EDM #22: Draw a piece of clothing

A few hours ago I bought a set of Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache for a fairly hefty price. I had a cheap set of pan “opaque watercolors” but they don’t have the vim and pizzaz of my new set and I only used them for the occasional highlight on a watercolor painting. Here’s my very first gouache painting and it taught me a great deal.

First off, it’s beautifully opaque, particularly on a piece of fairly black construction paper. The paint goes on creamily and covers like an 800 thread count Egyptian cotton sheet. My painting looked like someone had turned the lights on.

But it’s not watercolor and it sure doesn’t work like it. I am so used to adding on layers and layers of paint to build the color I want but with this stuff you have to be very careful or you end up with mud. :Look at the bottom right had side of the dress and you can where I tried to slather on a layer of grey on top of the pattern I’d already painted and it turned to potage. Fortunately, I could add another layer on top and fix the error.

It also seems like there are degrees of dryness. I did a little test here: First I put down rectangles of three different colors and waited ten hours (don’t worry — I didn’t just sit there starting at it, I went to work and had my eyes checked for the DMV and some other stuff) and then put down colors on top of the colors and that worked out fairly well. It’s sort of surprising that it seems easier to work better light on top of dark but that’s not an absolute — I even put a second coat of permanent yellow on and it still didn’t work great against the light ochre.

I also tried drawing with my Lamy and that was okay and super contrasty but a little balky and occasionally the pen slid or got hung up on the dried layer. Then I tried writing with a dip pen and some green doc martins and that’s when things got really ugly.

In the end, I quite like the painting I did of Patti’s little Barbie dress (at the time her mom made matching dresses for P and B) and I definitely plan to keep working with gouache because the color is so intense and bright and I like the challenge of working in a whole new way.

Got any other tips on working with gouache? Bring it.

EDM 21: Draw something old, antique or vintage

This started with the challenge, trying to examine how getting old was registering on my face. Simultaneously, I decided to use some Chinagraph marker pencils on some colored paper — don’t know why. The combination of a concerted attempt at realism rendered with garish, creamy grease pencils was a blast.

I don’t know how much the drawing actually looks like me — it actually looks more like my great-uncle who isn’t actually even related to me my birth. Oh, and my father, of course, who, despite the fact that I’ve only seen him four or five times over the past half century, insists on appearing in the mirror whenever I shave.

Anyway, it was interesting to see how the folds and pockets of my jaws are coming along, and my nascent jowls are really very flattering.  I had my hair cut today so I appear really rather bald but Picasso was bald and Pollack was bald and I’m glad to see that Sinead O’Connor is still bald too.. By the way, why are “bleak”, “dour” and grim” synonyms for “bald, Mr. Roget (who had a comb-over, BTW)?


A couple of people have commented on the elongated rendering of my noggin and I have reviewed the situation and sussed out the cause. I have fallen afoul of a blunder which plagues many of the world’s great artists: Flat On the Table Syndrome ( FOTTS).

The distance from my eye to the top and bottom of my reflection is the same when my mirror is vertical. But if my book lies flat on the table, the distance from the top of the page is quite different from that to the bottom.

If I overlook that difference, I will distort the image because in its supine position it will seem wider than it really is.


Fortunately there are at least two cures for FOTTS that do not require telethons, 5Ks,  or government funding. One is to factor in the distortion and try to overcome it through sheer brain power. This can lead to even more distortion if one does not calculate properly. Secondly, one can just stand one’s book up — through the whole process or even just intermittently — and make sure one is not inducting hydroencephalopathic skull compression in the drawing.


EDM #20: Draw something “Dad” – in honor of Fathers Day

Well, obviously it’s not Father’s Day today but I happen to be working on a project that is Dad-related so I’ll focus on that.

A month or so ago, my friend Risa asked me to illustrate an essay she had written for a book on fatherhood that some people in New York are putting together. Risa’s essay is about a photo of her and her dad taken when she was a teenager, a time of stress and ambivalence. She asked me to draw from an old photo she cherished and, because I like Risa, I said I’d do it.

