2 weeks of practice – texture, structure and depth

Students are outdoor the last 2 weeks (yes, it is warm!) working on plant forms. And for homework they complete a self-portrait. The latter assignment they use media of choice.

Critique is a good one. I think I can say they know more about themselves and they know more about each other, after all this work.

Two words that surface again and again: commitment and practice.

Daniela’s Fig Leaves

Jen’s World

Larrisa’s Plant Forms

John’s Foliage

Daniela’s Cactus

Darrien’s Practice

Nohemi’s Study

Kellani’s Leaves and Things

Brittany’s Plants

Josue’s Leaves of October

Dustin’s Learning Curve

Brittany – Self Portrait

Nohemi’s Portrait

Cesar’s Gamer tag: oh so Yeezus

Dustin’s My Style

Daniela’s Self Portrait (media – real make-up)

Josue’s Self-Portrait


Two Years Later

John’s Dream Finishers

Collin’s Geometry

Kanyata 12 21

Darrien Self Portrait

Sofia’s Essential Oils

look-see-draw-move to the seat to your left-keep going


This is the last week of school and the group has mastered technique. They developed skill. We have a couple of days left in the semester and I take the opportunity to one more time (this semester) get students out of their comfort zone. It’s invigorating for everyone.

This still-life is made up of a variety of shoes (familiar objects). Some students lend their shoes (for added color and shape). This is the first assignment where I instruct everyone to move quick(er). I remind them to look and as usual tell them to put down what they see. I call time and have them move to the seat to their left. They do not take their own supplies with them. They use what is in their neighbors supply box. I meander through the group and  when the student appears ready, I hand him or her color-pastel. No one has used color in this class.

By the time we are complete everyone has moved emotion aside, eased into the exercise, used color pastel, and made quicker decisions (utilized confidence).

Can you see each drawing has at least 4 pairs of hands in it?






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looking closely and the value of seeing


It seems right that this last weekend, on an early morning run, I find two objects ↑. The small, golden pinecone catches my attention as it shimmers in the grass. The larger pinecone waits for me at the end of my run. I bring both of them to my studio and consider the following Monday (that would be yesterday) we’ll be holding our first semester critique. And the subject-matter is the pinecone.

A sign of good things to come?  Oh yes!


Here is my new group. Their completed drawings fill the wall behind them. We critique, among other things, some fine pinecones yesterday.

The first full assignment of the semester is a contour study of a complex natural object. You’ll see students give me more than that. Yes – note the fluid lines! I am  pleased with their careful observation and drawing. This is the first time they use markers to start and complete a work.

For many of them this is the first time they spend so much time looking at one thing (at least 9 hours if not more). One student asks if she can keep her pinecone. I tell her she can keep it if she has bonded with it. I have! I spent a lot of time with it. This is the value of looking and really seeing – I think out loud.

Here are some of the pinecones as well as some homework assignments (subject-matter of their choice). Note the titles…they tell you something about the group.

Yes…we are off to a great start!

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Sofia’s Pinecone


Jennifer’s Separation


Nati’s The thing….


Gabreila’s Life Lesson


Bravilio’s Nature


Sofia’s Pineapple, Strawberry and Lemon


Nati’s Lemon or Lime


Matt’s  Orange you glad I drew this?


Yari’s Y el aguacate?


Gabriela’s The Pain of My Eyes

I also have a couple of returning students. And while they pick up where they left off last semester and use mixed media, they have to keep focus on the line.


Neomi’s Through Life


Gwynn’s Charcoal drawing

charcoal – the end!

“One looks, looks long, and the world comes in.”
– Joseph Campbell


It feels like the semester moved quickly – carefully but quickly. We only just started charcoal and now it’s over, I comment. We’ve worked on charcoal for at least 6 weeks, but we didn’t break in between assignments like we usually do, to discuss things.

Today we wrap up and talk about 2 separate value studies. One is cloth and pattern (and knots) using local value. The other is a still life using an artificial light source.

