Meet Simon. He’s one of a handful of trees I drew this week.

Initially, I only wanted to draw something in ink and then add a tea wash. In other drawings, the tea wash made the ink brighter, like it was glowing. I wanted to see if I could do it again.

After applying ink, I wasn’t very happy with Simon. The trunk was too thin. The branches seemed too safe, in that they stayed away from each other; there was no interaction. And then, the black of the trunk just stopped at the circle, so that the circle seemed to be doing something I didn’t intend for it to do.**

I immediately drew another tree on another, larger surface. Even while drawing Simon, I was getting ambitious… and a little side-tracked.


The first tree, George, is on the bottom-left. Frank, who I drew on a separate sheet of paper before transferring him to the same surface as George, is on the upper-right. And Don is in the middle. There is a balance I need to find between the trees, which I haven’t yet, so this is as far as I’ve gotten.

Trees Simon 092918

I’m thinking of putting leaves over parts of George, because he has a little too much detail, and I like the bigger moves of Frank and Don; there are fewer lines and you get more cohesiveness. It’s a case of “less is more.”

(The first drawing of Frank is to the right and, below, there are now four trees, but it looks a little crowded.) Trees b

I’ve also transferred George onto a smaller surface and have gone back to my original idea of making a simple ink drawing with a tea wash.

I added some line work to the trunk, to break it up a little, which developed into another motif and its interaction with the branches. So there are the following interactions: the line work (branches vs. trunk, branch vs branch, line of trunk vs. line of trunk), the color distribution of the branches vs the color distribution of the trunk and, overall, the path of the black spaces vs that of the white.

Trees George 093018 d

This is George with about seven washes of tea. I somehow made the wash for the other drawings much darker, a golden brown, but I also made them splotchy. I had to stop adding more washes to George because the bottom edge seemed to be getting darker than the rest of the surface, meaning it was starting to seep into the inside fibers and is on the brink of getting splotchy.

Trees George 093018 d (2)

Here’s George next to a clean surface. It’s about a shade darker.

I got a clean, even wash (finally) by swiping my brush once across the very top edge and working my way down. With each swipe, I cleared the excess tea while applying more. Lines appear when you let the edge of a new wash dry in the middle of the surface, or when you use something to blot out the wash. This sounds obvious… but it took me a while.

** I have since decided that Simon is simply Simon… and I shouldn’t be so judgy. I have also realized that I’ve subconsciously made circles a default motif; if I can’t think of anything to interact with a given motif, like trees, I’ll add circles to represent, in this case, sun light or the circles you might see from staring at the sun directly. It feels very natural, but I’m weary of getting lazy.

Moreover, I don’t think I would be so conscious of this and any decisions regarding circle motifs if it weren’t for this blog… so that’s interesting.


Ink (fine gel pen, black)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Tea (as a wash)


Sirens III

This week, I did another version of Sirens. I had wanted to color this in for a while but wasn’t sure how. I began with a carbon copy, which I didn’t take a picture of, but I think it was fairly close to Sirens II (below).

022810 Sirens II b

Sirens II (2010)

It turned out really well and I was waffling on painting it because since taking the above photo, Sirens II has somehow gotten splattered (2 to 3 pin drops) with water color… aaargh! It would’ve been nice to have a cleaner version, but then again, I was curious to see how this would turn out.

Sirens III 092618 (1)

I began by darkening the thicker graphite lines with Chinese ink (applied with a brush), and then darkened the thinner lines with a fountain pen.

It turned out okay, but the difference between the thicker and thinner lines worked better in graphite, as one was in 9B and the other in HB, so the contrast was more obvious. I also didn’t like how many smudges there were (not very careful while reusing a towel for blotting excess ink), especially at the top where there are few lines and you’re supposed to be getting a sense of emptiness to contrast with what’s below.

Sirens III 092618 (2)

The first sections I filled in were those which I knew I wanted to be the darkest. Starting with a diluted shade gave me some room for making mistakes, and indeed, I changed my mind a number of times on which sections would be darker than other sections. I needed to consider the overall balance of color, the path a given color takes the eye across the surface, and how each color path interacts with another. The more interactions, the more lively it is.

I was happy with the above version, but because I smudged it earlier, I decided to paint in the top section, which made me make two of the sections of the top-left figure the darkest shade; which is a good example of the overall process for coloring this in.

Sirens III 092618 (3)
Sirens III (2018), 18″ x 24,” Ink on paper 

I know it’s weird that I comment on myself, like I’m observing myself in the third person, but hindsight is often better than foresight. Speaking of which, I can appreciate, in hindsight, my foresight to not let the smudges influence me in prematurely coloring in the top section.

In order to mask the smudges well enough, I had to give it a fairly dark wash, and going as dark as I did would’ve made me begin with an undiluted shade so that I would have had no room to make the mistakes I’d made.


