Go ahead, Senators. Doodle.

If you’re fidgety, it will help you hear better.

Church sketch by Carol L. Douglas
“I just heard on the news that Rand Paul has been sketching during the impeachment trial. One of the reporters added that Paul was really good at drawing,” my pal texted me last week.
Paul has been good at keeping his drawing on the low-down, however. Neither my friend nor I could find any examples online. (Perhaps that’s because there was a mid-century advertising art director named Paul Rand, whom Google likes better for art.)
Drawing is much better than a fidget-spinner, I said to a friend. He strongly disagreed. “They should be paying attention!”
Church sketch by Carol L. Douglas
As a former hyperactive student (they hadn’t invented ADHD back then), I know that not all of us are wired to sit still and listen. I’m married to a church musician, which means that occasionally I sit through two services. I can do it because I also draw in church. I’m paying enough attention that I could tell you—in some detail—how the pastor changed up his sermon between the two services.
That’s a little different from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who read a book during the trial. “Busy mamas are the best at multi-tasking. Try it,” she tweeted.
She’s flat-out wrong. You can’t hear and read words at the same time and process them both. They’re using parallel channels in the brain. To some degree, multitasking is a myth. Yes, you watch TV while folding laundry, but when you try to do two high-end brain tasks at once, you’re overflowing your working memory, inhibiting creative thinking, and reducing productivity.
Church sketch by Carol L. Douglas
Occasionally, my students will mention that they see things differently once they start to draw or paint. That’s because drawing changes how the brain works, as surely as studying music or language does. This is neuroplasticity in action.
Before the invention of the camera, all educated people were expected to know how to draw. Being able to depict something was almost as important as writing. Nobody had the luxury of saying, “I can’t draw a straight line.”
Church sketch by Carol L. Douglas
That’s why I still love this old news from Scientific American. Dr. Jennifer Landin of North Carolina State University expects and gets beautiful drawings from her biology students. “Drawing is merely making lines and dots on paper. If you can write your name, you can draw,” she wrote. “But we all take shortcuts when we see; often our brains fool us, and we skip over most visual details.”
Kids draw all the way through childhood until they reach adolescence. Why they stop is not well-studied, but cultural factors surely play a part. Not only do we devalue the arts in our culture, but we believe that only people with talent (whatever that is) can do them. As Dr. Landin so wonderfully demonstrated, talent is mostly about doing the work.
Church sketch by Carol L. Douglas
I sketch in church because I process words better when my hands are in motion. I’m not alone in that; it’s why so many people knit. But try applying that principle to school or some workplaces, and rationality breaks down. The modern answer to restlessness and anxiety is drugs. That’s criminal.
Dr. Landin knows that drawing an object cements it in the mind in a way that simple observation cannot do. My experiences drawing in church tell me that the same thing is true about abstract concepts like grace or community.
“Real life isn’t neatly divided by subject,” wrote Dr. Landin. Society would do well to remember that.

