Exhibition of the Month: Bay Area Figurative Drawings

Seated Figure, by James Weeks, 1966, charcoal, brush and grayish-brown wash on buff wove paper, 23 x 15 5/8. (c) Estate of James Weeks. All artwork this exhibition collection Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California.

One of the most important schools of 20th-century American figure drawing occurred in Northern California’s Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s, and a new exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum, in Sacramento, looks at the accomplished figurative drawings of these artists.

“Back to Life: Bay Area Figurative Drawings” explores 40 works on paper by artists including David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. According to the museum:

These works exemplify the abundant and influential artistic expression on paper that arose from the Bay Area Figurative movement.

The history of this mode of drawing begins with Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn, who began meeting weekly in 1953 to draw from live models. Unique to their production was they way they brought to paper the same activated marks and loose manner of their figurative painting on canvas. …

Observing the posed model with pen or pencil in hand offered the trio a new engagement with the figure. By 1956, artists such as James Weeks, Paul Wonner, and William Theophilus Brown regularly attended the evening studio sessions that hopped from Berkeley to San Francisco, Oakland, and Sausalito.

While the group drawing-sessions furthered friendships, extended camaraderie and stimulated mental focus, the true focal point was the skill required to rapidly capture ever-changing poses. Each sketch displays the deft handling of graphite, pen and ink, ink wash or gouache that resulted in the many and varied renderings in this exhibition. Some emphasize the figure amid the studio’s furnishings; others focus on the lines of the body and how posture communicates emotional states.

The exhibition runs through May 1, and we’re happy to feature it as Drawing magazine’s exhibition of the month for February. Enjoy the preview images shown here, and to stay abreast of all things drawing, subscribe to Drawing magazine.

Models II, by Elmer Bischoff, 1968, charcoal, brush, and black wash on off-white laid paper, 24 3/4 x 19. (c) Estate of Elmer Bischoff.

Standing Male Figure With Stool, by Paul Wonner, black Conte on buff wove paper, 23 1/2 x 17 3/8. (c) Estate of Paul Wonner.

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Art Therapy | How to Overcome Artist’s Block

Any creative person has a time when the ideas seem to run dry, and art inspiration becomes sorely lacking. It’s a common dilemma that links all of the creative fields together, and plagues every artist. Whether it’s a songwriter/ musician whose tunes won’t seem to come, or an author such as myself where I suddenly have no words; a dry spell is a miserable inevitability. While I have yet to find an answer to writer’s block, I’ve found that my artwork is a different matter. As an artist, I’ve come up with a solution to overcome my artist’s block, and it never seems to fail me.

I coined this phrase many years ago: “There is never a lack of subject matter; just absence of creativity.” (I was really proud of myself for coming up with it! If it speaks to you, share it on Twitter!) I liked that quote so much that I had a banner of it created, which ran around the wall in my studio. It’s reminder to all of us that life provides everything we need to be creative at all times. It’s up to us to find it, and decide what we do with it.

Lee Hammond | ArtistsNetwork.com

Sometimes finding inspiration is hard. I know hard. I was diagnosed with MS almost 19 years ago. At that particular time, I felt as if life as I knew it was about to be over. I was right. But it changed my life in a way that even surprised me. It has made me a better person, and a better artist. It helped me find my voice and become a writer. I’m much stronger now than I would’ve been without the diagnosis, and I’ve learned to appreciate each and every day in a way I know I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t become sick. We become the sum total of how we deal with the things life hands us. I chose to make it a positive.

It isn’t without its challenges, however. While I’m currently doing great, there are times when I feel so worn out and fatigued that my creativity suffers. I no longer feel the burning desire to draw or paint, and writing is nearly impossible. It’s as if my brain has a veil over it, and I simply can’t think clearly. Teaching becomes a challenge. I try to be upbeat, even when I’m sound-sensitive and everyday chatter amongst my students seems to be coming out of a megaphone, overwhelming my senses. I’m pleased to say I’ve never cancelled a class because of it, even when I honestly wanted to. I’ve never missed a deadline either. I keep on trying. But, just an ordinary day becomes simply exhausting. And creativity, well, that becomes an emotion that is eclipsed by fatigue and pain.

