4 Easy Strategies for Creative Thinking

We’ve all faced the creative block at one point or another. It can be a challenge to push yourself and try new things. Thanks to Keys to Drawing with Imagination by Bert Dodson, you can learn tons of great strategies and exercises for creative thinking. The 10th anniversary edition of the book is out now. This new paperback edition is packed with 192 pages of content. I’ve pulled out four strategies for creative thinking for you to practice:

1: Exaggerate Proportions
2: Emphasize Differences
3: Play with Scale
4: Force Distortion

Drawing expressively is all about finding ways of intensifying and dramatizing your subjects to inspire a new emotion in your viewer. An accurately drawn objects puts the viewer in touch with that object on a literal level—they automatically know exactly what it is and what it’s used for. An exaggerated or distorted drawing of the same object tends to touch the viewer on an emotional level, inviting them to see it in a new way. It makes the familiar strange.

Progressive change: Here’s a demonstration of how distortion gets easier when you do it in stages. I like to do it in groups of three. Here the first umpire was drawn from a magazine photograph. The middle stage exaggerated the action and altered the proportions. This emboldened me to make more radical changes in the last drawing.

Exaggerate Proportions
We recognize differences by comparing and contrasting. If you want to make something look big in your drawing, put it next to something small. If you have only one object, the parts should contrast with each other. Enlarging some parts of your subject while reducing others is a way of intensifying the drawing. It creates an exaggerated emphasis, expressively calling attention to certain aspects of a person or animal. The results may be amusing or disturbing, but almost always attention-getting.

Creative Thinking: Exaggerate Proportions

Emphasize Differences
Difference is information. We are aware of things because they stand out from their background. One way to make the familiar strange is to emphasize differences. That is, put two elements in a drawing and push the differences between them to extremes.

Creative Thinking: Emphasize Differences

1 – This drawing is a sketch I made of two guys waiting in an airport. Something about the difference between their poses and body types caught my eye.
2 – Later I made a second sketch from the original. I exaggerated the differences between the two figures, making the heavier man much larger and the thinner guy more angular and bookish. For some reason they began to look like monuments to me. I imagined them as a stone sculpture in the park.
3 – So I drew them again, this time in pencil. By using soft shading and eliminating details, I attempted to show them as if they were made of granite. And I added pigeons.

Play with Scale
Sometimes it’s fun to make a composite drawing from different sources and to wildly exaggerate size differences. Here I’ve put the artist Gustave Courbet in the driver’s seat of socialite Gaby Deslys’ limousine. The drawing is arresting because it almost takes a moment for the viewer to realize that Courbet is a giant.

Creative Thinking: Play with Scale

Force Distortion
Many artists—even experienced professionals—find it difficult to deliberately distort their drawings. Paradoxically, good training in observation can inhibit the ability to draw expressively. I have a two-step process that can help you break out of that constraint. It almost guarantees a more extreme and often striking image. In the first step, drawing blind, map the basic outlines of your subject with a bold, black marker. As you draw, keep your eyes on the subject (or photograph) and not on your drawing. You may need to cheat a little by glancing at your paper from time to time to keep your place.

When you have completed this contour map, shift to a ball-point pen and begin carefully filling in shading and details, now freely looking back and forth between subject and paper. The natural distortion that occurs when you draw blindly ensures that no amount of realistic shading will make your drawing look exact.

Creative Thinking: Force Distortion with Blind Drawing

I love blind contour drawings. My friends and I will do blind drawings of each other or fictional characters. It’s always a blast to relax and blindly sketch a character then laugh at the result. Try these four strategies for creative thinking this week and see what inspires you.

You can find even more strategies and exercises to help with creative thinking in Keys to Drawing with Imagination by Bert Dodson. It’s available now on the North Light Shop, Amazon and wherever books are sold. Grab your copy today!

Keys to Drawing With Imagination | North Light Shop

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How Real Magic Gets On Canvas

Acrylic Paint Brushes, Layers & More Get You to the Sweet Spot

Neighborhood scenes have been the main focus of Nina Davidowitz’s artwork for nearly 15 years. “I’m fascinated with the geometric shapes of houses and buildings contrasted with their natural surroundings—shrubs, lawns and woods,” she says. “Sometimes nature is also geometric, as when we “sculpt” our shrubs.”

Davidowitz starts her paintings by sketching the composition onto the canvas in pencil. “I then proceed around the painting. I fill in areas of color one by one, starting with the sections that are the most interesting. With Summer Haze, I began with the shrubs. I usually establish the areas of darker value and then the lighter value areas. It sets up parameters for the middle values. I believe that it’s in the middle-value range where real magic can happen.

