Archive for June, 2011


Fun with Pencils and Wax

June 29, 2011

I’ve been playing around recently with a combination of various wax mediums and different types of pencils. It creates a very interesting effect that I’m hoping to exploit. The wax materials I’ve been using are blending sticks from Prismacolor and Sennelier, and two types of wax pastes. The paper used here is a heavy weight watercolor paper but any sort of paper will work.

In the photo above starting at the top left is a jar of Dorland’s Wax, which is a mineral wax paste. Next to it is a jar of beeswax paste made using turpentine (aka “cold wax.”) The bar next to it is an oil pastel blending stick from Sennelier. At the bottom left is a Prismacolor Colorless Blender, which is like their wax pencils but without pigment. The pencils I used for this demonstration shown here are a Derwent Pastel pencil, a Sanford Design Ebony (graphite pencil,) and a General’s 8B graphite pencil. I chose these since they tend to be the most powdery types of pencils I use, but when covered with any of these waxes they will not smear so no fixative of any kind need be used. The trade off for that feature is you get a blurry or toned background effect, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

First up on the left is the Ebony pencil covered with Dorland’s Wax Medium. I’ve applied the wax by dabbing a small amount of it on the surface and wiping it down with a tissue. This causes the paper to become toned with the gray of the graphite due to the semi-liquid nature of the paste. The mineral based solvent of this brand also causes the graphite to erase slightly. On the right is the Derwent Pastel pencil covered with beeswax paste that creates a similar effect to using Dorland’s.

This image shows the Ebony pencil coated with the Sennelier oil pastel and also the Prismacolor Blender. You can see how in both cases the marks became much darker. The oil pastel smeared the marks further than the blender but not in as streaky a fashion. I like the blurry effect the blender gave the lines. It reminds me of an old silver photo print.

The Derwent Pastel pencil looks similar to the Ebony, but because it’s more powdery it smears further. Speaking of which, one technique would be to cover the surface with charcoal powder and wipe it with the wax paste to tone the whole background. You could then go over that with the darker pencils.

This is an old pencil sketch made using an HB pencil on cheap copy paper. I’ve now gone over this with the Sennelier oil pastel blender and there’s only a slight bit of smearing in a few spots. As I mentioned there’s no need to use a fixative on this drawing now.

You can also combine these materials to some degree. By that I mean, if you use either of the wax pastes and wipe it down thinly, you can go back over them with new marks using the graphite pencils and add more paste. The pastel pencil will not make a mark on the wax once it’s covered. Once you use the oil pastel blender you cannot add more marks with any of these tools, so in that case the oil pastel medium would have to be the last step. You could use colored oil pastels at that point, however.

You can smear these further with alcohol and probably acetone but I didn’t have any of that handy to test. These pencils are hard to erase by themselves but once they’re covered in wax the best you can do in that regard is lighten them some with solvent.

You’re not just limited to black either. Any type of pencil can be covered this way, such as watercolor pencils, colored pastels, colored wax pencils, etc. You can also mix pigment with the pastes and make a toned background that way.


Ink Drawing Finished: Guy Reading

June 27, 2011

I managed to get back to the drawing of the fellow reading and here’s the finished result. It’s 9.5 x 14 inches.


Ink Drawing: Guy Reading

June 26, 2011

I had to restart this one again since I got too sloppy on my first attempt. It happens. All that inking left me winded so I had to take a break and will finish the bottom half later. This part is about 10″ square, ink marker (Uniball Gelstick) on bristol paper.


BBC “Your Paintings” Site Launch

June 25, 2011

The website BBC Your Paintings recently launched to allow for online viewing of various participating art galleries and museums all located in the United Kingdom. The target number of works will be 200,000 of which over 60,000 is currently available with additions planned every month.

The primary focus appears to be paintings, especially oils. I hope that will be expanded to include drawings and sculptures in the future. The picture viewing is interesting as well. The image resolution is reasonably large; although, not as high as I would prefer. The grouping of work is presently by title, artist, or location. This makes for some odd parings, like Lucian Freud placed between Delacroix and Gainsborough, but if you live in or will be visiting the UK, it can assist you to see what works of art are in those specific galleries or museums. An interesting feature offered is online tagging of each image whereby anyone apparently can add descriptive information to the image that will assist online researchers.

