Friday, January 21, 2011

Drawing the Winter Landscape Part 3 - A Departure

--First I must apology for the lateness of this post. The work was done, but illness prevented me from posting sooner. I will leave this post up a bit longer and give you a chance to view and comment--

Being inspired by a reference photo does not mean you are locked into what is in the photo or even its presentation. The reference photograph is for inspiration only. Nothing in it is sacred. In all you are going to do is repeat another artist’s work, why bother?

For this rendition of the 3 trees reference photo, I am putting away the pencils. What really intrigues me about this winter photo is the strong contrast between the white snow, dark water and virtually black trees.

I am going to depart from the standard grayscale graphite drawings. For this drawing I am trying to achieve a different feel. I am going to depart from the reference but one thing I do wish to retain is the narrow presentation, the aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is simply the relationship of length vs. width. How the height compares to the width. So in laying out the drawing space, I will make sure the length vs. the width ratio stays the same, although I am going to increase the overall size. In this way the narrow presentation of the work will remain while the drawing will be a bit more substantial.

Increasing the size, but keeping the proportion is possible. You could simply double the measurement, but that might not give you the size you want. But there is a rather easy way of doing this.

Drawing paper with guidelines
First, I decide where on my paper I want the bottom of my drawing to me. I like to leave myself a bit of a margin all around the area I am going to do the actual drawing. This gives me a margin to tape the paper to my drawing board, fasten it down and keep it stable. For this I use drafting tape, not masking tape. With my t-square (but you can use any straight edge) I will draw myself (lightly) a horizontal level. Also with the t-square (and this is important) I will find the left edge of my drawing, and draw a line perpendicular to the level base line. This line really needs to be at a right angle to the first level base line. This gives me the lower, left hand corner.

I then take my reference photo, and fold back the white margins. With a drafting dot or a small piece of drafting tape, I put the lower left-hand corner of the reference photo on the lower-left hand corner of the drawing area. Then with a straight edge I will take a light pencil and draw a diagonal line from the lower-left hand corner to the upper right hand corner of the reference photo. Also with a light line (one that is highly erasable) I will extend that line onto my drawing area.

Reference photo on drawing paper

Vertical Line

Having decided the width I want for this drawing. I will draw a border vertical line with my t-square up until it meets the diagonal line. Where the two lines cross I will (with the t-square) draw the top-level line for my drawing area. Wa-la, we have an enlarged drawing area, which is in the same proportions as the reference all without a calculator!

Add top guideline

Now, on to the drawing. You might have noticed in the photographs that the paper seems rather dark. No, the picture is not reversed or turn out too dark, it really is black. And the guidelines are white.

Black paper might seem like a strange choice for a drawing that is essentially white, but it can be very dramatic. Don’t’ be afraid of color paper! Use the paper as a part of the creation of the drawing.

The logical choice for a winter scene would be white, and white paper is the standard for drawing (or anything else for that matter) the choice of black paper necessitates a change of media. There are many media that would work well on dark paper, colored pencils, metallic ink, conte’ pastels, markers, charcoal. While you might not think black charcoal would work on black paper, it does, beautifully.


Compressed Charcoal Sticks
I want to maintain the sharp contrast of the reference, even emphasis it. So I have chosen to work with sticks of compressed black and white charcoal, relying on blending tools and overdrawing to give me a range of grays.

Working with a stick of compressed black, I lay out the major divisions, re-enforcing with the compressed white charcoal. Starting with the background and building by layers, the drawing is slowly built.

Layout the drawing

Blending the sky

Building up the snow

White charcoal is applied to the sky using the blunt side of the block. Then a cotton swap is used to blend and even out the sky. It also removes most of the white, allowing the black of the paper to change it to a soft gray. Major snow backs are built up this way—apply—blend & wipe. Water is built with careful horizontal strokes—white underscored with black then using a tortillion to blend and push the charcoal around. Various vertical strokes fill in eh background alternating between white and black. Blended together we get soft gray shapes that resemble trees in a snowstorm.

The foreground calls for bolder, stronger strokes for the 3 major trees. White over-lays the snow. Here the contrast makes the drawing.

Finished Drawing on Black Paper

So, this is the completed drawing. Any comments?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Drawing Snow in The Winter Landscape, Part 2

On to the drawing

Quick review: I am working on a winter landscape, based on a reference photo located at:
on the - drawing/sketching site

now, back to the drawing.