She was no victim

She was married (miserably) at age 17 to save her family’s fortunes. She not only survived, but went on to create a new art form.
Mary Delany (née Granville), date unknown, by John Opie, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
Mary Granville Delany was an eighteenth century English bluestocking. She survived an awful first marriage to become famous in later life as an artist.
Mary Granville grew up in the last years of the Stuart royal family. She had a traditional feminine education that would have served her well had her family’s ambition been manifested.  That was that she would become a Maid of Honour to Anne, Queen Regnant of Great Britain. With Anne’s death in 1714 and the passing of the British throne to the Hanoverians, these aspirations came to naught.
Passiflora laurifolia L., collage, by Mary Granville Delany, courtesy of the British Museum
Mary’s Tory family had backed the wrong horse. To compensate, she was married off at age 17 to an alcoholic Parliamentarian 43 years her senior. Her uncle’s grim hope was that when Alexander Pendarves died, Mary’s inheritance would compensate her for her misery.
Later, Mary wrote, “when I was led to the altar, I wished from my soul, I had been led, as Iphigenia was, to be sacrificed. I was sacrificed.” And upon his death seven years later, Mary found he’d left her nothing but a widow’s pension. He’d never bothered to rewrite his will.
Pancratium maritimum L., collage, by Mary Granville Delany, courtesy of the British Museum
But he’d inadvertently left her something invaluable. Widows could move through society, unlike wives or unmarried women. Adept at the social arts, Mary became a traveling houseguest, landing eventually in the home of the Duchess of Portland. She was the wealthiest woman in England and a keen amateur botanist.
Mary had no shortage of suiters, but she wasn’t inclined to remarry. In 1743, however, she was proposed to by a man she’d known for over a decade. Dr. Patrick Delany was a widower, churchman and passionate botanist and gardener. But he was also a commoner. The Granvilles balked at the perceived misalliance. She married him anyway. It was a true love match.
Delany encouraged his wife in her artwork, which included painting, shell-work, paper-cuttingand needlework. They were happily married for 25 years. But at the age of 68, Mary Delany was again a widow.
Rubus odoratus L., collage, by Mary Granville Delany, courtesy of the British Museum
She returned to her friend, now the Dowager Duchess of Portland, at Bulstrode Park, where the Duchess housed her enormous botany collection. It was there that Mary Delany met botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander and where Mary developed the first collage in western art.
Decoupagewas fashionable among ladies of the court. Mary melded it with paper-cutting, designing what she called ‘paper mosaicks’ of flowers. She cut minute bits of colored tissue paper, using lighter and darker bits to make shadows. She stuck them on paper blackened with India ink. Each of her final pictures is comprised of hundreds of tiny pieces of paper.
Mary Delany became famous for these ‘paper mosaicks’, and scientists and donors began sending her samples to cut. Ultimately, she did over a thousand of them. They are now in the British Museum.
Mary Delany ended her life in a small cottage at Windsor with a pension from King George III and Queen Charlotte. Ironically, the Hanover dynasty which had ruined her fortunes as a young girl ended up supporting her as an old woman.
Mary Delany is a reminder that we need not be a slave to our past experiences. She rose past an abusive marriage into a life of creative freedom. 

Monday Morning Art School: why follow the rules?

There is broad consensus on how paint is applied, even if you take your craft to places I’ve never dreamed of.
The Race, by Tim Moran, watercolor on cold-press paper.
If you’ve studied with me for any length of time, you know I’m big on protocol. “Do it this way now,” I urge my students. “Then when you go back to your everyday painting, you can incorporate the things that work and discard what doesn’t work for you.”
The business of laying down paint is a craft, one that’s been developed over millennia. It’s possible to take this craft to new places, but only on a firm foundation of technique. That doesn’t mean I think that things don’t change; if they didn’t, we’d all be still painting encaustic funerary portraits a la the Romans. But there is still broad consensus on how oil paint and watercolor paint are applied. When you take my class, you’re not getting anything new. Everything I tell you, I learned from someone else.
Tim’s first value sketch.
What’s different is that I’ve written these instructions down as protocols. I’ve already shared them with you: here in oil, and here in watercolor. Students usually balk at the idea of spending so much time in the preparatory stages, particularly if they know an excellent painter who doesn’t bother. There are some. These are usually people who have a tremendously refined sense of design, and can do the first steps in their heads. People who do that well, by the way, are not that common.
I also assign homework to make sure these protocols are locked down in my students’ heads. Last week, watercolor student Tim Moran came in with such a perfectly-executed process that I asked him if I could share it with you.
Tim’s redesign, done after he did his monochromatic painting.
Tim started with a value drawing in his sketchbook of four sailboats racing off Camden. He did that because identifying a strong value structure at the beginning is the most important thing a watercolor artist can do to make a strong painting.
Then he did a monochromatic value study, using a combination of burnt sienna and ultramarine to make a dark neutral. This was where he made choices of his values for lights and darks. It’s a crucial step in being able to apply watercolor confidently. Being unsure of the color makes us naturally diffident.
But Tim was not just blindly following my instructions here. He was also thinking. And what he thought was that the four-boat structure was static. So, he went back—literally—to the drawing board, and reconfigured his drawing to be three boats.
Tim’s monochromatic painting, at top, and his final painting, at bottom. Note that he’s testing his paints before he applies
He didn’t have to redo the monochromatic value study because the value structure was the same whether there were three or four boats. Instead he moved directly to the final painting.
Note that he tested his pigments on the left side of his paper. That test strip is another important part of watercolor that many people skip. The more thinking you’ve done about placement and composition before you start, the less likely you are to obliterate your light passages.
It’s a little harder to see those phases in an oil-painting student’s work because the monochromatic underlay gets obliterated in the final phase. But this is a class that’s taking my instruction very seriously. It’s days like this that remind me of how much I love to teach.

