A complicated little fellow • March 13, 2015
Prelude Owl – Variation #15, ink & surface alteration over digitally altered print of earlier state.
Well Hello –
Sorry I’ve been missing for a bit. I’ve started back in on several really tough Paterson views, and am now battling a drawing with fine moves – and some of the worst too. I’m constantly mystified by where, and how fine the line is between the two!
I’ll keep at it, and will have show & tell for you soon. Meanwhile, here is a rather satisfied looking owl. He had been sitting in his tree for more than 2 years, waiting for me to finish him, but I just couldn’t figure it out. Last week I finally managed to, and now it strikes me that telling you how I did this drawing gives me the perfect chance to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about how I do what I do.
To begin with, our little owl is the latest in a series of variations, all starting where this next one also stalled. Yeah, I know, it happens a lot. I really, really liked this big owl though, even without a beak. I didn’t want to leave him that way! So, I took a photograph of him, printed several copies and started sketching on them to sort out my next moves. It didn’t take me long to realize there were a number ways forward, with several worth trying. I also discovered that ink looks just fine on top of a laser printed drawing, which makes sense in retrospect; both the toner in my printer and the pigment in my ink are carbon based.
You’ve got to love technology, and I must confess, I particularly appreciate what I can do in Photoshop. Here is the same owl reversed and placed in a horizontal format. One of the sure fire rules for making a picture more interesting is to keep the center of interest off center, which I’ve done. I’ve also tilted the owl so he no longer seems so static.
If you haven’t realized it by now, I like messing with things. Still in Photoshop, I began fooling around with separating the really dark parts of this drawing from the lighter gray areas. Then I exaggerated and compressed the variation in tone in those same grays. I also removed the edges of the old drawing. The end result, ready to be printed and drawn upon, looked like this:
The next question, of course, was what to do next. I had the answer waiting. In telling you this tale, I’ve simplified the sequence of events. The truth is, after I flipped the owl but before I started messing with his grays, I did some digital sketching on him (yet again in Photoshop). This is such a versatile way to work out ideas (nothing is permanent until I make it so), and there are textures you can achieve that you can’t get in ink! It’s not uncommon for me to now combine actual drawing with ink and digital drawing, taking advantage of both. In this case though, early in my exploration of this method, I was only trying to come up with a jumping off point to start my new drawing. My rough sketch is below, as it was printed out – with some actual cut and paste ink work also scotch-taped on top of it. We’ll talk about that in a moment but first, what’s up with that blue arrow and all of the circles?
Well, the circles indicate some of the basic marks I make when drawing in Photoshop. I have a great fondness for grainy black lines, and boy can you do ’em this way. The same brush tool that made the smaller lines (l’ve circled examples in a couple of areas) also made the really big one that runs across the owl’s middle (also circled). Of course, my lines don’t have to be grainy. For instance, as I was working out this rough guide, I thought the owl (with his delicate textures) might look fetching sitting in dark, silhouetted branches. So I threw in some BIG black marks to get a crude idea of how that might appear. The circle at furthest left indicates one of these. I was on to something, but realized those massive black marks were far too powerful. I would have to address that in the real drawing, but for the moment, I simply threw in a few blurry white lines and called it good enough.
I know it seems like I do a lot of planning. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes not. Sometimes I wish I had! However I start out, happenstance often ends up playing a key role. The trick has been to cultivate recognizing such opportunity. In this instance, at the same time that I was working out how to launch my owl, I was also experimenting with masking fluid, which is nothing more than dilute liquid latex that can be brushed on paper. Watercolorists use it to block out areas they want to keep free of paint. I figured it would work with ink too, so I tried a test: first, I lightly dampened a scrap of drawing paper, then I applied masking fluid in a few random shapes. After they had dried, I laid broad strokes of black ink over them, and once that had dried, I peeled off the latex. It worked perfectly.
