Category Archives: Pencil

Still Life with Readability

Cat Skull with Feathers by Meg Lyman

9×12 pencil on Canson

$60 – e-mail to purchase

It took me two tries to get this cat skull looking reasonably like a cat skull. You think you can draw from life, because you’ve done it before… but when you try it, you remember that it’s been a while and this shit is hard.

Casey’s blog has a neat little widget that says you need to be a genius to understand his blog. Makes readers of said blog feel smart, right? Well, how does this make you feel?

Elementary School

I suppose it’s nice to know that any second-grader could understand my blog, although the sarcasm may go over their heads. My inclusion of a swear word in the first paragraph is an experiment. Does it automatically bump the blog readability level to PG-13? Or do I just need to use more big words?

Unequivocally inconceivable!

Skull Study (a.k.a Shorty’s Head)

Skull Study by Meg Lyman

Happy Halloween!

My life drawings are always better than my drawings from photos. It’s amazing the details the brain sees in a real object that are lost in a photo. This skull was drawn from “life” – hahah I kill me! – it’s Shorty the Plastic Skeleton’s head. I love having a life-sized skeleton to work from. It’s great for perspective practice too. If only he’d stay posed for me…

Fun at the Zoo

They say life drawing is the best practice. I agree, simply because of how difficult it is. Drawing still-lifes is tough. Drawing a person is difficult, even when they’re being paid to stand still. Drawing live animals is just frustrating. They don’t hold still. If you want a dynamic pose, it’s fairly easy to capture the line of action, but details fall into the black hole of “I forgot how that looks.” Plus, at the zoo, you become nearly as big an attraction as the animals you’re drawing.

As a side note, has anyone noticed that most parents say really ignorant things to their children at the zoo? If they just took a moment to read the sign, they’d know that orangutans aren’t monkeys, and the bongo isn’t going to eat you.

Anyhow, I got into a rhythm today. Near the end of my zoo trip, I had my sketch on, and had it on good. I’d appreciate any comments about these sketches – which work best, and why.

Magic 8-Ball Snail

Magic 8-Ball Snail by Meg Lyman

Pencil on card-stock

$25 – e-mail to buy

I don’t know where my brain gets this stuff. I go do something practical for a while, and when I sit down to draw with a clear head and cheery disposition, it spits out this kind of thing. I kinda like him.

Traveling Art

Just a quick post this weekend – I’m on the road. It’s tough to be productive with art while traveling, but here are a few items that help me:

  • Clipboard
  • Small sketchbook (big ones are heavy, and you’ll need it in your carry-on bag for those long airport waits)
  • Mechanical pencil
  • Click eraser (pencil-shaped)
  • Small ruler
  • Heavy paper or card stock
  • Folder of ref photos

That’s it! Back with more art this week.

The Art of Rejection

A few weeks ago, I submitted a seven-piece portfolio to a juried show. It was my first attempt at jury submission. It failed.

After I finished blubbering and sketched myself a sad squid, I started looking objectively at the situation. Had I simply been rejected, I may not have asked why. But they mistakenly sent me two e-mails; the first one said “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted!” and the second, which came the next day, said “Sorry, but you have not been selected.” Shortly afterward, the art director sent another e-mail explaining the mix-up and told me the “reject” e-mail was the correct one.

I was fairly mad, considering the “accept” e-mail came first. I slept on it, and finally decided to write the director about the situation. I politely expressed indignation about the fiasco, and I also asked if the jury had any comments. I really wanted some insight about why I was rejected.

They were nice enough, and came back with this: “Your work is inventive but lacks focus.” That one line, that short sentence, says so much. I had selected a variety of styles to show the jury my versatility.

Turns out, the majority of juries, galleries, and buyers want consistency rather than variety. Think about it from a buyer’s standpoint: you want to be able to sum up the artist’s style in a few seconds by looking at a wall of their art.

I am still learning and exploring with styles, mediums, supports… everything! Because I’m still new to painting, I don’t know what I want to focus on. I have so many interests that it’s painful to pick just one area. But I have to if I want to become a serious artist. It just feels too soon! I don’t want to limit myself when I hardly know anything and have oodles still to learn. Does anyone else feel that conflict?

I learned a bunch from my rejection. The lesson this week: use your failures to evaluate yourself and improve your art. It’s tough, but it’s worth it. I was back to my normal self in no time, and wiser to boot.

Non-Secret Pencil WIP: the Conclusion

To continue the Secret Pencil WIP… It isn’t secret anymore! I finished and gave it to my chiropractor, and he loved it. Mission accomplished.

After the last step, I just kept on shading. I hadn’t laid out the darks and lights of the roos in my planning. I just shaded the round forms as if the light was coming from directly overhead and slightly diffuse, just like an office.

I started on the upper left, then went down and then over, since I’m right-handed. This helped me avoid smudging the finished areas.

This photo shows the lovely side-effect of working in graphite – the shine! Once you put down enough layers, the graphite starts reflecting light. The thicker and softer (i.e. 4B, 6B pencils) the layers, the more reflective it gets. You can use charcoal in those dark areas to avoid the shine, but once an area starts shining, it’s hard to lay down charcoal on top of the slick surface. Luckily, the shine disappears with a layer of fixative.

