Workshop Plus


UK, USA and Canadian Workshops and Online Course continuations

Marlene (online - Intermediate)
Thank you for this great course! I appreciate the logical progression and your detailed guidance, teaching points, and the clarity of your directions. Though this was a lengthy drawing, I enjoyed it. I wasn't really able to make the two eggs in the foliage stand out and grass is always a mystery to me...

'The Henhouse Raider' by Marlene Your enjoyment shows - I think the result is super! Yes, the fallen eggs are rather lost, but your "mystery" grass looks like grass - there's nothing to be concerned about :o)

As usual, I'll start with the background and work forwards. First, I really like the boldness of your dark interior. And "bold" is what you needed to be. It's the one area that gives most artists the greatest problems, because they think the black dog will become lost if they make it too dark. But you can use reflected light along Robbie's spine to separate him from the background, and the dark background adds depth. It also does something else far more important - it sets a reference against which you can gauge every other value in the drawing. A light background almost always leads to a flat and low contrast drawing.

The wooden sides of the henhouse look superbly weathered and rustic, and, if I go looking for it, the detail is there but it's not intrusive. Before I go further, there's one aspect I must mention - outline. Your drawing is sufficiently high contrast to not need outline at all, but you rely on it to quite a large extent. Around Henrietta's head, for example, or the eggs, and the foreground leaves and Robbie's back. Line always looks unnatural because it doesn't exist in Nature. We see and understand edges due to the change in value between adjacent surfaces. I can't find a single area of your drawing where outline was necessary and that removing it would be detrimental.

detail Robbie the dog has a suggestion of three-dimensional form, not much texture, but loads of character. Of the three, I'd vote character for the top place. He has a lovely bright highlight in his eye that immediately draws my attention to him, and the upward curve of his mouth suggests a cheeky grin. He's obviously pleased with himself! You've made good use too of reflected light to make his back stand out from the background.

The eggs look good and I'm assuming you used a hard grade to shade them. That was essential, because a 2H or harder grade draws with a smooth eggshell-like quality.

chicken detail Henrietta the hen is looking very displeased with Robbie's eggs-capade (sorry!), and the lighter values in her head draw my attention to her. She has sufficient three-dimensional shaping, and a nicely-judged suggestion of feathering. However, you've relied heavily on outline to pop her forwards of the wall and foliage. You could have darkened the wall where necessary, and adjusted the values of the leaves to make her stand out, or not, at any point. You've used heavy outlining again to emphasise her raised foot. I believe that foot is an important element in this drawing but outlining simply looks false. Darkening the rear leg (let's call it the shadow cast by her body) would have done the job just as well, and more realistically.

The immediate foreground grass works much better than you think it does. No matter how you draw it every viewer will always make their own sense of it. What doesn't work is the thick outlining of the leaves in front of the henhouse. Again, use value differences to display edges. Also, this is your world you're creating - it never actually existed - so feel free to make whatever changes you need to.

weeds and foliage detail weeds and foliage detail In my alteration I've created darker holes through the foliage and additional background leaves, and then pushed those leaves back into the shade. Next I thought about which foreground leaf might cast its shadow on the leaves around it. The result - I haven't changed your leaves at all but all of the outline has disappeared. There is more depth, it's much easier to understand each leaf's relationship to the others, and it looks more natural. Part of your problem was not using intense blacks in the extreme background. Look into a clump of grass next time you see one and I think you'll quickly realise how very dark it can become in the depths. Darker darks give you a lot more values to play with so you can create more depth.

Many thanks for joining me on the course, Marlene, and I think you should be justifiably proud of this drawing.

