Drawing – The Dreaded Foreshortening


Foreshortening is a word used to describe the drawing of a person or object in perspective and this where I sometimes get myself into real trouble!

Let’s pretend we were to crouch and look at a person lying down on the beach.  If we were to look at the person from the top of their head view we would hardly see anything of the side of them. So the motto with foreshortened drawings is, “the more we see of the end, the less we see of the sides.”

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When tackling a foreshortened subject, I firstly try to establish whether the figure is lying diagonally and if so, which way is it sloping? To start on my page, I draw a very light diagonal line to guide me.

Finding the midpoint is particularly vital in foreshortened drawings and will appear not where you would guess it to be. I tend to treat the drawing as a jigsaw puzzle of many pieces joined together and return to my starting point with freehand drawing as often as I can. This way, my struggle with proportions becomes a little easier.

It is most important to draw what you see even if it doesn’t make sense. Having said that, this may not feel right as you are drawing because the shapes will be so different from what you know and recognize. In fact, the shapes could almost be described as nonsensical.

This rough charcoal foreshortened drawing below was so difficult to do and I think I must have unsuccessfully had at least six attempts.  The mid-point is very deceiving here and appears just below the girl’s bikini top.  After many attempts, I did the drawing while listening to an interesting topic on the radio.  This is a good tip because it is enough to distract us so we lose concentration and allow the drawing to flow without trying too hard.

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Check out this great site which has fantastic tips on foreshortening.

Edward A Burke’s drawing and painting site is also a great reference.


Action Painting – New Uses for Household Stuff


Abstract string painting

Using household items can be very helpful when applying paint and to make different marks and patterns.  Items such as a kitchen sponge, old bath brush or even a stick from your back yard can make interesting marks when you dip them into paint or use them to scrape back into the paint after you have applied it.  With these tools, it is interesting to make textures, shapes and patterns and this may result in an outstanding work.

I chose this old drawing which was made with string.  See my previous post on string painting to get the idea.

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I chose the colors of one of my favourite old masters, Pierre Bonnard, (French, 3 October 1867 – 23 January 1947.)

Pierre thought differently about color and light and often used purple, yellow and red together for maximum effect.  This had not been done before and sparked some controversy.

Bonnard The Bowl of Milk

The Bowl of Milk
[Le Bol de lait] 1919 The Bowl of Milk
Oil on canvas 116.2 (h) x 121.0 (w) cm Tate, London Bequeathed by Edward Le Bas 1967

This is the string painting after I have put the paint down with the stuff I found around the house.

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It is by no means a finished work and I will go back into it later with a stick and some ink to define the different areas.  I really don’t know where I will go with it after that but the painting will reveal itself as I progress and I am happy with the ambiguity of that process.

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This study of a ship was created by using charcoal, chalk, watercolor, wax, a biro, a pencil, ink and a stick from the garden.  With nothing in mind originally, my focus was on making interesting marks with the materials available.


Action Painting – A Straw, Acrylic Paint and a Toothbrush

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Today’s exercise is a variation on the drip technique and really easy to do. You can probably remember doing this as a kid. I used acrylic paint, a straw and paper to get this effect. You can use watercolor just as successfully.

The idea is to make puddles of paint on your paper and blow patterns into them with a straw.

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You can add more or less water to your paint in some areas or change colors to get different effects. You can be even more creative by drawing on the paper with a wax candle to create another layer before you drip the paint. I did this on the work above.

It’s fun to allow one colour to dry and then put another on top. There is no end to the variety of compositional ideas for future paintings to come out of this process.

For more on Action Painting see my previous post, “The Painting That Creates Itself.” https://zenschoolforcreatives.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-painting-that-creates-itself/

Here is a 2 minute YouTube video showing a person creating a drip portrait by using a toothbrush,  enjoy!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yraawCrGH1c

The Painting That Creates Itself

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1a


Today’s practice exercise is all about Action painting.  It’s about dripping, dabbing, smearing and spilling colours all over the place with no particular idea or plan.  Don’t be surprised if you come up with something worth framing, I did.

Action painting (sometimes called gestural abstraction) was used in the 1950s by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_painting

Both artists created masterpieces by pouring, dripping and spilling paint over the canvas. And you can too, all you have to do is give up control and allow the paint to create its magic.

I have found watercolor to be the most exciting medium for this exercise, especially when used in conjunction with a wax candle although this is optional.

It all takes about 30 minutes plus some time for the first application of paint to dry.  For success my tip is always to “put the paint down and leave it!

This is what you’ll need:

  • 1 sheet watercolor paper (any size but A2 is best), newspaper or butchers’ paper is okay for other mediums.
  • Masking tape
  • A board to tape the paper on
  • 3 different sized brushes including 1 large one
  • 3 or 4 tubes of cheap watercolor paint
  • Plastic containers for water and paint
  • Rags
  • Rubber gloves if desired
  • 1 cheap household wax candle (optional)

First, tape your paper to the board. If you don’t have a board you can just lay the paper down somewhere where you can make a splash without worrying. I put down an old sheet or a piece of plastic to catch spills.

