keeps asking me what Walt would do with this pose and whether my result would please him or not. I have decided to tell myself, my gesture drawings would not please Walt, but if I put some more effort into them, they may do one day.

I believe this to be a good approach, giving in to the idea that I can’t please the teacher, but I can work harder at improving.

That has helped me understand one of the psychologies behind me posting on Facebook, Instagram and Sktchy: I’m fishing for compliments because it helps me become complacent and feel comfortable at my current skill set. Ok, I don’t want to be too hard on myself, but I think I’m going to have to consider posting on FB and IG (and perhaps even Sktchy) only when I believe I have met a milestone in my progress and even ask explicitly for feedback.

This is also coming from an experience I made on Sktchy a week or two back. I asked for critique and got some. I took it to heart and I believe it moved me on another few inches on this never ending path to mastery.

For more information on the path to mastery, take a look at George Leonard’s book “Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”. I believe it is legally available online in digital form.

Been doing a lot of inking lately …

Before I start, first things first … a warm welcome to you, my treasured follower!

I started this blog 2 years ago and uploaded every single picture, sketch, watercolour and gesture drawing I made. There weren’t many, I wasn’t drawing every day and I wasn’t drawing up to 4 hours a day back then. Nowadays, I try not to draw for 4 hours a day, but I must admit, this Sunday is coming close to 4. Although, I can strongly recommend putting in that much time if you are really serious about improving your skill set, you still must be warned that it should not all be practice. The practice needs to be counter-balanced with project, fun and study work.

I’m saying this because I’ve been on a downer lately and I believe it to be because I have not been balancing out my practice with some nice and easy fun assignments. I think I may have managed to maneuver my way out of it, but there still seems to be one ingredient missing … project work.

So, what have I been doing for practice? Basically, gesture drawing (here is something I wrote about it:

I am adding a picture or two for each “stream”, down below.

What have I been doing for fun? I’ve been out on Wednesday evenings with a group of like-minded sketchers, visiting museums and I’ve been to see Roman art on Sundays, sometimes on my own, sometimes accompanied by a sketcher or two.

What’s been study work? Well, I’ve been reading up on things (Walt Stanchfield’s “Drawn to Life, vol.1” and Robert Beverly Hale’s “Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters”). I must admit, I could be doing more there. And, of course I go to Life Drawing evenings every Tuesday, I guess I classify that as fun, but it “should” be study.

The missing ingredient project is actually possibly about to take off, because I’ve got interested in the competition that quickposes[dot]com is staging. It means, I will have to make up a nice scene from childhood with figures, story, action and whatnot. I’ve got a number of thumbnails on the go.

In summary, don’t just practice, and likewise don’t just try to have fun, find a good balance between fun, practice, study and project work (perhaps even take your sister up on that request to draw her dog or cat).

To finish off, here a selection of my Oktober[sic.] inks.
















The Secret to Learning How To Draw

Sometime back, I looked for tips on The Net, hoping to find the secret to learning how to draw.

In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I found what I was looking for, but it took me over a year to realize that.

You may think this is way too obvious, because the “big” secret is that you need to draw some, draw some more, and then draw even some more.
Eventually, you will begin to see some improvement, you may even get worse at it first. Why worse? Because something is changing and this takes its toll on the set of tricks you’ve been depending on until now, and also worse because you’re improving your own skill at critiquing drawings.
The real secret to drawing something impressive lies in you learning how to see right. Not just to see with your eyes, but also your heart and mind, you cannot learn this on youtube or from any book, you need to practice it. For hours and hours. Days and days. Months and months.

There were a few more secrets, but I won’t go into them much, just let you know, which ones really work for me:

  • use a sketchbook, take it with you and draw in it and go places especially to draw
  • draw from life as often as possible
  • draw on anything that is available (envelopes, letters, cards, boxes, bags)
  • copy from the Great Masters (or anybody who is already dead and whose drawings are still being displayed)
  • don’t care about the tool, but consider using ink over pencil (no erasing possible)
  • spend 10 minutes each day just practicing drawing straight lines, ellipses and circles
  • look into gesture drawing, even if you don’t want to draw many people later
  • draw lots of quick poses, faces, hands (e.g. from photos on (support that site!))
  • look at your best attempts for a bit, but …
  • throw as many away as possible

Tonight I drew over one hundred faces, each one in 30 seconds and it got pretty tedious towards the end, but this is what I’m talking about. Draw, draw, draw. Everyday, I must keep reminding myself that these hours and hours of practice are necessary to get anywhere with this skill. And the hours of practice can be fun!

There are no shortcuts.


Gesture Drawing and Opinion

For the past 2 years I have been drawing gestures. I started slowly and now I draw 30 second gestures, nearly every day, for about 20 to 60 minutes. And I plan to do this for the next 20 or 30 years.

What am I teaching myself when I do my gesture drawings?
One word: Opinion
I am working on having and expressing an opinion.
When a reference photo doesn’t trigger an opinion my resulting gesture drawing is boring and stiff.
Once I have an opinion, I need to express it.
Sometimes, one of my lines will be placed wrongly, the curve will bend in the wrong direction.
The opinion is then lost in the sketch.
I can normally tell in the first few seconds, if the opinion is going to work.
The angle of the head, the line of action or curve of the shoulder …
I can feel it’s going to work.
“It” being my opinion, I’m not really copying the figure, I’m expressing my opinion of the figure.
I’m allowing the humanity of the pose to cause a reaction in me and putting that to paper.