Ruth (online - Intermediate)
Here is my finished effort which I really enjoyed doing. Couldn't get under the henhouse very black despite using B, HB, 2H and 4H in that order - I am beginning to wonder if it is the paper that won't accept it as it is something that doesn't seem to be improving. Robbie has been drawn as a young dog with more fluffy hair than a full-grown dog.

detail Your enjoyment shows in the result! As for your blacks: try using a 2B or 4B and then burnish with an HB. Don't use hard grades because once you do there's no way back if you want to use anything softer again. And Robbie (who was only 12 weeks old in the reference) is looking very like the cheeky pup he was :o)

I'll start at the back and work forwards. Personally, I would have made the inside of the henhouse darker, especially behind Robbie's back. I know you can draw darker than that because Robbie is considerably darker. You might think that you'd lose Robbie in a darker interior but you can use reflected light along his spine to separate him from it - just enough to make the junction visible while still maintaining a hint of mystery. A darker interior would also have added depth by pushing the door frame forwards.

The wood of the henhouse looks old and rustic although the detail is rather soft. But I like your invention within the boards, and that big chunk missing out of the edge of the door. This is your world, not the world of the reference, and often it's those little extra added details that boost the reality and interest.

detail Robbie the dog has some three-dimensional form and, of course, a fluffy texture. If the highlight in his eye had been as bright as the whites in his coat, it would have drawn my attention to him more readily. His black hair is looking good (I'm fighting the urge to fetch a brush!) and it runs very naturally into his white hair. The only exception is his ear, which looks quite flat. Constructing that ear by using layers of short strokes would have helped you to "sculpt" the form more easily. There is a small problem - Robbie's front legs and paws are in full light and his rear leg is inside the dark henhouse, but in your drawing they are both equally well illuminated. His rear leg and paw should have been much darker. The same applies to his inner thigh (in the shade of his belly) and the floor of the henhouse. My impression is that you lightened the floor to help you to display his rear leg. But everything in Nature is not always easily seen, so you create a greater sense of realism by making the rear leg only just visible in the darkness.

The eggs would have benefited from being shaded with a hard grade, such as 2H, because hard grades (due to their greater clay content) draw with a smoother finish. Your eggs have good three-dimensional form but they are not realistically smooth.

chicken detail Henrietta the hen, who is looking quite displeased with the potential egg robbery, would have benefitted from more three-dimensional shaping. She certainly has shaping but it is all tending towards mid-values. Much darker shading beneath her chest would have given her more solidity and would have thrown more attention onto her legs - more on that later - and more shade on her back would have pushed her tail further behind her. Also, as with Robbie, a carefully drawn, small and intensely white highlight in her eye would have drawn attention to her more readily.

To return to her legs - I think a vital element in this composition is the right-hand raised foot. It's the only movement in the composition and adds a degree of tension. With a darker underside to her body, and darker weeds too, you could have easily highlighted that foot.

weeds and foliage detail The immediate foreground works very well. It grounds Henrietta and leads our eye into the scene. What I think doesn't work so well is your midground foliage. As you mentioned, the shade beneath the henhouse is very light and offers very little sense of depth. If you had established strong darks beneath the henhouse, you would have had a much broader palette of greys to work with within the foliage. I suspect the same problem explains Henrietta's lack of form. The lack of dark shade beneath the house has forced you to use a very restricted palette of greys for her.

Where you have established strong dark values within the weeds, you've lost the benefit by immediately moving to midtones. If some of the leaves had been pushed right back into the shade you would have created more layers of depth. I can see you have correctly designed and outlined the foreground foliage, but you were too timid when you created the midground foliage around them and the deep shade that gives everything depth. It's also essential that your foreground foliage possesses sharp edges, which yours don't. Having soft edges, they appear to merge into the leaves behind them, and that loss of separation partially flattens the sense of depth you were beginning to create. Finally, think three-dimensionally and take cast shadows into account. "Will this leaf cast a shadow on the one below?" If it does, it will create a very visible sharp edge adjacent to the shadow and your leaf will be thrown forward of those behind. Cast shadows are very useful devices for creating depth.

Thank you for an excellent course which has encouraged me to look at the world in a different way - "How could I draw that?". I never imagined I would be getting excited about finding bricks and nettles to photograph as references, let alone enjoy trying to draw them. The exercises showed up areas for further practice and the lessons flowed logically . At the end it's amazing looking back at what one has achieved.

