Sketch Gallery: Faces

Faces
August ’17: Faces

Left: Pencil/graphite w/tutorial
Right: Pen/ink w/o tutorial

Having recently gotten interested in portrait drawings, I wanted to learn more about the techniques involved in drawing faces. I found some excellent tutorials (links below) by Tom McPherson’s Circle Line Art School Youtube channel that provide very straightforward step-by-step guidance for doing so. I’d highly recommend giving them a try. These images are the result of my drawing while watching the tutorials (the pencil drawings on the left) and then trying to reproduce them later from memory (the pen drawings on the right).

I had a lot of fun with these and it was interesting to experiment between pencil and pen. The first drawings are in pencil because that’s the medium that was used in the tutorial. The second is inked because that’s my preferred medium. The reason for this preference is not very deep, other than the fact that I tend to always have a pen in my pocket (less so a pencil) and I find the ink’s permanency and dark tones to be more visually appealing. However, a good pencil sketch is beautiful in its own right as well. I found the pencil to be more flexible in terms of being able to create varying tones of shade via subtle changes in applied pressure and loose scribbling, and forgiving because of the simple fact that it can be erased. Shading with a pen requires some different techniques as loose scribbling tends to look more sloppy than pencil, so the shade must be built-up with layers of intentional lines stacked on top of each other on criss-crossing angles (called ‘cross-hatching’) to communicate lighter vs darker tones. Also, once the ink is on the paper, it ‘aint going nowhere. This feature introduces a touch of both fear and intentionality in my pen drawings which could explain why I’m happier with how the pencil drawings came out, produced under less pressuring circumstances where more time is spent focusing on the overall art rather than the minutiae of technique.

Additionally, working on these faces gave me the opportunity to learn a few things about how a real-life object (like a human face) gets translated into a graphite or ink drawing. In my still early attempts to translate flesh and bone to paper and ink, I am tempted to think that every contour and feature of the face should be completely outlined. The nose, for example, should be a conical shape with two circles at the base and two defined lines running upwards to a blunted point. However, drawing these faces with the help of the tutorials showed me that it is far more realistic to use fewer lines that one might think should be there. The nose of the woman on the right, or the man on the left, only have two lines (like “c”s) to indicate the edges of nostrils, and a faint, shadowy line going up one side of the face to convey the ridge of the nose. The rest of the nose is not really ‘there’ (on paper) but is suggested by shading, which tells your brain that there is some dimension of the nose that blocks the light to a greater/lesser degree in that space.

In much of my learning so far, I’ve repeatedly heard words like, “suggest”, “indicate”, and even “illusion” when it comes to discussing techniques for conveying a sense of how an object exists in space. What this suggests to me is that an artist has done his/her job when, instead of drawing an image verbatim and line-for-line, they have ‘convinced’ you that a series of lines and smudges of ink is actually something greater. In a literal sense, art is a form of communication. Spoken language is a series of phonetic sounds in which we package meaning and send it to a listener who may understand as intended, interpret their own different meaning, or hear a jumbled mess of syllables and grunts. The outcome is co-dependent on the speaker and that of the listener. Similarly, art packages its meaning into lines and the spaces between them. If, when you look at those lines and spaces, you see more than lines and spaces, then perhaps you’re looking at art.

Reference:
Circle Line Art School
(female face) –

(and male face) –

More drawings at: drawingthemap.wordpress.com/sketch-gallery

Sketch Gallery: Delight

Delight
August ’17: Delight

My wife and I went to visit my parents this past weekend. Shortly after the busyness of arriving, unpacking, and settling in, there was a brief period where there was a quiet stillness in which most of the house occupants were running errands. The only sounds in the house were those of my father calmly strolling around with my daughter in his arms, the baritone of his voice resonating through the tranquil rooms in response to the lilting syllables she sings in manners of curiosity and wonder. I quietly followed them on their tour of the house and snapped a picture of this tender moment, which served as the reference for the sketch. I felt fairly satisfied with how the hair came out on both figures. I also practiced some reserve in regards to detail and shading this time around. I am amazed at how little needs to be added in order to convey crucial detail as well as how dangerously easy it can be to overdo it. For example, a tiny curve and dot (like a sideways apostrophe) serve as my father’s eye and a previous attempt to lightly detail his mouth blacked-out half of the feature. Oddly enough, the hardest part of the drawing was my dad’s smile. I couldn’t figure out how to convey the side-profile perspective of a smile and it took at least 5 or 6 sketches with pencil before I was comfortable committing it to ink.

