Exploring a New Path (and Some Resources for Learning to Draw).

garden path
You never know where a new path may lead…

When I started this blog, I mentioned wanting to get on with the things that are important to me. Specifically, I wanted to learn new art techniques that would help in my printmaking and in mixed-media work. One of those techniques was perhaps the most basic – learning to draw.

So now I am busy doing something that is entirely new for me. A few weeks ago I enrolled for a six-week natural history illustration course. (I’m now doing the work for week three.) The class is online, held by the University of Newcastle in Australia. (If it appeals to you, you can find it here. )

It was luck that drew my eye to the advert for the course and the fact that it was offered free (so long as you don’t want a certificate at the end) made me think, ‘Why not?’ A drawing course held locally would probably make me feel a bit uneasy, but online you’re pretty much anonymous, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious about any lack of drawing skills. Additionally, the course is aimed at anyone from beginner to more experienced, so I didn’t have to worry about the course being too advanced for me.

Having said that, I did find the course really hard work last week – spending hours staring at the items I’d chosen to draw and attempting to get the detail of them onto paper. I felt tired by the end but managed to get the drawings (mostly) finished and submitted. A lot of the value of doing a course like this is that it pushes you to get the work done and to commit yourself to it. (Obviously, you could back out of the course and you wouldn’t lose anything, but self-respect, and the desire to make the most of an opportunity to improve, is a good spur onward.)

Does it seem a bit strange for a photographer to want to be able to draw rather than simply taking a photograph? Well, maybe! But this will give me the freedom to be able to do printmaking without needing to rely on a photo for the basic image. (I’ve done both screen-printing with a photo-stencil and photo-lithography but now I’m learning drypoint, which really does need some ability to draw.) Even the photography should benefit, because learning to draw trains you to become more observant. Drawing a subject forces you to concentrate on it to see all the details and to fully understand its structure and gives a much better understanding of what you are looking at.

The course lists a number of useful outside resources which are available to anyone. (You could learn a lot about the basics of drawing from these, without bothering with the course.)  These YouTube videos may be worth a look if you’re interested in learning to draw or improving your drawing skills:

  • SchaeferArt – first video takes you through the basics and following videos build on drawing and painting skills.
  • Paint Academy – basic shading, hatching etc demonstrated. You can work alongside this in real time. They have a large number of painting and drawing videos – many more advanced than the one I’ve linked here.
  • Drawing & Painting – The Virtual Instructor – I found this video on ‘How to Shade Basic Forms’ the most useful of those I’ve listed. There are lots more videos from him (on both drawing and painting) here that all look worth watching  – might need quite a bit of time!
  • Digital Painting Lessons – ‘Visual Measuring’ – basics on working out angles
  • EmptyEasel – ‘How to Draw by Finding Basic Shapes Within Objects’ – simplifying a subject  to make it easier to draw.
  • Sycra – ‘Negative and Positive Space’
  • Cathy Johnson – ‘Sketching in Nature’  The sound is low at the start but she does start speaking!

This drawing course is certainly a challenge for me. When I complete it, I’d like to have enough skills to be able to continue learning on my own. It does feel exciting to do something new! I hope that if you’re interested in learning to draw, you’ll find the videos helpful. (I wish I’d realized that they existed before!)

Japanese garden
Your destination might be a surprise!

 

Discovering Drypoint

Drypoint print of passionflower
Drypoint print with chine colle

I’ve mentioned before that over recent years I’ve been learning printmaking techniques. My newest little adventure is to learn drypoint.

This is a process that appeals to me because it is very simple and direct. Basically, an image is scratched into a printing plate (metal, plastic or special card) with a sharp point.

The plate is printed in the same way as an etching plate but the drypoint print has a softer-looking line. (A result of the ink being held not just by the incised line but also by the raised burr pushed up by the sharp point.)

For my first attempt at drypoint, I’ve used a drawing based on this photograph:

Photograph of a passionflower
The original passionflower photograph

This is the same image that I used for the intaglio print/photography combination that I wrote about here.

The plate I used for this print was clear plastic. (You can see it in the photo below.) This has a huge advantage over metal – you can just lay it over a drawing or photograph and use that as a guide for inscribing the lines of the image. To scratch the lines into the plate, I used an engineers’ scriber. (You can find these for around £5 in D.I.Y. stores.) Anything sharp enough to mark the plate is worth trying but there are specific drypoint needles with different sizes of tips available too. I’ve recently bought a couple of these – shown in the photo. (Above the engineers’ scriber.)

Drypoint plate and needles
Drypoint plate, scriber and needles

The printing plate is inked and wiped in the same way as an etching plate. (But treated more gently, to preserve the burr along the edges of the lines – this helps to give the characteristic fuzzy look to the printed lines.)

As you can see from this description, the drypoint process is very straightforward. It’s also pretty inexpensive to try out. Even better – there are no chemicals involved. (Hooray! Great!! I’m very happy to be able to avoid using the nastier printmaking chemicals – some are very toxic!)

Making the drypoint print was a process that I really enjoyed. I found something very satisfying about scratching the lines into the plastic plate. And it’s also very pleasing to be able to use my photographs as a starting point for a printed image that will look quite different. I’m planning to make more prints soon and (if you’re interested in printmaking) I hope that I may have encouraged you to give drypoint a try.

Drypoint print of a passionflower
My first attempt at drypoint printing