Thursday, March 19, 2009

Using the Grid Method - Step by Step

I thought I would do a quick tutorial on how to use the grid method. I posted a very brief summary of the method awhile back but thoguht I would repost using images to hopefully make the process clearer.

Print the reference image on one sheet of paper in black & white. Reinsert the paper into the printer and print the grid image on top of it.

Print the grid image on a plain sheet of paper in black & white.

Using an hb pencil, draw on the printed grid directly drawing one square at a time paying attention to where each line meets the edge of the square on the reference images grid. Once complete, turn drawing over and draw over the back of the paper roughly to create a transfer paper or use a wax free transfer paper.
Take a fresh sheet of paper and place completed drawing face up onto the paper and trace over the lines you have drawn. The drawing is now transferred to clean sheet of paper and can be colored in or shaded as desired.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Watercolor Painting on Canvas

When I was buying my frames for my exhibit recently I found a product I thought I would never use for watercolors. I was looking for the fredericks canvas that is for painting with watercolor but the store no longer carries them so the sales person suggested using a ground on my own canvas instead.

I thought it would be too messy and too much work but apparently, all you need to do is paint the absorbent ground on the pre-gessoed canvas...hmm, now I am really intrigued. You can also use it on hardboard, wood or other surface to create a porous watercolor paper like surface. You can then display framed under glass or seal the surface afterwards to seal and protect it as you would with any watercolor surface not under glass.

Gesso is like a bridge connecting the support and the paint and the absorbent ground is applied to any gessoed support to mimic the absorbency of watercolor paper. For the full technical information and instructions go to Golden's site Aha just when I think I will not have anything else I 'need' to buy when I go into the art store I find something new I just have to try :)

As a bonus, it can also be used to cover up mistakes on watercolor paper or for negative painting. You can also mix the ground with acrylic paints for a colored ground

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Instant Art for Kids and Adult Kids

I went down to Granville Island to drop off a painting for my upcoming exhibit at the Federation of Canadian Artists yesterday and happened to walk by a small gallery on the island that looked interesting. I remembered the space had been empty for some time and was told by the residing artist that in fact she had 'taken the space on' for only two months to share art with the community.

Her name is Jeanne Krabbendam and she also is a member of the FCA and teaches at Emily Carr, check out her website at She had easel's set up for anyone, including kids to use free of charge and at their leisure. As I had the kids and husband in tow I was a little reluctant to let the kids slap on the paint as they can be 'a little' messy when they get going. So Jeanne showed me this cool trick for transferring images and making 'instant art'.

Take a photocopy of an image that you like and cover it with masking tape. Rub all of the air bubble out and smooth it out as much as possible with your finger nail pressing firmly. Then drop the taped paper into warm water and wait a few minutes. Take the paper out and rub the paper off the tape and voila, you have an imprint of the image on your tape. I don't know who was more excited, me or the kids! Jeanne then explained that you can also use acrylic medium the same way and put the images on just about anything, tile, wood, paper etc. Aha the possibilities are endless...

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Covering up Mistakes in Watercolor

Just when I thought it was safe to go into the art store without buying anything...I found the coolest thing :) Creative Mark makes it and it is called AquaCover liquid watercolor paper. I had to try it just because it seemed too good to be true, a non-yellowing liquid paper to cover up 'mistakes'. It comes in several colors to match the more popular watercolor papers including Arches bright white and natural white. It is great to have on hand for small touch up and for negative painting. I have not used it on a real painting yet but have played with it on scraps and it works as good as they say, very cool.

It is also great for negative painting but I think it is likely best used in small amounts. I am sure you could use it on drawing done on watercolor paper as well if you needed to. My only concern is whether it is truly archive which is why I have hestitated to try it on a painting. I will have to check it out further, either way, it was too cool to pass up :)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watercolor Stretching Boards

So I have been experimenting with different methods of stretching watercolor paper and have come back to the support that I originally had but was not using properly, isn't that always the way!