But, being the driven person that I am, I’ve developed a method to offset those dark hours. Rather than wallowing in despair, making excuses to my publisher, and lamenting my condition, I use it to my own advantage. I used to fight it, and force myself to keep on as if there was nothing wrong. While that can work for a while, it’s only a flimsy facade that cannot be maintained without it entirely collapsing. So, instead, I’ve learned to embrace these times as periods of healing and being cozy. I’ve also learned to use these episodes as an opportunity for developing new, creative ideas. These down times prepare me for when I feel great again, and can return to the over-achiever that I know I am.

Ways to Overcome Artist’s Block

Here’s what I do. I create a cozy place for myself. This place is what my kids have come to call my “fat chair.” It’s my favorite chair, in the corner of the living room where I have all of my creature comforts within arms length. That includes drawers with my art supplies such as colored pencils, mechanical pencils, tortillions, lead, and erasers. It also includes my favorite pencil sharpener, knitting needles, crochet hooks, magazines, books, and the TV remote. But, along with all of these items, it contains what’s essential in these dreary down times. There, I also have my view finders.

how to use a viewfinder

This is a page from my segment drawing notebook in colored pencil, featured in Lifelike Drawing in Color.

If you’re a fan of my books, you’ll find references to these amazing little tools. You can find an example of viewfinders on pages 29-31 of my book titled Lifelike Drawing. This is a method I created to help teach my students, which I use in many of my books. My book Draw Animals in Nature is filled with what I call “segment drawing,” all done with the aid of a viewfinder.

Viewfinders are nothing more than small openings cut into pieces of paper, to create mini frames. By placing these frames over photographs, you create small compositions to draw from. This isolates specific areas in the photos, to give you practice with problem areas, without having to create an entire piece of artwork.

When I’m feeling less than stellar, I gather up the photo references that I collect by the hundreds. These include photos that I take myself, as well as pictures out of magazines. I cozy up with a cup of tea or coffee, a nice blanket, a good chic flick, and yes…chocolate! Then, I slowly go through my photo references, one at a time. I use the viewfinders to isolate areas within the photos, to create mini-compositions. For instance, I’ll choose some of the flower photos I’ve taken, and place the viewfinder over them to see if cropping a portion of the photo will look more interesting. Usually the opening in the viewfinder is only a 2-inch square, so it’s easy to create a whole new look by isolating just a portion of the photo. Sometimes I can find two or three great ideas within one picture! These new compositions are inspiring. Sometimes they’re good for practice, and for placing in a segment drawing notebook. (This is also explained in my books.) But sometimes, the composition looks so cool that I’ll decide to blow it up and turn it into a large, finished piece of art. I continue going through the photos, taping down the viewfinders when I score a good one. It’s exciting to see a composition jump out at me, as if to say, “Draw me!”

segment drawing

This is how to develop a segment drawing using a viewfinder. Learn more in my new book Drawing Realistic Clothing and People.

I then place these photos into a separate file that I call “next.” These become the pieces I want to do someday, when I’m back to being my old, creative self again. It gives me something to look forward to, which for a creative person, is very, very important. Even though I’m not drawing per se, this process keeps me feeling creative. It also keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole of despair when times are hard, and I feel like crap. (I’ll just say it how it is!)

Feel free to use this form of “art therapy” if you find yourself in a similar a creative slump of artist’s block. We all go through it. Maybe you can find the same solace in it as I do. I’ve found it to be my safe place. Always remember, no matter what….

There is never a lack of subject matter; just absence of creativity.


• Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!

Free download! Easy Acrylic Painting Techniques by Lee Hammond


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The Secret to Painting a Masterpiece

With the release of the new April 2016 issue of Pastel Journal, which celebrates the winners of the 17th Annual Pastel 100 Competition, it seemed a perfect opportunity to revisit a Pastel Pointers post by Richard McKinley in which he discusses the secret to painting a masterpiece—and your next award-winner: Know your purpose.


