Drawing Skills


A new way to explore when traveling…. or even at home…. Nine Squared Walk’n’Draw!

The results of the Walk'N'Draw

The results of the Walk’N’Draw

It was time for me to make up a new game to play.  I’m now working on Design and Temperature.  In Susan Abbott’s workshop earlier this year, she emphasized the order of priorities when painting….. First comes Shapes, then Values, then Temperature and lastly, Color.  With that in mind, I used the concept of my video “Twenty Steps” to create the new game I’ve titled Nine Squared.

Basic Materials to walk with

Basic Materials to walk with

Before the walk, I drew a grid of nine rectangles on nine sheets of watercolor paper.  All I needed to bring with me were the sheets of paper, a mechanical pencil, a waterbrush, a mini Altoid tin with warm and cool pigment (I only needed two pans, not all three that are shown above) and my leather folder that I use as an easy-to-hold drawing surface that doubles as a folder to carry the paper.

Pencil sketch not shown

Pencil sketch not shown

I begin the walk, taking Nine times Nine steps in any direction (Eighty one steps).  I stop, choose a composition, snap a photo and start my timer for nine minutes.  In those nine minutes I determine my shapes and repeat them in two more rectangles.  I leave one as the pencil drawing, paint the second as a value sketch in browns and the third as a temperature sketch in warm and cool pigment.

Like any of my games, I allow myself to break the rules on a regular basis.  I do not stop in the middle of a busy street just because I’ve reach step number eighty-one.  If there is a nice place to sit in the shade and I reach it at step seventy-three, I stop and sit down.  If I need twelve more steps to get to a nice shady spot, I take those extra steps.  The rules are simply a guide to force me to be more observant of every spot I pass through and to determine warms and cools to create stronger design.

Images:  small en plein air watercolor sketches in Mountain View, California

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I just received a copy of the video shot during last week’s demo.  It’s long, and also pretty entertaining.

Chris Carter Demo 2013 from John Wolff on Vimeo.

Thank you Essex Water Color Club!

Bring The Color Scheme Game outdoors, even in the winter.

Fire Hydrant on Haywood Road, Asheville, NC

Fire Hydrant, Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC

When filming one of the videos, Twenty Steps to Better Drawing, for the upcoming series of online painting demos, I found myself beside this fire hydrant after my third round of twenty steps.  The fire hydrant wasn’t yellow.  It was a fabulous combination of bright blue, red and green.  For a quick application of color, I opted to use a limited palette with a basic color scheme of Near Complements, Yellow and Red/Violet. I wanted to make a strong statement using the extremes of color value. Reality doesn’t matter to me.

Sketchbook, en plein air sketch: Fire Hydrant on Haywood Road, Asheville, NC – drawn first in ink with a fountain pen, followed by washes of watercolor.  The sketchbook is a moleskin sketchbook with slippery paper surface.

When teaching workshops focused on a variety of watercolor techniques, I present the students with a project that allows for experimentation and encourages a playful, curious attitude.

Abstraction From Traced Objects

Abstraction From Traced Objects

Why don’t I set up a lovely still life for the students to work from?  Because a still life requires drawing skills that many students have not yet acquired.  By the time the students are ready to add paint to their drawings, half the class is over and the students are already discouraged.  The poor results are blamed on watercolor being a difficult medium.

One cannot be either good nor bad at tracing objects.  By placing and tracing objects in a variety of positions on the paper, numerous overlapping shapes are created from which the students can easily extract an abstract design.  Within half an hour the students are still excited about painting and are ready to begin the adventure of playing with watercolor.

On January 14th I will present this exercise on the “Tools and Techniques” blog of my website.  This is just a sneak preview.

Sketchbook Image:  Watercolor  illustrating various watercolor techniques – Wash, glaze, splatter, adding salt, lifting, and wet in wet.

Color Scheme:  Extended Analogous with one complement

Last night while making cookie dough I created the samples for Exercise No. 1 on my website blog. Check it out!

Eggs in Cardboard Carton

Eggs in Cardboard Carton

The goal is to draw, draw, draw, without concern about the drawing being masterful.  This exercise will strengthen eye/hand coordination.  The foundation of a strong painting is strong drawing skills whether the work is realistic or abstract.

Sketchbook Drawing: Eggs in Cardboard Carton – drawn in three minutes with a fountain pen before breaking the eggs and adding them to the cookie dough batter.

I’ve been working on monochromatic watercolor portraits from photographic references.  It is painful.  I much prefer to work from life than to work from a photograph.  However, I am focusing on creating solid head form and I need to go back to square one.  Photos are the most efficient way to begin again.

Monochromatic watercolor studies

I began working from a pile of magazine clippings I found when cleaning out my files.  I have moved on to family albums.

Chakaia Booker

Pablo Picasso

I had to work into this one with a bit of white gouache to bring back some of the form I lost on the shadow side of the face.

Marcel Duchamp

This is my favorite.  I like the simplicity of line and value shapes.

1952. My father pointing out to us where our house would be built.

I’m the little one in the snowsuit, staring at the ground.  There was a big back hoe behind my dad in the photograph.  As much as I love land moving equipment, it would have complicated the shapes if I included it.

Self-portrait as a baby

After two days of monochromatic painting using ivory black, I had to dip into color.  I look a bit cross-eyed in this painting.  I was feeling a bit cross-eyed as I painted it.

The inspiration for my focus on improving skills at portraiture came from the trouble I have painting female musicians during the blues jams.  Regardless of age, female faces are generally softer, the transitions of planes and forms are more subtle than than male faces.  Originally, I didn’t care that much about creating a likeness when I paint in the dark at pubs, I was more concerned about capturing a sense of the musicians movements and energy.  When I did capture a likeness, I felt a great sense of satisfaction.  I want more of that feeling.  So ….. it’s back to the drawing board to refresh and improve my portraiture skills.

This is not the direction I thought I would be heading in when I returned to full-time painting.

Trumpet Parts No. 79, pencil and watercolor 7" x 11"

I’m exploring the basic structure of things the same way I explore the skeleton in order to express the movement of a figure with one flowing line.  The basic structure of most things is geometric.  A byproduct of perspective drawing is intersecting planes that are not necessarily attached to the object being drawn.  The shapes that appear to float in the air surrounding the object create the illusion of space and movement that I strive for.  Hours vanish like cotton candy on my tongue when I’m working on these drawings.

By incorporating both neutral, less saturated colors with primary, full saturated colors, the push and pull effect between the shapes is enhanced. The more saturated colors appear to advance and the less saturated colors retreat.

Sketchbook drawing: Trumpet Parts No. 79, drawn first with pencil and ruler (Yikes! I’m using a ruler again…) followed by watercolor.

Color Scheme:  Everything except Blue/Green, Green, Green/Yellow

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