Draw over the paper with the candle (the marks will be invisible but will reappear later.) You can use straight lines as I did or any type of squiggle works. I usually shut my eyes and use my left hand for this just to continue with the “giving up of control” theme we are using in this exercise.

Now choose a color and mix it with water. Drip, splash from the brush or pour the paint over the paper. Make sure not to overdo it and leave some white paper. Now choose another color and drip a small amount of this color over the existing color and allow it to blend by itself. Do not touch the paper at all, allow the paint to run together.

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For the first painting I used blue and purple and the second one red and blue. The first was created by pouring and the second by dripping. With the first one I used a spray bottle of water to soften the edges and create a staining effect.  See how the colors are starting to run together?

You will now start to see the lovely candle marks and the way they separate the paint by creating resistance. It is best to have a break now for 30 minutes at least to allow the painting to dry.

To create impact and after the painting had dried, I used the complimentary of the dominant color (opposite on the color wheel) to create energy on the page. This works if one color is dominant and the other is used in small amounts and is why a Christmas tree catches our eye.  The green of the tree is the dominant color and the decorations are a dash of red. Great energy!

Here is an image of a color wheel for you to find your dominant color’s opposite.

Colour Wheel

Can you see how the opposite of blue is yellow/orange and the opposite of red is green?

Don’t forget to drop the complimentary color on at the end and after the work is dry.  Use a small amount for maximum impact.  Allow the paint to run together without touching it.

Here they are finished.  The first one looks like a vase of flowers, oh my goodness, the painting has created itself!

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1a

Art from Inutitiuon Ex1b

Action painting can also be done using enamel paint, acrylics and even house paint.Here is an example of a work done using acrylics.

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If you would like to read more on action painting, here’s a great link:


It is a site for kids but the methods are also excellent and easy for adults.

Drawing: It’s a Matter of Placement – Finding the Mid-Point

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Placing the subject correctly on the page once created huge problems for me and I can remember my teachers at art school repeating “don’t make little drawings in the middle of the page” or “fill up the page.” Somehow these statements fell on deaf ears and students (including myself) continued off and on to put our drawings all over the place.
Here are some images of incorrectly placed drawings.

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The first is cut off at the ankles, the second too small compared to the size of the paper and the third has the lower part of the figure bunched up to fit on the page.

Today I will talk about how I saved myself a world of trouble later on in my drawing by planning the placement of the subject first. It is best to be relaxed about this process so as not to get bogged down with detail and thus set down a tight tone for the drawing. The motto is “whatever!”

A shape is so much more manageable as two halves and this is at the heart of how I place my subject correctly on the page.

The half above the midpoint must fit into the top 50% of your drawing page and half below must fit into the lower 50% of the page.

Most art instructional books advise me to do a sighting with a pencil. The way to do this is to align the top of the pencil with the model’s head and guess the mid-point.

I don’t see the purpose of this and since I’m guessing anyway prefer to do use my eye only.  Here’s the deal:

  • Check out your subject (whether in a photo, real life object or figure) and estimate half the height with your eye. What do you see at that spot, is it an elbow, hip, or another marker?
  • Then go ahead and estimate the half-way height point of your drawing page, then make a dot right there!
  • I usually make a mark around this dot showing a little of what I see at the half-point of the subject (elbow, hip or other marker) and commence my drawing from there. In my drawing of the snowboarder above, the half point was at the left-hand side of the man’s body at his waist.
  • Next, above and below this mark, establish where you want the drawing to end at the top and bottom of the page (usually quite close to the edge.) Mark a dot at the points, one near the top and one near the bottom to represent the extremes of the figure.
  • I usually start drawing from the marked mid-point. The dots at the top and bottom of the page tell me how far up and down I can go to keep the drawing placed squarely on the page.

In the case of a horizontal drawing, it helps to guess the halfway point both horizontally and vertically as below.

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I was not too accurate in my drawing at the top of the page as you can see.  The distances from the drawing to the sides of the page are not even.   The left hand edge of the snowboard and the right-hand edge of the man’s helmet were the extreme widths of the figure in this case.  Oh well, I am happy with the drawing whichever way.

Anyhow, you will be very surprised at how accurate your eye is in establishing two manageable halves.

Now your boundaries are set and you are ready to proceed with your loose handwriting.

I found this really great, helpful drawing blog by a self-taught artist named Paul from the UK.  No one beats him for encouragement.  Here is the link: http://www.learning-to-see.co.uk/drawings

Courage – Daily Therapy for Artists

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The simple person does not take himself too seriously or too tragically. He goes on his merry way,  his heart light, his soul at peace, without a goal, without nostalgia, without impatience.  Andre Comte-Sponville