Last weekend I humbled myself by taking a really, really challenging class for three days. It was Pencil 1 at the Denver Botanical Gardens. They have more than 200 courses in botanical art and illustration that can lead to certification, and all of them must begin with this class.
Having used paper and pencil for too many years to count, I thought I had this one wired. Wrong, so wrong.
First we did small compositional arrangements of a branch we each had at our tables. You can see the light sketched grid of thirds on the first square. Our eye likes to see things in thirds, and the center intersecting points of that grid are target areas.You may notice that I broke the rules by drawing two squares with the branches facing downward. They looked like ballerina feet to me, so I broke the rules.
Then we started with charts of values in pencil. We used Tombo graphite pencils from 4H-2B, which are the values I normally use. We had to fill in the chart, trying to match the sample on the first line.
Then we used what we learned about shadows while drawing a styrofoam ball. Did you know you can even out the tones you made with a 2B pencil by using a 4H pencil lightly over it? This was new to me. Magic.
The final project was to draw a tomato, using all we had learned about light, form, pencils, composition and using tones instead of sketching. A tomato is good for this exercise because it has both shiny and matte surfaces, orbital and organic shapes, and the values of green and red are challenging using only graphite. I drew four compositions before I had one I liked, which is the lower right.
The next step is to use tracing paper to make a value study of the composition to see how the lights and darks fall.
When I was done with the studies, I traced the final composition and transferred it to Strathmore 500 Smooth Bristol for the final drawing, using a light box.
Here is the final tomato.
I started on a leaf but had no time to finish it.
There is a part of me that wants to excel at something really hard to do, to give myself the Trifecta of Art Challenges. This kind of illustration just might do it. Our teacher, Randy Raak told us about this guy, Gurney who has illustration wired and blogs generously about what he knows, Clearly he has been driven since he was in utero.
In a chart on his blog he shows how black values in light are the same exact color as white values in shadow. This is one of his charts showing how our eyes just plain lie to us. I cannot wrap my brain around this quite yet. Can you? Knowing this kind of thing, and using our brains, hearts, eyes and hands together makes us better artists, no matter what challenge we take on. It is all part of the big bold journey of art.