Alan Larkin’s masterful pastel, Time Piece (37×14) took top honors in the 17th Annual Pastel 100 Competition.


“Being reminded of the purpose, or concept, that motivated us to paint a specific subject, or scene, is key to evolving as an artist, once technical mastery is achieved. Without purpose, it’s easy to fall prey to technical perfection that’s devoid of feeling. It may look exactly like the scene, but it says very little. Practice may get an artist to Carnegie Hall but it is passion that produces rave reviews.

The Three Ws: To help with this, I like to employ the three Ws: Why, What and When. If we know the “why,” the emotional connection to a subject/scene, it can answer the “what.” That is, what to put in and what to leave out, ultimately creating an air of mystery that engages the viewer. This helps with the “when:” When is a painting done? The painting is done when the main purpose/concept behind the painting is achieved. It is a full circle.

[Click here to learn pastel painting techniques with Richard McKinley.]

Ask yourself, what attracted me in the first place? What did I love about the subject/scene? Then dig deep as a technically well-trained painter to go beyond the literal surface content and communicate intent. It is paramount to elevating a painting from merely being well rendered to being considered a masterpiece. As the writer and art critique John Ruskin said, “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”

Click here to read a PDF of Richard’s full article, “The Making of a Masterpiece,” originally published in the April 2013 issue of Pastel Journal. To see a showcase of the masterful pastels that make up this year’s Pastel 100—check out the latest issue of the magazine on sale here.












The 2015 Annual CD archive is here! Get an entire year’s worth of Pastel Journal articles at your fingertips. Add the 2015 Pastel Journal Annual CD to your pastel library today!

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The Fire That Ignites Steven Spazuk

In the April 2016 issue of The Artist’s Magazine we profiled mixed media artist Steven Spazuk and his unusual choice in medium in our “Artist’s Life” column. Below is a more in-depth conversation with the artist, along with more images of his work. Be sure to order your copy of the April 2016 issue here, or click here to subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine!

Song of joy, 2015, by Steve Spazuk, mixed media artist

Song of joy (soot on gesso panel, 16×14)

“I have a bachelor’s degree from Université Laval in Québec City in Fine Arts. I was very shy when I was younger, and was always drawing something. People started seeing me as an artist, which sort of programmed me to become one from the start.

Fire came to me in a dream. I started using it as a medium in 2001, and it has been my focus ever since. Fire is so inspiring. It consumes, warms and illuminates, but can also bring pain and death; thus, its symbolic meaning varies wildly, depending on the context of its use. I mostly use it to talk about life’s fragility. Exploring this fragility is the very essence of my work.


Smoky Saxophone by Steve Spazuk mixed media artist

Smoky Saxophone (soot on gesso-prepared wooden panel, 30×20)

Most of the time when I start working on a piece, I don’t know what I’m going to get out of it, and that is the joy of working with fire. I let the drawings appear without controlling anything; I put the flame to the paper and let a shape reveal itself. I wait for a figurative revelation while I search the abstract form.

More recently, my work has been more planned out and less is left to chance. I feel that I need to talk about my preoccupations in my work, life’s fragility and the place we occupy on our planet. I’m concerned by all ecosystems, and my subjects are often endangered animals.

If you’re truly authentic, your uniqueness has already taken you outside of the box.”

Song of Peace by Steven Spazuk mixed media artist

Song Of Peace (soot on gesso panel, 16×14)

To see more of Spazuk’s work, visit his website here.

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Relax–These Are Easy Animals to Draw

I’m sure that you don’t need me to tell you how important pets are in our lives. My family lost our dog of 13 years last November, and between you and me, I’m still grieving for her. Dogs, cats, and as I recently learned from a distant friend on Facebook, even birds can have a place in our lives that ranks right up there with parents, children and siblings (and sometimes higher–wink wink).