Once the paper selection is made, you also have to decide on scale. Are you going to draw this size for size, increase or decrease the size? For this drawing, I am simply going to draw it about the same size as the reference photo, in the same long, narrow portrait mode.

Tick Marks as guides

Have you ever drawn someone, but on nearing completion, realized you don't have enough room for the top of the head? First thing I do is simply lay out the area on the paper I wish to put the drawing in. A little forethought avoids running out of room for your drawing.

I generally use faint guidelines or tick marks, as they are called to simply indicate the outside dimensions of the piece I am doing. These are most easily set by using your harder pencils very sharp and a straight edge. This helps to keep the artwork within the lines. There is a lot of talk about "drawing outside of the box", but you should leave yourself a margin in your drawings and other artwork. Gives you something to tape the mat to! All in all, guidelines help you keep the work on track.

Back to the actual drawing.

There are several challenges in doing a winter landscape. You have to making the show look real, dealing with the subtle and necessary value shifts and working for the soft texture you need to make the snow look nice and fluffy. So often it is not a mater of drawing the shapes, but shading in everything around it. Dealing with the negative shapes, which in this case are white or near white. One of the biggest challenges is finding your darks, and not being afraid of them. Shadows and shading are all important.

adding graphite
Light Source

The brighter the day, the darker the darks, even on snow. Keep this in mind. As the artist, you must be sure of the light source, where it is from and how strong it is. You can take this form the photo, or add it yourself. It is up to you, but it must be clear in your mind.

You as the artist must be sure of your light source. This is especially important if the photo reference you are using is unclear or confusing on this subject. You must be sure. If the artist is confused, the work will be confused. Now, on this project I have a slight advantage, as these are my photographs, and I remember the conditions when I took these pictures.

Snow Day,

It was a snowy day in early March, one of those deep spring snowfalls that bring such a soft blanket of snow to the area. We had had a real storm, with thunder and lightning thrown in with the heavy snow cover. But the day these photos where taken had been a rather bright, sunny day so there are nice shadows and contrasts.

When this photo was taken, the sun was beginning to lower in the west, but the shadows were not yet very long. Keeping this in mind, I know the sun would be to the right on this drawing, so things sloping away from there would be in shadow.

lightening the lines
 Cast Shadows and Contour

There are two types of shadow or shading going on here, the cast shadows from the sun and the contour shading you get with any 3-dimensional object, like the columns of the trees. Both are necessary to work this drawing. Since in this photo reference the trees now become the focal point, handling both shadows is very important.

first view
Working the shadows

There are two ways to deal with these shadows. You can use softer pencils and rework these shapes, and you can use blending tools, like a stump or tortillion. Many blending tools are possible for any drawing. I tend to favor the judicious use of kneaded erasers. This seems to work especially well on snow scenes. Sometimes it is just as important to remove graphite, as it is to apply it.

 Switching back and forth with my B pencils, I block in the major shapes, then start working details, lighting backgrounds to get the overall gray scale of the Black and White photo. I find working on the whole picture easier than doing any one area completely, then moving on. By working with the entire drawing, I am able to adjust the level of detail and maintain overall values. I do not end up with a drawing that is a monotone of a single value, or overly detailed in all areas. I also use the kneaded eraser to modify my drawings.

Stepping back, I make an overall evaluation of the drawing to see if it gives off the feeling I want.

I can then make any adjustments needed to bring out the focus of the drawing. I make use of all my drawing tools. Pencils, stumps, paper towels, chamois. I also use my 100% graphite pencils. These lay down wide swatches of graphite very well.

Drawing of 3 trees.
But I also use the stump to draw. Laying down a circle of graphite on a piece of scrap paper, I rub the stump across it until I get enough graphite on the stump to transfer to the white paper. This way I can get very faint amounts of shading that allow me to build up the character of the snow and bank of this frozen creek.

This was a very satifiing drawing, but not the only way to handle this subject.

While this is almost a copy of the photograph, blind copying should not be your ultimate goal, but producing creative artwork should. But feel free to tell me what you think.