The built environment

My personal instinct is anti-social, to look at nature rather than the man-made environment. But that’s a mistake.

Pasturage, by Carol L. Douglas

The Mohawk River forces a separation between the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, making it one of the only natural passages across the Appalachians. This is the heartland of Linden Frederick’s Night Stories. The Mohawk Valley has fallen on hard times. It’s dotted with small, moldering cities of great charm.

Canajoharie is on the southern bank of the Mohawk River. In a sense it’s prehistoric, since it was one of the two main Mohawk settlements before white settlers arrived. The little town has a few 18thcentury remnants from the heyday of the Haudenosaunee, but most of it is 19thcentury.
Genesee Valley Farm, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas
Driving past yesterday, I was struck by how high above the water these historic buildings are. They stretch along a ridge overlooking the town, which in turn overlooks the river. In fact, that’s true of much of the Mohawk Valley as it winds through the hills and mountains. Nothing old or historic is built on or near the alluvial plains. Only in the 20thcentury has humankind been foolish enough to build on the river bottoms—most notably the Governor Thomas Dewey Thruway. Our ancestors could just wait for the Mohawk to fall. Now we need extensive flood control systems. Even with them, the Mohawk is known to rise and inundate communities downstream.
Nunda farm in autumn, pastel, by Carol L. Douglas
Today if you build your own home, your contractor will build from a set of architectural plans. In the 19th century, architects designed very grand buildings, but most homes were designed and constructed by local carpenters, and they did a fine job of it, too. There are certain universal designs, and there were trends in house styles, just as there are today. For example, you’ll find T-shaped farmhouses all over North America. That big cube, with a little kitchen addition off to one side, is practical to build and live in. But the proportions of these buildings, their curliques and furbelows, and even the way their outbuildings are placed are unique to every location.
Home port, by Carol L. Douglas
In the South, kitchens were often separated from the main house. In Maine, farmsteads were built as connected farms. The house is connected to a shed, then to a carriage house, and finally a livestock barn. A characteristic Maine home is a story-and-a-half cape with Greek Revival details. Where most American cellars were built from fieldstone, old homes here often have granite block foundations. I pointed that out to a visiting architectural historian, who was more interested in the bargeboards. “They’re waves!” she exclaimed.
In western Massachusetts and New York, a different kind of 19thcentury structure is common—square houses with hipped roofs and a cupola centered on the roof. They are frosted with Carpenter Gothic excess. However, the essential form is not Victorian, but rather something new. This basic shape would blossom in the next century as American Foursquare, our first truly-American architectural form. I grew up in one of these houses. It’s as much of a pastiche as any mini-mansion from the 1980s—Federal-style windows, elaborate Carpenter Gothic brackets, and an Italianate cupola, all pasted on that resolute squareness.
Field in Paradise, by Carol L. Douglas
These architectural anomalies are as much a part of the landscape as the hills, rocks, trees and meadows that surround them. My personal instinct is antisocial, to pull back from people to look at nature. However, that’s a painting error, one I fight against. Most of the paintings I love are not of nature alone, but the built environment—Corot’s The Bridge at Narni (1826) being an excellent example.
I know the Mohawk Valley intimately, and yet there’s always something new to see. These can be teaching moments in our paintings, if only we can slow down enough to see before we paint.

Don’t be so quick to judge

If it’s not love at first sight, maybe it’s because you’re doing something right.