Thanks, Ruth! I'm really pleased with the advances you made. My main tip: be bold! Get those blacks in early and everything around them will balance themselves accordingly. And, if you decide to lighten them, Blu-Tack will allow that at any time. And, of course, as your store of references (both photographic and mental) grows, you'll have increasingly more information to work with as you draw. Many thanks for joining me on the course.

Debbie (online - Beginner)
I've only done Kitty and the background in the picture as I wanted to have a good go at Kitty and not be rushed, but I still intend to have a go at the lamp. I'm quite happy with most things how they came out in the end apart from the contrast. I feel the overall effect is too gray. I tend to play safe at the beginning and then like you've told us it's hard to go darker :)

Well, at least you're listening - and then finding out the hard way. Nothing teaches like experience :)

When I first saw this I thought it was disappointingly light, then I adjusted your scan and it began to look much better. However, I then darkened the midtones (see below) so you could see what a difference a broader palette of values creates. It has a lot more presence and three-dimensionality. Value adjusted drawing to display better three-dimensional form

There is much I admire about this drawing. I'll begin with something that doesn't quite work well - the extreme left-hand background. It contains a texture formed by vertical linear shading. If you blend that area so it loses its linear structure, it will recede and the sharper end of the dresser will spring forwards. Texture belongs to the foreground and near midground. Blend it and it will clearly be far background, where we instinctively expect a lack of detail.

You've done well with the rather complex curves on the end of the dresser. They are accurately constructed and drawn, which is often a problem in this exercise, and your shading clearly describes their three-dimensional forms. The dresser itself is nicely suggested without it dominating the scene, although I find the diagonal linear shading distracting. If you blend (not something I often recommend) keep clear of the sharp edges and the joints between the boards. Try to just remove the linear content. The wooden top is excellent. It's obviously old pine without the detail attracting too much attention to itself.

Kitty, despite being light, is very well drawn indeed! Your interpretation of her three-dimensional form is unmistakable. She possesses a solidity and your shading definitely describes her smooth and undulating ceramic surface. Her lovely dark eyes and nose immediately draw my eye to them, but then you've dropped your values to light greys and lost the advantage of using the mid-values. The little upward curve at the corner of her mouth give her a very warm and friendly appearance, which add a great deal to her appeal.

Your cast shadow is excellent. Without being sharply defined, it describes Kitty's position away from the wall and the curve of the rear moulding. The dark contact shadow under the paws helps to fix her soundly to the surface too.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with you, Debbie. This drawing was of course designed to stretch you, and it will stretch you more if you complete the other half. I'm delighted with your approach, your understanding of what you were drawing, and your interpretation of the reference. Well done.

Karen (UK Studio Workshop November 2016)
Hi Mike....Karen from Tennessee here. I have attached the homework in progress. I'm really struggling with leaves...and my small boulder looks a bit like a brain. Definitely a work in progress.

Rabbit drawing critique for Karen Hi Karen! Good to see you working on this. I'll reply to the leaf problem but I'll give your drawing an overall appraisal too. Please bear in mind that I've attempted to correct the directional lighting and variable contrast in your photo, so what you see here is what I'm looking at right now.

Your drawing is high contrast and that's good, but there are minimal mid-values - everything is either dark or light. Deep darks are good for providing depth; they increase three-dimensional understanding; and they add impact to a drawing. But everything in this appears to possess dark portions so it's become a collection of equal-value parts, rather than a natural scene where some elements dominate and others recede. For example, your wheel looks rusty and rough, but the multiple dark marks in the bricks behind echo the dark marks in the rust, which reduces the importance of both.