How to Layer…and Layer…and Layer

“The first layers of paint I apply are rather thin and watery. I add more thin layers of paint as I continue to move around the painting, adjusting colors and values to my liking. I prefer the look of smooth brushstrokes and saturated color. That means each area of the painting receives at least 4—and sometimes as many as 12—coats of paint. As the layers of paint accumulate, the colors become almost luminescent.”

acrylic-landscape-painting-NinaDavidowitz.1

Davidowitz starts a painting marking everything out in pencil.

Go-to Materials Including Acrylic Paint Brushes

Round brushes are my favorite; I rarely use any other type. My favorite paints are Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics.

I use a very limited color palette: two blues (ultramarine blue, phthalocyanine blue); two reds (cadmium red medium, naphthol crimson); one yellow (cadmium yellow medium); one green (Hooker’s green); and titanium white. Occasionally I may add one or two additional colors, but prefer to keep it very simple. That way, if I run out of a particular color mix, it’s easy to make more.

acrylic-landscape-painting-NinaDavidowitz.2

Step 2

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The artist will use as many as 12 layers to complete a single painting.

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Step 4

Stay to the Light

The way in which light illuminates our world is breathtaking. I’m always
excited to find these beautiful moments in my own everyday world. I hope my work inspires
people to look around them to find these special moments of beauty and illumination.

acrylic-landscape-painting-NinaDavidowitz.5

Step 5 (detail)

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Summer Haze (acrylic on canvas, 36×36) by Nina Davidowitz. Article contributions by Anne Hevener.

Sources to Count On

Nina Davidowitz has perfected her style along with her skills, which means every painting she creates is a pleasure in and of itself. I want to hone my style and have a fun, inspiring time doing it too. That’s why I come again and again to the pages of The Artist’s Magazine, Acrylic Artist, Watercolor Artist, and Pastel Journal. There is the right mix of skill and aspiration that gets me excited to go to the studio. Right now in celebration of Memorial Day, the editors have opened their vaults and are offering tons of magazine issues for just 99 cents! Get the issues that call to you! Now’s the time! Enjoy!

Courtney

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Why Colleen Blackard is an Artist to Watch

For several years, New York artist Colleen Blackard has been producing an interesting body of drawings that aren’t quite like anything else. Frequently using ballpoint pen as her medium of choice, Blackard’s drawings depict celestial bodies and starry nighttime skies–ambitious subjects. She draws primarily by making circular marks to create tone, which gives her drawings a unique sense of texture and depth.

We recently asked the artist a few questions about her intriguing work. If you like what you see here, head to colleenblackard.com, and pick up your copy of the Spring 2017 issue of Drawing magazine, to learn more.

Ballpoint pen drawings | Colleen Blackard | Artist's Network

Paths of Memory, by Colleen Blackard, 2012, ballpoint pen on gessoed wood, 33 x 42.

Drawing: When did you first start using ballpoint pen for your art, and what do you like about it?

Colleen Blackard: I started using ballpoint pen at the suggestion of my professors at Hampshire College. I was rendering stormy landscapes in charcoal, and they wanted me to really get into the work, so they challenged me to build up those same charcoal blacks in ballpoint pen.  Once I started drawing with ballpoint, I was mesmerized. The long process became very meditative for me, and it also gave me a greater range of tone.

Ballpoint pen drawings | Colleen Blackard | Artist's Network

Orion’s Belt, by Colleen Blackard, 2009, ballpoint pen, 20 x 28.

DR: How did you learn or develop your technique of using circular marks to build up tone?

CB: When I began drawing stars, I found that encircling them with expansive, circular marks was the most natural way to render their light and depth. I carve out light with dark ballpoint circles. Since I see everything as made of light, I translated this glowing, circular style to every subject I draw.

The rhythmic motion of building up infinite circles with ballpoint pen is very meditative, and the rapid flow of marks is captivating. Rolling the ball-tip of the pen in a circular motion feels like what it was made for; it’s very effortless and fluid.

Ballpoint pen drawings | Colleen Blackard | Artist's Network

Important, by Colleen Blackard, 2015-2016, ink and watercolor, 120 x 96.

DR: What is it about stars and night skies that inspires you to explore those subjects in drawing after drawing?

CB: I’m fascinated by the infinite nature of the universe and our place within it. It’s the ultimate expression of scale and perspective. This is most prevalent in my recent 10’ ink drawing Important [above], which depicts the Milky Way rising high above a tiny abandoned barn. The scale dwarfs the viewer, and one must look up to see the full night sky. I’m also inspired by the sentiment that we are all made of stardust, as I symbolize by building my drawn universe out of the glowing, starry points of light in the space between my circular marks.

Ballpoint pen drawings | Colleen Blackard | Artist's Network

Wake, by Colleen Blackard, 2010, ballpoint pen, 20 x 16.

