a photo of books about picture compositionI'm working on improving my composition skills. I'm taking a class and the instructor suggested Andrew Loomis' book "Creative Illustration". I read this years ago and am re-reading it. There's so much useful information crammed in its pages!

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few other resources I've found helpful for composition. There are TONS of resources out there and these are what I've found so far...

"Creative Illustration" by Andrew Loomis. Chock full of helpful information. Luckily it was republished in 2012

"Picture This: How Pictures Work" by Molly Bang. If you're not keen on classic composition, give this book a try. She approaches some principles of composition in a more hands-on, pictorial way. You'll need some construction paper and a glue stick to experiment with the exercises. I found this worth while.

James Gurney has interesting and informative posts on his blog. He has a series about composition He mentions "Pictorial Composition: An Introduction" by Henry Rankin Poore (a Dover Publication) which is a more traditional take on composition and then explores eyetracking of pictures through scientific study to test some of the traditional composition "rules". It's a very interesting read!

"Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers" by Arthur Wesley Dow. He covers the idea of Notan and value design. I'd like to revisit this one.

"The Five C's of Cinematography" by Joseph V. Mascelli. I forget where I saw this book suggested, it might have been James Gurney's blog. It's a helpful, different way to look at composing a picture. I haven't finished reading the book yet but what I have read was useful - thinking about where my "camera" is within or outside the scene.

Stapleton Kearns, a professional landscape painter, suggested this book, "Composition of Outdoor Painting" by Edgar Payne. I borrowed it from the library and made my way through a good chunk of it before it was due. What I read I found very helpful and insightful, especially the parts regarding choosing what you want to emphasize in your picture instead of trying to record nature as it is. Mr. Kearns also has an interesting art blog.

If you have other resources you've found useful, please post them in the comments. I'd love to know about them.

Gesture figures study done in soft pencil on paper.
Gesture figures study done in soft pencil on paper.

Want to draw more human figures from life? Here's a list of some figure drawing co-ops, and one portrait co-op in and around the Twin Cities. These are all unguided drawing opportunities (no teacher). This is the information I've collected as February 2016. I haven't been to all of them so can't vouch for their awesomeness or lack thereof. At the very least this list can act as a starting point for folks looking for places to study the human figure. Be sure to check out their sites for information about location, if equipment is supplied or not, and anything else of interest to you.

Banfill-Locke Art Center in Fridley
When: Wednesdays 10:00 am - 12:30 pm
Cost: around $10 per session
Here's a link to the February calendar
Here's a link to a description

MCAD in Minneapolis
When: Mondays 7:00 - 9:00 pm, or Sundays 1:00 - 5:00 pm
Cost: varies but as of this post it's generally under $10 pr session
I've been to this in the past. It's pretty good. Read more about it and see their price list on the MCAD site

The Art Academy in St. Paul
When: Sunday Nights 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Cost: $10 per session
The Sunday co-op is with the nude figure and every 3rd Sunday of the month they have a costumed figure.

Florence Hill Drawing Co-op Studio 103, NE Minneapolis
When: Every Sunday, 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Cost: $7-$10
California Building, 2205 California St. NE, Studio 103, Minneapolis, MN 55418
I've been to this one in the past. It's pretty good and there are a lot of regulars. Florence is very welcoming.

Portrait Co-op (ran by Frank Wetzle and Tom Wolfe)
When: Saturdays 9:30 am - 12:30 pm
Cost: $10
I've been to this in the past. It's pretty good. Frank is a friendly guy and takes time to adjust the pose for the lighting to describe the face. Same studio as Florence Hill's co-op, Studio 103 in the California Building. You can email Frank for more information:
Frank Wetzel

Saturday Long Pose Figure Co-op
When: third Satruday of each month, 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Cost: $10
This is organized by Tom Wolfe and takes place in the same studio as Florence Hill's co-op, and Frank's portrait co-op, Studio 103 in the California Building. You can contact Tom for more information and to be added to his mailing list for the the long pose sessions:
Tom Wolfe

Minnesota Figure Study Collaborative @ The Traffic Zone
When: It appears to be every Wednesday. They have a morning session and an afternoon session.
Cost: $18 - $165 depending on if you just drop in or subscribe for a full 10 weeks. You can check out their site for more information.