The same applies to your very dark leaves in the top left-hand corner. The values are very similar throughout and the ribs and veins are very light, so they read as flat objects. And they merge into the wheel because the dark values are very similar. Never mind what you see in the reference - it's a composite so it never existed in reality. Change it to suit what you need. Would it help if the top left leaf was lighter than the wheel? I think it would, because the darker wheel would emphasise the leaf's outline. That will immediately signal that the leaf is in front of the wheel, especially if the edge of the leaf is drawn very sharply - which it should be. Sharp edges divide elements and soft edges merge them together. Realistic leaves Incidentally, the little leaves behind the wheel are really good! They conform to the lighting, and they have depth, texture, and a sense of reality.

The rock has three-dimensional form and good lighting, but it's soft - hence the "brain" appearance! Sharpen some of the edges and maybe introduce a few more highlights too. And consider the lighting direction - You have one blob shape on top that has equally dark shadows on both sides. The light appears to be shining from the left, so surely that left-hand dark shadow would not exist? Even if it's a deep fissure.

The grass is progressing well, but it would stand out from the rock a lot more if it was lighter. Try using very light values for the foreground blades, slightly darken the midground blades, and then make the background blades darker still. The foreground blades will stand out and be instantly recognisable, and the others will provide depth and recession.

Can you tell me what sort of pencil and stroke you use for the typical leaf?

It depends on how I see the leaf - glossy and dark, light and shiny, hairy and dull... However, I use the same approach for all. First I break it down into manageable sections. That's easy with a leaf because its veins and central rib provide the divisions.

Examples of drawn leaves Examples of drawn leaves
Stop and think about the lighting direction and the three-dimensional form of the leaf - the way you see its curves, or the way you'd like it to curve. It doesn't need to match any references. Also consider cast shadows - any that it will cast on other leaves, or shadows they might cast on yours. Place your pencil in one section. Is it touching a light or dark part of the leaf? Light? OK. I use circular shading for leaves so I don't have to stop, and it produces no visible lines. Leaves are smooth so try to eliminate line in your shading. Now sculpt that first section. I talk to myself when I'm drawing: "I'm going uphill towards where the light will be brightest" - I decrease the pressure on my pencil to draw lighter - "Now I'm over the top and heading down into the central valley that the light cannot reach". I increase the pressure and draw progressively darker to create that downward curve into the shade. All the time I'm "seeing" it as being a solid three-dimensional object that I'm working around and exposing on my paper.

Examples of drawn leaves Examples of drawn leaves Examples of drawn leaves
Mike Sibley's 'Bindweed' I use the flat face of a chisel point because it draws with soft edges that easily merge into prior shading. Grades? HB mainly. I might change to 2B for really dark areas but only if HB won't do the job. And 2H as a final overall layer. The 2H dulls any unintentional white holes, gaps and spots I've missed, so only the highlights remain white. If the highlights now look too bright, a very light layer of 2H solves that.

Two final points:

Only draw what you know and understand. For example, you won't know what value to use for the veins and ribs until the leaf is completed, so leave those white - as you have done. Now use the 2H layer to tone them down until they fit comfortably into the leaf that surrounds them.

And don't forget that leaves have a thickness. If one leaf overlaps another and you're having problems making one stand above another, use a tiny highlight around its edge to represent its thickness - only, of course, on the side of the leaf that is facing the light.

I hope that helps.

Mary (online - Beginners)
My final project for the on line beginner class. I confess I didn't like Kitty, at first, I wanted to make her a real dog. However, I realized attempting to make her look ceramic was part of the challenge. There were many other challenges, as you intended!

Drawing critique for Mary There is some really good work in this, Mary. The first thing I noticed was the quality of the glass, which I'll return to. The overall three-dimensional rendering is good too. Your drawing tells the simple story very well and Kitty is clearly connected to the lamp. The dresser top runs almost unnoticed into the background, although it didn't need that line along its edge, and the background itself is nicely muted and devoid of interest. The curves of the dresser's end are very well constructed, with prominent highlights, which is something many artists on this course have problems with. The dresser itself is good too although, again, it includes outline that damages its reality. Try to use opposing values to describe edges rather than line. There are no lines in real life; we see edges because of tonal or textural differences.