Since I hadn’t planned everything out before I started, I often went back into finished areas to darken and lighten things to balance contrast. The further I went, the more I could “see” the finished product in my mind.

I generally eyeballed the edges, but with the top of the table, I used a ruler. You can see in this shot that I’ve shaded just the very top part of the table base. I held a ruler on the line and scribbled up against it with a dark pencil. This kept my edge nice and sharp.

I had a tough time shading the dark shirt and the light shirt properly. I was trying to convey “black shirt” and “white shirt,” including shadows and highlights, all while balancing the composition and values. The focus is supposed to be on the chiroopractor and his hands.

This is nearly finished. I still need some adjustments to the floor, since it is too darn light. I also need a few final touch-ups. Sorry for the blurry picture…

The Chiroopractor by Meg Lyman

11×14″ pencil on bristol board

The End!

Secret Pencil WIP

I’m doing some art for my awesome chiropractor. This is a WIP of it, but he doesn’t know what it is yet. Shhhhh, don’t tell him.

First, I had the ridiculous idea: Chiroopractor. Get it? …well, you’ll get it when you see it, I hope. I record most of my ideas in one of my sketchbooks, as a sort of visual list. Very rough concept sketches only, just a few inches and a few seconds. Here’s this one:

Now do you get it? I sure hope so. My twisted sense of humor might not fit into a respectable place of business.

Next, I did three value thumbnails. Again, really quick, just helping me plan out large areas of value. I also sketched the scene a few inches wide on a very large sheet of paper (my vanishing points were pretty far away) so I could get my perspective lines right. That’s something I don’t usually mess with… but with walls and tables, this needed to be right.

What, you want a picture? Um, well, I threw that piece of paper away before I decided to do a WIP. Sorry. I’ll be better next time.

Next, I drew it full-size, using my perspective sketch as a guide and being so geeky as to measure lines with a ruler and scale it up with my calculator. Helps me learn perspective, although maybe the hard way… Anyway, I measured all the hard lines and free-sketched the roos, erasing and tweaking until I got it right.

You can see my line of sight (or horizon line) – the horizontal one going through the chiroopractor’s head. I spent some time making sure the wall lines didn’t interfere with the subject or make ugly-looking tangents or intersections. Once I had those set, I played around with the composition. I sketched in the skeleton on the left, but I tossed it out because it was an eye magnet, hogging all the focus. You can also see how I moved the framing around (this is 11×14″ by the way) until I found a composition I liked.

Don’t mind the tape – I accidentally ripped the paper.

At this point, I was ready to transfer the sketch to bristol board. I scribbled all over the back of this sheet with a nice soft graphite pencil, then taped it to the board. Then I traced everything with a blue pen (so I could see what I had traced and what I hadn’t). Ballpoint pens are good for transfer – they don’t rip the paper and they make a nice fat traced line. I peeled the paper up and traced the ball & dumbbell in a better location.

I do all these steps for whatever medium I’m using – it works for pencil, painting, and pastels.

Being a novice at the WIP, I forgot to take a photo after transfer. Take my word for it – it looks pretty much like the layout sketch above. Here’s the first shot I took, after I finished the walls (aaaaaaaaaaag, the endless walls that took forever to shade) and started the first roo.

You can see my tools – ref photos, thumbnail sketches, pencils (mostly used 6B, 2B, and 2H), erasers, a blending stump, and some tissue paper.

See how I scribbled the background into his arm in a couple places? I wasn’t strict about the fur outlines, because I can erase it later, and this makes for more natural-looking fur. Also, it prevents him from looking like a cutout.

More next time!

The Scanner Ate My Shading

In this modern world of illustration, the final product the artist delivers is often in digital format. Since I am mostly a traditional media girl, this means scanning. And to me, scanning means losing a lot of subtle detail.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. But with my digital toolkit, I have problems that make me pull out all my hair to distract myself from the fact that the scanner ate my shading. Again.

On the illo board, the pencils trace a delicate shaded gradient from oh-so-light (I usually do not leave bare paper) to pleasant, deep dark. The scanner reads this beautiful physical effect, gets jealous, and spits mush onto the screen. Perhaps it is trying to get me to hold it tight like I do the pencils, or is getting revenge for all those times the cat violated its space. Until I figure out what’s bothering it, mush ensues:
The lightest lights look totally white, although they are ever-so-slightly tinted on paper. The darkest darks are medium grey. If I try to correct this with the scanning software or the Gimp, I can get a nice, deep dark:
But lo! The lights are still very light. Since the lovely light pencil strokes at the bottom have turned dark too, this means I lose the gradient that was so delicate in the mush version. No matter what tools I try, digital tweaking cannot achieve an effect to match the paper.

Granted, your final product must look good when printed, so I tweak until I get the most printable version. It doesn’t hold a candle to the original. I think this is a universal problem with reproductions. Someday, the genius nerds of the world will come up with a way to tame my scanner’s jealousy, and when that day comes, I will lift up an offering. Maybe I’ll burn the scanner.