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)



Circles II

Circles 090318.jpg
Circles II 090418, 12″ x 18,” Water color and Chinese ink on paper 

More practice with water colors. In my previous post, I had said I had in mind a more opaque application. I was thinking of Chinese ink but wanted to see if the water colors could do the same thing. They couldn’t. So this time, I actually used Chinese ink as a contrast to the water colors, while keeping the water colors light and airy.

I drew most of the lines in one sitting, but worked on filling in the shapes over several days, making sure I didn’t rush the decisions for which colors I would use and where. It’s a good exercise when you’re using the same set of forms, like a language. It becomes an exercise in how these forms can interact with each other and how to fill up the space given.

I wanted to rely on lines as little as possible, because this was an exercise on what water colors (and hence shapes filled in) can do and not lines. I was thinking of Miro’s Woman Encircled By the Flight of a Bird (1941) and other works, and began by doing some automatic drawing. The flow of the lines was its key feature, so the challenge (and the main idea) would be to express the play of lines from the interaction of shapes.

In the end, I couldn’t let go of all the lines. If I used more shapes to show the presence of a line, I could add too many shapes and make the drawing feel congested. But if I simply erased the straggling lines, it would cut the flow of some of the shapes too soon.


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Water colors (Roel, Acuarelas Italianas)


Chinese ink



Experimenting with water colors. Below is an exercise in choosing colors and how to fill up space.

Circles 082918

I’m also getting acquainted with the materials. I used dry water colors, but I think I prefer the liquid kind in tubes. Once I learned to get the right consistency, I realized that no matter what the ratio is of water to paint, I wouldn’t be able to make it look good if it was applied on too thickly.

In my head, I wanted the color to be vibrant and opaque, like ink, but it looked caked on and over-worked.

Circles b 082518
Circles 082718, 12″ x 18,” Water color on paper 

The blue circles were given one or two applications and even look pretty, while the red circles on the right were given five or six applications. Eventually, I washed off the excess red but it still looks comparatively dull and plain.


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Water color (Roel, Acuarelas Italianas)

Coffee as a base wash



Sorry for such a long break. Eh… life.

I’ve been pulling some things out of the works-in-progress pile.


While on “break,” I found myself doodling or doing some “automatic drawing” (above). It reminded me of something I drew in 2011 (below), which I really like but have not been able to use. It just seems like a detail of something else, but I have no idea of what that can be.


The flowers (below) were drawn in another style. Please ignore the creepy looking girl overwhelming… everything. I’d drawn the flowers and again didn’t know what to do with them, so I impulsively drew a face and then hair because… well, I don’t know why.


I’ve since redrawn the flowers…


I made a carbon copy of the original and redrew them onto a larger surface and then added more of them. I think it’ll serve as a context for something else… ?

Illustration vs Fine Art

I think the above are closer to illustrations than “fine art,” which makes sense because when I was drawing the original, Art Nouveau was really on my mind. Not that the movement didn’t produce fine art. Only, when I think of the Art Nouveau, I think of how they applied the beauty of what you might see in a frame on the wall (like a caged bird) and freed it into one’s living space, an object we sit, eat on or drink from. Unfortunately, it’s easy to let one’s ambitions fall short and produce something less “fine” and more “decorative.”

But what’s the difference between “fine” and “decorative?” Yes, there is the quality of the line and other elements of the form of a given piece, but I think an artist has to be careful of becoming formulaic, by recycling old “moves” so that it’s like the same song being played over and over again. It becomes a language from which there’s only so much meaning that’s being expressed.

I know one word can mean a variety of things; EG, some choice four letter words. But the variety comes from how you use them. Getting back to a “good” line… (1) It should have “good” form, and (2) lines and/or other elements should be useful to a greater context and/or better yet it should play off of other elements similar and/or different from itself.

Not sure if I’m there yet… Choices, choices… Of course, ambition can also kill an idea because an artist simply wants it to promise more than what it could be…

To be continued…



Picasso, The Early YearsI am currently reading Picasso: The Early Years (1892-1906), by Marilyn McCully. I haven’t had time to dive into it yet. Eh, other creative endeavors, life, etc. In the mean time, I’ll leave you with another response to Picasso.


062009 Sirens
Sirens (2009) Pastel and charcoal on watercolor paper, 18″ x 24″

I was reading The Ultimate Picasso, by Brigitte Leal, et. al. and I had just finished the section on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, including the studies leading up to it. I was also very moved by the section on the Blue Period, which preceded the one on Les Demoiselles d”Avignon. After drawing an outline in pencil and before applying the pastel, I had to decide on a color scheme. I considered one that was similar to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (sienna/beige/brick red), but it was ugly. I made one or two more sketches and settled on the above.

Note: I would not recommend using pastel on watercolor paper. It slides off very easily. I had to soften the pastel before applying it like a paste. Fortunately, and I discovered this by accident, if you let the pastel dry a little, it won’t move around as much. After the first day, I found that I could go over the previous day’s work and smooth out the surface and/or the line between two colors. It took me four to five days, two to four hours each day. It really should not have taken so long.