The first method I had tried was using the drawing board, soaking the paper and then taping it onto the board with the gum tape and then stapling to corners. While this was the most consistent method, it was also the most consistent with keep the paper smooth. The tape works well but is a real pain to get off the paper and board once the painting is completed. Later I found a foam board that worked very well for this but the tape was wrecking the board when I removed it.

I then tried to build myself a paper stretch, well I had my father-in-law build it...anyway, it worked very well. But, always a but, I found the texture of the paper so tight that it made the paper much rougher than I am used to. Which would be great for landscapes I am sure and very wet in wet painting. No matter how much water I threw down, the paper seemed to go back into shape and buckle very little.

Then I heard about foamcore or gatorboard and that you could just use 3M masking tape to tape the paper down and then peel it off. I tried a foam board that was 3/4" thick but was not dense enough so it warped the paper a bit, but still worked well. I was working very dray though and the tape still lifted off in areas. When the painting was finished, I misted the back lightly with filtered water and lay it between paper towel and foam boards and then weighted down with books for 2 days and the warps came out very nicely.

I then read, on the package, of the board that I had purchased years ago and had been using gum tape and heave duty staples on that if you just use regular office stapler, that is all you need. Of course it works like a charm :) It is just a dense foam core or gator board but it is all I could find in Canada locally. It is called Incredible Art Board and is available at Opus Art Store and can also be ordered online. I purchased the larger size for the full sheet of watercolor and used it for my latest commission and it was a pleasure to work with. Very light and sturdy which is really nice as I tend to move my paintings & drawings around alot when I work.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Framing Your Artwork

The right frame can make your artwork stand out from across the room but it is also intended to protect your artwork from dirt and moisture. The placement of your artwork is not only about aesthetics but also about protecting your artwork and keeping it in pristine condition . Even if your artwork is painted on the most expensive watercolor paper using professional quality archival paints, as mine are, it is still important to choose your framing and display area wisely.

The artwork, regarless of the medium used, (watercolor, oil, acrylic, pencil etc) should not be hung anywhere that it would be subjected to direct sunlight or long periods of artificial light. Areas where major changes in humidity such as a kitchen or bathroom should also be avoided. If you choose to hang your artwork in a bright room or a room where artificial light is on for long periods of time, then you may want to consider using glass with Ultraviolet protection built in. It is slightly more expensive but if you value your collection it will help prevent fading enormously.

Choosing a Frame

I prefer a simple clean frame so that I can really focus on the artwork. I also like the fact that I can easily move the artwork from room to room and not worry about it fitting in with the color scheme or decor of the new room or areas. A sample of some of my framed work, ready to go to the exhibit are below.Framed Artwork
Choosing a Matt

The matt board prevents the artwork from making contact with the glass which can create moisture. I prefer an acid-free off white or ivory matt for all my paintings and drawings as I can easily move my artwork from one room to the next and it fits in with any decor.

I also like the way the simpler matt kick the colors and tonal definition up a notch. For a bit more detail or interest a matt with a thin line of black or other color also is nice and does not distract from the painting but sets off the color nicely. When mounting the artwork to the matt, never use any plastic tapes or any masking tapes. They can turn brown and brittle leaving a dirty residue on the artwork which could ruin it and alter its value over time.

Choosing your Backing

The backing board pushes the artwork onto the matt to help keep it flat and keep dust and moisture out. Always use an acid-free backing or a acid-free piece of paper or card between the backing and the matt to keep impurities away from your artwork. The back of the frame should then be sealed with water soluble gummed tape to prevent the airborne dirt or moisture from penetrating the frame.

Cleaning your Artwork

Once properly framed you should never need to clean or worry about your artwork inside the frame. When cleaning the glass, spray your glass cleaner onto a clean cloth, clean the glass and wipe off immediately. Although the frame has been sealed, when spraying, some of the cleaner could find its way in through capillary action and do damage... better safe than sorry!

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Evaluating your drawings

While working on a portrait it is crucial to take a step back every now and then and take a really close look ... from a distance. While working on a recent commission, I needed to After looking at get some distance to do a few more tweaks to it before moving on. There were too many little areas that needed tweaking and it would be too distracting if they are not addressed first as they are throwing off the resemblance.