Now comes the fortunate moment: my test sheet was still laying on my drawing table when I absentmindedly plopped the printout of my new digital owl down. Well would you look at that – there was my sketch with its big black digital marks and blurry white lines, and beside it was my test sheet with big black brush strokes and bold, slightly fuzzy white marks. Happenstance is rarely this blatant! I quickly cut out some of those ink marks and taped them on top of the black marks in my digital sketch – the blue arrow (look again at the photo above) is pointing at them.
Here is the drawing I made, using my digital sketch as a guide. Do you see what I mean about how nicely the laser printed under layer and the actual ink work combine?
I did a nice job with my grainy lines, and added more of them in the branches to help tie the whole drawing together. The intensely graphic black and white mark making in the tree worried me, but adding texture helped tone it down somewhat.
This was a great start . . . and it’s where I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out how to finish the owl, and an art buddy said the branch in the upper left looked like a boxing glove hitting my damned bird. He was right of course. Poop.
While our drawing stews, I’ve got another annotated picture for you. Hey, I did it in Photoshop too, and it’s the starting point for explaining how I made grainy texture.
Okay, now you see how obsessive I can be! Below is a view of the back our drawing (I still need to get rid of the wrinkling). The blue circles indicate portions of areas where I punched through with my pushpin over and over. . . and over. Doing this takes time, but creates a fine, nubby texture on the front side. If I then drag and scrub over this with a small, almost dry brush, the raised texture picks up ink and I have my wonderfully grainy lines. I’ve since worked out an easier way to achieve a similar effect, but I still do a lot of punching. For one thing, it’s brilliantly effective for creating blind texture that makes subtle grainy shadows in areas that remain paper white.
The orange circles focus on two spots where I indented the back of the sheet with a round-tipped burnishing tool. This created fields of larger knobs on the front, but this time in areas of dark or black ink! If you look at the tree trunk and branches at the bottom edge of our drawing (above, and circled), you can see where I ever so cautiously sanded the raised knobs with 320 grit sandpaper. The result is coarser, grainy white texture within the dark. I also used this same treatment on that unfortunate boxing glove to help break it up (you can see it in the finished drawing either at the beginning or the end of this post).
Here is one of many failed attempts to find a finish for our stalled owl. I was once again sketching digitally, this time over a scan of the actual drawing, and just couldn’t see a way forward. Another of those fine lines I keep running into (running over, completely missing?) is the one that separates what is suggestive and works from what is disjointed and distracting.
My creative vow for 2015 is to deal with all of my half finished drawings. There are too many and I want them done or gone. That I don’t care which way it goes, is both a relief, and evidence of a surprising lack of concern. I’ve completed almost 400 owls for example. If a few more don’t make it, who’s gonna care? What this really means is that I can try anything I want on any drawing that has become sacrificial. This sounds an awful lot like an equation for a few unpredictable successes, in amongst train wrecks I won’t lose sleep over!
The instant I slapped down a dark, careless background, it anchored this image. The potent graphic of the tree finally settled in and my owl began to click. I fattened him up a bit, and fussed in a few more marks to suggest feather structure and the barred/mottled patterning I so love in these birds.
Take a good look at my finished drawing again; did you consider before now how some of the outlines of the branches go right into our owl, or that the grainy line that defines his body shape on the left passes right across what was once a silly boxing glove trying to knock him out? One great secret in many of my drawings – and it’s something you won’t notice if I do it right – is that objects and surroundings are often visible through each other. I’m not sure why it works, but I realized long ago that it makes my pictures seem not like frozen moments, but instead as if they might suddenly start moving. I work hard to employ this illusion, which as a side benefit, also adds tremendously to the sense of depth and mood.
There are so many fine lines I have to creatively contend with. Often they trip me up, but now and then, I find the necessary small moves that make a fine line my finish line.
Bye for now – – – – Your Buddy Bill
PS: here are related owls: http://billloganart.com/drawings/prelude-and-claw-hand-owls/
PPS: to expand these images and see more detail, click READ FULL ARTICLE, immediately below.