Let Your Light Shine

Category: sketching

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…

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!

Capturing the Colors of the Mediterranean

I love traveling with friends – painters and non-painters.  When I travel with the painters we gear up and choose locations where we can spend time with our paints or pastels.   I love the way painting helps you enjoy the moment instead of rushing on to the next thing.

When I travel with my friends who don’t paint, I take pictures which are supposed to turn into paintings when I get back home.  Once I’m back to real-life, that magic almost never happens.

So, for a recent Mediterranean cruise, I decided that to take a sketching kit with me and grab any minutes available.   I packed the kit and did a local dry-run.  Then I lightened it up even more.

I took:

  • several black Micron pens*
  • a white Uni-ball pen*
  • three water-soluble graphite pencils in their tin
  • several drawing pencils*
  • a small sharpener*
  • a kneaded eraser*
  • three water brushes
  • a  Koi watercolor kit

Everything fit into a cosmetic bag.  (The asterisked items were the ones I used the most.)

I bought several little sketchbooks, trying to decide which would be the most portable and might tolerate moisture if I wanted to add watercolor. At the last minute I saw a little journal with multi-colored sheets on the clearance table at Barnes and Nobel. I am a sucker for anything with lots of bright colors.  After a little cover decor, that won the spot in the suitcase.











I also took a 4×6 inch watercolor block and blank postcards as well as a 7×10 watercolor block (which turned out to be too large to be useful.)




I started sketching right at the airport.





On the ship’s organized excursions I was usually lucky to make a few pencil sketches on site, many while standing.

I embellished the book and added section titles on the long bus rides.






I also did a few sketches on route.  (Tour bus passengers are really good at holding a pose, especially if they’re asleep!)  I left blank pages for notes and pasting in tickets, maps, etc.


Most days I didn’t take the little watercolor kit because it added more weight to my bag than I thought it would.  On days when we were on our own I was able to do a few watercolor sketches on the watercolor block while sitting at a café or park bench.   I did a few onboard, too.  I pasted those into my sketchbook when I got home.  



By sheer luck I had downloaded “The Urban Sketcher” by Marc Taro Holmes to read on my Kindle.  It was an easy read with good suggestions.  There’s a sketchbook in my purse at this moment so we’ll see if the habit continues on this side of the globe.