I’ve collected a few ideas or tips on gesture drawing over the last few months and I’d like to share here.

Reference material:
Collect pictures, real or digital, of gestures which really cause a reaction in you.
Pictures where you connect directly could be sport, e.g. golf, football, volleyball, basketball,
children playing, dancers, and all the other stuff, like horror, erotic, action film stuff.
I find football/soccer stills really hard and funny and attempt it sometimes.

When you are “stuck” in your progress:
If you are “stuck” it doesn’t mean something bad.
Keep on going through this state.
Even if your telling yourself, you’re missing something and you think your figures don’t look right at all.
(More often than not, I return to my “bad” figures on the following day, and think “wow, that one looks really dynamic”)
Anyhow, what are you comparing them to? (Stop comparing)

The process of progress:
This is a natural process, you will have phases where you “drop back”, I understand these as “re-programming” phases.
You need these phases and you need to just keep on going on.
It’s like climbing a mountain (like Mnt. Everest), sometimes you are exhausted, but you must go on or you will freeze up, give up or go back.
Warning: listen to your body and take a day off if you really feel exhausted. (ONE day!)
Do not give up!

Triangles: use “malformed” triangles, they are very dynamic.

Do not restate too much, don’t go over your lines to make things “look better”.
By all means, go over the lines to correct an opinion you had, but failed.
But also consider just stopping there and waiting for the next gesture to come (I’m expecting you to be using a portal where a gesture pops up every minute or every 20 or 30 seconds).

Beans are good to practice if you want to incorporate beans into your practice.
I did that a few times too.
If you like beans, keep to beans a while, give it a try, but give it a serious try, perhaps up to 10 minutes per practice session.
In the end, you will have to decide if you feel comfortable with them. But give it some time, a week perhaps.

Pens and paper:
Use cheap paper (larger format to start with: e.g. a used newspaper or smooth newsprint) and keep those sketches rolling.
Consider using a felt pen or something fast, thick and with healthy lines.
Try something out to trick yourself, make it more interesting, more conscious
Keep tickling yourself, to stay out of a comfort zone.

Short tips:
Do not cross out a picture, do not attempt to negatively(!) value them at all.
Find the best ones and use up to a minute to look at what may be working or not, do not over-analyse.
Your style may be different to mine, that’s great, and you need to listen to yourself when doing these practices.
Listen to your body, your mind, experiment, take your time …

YouTube and Books:
I spent hours(!) looking at videos. My personal advice is, stay away from all those videos!
Do not waste time on videos.
A book is better. Why? You can use the book directly, draw in it or place tracing paper over sketches, just draw draw draw.
There is one great book I can recommend and it is Michael Mattesi’s “Force” (he also has a second, newer one, but “Force” is fine).
Most of what I’ve mentioned you will find there.

But you don’t need the book, you need to draw!

What are you waiting for … DRAW!

birds birds birds

SBS (SketchBookSkool), “Seeing” Klass, week 4 with Cathy Johnson.

Have you ever tried to sketch a tit? A starling? A sparrow? Wow, they are so fast, why can’t they stay still? But … one moment … they are doing the same 5 things over and over again. Bingo, squiggle here, curve there. Just … let … me …. … ok … bit of blue there. Wow, there’s a robin in the magnolia! Is that a pidgeon up there on that tree 200 metres from here? Oh, the lawn is crowded with blackbirds, how did that happen?

So, now I sketch birds in 5 seconds and give them a bit of colour based on memory. And I try to find out what type of birds they are, and I was never interested in birds before … well not this type anyways.

Today I sketched the birds on the spot. On the first day, I took photos of “my backbird” and drew from the photos. On the second day I looked out for birds, and the ones I saw, I drew from reference photos of The Internet. Then I tried to draw from memory (birds I’d seen one hour earlier).







Lanzarote, February 2016

Or, “How much can you sketch in 1 week?”

I was on Lanzarote in Costa Teguise for 9 days and took along 4 sketch books.
I used 3.

  • 1 Hahnemühle DINA5 sketch book soft and rough paper (good for biros and colour pencils) 40 pages (10 sheets), I think it cost 1.99€
  • 1 Moleskine pocket size watercolour sketch book, 60 pages (12.99€)
  • 1 Moleskine DINA6 journal (cahier pocket), 96 pages (three for 6.90€)

I had a travelers’ pack of watercolours (12), a mixed hair paint brush, waterbrush, colour pencils, biro, Derwent Graphik Line Maker 0.1.

And I drew and drew and drew.

Sick Left Hands

[Sorry, Ed (author of Six Left Hands)]

Back in the times before Paris … <interlude> … you know, I follow a few great sketching sites on wordpress … and one of those are Suhita Shirodkar’s sketchaway … </interlude> well, a few days before Paris, Suhita published a blog entry with a tonal study of her left hand.
And I thought, hey, I’ve got one of those (i.e. left hand and even a blog, too). Here’s Suhita’s left hand: hand_shadows.jpg.

So I continued running a few days with 30(!) second gesture drawings of other peoples’ hands… Then Paris happened.

Yeah, well, anyway, and then Ed published his six lefties and I thought, Stuart, the time is ripe again, are your hand skills up to scratch? … do a few more quick gesture drawings and give it a try.

Today, in every free 20 minute slot, I jumped to the challenge. Lamy fountain pen in hand. Sometimes standing in front of the mirror. So some lefties look like righties. Enjoy.


And here are some of the quick gesture sketches. You can see more of these gesture sketches in the gesture sub-menu.