Monday, October 27, 2014

The block-printing bug...and a Guinness or two


It all started innocently enough when I was drawn to the vintage graphics on this brayer box at an estate sale. A few weeks and a few purchases later, I'm in the throes of a block printing obsession.


(There are tons of wonderful block-printing tutorial videos and instructions online—I especially like Linda Cote's site—so I won't go into a lot of the "how-to" details of preparing your drawings, etc. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.)

For the first pass, I used a little block of Speedball's "Speedy Cut" material. (It's either white or blue in the stores.) Yes, it's super easy to carve, but the eraser-like material doesn't hold up all that well to multiple cleanings or larger print runs. Here's the block I used for my first little piece, seen above:


Confidence boosted, I decided to try a regular carving block of linoleum. I chose one of my favorite old drawings to adapt. At first, I was discouraged at how difficult it was to carve. But I realized that I was trying to carve too deeply; once I got the hang of it, it was great fun.



This material gives your cuts more of a traditional woodcut look, but it'll take some more practice for me. However, I may not return to the lino, because I'm in love with Speedball's "Speedy Carve", as you'll see below. (Why Speedball named their two materials so similarly is beyond me...I just call it "the pink stuff" now.)

Feeling pretty brave at this point, I decided to make try a two-color reduction print for my son's girlfriend's birthday, using a photo I'd taken of her beautiful Doberman, Guinness. Yes, I did an overlay on this one, not an original drawing, but it was a photo that I took myself. I decided not to create my own drawing, because I wanted to capture this specific dog, and we all know that we, as pet owners, know every little unique detail of our animals.

The Speedy-Carve is soft enough to cut easily, but retains its edges beautifully through multiple cleanings and printings. I experimented with different  papers, etc. My new fave is Arches 88...those prints turned out beautifully.


On a reduction print, you print the lightest color first, then cut away everything that remains that color to print the next color. Obviously, this creates a limited edition—there's no going back to that first layer! But if you used a little homemade jig like I did (see below), it makes registration a breeze. In fact, getting those two colors to align perfectly was my biggest fear, and they all came out lined up perfectly!







Here's my set-up: a piece of foamcore board with a hole cut the exact size of my block but not quite as thick. An L-shaped corner to register the paper against, 


and I made a "mask" out of heavy paper to quickly lay over the image after inking so that the stray inking marks would be covered up and wouldn't print. I learned that many experience printers prefer rubbing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon rather than a traditional baren. Easy and cheap!

I made about a dozen and got quite a few pretty nice prints out of those, but this was my best one, all framed up to send off!


I'll never give up my pencil drawing—in fact, I'm having a great time on a new piece at the moment—but there is definitely a lot more block printing in my future!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Golden Delicious

My neighbor's Golden Delicious apple tree is loaded with fruit, despite its height of less than five feet. They were quite greenish in color when picked, but have now ripened to their beautiful eponymous color. That monochromatic coloring doesn't lend itself to a drawing quite as dramatic as the Gala variety that I drew a while back, but I really loved the brown marking on the skin near the stem. Now that apple season is upon us, I'm hoping to fit in drawings of a few more varieties for this series:

Any favorites you'd like me to look for?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy First Day of Autumn!



A Trio of Buttercup Squash
Prismacolor colored pencil on Stonehenge paper
(click to enlarge)


I love going to the grocery store or farmer's market in the fall. The piles of pumpkins, brightly colored gourds and winter squash are irresistible to me—and such a variety of shapes and colors! Many of these buttercup squash (not to be confused with butternut squash) look like little lidded jars or pots. They're pretty cute, and after we try them for dinner tonight, I'll let you know how they taste!

Here are some shots of my "models" and work-in-progress:



After I do the sketch, I often scan it and print it out at different sizes, so that I can pick just the right size for the final drawing.

Greens are tricky to scan: You can see that the greens are much more accurate in the daylight photo than in the scans...hopefully the final scan at the top of the post shows the true colors, or at least close!






If you're not all squashed out, 
take a look at my drawing of my all-time favorite winter squash here.