Thank goodness that they can also be easy animals to draw, so that they can be remembered in special ways, always. We’re honoring these amazing creatures with the Passion for Pets special collection with a newly lowered price. With it, you’ll find four colored pencil workshop DVDs from with Mark Menendez plus the Realistic Pet Portraits in Colored Pencil eBook by Anne deMille Flood. This alone includes 22 step-by-step demonstrations of easy animals to draw, as well as general advice such as drawing fur and facial features of horses, rabbits, and more. Here are some tips from Anne’s book.

Easy animals to draw | ArtistsNetwork.com

Mustafa (colored pencil, 14×11) by Anne deMille Flood

Depicting fur and feathers may seem overwhelming at first glance, but what I always say is, “It’s just a pattern–so relax.” Simply look for shapes within the fur or feathers so you can break them down into patterns of lights and darks. I describe this as random pattern–it may not be predictable, but the pattern always repeats itself in some way. I happen to love repetitious design, so I don’t mind the exercise of figuring out the pattern. Just approach this in a logical manner–using my techniques–and you won’t have any problems.

Stroke Pattern

Whether fur is dappled or solid, it is important to apply each layer with a stroke pattern that characterizes and reflects both the type of fur and the direction it is traveling. If every stroke is applied in a too-precise or repetitious manner, the fur will appear phony and artificial. The fur must move and change with the shape of the animal in order to make the viewer see the pattern without it appearing fake or unnatural. It’s helpful to carefully observe your reference photo and check it often to ensure that your pencil is moving in the same direction as the fur shown in the photo.

At right: Anne used a “road map” of Mustafa to determine the pencil strokes for this kitty’s fur.


Value Pattern

Another important aspect of creating fur is establishing an accurate value pattern. A value pattern can best be described as the darkness and lightness of areas and how they compare with each other. For example, in order to give an object shape and form, a shadow area must be dark enough to contrast with a light area. Shadows and highlights joined by midtone areas form a three-dimensional appearance. If your value pattern of darks and lights is not correct, your image will look flat and lifeless.

Easy animals to draw | ArtistsNetwork.com

Make an Accurate Road Map

Your line drawing should be considered a road map to guide you as you work, including correct out-lines of all the important markings on the animal. Another trick to help you create believable fur is to trace a simple map of the fur direction using arrows to show the pattern. Keep this map next to your drawing while you work to remind you which way the fur has turned in a certain area. ~Anne

These are great tips for easy animals to draw, and there’s much more where this came from! Get the Passion for Pets collection today and start drawing the beloved pets in your life.

Yours in art,
Cherie Haas, online editor**Subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and ideas, and score a free download > 3 Lessons on How to Draw Animals: Facial Features of Pets.

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Understanding the Different Grades of Watercolor Paper

This tutorial will deal with the comparisons of hot pressed, cold pressed and rough watercolor paper. To begin with the usage of the term “paper” is a misnomer. In a way this term devalues the price for watercolor paintings in galleries. It suggests the surface is not permanent because the image is painted on paper, and isn’t much different than a print or a poster. For some reason the manufacturers of these materials have not dispelled this faulty usage of the term “paper” and substituted it for “cotton sheets.” This would add more formality to this medium because oil and acrylic paintings are also painted on cotton surfaces, so the watercolor will be placed in the same category. This will add value to watercolor paintings and collectors will not think their investment has a short life span.

Types of watercolor paper | Johannes Vloothuis, ArtistsNetwork.com

A watercolor painting on Arches cold pressed paper

Before you buy watercolor paper, be careful. Art stores actually do sell wood pulp paper watercolor blocks. Unless the product says 100% cotton on the cover, you can end up with the wrong product that will terribly hinder you from succeeding in watercolor. These student watercolor blocks simply are a total waste. I refuse to do any touch-ups on my workshop attendees’ paintings when they bring these.

As noted above, the surface of professional watercolor paper is real cotton and 100% acid free, which means the white surface will not turn yellow over the years. Consider cotton baby diapers: add a gelatin sizing to it, compress it, and you have like a bed sheet of compressed cotton that absorbs wet paint. The sizing makes the sheet non-flexible when dry and allows a slow seeping of wet paint into the fibers.