Captain Linda Striping, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
One of my old painting pals frequently scrubs out paintings that she feels are going wrong. “Look, I’ve saved a good board,” she’ll say. My surplus plein air paintings, if stacked in one pile, would be about the same height as me. They’re almost all on expensive boards, so I see her point. Nevertheless, I think scrubbing out is generally a terrible idea.
Art growth is all about taking risks. The bravest paintings are sometimes the ones you hate as you’re doing them. That’s particularly true if your experiments are about mark-making. Most of us would rather have someone else’s brushwork; ours is somehow too self-revelatory. That’s not to say that mark-making can’t be taught or learned. Just like handwriting, it starts with general rules and ends up being very individual.
Sea Fog, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
I have a student who paints lyrically until he reaches the top layer in his paintings. Then he feels the need to apply a higher level of finish. It squeezes the energy right out, and obscures his basic ebullience.
(This is not, by the way, the same thing as ‘overworking.’ That’s a bogeyman used to scare beginning painters into not figuring out how to finish a painting. Paint is far more forgiving than most people think, and nothing on your canvas is so precious as to be irreplaceable.)
Scrub a painting out or obsessively overpaint, and you may murder a new idea before it’s even hatched. I’ve lost count of how many times I have set a painting aside in disgust, and then looked at it a few years later and realized it was very good. That’s one reason I keep all those surplus plein air paintings.
Captain Doug on the ratlines, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
We’re not good judges of our own work as we’re doing it. The disconnect between what we’ve envisioned and what actually happened is too pronounced. You may set out to paint the iridescence of lustreware, and fail miserably. You are so focused on that failure that you never notice that the color, structure and paint handling in your work is simply stunning. That’s where a teacher can be helpful, and why positive criticism is so useful. But time itself is a great healer. It allows you to stop seeing the painting from inside your own head.
All this assumes that you have a painting protocol that you follow, one which includes significant design steps. A poorly-designed painting is really the only thing you can do that’s unsalvageable. Your process ought to include thumbnails, notan studies, paint studies, or value drawings. Many people waste lots of time producing mediocre paintings because they’re too impatient to design carefully. But if the design is good, you have to work hard to wreck a painting.
Tricky Mary in a Pea Soup Fog, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas
Still, you often can’t tell until the end whether you’re going to pull it off or not. RebeccaGorrell once told me, “I was really unhappy with it till the last half hour—a good recurring lesson.” She’s so right. Paintings sometimes gel after a long hard fight. The only way you’ll know is by continuing to slug it out.

Monday Morning Art School: ellipses with a recipe thrown in

Learn how to draw a pie plate, dish, cup, or vase. I’m throwing in my pie crust recipe, so you can learn to make a pie, too.

When drawing round objects, we have to look for the ellipses, which are just elongated circles. Ellipses have a horizontal and a vertical axis, and they’re always symmetrical (the same on each side) to these axes.
The red lines are the ellipse and its vertical and horizontal axes. The two sides of the axes are mirror images of each other, side to side and top to bottom.
This is always true. Even when a dish is canted on its side, the rule doesn’t change; it’s just that the axes are no longer vertical or horizontal to the viewer.
Same axes, just tipped.
As always, I started by taking basic measurements, this time of the ellipse that forms the inside rim of the pie plate. (My measurements won’t match what you see because of lens distortion.)
This was where I learned that I couldn’t balance a pie plate on the dashboard in my husband’s old minivan.
An ellipse isn’t pointed like a football and it isn’t a race-track oval, either.
It’s possible to draw it mathematically, but for sketching purposes, just draw a short flat line at each axis intersection and sketch the curve freehand from there.
The inside rim of the bowl.

There are actually four different ellipses in this pie plate. For each one, I estimate where the horizontal axis and end points will be. The vertical axis is the same for all of them.

The horizontal axis for the bottom of the pie plate.

Next, I find the horizontal axis for the rim, and repeat with that. It’s the same idea over and over. Figure out what the height and width of each ellipse is, and draw a new horizontal axis for that ellipse. Then sketch in that ellipse.

Three of the four ellipses are in place.

Because of perspective, the outer edge of the rim is never on the same exact horizontal axis as the inner edge, but every ellipse is on the same vertical axis. We must observe, experiment, erase and redraw at times. Here all four ellipses are in place. Doesn’t look much like a pie plate yet, but it will.

Four ellipses stacked on the same vertical axis.

If I’d wanted, I could have divided the edge of the dish by quartering it with lines. I could have then drawn smaller and smaller units and gotten the fluted edges exactly proportional. But that isn’t important right now. Instead, I lightly sketched a few crossed lines to help me get the fluting about right. It’s starting to look a little more like a pie plate.

The suggestion of rays to set the fluted edges.

Now that you’ve tried this with a pie plate, you can practice with a bowl, a vase, a wine glass, or any other glass vessel.