This was in February of 2009.

022810 Sirens II
Sirens II (2010) Pencil on watercolor paper, 18″ x 24″

Eight months later, I was unhappy with the original composition. I didn’t like the fact that I used black charcoal to make outlines and color in the eyes. It felt a little like cheating. So I made a carbon copy, thinking I would do the same version over again. In the zone, I ended up experimenting with the line work.

022810 Sirens II b
Sirens II b (2011) Pencil on watercolor paper, 18″ x 24″

A year later, after watching a biopic on Modigliani, starring Andy Garcia, I realized I could indeed make another version of the original but color in the eyes with a pale blue-gray. I took out both versions, because I keep them stored in the same place, and ended up “editing” the second version by making some of the lines darker, which made it look, you could say, more focused.

I’d now like to make a third version which is like the second but colored in. In my head, it’ll be a cubist water color painting… but I may be getting ahead of myself. I have another book, Picasso and Braque Pioneering Cubism, by William Rubin, which I’d like to get into, before thinking of my own approach to anything “cubist.”


Ooh, this was a doozy of a drawing. I was half way done before I realized I didn’t like what I was doing, so I started again.

I’m learning that I developed a heavy hand from line drawings I’ve done in the past. My hand wants to correct mistakes by going over the mistaken line until it’s so thick it’s brought closer to a better line. It’s a bad habit, which has as much to do with confidence than it does with having enough experience (in one’s mind and in one’s hand) to draw the right line, which — hey — are two things copying line drawings can help you develop.

L’Annonciation (1526), by Albrect Durer, is particularly unforgiving. You can’t get away with thicker lines, because he has such a delicate hand. With every thin line you redraw as a thick line, the picture changes a little, until you have a different style of drawing; and it’s Durer delicate style that makes his drawings so beautiful.

First Attempt:

I started by doing all the easy things, namely the top half and the lines that give perspective.

I did this so that I could build up some confidence for myself. At first glance, this picture looked fairly straight-forward to me, but after taking so many hours on the easy stuff, I realized I’d been hiding from my own feelings of intimidation… There’s so much going on here.

The carbon copy I made was a mess of blurry lines (again). I tried redoing parts of it, section by section, but I wasn’t asking myself what made this a great picture… and when I made the face of the angel kind of gloopy, I had to start over.

Second attempt:

My first attempt helped me slow down and appreciate the details that looked “charming” to me. I would regret ruining these elements, because while these details are a part of a larger story, each can stand on their own as well and look just as charming. (I’m referring to the face of the angel and the face of the girl, the drapery of the clothes ((a) the sleeves of the angel, (b) the sleeve of the girl, (c) the leg of the angel stepping forward, (d) the mid-section of the angel and (e) how the robe follows the posture of the angel), the posture of the angel, the hand of the angel, the lantern hanging from the ceiling, the pitcher and the candlestick on the mantle.)

I used the carbon copy to simply tell me where the details go, and then I worked on one section at a time. For each, I did a new carbon copy, so that what was going on in that section was fresh in my mind and I wasn’t blindly going over lines I’d forgotten. It gets tricky sometimes knowing what the lines are trying to show you when there are so many of them.

Going section by section has its drawbacks. I sometimes didn’t have the tracing paper in line with the rest of the drawing so it’s not a very accurate copy. There are folds missing at the bottom of the angel’s robe and at the shoulder or shoulders of the angel and I started making stuff up while filling in the wings.

I also made the unfortunate mistake of using a ruler when applying the ink to the lines in the top half of the drawing, which made me comfortable enough to move the pen slowly across. I used a very fine gel pen (super fine) but I think I’d applied too much pencil, so the ink had trouble adhering to the paper’s surface. Oftentimes, the ink wouldn’t come out and I would go back and forth until it would issue forth little globs, which dot all the lines in that section. I should’ve known to not use a pencil or a ruler after my first attempt, but, ironically, I didn’t want to risk ruining the picture after successfully drawing the girl and the angel.


I was so tired by the time I’d gotten to the “lesser” elements, that I said, “Hell with the pencil!” … and it was so much easier… and it didn’t feel impulsive. My hands had gotten used to drawing relatively straight lines, and the lines that weren’t straight were so light I could simply make correct lines right over them and simply move on. I see random lines in Durer’s drawing as well. I think he was unafraid of making mistakes and simply drew over the occasional bad line, or he made it apart of the drawing, like making a “happy mistake.”

In Conclusion:

There is a whole genre of visual art that depicts The Annunciation, so what makes this one stand out, if it does? I think it’s the overwhelming amount of details, and in the details there is nice “line flow.” You know when a sports commentator says “nice move” when watching an ice-skater twirl or be graceful in some way? That’s my reaction to so much of the line-work in this drawing. Every section has great lines, or you could simply say Durer had great style.


Strathmore Drawing Paper Series 300
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black

Copy of L’Annonciation (1526) from Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens, Premiere Serie, Troisieme Volume