Four artists, one life-drawing session

Last Thursday I hosted a drawing session at my house. It was so much fun that I can’t wait to host another one. It was a great group of artists, all confident in their own hand, and strong with their own vision. I’d like to show you some of their work.

Sue Smith
Drawing by Sue Smith

I could watch Sue Smith draw all day long. She has such a delicate touch of charcoal to paper, yet a strength of form and line; her hand moves like it’s dancing when she draws.

Sarah Switek
Drawing by Sarah Switek

Sarah is also a sculptor, and I think that her knowledge of all dimensions of a form gave this drawing substance even though it’s drawn primarily with an energetic line and just a little shading.

You can see her work here:


Drawing by George Durkee

I envy George’s ability to draw with such expressive marks. His drawings are always spare and minimal, but the lines are loose and free. And he makes it look so easy. Drat you, Geo (not really).

You can see his work, and his wonderful videos here:

Margaret Sloan
Drawing by Margaret Sloan

And mine…

Open Studios Profile: Cynthia Riordan

Today I’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Riordan, who will be exhibiting with me during the second weekend of Silicon Valley Open Studios.

Cynthia works in oil and pastels. I love the softness of the lost forms in her paintings, as well as the variety of edges—hard and soft—that make her paintings come alive.

Innocence Pastel © 2014 Cynthia Riordan
7″ x 10″ pastel on Wallis paper
© 2014 Cynthia Riordan

Describe your artistic journey
Art has been important since childhood, starting with oil painting lessons when I was 12 to learn about painting still life. Early creations were giant crepe paper flowers, painting on fabric, silk screening, linoleum block prints, producing fired enamel and cloisonné objects and painting on tile. I have designed and built stained glass windows and panels for residential and commercial clients.


painting of Coyote Creek
Coyote Creek, Winter
11″ x 14″ oil on canvas panel
© 2014 Cynthia Riordan

Where has art taken you in life?

Part of what I love  to do is plein air painting, so that has taken me to many parks, such as Yosemite, Glacier National Park, Jackson, WY, the Tetons, Pt. Lobos.  Recently, I decided to help meet the need of our country’s Goldstar families and join other artists in painting our fallen heroes from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

English Traveler Oil on canvas © 2014 Cynthia Riordan
English Traveler
11″ x 14″ oil on canvas panel
© 2014 Cynthia Riordan

What do you think about before you begin painting?

I consider both the emotional impact I want the painting to have and the technical aspects that must be considered to accomplish it. A value study or notan is something I always do. The light source and how it informs the subject is another important consideration.

View from Ribera Road, Carmel  Oil on canvas © 2014 Cynthia Riordan
View from Ribera Road, Carmel
9″ x 12″ oil on canvas panel
© 2014 Cynthia Riordan

Tell me about one of your favorite paintings or drawings that you’ve made. Why is it your favorite?

Whichever painting I am currently working on is  my favorite.  There are some plein air pieces that I am very attached to because of the memory they evoke of when and where I painted them and how I felt in the place.

If you could ask one question of an artist you admire, who would it be, and what would you ask?

I would like to ask J. M.W. Turner how he was able to so successfully relinquish control in his seascapes so that the viewer feels the wildness and power of the wind and the waves.

You can see more of Cynthia’s work at

Cynthia Riordan will be exhibiting May 10-11 at 1471 Hollidale Court, Los Altos, CA 94024

Watercolor portrait

Watercolor portrait

Portrait of Norm
9″ x 12″
Watercolor on Arches #300 paper
© 2013 Margaret Sloan

This is the entire portrait—the face that belongs with the teeth in my tutorial.  (I’m posting this with permission from the client.)

This was a difficult portrait, but ultimately one that gave me great joy. The subject has been ill, and my job was to see through the illness to the warm, sparkling man underneath. Sometimes a painted portrait can capture something that the best camera can not. I was very pleased to present this to the family.

Watercolor portrait
Portrait of Norm detail
Click on picture for a larger version

Dandelion fluff and painting

Looking forward
Watercolor on Arches 300# hot press
Copyright 2011 by Margaret Sloan

It’s an odd, drifty feeling to paint without a teacher at my shoulder. It’s like being dandelion fluff caught on the surface of a pond, stuck to the water film but still blown about hither and thither (that thither-zone is an uncomfortable place!).

While I painted this picture, I anchored myself in the painter-pond by studying painters I liked. I kept those painters’ images on my computer, and every so often would take a break from my painting and run over to study how they handled a similar passage. I didn’t feel as if I were copying a master, but rather, as if I were asking a master a question.

I also talked incessantly to myself. I’m sure I sound like a muttering madwoman escalating into a full-blown fit: What color should go here? Should I use a warm red or a cool red? Can I get away with a purple or a green? How can I get this form to turn? Is the value dark enough yet? It’s too dark! Oh no, that’s Alizaron Crimson, it won’t lift off the paper! What am I going to do now? Gah! What am I thinking?!!!

At this point there is much wailing and whining, stamping of feet and tearing of hair. Then I do what Rose Frantzen recommends: I take a paper towel and clean my palette. She’s right. It’s calming. It resets my clock.