I wonder out loud what did they learn. What was the thing you each developed more and more with each assignment?  Patience, someone says. Certainly patience. What else? A few other things come up and then I hear – Seeing. We learned to see. Yes!  That’s it. You learned to look closely and you learned to see!

We move through the individual assignments and talk about careful observation and how that developed throughout the semester.


49 Shades of Gray, Gwynn


Groovey, Ryan


Knot, Alejandra


Knot in this Country, Alfredo


Let’s get Knotty, Kiria


Lost in the Shadows, Gwynn


Nyeh-heh-heh, Alfredo


Defeated by a Cup, Henry


Still Life Practice, Casey


Mugshot of the Century, Aaron

Susan, an advanced student, works independently. Her goal for the semester is to gain confidence with portraiture. She begins with a baby and make her way to a mature adult. She adds to the challenge by working in silverpoint. With research and trial, Susan  completes six fine silver points. For variety she brings color into the final 2 images of the Dalai Lama.  One of the qualities of silverpoint work is with time it oxidizes. The color  seems to take on a life of its own as it changes rather drastically. Time will tell us more – it’s all about experiment in this case.
Here are her 6 portraits.


Conversation about charcoal: layering it, erasing it, the beauty of the knots, shadows and light, and the illusion of depth.
We talk about developing patience. Most importantly we talk about looking and seeing – and the value of careful observation. If you ask me there are always lessons in drawing about the world outside the studio.


value study and then some – final critique of the semester


At the start of the semester I ask students what they’d like to get out of my drawing class. Clay says Practice practice practice – and he does. Heather, an engineering student, wants visualization and fun. I hope both were prompted. I ask if she’s enjoyed the semester. Yes, and despite how hard it was, she will miss it. Terry responds TO LEARN TO SEE AGAIN! He came to the right classroom. And from the looks of all of his completed assignments – he did. Most students say they want to improve their drawing skills and in fact, each one of them does. The semester appears to come and go so quickly. We hold final critique this week.

The class has two different assignments to go over – maybe more, because advanced students worked through something very different. We get going, and in between there is plenty of laughter, cookies, coffee and peaches. It is an easy ending to a fast paced semester.

This particular group moves through the early marker assignments more quickly than any class I’ve taught before. They slow down with charcoal. A few struggle with it in a way I do not expect. Surprises for everyone I guess, including the advanced students who reproduce a master work. For a few days the tension in the room they draw in (because I separate them) was thick. By day 3 there is break through (thank goodness). I spend the last day of class walking from student to student appreciating the focus.

I wish I had their very first marker study to compare to this last charcoal. You would get a sense of the progress everyone made. Here are a few highlights – note the values. As usual, I can’t possibly include every work.


Clay’s Study.



Adam’s Teapot with reflection of windows and sky in it.



Trenary”s glass bottles on tin.



Naomi’s study.


Hyeokewoo’s Gorilla Skull.


Terry’s still-life.


Charles works on reproducing an Alice Neel.


Robert reproduces hands of God and Adam – Michelangelo

Have a good summer! Keep drawing, you’ve only just started.

keep up the practice!

One looks, looks long, and the world comes in. – Joseph Campbell  


Before the final critique begins I watch and listen as students appreciate each other’s work and note their individual progress. Some students remember how nervous they were on the first day of class when I said they would not be using any pencil in my drawing class.

It takes a while but finally I get them to organize so we can begin class.

IMG_5465It’s been a good semester. This group is full of personality and support for each other. Here are a few highlights from yesterday’s critique.


Adriana’s Master’s Reproduction


Angie’s first value study – cloth and pattern and knot


Popay’s value study, cloth, pattern and knot


Cassidy’s Black Teapot


JT”S Gorilla Skull


Angie’s Pitcher Study


Vicki’s Teapot


Popay’s Still-Life


Mariah’s Gorilla Skeletal Study

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….. over and out. Keep up the practice! I yell as they exit the studio.


give me lines

The permanence of ink encourages one to “go for it,” to try to put the line right where it should be… continued attempts to place lines accurately build the eye-hand coordination necessary for sketching. Paul Laseau


New semester. New series of line drawings. You’ll recognize my usual subject-matter, the pine cone. This shape has everything I need to challenge my students – complexity and elegance. You’ll also remember the students work in marker. They use Sharpie’s and Micro Pen’s.

