Ideas list of 100 andsketch bookDo you want to improve your drawing skills?  There are many ways to go about this. In my post today I share one of the ways I learned to improve my drawing skills.

"I want to get better at drawing." What does that mean? Do you want to learn how to make things look real? Do you wan to get better at drawing things from your head?

One of my desires is to be able to draw things from my head so they look more fleshed out.  A while ago I asked around for advice from people I thought achieved this on how to go about doing it. A friend and seasoned professional (http://www.kestillustration.com/ - check out her art, it's fabulous) gave me some great advice and I thought I'd share it here. Basically it sets you up with a way to practice.

1. List 100 things you think you might like to draw. This could be anything. What do you like?

2. Narrow the list down to 50 that seem the most interesting to you.

3. Start drawing. They could be about 5"x7" or as large as 8"x10". Try to draw one a day (maybe some might take 2 days). The point is to get the idea into drawn form so pick a size that you can comfortably create. Draw as much as you can without using reference so you get the idea out and down on the paper. Then go find reference for the parts you're struggling with or don't know what they look like. Add some simple shading. Give each of the 50 a try. Some might turn out pretty good, some not so much. Try to do the best you can with the skills you currently have. Don't judge them until after you do all 50. The point is to try. I had to scrap a few ideas because I had trouble getting the idea down on paper but I ended up with about 46 rough sketches.

4. Pick 10 of the 50. Of the 50, which ones carry the idea best? Which ones do you want to turn into refined drawings or paintings? One at a time, make a larger refined drawing for each idea and gather reference to flesh out the picture. It could be reference for textures, or how light hits metal, or how your character looks in a particular pose.

When I'm at a loss for what project to make next I return to this list. Ideally I'd like to blast through the 10 but the more I do the better and faster I get. This is where my current owl man project came from.

In addition to wanting to improve at drawing from my head, I also used this exercise as a way to add new images to my portfolio. When I started drawing the 50, I was thinking about what I wanted the picture to look like through the filter of "I want to make a portfolio targeted towards book covers". I think I also used that mental filter a little when listing out the first 100 and then narrowing down to 50.

I'd love to hear what advice other people have to share about improving at drawing, painting, or building a portfolio!

Drawing on Vellum

For the past several projects, I've been using Canson Vidalon Translucent Vellum for my drawings. I like the surface. I also like being able to have my line drawing on one side and develop the values on the other (that way I don't lose my drawing if I have to erase values). What's a bit of a bummer is that the last two drawings have rippled.

I'm not certain exactly what's causing it. I'm guessing it's a combination of factors.

  • I really worked the values, made the darks very dark. The previous drawings didn't have as developed values and didn't ripple.
  • I did have 2 sheets of paper for my hand to rest on. Maybe I need to get my hand up completely off the paper.
  • On one drawing I taped around the drawing on both sides (I do the line work on one side and the values on the other so I don't lose my drawing). On the other drawing I only taped one side of the vellum.
  • Both drawings were taped for 3 or more weeks.
  • It has also been pretty humid around here.

My Attempt to Fix the Ripples

First I sandwiched the drawing between regular paper on top of board, placed a clean dishtowel (flour sack cotton dish towel) over that and ironed it a bit on the lowest setting. I also used the iron dry not wet.

The drawing is on top of 5-10 pieces of letter size paper. I taped the upper and lower edge of the drawing, which is 9"x12", to the board.
The drawing is on top of 5-10 pieces of letter size paper. I taped the upper and lower edge of the drawing, which is 9"x12", to the board.

Next, while it was still a little warm, I "stretched" the drawing by making a small stack of 8.5"x11" paper (5-10 sheets), then taped the drawing to a board over the stack along the top and lower edges of the vellum.





I placed some regular tabloid size paper over the stack.
I placed some regular tabloid size paper over the stack.
Weighed down drawing.
I placed another board over the first and then weighted it all down with some heavy books.

I put some tabloid size paper down then placed the taped drawing and board face down on the paper.





Then I weighted down the whole stack with heavy books. The drawing is a little less rippled. Maybe it needs a longer time under the books.


Complete Avoidance of the Problem

I either have to work faster, not tape my edges and clean up after, or switch products if I'm going to continue to do full value drawings on vellum. The latest drawing I only taped on one side. It has still rippled a little but not as much as the previous project. We'll see what happens. Art on!