Voila! A pie plate!

Meanwhile, here’s my pie-crust recipe. Nobody in their right mind would ask me to cook, but I can bake.

Double Pie Crust

2.5 cups all-purpose white flour, plus extra to roll out the crusts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons lard, slightly above refrigerator temperature, cut into ½” cubes.
8 tablespoons butter, slightly above refrigerator temperature, cut into ½” cubes.
7 teaspoons ice water
Thoroughly blend the dry ingredients. (I use a food processor, but the process is the same if you’re cutting the fat in by hand.) Cut in the shortening (lard and butter) with either a pastry blender or by pulsing your food processor with the metal blade. It’s ready when it is the consistency of coarse corn meal. (If it’s smooth, you’ve overblended.) Sprinkle ice water over the top, then mix by hand until you can form a ball of dough. If the dough seems excessively dry, you can add another teaspoon of ice water, but don’t go nuts.
Divide that ball in two and flatten into disks. Wrap each disk in wax paper, toss the wrapped disks into a sealed container and refrigerate until you’re ready to use them.
Don’t worry if the dough appears to be incompletely mixed or the ball isn’t completely smooth; mine comes out best when it looks like bad skin.
Let the dough warm just slightly before you start to roll it out. And while you don’t want to smother the dough with flour when rolling, you need enough on both the top and the bottom of the crust that it doesn’t stick. If you’re doing this right, you should be able to roll the crust right up onto your rolling pin and unroll it into your pie plate with a neat flourish.
(If you’ve never rolled out a pie crust, watch this.)
I use this crust for single- or double-crusted, fruit and savory pies.

Beautiful glimpses of the past

Today dories are an historical relic. When the Wyeths painted them, they were part of the saga of man and the sea.
Deep Cove Lobster Man, c 1938, N.C. Wyeth, oil, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Sometimes great emails get directed to my spam folder, particularly when they contain a dollar sign in the text. Thus it was when I saw Bruce McMillan’s note about seeing N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, which started at Brandywine River Museum and then moved to the Portland Museum of Art. It’s on its way to the Taft Museum of Art, opening on February 8.
What Bruce said that tripped my server was that the catalogue, $45 from the museum gift store, was available for $24.50 from Amazon, including shipping. Even with his member discount, he saved $17, or 42%. I immediately ordered the same book and paid $28.49, because books aren’t always the same price on Amazon.
Untitled, 1938, watercolor, Andrew Wyeth, sold at auction in 2017
That price difference is particularly noticeable in museum catalogues and fancy art books. I recently ordered an art text for my brother-in-law that was listed at over $200; he paid $24 for it. Because of this, I’ve learned to check my phone as I exit a show. Feel free to support an institution by paying a higher price in the gift shop, just be aware that you’re doing so.
The Lobsterman (The Doryman), 1944, N.C. Wyeth, egg tempera, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bruce noted that the painting above, The Lobsterman (The Doryman), is “where people stopped and gazed longer than almost any other painting. There’s so much to see in its simplicity; it keeps people looking.”

This is one of five Maine dories I’m looking at today. All are by the first two Wyeths, père et fils, and all of the boats are occupied by people. The last image, Adrift, is almost funerary, and that points to the particular storytelling genius of the Wyeth clan. Was Andrew painting about the model or the working boat?
Adrift, 1982, Andrew Wyeth, egg tempera, private collection
“This is Walter Anderson, Andrew’s devilish friend since childhood, who his parents didn’t like Andrew associating with, who Ed Deci, former curator of the Monhegan Museum, considered a despicable crook, and who I knew when living on McGee Island, off Port Clyde for two years,” Bruce wrote.
Andrew Wyeth was a young boy when he and his family first began summering in Maine. Andrew became friends with Walter and Douglas Anderson, son of a local hotel cook. Walt and Andrew became inseparable, and spent their days in a dory, exploring the coast and islands where locals fished. The two men remained friends for life. While Walt was clamming or otherwise ramshackling around, Andrew was painting.
Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1943, N.C. Wyeth, egg tempera, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
That’s the biggest difference between contemporary dory paintings and the Wyeths’ of nearly a century ago. They knew the boats and the men and boys who used them, intimately.
Before there were decent roads, working dories were the best way to move around coastal Maine. They were easily hauled up onto the beach. They could carry a few hundred pounds of fish or freight. From early settlement until mid-century, they were used as working boats, casually rowed (often standing) by working fishermen.
The Drowning, 1936, N.C. Wyeth, oil, courtesy Brandywine River Museum. This painting is in response to the drowning death of sixteen-year-old Douglas Anderson, who disappeared while lobstering. His body was found by his father and his younger brother, Walt.
Today they’re an historical relic, whereas to the Wyeths, they were part of the story of man and the sea. Dories today are divorced from their close association with working people. We paint them at their moorings, shimmering in the light, with no sense of the thin skin they once provided between the working fisherman and the cold, cold North Atlantic.