I use several tricks to 'get distance' from my portraits as I work on them, the most helpful and easiest is to just take a photo and upload it onto the computer. It is like viewing the portrait through different eyes as the computer flattens the image even more so any areas that are off immediately pop out.

Another trick is to look at the portrait in the mirror which I think gives a pretty similar effect, but is a little difficult to do with a larger drawing. One I have been trying recently is using Photoshop to superimpose images.

  1. Open the original reference photo and the drawing at the same time
  2. Size the image size for both ref and drawing using Image - Image Size
  3. Unlock background layer of drawing by double clicking on lock in the layer panel
  4. Drag the drawing over top of the reference photo
  5. Set the opacity to around 45% on the drawing using the drop down for Opacity in the layers panel on the right hand side
  6. Match up drawing and reference photo

You may have to resize the image a few times to get it just right but it is a great way to check the proportions quickly for the entire drawing.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Stretching Watercolor Paper

I have been getting ready for a couple of exhibits and have perfected my process of stretching my watercolor paper so that I almost enjoy it. I have heard it is not necessary to stretch good quality paper 140lb paper, I am using Arches, but I find it gives me piece of mind to do it even if it does not need to be done! I have tried watercolor blocks twice but both times they buckle even with a wash that is not very wet, I don't use a huge amount of water so they should be able to withstand my washes...

I float the paper in a pan of filtered room temperature water for 45 seconds and then hold it from one corner until it stops dripping. I then tape each side with watercolor tape, 2 times, 1 piece overlapping the other for strength. I then give each corner a quick staple and wait for it to dry overnight.

I only have a few more pieces to do for my first exhibit I am preparing for and just discovered the perfect paper stretcher, not my opinion, that is it's name. It has been around for a long time so I do not know why I have not heard about it sooner as it seems to work quite well from reviews I have read. I found a video of it's description on uTube at The guy, not sure if it is Ken Bromley, the creator is quite funny. So I am going to have to give it a whirl and see how it handles. It would be so nice not to have to muck with that sticky tape anymore. Not sure which is worse touching it wet, yuck, or scraping it off the board after the painting is finished.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Totally cool right side/ left side brain 'test'

I just saw this on Maggie's site and had to check it out. It is so cool, give it a try and see, no you don't have do do any math or think, it is not a 'test' like that ;)

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Learn to Draw - Blind contour drawing exercise

Anybody can learn to draw, the key is to lean to observe what you see. If you want to increase your observations skills, try doing some blind contour drawings. Blind contour drawings are done by drawing an object without ever looking at the paper. The final drawing is not important, although you may be surprise at how recognizable the object is when you are done. The most important thing is to carefully observe the object and don't rush, just take your time and don't peek!

I like to draw my hand as it is always available and the possibilities are endless depending on how your hand is positioned. Place your hand in a comfortable position and put your graphite pencil on your paper. If you are not using a drawing book, you may need to tape your paper to your drawing surface so that it does not slide around. I usually start at the bottom of my hand near the wrist and work my way up from there. Just follow the line of your wrist very slowly allowing your pencil to follow every nook and cranny of your hand.

The more detail you can capture the better. The line must be continuous (i.e. don't lift the pencil) but can go back and forth the capture details such as folds of the skin etc. Once you are done, take a look. It is surprising that areas often look complete as though you had been looking at the paper the whole time! Try different objects, plants, flowers, dishes etc. This is also a good way to get loosened up before starting a drawing session. Practice, practice, practice :)

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Drawing depth in your portraits tutorial

One of the most common mistakes beginners make is to outline their subjects which results in a flat one-dimensional drawing. To create drawings that are three dimensional, it is best to avoid drawing with lines completely. Try drawing shapes rather than lines. The easiest way to accomplish this is to think of your subject as a series of lights and darks. Squinting your eyes and peering at the subject, whether it be a photo or a live object, will separate the lights and darks for you more easily.