Update! Suggested Solutions and Process Changes

I really like using the Canson Vidalon Vellum so was thrilled to hear back from Ed the Fine Art Education Director & Technical Consultant of Canson. The following is his input (posted with his permission):

"It is definitely the humidity.  I'm in the Chicago area and the humidity has been high.  As a result paper has a tendency to curl more.  It will eventually uncurl by itself if left in a dry area.  But who wants to wait?  For wet media, you can use a hair dryer, but for drawings I suggest an iron. place the drawing between two sheets of baking parchment (silicone coated paper).  Set your iron on the lowest setting and iron.  Then take the drawing with the parchment and place it on a cool surface (a kitchen counter top or piece of glass works)  and cover with a piece of glass or a baking sheet.  This will pull the heat from the paper and flatten the paper.  If it is exposed to more humidity it will wrinkle again.  When you are not drawing it is good to cover the drawing with the pad or put the drawing back into the pad.  This will minimize the exposure to the air especially this time of the year.

If you use a hair dryer, you will need to do the same, placing it on a cool surface and covering with another cool object."

I also wrote him that I pulled the tape off my current drawing in an attempt to reduce the rippling (which has helped a bit) and he responded,

"Yes, removing the tape will also help relieve the curling as you described.  When working you could also tape the four corners to your drawing board.  This will also keep it flat.

The paper flattening process is what photographers did once they printed their images.  This is a wet process and they needed to flatten then once the image was dry."

Now I have some new methods to try and a few changes to make in my process that will hopefully do the trick in this darn humidity. Thanks Ed!

New pencil figure drawing!

This is a study I did during the Costumed Figure Class I teach at The Atelier.

Study of a woman in a fancy dress, with a flower in her hair.
Pencil on bristol board, approximately 7"x11".
Why the bargain bin pricing? I really like how the drawing turned out but there are 2 small puncture holes in the upper right corner.



It is complete! The pencil drawing for Bear Cliffs is ready. Next I'll scale it up by scanning it and having it printed at 16"x20". Then I'll transfer it to the board for oil paint. I'm excited to start painting!

fantasy art called bear cliffs pencil drawing on vellum by christine mitzuk
Pencil drawing on vellum, created in preparation for an oil painting. I needed to figure out the values before I started the painting.

I'm trying to really push this pencil drawing and develop the values. Here's another sneak peek detail shot. Birds!

drawing by Christine Mitzuk Bear Cliffs Work in Progress. Pencil on Canson Vellum. The white strips bordering the drawing are 1/4" artist tape. I'll remove them when I'm done so I'll have a clean, finished looking edge.
Bear Cliffs Work in Progress. Pencil on Canson Vellum. The white strips bordering the drawing are 1/4" artist tape. I'll remove them when I'm done so I'll have a clean, finished looking edge.

Here's a progress shot of a new personal piece. I'm drawing on Canson Vellum (one side the lines, the other side the values). I've also used Photoshop to help move and resize some elements (a little faster but same principle as tracing paper and photocopying the drawing).

Bear Cliffs Work in Progress pencil drawing on canson vellum by christine mitzuk
Pencil drawing on Canson Vellum

I plan to paint this one in oils so I'll be prepping the board tonight. I think I'll make it 16"x20". That should give the bear cliffs and waterfall enough room to feel massive. The working title is "Bear Cliffs" or "Bear Falls". Anybody have any other suggestions?


It's not too late. Come join the fun!

Portrait and Interior Class



Make your own magic! Learn to create beautiful portraits from classically trained professional artist Christine Mitzuk. Beginner and intermediate students welcome.

Spots still available! Sign up today for Christine’s Tuesday evening portrait class
at The Atelier, 7-9:30 pm. Started 1/20. 15 weeks. $230.

To register or ask questions contact Christine, or The Atelier at 612-362-8421.


digital painting of the astrological sign Aries by christine mitzuk to be used in Llewellyn's 2015 Astrological Calendar

Let your imagination fly! Class starts this Thursday 1/21/15.

During this class, students will develop imaginative pieces based upon a story or individual ideas. We will move from idea generation to preparatory work and on to final art. Emphasis will be placed on composition, and storytelling. Students may choose to work in the medium with which they are comfortable. Christine has experience to support watercolor, colored pencil, pen and ink, or oil paint.

To register or ask questions contact Christine, or The Atelier at 612-362-8421.


