Friday, 10 March 2017

Drawing diary: February

This Drawing diary is not what you're used to: I decided to try something different and did some abstract painting. So you've been warned!

It all started when I stumbled upon Tara Leaver's post How to make a simple abstractified painting. In it was an extremely helpful video that showed how Tara sets up her abstract paintings. I loved this. It happens quite often that I see an artist post something cool and inspiring and I just don't get how they did it. Seeing someone actually go through the whole process is priceless.

As you guys know, I don't usually do abstract stuff, but I'm always curious to try out new things. I decided to give Tara's 'abstractifying' practice a go myself. She gave the following tip:
"My focus is always on pulling out your unique self expression rather than showing you how to copy what I do, but sometimes copying is the best way to learn a process. If you have a motif that you commonly use already and could play around with abstractifying, I encourage you to do that."
Since palm trees don't really do it for me, I decided to go with birch trees instead. I think that's the only thing I've drawn multiple times (see my September and October entries).

This is my first attempt at an abstractified something. I made it with the same crayons and charcoal I used for my hula hooping birch trees.

The good things: I had never thought of adding water to crayon strokes, but this idea was gold! It creates a smooth colouring that is perfect for backgrounds. It was a lot of fun to play with making things smooth, or adding lines to add direction and emotion. I'm certain I'll use this technique in the future.

Also funny is that the background looks somewhat like a mountain landscape, with the birches in the front. This was totally unintended: I just did whatever and it happened to end up like this.

The learning curve things: The background ended up being a lot darker than I had planned, making it hard to make the subject birch trees stand out. I fixed that by adding some depth to the trees. Still, they are kinda look-through and the whole thing looks busy. I would use more light colours, but I didn't have any at hand.

Finally, the paper wasn't very happy with what I did with it: there are several spots where it started falling apart. So I decided to give it another go with less crayon and on thicker paper (so it would hopefully withstand whatever I did to it better). This was the result.

Whoa. It's so different! The first thing that I noticed is that the crayon didn't dissolve and spread nearly as well on this paper, because of its rough surface. So you see way more strokes. Smooth paper is apparently very important for this technique, so that's definitely something you want to take into consideration when you start out. Of course both work - it's just which effect you're after.

I'm happy with the experiment and what it taught me. I'm not super enthusiastic about the above picture, though: it has a sort of wallpaper-but-not-a-painting quality. I would say it has no soul, but that's probably a bit dramatic!

Next up was a design for a blog post header. I had delved into the shed to look for more colours (yellow and green) and had already started using the crayons, when I found out to my horror that not all crayons are suitable for dispersion through water. The new ones (wasco crayons) didn't do a thing. Frustration! I had to look for another solution.

I really wanted to have more colours in this one, so I completely turned around the design. I added the red crayon (of which I knew it did work with water) in order to get the feeling of softness I was after. Then I added to the yellow and green with watercolour pencil. Watercolour pencil doesn't get as 'soft' as (the right) crayons, but more so than the 'horror crayons'. (They have been banished to the shed. Just saying.)

Overall, it ended up very different than I had thought beforehand, with way more thin and sharp lines. The layering gives it a sort of 3D feel. But it wasn't done yet.

I scanned and edited the picture with Photoshop, and added in keywords of my blog post (from people's MMO memories). Then it was ready to be used as the top picture of my post The power of memories. A quest for the essence of MMOs. In this article, I featured five of the most memorable MMO stories people had shared online, in order to find out what they had in common.

Of course it would've been easy to just use a screenshot as top picture, but that would favour one virtual world (namely the one the screenshot was from) above others, and that was something I was trying to avoid. The illustration looks a bit like a web of threads or a waterfall to me. I don't know why, but this is how I would visualize memories.

Click to shrink: this looks better in its original size

Uh yeah, so now for something completely different... Conrad's mum had her birthday and since she lives all the way over in Sweden (and we in the Netherlands) I thought it would be fun to send her something special. Her favourite flower is the lilac or syringa, so that's what I painted for her (using watercolour paint and pencils) - it's postcard format in reality.

There are several things I screwed up so I'm not 100% happy with it, but she loved it! And that was the most important thing.

This is the last thing I made in February. I guess it's technically not a drawing, but I'm counting it anyway. I used it as an illustration for Geeky expressions only my friends understand (and now you will, too). The article was about words, and I struggled for a while to come up with an header picture. This one seemed appropriate, though.

