About denisejhoward

I'm an artist in Santa Clara, California. I work primarily with colored pencil and graphite. I'm a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America and the United Kingdom Colored Pencil Society, and have Master Pencil Artist Status with the Pencil Art Society.

Homage or ripoff?

A story in the Toronto Star Touch has generated a lot of discussion among some artists and art lovers on Facebook this week. It seems that an artist named Amanda PL had an entire solo exhibition canceled at a gallery because indigenous people complained before it even opened that her work was too much a copy of, and therefore disrespectful of, their own art.

The article’s author does an excellent job of neutrally exploring both sides of the issue as well as that of the gallery in the middle.  Usually the “right thing to do” is clear.  But this is a tough one. I mean, who *hasn’t* been inspired to draw or paint something in the style of an established culture? Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by ancient Egyptian wall paintings, Haida shawl designs, Maya sculptures, Sioux beadwork, Moorish mosaics, and more. I didn’t build an art body of work around any of them, but I get why someone would. Just because you weren’t born into that culture doesn’t mean you can’t love and understand their art.

In the music world, it’s considered wonderful and creative to incorporate the rhythms and harmonies of other cultures into one’s own compositions; Paul Simon has been acclaimed for his African-inspired songs. I guess the hard part is “where do you draw the line between *inspired* and “copied*?” Where do you draw the line between tribute and disrespect?

Imbibed erasers

On a colored pencil group that I belong to on Facebook, someone said she had just read about “imbibed erasers” in an older colored pencil book by Gary Greene, and wanted to know why nobody had mentioned these marvelous inventions to her before. I actually had not heard of them before, so I looked it up. An imbibed eraser is impregnated with erasing fluid that is made for erasing ink, particularly the kind from technical pens like Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph, from drafting film and some papers. Then I looked up Greene’s text (the internet knows all!). Greene had said that an imbibed eraser does a great job on colored pencil, and doesn’t damage the paper like most other types of erasers that work by scrubbing.

Intrigued, I decided I should try one of these imbibed erasers. It turns out they aren’t made anymore–they’ve gone the way of the manual typewriter and adding machine rolls. So like anything which has been discontinued, they’re worth more now–when you can find one–than they were originally. But thanks to eBay I found a business in Kansas City that deals in old office machines and accessories for them, and they had Koh-I-Noor imbibed erasers. So I bought one for a whopping $9 plus shipping, and a box of the version made in strips for use in electric erasers for $22 plus shipping, which apparently was a bargain because some were selling for upwards of $70. When they arrived, they were still sealed in their original wrappers in pristine condition.

I scribbled a  fairly heavy patch of Permanent Red on a scrap of Stonehenge paper, and tried erasing it with the imbibed eraser. I was very disappointed. Even with a fair amount of scrubbing, it worked no better than poster putty. It sure made eraser crumbs, though. I also tried with one of the strips.

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Just to prove it to myself, after I took this photo, I erased the other half of the patch by dabbing with poster putty. Sure enough, when I stopped, the left side looked the same as the right side. But with far less scrubbing!

Maybe they work better when they’re fresh from the factory (which isn’t happening anymore). Maybe Greene was using pencils than Prismacolors. I don’t know.

So now I have an imbibed eraser and no use for it. Worse, when I went to toss it in the drawer where I keep my Rapidograph pen set, I discovered that I already had one!

Book progress

I thought the subject and title of my book was supposed to be a big secret until publication, but I learned from one of my recent workshop attendees that it’s already listed on Amazon!  That seems to make it official, this is really going to happen on October 1st. So you might be wondering “how’s it going?”

So far, I’m ahead of my deadlines. I’ve completed 24 out of 101 as I write this. That’s a good place to be, but I have previous commitments coming up which could put me behind; all the more reason to try to stay ahead as long as I can.

Someone asked me “Is it fun?” Yes, it is! Every day that I draw, I’m drawing something different. Some of them I know how to draw, and some of them I have to figure out. Since drawing is all about seeing, nothing is impossible, it’s just a matter of time. Each one takes me 3-4 hours, including scanning, adjusting and writing.

I had a small panic tonight when my computer inexplicably stopped communicating with my scanner and the usual fixes of re-launching the application and restarting the scanner didn’t work. After 90 minutes of looking up tech support answers, reinstalling drivers, etc., what finally worked was to reboot my computer.  Whew!

Sorry, I can’t show you any samples….

