Scream 30″ x 18″ Chinese Ink on Xuan paper

Happy Halloween everyone!

I drew this image in 2018 on four 11″ x 14″ sheets of drawing paper and I’ve wanted to redraw this for a while on a single surface. It recently dawned on me that I could use xuan paper which is the perfect size.

It was also a good chance for me to practice line work with a Chinese brush, which was a lot of fun, as the color and weight of the paper makes the drawing feel delicate and vintage while the quality of line from a brush is more varied and every now and then allows for the texture of the surface to show through.

Solar Flare I and II

It’s a little difficult to talk about editing when talking about a work in progress that’s abstract. In writing, you might focus on grammar, flow and veracity, for example. But in abstract art, what do you focus on?

For Solar Flare, I think it’s not the intent but specific elements.

Solar Flare I Ink on paper, 18″ x 20″

I began this work in 2018 and then stepped away from it because I was overwhelmed by the idea of ruining it. Which is silly. It’s been so long I’ve changed in my role as audience. I no longer see the “problems” I’d seen as problems anymore but simply as a starting point.

I had been concerned about creating a “wallpaper effect,” and to this I can only argue that I’d approached it with the intent to use a specific element over and over. I just didn’t want it to look like I did. Maybe knowing this, I was self-conscious and couldn’t help but see the “wallpaper” effect.

Either way, I decided I could focus on what’s good about what I already have instead of running away from the final product before getting there.

To be honest, I do not actually like the “flower” element but I do like another element — an imperfect, wavy curve (for a lack of a better description).  

I liked it in 2018 and very easily picked it up again, unlike the flowers which felt very unnatural.

I did find myself drawing a looser version of the flower element (left) when completing Solar Flare 2, because having only the wavy curves made the drawing a little boring. So… it’s more complicated than liking or not liking the element(s). The idea works better with the two elements interacting with each other.

I ended up with two versions: I completed the original drawing just because I wanted to see it through, and this became Solar Flare I, while Solar Flare II is the completed “edited” version.

Solar Flare I does seem messy in places but it also seems more complete compared to Solar Flare II.

I also like the wavy curves in the lower right hand side of Solar Flare I more than in any other place of either version.

Solar Flare II Ink on paper, 18″ x 20″

Michelangelo (Copy of a portrait)

I found a good picture of Michelangelo online, and assigned myself the task of copying it to a sketchbook. I’d copied pictures before but I’d cheated by using grids (or other means). This was my first time I’d copied something with such intricate line work by eye.

There are a couple of things that helped me along the way.

1) General rules for proportions of the face. EG, you can divide the face into equal thirds between the hairline and bottom of the nose and chin. You might notice some lingering guidelines in the first picture.

2) The face is seen at a 3/4 view and on a slight tilt, so I made a guideline that followed the contour of the eyes to get the relative height of the eyes and drew everything else by using my best judgment.

3) I had been thinking of following lines so much that it felt like too much of a challenge to gauge the relative placement of the lines. For this drawing, I learned to think of the face as a three dimensional object and to gauge the relative placement of pieces of the face. EG, I had seen the temples as two curves in an outline, like the face was two dimensional, but here I saw the temples as pieces that sat at the upper right and upper left of the eyes.

I was tempted to leave it at that… but what was so appealing about the original picture was its line work

So to get the courage to begin, I allowed myself to draw the way I felt most comfortable drawing, by shading and with a pencil. I then went over it with a colored pencil so I wouldn’t have to worry about rubbing the lines away and to minimize second-guessing myself. I then took a deep breath and started applying ink… which was fine until I got to the creases of his eyes, which is when I took the fourth picture. I was filled with regret and thought that I should’ve stuck with the pencil… and glued some paper over my “mistakes” to go over it with pencil again.

I waited a day and after looking at it again I realized this was stupid and scratched off as much of the glued pieces of paper as I could… which muted the harshness of the lines but still allowed something to show through what was left of the paper and glue.

Not my proudest moment. But I felt inclined to add more ink over other features… then eventually went back to the eyes because there was a level of anguish expressed in the pencil that I had erased or which was overwhelmed by the intensity of the ink.

I realized that once you have ink the pencil can’t compete. You have to fully commit to ink and use colored pencil to supplement the ink.

Or I want to say I could fully commit… but I didn’t have the nerve.

Instead I focused on the jacket. There was some very obvious “moves,” like hashing in opposing angles. Similar to something Michelangelo did in his drawings was branching off of opposing lines, so the lines didn’t appear out of no where. I didn’t see this in the collar and so I didn’t try doing this in my own drawing, and I think it made the collar in my own drawing more two dimensional. I notice now, in the original, that at the bend in the collar there is a corresponding branching off of opposing lines; IE, the horizontal lines dip just where the vertical lines dip as each follows its own contours.