Homework is  a complex natural fruit or vegetable of their choice. Note, the charcoal study is a drawing 2 student. Only those that have gone one round with me begin with charcoal. They pick up right where they left off. Here are some top picks from today’s critique.

Notice how lines flow…


Pinecone by Papay


Broken Pinecone by Cassidy


Morning Stretch by Mariah


Pinecone 1 by Kayla


Pinecone by JT


Pinecone 2 by Kayla


Flittering Pine by Robert


Artichoke Flower by Alexa, Charcoal and Pastel (Drawing 2)


Kiwi by Robert


Jalapeno and Tomato by Angelica


Mushroom and Cabbage by Kayla

We had a strong downpour of rain this morning, it’s a sure sign – something’s been seeded.

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a final drawing day


Drawing 2 students taking down their final master reproductions

I ask the class what they want to do on our last meeting day, critique or complete their final assignment – the majority (all but 3) want the latter. I’m surprised and pleased – they want to draw.

Drawing 1 students work on a charcoal still life and Drawing 2 students reproduce an old master. Or at least 2 of them do. Jose tries to convince me that his choice of a comic book cover is a master work. And in the comic book world maybe it is. I clarify my definition – but I still let him go with his choice. Jose is studying Psychology, he’s not an official art student, he loves comic book art – why not.

Here are a few class works.


Manny’s Degas


Alejandra”s Gericault


Jose’s Spiderman cover


Tania – Three Glass Bottles


Alexssa – Skull


Adriana – Black Teapot


Lela – Tin Container and Glass Jar

…Summer Break! 

textile pattern design equals a charcoal value study

When I put this still life together I was deliberate in the fabric and its layout. I combine stiff white cotton, furry faux zebra, mint satin, shiny red and white stripes, matte red and white pin stripes,  velvet-black with even blacker glitter circular designs, textured sofa fabric and even a shiny cheep-polyester spider web pattern – maybe the latter is a cruel option or maybe a challenging one for the right person. I let students decide. Anyway…that’s just a few of the complicated patters and surfaces.

This is student’s first charcoal composition. It’s intimidating to say the least. By this point the class is wanting to move on to a new medium, so they jump in – head first, to the deep end. I am pleased with progress and result. Most important, so are they. Charcoal is all about working a rich surface, putting down black blacks and lifting out white whites…and working all the values in between.

Ana goes right to the spider web and works on it slow and steady for 2 class days. The light hits some spots and a few lines are a bright shiny silver. She notes the highlight with white Conte.  She wears her spider web blouse in honor of the work. I am impressed with the patience she’s developed this semester. This is her strong charcoal drawing  below.


Ana’s Pitch Black

Ashley (below) works almost her entire composition with her one pencil eraser. I make other suggestions but she sticks to her game plane. She’s so focused and appears to enjoy the delicate work, she doesn’t take a break. She finishes and decides to use white Conte for the zebra patterned white’s she’d already completed. I wish I’d caught her before she’d gone in that direction. We talk a little about why I think she should have kept her original carefully developed whites. After-all her erased marks were so rich and sensitive. She tones it all down using her finger tips and eraser, and pulls it together beautifully.


Ashley’s Knotted Zebra


Satin Charcoal by Lela

Lela (above ) notes very quickly why I ask them to use soft compressed charcoal. And why I suggest they be careful with the white Conte. She re-works the striped area many times until she is completely satisfied. I let her borrow my somewhat pricey, white soft-pastel. The folds in the cloth are accurate, – consequently believable.

Tanya (below) never relaxed with the marker, though she’s calm and happy with charcoal.  I comment on how her whole body appears at ease as she develops a beautiful and dimensional knot. She finishes the composition with some complex pattern on either side of that knot. She expresses her emotions with humor,  in the title.