My two-day workshop in St. Augustine, FL

Over a year ago, Hanneke Jevons and Bill Shoemaker, president and vice-president of CPSA DC117 St. Augustine, FL invited me to teach a two-day workshop for their chapter in 2017. I was very flattered! This was going to be my first time teaching a workshop “on the road”, outside the San Francisco bay area. We decided on the theme of “Landscape Textures and Techniques in Colored Pencil”, based on the “winning power” of my trees–three have been in CPSA International Exhibitions, two of those have won significant awards in it, all three have sold (one for $3600), and they seem to be admired far and wide. Probably because my admiration of remarkable trees comes through in my drawings of them….

I was grateful to have plenty of time to work out the details and even “test drive” the workshop in one-day form locally. Grasses, moss, bark, leaves, and rocks each pose challenges for which I’ve figured out solutions.

We agreed to limit registration to 24 students, and wow! It sold out so quickly, they didn’t even get to advertise it.

As the time drew near, I gathered the materials for each student: a class outline, drawing papers, an extra piece of plain paper for a hand shield, reference photos, four luscious Caran d’Ache pencils (two Pablo, two Luminance) and information about them courtesy of Creative Art Materials, colorless blender, value finders, stylus, and poster putty. I wished for a way to take along some interesting bark and moss from my collection, but they are too delicate to survive transport (they don’t even like being moved to dust under them on the shelf).

Hanneke generously offered to host me at her home.  She picked me up from the Daytona airport at midnight on March 2. The next day, we had a yummy breakfast at the Funky Pelican in Flagler Beach, she gave me a tour of the area, I got to see the chapter’s show on display at the Flagler County Art League‘s gallery in Palm Coast, we assembled the student packets, we set up the workshop room at the Palm Coast Community Center, and we had a great dinner with Bill and a couple of other folks. The weather was perfect, in the 60s with no excessive humidity, and I was delighted to have the opportunity watch an active osprey pair with their nest just a couple of blocks from Hanneke’s house.

Saturday we focused on grasses and bark. Sunday we focused on moss and rock, and then launched into a bigger project of the base of a tree, with the encouragement that by then they knew the tools and techniques they needed to tackle it. I won’t bore you with the details…. I’ll let their photos tell you! I was very pleased with everyone’s progress–they really “got it”, even those who went through a period of frustration first.

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I gave everyone an overnight homework assignment between Saturday and Sunday, to find and bring in some natural item with texture. I made a bet with Hanneke that fewer than half would remember to do it, and she wisely took the bet, because I was wrong! We had quite an assortment on display for Sunday, from a dried palm seed stalk, to rocks and even a bird nest. I wish I’d thought to take photos of them…..

Sunday evening, Bill and I had a tasty dinner at Bob Evans, a restaurant we don’t have in California that I miss from my years in the midwest. Unfortunately, our pleasant evening was marred by witnessing a fatal bicycle/SUV collision, which shook us both up.

On Monday morning, Hanneke took me to see the trees at Princess Place Preserve and her little farm and cows, before taking me to the airport for my return trip.

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I can’t thank Hanneke and Bill enough for making this workshop trip possible!

I’ll be teaching the one-day version of this workshop again next Saturday (March 25) for CPSA DC 214 Los Angeles. I can’t wait!

 

Get a cutting mat!

A couple of years ago, I finally broke down and bought a 24″ x 36″ self-healing cutting mat and an aluminum meter stick. Now I wonder why I waited so long!

I buy drawing paper in 22″ x 30″ sheets (or even larger sometimes) for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s much cheaper to cut smaller sheets of the dimensions I really want from these, than it is to buy pre-cut standard sizes
  2. Some of the papers I like are only available as large sheets.

Furthermore, mat board is only available in 30″ x 40″ or larger sheets.

Here’s what I used to do–perhaps this sounds familiar to how you work.  Starting with a large sheet of paper or mat board, I measured from each end, made hash marks in the right spots, and lightly connected them with guide lines with an 18″ metal ruler and pencil.  Four hash marks, two intersecting lines. Then I followed the lines with my ruler and utility knife. For anything longer than 18″, I had to carefully move and align the ruler and make more hash marks, lines and cuts.  All too often and despite my effort, these longer lines or cuts weren’t perfectly aligned. Or my final dimensions were a little off, so my cut paper wasn’t perfectly rectangular.  But I didn’t know it yet!  I lightly marked a 1/2″ margin inside the edges all around and spent days or weeks creating my drawing within the margin.  Then when I finished and prepared to mat it with a 1/4″ margin all around, I discovered that the drawing’s dimensions were a little “off”!  DOH!