Drawing this one out allowed me to appreciate some very true qualities of both my father and daughter that were captured on camera at this particular moment: her, with gloriously tousled hair, looking off into the distance and pointing wherever her wonder leads. And he, a tirelessly diligent man whose strong, mechanical-engineer arms and stiff-upper-lip work ethic are both completely disarmed by, and protectively surrounding, his Granddaughter. To me, this picture is a look into that place where the two are uniquely themselves in a beautifully contrasting way: The strongest yet gentlest of bear-hugs, a small and feather-weight hand resting on a muscular shoulder, and a squint-eyed smile of pure delight cast toward a child lost in wondrous exploration. Such things need no words. Such things comprise the hidden language shared between a Grandfather and his Granddaughter.

For more drawings, please check out the Sketch Gallery.

Sketch Gallery: Seth

Seth
August ’17: Seth

Another portrait drawing installment, this time of my good friend Seth. I was fortunate enough to be Seth’s roommate for about 9 months during our last semesters of college. He hid defaced cereal boxes in my room; I had a habit of slamming the toilet seat on the other side of the wall adjacent to his bed while he slept…you know, usual roommate stuff. Anyways, Seth is an upstanding man whose friendship I hold near and dear to my heart. I’m happy with how the shading of various facial contours came out on this (done by holding the tip of the pen nearly parallel to the surface of the paper) as well as those of the shirt folds under the suspender straps.

Seth is a gifted composer who specializes in film scores and writing to visuals. Please do yourself a favor and check out his beautiful work at: http://www.sethcolegrove.com/

For more drawings, check out the Sketch Gallery.

Sketch Gallery: MED

MED
August ’17: MED

MED
August ’17

Today, I discovered that I enjoy using my commutes to draw sketches of friends’ profile pictures. This is a portrait drawing of my friend Marc, a crazily talented musician, public educator, and friend for whom I am deeply grateful. Our friendship is such that we tend to travel through major life transitions simultaneously, allowing us to insightfully pray for, mentor, and support each other through mountains and valleys. To hear and purchase (please support him!) his music as well as to learn about his awesome kids music project, please visit his website at: http://www.marcevandiaz.com/

Source photo by Ashley Dorce.

Literally drawing literacy: Announcing the Sketch Gallery

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I’m learning something and you’re invited to watch. Here’s the story:

The pen is a mighty instrument indeed. Throughout the ages, it has spawned words, music, policy, hypotheses, formulae and all manner of thought and reflection. So much can be done with this simple implement whose primary function is to transfer ink to a blank page. Imagine the works that the same pen would etch in the hands of a child, a scientist, a poet, a UN representative, or a mechanic.

I’ve always been captivated by artists for whom the pen is no mere writing implement but a bridge to a beautiful paradox where a few simple lines come alive as fantastic three-dimensional worlds and images within a two-dimensional page. There are plenty of examples out there where even the humble ballpoint pen, forgotten for its ubiquitousness, has been used to create photo-realistic portraits of people, animals, and landscapes that may or may not exist.

In an effort to move the needle from “I’ve always wanted to draw like that” to “I’m learning to draw like that”, I’ve begun to take advantage of the countless resources out there to learn the craft. Armed with a pencil, a 20-cent pen, and said countless resources (<cough>YouTube<cough>), I’ve been assaulting pages and margins with lines, shades, and shapes with fervor. And I’ve decided to go public with it here in keeping with the intent of this blog.