Knot Tense by Tanya


In Between by Adrianna

Finally Adriana, above, who began the assignment so nervous she said she felt like someone who had never even picked up a pencil. And then she completed this incredible knot. I think her confidence is back.

Manny (below), one of my Drawing 2 students, kicks up dust with color pastels. I tell him to be careful. He shouldn’t be inhaling pigments. He works by the open front door and direct the dust out of the classroom. I’m amused by how he draws, its physical for him. He has taken two semesters with me. His whole style has developed. I want him to continue in the fine arts, but Manny will do what is best for him. He’s now a graphic design student.

He freely helps the other students who are struggling with the various challenges of working with charcoal and Conti. I listen and watch the way he supports others and their  work. They take to him well. I also think he could teach.


Manny’s Colorful Knot – Pastel on BFK

I let them go an extra day even though we don’t have very much time left in the semester,  because as a whole, the group is working the materials so well The surfaces are rich and well-developed, not bad for their first charcoal assignment.

What will we do with the last week of drawing …


The little dissatisfaction which every artist feels at the completion of a work forms the germ of a new work. – B.A.

Some students are satisfied with their last drawings of the semester, some are not. It’s the way it goes. Personalities vary, as much as the work.

Drawing 2 students reproduce an old masters.

Crystal’s Matisse is excellent, though she’s not satisfied.

Madame Matisse madras rouge. 1907

Kim working on Degas reproduction

Kim reproduced a Degas …  2X. She has a new twist on the dog ate my homework story. Her cat jumped her drawing table, smudged, and ripped the almost completed pastel. She had photos. I couldn’t help but be amused. The cat still has pigment on her. Kim is able to complete a second drawing in less than half the time of the first. Interesting.

Chuck (below) copies a Leonardo – Self-Portrait. Despite reflection, you can still see detail.  He always does his best to take things to full completion, including framing for critique.

Chuck’s reproduction of a Da Vinci  Self-Portrait

Chuck also works his second to last value study (below) until it is the exact rich surface he desires.  The hours in the piece are many. The graphite finish glows a deep and dark silver, I can’t quite capture in the photo below.

He’s off to ASU next year. Best wishes Chuck.

Chuck’s graphite study of patterns and clothes.

Drawing 1 students in general, took to the markers from the first part of the semester. They loved the control they developed. Usually a class is ready to let go of the Sharpie’s when the time comes. Only one student swore off markers for eternity this semester. Come on Ali, practice makes perfect.

So with that said…charcoal is a challenge, to say the least. It’s not a medium that is easily controlled.  We could have used another month. But all in all some rich, full valued studies do emerge.

Jose’s charcoal skull, in progress.

Sabrina’s study in progress

Andres’ charcoal study of a transparent vase.

Alexis’ charcoal study of transparent jar and opaque t-pot.

Ali’s charcoal study in progress.

Alban and Sharon work with charcoal.

Kyle’s still life in progress.

Michelle’s Creepy Baby still life, in progress.

Last critique of the semester begins…

and it ends.

more seeing

When it comes to value, that’s when we find out why most paintings are boring and others will knock your socks off. Harley Brown

This assignment is not just a Value study, it’s also the student’s first complete Charcoal (or color Pastel) drawing. They work at controlling a medium that is not easy to control, in relation to the marker they just left behind. They can move this medium, pick it up, and put more of it down. They pay attention to the surface. They learn to develop edges. This is about the time many students stop taking breaks, and the classroom gets very quiet. They focus. I particularly enjoy the intensity of class at this point.

I ask them for a different sort of seeing. Most of the students are drawing in Charcoal and have to translate a color into a value. They explore lights and darks and shadow. A few students work in color Pastel.

They’ve learned to look closely and now their seeing is so much more heightened.









Into the last week of school. Spring semester flew.

Students complete the first charcoal study, a lesson on value. Overall they do a fine job. They work off of color fabrics, and learn to distinguish lightness and darkness in a design. I let the assignment continue one day longer than scheduled, because the majority want another day. Consequently there’s no time for critique.