The 331 Club hosts the Dr. Sketchy's Minneapolis branch
When: every 4th Sunday of the month
Cost: $10, tips welcome
This one will not be for everyone's comfort level. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this it's a combination of burlesque performance and drawing co-op. As they put it "Dr. Sketchy's is what happens when cabaret meets art school". Learn more about it on their page (note, possibly not safe for work, depending on your work).

GPS Figure Drawing Salon
When: third Monday of every month. The next one is Mon Feb 15, 2016, 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Cost: $5-$10
The GPS Arts Initiative holds a monthly 3-hour Figure Drawing Salon the 3rd Monday of every month in the Event Horizon classroom (106A). The session includes short, medium and long poses. . RSVP to the event on Meetup for updates (e.g. weather cancellations) from the organizer and to get the address. I've been to this one and it's small but the organizer does a pretty good job of using the space. GPS stands for Geek Partnership Society.

1121 Jackson St. NE #106A, Minneapolis, MN
The Waterbury Building Room 106A
Minneapolis, MN

For questions email

On your computer
When: whenever you want
Cost: a small donation if you're so inclined
Personally I don't think anything beats studying from life but sometimes a person just can't. This site is a pretty handy resource if you can't make it to a co-op. The photos are pretty good though there is some distortion to some of the figures so watch out for proportions when drawing.

the painter's handbook by mark gottsegen
My well used copy of The Painter's Handbook, by Mark Gottsegen.

As the name suggests, "The Painters Handbook: Revised and Expanded" by Mark David Gottsegen is a reference for painting. I think it's excellent. I've had for years. I mainly use it for information relating to oil painting and studio/materials safety but it also covers other paints and other useful information.

It is broken into three parts and is quite thorough. He digs into the nooks and crannies of practically every technical part of the painting process. Part one talks about the basics: tools and equipment; supports; sizes and grounds; binders; solvents and thinners; varnishes, balsams, driers, preservatives, and retarders; pigments. Part two covers paint making and painting methods: making your own paints; oil paints; water-thinned paints; temperas; encaustic; pastel; synthetic binders; mural paints and techniques. Part three covers picture protection (matting, storage) and restoration.

Mr. Gottsegen covered a lot of the technical aspects of painting. Whenever I have a question, I can nearly always find the answer in this book. I find it very easy to find the information I need (and not just because of all the page markers I've added, it's very well designed) and his step by step directions for some of the procedures are very helpful. Plus he included little diagrams where necessary for some of the procedures.

You can most likely buy it from your favorite local art supply store, or online. Happy reading!

"The Painter's Handbook: Revised and Expanded"
By Mark David Gottsegen
Published by Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006
ISBN 0-8230-3496-8.

I've been reading a book recommended to me by Susan Cook, Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing by Margaret Livingstone (a neurophysiologist). In it she addresses many characteristics of human vision and how they relate to art in a very palatable way.

Recently, one section really caught my attention. In it she writes about how we see 3D vs 2D and how important luminance, or value, is to create the illusion of depth. I heard this plenty in school (judge values first, then color). I guess it's just on my mind a lot recently so this was a really great reminder.

Two examples really struck me. The Woman with a Hat (la Femme au Chapeau) [1905] shown below in color and then in grayscale. The colors look wild and yet there is some depth to the figure, some planes of the face defined. Viewed in grayscale it becomes more apparent that it's the relative values of the colors that give the piece dimension.

Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse

Same with this painting, Henri Matisse by André Derain, [1905]


I send art out to a few sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Nothing original, just prints because they're lighter and smaller than original art. Lighter and smaller = less shipping cost. Prints also seem to have a more appealing price point than originals.

picture of prints, paperwork, and shipping supplies for convention preparation.

Most convention art shows I send art to have a display area and a print shop. The Display area is usually for originals or limited edition prints. Here the art needs to be framed or matted and bagged (make it look presentable and professional). The print shop can be open edition prints and they can be unmatted but usually need to be bagged, labeled with piece name and price. They also require paperwork: an artist information sheet; a display control sheet (list of pieces and prices); a print shop control sheet; and completed bid tags for each piece in the display area.

Here are a few things I've learned.

Lists are excellent. Since the required elements and process for sending art to each show are very similar, I created a generic checklist. I print one for each convention and mark tasks off as I go. The list become my second brain. All the organizing happens from that list so I don't forget anything.

Tape. Most of the shows want the bid tags attached to the art. From working the Art Show at CONvergence I've learned that the blue painters tape is excellent for this. It's sticky enough for the bid tag to stay put but is easily removed later.