The amount of pressure during the compression process determines the different kinds of paper surfaces: hot pressed (very compressed), cold pressed (semi-compressed) and rough (loosely compressed). This is important to know because the degree of compression results in the fibers being closer or more separated from each other. This will make the paper behave differently by the sheer absorption process. As an analogy it works like this: a kitchen towel sucks more water than a cotton shirt. That’s because a towel has more gaps in between the fibers, which allows the water to penetrate deeper into the fabric. Knowing this will help you make the right choices. Here are the applications and setbacks of each grade.

Hot Pressed (Very Compressed) Watercolor Paper
• Very little pigment penetrates beyond sitting on the surface.
• Not adequate for general watercolor painting. More suitable for fine detail such as pen and ink. Works well for gouache.
• Wet on wet application with diffusion will not work.
• Glazing will lift the underlayer.

[Do you have your copy of Landscape Painting Essentials yet? Get it here today!]

Types of watercolor paper | Johannes Vloothuis, ArtistsNetwork.com

A watercolor painting on Fabriano cold pressed paper

Cold Pressed (Semi-Compressed) Watercolor Paper
• Some pigment penetrates deeper into the fibers.
• The painting ends up with a nice velvety look.
• Diffused wet-into-wet application can be achieved but there’s a risk of losing the forms by excessive pigment bleeding. The artist must be quite skilled to control the degree of fugitive paint.
• Works well for scraping out rocks with a credit card, which is a well-known watercolor painting technique.
• Not that good for glazing because the new layer tends to disturb the first layer.
• Too smooth to apply the dry brush technique that artists use to create bushes and trees.
• Easier to spray off an area that needs correction.
• Excellent surface to combine pastels with watercolor, especially PanPastels.

Types of watercolor paper | Johannes Vloothuis, ArtistsNetwork.com

A watercolor landscape painting on Arches rough paper

Rough (Loosely Compressed) Watercolor Paper
• The pigment seeps even deeper into the fibers. The wet-into-wet application is very cooperative with just a bit of experience.
• Glazing works better because the paper grips the first layer quite well.
• Does not work well for scraping out rocks.
• The rougher surface cooperates for dry brushing the illusion of foliage.
• Harder to remove unwanted paint with a spray bottle.

These papers come in 22×30 inch sheets that can be cut into various sizes. The stocks are:

  • 90lb. – useless for painting with watercolor, but good for printing copies
  • 140 lb. – must be stretched to avoid buckling
  • 300 lb. – does not require stretching but more expensive. This will still curl like a potato chip if wetted in large areas so it requires fastening.

Watercolor blocks are handy for plein air painting and transporting to workshops but with the 140 lb. version, the paper still buckles, which basically defaults the purpose to pay the extra money. The 300 lb. blocks are handy but you’ll pay considerably more for them. If you use 140 lb. sheets there’s a fantastic product that will stretch the paper in such a way that if you rewet it, will not buckle. I highly recommend “The Watercolorboard” from Guerilla.

Buckling: When the cotton paper is soaking wet, it will expand, creating bumps like hills on an uneven terrain. This makes it more difficult to respect the contour of a form during wet-into-wet application because the paint settles into the grooves. Stretching is a necessary practice. Wet the paper first, fasten it, then allow it to dry. Once you rewet it, it will decrease this expansion, thus less buckling.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of each of these papers, I select the grade of paper based on the theme of my painting. In case the scene contains lots of foliage that is close up, I will resort to rough paper. If there is a lot of edge diffusing that requires some control, rough paper will be my choice. If the scene contains rocks and not many soft edges then I will go for cold pressed. If I intend to incorporate pastels to create mist, add texture, or enhance my watercolors, cold pressed is perfect. The velvety look with cold pressed works nice for flower paintings.

There are different brands of watercolor paper. Arches is the most common. Fabriano is also quite popular as well.