We’ll have a final class critique next week and it will include discussion on these works along with the final assignment. The last lesson of the semester is a still life using a light source…continued looking at value but also working more intently with creating illusion of depth.

Here are a few works, in process and in completion. Note the surface of the work. Charcoal allows emphasizing lights and darks and creation of rich surface. Students are experiencing new freedom and expression.





it’s official, they can call themselves draw-ers

Drawer – (n) A person or thing that draws, esp a draftsman.

Fall 2010 comes to an end.  I had Drawing 1,2,3 and 4 students.  A large group (only a few shown here) guarantees never a dull moment.

In this final run, we have various projects going on.

Noelle’s focus is creating the illusion of volume and depth, drawing still life and using a light source.

Alexis worked on the same form as Noelle, but from a different angle.  Nice character in this developing work.

Edgar, below. His composition has strong contrast. He creates white whites, and dark darks, and many shades in between.  He includes transparent and opaque objects, two that become focal points. The darkest and lightest objects in the drawing seem to interact with each other.

Nicky, also chooses an area that has transparent and opaque objects.  Her composition is not as dense as Edgars. She stands where there’s more light. The drawing offers repeating shadows that create rhythm. Her composition has both appealing vertical and horizontal movement.

You can’t see Ben and Diana’s work close up, but they both have a great eye for detail and much patience to put down exactly what they see.  The works are compositionally similar, but stylistically different.

The more advanced students reproduce a Master’s work.  Fun to watch them. By this time their endurance is well in tact. They’ll have so many other problems to solve that I suggest soon after they start, they take several shorter breaks, as opposed to one long one.

Patient Warren, above, has worked with me for 2 semesters.  He’s working on  De Vinci’s study of hands (for the Mona Lisa).  It takes him a few days to get the ground perfect, before he even begins to draw. During critique one of the students shared with the class that it took Cezanne 4 years to complete one particular work.  This is valuable info for Warren whom I hope never looses his eye for detail nor his thoughtful method. His work comes alive one breath at a time.

I remind the class, that Cezanne worked…without cellphones, texting, and I-pods…those 4 years, had none of that distraction.  Everyone laughs…I’m not kidding...

Amulec at work, on an easel of his own making. He’s working on a Scheile. This artist was not on my list of options, but Amulec wanted to reproduce the work.  I okay the choice because the challenge is significant and worthwhile for him…oh…and fun.

Paul, below, completes a Cezanne, inch by inch, working organically. Paul had recently seen the recent Cézanne exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum and particularly enjoys the assignment despite, the intense work.

Max, reproduces a Van Gogh self-portrait.  Ironically, Max’s eyes are 2 different colors, we learned this when Max completed his own class self-portrait. And in the process of doing the eyes in this image, we discover this painting to have the same detail, 2 different colored eyes.

Gabriel, drawing 4, chooses Cadmus.  Again, not someone on my list, but a good choice for th assignment, (and one of my favorite artists). In the  figure study, the original has simple and obvious quick line work that form the muscles of the back. The test for Gabriel is to reproduce quick line…slowly and carefully.  He gets it right on.

No gridding  allowed. Only careful observation and putting down what one sees.  That’s always the requirement.

Another semester, over and done.  One more group of students that can surely say they know how to draw. Kudos to them for steadfast work.

out west, 515 arts

When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir

I pulled the quote from Catherine Ruane’s website. Catherine is an artist who draws and makes prints, and is one of the newest members of 515 Arts.

Her first solo exhibition opened the first Friday of September and will run one more full weekend. If  you appreciate realism, nature, and incredible attention to detail, then this exhibit is certainly for you. Catherine includes both drawings and prints. Her subject matter including Palm and Eucalyptus trees, and various cacti, allows for outstanding use of texture, implied movement, and a wonderful play of lights and darks. Because these objects are significant to her, they becomes significant to me, to us, the viewers.

Catherine and I talk about her process and her presentation, she’s meticulous about both. She controls, what I consider the [almost] uncontrollable, medium of charcoal. A few of the drawings are BFK or Arches mounted on board and have no glass. The viewer can directly appreciate the rich surface quality of graphite and charcoal, and the subtle texture of a sheet of fine drawing paper. Though they are protected with a coat of sealant, she still has to accept the vulnerability of such presentation. I certainly do. In these few glass-less drawings I feel an ephemeral characteristic that connects in truth to nature.