Postage. Using to purchase postage is cheaper than postage purchased at a post office. I go by weight and dimensions of the box, or type of USPS box for shipping. I use an electronic kitchen scale, which we already had, to weigh the packed box. The shipping is generally much less than one of those flat rate boxes.

Boxes. USPS has FREE shipping materials (boxes and envelopes). You can order them from

Piles. Piles and Post-it Notes are also help. Mind you, they are organized piles. One for display art and one for print shop art.

File folders. Each convention is assigned a labeled folder. The checklist and all the paperwork goes in there. It stays with me so I can refer back to the previous year or check the return shipment against my copy of the art list.

Packing. I learned to cushion the ends and short sides with bubble wrap or bunched up clean plastic bags. As added protection I put a sheet of foam core or cardboard on either large side, basically creating a sandwich with the art in between.

Tracking art. To track what went where or what sold (hopefully), I print a copy of the control sheets for my records. Ideally I also mark what number of the print run for a piece I sent out. This way if it sells I can mark the piece as sold in my limited edition print list. I'll also know whether or not to send the same piece the following year.

Waiting. Just let it go. When the box leaves my hands, that's it. I take it off my mental list of things to do and don't worry about it.

Unpacking. Ideally I do this within a few days of receiving the box. I check their list of pieces against the copy of what I sent. Usually everything adds up. Once or twice there have been discrepancies but the art show organizer for those instances resolved the issue.

Evaluation. Something sold? Great! Nothing sold but all the art came back in one piece? Great! Getting the art out in front of eyeballs is my goal. Getting me AND the art out together would be ideal but that's not always possible. I might reevaluate this at the end of the year. Maybe next year I'll focus my energies on shows I can do in person. We'll see.

USPS FREE shipping supplies

ClearBags, as the name implies, has clear bags. They also sell standard size cut mats, backing boards, boxes, etc. Currently I cut my own mats because I want specific colors but I've stocked up on bags from them.

Convention Wiki is a decent starting place if you need a list of shows. You'll need to look each one up because some of them are defunct.

I enjoy using the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen but I wanted to have an ink brush that I could sketch with in a color other than black. I wanted to put ink in a Niji Waterbrush to make my own. What I wasn't sure about was how much I cared about the permanence of the sketch or drawing. What if I did something awesome and wanted to sell it?

Enter: Higgins Brown Ink

There are 2 kinds of Higgins Brown: pigment-based, and dye-based. I knew dye-based inks are fugitive or not lightfast. That basically means the color doesn't last when in normal light conditions so isn't the best choice for art meant to be displayed (that is, if you want the color and values to stay the way you made them). I just didn't know how much it would fade.

To satisfy my curiosity, I made a test. The idea is to create two test strips of each color: one to keep away from light; one to be subjected to light. I used my Canson Mix Media sketchbook which has acid free paper. Across one of the pages I scribbled some graphite (because was also curious about how transparent the inks were). Then I painted a strip of ink only (no water) over the graphite. Next I used a clean brush and painted clean water, touching the lower edge of the ink, to create a gradated wash of ink and water. I did this for both the dye-based and the pigment-based brown ink.

I cut the page in half. Half remained in the sketchbook, away from light. The other half was hung in one of our south facing windows. I used south light because it's the harshest and most direct and constant of my lighting options. According to The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen, pg. 127, for a pigment to be considered lightfast it should be able to withstand "normal" light conditions for a long period of time and not have any noticeable changes in hue (color), chroma (saturation or intensity), or value. Artist pigments are tested with the equivalent of "100-year real-time" exposure to light. If there aren't any changes to the pigment after such a test, it is considered "lightfast". My test isn't a perfect scientific setup, but for my needs, it's does the job.

Like I said earlier, I knew dye-based inks were fugitive (or not lightfast) but didn't know to what degree it would fade. I was very surprised. After only a day in the window, the dye-based ink showed very noticeable change. The value had lightened and the color had shifted a bit orange.

christine mitzuk lightfast test done with higgins brown pigment-based ink and dye-bsed ink
My lightfast test page. The left side remained in my Canson Mix Media, acid free sketchbook hidden from light. The left side was hung in a south facing window for about 8 weeks. The top strip is the pigment-based brown ink. The bottom strip is the dye-based brown ink.