Lettering is really fashionable right now and it's something I would love to get better at. Perhaps I'll ask for one of those fancy lettering books for my birthday.

Finally, I have two interesting links to share for the art enthusiasts among you. The first is Tara Leaver's website. It has tons of useful tips for artists (like the 'abstractify' video I linked to earlier) and she organizes several really cool online painting courses. The second is Kay's Happy Mail project. Kay (My Open Sketchbook) loves surprising people with snail mail. You can leave your address behind, and she might send you some beautiful art! Totally free of charge, just because she's an awesome person. Needless to say, I signed up immediately.

That's it for February. I hope that I didn't scare you away with the abstract paintings - for me it was really cool to experiment with something new. I'm positive I'll keep using this technique in the future. Perhaps I'll even buy some more non-waterproof crayons, so I can use different colours.


  1. I really really like your abstract paintings.

    1. The coloring of the first two give them a Native American feel. Seriously.

    2. I think that must be because the conté crayons that I used for them are based on natural pigments such as clay and iron oxides.

      I hadn't thought of them as 'Native American' myself, but that's cool to hear. I do love the natural and authentic feeling the colours give me. I should make more of these. I have no clue what to do with the results, but it's just so much fun to do!

  2. Those are pretty cool.

    I think it is just me but due to the colors on those two first pictures they kinda look ominous. The third one has a certain rawness to it which I guess fit well with the post it served for as header.

    The flowers look perfect for me. :)

    I also like the lettering one. Actually, I just like lettering in general. Not only they can be creative, visually speaking, but also have some pretty cool messages to go with it. :)

    1. I think what makes the first pictures feel ominous to you are the dark colours and the specific colour of red, of which I just learned it's called "sanguine", blood red. Indeed, it's exactly the colour of dried blood, which is a bit eerie.

      The third one felt soft to me rather than raw. But when I look at it with your words, I can see that side of it, too. That's what I love about commentary like this: it makes me look at things in a different way.

      The messages of a lot of lettering work actually annoy me a lot of the time (especially 'motivational' ones in the imperative form, which is very popular at the moment)! But that's a topic for another blog post.

    2. That is possible. It might also have felt ominous to me because I have been playing Fallout 4 and trying to build some settlements in there. So my head has been in a weird place lately. At the time I was also finishing reading my book of Lovecraft stories which probably didn't help either!

  3. I love how you write about your art. It is fun to read.

    The first abstract and the watercolor are my favorites. :). I think watercolor agrees with you. I find the background image for the memories post interesting as well. It definitely feels abstract.

    The water proof crayons are they oil pastels? If so you can get mineral spirits to make them act more like a paint. Put the color on the paper and then dip a brush in the mineral spirits an apply to the color on the paper. Warning though even the odorless mineral spirits are quite smelly.

    I'm assuming the birch tree abstracts were do e with conte crayon. I never knew they could be diluted with water. Interesting.

    Try a bristol or water color paper. They do a fairly decent job with wet media. The watercolor does better but often is not smooth. I know there are also ways to prep paper for watercolor to keep the paper from wrinkling but I don't remember since that was back in highschool.

    Sorry for the long comment... I think I let my brain gallop off. /blush

    1. I love long comments! So there's no need to apologize. :)

      Watercolour may agree with me... but I'm not sure I agree with watercolour! It's always hard to prevent colours from bleeding into each other, and it's hard to get the darker and lighter complexions 'right' (as in, conform reality). Still, I do feel it's slowly getting easier. So perhaps there's still hope!

      I've been looking into the types of paper you mentioned. Bristol paper sounds really nice, also for marker work and inking. Another thing to put on my birthday wishlist. Thanks for the helpful suggestions!

      The thick paper I used for the second abstract is close to water colour paper. I may just have been a bit too enthusiastic with applying water. Perhaps it'll work out well when I'm more careful. Or I'll just have to get some of that water colour paper.

      I had no idea that the crayons I was using were contés, but there's no doubt about it: they are. Pretty awesome story behind it, too.

      (To be continued: need to turn the computer off, but I wasn't done with the comment yet.)

    2. So about the contés: that's 100% what they are, but on my box it just said "Sibirische Reisskohle", which is German for Siberian travel coal and sounds pretty badass. Art (material) terminology seems to vary quite a bit per language. I keep needing to look up the English names for materials I only know the Dutch of and probably use the wrong words all the time in my articles because I'm not used to talking in English about this subject. Likewise, I only know the other, non-dilluteable crayons are referred to as "wasco" here in the Netherlands.

