Challenging the Eye

My fall colored pencil class is in session and my students are working on this butterfly as their first project. As usual, I introduce the materials and techniques in how to use colored pencil, but this is also a great exercise in challenging the artist’s eye. We start with a simple contour drawing to sketch the basic lines of the butterfly. There are three main sections of its wings, the body, head, legs, and antennae. Most students assume the next step is to draw the patterns on the wings and then start filling in color. Some are surprised when I explain that the detailed patterns are the last step in creating the drawing. I instruct them to first fill in the entire contour drawing of the butterfly with creme as a base color. The next task is to add values by applying patches of other colors like olive green, gray, and darker shades of yellow. In this part of the process, multiple layers of color are added, giving more dimension to the drawing. The final stage is to add the details of the black patterns. A battery powered eraser is a useful tool at this point to create the highlights on the body. It can also be used to remove spots of underlying color, and then fill in the areas with red and blue. This process might seem counterintuitive at first, but it trains the artist to break down their subject into it’s simplest form, leading to a much more accurate, realistic finished drawing.

Unconscious Inspiration

My artistic inspiration is usually straightforward — for example when I’m drawing a dog portrait, my energy focuses on capturing the spirit and likeness of the animal. In some cases, though, the source of my inspiration is not as obvious. Artists like Salvador Dali took this concept to the extreme during the surrealism movement, by trying to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Many of Dali’s paintings contain oddly juxtaposed images, some of which were inspired by his dreams. While I am not a surrealist, I find this whole idea really fascinating. In my more recent wildlife and nature pieces, I’m moving away from pure realism and including elements that have an unexpected twist. I also aim for a certain flow or movement within the composition for the eye to follow. I want the viewer to pause and notice something different about the piece, rather than just seeing an image in its usual context.

I’ve drawn several cover designs for the Wilton Continuing Education course catalog, and this drawing is for the fall 2019 catalog. I was asked to incorporate playing cards in the design to highlight adult education classes for bridge and canasta. I also wanted to include nature in the design, as well as a feeling of motion, so the leaves and cards are fluttering down and causing movement of the water.

One of my colleagues was curious as to why I selected the specific playing cards in the drawing. The ace of hearts with the “W” logo was the only one I specifically chose to signify our town’s spirit behind the “Wilton Warriors.” Aside from not choosing face cards, the others were completely random. She shared with me the meanings associated with the numbers and suits of each card. It never occurred to me that the cards had a hidden meaning or how closely they related to my life at the time I was making the drawing.

I was struggling with a difficult challenge in my personal life, which led me to put my art teaching on hold for several months. This drawing project was a much needed creative outlet as I was trying to sort things out. The meaning behind each card and the order in which they are falling tracks very closely to the life experiences I was going through during that period. I’m usually a huge skeptic with these things, but the similarity is pretty astonishing. Maybe it was all just a coincidence, but I have to wonder if this was a case of my own unconscious inspiration.

Man’s Best Friend

I drew this portrait of Bauer as a surprise Father’s Day gift for his “dad.” It started with a grayscale drawing to block in the initial values of his fur, and then I added multiple layers of every gray pencil I have — warm grays, cool grays, and French grays, followed by black. I could call this one “Eighteen Shades of Gray.”

The Eyes Have It

I’m sometimes commissioned to draw a pet who has passed on from this earth, and I’ve drawn others in life, who have since departed. In any case, it reminds me of how fleeting our beloved pets lives actually are. My goal as an artist is to create a lasting memory, while infusing my energy into the process. I approach the blank paper with a structural sketch, followed by a base layer of pencil to block in the values. But then I move on to drawing the fine details of the eyes. The eyes are truly the life of the portrait and they reveal the spirit of the subject — whether animal or human. RIP Bella.