I’m stuck on the background of this painting right now. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit, and will probably have to think about it a bit more. Turning and churning it in my head while I float about uninstructed.

Looking forward (Detail)
Watercolor on Arches 300# hot press
Copyright 2011 by Margaret Sloan

Drawing the portrait: Week 5

All that playing with charcoal paid off when I drew this portrait. It came together nicely.

We draw the same model in the same pose for about 4 20-minutes blocks of time. During the last block of time, Felicia talked about looking at your drawing and taking away what was non-essential. So I stepped back and really looked at my drawing, and used the kneaded eraser to give more form to areas and shape the strong light and highlights.

I feel like I am making some progress!

Drawing the portrait: Week 4

Charcoal on smooth newsprint

The image I see in my head when I start to draw a portrait is ever so much better than what I actually draw; why won’t that image in my mind come out through my fingertips onto the paper? While I was happy that I caught the likeness of the model in this portrait (week 4 of Felicia’s portrait drawing class), the rest of it leaves me, well, disappointed.

Felicia often tapes tracing paper over students’ drawings to demonstrate how they might better change their drawings. As she demonstrates, she often mutters to herself. In those half-verbalized thoughts, there is a whole lecture for the student who pays close attention.

That night, she traced over my drawing of the model, concentrating on the nose. She talked about where she saw edges. Were they crisp edges? Soft edges? Form or cast shadows? How did they wrap around the form; where did they create a sharp angle? She applied her charcoal pencil as if it were the finest sable brush, and modeled a perfectly dimensional nose in a few strokes.

I realized—once again—that I still wield my pencil like a bludgeon. I need practice in order to handle it like a fine brush.

I need to go home and simply play with the materials we used for the class. Play with them with no expectation of results, except for learning what a simple charcoal pencil can do.

Now there’s some great homework. Play. Play. And more play.

I’m smiling.

Poor little rich girl, in my mind

Graphite sketch after Reubens on Strathmore Smooth Bristol Visual Journal

The model was clearly upset. She couldn’t sit still, let alone maintain a pose. It was wiggle, sift, sigh, and sink for the entire time.

Graphite sketch after Reubens on Strathmore Strathmore Smooth Bristol Visual Journal

It wasn’t my place to ask her to leave, and besides, I think we were all trying to be kind—she seemed to be roosting in a nest of problems—so I had to just deal with it.

It’s hard to keep my imagination down (I can imagine 20 ridiculous  things before breakfast!), so I ran with it, and pretended I was commissioned to draw a portrait of a rich, troubled, doomed girl (Paris Hilton came to mind). My imaginary patron was her doting Fortune 500 daddy. And I tried to find the things that a daddy would love in his wonky daughter, and express them in the portrait.

By the end of the evening, I was ready to return the hypothetical advance to the hypothetical daddy, and my heart was aching for this poor, clueless model.

James Gurney has a good post on activating your imagination while creating academic models. I loved his suggestion: add wings!

Drawing the portrait: Week 3

Week 3: portrait in charcoal on rough newsprint

Week 3 of portrait drawing class and I am still struggling with the materials of charcoal on newsprint. I’m also tusseling with drawing  the features, particularly the eyes. Eyes are the hardest feature for me to put down correctly.

I think it’s because we see each eye as an individual element, when really, they are part of the same feature. Yes, there are two eyes, but they are connected by the brow line (you know, as in “the artist’s furrowed brow”). But grrr, making that connection in a drawing always stumps me.

Felicia recommended looking for the rhythms of the face: how the features are connected by arcs and circles. And that was my “aha!” moment for the night.

I know that progress on this point will come slowly, but now I know it will come.

Return of the prodigal blogger

Joe Pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper. I'm not yet finished with this. I have pages and pages of notes from Christian and Rob. Corrections like: make the background distinct from the foreground, dull down the "heavenly light" in the background, get rid of Joe's "mohawk." And lots more things to work on. Whew!

I’ve been letting this blog slide the last couple months, as I’ve been busy with other projects, plus a camping trip to Nevada.

I’ve been trying to finish up my projects from my fourth year at the Atelier (At the top of this post, you can see the last portrait I made in June), and then, just when the school year was finishing and I thought I’d have some time to rest, Christian Fagerlund (the teacher who’d taken over the last few classes at the Atelier while the usual teacher, Rob Anderson was away), offered a portrait painting workshop—6 people, 8 classes, twice a week—during the month of July.

Christian is a wonderful painter, and a brilliant teacher (I’ve been so lucky to have such wonderful teachers: Rob, David, and now Christian). Taking his class has been worth the exhaustion of driving to the East Bay twice a week during rush hour traffic. I’ve learned so much; I can feel my brain fizzing and buzzing like it’s full of 7-Up.

Now I’m taking a much-needed break from classes, and will practice what I’ve learned. That means discipline to work at home the same number of hours that I worked in classes (plus those two extra hours I spent driving to Oakland!).

I also want to get back into the swing of blogging again. I wish someone would give me a push, but alas, in the blogging world, you really have to learn to swing yourself.