Getting Motivated with Micro-Moves

Sometime last fall I tried to compose a painting by creating an abstract value pattern to paint some wildflowers. I did a value sketch and a little study in watercolor so I thought I was well prepared for an oil painting. It just never came together. I kept going far beyond the time when I should have thrown in the painting rag. I left that painting on the easel . I took me a while to realize that its ugliness was keeping me me from starting a new painting.

I was doing very little art work and that’s never a good thing for my spirit. In order to keep an art practice going during the winter I started to draw a face each day. Some days I found a famous face online. Some days I copied pictures of family.

I focused on value and shape without really caring as much about likeness. I just wanted to improve my ability to see and reproduce accurately. It was relaxing because there were no expectations. In my reading about creativity I’ve come across the idea of doing just one small thing. Some people call it micro-moves. What’s the smallest action you can take to get moving on something you need or want to do? Sketching faces was my micro-move.

Here is a sampling of the work. Names have not been included to protect privacy and to add plausible deniability if the person or their family member doesn’t think I’ve captured the likeness. So let’s just say these are studies of faces.

The micro-moves had done their work. They kept me active and eventually inspired me to get back into painting. I found the girl in the straw hat particularly interesting, so I decided I needed to paint her portrait in oils. I liked the shadows caused by the hat. I also found her features very pleasing.


I started with an underpainting and intended to build up layers by glazing. I did that with the blue shadows and some yellow, but I kind of lost my way so I went to more direct painting.

First glaze

As usually happens, I start to lose some of the information that was included in the underpainting. You can see changes in the shape of the eyes as I added highlights. I spent small amounts of time over a number of days getting more specific with shape and color.

I’m in the middle of another painting, but here’s a glimpse. This little girl has tormented me for years. She’s a cutie but I can never quite capture what makes her the delightful little creature that she is. Here’s my latest attempt from a picture that’s several years old. Maybe this time…

Studio Dog

by Lucy

I’ve always adored the arts. Could have had a career in the theater if casting directors were smart enough to recognize real talent. They go for the fluffy types, I guess. Maybe I needed an agent.

Instead I chose a life out of the spotlight – studio dog to a would-be artist. I start the day with a good thump on the side of the bed to get her up and moving. If that doesn’t work I just breath in her face. Like magic her eyes open.

Then I click into personal trainer mode. If I didn’t get her out the door, pounding the pavement, she’d sit with breakfast and the paper until lunch.

Once she’s showered and dressed in her grubbies, it’s up the steps to the studio. “Studio” is a pretentious word for a spare bedroom with art supplies and stacks of paintings. It has my favorite window where I can patrol the street from higher ground. Yeh, I do some guard duty just to keep up my skills.

Basically I just lay up against the office chair or under the table. She’s got an eclectic taste in music and podcasts. I usually doze. If she gets really involved with the paint I can sneak out for a drink or some kibble.

I keep my comments to myself. I know where my chow comes from and critiquing her efforts does not work to my advantage. Some people think dogs are color blind. Still I know a tint from a shade. I’d tell her it’s all about the values, but my vocabulary is limited. She’s learning.

I’m definitely not going to be like the farm dog who told her that her plein air painting stunk. Well, he didn’t actually tell her, he just left a little token of his disdain right in front of the easel.

It’s a good life as a studio dog. If I worked any harder she’d have to pay me.

Embracing the Gray

If you live in Ohio you know that whether it’s cold or colder, January is 99.999% gray. No wonder we get cranky! Instead of fighting it, I decided to go with it.

All my art this month has been done in shades of gray. I started off the new year with a sketch done from my studio window as a cold rain was hitting the snow that was already on the ground.

I used graphite pencils and a blender with a kneaded eraser and an electric eraser. Anyone who thinks an electric eraser is frivolous has never tried one. You can go back into a darken area and get very precise whites. It’s definitely worth it.

My next sketch was from a photo that I have been considering as a source for a painting. I got out my gray scale to match the values. My first attempts were off by at least two steps so I wasn’t getting the contrast I wanted. I may use this study as the basis for a painting later.

Next I decided to capture some everyday things like this dollar store doll. The texture of her sweater was a real challenge and the print of her skirt was tedious.

I have a set of Prismacolor gray scale markers that I bought on clearance after I hear Joshua Beam talk about using them to create thumbnails for plein air paintings. I tried that for a while but it was too much trouble so I went back to just using regular drawing pencils for my thumbnails.

I decided to get out the markers to do a sketch. I saw a crow while I was walking my dog so I did a Google image search and found a pose to use. Turns out the image was from Australia, but it was close enough for what I wanted to do. I tested out the markers and found that the ones from about 60% on up to black all looked pretty much the same. The lower saturations had a bit more differentiation but partially because they lightest ones were almost dried out. It was still a good exercise in drawing and looking at relative values.

I decided to do the next sketch with Studio 71 gray scale alcohol markers on photo paper. I also plan to draw a face each day even if I draw it badly. So I started with an online photo of a famous person. Studio 71 markers are less expensive than Copic. The gradation of the values seems more accurate than the Prismacolor markers. The ink seems ok, but the nibs are junk. Mine have turned to mush in no time at all. Here’s the little sketch. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it, just tried to see if I could get a likeness with some big shapes and value changes.

I redid the same sketch with pencil the next day in a sketchbook. I continue to be amazed at how far off I am on values until I use a gray scale.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa

This little guy is an almost- likeness of sweet little kindergartener from a photo I took. I really like doing faces so I think I’ll continue drawing one each day.

More sketches to come this month. The value studies continue. So as you read this, be sure to have a GRAYT day!