I kept the strip in the window for about 8 weeks. This image shows those results. The left half of the page stayed in the dark of the sketchbook. The right half was in the window. The pigment-based ink, the top strip, has only a slight shift in chroma and value. It's hardly noticeable. The dye-based ink, the lower strip, shows a HUGE difference. I expected it to just fade in value but it changed in hue, chroma, and value.

So now I have filled one of my Niji Waterbrushes made by Yasutomo with Higgins Pigment-Based Brown Drawing Ink and I'm ready to sketch.

Ideas for how to do this came from The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen, and

You can find a much more thorough and scientific version of this test in The Painter's Handbook.

As for the other Higgins colors, who knows. I haven't tested those and I probably won't because I'm only interested in sketching with the lovely, warm brown at this point. But if I do branch out to other colors, you can bet I'll be using the pigment-based inks!


April was International Fake Journal Month (brain child of Roz Stendahl, a Twin Cities based artist and graphic designer). As I understand it the idea is to do something different. If you draw dogs all the time, draw cats. The project could also be as elaborate as a visual journal written and drawn from a character's point of view.

For my Fake Journal, I took a few weeks to decide what I was going to do. I usually gravitate toward organic things. I've always liked spacescapes but never really attempted any. I have been amazed and delighted at what people come up with for space craft. As for media, I wanted to get better at handling gouache and I wanted to experiment with some Golden brand acrylic mediums. Other ideas were tempting but eventually I picked one.

gouach spiral galaxy sketch created by Christine Mitzuk for international fake journal month
This is page one and 2 of my 2014 Fake Journal. I started with "home". Note the little "You are here..." in the upper left near the date.

My plan became spacescapes, inventing spacecraft (machinery which is opposite of my organic leanings), monkeying with some mediums, and painting in gouache. A nice mix of something somewhat familiar, gouache, plus three other elements that were unfamiliar. Make that four. To make pictures unlike my usual gouache mark making, I bought some flat brushes.

Blue Spacescape
Blue themed spacescape sketch painted with gouache.

Why do all this? My inner critic needed to be taken down a few notches. I wanted to train my inner critic. I wanted to quiet it down and let it pitch in ideas instead of drive the bus.

Originally the idea was to make the inner critic shut up. After reading Chris Oatley's blog post about Karaoke and Your Inner Critic I changed direction a little from tamping the critic down to working with it. With four unfamiliar elements, spacescapes and spaceships being unfamiliar territory, the inner critic wasn't a know-it-all. It didn't try to tell me how things "should" be drawn. Instead the inner critic was allowed to give some aesthetic opinions (composition, values, colors, and it piped up a little when I was designing space craft). It also tried to tell me that the nebulae were "wrong" but I decided to ignore that input. My goal wasn't to reproduce NASA photos star for star. My goal was to invent, explore, and just plain see what happened. Plus because it was unfamiliar territory, there weren't many rules I felt I had to follow. The journal became my playground.

I also tried to set expectations before I began work (per Roz's advice). I worked in my journal 15-30 minutes a day, giving myself time off on weekends. Or using weekends to catch up if I missed a week day. I also gave myself permission to work on a page a second session if the page was getting detailed or turned into a 2-page picture.

Purple and green themed spacescape sketch painted with gouache.

The one thing that threw me off at the end was the number of pages I actually used. I thought I would fill most of the book but I didn't (I didn't count all the pages and days ahead of time and I made several 2-page spreads). Next time I will define the number of pages I will be able to cover and whether they will be 2-page spreads or single pages. Now that I've done it once, I'll be better able to gauge how much time I will need.

The inner critic is still a bit noisy for certain projects but less than it was before. I highly recommend taking on a Fake Journal project for anyone with a loud, and pushy, inner critic.

More information on International Fake Journal Month can be found on the official blog

Note: I have not included images of my Golden Acrylic Medium page experiments. I didn't want to scuff my scanner glass.

The sketchbook I used was a hard cover 5.5"x8.5" Delta Series Extra Heavy Weight Paper book from Stillman & Birn. I chose it to withstand my predicted heavy use of gouache and the various acrylic mediums I wanted to play with. The paper and book have stood up to the heavy use beautifully, although it's a little difficult to close now that I've thickened some of the pages with various medium.

My Summer classes start May 20. Find registration information at The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art is a friendly little traditional art school located in Northeast Minneapolis, MN (a bit on the outskirts of Dinky Town). The school is on the second floor of a red brick warehouse on the corner of Stinson Blvd. and East Hennepin Ave. Off-street parking is available.