Below, you can see a gallery of some of the drawings I’ve produced along the way so far. Some are originals, others are practice exercises, and many others are reproductions of a reference image or were drawn alongside a guided tutorial. Click on each image for it’s back-story and a link to any resources used in the process where applicable if you would like to join me in the practice. I plan to use some future drawings as cover-art for upcoming posts. As new drawings are made (I’ve been drawing a lot lately, so I’m hoping to add a new one weekly), they will be added to the gallery which will be permanently stored on the Sketch Gallery page of this blog. Some new drawings will be announced via blog post, others will quietly sneak into the gallery on their own.

Lasting learning doesn’t take place in a vacuum. The student needs an active feedback community of mentors to teach, guide, encourage, or simply observe. For whichever of those elements you are able to provide, I am grateful.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” – Proverbs 27:17

Tree rings

IMG_20170409_083328_911I held the bowl in my hands, feeling its organic weight as I turned it over. The glossy surface was a marbled array of amber and blonde ribbons swirling about each other. Occasionally, the warm-toned hues wrapped around a dark streak or mark that interrupted their flow; stubborn rocks in the midst of a tranquil stream.

This is where the tree was tapped for syrup,” said the craftsman, pointing to a conspicuous, cone-shaped scar.

He was a wood turner, specializing in bowls made from various hardwoods. The particular specimen in question was a large maple vessel whose masterfully stained surface glowed like a campfire in my hands.

I ran my fingers over the rings of grain and the anomalies hidden within them; years of life, from sapling to felled lumber, wrapped around each other. Successive stories echoing outward from a singular core of origin, shaped by those that came before it.

Time and memory. Life and legacy.


We like to think that life behaves linearly: you wake up, go about your day, then go to sleep – you’re born young, live life, then you grow old. The thought is that we go from point A to B to C in a straight line, each stage having little to do with those of the past.

Not so.

Our existence is a concentric one, like the maple tree. Whether from intrinsic growth or external influence, each of our layers have specific contours and marks. People, places, and events are continually shaping us and consciously or not, we all circle back to them. Memories drift to the surface or we reenact old behaviors and choices when something from our present reminds us of something from our past. For better or worse, with each successive pass over those old layers, we either preserve their shape and carry it forward or try to cover it up, smooth it out, and move on. Like the tree, our current layer reflects the shape of those under the surface and in the past. Life is not a straight line.

I was reminded of this principle recently when a friend from college, Albert Keever, released his debut album. Aside from his incredible songwriting, the album also features the production and instrumental contributions of several other friends, including my former roommate. These people all played significant roles in my life at one time or another. Reading their names on the album roster and hearing the expressive work they produced together awoke some tucked-away college memories. Thus, began another pass over one of the richest and significantly impactful layers of my life to date.

I began college a decade ago. A decade. Whether or not that time-frame seems significant to you, the existential shivers it drizzles down my spine sure are to me.

I went to school in Boston where I now live and work. From my freshman to senior year at Berklee, the setting of my story encompassed the Back Bay neighborhood. At the time, the primary building on campus was 150 Massachusetts Avenue whose developers endeavored to convert the city block’s former hotel and bank buildings into a unified dormitory/classroom/cafeteria/library/storage/studio/performance space for students while preserving the original floor plans. The resulting compound is an MC Escher-inspired maze of whimsy, mystery, and music. Outside of summer breaks and an out-of-state internship, such settings were my home during those years.

The people I met there were just as unique as the architecture. Everyone from teachers to classmates and strangers to roommates bore wildly diverse talents and personalities. It was here where I would meet many long-term friends and share life. These are the friends with whom I would make music, eat cafeteria food, watch The Lord of the Rings into the morning hours, wrestle physically and spiritually, pray countless prayers with each other and with people on the streets through both jubilee and agony, and see God do mighty things we once thought were impossible. Bright as these moments are, these years are also marked by some of my darkest nights. In these buildings, rooms, and streets, I would face the coldest loneliness I have ever known, be haunted by an invasive compulsive disorder, and attempt to navigate a fear-based spiritual insecurity rooted in certain false teachings and my own misinterpretations.