Conversely, the lamp has both solidity and a sense of reality. It also has lines around the sides of the chimney, but that's OK - we're looking through a great thickness of glass as it curves around both sides, so a broad line is equivalent to what we'd expect to see. The silky sheen on the brass collars and their soft highlights perfectly describe their round nature, as do the perfectly receding cutouts as they disappear around each side. I think you have employed excellent artistic licence with the brass base. It really needed to match the brass collars rather than the glass in value, and that's exactly what you've done. There's no possibility of mistaking brass for glass.

Drawing critiques of Yorkshire Terrir ceramic figure In the glass chimney, the reflections are bright and hard-edged and the shading is smooth. Those all add up to a surface that can only be glass. The reflections in the glass oil reservoir are good too, although there is linear shading that looks less like glass... but it does read as a reflection of the dresser's wooden top. If that's what you intended, it looking great. If not, don't use visible linear shading where line doesn't belong. We expect glass to be very smooth so visible line just creates confusion.

Kitty has lots of character, excellent three-dimensional form, and she's definitely ceramic and not hairy. Her dark eyes with their bright highlights draw my attention to her immediately. The thin highlight beneath the left-hand eye is a good device for defining its shape and adding extra contrast. I would have replaced her strange triangular eye highlights with circular ones, but that's just personal preference. Kitty's attention is obviously focussed on the lamp but she does look very worried! It's the downturned mouth that gives that impression. We humans instinctively look for human emotions in what we see. You could have created the beginnings of a subtle human grin by turning up the corners of the mouth. What you did was not wrong, but it does generate a feeling of concern.

The cast shadows was the biggest challenge. I did read about cast shadows and attempted various combinations but what seemed to be the right location for accuracy did not seem to work artistically. I think it would have been okay to place a shadow to the left of kitty, just a bit lower than her position. However, I couldn't come figure out how to work the lamp's shadow. Any suggestions? Or is that a problem to be solved in the next class?

Drawing critiques of Yorkshire Terrir ceramic figure I cover the science of shadows in the Advanced course, but I'll give you a quick primer. Imagine where the light is shining from - it's direction from above (A) and across the ground (B). I'm using sunlight for simplicity because the light rays are parallel.

C/D is the lighting direction passing through the base of the lamp. D/E is now the centreline of the lamp's shadow. Point E is the top of the shadow, because the light is above the lamp and shining down. You use the same system to find the top and position of Kitty's shadow (F). Personally, I find it useful to imagine I'm the light and then ask myself "What can I see from up here?" Everything I can't see is in the shade of something.

The shadows are not copies of the object casting them. For example, the lamp's shadow has to travel across the wood to reach the wall and then travel up the wall to point E. That will elongate it. Kitty is closer to the wall so her shadow will be very similar to her shape.

You need not be accurate. And, if you blur the edges of the shadow to suggest diffused light, you can be even more inaccurate. As long both shadows are treated in exactly the same way. Shadows tie all the elements together, much as your contact shadow around Kitty has grounded her to the wood.

Finally, there's one aspect I deliberately missed out. The shelf itself will cast a shadow on the back wall. That shadow will overlap the shadows of Kitty and the lamp BUT... as it is exactly the same value (because they share the same light source and strength) all three shadows will fuse into one. Shadows, unless you have multiple light sources, never sit on top of other shadows.

Don't be dismayed by any of this. The exercise was designed to stretch you - to move you right out of your comfort zone. Your work on Kitty is lovely! The lamp is equally as good. Looking over my notes from the course, I think you've done exceedingly well!

Marlene (San Antonio, TX - July 2016) completed final project from the workshop in San Antonio, last July. It was a great time with endless amount of material to absorb. This project has truly been fun and I like using the clutch pencils. I used the full range of Staedtler pencil grades including the 9xxb by Generals, though mostly the 4H - 4B.

Rabbit in Foliage drawing by Marlene Thank you, Marlene! I'm so pleased you found the workshop helpful. My first impression was that I like this a lot! It lacks a little depth, but it is very well drawn. However, before I comment I should tell you that I've straightened the perspective of your photo and corrected the contrast. Hopefully, it looks like your original, but bear the changes in mind as you read on.

