A Lone Tree (2012)

Trees are my favorite things to draw. They are also pretty easy to draw since they are not constantly moving around. They are typically the perfect models and also great teacher because they are all so different. Go outside and paint a tree today!

tree 1


Intro to Acrylics: The Starving Artist’s Best Friend

acrylics freeWhat exactly is acrylic paint?

A Brief History

Acrylic paint is still a baby compared to oil and watercolor paint.  It was invented in the 1940s for the purpose of painting homes. It was very durable and withstood differing temperatures on the inside and outside of homes. They were also very inexpensive to make and could be sold at affordable prices and in greater quantities. It was not until the 1950s that acrylic paint was marketed as a fine art material for artists.

The Makeup

Acrylic paint is unique in that it uses a binder of acrylic (go figure, huh?). To be more specific it is an acrylic polymer emulsion. To keep it simple for those of us who are not chemists, acrylic is a type of plastic. The liquid, acrylic plastic is mixed with the pigment (color powder). Once it leaves paint tube or bottle, the water in the paint evaporates leaving the colored plastic to harden. This why if you paint with very thick brushstrokes, it will feel like very soft plastic once it is dried. The plasticity of acrylic paint makes it very easy to apply to a myriad of surfaces. It can even act as a sealant of certain materials if you buy the right kind. That being said…

What is the difference between thinner acrylic paint and thicker acrylic paint?

As seen in the diagram in the post “Cheap vs. Expensive Paint”, the pigment and the binder are typically what causes the price range of paints to differ. In the case of acrylic paints, the thinner the paint, the less pigment and acrylic polymer are actually in the bottle. The water and other fillers allow for the liquidy texture and (since water is cheap) the drop in price. The high water content also allows for the paint to dry very quickly since water evaporates quickly.

Thick acrylic paints have a much higher quantity of acrylic polymer. Cheaper, thick paint is usually has a higher acrylic polymer content, but a lower pigment content. Acrylic itself is usually a clear substance so the less pigment, the more transparent the paint will be. This means you may need to paint several layers to cover up a previous color. It takes a lot of pigment to make cheaper paints opaque. This can be an advantage in some circumstances and a disadvantage in others.

(TIP!) Transparent means you can see through it. Opaque means that you cannot see through it.

I know that this is a lot of “lecturing” but it is good to have context on why the paint you buy may be acting a certain way. This also helps us use whatever paints we have laying around to achieve the results we want. This was a very basic overview of what acrylic paints are before one jumps into acrylic painting without a paddle.

Don’t forget to tune in over the next few days to learn how to use different kinds of acrylic paints. The paints we will be using range from liquidy craft paints and the thicker, student grade acrylic paints. Both are very affordable and easy to adjust to.

Happy Reflecting!

Flashback: Glia 2003

As I was cleaning out all the scrap papers from my office, I came across a very old sketchbook from middle school. I did not have structured art classes as a homeschooler, so I  would trace images out of our Disney beginning reader books. After I traced them I would go back over them again and again. I started using the facial and body shapes to make my own characters.

“Glia” as I called her is one such drawing. While the character is original, the shape is very Disney-fied. As a matter of fact if I am not mistaken, she is basically Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”. She has different cloths, eye color, and a haircut but that’s her alright.


I wouldn’t say that I had a particular “light” touch at the time so you can see where I had trouble erasing my mistakes.


You see what can be done with a pencil and box of crayons? You may be thinking that this is very good for a middle-schooler with no lessons. Do not think that I was born talented or with a pencil in my hand because I wasn’t. I still struggle with proportions and the human figure and it is finally breaking free of the tracing that allowed me to have more affecting practice sketches. (TIP!) This drawing was basically an edited trace which taught my brain and fingers how to start when drawing the human body. Very soon after this drawing was done, I took the leap and tried to draw from real life instead of copying another artist’s work. My fingers already somewhat knew what they were doing and it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. It was much harder than tracing, but it was a leap in a new creative direction and greatly boosted my artisteam!

How to Critique You Own Work…Gently

I wanted to explain my method of how I critique my own and other artist’s artwork. You will see many critiques in the “A Drawing a Day” category so I wanted to explain my terms and methods. Scores and fails are both great to expand upon when critiquing your own work. Scores are victories showing growth and fails are areas that need more work. This is is because we truly do learn from our failures, but the scores should be highlighted as well to show that we definitely are moving in the right direction. Below are a just a few ways that I have seen and used in my journey of self-criticism.

The Sandwich Method

One method of critique is the “sandwich method” which looks like SCORE – FAIL – SCORE (if anyone has actually coined this method, please let me know!) You sandwich the fails inside the scores in order to release encouragement at the beginning and at the end of a critique.  I have seen this method end up looking something like this:

SCORE – “You did such a great job on your colors in this piece. I can see you really thought a lot about what mood you wanted to portray through the colors. However…

FAIL – “…the proportion in the piece greatly distracts from your intended message. Were you meaning to create the hands much larger than the face? Also I noticed this…and this….and a few things over here…and you should have done this…”

SCORE – “Again, overall I think you did a great job on this drawing. I am looking forward to your next piece!”

Do you see the issue here? There are some people who can do this very well, but more times than not the fails are greatly disproportionate to the scores. This is especially the case when we are critiquing ourselves. It is so easy to see what we did incorrectly instead of seeing what was right about the whole thing.

If you decide to use this method with yourself and others, please be balanced. We don’t want too much meat or sauce with not enough bread. That’s no good.

The Tender Dismemberment Method

One of my favorite college professors, Dr. Robert Don Hughes, called this next approach “Tender Dismemberment”. This is where you always say a genuine positive about the score before bringing up the fail. It can look like this Score/Fail – Score/Fail – Score/Fail.  It is bit easier to remain balanced in quantity with this approach. You have just as many scores as fails so that there is encouragement to continue and the broken pride to spark change. Here is an example,

Score 1 – You used great color in this drawing! You layered the colors so that they are the boldest you could have achieved with this medium.  

Fail 1 – Do you think the boldness of the red takes away from the beautiful green you mixed? If you lessen the boldness of the red just a little bit it may not overpower your green so much. I know you wanted to emphasize the green shirt with the red background which was a good idea, but it just might be a bit too bold. Is it too late to fix that? Is it something we can edit in the computer to see different options?

Score 2 – You did a fabulous job on the shape of the head and the details of the face. You have really grown here and gotten much better from previous attempts.

Fail 2 – What we could work on now is getting your hands into proportion with the head. Let’s take a look at how big your hands are compared to your face. Do you see what happened there? Do you know how to gauge the size for next time?

When describing scores and fails for both scenarios it is good to add details. You will have the 1 to 1 quantity down, but we need to make sure our comments have CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Saying, “I really liked the face!” is not enough for heartfelt encouragement and saying, “His hands are too big” is not enough to reflect on to figure out how to fix it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking over your own or someone else’s work.

1. What is good or done correctly according to the goal?

2. Why is this good or correct?

3. Was the goal achieved?

4. What seems off or not executed well according to the goal?

5. What can be learned from this fail?

6. How can it be edited now or better executed in the next piece?

As a last remark for tenderly dismembering a piece of art, make sure you only give one fail for every one score.

Finally, keep in mind that there must be a goal with every piece of art you make even if it is “draw a realistic likeness of my cat”. Knowing the goals of the piece will greatly affect how the questions below are answered. If we do not know each others goals it is more difficult to critique affectively. Make it a habit to write out clear goals for your daily drawings and artwork.

Happy Critiquing!