To receive all the best drawing instruction and profiles of notable artists, like Colleen Blackard, subscribe to the Drawing here

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Raphael’s Life in Pieces

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino | A Life in Pieces

Take a journey through time to learn about the life of a true Italian Renaissance artistic genius, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, also known as Raphael. From turning to other Old Masters such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci for art inspiration to becoming the European academies of art’s basis for training, Raphael left a vast impression on the art world and beyond.

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino | Life in Pieces | Artist's Network

From June 1 through Sept. 3, 2017, 120 works of art by Raphael will be on display for “Raphael: The Drawings” exhibit at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. “Aged only 37 when he died, Raphael’s fame in drawing had a transformative effect on European art over centuries. This exciting exhibition focuses on his extraordinary creativity, and shows how exploration and experimentation shaped his breathtakingly accomplished drawings.”

Learn more about Ashmolean’s exclusive exhibition, and the incredible drawings being featured, at Ashmolean.org.


**Check out more from the Life in Pieces series:

Duchamp’s Life in Pieces

Picasso’s Life in Pieces

King Tut’s Life in Pieces

Botticelli’s Life in Pieces

Van Gogh’s Life in Pieces

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The No-Phone Selfie | How to Draw Self-Portraits in the Easiest Way

The Big Picture Art Project, Sandrine Pelissier, Babeanu, how to participate, simple drawings, artists network

You can read more about the Big Picture Art Project and upload your drawing here.

Sophie Babeanu and I designed the no-phone selfie activity for Culture Days last year. Culture Days is a pan-Canadian weekend in October where many studios, galleries, artists and performers offer free activities to the public.

We were looking at ways to make it easy for participants who are new to drawing to make a self-portrait. Our activity was a great success. Many people had fun learning and trying out the technique, and some even set their new no-phone selfies as their social media profile pictures.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Sandrine Pelissier

 

This technique is also an easy and fun way to participate in our collective art project, The Big Picture Art Project. You don’t need to have any drawing experience to get interesting results, and what better way than a self-portrait to share a little bit more about yourself with others.

Want more easy drawing ideas to participate in this global initiative? I cover a wide range of drawing techniques in another post, which you can find here.

Simple Steps to Drawing a No-Phone Selfie (Self-Portrait)

No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

For the no-phone-selfie technique, you will need the following materials:

  • A small mirror—preferably rectangular—but you can also use a circular mirror if necessary (just make sure your entire face fits within the mirror’s frame)
  • Washable (or water-soluble) markers, fine-liner, felt, etc.
  • A damp paper to make a print of your drawing
  • A Spray bottle
  • Tissue paper (to make corrections as needed)

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Get situated. Start by looking at yourself in the mirror. Make sure the mirror (and your placement) does not move.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Trace your features. Once your position is set, trace the contours and features of your face on the mirror using a washable marker, fine-liner or felt. The easiest way to do this is to close one eye and draw everything on your face—except the eye you closed. Then open your eye, move your face so it fits the lines you just drew, and draw in the missing eye.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Adjust as needed. If you want to make any corrections on your drawing, just use a piece of wet tissue paper to remove your washable marks.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Fill in details. You can fill in/shade in any areas of your self-portrait, such as the hair like I am doing in the picture above.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Define your colors. You can choose to add color or just keep it in black and white. Since I am making this portrait for The Big Picture, I am only using black ink.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Prep your print. Once you are done with your drawing, cut a piece of paper about the same size as your mirror, then spray it with water.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Keep it damp. If you experiment with this technique, the dampness of the paper will influence the way your print will look. You will get sharper lines with a dryer paper and blurrier lines with a wetter paper.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Place the wet paper on your mirror. Once you have sprayed the cut paper to the desired dampness, apply the paper to the mirror and press gently. Make sure all areas of the paper are in contact with the mirror.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

 

Pull the print. Gently lift the paper off the mirror. During this process, you should see the drawing being transferred from the mirror to your paper.

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Sandrine Pelissier

 

Once the print has been pulled, you will have your simple self-portrait. The picture above is an example of my print. Although it isn’t the most accurate likeness of my face, I like the raw energy of this style of drawings; and the most important step to remember when trying out this technique is to have fun.

With this quick and fun technique, you can draw a self-portrait in just a few minutes—your own artistic spin on taking a “selfie” with no phone required!

Below are a few examples of no-phone selfies created by visitors, Sophie and myself in the studio during Culture Days. Enjoy!

 

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Sandrine Pelissier

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Carolina Radovan

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Joanne White

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Gaspar Babeanu

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Sophie Babeanu

How to Take a No-Phone Selfie | Simple Drawing Techniques | The Big Picture Art Project | Sandrine Pelissier | Artist's Network

No-Phone Selfie by Sandrine Pelissier

 

You can peruse through pictures of our Culture Days activity in the studio, as well as all the self-portraits made during this fun-filled event on my website, SandrinePellissier.com. And, if you’re ready to submit your own no-phone selfie, or any other drawing, to be part of The Big Picture, head on over to TheBigPicureArtProject.com.