I am going to do another version of this scene. Something a bit different and hopefully more creative. It is and should be your goal to go beyond the reference photo.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Drawing Snow in the Winter Landscape, part 1

I am going to talk about doing winter landscapes from black and white photos. Most of the time, we do draw from photographs. Too often they are not our own. This leads to certain problems. We are not really familiar with the settings. This does not happen when you draw from life or even your own reference photos. Here, I am going to do several sketches from the reference gallery on about.coms/ drawing/sketching site, in their snow scenes folder. On the forum, there is a bunch of us using these photographs for winter landscape drawings.

Often we tend to draw single objects but seldom give thought to doing a complete work of art.

If you would like to join in, the reference photos are here:Snow Scenes These photos are here precisely for artists. Most photographs on the web are not available for artwork, which is called derivative works. Read the small print! But these have been posted just for artists to use to create new works of art. Nice.


In art, the artist, creator, ea. You are always making choices. This is what makes it art. This is what makes it unique. This is what makes it original. You. Your choices.

This is why simply coping a photo or following the directions of an instruction disqualifies artwork from most competitions. They are trying to judge your originally, your understanding of art and art principles, your uniqueness. Simply reproducing the photograph slavishly does not do this.

First choice in this case, is simply which photo to use for inspiration. When you begin drawing, the simple goal is to try and reproduce as closely and accurately as possible the reference drawing. This is a fine goal. It is a step in the learning process and an admiral goal. This will help you learn to get exactly what you are going for.

So, for this, we will deal with two different goals.

1. to closely reproduce the photo reference, and

2. to do a creative drawing inspired by the photo, but diverging from it.

In both cases you will be able to see the original photo in the resulting work. For this, I am not going to do a completely diverging piece, but it would be fun!

First choice, which photo do I choose.

The photographs for this project are located on the main drawing/sketching site in the reference gallery:

All are good choices.

The one I am going to be using is this one:

The 3 trees details cropped from the larger photo. I like the way the cropping of this photo appears to simplify it. It doesn’t, it simply changes the configuration of the photo. Changing it from landscape to portrait. It narrow the focus of the parent photo and zooms in on the 3 upright trees, removing the importance of the creek, which is a major element in the parent photo. It also makes the resulting photo less “busy”. It eliminates so much of the information that much of the simplification necessary to translate the photo into art.

Now other major decisions need to be made. What surface will you use for this work of art? Ea, what paper, support or otherwise will you use. Since we are talking about drawing, white paper is assumed. While most drawing will take place on relatively white paper, this is not necessarily so. There are many other perfectly good things to draw on that the assumption of regular paper is not always to be made. A walk through any art supply store will open your eyes to the wide range of papers now available to artists. The come in a wide range of whites, along with colored, tinted and filled papers. There are hot press, cold press, rough, medium and smooth textured, hand-made and mass-produced papers. Everything from thin, fragile mulberry and rice papers so thin you can see the veins of your hands through it to thick, stiff watercolor papers almost like thin boards. There are also a number of actual boards you can use. Masonnite surfaces are increasing in popularity for artwork, and take both graphite and inks well. Thin plywood, with a ground of gesso can also be used for graphite, charcoal and colored pencils and inks.

Drawing Paper

Which bring up another subject, what will you draw with? For this project, I will be sticking to graphite for one, but using charcoal of a sort for the other. As for the papers, I will be doing both on paper, not board.

I, personally, like working on the slightly thicker drawing papers and charcoal paper, rather than on sketchbook paper, which is thinner. I always carry a sketchbook with me for drawing on the spot, but for something I am going to devote a considerable effort to, and will most likely keep around or mat and frame. I like something a bit thicker, more durable. Also, for work you intend to have hanging around for a while, a good archival, acid free paper is a must. While copy paper is fine for learning and other exercises, it is not for work you devote a great deal of effort to. For regular drawing, I find the texture of many inexpensive watercolor papers a bit too patterned for my taste. But that is only personal taste, not some kind of rule or law. I like a surface that is a bit smoother than most watercolor papers.

I find charcoal or pastel papers have enough tooth to work with, without having a dominant pattern I have to deal with. Finding good charcoal paper has been more of a problem than using it. So much of the paper I find has a definite ridge paper from the rollers that it interferes with the development of the artwork.

On to the drawing

After selecting the paper to use, I generally layout the drawing area for the scene I am doing. I will talk about this next week, in part 2 of Drawing Snow in the Winter Landscape.