It is always best to draw from life when learning to draw depth so set up a simple subject to practice from. To create more interest, side light the object to create stronger shadows. Sketch a contour drawing lightly using and H or F pencil using short broken lines. Block in the different areas of light and dark using HB for the middle values and 2B for the darker values. Try using different strokes with your pencil rather than using straight lines. Try circular motions, cross-hatching or side-by-side lines either short or long. The more variations the better as different variations of lines create interest in your drawing and work better for different areas. Work in thin layers building up the tone as you go to create an even layer of tonal values.

You can blend as you go using a tissue, cloth or cotton or you can leave unblended for more texture. Avoid using your fingers as oil from your fingers can leave stains on your work. If you have over blended and you have lost your dark values, just add more dark layers and do not blend as much as the illusion of depth results from the contrast of light and dark. Use a kneaded eraser or a regular eraser to pull out highlights.

The strongest areas of contrast will draw the viewers eye and adds interest to the overall drawing. The lightest area will draw the viewers eye the strongest, especially when surrounded by the darkest darks. Always keep this in mind when drawing so as not to accidentally pull the viewers eye away from your focal point. Practice these simple steps and you will see more depth in your drawings.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Using grids for proportions tutorial

I was taught to use the grid method in elementary school and was amazed at how simple it was to use. Unfortunately, I was under the impression that using a grid was 'cheating' so I never used it again. Years later I went to an exhibit of Vincent van Gogh and was astonished to see that he and many other masters used the grid method! Well that was good enough for me!

I decided to give the method another try. I drew grid lines, 1 inch apart, with a permanent marker onto an sheet of acetate film. I blew up my reference photo to the size that I wanted and placed the acetate over top. I then drew grid lines with an F pencil onto my drawing surface. While this worked very well, I was spending too much time drawing and erasing the grid lines.

I now use the process below:
  • I now blow up my image to a size that I am happy with and print it off.

  • I then print a grid using 1 inch squares that I created in Photoshop (you can also use a word document for the grid) directly overtop of the printed image. You can use whatever grid size you like but I prefer a 1 inch by 1 inch grid.

  • Then I print the same grid onto a piece of tracing paper and draw my initial sketch on the tracing paper.

  • Once I am happy with my drawing I use a light box (ok, so I use my glass dining room table with a lamp underneath) and transfer the drawing to my drawing paper.

  • If I have a hard time seeing the lines, I will go over them with a black felt pen.

This may seem like a bit of work, but if you have ever used the traditional grid method only to be dismayed by grid lines showing through on your final drawing, the work seems minimal in the long run. Also, I found that drawing my grid lines manually often led to slight discrepancies between the grid on the picture and on my drawing. Small discrepencies turn into big discrepancies when you are working on a portrait!

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Graphite & Charcoal Materials Tutorial

Drawing Surface
My favorite drawing surfaces are smooth or medium bristol board and arches hot pressed watercolor paper. The watercolor paper provides more tooth for the graphite and charcoal to settle into.

Any artist grade pencils will do. Experiment to find a brand that you feel comfortable with. I generally use F for the initial drawing as it erases easily without too much damage to the paper. I also like to use mechanical pencils as well as regular pencils as they maintain their shape well.


Again any artist grade charcoal that you can find will work well. The degrees of hardness ranges from HB (hardest) to 3B (softest).


I use mak tak as a kneaded eraser. You can buy it at any stationary store. It is used for tacking pictures to walls but it works perfectly for lifting graphite and/or charcoal from drawings and for erasing.

Blending Stumps

Soft paper felt with double pointed ends used for blending. If the point wears down you can use sand paper to repoint.


Soft rolled paper with pointed end used for blending


For the smoothest blending and to lift off extra graphite or charcoal.
Tissue PaperFor a rougher blending effect and to lift off extra graphite or charcoal.


Tracing paper to draw original artwork on, transfer paper, masking tape for holding template in place, drafting brush to remove eraser and graphite residue, chamois for blending

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