Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Draw: The Pieces Make Up the Whole

Well school starts up tomorrow so I thought I'd start the year with a basic drawing exercise.  Art is all about observation and then how we interpret what we see around us.

When you approach a drawing activity with kids (adults too) they often have difficulty making their work go past the simple cartoon like image. 

One of the ways we can address this is to get the student to really look at the pieces that make up the larger subject we are trying to draw. 

This activity is applicable for all ages


- reference material, or model
- scrap paper in odd sizes
- pencil and eraser
- fine markers or sharpies
- paint, colored pencil, pastel or whatever you have to apply some color
- glue
- background paper for mounting


Gather your reference material.  Find some good books from the library, some photographs, or set up a model.

I like to use birds or animals, you could also do plants.  Use whatever is applicable to your situation.

If you are able to observe a real life example go for it!  Birds and animals may not always be cooperative though.

Find a good spot to work in with good light.

Variation:  If you want to add a writing component to this activity try this,
- get the kids to write down the main descriptive components of their subject
- maybe they are describing it to an alien or someone who has never seen an animal or bird
- or a shopping list like "If I was going to make a........I would need...."

Now I save all my scraps, especially leftover pieces of watercolor paper.  For this exercise you need at least
 3-5 pieces of paper in different sizes.

On the largest piece of paper have the kids draw out the main shape or at least part of that main shape.

Here I am focusing on that head, the ears, and that sway back as i really like that curve the tiger has.

Add some color to your sketch and you can even add extra lines to emphasize that shape if you want.

 Now take a smaller piece of paper and focus on a dominant part.  With animals I want them to focus on that eye. How does it look, what expression does it give off, what color, size, shape is it.

Now this is a cropped drawing so make sure the students fill in the entire background.

With the rest of the papers focus on other details that make this subject distinctive.  If you did the writing prep at the beginning have the students pull ideas from that.

Here I am focusing on the pattern of the fur, the shape of the nose, and the wonderful luxurious tail.

Add color.

Now glue all your drawings onto a background paper.

I'm sure by the end of this exercise your students will be looking more closely to the parts/details of any future subject matter.

A short variation of this exercise can also be done in their sketchbooks, little 2"X2" studies to help them prepare for a larger composition.
Jeff, age 8

Practice your drawing and observation skills and we'll see you next time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

and the Winner is.....

So it's time to announce the winner of  "Starting Your Career As An Artist" by Angie Wojak and Stacy Miller.

I'd like to thank Allworth Press and Skyhorse Publishing for making this giveaway possible.

I received 26 comments and 23 emails for a total of 49 entries and the winner selected by RANDOM INTEGER is:

Here are your random numbers:
Timestamp: 2011-08-27 17:51:21 UTC

That means the lucky entry by time and date is

Calmil2 who wrote:

 Would LOVE a copy!!! I am struggling with so many of those topics right now...Sounds like a great book!!  Harmony  August 24, 2011 1:28pm

If you could contact me at with your shipping address and I'll get your winning copy off to you right away.

Thanks everyone for entering and don't despair if you didn't win. I have an upcoming giveaway that is fantastic so stayed tuned.

See you next week with some new art projects in time for "Back to School".


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway

"Starting Your Career as an Artist: A Guide for Painters, Sculptors, Photographers, and Other Visual Artists" is a brand new book by Angie Wojak and Stacy Miller.

I was lucky enough to score a review copy this summer and spent quite a few afternoons by the lake in serious reading mode.

This book is no lightweight. Just reviewing the table of contents had me wondering about new strategies to deal with exhibiting, funding, mentoring, etc.

The authors look at the whole picture and examine the viewpoints of all the stakeholders in the art scene, not just the artist.  It's filled with interviews with gallery owners, art directors, educators, emerging and established artists, and funders (to name a few).

They also break down all the major areas with practical advice i.e.  Eight Steps for Simple Record Keeping and Tax Filing,  Common Artist's Statement Mistakes to Avoid, Dangerous Materials and Equipment in the Studio, Lifelong Learning for Artists, and on and on!

Before long my copy was filled with notes to myself, underlined areas, and a plan was emerging in my mind on putting my "artist" house in order.

256 pages and unlike most art books I read and review, no pictures.  Just lots of hard won advice, strategy, and relevant content for both the emerging artist and the "established" veteran, cause let's face it "It's not easy out there!".

If you are interested in winning your own copy please leave me a comment or send me an email ( before midnight on Friday.  I will hold a random draw on Saturday.

Good Luck everyone!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Early Autumn Window Scene

So here is that project I was working on. Trying to combine another writing project with the visual arts.     ( As always you can click on any picture for a larger view and I apologize in advance for some of the darker images as I am having lighting issues in the studio.)

It's based on that realization that Autumn is coming.  The curtain has a poem written on it that the student has composed about that moment.

The viewer that gently lifts back the curtain to reveal.....

 The view that has inspired the poem.

Now you don't necessarily have to have a poem, could be just words around change or transition or for very young learners just the word "FALL".

(writing is not my strong point so my poem is just to give you the idea)

So lets get started:


- corrugated cardboard
- wc paper or thick sketch paper for the background
- paint
- assorted papers
- legal size cartridge paper
- stick or dowel (to be the curtain rod)
- wire
- glue

Paint a background scene.  You will be adding the foreground trees to this scene so it can be fairly simple. 

While your paints are out make some painted papers to use for your trees.