This is an incredibly dense layer of my life and it was created almost exclusively within a small radius of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. It is truly amazing how one can climb the highest heights and plunge the lowest depths in such a small span of space and time. But it happened.

And after graduation, another confounding thing happened: I could never go back. In some undefinable yet indelible way, those same places where I learned and laughed and wept and strove seemed suddenly off limits. I pass near those same places during my daily commute. I can see the familiar buildings in the distance. I could bike to campus and revisit those same rooms if I wanted to. But I know there would be nothing there and I don’t know why.

My life is different now; marked with a little more routine and stability. Cafeteria food has been replaced by home-cooked meals, my wife and I spend the occasional all-nighter helping our beautiful daughter fall asleep, and frantic spiritual wrestling is tempered with wise counsel and the faith that God is indeed a good God. At times, I can’t quite reconcile how life then and life now fit together. The contrast between the two is so sharp that it can seem as though my memories of the past belong to someone else.

Maybe it’s because the people with whom those places resembled a shared significance have moved away. Maybe it’s because that’s just what happens as you grow older. And its not just true for college. Think of a house you used to live in, a significant period of your history, or a person you used to know but have fallen out of touch with. Whatever the objects are, they represent different layers of your life. Perhaps those layers are smooth and beautiful. Or they could be riddled with scars that persist to this day. In either case, there’s a reason you find yourself face-to-face with them from time to time. Maybe there are unanswered questions or simply memories that are worth savoring again and again. 

We can never live in the past, nor should we try. When God puts our lives into motion, they orbit upward and outward, like the concentric veins of the maple wood bowl. Each layer is built on the foundation of those beneath, but is a different one altogether. It need not bear the same old contours and scars. We are shaped by the past but don’t need to be defined by it. There are many things in my past that I don’t understand yet. They still cross my mind now and then and I wonder what brought them into view. Maybe someday it will all come full-circle.

**Please visit the following page to sample and purchase (please!) Albert’s album: https://albertkeever.bandcamp.com/

Wonder

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I wonder sometimes, if there’s a thing I can do
To best hold on to my memory of you
For the lives we live seem to differ in pace
You are growing so fast while I’m frozen in place
Was it a month, a week, or an hour ago
That your very first tooth had begun to show?
Now with three others where I thought there were none,
You’ve already arrived when I’ve only begun

I wonder sometimes, what it must be like
To see as brand new what I thought was common in life
All things are miraculous and more mysterious than not
Such things are the things that, somehow, I forgot
You are a master, by nature, of a most precious art
To love like a child and to be childlike at heart
May you never lose one single grain of this craft
It will lead you to truth when simple days have gone past

I wonder sometimes, what great changes you’ll make
In this mad, spinning world that seems to orbit ’round hate
Children, they say, are a God-send indeed
And God sends what can mend this shattered world’s need
In your short time you’ve made quite the start
For you’ve melted the ice of this calloused heart
May it never be said that you have nothing to share
You have strengths that will come when their time is prepared

I wonder sometimes, if God gave me you
To teach me the miracles that he can do
To make known the manner of love he conveys
Through the lamb and the lion in which he’s portrayed
For a lamb I will be, by your side as you grow
A friend and a guide, the most gentle you’ll know
But should any fool dare to wish you harm or disgrace
’till death or Time’s end, I’ll be the lion they face

I wonder sometimes, if I’m doing things right
To figure by day and to ponder by night
What can be done to preserve what has past?
How best can I make this memory last?
Can I save you from worry by keeping you small?
If I could, would I notice you growing at all?
Can this be the reason that it seems to be
You’ve acquired your age so suddenly?

I wonder sometimes, how the sum of times wondered
Renders the remainder of days that are numbered?
Alas, it is true that no effort can add
One single minute or second of life to be had
So teach me once more, my child my dear
To be unprepared for right now and right here
To give each day the patience and marvel it’s due
That I may cherish each moment with the wonder of you