      Thanks to you, I now know the contés were originally made in the 18th century as an alternative to the (in wartime) expensive graphite. So basically, without Napoleon I wouldn't have been making these drawings the way I did. History and time are fascinating.

      That just makes me love them more. I love nature and it keeps coming back in what I draw. And I think I like the contés because they are authentic nature colours.

      Thanks for your insights!

      PS I love how you managed to sneak the obligatory horse reference in there! ;)

    3. Glad you don't mind the long comment. :)

      One thing I hated hearing with art but is true: practuce lots and lots of practice. I have a feeling that I will run into the same issues with watercolor when I get to it. I know my mom did a dry brush technique with it.

      Bristol is a nice paper for sure. It can still wrinkle or flake if too much water is used but it has a wider range of uses. I think I have a few pads of it sitting on the shelf...I seem to like to collect paper.

      I love conte crayon too. It was one of my favorites in drawing class in college. Sanguine is a lovely color. I will have to dig mine out now and see about a drawing. Your fault!

      I didn't know the history of the conte crayons. That is really cool. I totally agree with the German name. I never thought about how art material names could vary between languages. I find culture to be so interesting.

      I find the organic-ness of nature to be the most interesting to draw. Man made things are nice but God made is so full of life and intricacies. Very yummy eye candy.

      PS Given where my mind has been, horse references are rampant lately. :)

    4. Haha, I do sometimes feel like I'm collecting paper, too! I always am afraid I'm going to waste it by making something that doesn't look good. But lately I've been doing a better job of caring less. I've been drawing every day and it's very soothing.

      I'm so curious at what you'll do with the conté crayons! You are going to post them in your next Drawing Diary, I hope? If you want to try out diluting with water, I have a tip: add water and then crayon, or the other way around and see what happens. (Spoiler: it's the total opposite!) I was quite mesmerized by that (yes, I'm easily entertained!).

      And I have to withdraw my whole story about the Siberian travel coals. At second inspection, it seems my grandfather had added a tray of conté crayons to the small travel size box with... well, charcoal. I found the charcoal underneath and it took a while before it clicked. I wish he was still around to tell me about his materials. He was an autodidact, but he made gorgeous watercolour paintings that I grew up with hanging in the house. People keep asking if they're photographs.

      I love discussing art with you. Thanks for keeping to report in!

    5. I am trying not to care as much also. Art school made me feel like every piece has to be perfect which ruins the fun of playing. So I'm trying to find that again.

      If I can get it done, yes. Things keep popping up and it ends up time to make dinner with out me being able to sit down and draw much.

      Oooh, that would be so fun to grow up with a grandfather like that. Those watercolors sound amazing. I don't normally think of them being something to be of photographic quality. I'm very intrigued.

      I love discussing it with you also! Your playfulness with it has been quite inspiring. So thank you for sharing on your blog!

  4. I know little about abstract paintings other than I like some and hate others. What made your post interesting were the details on the processes that you went through. Now that I like - fascinating.

    1. Yeah, I'm really not such an abstract fan either, usually. But when I saw that video, I wanted to see if I could do it. And it turned out it was a lot of fun to do!

      The process is something that fascinates me - things rarely go as planned because of how material acts (or maybe that's just me because I have no clue - haha). I guess I'm sharing it because it's something I'd love to read more about from others. Glad to hear it's not just utterly boring to read, though!

  5. Abstract is something I have pretty much zero knowledge and experience with. It wasn't even something we really covered in college! I love that you were loose and experimental with it; they turned out great! Do you know what kind of crayons you were using? Some must be water based if they spread with water (some brands, like Caran-Dache, have AMAZING water based crayons that give gorgeous color and texture).

    And thank you so much for sharing my Happy Mail project! I'm so excited about it!! :D

    1. It's the same for me: zero experience with abstract and it's also not my favourite thing to look at. But... it's something totally new and I was so surprised with how fun it is to express yourself that way. I'm probably returning to my other types of drawing in a bit, but for now it's awesome to experiment with.

      The crayons I used that diluted well were contés (read more about them in the comments above), and the ones that didn't work well were wasco - or at least, that's what people refer to them here in the Netherlands.


You can insert links, images and videos to your comment using these tricks.