Milling Machines and Perspective Mishaps

I started this blog as my own sketchbook, notebook. Lots of scribbles, some successes, and spectacular failures. I never intended this to be any kind of Insta-ham feed. This would be seperate from any notion of “finished” art pieces.

In the spirit of getting back on track, I submit this latest sketchbook page. I enjoyed making this sketch. It scratched two itches. First, I’ve been wanting to do more drawings that included some kind of machinery. I also look for good examples of hands in action. This small moment of a machinist tightening a drill bit was perfect, accomplishing both. That already made the effort a success from the start.

I like a few things in this sketch. I used watercolor pencils for the underdrawing. I used complimentary colors which helped separate hands from the machine. Breaking down the sketchbook page into two smaller drawings helped me work efficiently and confidently. Now I could focus on one section at a time.

I was surprised at how happy I ended up being with the hands. I can always improve when it comes to fingernails (what is it that makes them so challenging?!?!). The wash may have taken away from the forms instead of defining. Overall though I’m happy with the progress I’ve been making rendering hands. It makes the “long way to go” not seem so long.

The milling machine. What I believed would turn out best, didn’t quite get there. My strengths fell to the side (particularly the left side and components in particular). My only explanation is that I didn’t match the required effort and focus with expectations. I think that’s how most preventable mistakes happen.

That’s where I feel this ended up a failure. I made preventable mistakes. I was sloppy. Those are really the worst mistakes. Mistakes made while learning, exposing areas that require more knowledge, practice are informative. Mistakes made while exploring something new are valuable. Mistakes made over subjects we are familiar and have had practice with are empty experiences.

If there is anything good about an empty failure, it’s the lesson that you will never be too good to not focus on what’s in front of you.

Micro Torch

Fountain pen, ink wash and gouache on mixed media paper

As much as I enjoy the toothe of this mixed-media paper, I may have to finally crack open a watercolor sketchbook. While a spot of gouache is handled well, every attempt at a wash has buckled the pages. It’s mostly tolerable but adds one more thing I have to be aware of and really shouldn’t. I should be thinking about the sketch itself. What I’m seeing and trying to get on paper.


Much of why I started drawing again has been about reconciliation. It’s a recursive reconciliation. It builds and deconstructs along the same loop. Since moving back to post-industrial North Jersey, I have been reconciling my ties here. Growing up here. What is the effect of that legacy on us children of factory workers? That last generation of shift workers benefiting from a final, full prosperous breath of big industry employment.

It’s not nostalgia I feel. Something in me needs to recognize growing up around the tools, machines, shops, plants and talk of shifts. I thought a sketch involving fire was a good way to begin. A torch lit and ready to begin.

5 Artists, 5 Quotes on Drawing

Practice. Rehearse. Just over a week away. I registered for a speed round-robin portrait event. Artists are allowed exactly ten minutes to complete each drawing. “Times up!” We hurry and switch to the next fresh new face. It’s both performance, test of skills and courage. Nervous, I’ve looked for anything to squelch the butterflies. Maybe build confidence.

I keep lists upon lists. Several include favorite artists. I have a few lists of quotes. Looking, I found a perfect handful. Meditating on each one I thought they made a good list to share.

Sense of purpose. Clarity of voice. Insidious feelings of inadequacy. Each artist offers a guiding, bold honesty. Keep these quotes close for moments of creative confusion.

Believe it or not, I can actually draw.

~ Jean-Michel Basquiat

My dream is to show the fire which comes out of the horses’ nostrils; the dust which rises from their hooves. I want this to be an infernal waltz.

~ Rosa Bonheur

Even if a comic artist spent his whole life drawing yogurt cups. You would still see his most secret and deranging sensibility emerge.

~ Jean “Moebius” Giraud

I wish I was better at art. I love some of the great artists of the 19th century and, compared to them, I just feel I lack this technique.

~ Hayao Miyazaki

Errors and exaggerations do not matter. What matters is boldness in thinking with a strong-pitched voice, in speaking out about things as one feels them in the moment of speaking; in having the temerity to proclaim what one believes to be true of the consequences. If one were to await the possession of the absolute truth, one must be either a fool or idle. If the creative impulse were stunted, the world would then be stayed on its march.