Use a variety.  Here I'm using newspaper, book pages, and parts of an old map.

Add some texture using whatever tools you have around.  Old gift cards for spreading and scraping on paint, ends of brushes to make dots, caps from bottles to imprint circles, etc....

While your papers are drying make your frame.  Using cardboard that is a bit larger than your background cut out a frame.

If you want some texture detail draw on some designs with white glue and then let dry.

When your frame is dry, paint it.  To bring out the texture of the glue design you can dry brush on another color.

While the frame is drying complete your scene.  Using your painted papers add your trees.  Here I cut out leaf shapes, other shapes to represent a mass of leaves, and connect them all with painted branches or add these details with pencil crayons or sharpies.

Using your legal sized paper cut a curtain shape.

Write out your poem, words, sentences, whatever is to be added.

Pencil it in first and then go over with marker so it will stand out.

Take that paper and scrunch it up a few times.

Flatten it out and then paint it.  All your crinkles will show up making it look more like fabric.

When dry attach to your stick or dowel with some glue.

While the glue is still wet scrunch it up a little on the stick to make it look like pleats in the curtain.  Just make sure you can still read the writing.

Glue the frame to the background scene.

Attach the stick (curtain rod) to the front of your picture with wire.

And that's it.  I'll probably attach a sign asking the kids to be gentle with the curtains when these are on display.

Hope this provides you with the inspiration for other projects using a curtain to hide or reveal.

Check back later this week for a new book review and giveaway!

Try to enjoy these last days of summer vacation and I'll see you soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Moving On

So we move forward.....

I greatly appreciate all your emails, opinions, and comments.  This is definitely not how I expected this week to go.  I'm sure I'll be having a few more of those conversations with myself until I can fully put it aside.

....but I need to keep going. Nothing like a little bit of controversy to get that creative juice flowing!

This is just a peek in the sketchbook of the new project I'm working through.

Looking at how to use a drape within a piece that will either close off a view or reveal.

Of course I think my personal work will have different connotations....but on a more neutral level I was thinking of  a school project that corresponds with the changing of the seasons.

Maybe it's the cool weather the last few days here in Calgary but I can already sense that moment coming.....

.......when you see that first tree starting to change and it hits you like a ton of bricks......

(please excuse the hasty sketch) This is where it usually occurs to me as I'm driving by a nearby park.

So I'm just putting on the final touches on the school version and hope to show you the complete tutorial shortly.

Thanks again for all support and kind words that you passed along I was overwhelmed to say the least!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Response to Last Post

I apologize to anyone that I may have offended by my last post.  This was not my intention.  I have removed it from the blog reluctantly and was very upset at the reaction/comments from a few readers.

 This blog was created as a resource to teachers and educators. First Nations culture is a very important component of the elementary curriculum and art projects help to reinforce this.  To me this was no different than when I teach Pysanky(Ukrainian), Wycinanki (Polish), Tapas(South Pacific), Wayang Kulit(Indonesian), etc, etc, etc. 

If we want to encourage our youth to develop an understanding of the culture, art, history and the profound significance First Nations have on our country's identity we need to be willing to share it.  I was not trying to exploit it only trying to encourage students/kids from Canada and around the world to try creating some of their own artwork in this style to foster education, understanding, compassion, and a connection with this part of our country's heritage.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mixed Media Owl

Well I can't spend 2 weeks here at the cabin without making an owl can I!

........ok maybe I'm just a little Owl crazy but when you hear them hooting all night it gets to you.....

I decided to finish the samples I made while at the Fernie workshop. 

I found some great natural items to add to this portrait proving that you don't need to visit the store for supplies just use what's around you.


- a substrate, which is a fancy word for a base, here I used a framed canvas but you could use a piece of cardboard or a wooden board
- acrylic paint
- spackle
- cardboard
- tissue, cheesecloth, burlap, or anything else you have lying around
- tacky glue, glue gun
- found items
- Mod podge

So like I showed in the Fernie post I textured my canvas using spackle and a number of tools to create designs.
Let the canvas (substrate) dry.  Mine was covered with lots of texture as I was showing all the different possibilities.    I then painted it with acrylic paint.

I then let this base coat dry.

I came in with some more paint and did a dry brush application to pull out the details of the texture.  Basically with a dry brush you want to come in with light paint if the base color is dark or dark paint if the base is light.  Apply lightly with a dry bristle brush,  I keep my old beat up brushes to use for this.

Put aside to dry.
I had a piece of corrugated cardboard from which I cut out the basic shape of my owl.  I applied some gesso or you can use glue and stuck on some tissue and cheesecloth to give it texture.  Again this was my leftover sample so I had a little bit of everything going on.  When dry paint with acrylics.

I found a nice big pine cone on one of my walks so I took some of the scales off starting from the bottom.  I also made sure to pick off the little barb on each scale so they were easier to work with.

They looked feather shaped to me.

I then painted them with acrylics to look like owl feathers.

I had my husband cut some rounds off a large fallen branch to use for eyes.   I sanded them smooth.

I also lucked out and found this neat beak shaped rock.

I then painted them.....didn't want my eyes perfectly them a little kooky.

Using tacky glue I glued all the pieces in place.


I painted a branch on the background for my owl to perch on.

I then glued the owl onto the background with a glue gun.

I then sealed the whole thing with Mod podge.

Let dry and you have a great mixed media portrait for your wall.

See you next time!