Recently, I discovered Daler Rowney Langton Rough which is not as grainy as the other papers but offers an in-between of cold and rough, offering the advantages of both. Although there are other brands, I’m using Daler Rowney more often now. I’ve not tried them all but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The Daler Rowney works just fine for me.

In my next tutorial I will give a review on the different paints and their properties, as well as how to control fugitive wet-into-wet application and recommendations where these should be present in your artwork. Stay tuned! Meanwhile you may want to visit my website, http://improvemypaintings.com to download courses I have given, to buy my book, “Landscape Painting Essentials” or join our ongoing live online art classes.

“Landscape Painting Essentials” and other video courses are available at NorthLightShop.com. North Light has also just released a new eBook written by Johannes titled Landscape Painting Essentials. Join his online art classes at http://improvemypaintings.com.

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On Painting: Words and Wisdom From 7 Masters

Today I bring you a special collection of thoughts and reflections on painting from some of the artists featured in The Art Students League of New York: Works and Wisdom from The Artist’s Magazine. This download contains 70 pages of master paintings that will leave you in awe, not to mention the art techniques and commentary on the artists and their work. I’ve included seven excerpts that will give you a taste of what you’ll find within. Enjoy!

Painting inspiration | Sharon Sprung, ArtistsNetwork.com

‘M’ (oil on panel, 54×50) by Sharon Sprung (Pin this!)

Sharon Sprung: “To depict the skin, I use a very limited palette, a very small range of colors,” she says. “Color has a need to identify itself. I will have a puddle of a homogenous ‘flesh’ color and then little puddles of a warm and a cool. The resulting differences in the colors are so slight and subtle that they have impact. Freud said there’s a ‘narcissism of small differences’; I think there’s a narcissism of small colors.”

Juliette Aristides: “The idea of a muse encapsulates a real phenomenon: meeting someone who captures your imagination. A particular model can physically complete an artist’s thoughts and give clothing to an idea–it’s a real collaboration and not something you can set out to make happen.”

Painting inspiration | Mary Beth McKenzie, ArtistsNetwork.com

New York Window (oil, 73×56) by Mary Beth McKenzie

Thomas Torak: “I always call my palette my piano and set it up so that all of my colors are organized from light to dark, just as piano keys are arranged from higher to lower notes. This arrangement is important because everything in the painting is always moving from light to shade.”

Ephraim Rubenstein: “On some level, painting all subjects is the same. We do not paint with cloth or flesh or trees or stone; we paint with shapes of colored paint on a flat surface, and if we get it right, it will look like a piece of drapery or a figure or a landscape or a building. I am mostly interested in what I have to say, emotionally. If it takes a figure to say it or a foggy riverbank or a ruined Doric temple, so be it. Jamie Wyeth said that even a bale of hay can be a self-portrait if it is painted with feeling.”

Ellen Eagle: “I love close values; I love to recognize very small changes. Incremental value and color changes convey the illumination and passage of natural light across form.”

Naomi Campbell: “I find that the positioning of the elbows, the turn of the head, the hand pointing or the twisting of the body in the space it occupies all create different vectors that can bring you into or push you away from what you’re looking at. I draw on this to emphasize not only composition and volume, but to create drama. I also like to play with depth, creating a path for the eye through a painting.”

Mary Beth McKenzie: “Everything is relationship. I’m looking for the large shapes in relation to one another, considering the entire canvas a whole. I construct both sides of the figure at once, while looking for fluid lines and emphasizing the large movements. I never work on one side without considering its relationship to the other side.”

This special download is now part of an exclusive offer that also features the lushly illustrated hardcover Art Students League of New York on Painting. It’s a collection you won’t want to miss, and it’s only available here at North Light Shop.

Wishing you endless inspiration,
Cherie Haas, online editor
**Subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and ideas, and score a free download on Human Figure Drawing: A Two-Part Guide by Sadie J. Valeri.

The post On Painting: Words and Wisdom From 7 Masters appeared first on Artist's Network.