With the cutting mat and meter stick, I simply line up the edges of the full sheet with the mat’s grid, lay the meter stick along the line I need, and cut along it. Done! For the inside margin lines, same thing:  I line up the cut paper on the mat, lay the meter stick along the line I need, and lightly draw the margin line along it. Done! And both the cut dimensions and the margin box are truly rectangular. Perfect dimensions in a fraction of the time.

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Ready to cut an 8″ x 10″ from a larger piece of drawing paper

Today I cut 5 sheets of 26″ x 40″ Stonhenge paper into 60 sheets of 8″ x 10″ in only about 45 minutes, working at a leisurely pace. And they’re all perfect, according to how well they stacked.

You might be saying “What about the fact that a meter stick is 39″ and a full sheet of mat board is 40″? I lay my 18” ruler atop the meter stick to effectively extend it.

The cutting mat also has lines denoting 45- and 60-degree angles (but I haven’t needed those yet).  And if you prefer metric measurement, two edges of the mat are marked in centimeters.

When not in use, I slide my cutting mat behind my desk against the wall, and hang my meter stick on a nail.

Self-healing cutting mats of various sizes, and aluminum measuring sticks are available at any art supply store, and they’re not expensive. If you cut paper or mat board more than a couple of times a year, I recommend the investment. You, too, will wonder why you waited so long!

Every four seconds

During the afternoon of my most recent workshop, while we were all heads-down working on the next light layer of color, one of my students said “You look at your reference every four seconds.  I timed you.” I laughed, because I was unaware that anyone was watching me so closely and also because I was unaware of how frequently I check my reference.

It makes sense, though. When your goal is realism, close observation is key whether you’re working from a photo or from life. From one moment to the next, I’m figuratively “connecting the dots” that I’ve noticed in the details of color, line and form. I have observed beginners look for awhile at their reference and then draw without looking at it again for awhile, maybe even a couple of minutes, then wonder where they went astray. I think this is because we naturally believe we “know” what something looks like and work from that, rather than setting that belief aside to truly observe. Checking your reference every few seconds is a good habit to get into.

When I was learning to drive, the driving instructor hammered into us that we should check our mirrors every eight seconds. I still remember him repeating over and over “Mirror check….mirror check…mirror check.” Finally, one fellow student challenged him “Why? What’s behind us doesn’t matter.” He quickly responded “What’s behind you might be next to you in a moment.” There’s a certain parallel, here:  driving well requires moment-to-moment observation and awareness to avoid unpleasant surprises, and so does drawing well.

Here’s an idea for how to get yourself to check your reference more often: there are timer apps that can be set to ping at regular intervals. Try setting it to ping every ten seconds (for starters) as you draw. Whenever it pings, take a quick look at the spot on your reference that you’re working from. Don’t just glance at it, see it.

Drawing is all about seeing, so keep seeing.

I signed a book contract!

In early December, out of the blue, I received an email from someone at a well-known publishing company, asking if I would be interested in writing an art book. My thoughts quickly shifted through:

  • surprise – that a publisher came to ME
  • skepticism – whether the inquiry was legit
  • astonishment – that it was real
  • excitement – that it is a huge opportunity
  • regret – because I didn’t think I could take it with my existing commitments
  • speculation – on what I could omit from my year’s schedule in order to do it
  • worry – that if I signed the contract, something bad might happen
  • worry – that if I turned it down, I’d never get an opportunity like this again
  • confidence – that I can do this

After some back-and-forth, some consultation with other authors, and some negotiation, I signed the contract mid-January!

I’m not allowed to reveal anything about the book itself beyond what I’ve already said.  But it will be a VERY busy year through the end of August, drawing, scanning and writing to meet my monthly deadlines.  I won’t be able to share any of my images or text as I progress (sorry!).  Until the book is finished, I won’t be doing any new artwork of my own, and I’ll only be able to enter a few shows (with work I’ve already completed).  I start just as soon as I finish the portrait I have on my drawing board right now.  This doesn’t mean I won’t be writing blog postings, only that they won’t be about the book.

I have to pinch myself to remember this is really happening; I never imagined that someday I’d have a book contract as part of my art career!  This will be part of my art legacy someday, so I plan to focus and give it my best.  Wish me luck!