Working from left to right, Your rusty wheel is definitely rusty and couldn't be mistaken for any other surface - well done. My only criticism is that it's similar in a value to almost everything else - or everything in the drawing shares similar values. That's what creates the flat appearance. Nothing dominates or recedes. The bricks are nicely underplayed but, in my opinion, lack sufficient interest for close inspection. The dark features draw my eye to them but there's little else to see. Also the differences between the smoother bricks and grittier mortar aren't obvious, although that's not essential. However, you have created depth between the wheel and wall. The wheel's cast shadow at the top really tips it at an angle to the wall. That shadow helps to tie the wheel and wall together, then it's absence lower down breaks them apart and reinforces the leaning angle of the wheel.

I like the left-hand solution to the insipid rock problem, but the right-hand side doesn't possess the same degree of three-dimensional form. The left-hand side is instantly understandable but the right isn't. I'm reading it as a hollow curve, in which case the lighting should alter internally to reflect it's three-dimensional curve.

Removing the complex Cow Parsley leaves was an excellent choice! I too would have chickened out, and I would have stuck a big leaf over them :o) Your leaves on that side are very well-crafted and possess solid three-dimensional form.
Drawing critiques
Your negatively drawn grass at the base works well too, although you've lost depth by using a low contrast range of values. I think you'll be surprised how dark the spaces between blades of grass become with depth. You could have used rich blacks in the deepest shade, which would give you plenty of values to use as you worked towards the front. And you'd create plenty of depth with an element of mystery built into it.

Moving to the right - the leaves above the rabbit have wonderfully believable body and three-dimensional form. I could literally run my finger over them and feel each undulation. Your background behind the leaves is rich and dark so you could have broadened your range of values quite successfully. Never be afraid of really pushing some elements right back into the shade, which can be very deep because you've created intense darks as the absolute deepest shade. Don't forget you can always change your mind and use Blu-Tack to pull anything forward again. A quick tip: try to achieve a good balance between the deepest blacks and the more forward layers. Your blacks are rather minimal and lost within the leaves. You need to make those blacks obvious so the eye can instantly compare the background to the foreground. Result - instant depth! This might give you an idea of the possibilities...
Drawing critiques

Rabbit - drawing critique Your rabbit has loads of character! And a lovely dark, attention-grabbing, eye! It has a believable hairy texture, although it lacks the delicacy of drawing that represents the softness of the surface. If you'd looked a little deeper and had more time to spend on it you could have emphasised the change from coarse hair on top of the nose and head and the softer hair down the side and cheek. A touch of contact shadow beneath the paws would have helped to ground them, but well done for noticing I'd copied the right-hand paw to be its left-hand paw! Your alterations have definitely made each unique.

The stone block beneath the rabbit's paws has a really lovely texture, and the dead ivy clinging to it, which is a little lacking in tonal shaping, is well-studied too. Element by element, this is really good. It just needs a little more attention to finer detail. That itself will generate the midtones that are principally missing. You tend to jump from dark to light too abruptly, which is why it looks tonally similar throughout. But I think you should be justifiably proud of this drawing, Marlene!

I also love the very smooth surface paper and have several other smooth ones to try. The graphite shine still worries me and plan not to "fix" until I know the drawing is truly complete. Thank you again and I am looking forward to the intermediate on-line tutorial next week.

The Conqueror Diamond White you were working on is, in my opinion, an excellent replacement for the deceased Mellotex. It suits me very well too, because it is virtually free of surface texture, so every mark I make is the mark as I intended it to be. I really detest working on interfering textured papers! :o)

As soon as you've decided the drawing is going to be as good as it ever can be - fix it! And use a matt workable fixative. That will create a surface that diffuses light and removes almost all of the sheen from the graphite. As a bonus, you'll see your darks instantly strengthen and add more impact to your drawing. It's quite magical!

I'm looking forward to working with you online at soon.
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