Censored. Me. Really.

I’ll be presenting the nudes that got me closed down this Saturday, from 4 to 6 PM. You’re invited.

In 2014, I was part of a duo show at a university gallery in Rochester, NY with my pal Stu Chait. Stu was doing large abstract watercolors; I was showing equally large nudes. The gallery is enormous, and our show was equally vast: a body of sixty pieces sprawled across three rooms.
I didn’t think much of about edginess in my own work; after all, my own kids had seen these canvases leaning against the walls of my studio for the year in which the work was produced. But I am not much for coy. My work dealt largely with the marginalization of women, exploring issues like religious submission, bondage, slavery, prostitution, obesity, and exploitation. It was serious, and it got a serious reception, featured in the university news and a city newspaper.
Then, college administrators saw the show and closed it down. The paintings have not been shown as a body of work since.
The cynic in me thinks that if I painted Odalisques there would have been no objection. Young people are exposed to sexually-charged but stupid images every day; in fact, this is part of the problem facing women today.
We’re accustomed to market-driven nudity and violence. Consider Kylie Jenner’s Glossesads. I’ve seen two versions, both of which feature Kylie and two other barely-clothed light-skinned women killing dark-skinned black men. They’re offensive to many values we like to talk about, but in 2018, Jenner was estimated to be worth $900 million.
We not only tolerate but glorify the cardinal sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. On the other hand, we are leery of serious conversations, we don’t like serious effort, and we vilify those with whom we disagree.
After years of stepping over these paintings in my store room, I’ve decided to look at them carefully once more. Censored. Me. Reallyopens this Saturday from 4-6 at Carol L. Douglas Studio, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport. I will give a short presentation on the subject, the process, and the impact of censorship on my work. I hope to see you there.

Monday Morning Art School: start with drawing

Before you can paint successfully, you have to learn to draw.
I love drawing in church, especially when there are sleepy teenagers. This drawing started with simple analysis of shape.

One of the problems with writing about ‘how to do art’ is that you’re speaking to all levels of experience. Today we’re going right to the beginning of measurement. Almost everyone can get the details of a drawing right. Where they go wrong is with overall proportion. Drawing is, first and foremost, a technical exercise in seeing size relationships. Get that right, and the details hardly matter.

All objects can be broken down into simple shapes and angles.

You’ve all seen artists holding a pencil up to an object. What they’re doing is rough measuring. It’s simple to do, but tough to photograph. Hold your pencil up like a ruler in front of the object you’re drawing. Move it around to see the relative height and width of the thing. For example, the toy truck below is about 1.5 times as wide as it is tall. Figure that out by holding your pencil first along the vertical access, then along the horizontal access, and comparing where the lengths stop along the pencil.

It’s not just an affectation; it’s really how artists measure.

A common beginner error is thinking that you have to transcribe the lengths exactly to the paper. The drawing can be any size you want. Start by figuring out how big you want the object to be on your paper, and make two hash marks to represent that. Then, if your object is half as wide as it is tall, figure out that relationship and mark it too.

Start by measuring out the simple shapes and angles.

You can also use your pencil to figure out the other important thing in drawing: the angles of lines. Formal perspective is important, but not as important as learning to see angles. If you develop the ability to see angles, you’ll have better natural perspective than if you try to fit up what you see to a theory.

Next, rough in the values. That means the lights and darks.

Do your measuring with one eye closed, especially if you’re working in a tight space. Art books will tell you to measure with your arm straight out. That’s not always practical. Instead, try to have the pencil the same distance away from your eye each time you take a measurement. I do that by noting how my arm is cocked.