Illustration Workshop (NEW!)

watercolor of hummingbirds singing in a barbershop quartet by Christine Mitzuk
Hummingbird Quartet

Let your imagination fly! Get a taste of illustration during this week long, half-day workshop.

We’ll work to develop a strong drawing for an imaginative piece based upon an existing story or your own idea.

Topics covered will include composition, brainstorming, thumbnails, research, sketch development, and studies for value and color. Emphasis will be placed on composition, and storytelling.

oil painting of woman with sword and gun having just slayed a tentacle monster by Christine Mitzuk
Cheeky Slayer

For the first class please bring a sketchbook, and your preferred drawing tools. If you have a laptop or other device with internet access, bring that too for reference research. If you have a specific project in mind, please contact me (

July 14-18, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Instructor: Christine Mitzuk
$180, 1 week

10 Week Summer Art Classes

gesture drawing

Gestural Figure Study
Gain a better understanding of gesture of the figure. This class will mesh The Atelier and Studio Arts figure study methods. Students will explore what gesture is and ways to capture it through quick poses, progressively longer poses, and experimentation. Materials list will be supplied upon registration. Beginners welcome.

Starting TUESDAY, May 20, 4:15 - 6:45 PM
$180, 10 weeks

Stretch your imagination! During this class, students will develop imaginative pieces based upon a classic or favorite story. 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.

Starting THURSDAY, May 22, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
$150, 10 weeks

portrait class at the atelier in minnesotaPortrait and Interior
Students draw in charcoal and may progress to oil or pastels. The portrait model will be set within an interior. Advanced students can take advantage of the entire composition. Capturing the likeness is emphasized. Color and techniques in oil and pastel are covered.

Starting Tuesday,May 20, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Starting Thursday, May 22, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Instructors: Christine Mitzuk (Tues.) & Laura Tundel (Thurs.)
$180, 10 weeks

oil paint head study by christine mitzuk using sepia, chromatic black, and flake white replacement
Head Study in Oil Paint on Canvas Board.
This model had very lively facial expressions but she was also incredibly wiggly. It was tricky but this was a fun painting session. I think her antics allowed me to capture quite a lot of her character.

In an effort to see for myself what different colors and paints do and decide what I like, I've been experimenting. For this head study I tried Rembrandt Sepia, Gamblin Flake White Replacement, and Gamblin Chromatic Black. This combination also gave me a chance to concentrate on values (more one that in a different post).

I liked using the Sepia quite a bit. It was a warm dark, compared to my usual selection of Ivory Black. I also got to experience what I've heard about Rembrandt paint as being oily and having a very smooth consistency. I enjoyed painting with it.

The Chromatic Black was a nice punch of dark compared to the Sepia. I'll need to try it with colors next to see how it mixes. If you're interested, you can read more about Chromatic Black on the Gamblin website (I thought it was interesting information but I like color theory):

The Gamblin Flake White Replacement lived up to their product statement. Its consistency is definitely ropey and my brush strokes are mostly retained. This is the 3rd or 4th time I've used it. I'm not sure this will stay on my palette but I'm going to experiment with it a bit more to see if there's a different way to use it. I feel like I'm fighting the stiffness or thickness of the paint when I put brush to canvas. I could probably add something to the paint to lessen that resistance (maybe a tiny bit of odorless mineral spirits, or one of the alkyd mediums, or maybe a little oil + odorless mineral spirits. (No. I don't use turpentine. I don't like the smell. Personal preference.)

I'm looking forward to playing some more. Ideally I'd like to have a similar color selection in my sketching and color study media (watercolor or gouache) and my final painting in oil. I think it would make the transition from idea to final a little smoother. We'll see what happens.

gesture drawingNothing beats drawing from life, but let's say you live out in the middle of nowhere and are sick of drawing yourself and your surroundings. Or maybe you need something during the week, between that weekend drawing co-op you like to attend. Perhaps you've tried the good 'ol internet search and come up with dinky or just plain weird images. Or you've tried drawing from magazines but the people in there have been airbrushed right out of reality and the lighting is flat so you struggle to understand form.

Try this, it's free.

The lighting is pretty good, though some images are flat looking. You can choose from male or female models, clothed or not. You can focus on just hands or feet. You can study heads and expressions. Or you can study animals.

One word of warning: watch out for distortion. Some photos look like they have been corrected, some have not.

 Happy drawing!