 

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A Ruby Glow — Glazing Secrets from Vermeer to Rembrandt

Power of glazing for modern oil painting: Portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino by Peter Paul Rubens, oil painting.

Portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino by Peter Paul Rubens, oil painting.

Modern Oil Painting Needs an Old Master’s Boost: Glazing

“Just as we can look deep within a ruby so can we look deep within a skillful glaze.” Powerful words from Michael Wilcox but he knows that of which he speaks–and delivers! The author of a gorgeous book simply titled, Glazing, Wilcox offered us this excerpt that gives an historical account of the Old Master skill that every modern oil painter will want to explore. The luminosity and glow that glazing brings is that important!

Also included below is “Texture and Glazing,” a close-up look at a contemporary figurative painting by artist Paul Fenniak, who explains five notable aspects of the subject’s face. 

That’s a one-two combination sure to lure you deeper into the oil painting techniques that connect artists of the present to the past, and give each one of us the unique opportunity to explore painting fully.

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Why Was Glazing Even Developed?

Glazing, oil painting

Bus Stop (oil, 60×48) by Paul Fenniak. Article contributions by Cherie Haas.

There were very definite reasons why earlier artists evolved the technique of glazing. Originating in northern Europe, the practice was developed and refined by artists such as Van Eyke, Vermeer and Rembrandt. 

Living and working in what were often cold and damp conditions wasn’t conducive to conventional painting as we know it. For a start, oil paints tended to dry more slowly than in the warmer countries to the south, whereas thin applications of paint dried more efficiently. 

Another factor is that they didn’t have access to the wide range of colorants that we have at our disposal. Bright violet pigments, for example, were not available, neither were bright oranges or many of the other ‘clean’ strong colors that we take for granted. Such hues, albeit not particularly bright, were mixed from others and glazing was found to be the most satisfactory way to produce them. Violets, for example, could be produced from a mix of blue and red, but brighter, ‘cleaner’ violets had to be produced by glazing the blue over the red, or vice versa. 

Most importantly, the artists were aware of the superior optical effects that were available. We must remember that they were obliged to work with a very limited palette and a range of support materials, additives, varnishes, etc., that we would struggle with. As with today’s realist artist, they sought to replicate the complex array of sensations that the layperson might describe simply as color. (An excerpt from Michael Wilcox’s book, Glazing)

oil painting texture, oil painting glazing, Paul Fenniak artist

Arrival of the Homing Pigeon (oil, 48×60) started as a crowded scene, but Fenniak gradually removed figures as he realized that, in order to create the ‘feeling of entanglement’ he wanted, there would have to be greater emphasis on the lines created by the leashes and the shadows cast by the fence.

Texture and Glazing–Do They Go Together?

I kept changing my mind about this head, so the mess of semi-erased heads beneath this one was helpful in suggesting the final form. I used a large brush loaded with blue-gray to paint broad swaths around the shapes left by the previous heads until I saw something in all the chaos that seemed right and then based my model’s pose on that. One great benefit of this otherwise annoying and time-consuming intuitive method is the build-up of textures.

oil painting texture, oil painting glazing, Paul Fenniak artist

A In the area around the mouth, under the lip particularly, I brought out underlying texture by scraping to interrupt what was the flat opacity of the green-gray shadow.

B Around her right eye, the already textured surface allowed me to lightly drag thin paint with a soft flat brush over the ridges of dry paint to suggest wrinkles and break up the surface, thereby animating the flesh. I also dragged wet over dry paint in the highlight on the forehead.

C I established the basic shape of the head with strong blue-violet shapes with crimson edges on the side of the head and the side of the nose.

D For producing the effect of late-day sun shining in her face, I used a progression from yellow to orange to red to crimson—but crucially with accents of cool, light blue-grays (and occasionally green), especially on the edge of the forehead and along the edge of the nose.

E Bright sun meant there should be conspicuous reflected light in the shadows. This is most evident along the jawline and on the neck, where I glazed the crimson underpainting with ultramarine violet. (Paul Fenniak)

***

Isn’t glazing’s history as fascinating as its application in modern oil painting? I’m bowled over by the fact that now I really understand how Vermeer and Rembrandt used glazing to create their masterpieces. See how you can get the “ruby glow” Michael Wilcox mentions by getting your copy of Glazing, and from there you get to decide where and how to use the technique to express yourself, whether it is following in the footsteps of the Old Masters or stepping out on your own. 

Enjoy!

Courtney

 

 

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