Today’s exercise is based on a tissue box I drew in church. It had lovely angles. However, what you see in the photo isn’t what I saw while working. A drawing from life will never match what the camera records. Cameras lie just as much as artists do.

Begin to refine and strengthen the light and dark shapes.

All drawing starts with simple shapes. After laying them down, I check and correct them. I do this by analyzing each large shape. Where does the back of the box intersect the tissue column? Is the curve of the cutout fat enough? I discovered that my cube wasn’t really tall enough, so I added some to the bottom. 

The next step is to establish some overall values.  “Value” just means how light or dark something is. This box was sitting on a south-facing windowsill behind a person who was casting another shadow. Thus, the window-frame behind the box was in deep shadow, but not nearly as dark as the photograph. I roughed in those darks first. They helped me know how to shade the box properly.

If you’re using graphite or charcoal, you can blend with your finger. Otherwise, use a stump, a tortillon, or a bit of rag.

Next, I set shadows on the tissue box itself. I am more concerned with the column of tissue, so with each pass, I spend more time on that.

Finally, I did some blending, using the handiest tool I carry: my finger. You should use a stump or tortillon on work you care about, but in a pinch, your finger works great. But don’t blend pigments other than graphite or charcoal with your finger; they may contain toxic metals.

Voila! I have a tissue box drawn and my pastor is just winding down his peroration.
Note that I never bother much about my mark-making. It can take care of itself. I’m mostly interested in applying accurate values. I did this drawing with a mechanical pencil, which will never be as luscious as a good graphite stick, but it survives banging around in my purse week after week.
Some general rules:
  • Draw everyday objects. The better you get with these, the better you’ll be with complex subjects. There’s amazing beauty in everyday things.
  • Draw any time you get the chance. I did this drawing in church, and I didn’t miss a word. Drawing and language don’t use the same channels of your brain.
  • Measuring is the most important part of drawing. Keep checking and correcting sizes.
  • Start with big shapes and break them down into little shapes. If the big shapes are right, the smaller parts will slip into their spots just fine.
  • Value is relative. How dark something is, is only important in terms of how dark its neighbor is.
  • Constantly recheck shapes and values as you go.

Why show your art?

Even if you have no interest in selling, you should still be showing.
More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas
For those painters who want to make sales, exhibitions are a no-brainer. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when the world would beat a path to your door for a better mousetrap. If you want your work to be seen, it has to be where it can be found.
There are other artists who paint for love, not money. It’s still important for them to show their work.  Art is essentially a form of communication. That can be as personal as a private gift between two people, or as general as a landscape. A painting should say something. For that to be complete, it needs an audience.
Monhegan schoolhouse, by Carol L. Douglas
I first started showing when I’d built up an inventory of work and didn’t know what to do with it. They were modestly priced works. When they sold, they enabled me to buy more paint and create more paintings. I imagine the need for shelf space and materials has motivated many painters to go from amateur status to professional.
Every group show is in some way a competition. Your work stands next to others, so it can be judged as part of a group, on formal or intuitive standards. This makes you think about ways you can improve.
Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas
There is one pitfall in local shows, and that’s local groupthink. If you’re a Luministpainting in a community of Impressionists, you’re going to feel pressure to conform to the prevailing ethos. If you find yourself in this position, start showing outside your geographical pool; that’s a great way to find your own tribe.
Still, that’s the exception. Viewers often have incisive observations on our work. We ponder them and take them back to our studio. Over time and many shows, our body of work starts to take on aspects of dialogue, rather than being a strict monologue. (That’s also the great advantage of classes and workshops.)
Jonathan submarining, by Carol L. Douglas
Showing is a great way to build confidence. In my experience, the viewing public is overwhelmingly kind. Regularly participating in art shows helps you develop a sense of perspective about your own work. Yes, it’s important and wonderful, but it’s also part of a panoply of work being done by other artists. It’s great when you realize you have a place in this wonderful parade of images. That shatters ‘imposter syndrome’.
Many of my close friendships were developed at art shows. That’s important in a career where you spend lots of time working alone.
Everything I’ve said about real world exhibitions pertains equally to social media. Getting your work out there, and reacting and responding to other’s work is the goal. Art always looks best in person, but social media has a longer reach. If you don’t use Instagram and Facebook, you should start.