I know, it’s a far cry from the original (below). But there was a lot to learn here.

I wish I knew who to credit for the original. If you know, please comment below and I’ll add an attribute.

Salvaging Old Drawings: Fire Balloons


Gaa Wai (dot) com, Figure 5c

Like the initial drawing for Solar Flare, the figure above is an old drawing which I want to make use of. I’ve been thinking of creating layers and using sketches as elements in a larger story.

In my sketchbook, the figure fills the page, but it’s like the detail of a larger image. You get a character and not a full vignette, much less a full story.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Oracle.JPG

The challenge of creating a story for the element goes hand in hand with the challenge of making the new drawing look like everything in it was meant for one drawing. I was looking for something simple and which the figure could naturally support. I randomly thought of fire balloons.

I prepared the paper with tea and created my first layer, which were lines depicting clouds, in the style of old Chinese paintings and painted with coffee.

I then made a carbon copy of the figure with the idea that it would act as a double image: an oracle and a fire balloon on fire.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, sketch (1).JPG

Midway, I thought of titles, but I may have gotten ahead of myself or ahead of the drawing. I thought of “Oracle on fire and there are people watching,” and I let the words guide me, because I couldn’t think of how to complete the drawing and sketched in silhouettes of people on the bottom.

I put it away for a couple of days and when I was ready to paint, I realized it was too much or it felt contrived or it didn’t seem like the drawing was developing organically in that way. (I can’t quite articulate the problem, but people on the bottom was not the right choice.)

So I replaced them with a close up of one of the balloons, which gave me an opportunity to have two elements interact.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons

I knew, even while painting it, there were too many colors or it’s not a unified color scheme, and I definitely need to spend some time developing basic skills in watercolor. However, having completed the drawing, I could look at it critically. I could also look back at the process, which has revealed to me a few things.


New elements, like the wisps of smoke near the figure’s head and the fire/smoke in the balloon at the forefront of the picture look pretty and I’m already using them effectively as elements in this drawing, so I know I can use them again in other drawings.

They’re simple and can be used as building blocks, unlike the oracle, which seems too complex to use again in the same drawing without it looking like wallpaper or contrived in some way.


In the original drawing, the lines in the bodice of the figure feel like lines from another drawing, so it looks confused.

However, if the bodice is really a balloon and the smoother lines are really fire and smoke, there would naturally be tension between the two elements, and using different lines for each can be seen as supporting this tension.


It’s in the context of the story that this can work. It makes use of the structures that are already there and helps explain them.

There’s also the theme of Man vs Nature, and thus the oracle. Fire balloons are sent to float up into the heavens with the hope of granting wishes, while an oracle is burning. Or is the message too didactic?

The oracle having a girl’s face seems a little too explicit. Maybe I should focus more on the fire and less on the oracle… but the face is what’s pretty about the oracle. … Maybe it’s the hair, which looks too much like hair. Yes.

I’d forgotten the initial drawing had the face as the centerpiece and everything flowed from the figure of the girl, so it looked too much like a girl. It demands your attention and competes with the fire balloon as the center of everything, when it’s not anymore.


I originally had the figure in red, but decided midway that it would be difficult to use it and have an overall unified color scheme, so I added blue to make it purple.

I’m not very good with colors, and it’s something I need to work on in terms of finding what I like. You have to like what you draw in order to gauge whether or not it’s getting better or worse each time you edit the piece.

I tend to approach my work with the idea that Less is More, and for this drawing, as with many others, I want to show off the line. I tend to use the variety of colors (if there is a variety) to help me do this.

Like Flowers II, each color can help a viewer keep an eye on an element while it interacts with another element.

The elements for this drawing are Fire (bodice of the oracle, bottom fire balloon), smoke, fire balloon (intact), fire balloon (not intact) and Oracle. (Some parts double as parts of two elements.)


Layering two colors of ink looks really cool.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1 sketch

So I decided to limit the colors to red and black (Fire vs Smoke vs Fire Balloon) The smoke and fire balloon will both be in varying hues of gray, which suggests the fire balloons, even the ones intact, are floating up like the smoke; they are both the color of ash.

This makes room for the color of the clouds, which are painted with coffee.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1, sketch 2

I had considered not having clouds and actually freaked out a little when I added them midway, because they seemed to be overwhelming the figure, but after applying ink to the bottom fire balloon, it all balanced out again. One of those things you don’t know until you try.

Because they are in a different color and are a different style of line, they do not readily interact with the figure and fire balloons, and therefore add another layer or the illusion of depth. They also make the transparency of the ink more noticeable, which underscores the idea of the fire balloons being beautiful and fragile, which creates tension with their being dangerous and their power to wreak havoc on the environment when their thin shells inevitably burn and start fires elsewhere.


I still have to finish the larger balloon and add and color in a few smaller balloons but the overall idea is there.