~ José Clement Orozco

Quotes are translations from the original language

First Page of a New Sketchbook: Abert’s Towhee

First page in my new everyday-carry sketchbook. I’ve switched to 6 x 9 inches (~15cm x 23cm) from the previous three 4 x 6-inch sketchbooks I had been taking with me everywhere. At home, I develop ideas, doodle and sketch my studies in a 9″ x 12″ sketchbook. It made sense to have something that was portable but closer to that larger size. The size difference is much more comfortable and it’s not exactly cumbersome to hold in my hand while walking.

Pencil, marker, brush, and fountain pen

I’m trying out the National Audobon Society’s app as a sort of drawing prompt for times when I find myself in a coffee shop or other in-between, stand-by moments. This is an Abert’s Towhee, a native of the Southwest United States and classified under New World Finches.

Building on Small Successes in Watercolor: Great Blue Heron

How could I build small successes in watercolor? The few times I’ve worked with it in the past I was left frustrated and with an overall bad impression of the medium. I had convinced myself it just wasn’t for me. But over the past few months, I’ve been progressing through Kimon Nicolaides’ “The Natural Way to Draw”. It’s a book I’ve worked directly from when I was a student but always skipped the painting parts.

About a month ago I arrived at one of the first schedules focusing on modelling the human figure through watercolor. I purchased the two tubes of paint as directed but hesitated on the “best brush I could afford” and went with a Cotman from Winsor & Newton (their student/beginner line).

I let go of all my past experiences and prejudices regarding watercolor. I worked exactly as directed in the schedule. Now, granted Nicolaides doesn’t direct students on all the finer techniques of watercolor. There is no mention of manipulating blooms or choosing the right watercolor paper. The exercises are done on sheets of manilla paper, a dry brush and the paint applied without a drop of water.

While the resulting sketches from the exercise will not be placed on anyone’s refrigerator, the exercise was a great success in several areas. I further expanded my sense of forms in a way that complemented previous attempts with crayon and ballpoint pen. However, I was surpised at how much I grew to appreciate the capabilities offered by watercolor. As the week went on I added a little more water but always following the instruction to keep a dry brush before picking up the paint.

In the weeks since I followed some other advice on learning to use watercolor which was to try gouache paints. Again working straight from the tube and gradually adding a bit of water. I had never considered working with gouache, particularly in my sketchbook. I’ve been missing out because it is a terrific paint to use in a mixed media sketchbook (my preference).

And so, last week I took a deep breath and decided to combine spots of gouache and watercolor to a pencil sketch of this Great Blue Heron. I taped down the page. First I applied a light ink wash for a simple background. No buckling or puddles, good start. Then I mixed some gouache for the beak. Finally, deep breath, I applied a slightly diluted blue for the head plumes (wishing I had purchased a better brush that can hold a sharp point) and then a heavily diluted blue for the mantle and wings. This quick little painting in my sketchbook was done.

Gouache, watercolor, ink wash and fountain pen

I removed the tape, the paper hadn’t buckled and I had my first watercolor piece done without incident. A small success and now I can add this medium to my sketchbook studies.

Have you had similar experiences with watercolor? What finally made you decide to press on or abandon the medium? Watercolor has a way of humbling many artists but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Best Foot Forward

Some find hands and faces challenging. For me, it’s feet and knees (I know I think it’s weird). Earlier last summer when I decided to begin practicing art full-time again I began a brand new sketchbook with feet. Especially when it’s a study or subject I’m not in love with I like to try new or less often used tools. Somehow the discomfort of using new, less practiced tools offsets obstacles in our approach to a problematic subject There’s a reset of perceptual wiring. We can just let go and draw.

Recent studies George Bridgeman’s breakdowns of the forms in the foot

Recently I went back to that same sketchbook months after the first set of studies. I decided on simpler sketches based off of George Bridgeman’s breakdown of the forms of the foot. After years and years, I still find feet to be funny looking hooves that wiggle.

Making a Big Splash on a Rainy Day

Last week on a dark and rainy morning I took a small dish of leftover water I had soaked the tip of a lovely Prussian blue crayon. I opened my sketchbook to a blank spread, held the dish of bright blue water above it and let it spill out across the two pages. I set it aside to dry while I moved on to other tasks.

In the afternoon I went back and stared at the arrangement of stains. The day needed some fun color. After doodling away a Koi out of the bottom larger stain I brought out a handful of companions to swim along.

I like creating sketchbook prompts like this to store away for a later time. I ended up giving in to impatience and playing with this spread on the same day but I try to set random backgrounds for myself in my sketchbook then forget about them. It’s a good way to break up a rut, create a creative challenge and have some impulsive fun.