EDM #41: Draw a landmark of your city

(Click to enlarge drawing)

This challenge was a bit more of a challenge just because my city is full of landmarks — sure, I could have drawn the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty or the Chrysler building or Times Square or Rockefeller Center or Chinatown … but instead I decided to look at a new part of the skyline that’s being defined every day.

I came upon this particular view while riding my bicycle down the west side of Manhattan near Tribeca. I was thinking about the fact that the once-called Freedom Tower is finally becoming a part of our skyline. The World Trade Center towers were at the bottom of my street and now they’re being replaced by this new shape. It’s a slightly more interesting looking building that the Twin Towers were— they had a lot of symbolic value but not much in the way of aesthetics. However, this new building is so black and imposing. I hope that it ends up blending in with the rest of the city around it.

I parked my bike and sat down on the pavement next to the railing along the Hudson river. I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch and the sun was high in the sky and the buildings were bluish gray in the distance. I pulled my Moleskine out of my back pocket and uncapped my Safari pen. Perhaps it was the angle, or the heat, or the hard stone beneath my buttocks, but my line came out light and sketchy and delivered a drawing that looks more like an architectural proposal than my usual style. Later, back at my desk, I added a little bit of watercolor using whatever was already in my palette, and noted all of the things in the landscape that were worthy of labeling with my dip pen.

I never forget how lucky I am to live in New York City. On every corner there’s something fantastic to draw.

EDM #40: Draw something with folds


I spent almost as much time picking a subject for this drawing as I did with a pen in my hand. I ran through all sorts of options: a stack of towels, a rumpled bed, a rain-soaked shirt hanging on a hook. In each case, I could immediately see the finished drawing in my head. Boring.

I discussed it with Jack, offering up some of my more offbeat ideas. How about Tim’s ear flipped back? He warned me: when you get too clever, you miss the point of the assignment. The point seemed to me to be about shading and texture which is something I usually obsess about anyway. Screw it, I’ll just do something fun and wrinkly. I browsed through some picture books and found my model in a book of Alexander Lieberman photos.

I often think that drawing people from photos, particularly well-known people, can leave you with something that should be pinned up in a star-struck high school girl’s room or on display by one of those sketch artists who draws tourists’ portraits on the street. It’s lifeless, flat and mawkishly off as a likeness.

My way to avoid that is to draw the photo upside down.

I generally do the main contours first with a heavier pen, then argue with myself about if I should just leave it that way. Invariably, my crosshatching monkey wins the battle and I add shadow and texture with a finer pen. Indeed, I spent most of the half hour thinking about Crumb who make me sweat with envy when I crosshatch.

The funnest part is flipping the drawing around when I am done. The whole time my inner critic is chattering about how off the drawing must be because I am drawing it upside down, but the longer I hold firm and just keep drawing the more thrilling and strong the results are. It’s invariably more accurate and objective than if I drew it right way up. Look closely and you can see a few places where I had to do course corrections, like in the middle of the ear, the neck, the left cheek, but overall it’s pretty nicely modelled and the lighting effect on the left is quite good. And Igor does have folds.

This drawing took about half an hour and is larger than normal, drawn in my 9 x 2 Fabriano — which is almost full so I can soon start on my new Stillman & Birn perfect bound books that just arrived in the mail last week.

EDM #39: Draw your toothbrush

It was so nice to draw in watercolor again to layer and adjust and tweak and blot these vivid, glowing colors. And the proportions of my subject led me back to my watercolor moleskine with its broad horizontal dimensions. If you want to see a masterful use of this shaped page, check out Ian Sidaway‘s blog. He often draws in a wide landscape book  and I learn so much from his compositions.

Ironically, last weekend I was looking through my very well-thumbed, thirty-year-old copy of How to Draw and Paint and realized that many of my favorite pieces in this wonderful book were done by Ian. Cooler still, he’s going to be in my next book “An Illustrated Journey”!

EDM #37: Draw some keys

I’ve decided that, while I like gouache in many ways, for intense lush color, there’s nothing like my Doc Martins. So I laid down a few layers of watercolor, coat upon coat of three different shades of purple and blue, then let it dry long enough for the paper to flatten out again (an uncharacteristically patient act that meant I couldn’t upload this drawing yesterday morning as I would have liked).  Then I sketched in my keys with a yellow pencil and painted it in with gouache. Finally, I labeled it with a dip pen and white paint.

What the drawing lacks in the sort of character and quirk my recent painting of the Jefferson Market had, this one makes up for in careful observation and realism. Me like it.

EDM #36: Draw out in public

Jack and I went to draw on 6th Avenue in the Village, sitting on the steps of a sandwich shop to draw the Jefferson Market library. I began with what one could charitably call preparatory sketches but which I refer to as false starts or disasters. I was just not seeing the whole and was locked into tiny details of the tower. So I tried doing a quick contour drawing (in the lower left), just following the edges of the building without looking at my page, and that began to feel like the way to go.

I drew the whole building in under ten minutes, barely looking at the paper. Then back in my studio added some gouache to the sky and some watercolor to add dimension. I’m pretty happy with the results and surprised I got here from where I started, It has a nice rickety, energized feeling that captures my inner state.