Happy First Day of Autumn!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Horned Melon

Horned Melon, Cucumis metuliferus
Prismacolor colored pencils on Stonehenge paper

Have you seen these little spiky creatures at your grocery store? I saw some a few months ago, but didn't buy one as I had no time to draw it then. I've been scouting the produce section for them ever since, and—lo and behold—there they were last weekend! (I was going to get two, but that was before I realized they were about $6 apiece. Yikes.)

The horned melon is also known as the kiwano melon or the African horned melon, but I prefer its cute nicknames: hedged melon, blowfish melon, and jelly melon.


I drew the outside first and tried to see if the spikes fell in any kind of pattern or symmetry. (You know about my obsession with radial symmetry in nature.) But they seemed to be rather randomly arranged. So imagine my surprise when I cut it in half to draw the inside: My cut went through 3 spikes that were in an almost perfect equilateral triangle! In fact, the whole cross-section was shaped like a circle with 6 flattened faces. The cross-section looks very much like a cucumber (which is in the same family).


I am intrigued by fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and kiwi, whose insides are in sharp contrast to their outerwear. This one pretty much wins the prize in that category, doesn't it?
(And, no I haven't tasted it...yet!)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Three limes and a paper bag


Prismacolor colored pencil on Stonehenge paper ("Fawn", I think)
Approx. 5" x 6"

I bought some limes the other day to make this yummy melon gazpacho. As I was unpacking the groceries, they tumbled out of the bag and I thought they looked so beautiful—their bright, shiny green skins against the brown paper bag. (This drawing is a bit looser than some that I do...I had to get those limes juiced for the gazpacho at some point!)

But as I was drawing, I couldn't decide who was the star—the limes or the paper bag? Who doesn't enjoy the age-old classic challenge of drawing a crumpled paper bag? The limes won out, so I left the bag as just a few lines and shadows. (Now I'm in the mood to draw the bag all by itself and let it be the star this time.)

But the image above is a cropped version of the actual drawing. I've written posts about cropping before (here), but it's always an interesting challenge for me. I don't draw digitally, but I have come to rely on (or be dependent upon?) the Photoshop cropping tool. It's probably not a good thing that I know that I can, for all practical purposes, "compose" my drawing after-the-fact. I could play around with cropping for ages—I love being able to crop an image different ways for different uses, frames, etc.

Here's the actual full drawing:


And this one is "zoomed out" a bit further than the image at the top of the post:


And a square formatted one, for what it's worth:


What do you think? Is the cropping tool a crutch or just another wonderful tool to work with? Oh, and which of these cropped versions do you prefer?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pretty Peach (and one that's a bit off)


Prismacolor colored pencils on Stonehenge paper
(click to enlarge)

I'll tell you right off the bat that I'm not all that happy with this one. Maybe it's because I realized, partway through the drawing, that the shape of the half on the left isn't quite right. I probably should have scrapped it then, and started over, but I worked on, hoping things would look okay as they were rendered.  But when it's wrong, it's wrong, and I think my heart just wasn't in this one after that point. It happens.  Although I did really have fun drawing the the peach pit!

Peach pits...I must detour a bit down Memory Lane. When I was a kid, Avon had this line of toiletries for girls called Pretty Peach. We had a few treasured items, but my hands-down favorite was this set of 3 soaps. (I just love things that have a little surprise inside when you open them.) To this day, I can't cut a peach in half without thinking of these:

Avon Pretty Peach Soap

(Isn't Google image search amazing? Found this on ebay.)


Okay, onward and upward to a better drawing next time. In the meantime, here are some WIP pics to distract you from my misshapen peach half. (Apologies for the uneven lighting; I just snapped these with my iphone at my desk rather than stopping to scan.) Have a peachy day.





Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Summer Still Life


7" x 7", Prismacolor colored pencils 
on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, Light Blue
(click to enlarge)


The other day, I was looking at some fresh blueberries on an enamelware dish and thought they looked like an old-fashioned all-American summer day. So I started this little patriotic piece—you get the "flag" composition, right?—deciding to use this blue paper because it reminded me of sun-faded denim or chambray. As a result, the whole piece looks a little faded—I like that.  I have a thing about that paper with blueberries; I used it this very same week three years ago on this blueberry sketch!