Ruane takes time to mention the barbed wire fence, in the (diptych) drawing below.  It’s the first time she says, she’s incorporated such an element into her work. It came out of the goings on concerning our border, the desert, and our lack of the general protection of  life. This directs me right back to the quote I begin this post with.

Her subject matter is carefully observed and carefully rendered. The drawings are large and have presence. I am struck by the whole exhibition because it’s a strong representation of what I work to teach my students. Look closely and work slowly, I say often. Tomorrow I’ll be telling them this show is a must see.

Catherine is intelligent, sensitive and informed. We discuss politics, local and national. She observes it all, reacts, and responds.  Her son quietly sits next to us.  I can’t help but imagine he’s picking up good things.

Catherine teaches drawing at Paradise Valley Community College. Her exhibit Out West will be up one more week, at 515 Gallery, on Roosevelt Row, in downtown Phoenix.

working in pastel

preparing a value scale

This post results from a note a drawing 2 student, who worked in Pastel, sent me. He asks if I can tell him what the technical term for working with pastel is called, precisely. I’d referred to it as drawing [with pastel], during the course of the semester. A drawing teacher, could say this. After his experience with it, he wonders if it might be more technically correct to say painting [with pastel], or in fact, could he be sculpting. I loved the question. He knows, he says, he is not pasteling. I understand he’s put his whole self into the process and experience teaches him much.

He picked up freedom with this medium, that he hadn’t been able to find with marker or charcoal. When he draws with pastel, his arm seems to glide or dance across his paper.  I say to him his instincts / his feelings, in fact, are all correct. Any of the technical terms he uses, could be accurate.  He could be drawing, he could be painting, and yes, he very well could be sculpting, on a 2 dimensional surface, with the medium of pastel.

learning local value with pastel

He notes that whatever it’s called…he absolutely and joyously loves it. With that statement, I decide since my semester with him is technically over,  I can write what I really believe he’s doing.

I tell him he is engaging in joy, thru the medium of pastel, on a 2 dimensional surface (paper/canvas).
I humorously add, I think the Dalai Lama would approve. I believe he just might.

I choose to continue, and discuss practical things, because I feel one can never know enough about safety, especially when it appears, on all counts, he’ll continue using pastels.  He’s bought himself several Rembrandt sets. (He does use both regular and Oil Pastels throughout the semester. Most everything I write here is referring to regular soft Pastel.)

I mention the importance of safety while working with the medium of pastel. By its very nature, it creates dust. Too much dust is a problem, to the lungs especially. Pastels are made of pigments and a binder, and pigments can be hazardous, the dust, specifically. Cobalt and Cadmium are beautiful, the blues and reds, and are highly toxic to the lungs, and kidneys.  Inhaling or ingesting is not wise. Another pigment, Yellow Chrome, contains led, and can be absorbed thru the skin.  Metals like gold, copper and silver can do the same thing. Mask (nose and mouth cover) and gloves are important with continued use of pastels.

The other thing about working in pastel, is that it is not a stable medium. Artists tend to fix it with an aerosol fixative.  Caution should always be taken with any fixative.  If you don’t have a ventilation system in your work space, go outdoors to spray, and still cover your mouth and nose.

Probably if you’re going to be working large, and drawing for long extended periods of time with charcoal, you might consider covering mouth and nose.

setting a ground

careful observation

almost complete

My students assignment is to reproduce an old master.  This is his rendition of Vincent Van Gogh’s, Skeleton Smoking A Cigarette.
Don’t get me started on cigarettes….

I suggest when working with pastel (or any other art medium), to research the material. A good book to have in ones studio, The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, by Ralph Mayer.  BTW, according to my copy, working with pastel, would technically be called painting
I still think he’s engaging in joy. Approached with thoughtfulness and care, it could bring many long years of happiness.