I applaud the BBC and The Public Catalogue Foundation for this effort and their generosity.


Google Scans British Library Books: Good News Bad News

June 22, 2011

I read an announcement today that Google has struck a deal with the British Library that will offer thousands of printed content for free online viewing. The good news is, of course, the great number of old books people around the world will be able to see. The BAD news is that Google is doing it. Their scans of books with illustrated artwork are atrocious.

Cover art from Google scan

Art is missing from Google scan

I often spend a great deal of time searching through the virtual shelves of free content at Anytime I see “book digitized by Google” I don’t bother looking at them, even if it’s the only result available, unless or perhaps if the book is text only. It’s not worth the pain and sadness to see what they have done with the scans of printed illustrations. The image on the left, for example, is a Google scan of the cover for the 1892 edition of L’Artiste Vol. 2. Are you kidding me? I’ve seen better copies from a Xerox machine. For some Google scans it appears that maybe the character recognition software used didn’t know what to do with artwork so it was either left blank, as shown on the right image above, or it gets turned into a black blob. Illustrations, my dear Google, are as important to a book as the text, in most cases even more so. If you’re going to apparently rush through it, why bother? By comparison, kudos to the University of Toronto whose scans are also available at They do a wonderful job.

Univ. of Toronto scan

I’d like to send out a plea to the kind folks at Google. Thank you for the effort, but for Heaven’s sake please do a better job. Converting these scans into 1-bit low-resolution digital files utterly destroys the quality of fine line drawings and engravings. It’s like making a DVD copy of a classic film and then giving us a VHS tape instead. No thank you. I can only hope that the original scans exist somewhere in better quality and somehow they can somehow be made available instead.


Figure Drawing: Getting Things Placed Correctly

June 18, 2011

The classic art instruction series by Famous Artists School is a fantastic source of information, but there’s an example given in their figure drawing booklet (Lesson Four, Drawing the Human Form) that has always bugged me. An artist attempts to recreate the posed figures in a painting by Al Parker, and unfortunately gets the figures wrong.

I’m showing here in blue tracings that I’ve made on top of the Parker painting that I’ve then placed over the artist’s line drawing of manikin figures. In the figure on the right her bent left arm is too short, and at a glance you can see how the bottom of the elbow should line up with the crook of her arm on the opposite side. In the center figure the the twist of the hip is not exaggerated enough and the placement of the feet are way off. The errors in the seated figure are the most glaring. I can immediately see in the painting how the top of the shoe lines up nicely with the right hand as it rest on the arm of the chair, but in the drawing it’s nowhere near correct. Also, just looking at the drawing his torso seemed too long.

I hate to pick on this artist/instructor, but it’s a good example of going too far too soon. Before one gets to even this stage of working out the forms of the figure, it’s best to first make sure everything’s in the proper place. I do this with a sort of quick stick-figure drawing for the head, torso, and joints of the arms and legs. At that point, if working with a live model, I would carefully double check my measurements, or if working from a photo I could more accurately fix the errors by scanning the drawing and overlapping it on the photo digitally, as I’ve done here.

I see it often written in instruction books that an experienced artist can just eye-ball the measurements correctly without worry. Well, I would say from my experience that it’s still best to double-check your work as early as possible. The more lines you draw that are wrong, the more you’ll have to remove later.


Ink Spray Technique Adds Texture

June 16, 2011

I decided to slightly alter the drawing shown in the previous post by adding some texture to the background. The technique used is the old ink spray made with a toothbrush dipped in ink.

I roughly masked out the figure and half of the background, and then drug the metal palette knife across the toothbrush to create a spray of ink. I then lightly blotted the spray marks with a paper towel and touched up the edges along the figure with a small brush. I think this texture helps separate the figure more from the wall and ground, making a more interesting drawing.