I kept accidentally smearing the red pencil into the white areas, and had to redraw them once before just resigning myself to pinkish stripes. I was originally going to have a bowl of blueberries, but changed the bowl to a plate for a more casual arrangement of the berries.

One thing I'm still deciding: does it look better showing  a bit of the paper (below) or cropped as it is above? Feel free to leave me your opinion in the comments.

Happy almost-August!!



Some set-up and WIP pics:
(I had blueberries everywhere before I was done.)





Monday, July 21, 2014

Ground cherries?!

Ground Cherries, "Aunt Molly's"
Physalis pruinosa
4" x 9", Prismacolor colored pencil on Stonehenge paper
(click to enlarge)

Among the heirloom seeds that my daughter gave to me for Christmas, was a pack labelled "Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries"Ground cherries?  Even at my age, this was a new one. The fruit in the photo looked more like little yellow tomatillos—a smooth fruit within a papery husk—and what's with the "ground" part? Well, I read the packet to learn that they have that name not because you grind them up (admit it, that crossed your mind too...), but because you wait until they fall to the ground to harvest them. And the sweet fruit, also known as Cape gooseberries, are indeed related to tomatillos. Huh! Who knew?

Isn't it funny (and a bit eerie, if I'm being honest) when you learn about something for the first time, or hear a term you've never heard, and then it pops up again almost immediately? Well, this spring, what did I see in my grocery store, alongside the berries? Pichuberries, which seem to be identical to my Ground Cherries! Check them out here. Apparently they're a new "super fruit" or something. But my favorite fun fact from that discovery is this: "In France, this fruit is also referred to as 'Love in the Cage'". Well, if we're getting all lyrical, I am compelled to add that, while I was drawing,  my composition started looking to me a little bit like a nativity scene: two adoring parents and a new baby. Am I crazy or do you see that, too? And if their husk shape looks familiar, it's because they're also related to the ornamental Chinese Lantern plant, usually a showy orange or reddish husk.

My plants aren't huge, but this has been a tough summer in our garden; we're trying to water just enough, considering the drought we're in. These first ones, that I gathered to draw, are on the small side as you can see here:

Here is my initial sketch, followed by a few more WIP scans:





How about you: are you familiar with ground cherries aka cape gooseberries aka pichuberries?

Friday, July 11, 2014

SunSugar Cherry Tomatoes


Hmmm. This is one of those pieces that didn't turn out quite as I'd envisioned. Maybe I should've used richer colors, or should add a background—I'm not sure. Things just haven't clicked: I even felt like the hot weather was affecting my pencils, making them waxier than usual! 

These little "SunSugar" cherry tomatoes are so beautiful on the vine—the way the clusters become a rainbow of color as they ripen. I wanted to capture that stage, as I've drawn fully ripe ones in the past. 


Here are a few work-in-progress pics. This time, I used an empty slide mount instead of my usual viewfinder that I've shown you before:


I decided to enlarge it to 5x the original little thumbnail sketch on the right:


The tomatoes continued to ripen and change colors as I worked—what a show!


As I look at this next pic, I'm thinking that I like this "unfinished" stage more than the final one. The negative space where the vine will go might've looked more interesting left alone."Food for thought" for the next piece.


Well, while there's nothing horrible about this drawing,
I think that I'll chalk it up as a learning piece.
(Or maybe I'll just have to add a background before it drives me crazy...!)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sand Dollar, version 2.0

(click to enlarge)

As mentioned in my last post, after playing around in that looser style, I had to do a tighter, more realistic version of one sand dollar. It's a quiet little drawing, but it played right into my obsession with radial symmetry in nature. The image is about 6" in diameter, twice the size of the actual sand dollar. I used what I think is a piece of Fabriano Artistico paper that I found in my drawer; its beautiful surface just loves the graphite. I remembered to take this one WIP shot, for what it's worth :


I hope you're enjoying the first few days of summer!