The reference picture.

She sent me a not terribly good color copy of the picture and the struggle began. I just could not figure out how to turn this picture into something good. It was contrasty, the features were in shadow, there’s not real detail when you look at it up close, the composition was indifferent and a corner of the picture had been scissored away. Whine, whine, moan, moan.

Strangest of all, Risa at 14 looked exactly like my mother at 16 — distractingly so.

My mum in 1955.

For the last months, every day or so, I have taken another run at it. Here are a few discarded examples:

Risa as mildly nauseated skeptic.

Risa as hag with liver condition.

Risa and dad done hastily in sumi.

Risa’s dad as Sicilian olive farmer.

Risa as drawn by Daniel Clowes.

Risa’s dad as drawn by Al Hirschfeld.

Risa as David Brenner.

I actually kind of like this. Sketchy, on tracing paper. One eye way too high.

And finally this morning, under the pressure of the EDM challenge, I finally made a drawing I like. The key was their hair, making it as ridiculous and bushy as possible so they are united despite their ambivalence in some sort of genetic connection that they cannot avoid. I drew it with a Faber-Castell PITT artist pen (XS) and a crow quill in India ink on bond paper. Does Risa look too much like a small Sharon Osbourne?

Anyway, I hope that Risa likes it. I’ll let you know if it gets in the book.

Finally, something I am liking.

EDM #19: Draw something you’ve made

It’s been a long-ass week. Undistinguished except for the miserable heat, mugginess, and torrential rain. I’m not much of a drinker but when I saw this challenge, I knew exactly what I’d make: a cool, crispy gin and tonic.

And I’d make it with sumi ink and a dash of watercolor (and a soupcon of salt).

Sumi is the everlasting gobstopper of art supplies. You get a beautiful carved black block embossed with gold and silver designs. You splash your cool stone chalice and rub it with the block a couple of times and, hey presto, ink. But it’s ink that’s so forgiving and compliant. It hits your brush looking all dark and full of intent, but then when you slap it on the page, it backs off, dissolving to a smoky wave.

You can modulate it in so many ways that perfectly suit my way of painting. I can dilute it to a whisper and then build up layers up on layers that transition smoothly into each other like a delicate moire. As it dries, sumi becomes a dusky, matte layer of grey that doesn’t feel like paint or ink or pencil or anything, like it was just meant to be there, like some sort of organic residue left by my gesture. And that ebony brick of oriental exotica last forever, through fecund years of rubbing against the stone palette and daubing on the page. Ah, suuuuumi.

Can you tell by my writing that I’ve consumed my model?


I wanted to share this just because I think it is quite remarkable. So, yesterday, I posted the fact that my drawing of waking Joe was marred when I wrote on the bottom of the painting and the letters became all spidery and smudgy.

A few hours later, I got an email from Michael at Stillman and Birn:

I saw your blogpost today and the problem you had writing with your dip pen with watercolor. Can you share some more details with me about happened? Was the wash very heavy and undried when you tried to write on top of it?

It hadn’t occurred to me that the paper was in any way to blame so this evening I conducted a more in-depth test. First I laid down a coat of watercolor and let it dry, really dry, for an hour and a half. Then I tested various pens and inks on it. No bleeding at all.

Then I made a wash and let it sit for just five minutes so the surface was just barely dry to the touch. And this time I did get a little spreading after a few minutes, but only with Dr, Martins.

In short, I was at fault — as I had expected. I hadn’t let the painting of Joe actually dry properly before I laid down another layer and thus the problem.

Another messy drawing accident is not remarkable or even news at all. What does impress me is that Michael, who contacted me in the first place and offered to send me the sketchbooks to try out, is so diligent that he would monitor my blog and write to me to discuss the problem.

If I hadn’t already been impressed by Stillman & Birn‘s products, I certainly would be now. I hope you are too.