Exploring Color: Color Theory and Color Mixing

Color Mixing Class - Paxton Palette ValuesExperience color hands-on through creating color boards and value scales. Using the colors of The Atelier’s Paxton Palette in oil paint, we will explore the attributes of color: hue, value, and chroma. Projects will be paced by order of completion and students will work at their own pace.

We’ll discuss the color wheel as it relates to painting with the Paxton Palette. Topics will also include mixing “mud”, Munsell and Gamblin color space, direct vs. indirect painting, color temperature, color harmony, color psychology, and a bit of color history. Plus we’ll demystify the information given on paint labels.

Please contact Christine (cmitzuk@gmail.com) for what to bring to the first class. Supply list given after you are registered.

Starting THURSDAY, Jan. 22, 4:15 - 6:45 PM
$210, 15 weeks. Scroll down for registration information.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Here's a little sneak peek at what's on my drawing board.

Greenman rough drawing on tracing paper. I'm still working out the composition. When I get to a point where the composition is stable, I'll do a tight drawing on Canson Vellum.
Greenman rough drawing on tracing paper. I'm still working out the composition. When I get to a point where the composition is stable, I'll do a tight drawing on Canson Vellum.

pencil sketch on vellum by christine mitzuk
Larger sketch. Pencil on vellum.

Sea Daydream: Process Part 3

Last week I shared the evolution of the sketch for this piece in Process Part 2. Or start from the beginning and check out Process Part 1. This week we're moving on to the paint phase.

sea daydream watercolor value studies by christine mitzuk
Sea Daydream Value Studies.

I usually do some value studies for anything I make. This time I scanned the drawing and printed it 4-up on 8.5"x11" paper. Watercolors were my first love and I like their immediacy and ease of use so I decided to use them for the studies.

I also printed a copy of the 4-up sketch for some color studies. Following that whole infatuation with the media thing, I used watercolor for these too.




sea daydream watercolor color studies on paper by christine mitzuk
Watercolor color studies on letter size inkjet paper.

I was having fun. I fell in love with the luminosity of the studies. The transparency of watercolor give a great luminosity to the studies. Unfortunately, it made translating the color values from watercolor to the more opaque oil paint tricky.

Next time I'm going to try gouache value and color studies. I'll have my immediacy, and easy clean up that I like with watercolor (gouache being water soluble) and it'll be opaque. I'm hoping I'll have a closer representation of the final painting direction so will have an easier time translating it to oil paint. I'll also use a more permanent substrate than printer paper. That way if I have an awesome study, it'll be a mini painting for sale.

sea daydream early oil painting stage by christine mitzuk
An early stage in the oil painting. Here the sky and waves are light in value and the sand dollar is bleached.

The initial idea was to have the sky and hair meld, leaving the sky a lighter value. This wasn't working. The sky was too distracting. My trusty critique people agreed.

I needed to find a solution but was afraid to mess up the painting. Experimenting digitally was an option. I tried a little of that but was running into some odd roadblocks. Using paint was easier at that point.

sea daydream painting experiments and adjustments on acetate
Painting experiments on acetate. A chance to try it before I commit to changes.

Then I remembered something I learned in school: acetate. I taped a sheet of acetate over the painting and painted on that. What a great feeling to skate the paint around! And for some reason it was easier to think through the paint. I liked what came of my experimenting and moved forward with the darker sky and sea. (Note: I think the "acetate" is from Dura-lar. I believe it's .003". It might be the acetate alternative.)



oil painting of a woman holding a sand dollar and staring dreamily into the distance, perhaps she's a mermaid, by christine mitzuk
A personal piece, Sea Daydream.

I showed it to another artist buddy and he suggested that the sand dollar was difficult to see. It was the same color as her skin. My attempt at a sun bleached sand dollar wasn't reading well visually. So I went back to my reference of sand dollars and discovered that the live ones have lovely colors. Okay. Purple it is. Then I had to find other places to use the purple.

And magically it was done.

Okay not really. There was a lot of painting and refining shapes, values and edges in there too.

It took longer than I initially wanted but I'm glad I spent the time it took. It was incredibly valuable to work through the painting, all the composition issues, and I discovered some things I can apply to the next project.

If you're wondering, the painting is for sale. I also have limited edition prints available (printed on letter sized premium Epson paper). They aren't up in my shop yet so if you're interested, drop me a line.