I recently completed a new drawing entitled “Renewal.” It was completed in charcoal, pastel and white chalk. I wanted this piece to touch on the conflict of transition. The young woman is caught between two seasons. She is bundled in a winter coat and clouds loom behind her. But she is also adorned with a full blooming rose symbolizing a promise of hope and a new beginning.


We don’t see the conflict of her decision but rather the peace she has reached afterwards. She looks ahead, in a moment of resolution and renewal. Next up I will use this drawing as a transfer for a painting!

In the meantime, I thought I would share some of my tools including some thoughts on how I rendered this work.

Setup 2 Numbers

  1. My drawing mediums of choice include: General’s Charcoal Pencils and Nitram Academie Fusains Charcoal. For my richest darks I used a black pastel pencil. I heightened the drawing with a combination of white charcoal, chalk and pastel. For my paper I used the smooth side of Mi-Teintes.
  2. When I first pull my shiny new charcoal pencils out of the packaging, they’re cone shaped. When drawing, this usually means they will stay sharp for the first millisecond they touch the paper. And then I may as well be drawing delicate lines with all the grace and nimbleness of a tree stump. The trick is to whittle away at the pencil using an X-Acto knife. Be careful not to gouge big chunks out of the wood in haste though, as this will usually break the soft charcoal underneath. When a good half to one inch of wood is cleared away use a fine grit sandpaper to sand your pencil to a needle-sharp point. Push the pencil up and down against the sandpaper while slowly rolling the pencil between your thumb and index finger. If I am sanding Nitram charcoal I sand back and forth. The sticks are blockish, so I will sand one side while slowly drawing the pencil towards my body until the charcoal reaches the edge of the sandpaper. Then I roll the charcoal to the next side and repeat. I continue until I’ve reached a nice long fine point. And be prepared this is messy business!  To keep the work area tidy, tape the sandpaper to a 2″x4″ and lay it on top of an open trashcan.Pencils
  3. Personally I am very fussy about the details and the paper quality up close. The mahl stick is imperative to keep my dirty hands from resting and smearing the work while also keeping my hand steady while I draw. I made this one myself out of bamboo-it’s fantastically lightweight and I often forget I’m holding it, even when I’m not using it.
  4. I use a small handheld mirror to check proportions. This can be done in a number of ways. Most commonly I will turn around so my back is facing the drawing and hold up the mirror to view the drawing backwards. If I am facing the drawing I will hold the mirror to my forehead and look up to view the drawing upside down. I am constantly checking the proportions in my work and this helps keep my perspective fresh. I will also use a thick thread with a fishing weight tied to the bottom or a knitting needle to compare proportions to my reference.
  5. The longer I work, the more pencils and brushes I accrue between my fingers, I just forget to put them down. My kneaded eraser however never leaves my hand. I like to roll the eraser to a point and use it like a brush. I also use it to “dab” at any inconsistencies in the pores of the paper to create a smooth even tone, especially in skin and hair. I also have a few brushes, both soft and bristle, of varying shapes to soften edges and create textures. Sometimes I will even use charcoal powder to “paint” the initial drawing with the brush.
  6. Coffee and/ or tea (or both. At the same time. Yes, I do that) is always a must. Especially if you have a four month old who gets the munchies every two hours in the night.

On a separate note, I received word that I am a recipient of this year’s Stacey Scholarship fund from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum! The award is given annually to young artists dedicated to educating themselves in the classical tradition and who plan to make art their profession. I am both humbled and grateful and am so excited to see what new work this year will bring!


A Rugged and Manly Drawing

Here’s a charcoal portrait fresh off the easel of my ruggedly handsome husband.

Rather begrudgingly, Bryan has been my model many times. But ask the man to sit still and suddenly he’s got ants in his pants. And sitting still is like a life or death situation. As in he holds his breath and turns slightly purple because supposedly breathing is responsible for all of his wiggliness.

So for the most part this work was done from reference, although I’d like to think, as Bryan darts from place to place, I’ve caught enough glimpses of him for the past eight-ish or nine-ish years to consider this as work (partially) done from life.

The title is “The Cold Earth Slept Below,” based on a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I tend to draw and paint very soft, feminine things. Male models* can be drawn a little more rugged. Bill Whitaker likes to joke that, when it comes to painting men, as soon as you get the beard in everyone will exclaim that “it looks just like him!” I wanted this piece to feel a little dark and wild and yet Bryan glows with a look of resolve and focus, like a solid pillar amidst the bluster and cold. Not because he’s in deep thought or he’s reached an important conclusion or anything.

He’s just really very stubborn.

*It’s very difficult to say “male model” with a straight face without thinking of this:

AmBank Invitational

I will be exhibiting a few of my charcoal drawings at the AmBank Invitational Art Show and Sale in Provo, Utah. The show runs from November 14th, 2014 to January 9th, 2015.

For any followers who would like to come who do not reside in Utah an easy breezy $500 flight will get you here in time for the opening reception this evening.

When I was invited to participate in the show around the end of October, I was polishing up these two pieces. However, I thought it would just look so much more balanced and unified and awesome if I could get a third drawing done to bring them all together.

So, with ten days until I needed to deliver my work, that’s what I decided to do. Here are some progress shots of the third portrait. To preface, all art goes through some serious ugly phases so don’t be surprised if you unwittingly make this face:

It’s quite alright if you do, you won’t hurt my feelings. Unless of course you continue to make this face when you see the end result. Then I will have to crawl into bed and curl up in the fetal position to waste away, using said drawing as a giant tissue to catch my blubbering crocodile tears.

I work on toned paper, preferably Canson’s Mi-Teintes Pastel paper. There are two sides to this paper, more textured and smooth. I work on the smooth side. Even though the paper is toned, I still add a layer of powdered charcoal and smooth it with a brush, tissue, or charcoal sock.

I lay in the block-in using vine charcoal as it wipes away easily when I make mistakes. Vine charcoal also has a lovely muted effect when blended.

When it’s time to lay in values I start with a 2B and work my way up to a 6B for the richest, darkest blacks. I also use white chalk to heighten the drawing. White chalk really encourages the illusion of dimension and creates an illuminated effect which is what I strive for in my portraits, almost as if the light is stirring from within the sitter.

Here’s a closeup of my initial mark making:

So. I was supposed to drop off my work on a Monday before 5 PM. On the Friday prior, Bryan and I were taking our church teens to a youth rally in Logan, about two hours away. I was nowhere near finished, so my drawing supplies came with me and I spent the majority of the weekend holed up in a tiny, dimly lit hotel room scribbling away and imagining errors that were not there and of course wasting lots of time trying to fix said imaginary errors. I wondered if this was what it felt like working in a dark and dismal French atelier in the 19th century drawing by candelabra.

I didn’t get the drawing quite to the polished effect that I like, but by 4:20 PM on Monday this is where I decided to pause:

 That left only 40 minutes to speed (abiding by city limits, of course) to pick up Bryan from work (I may or may not have gotten slightly surly by the surprising number of elderly drivers on the roads at 4:30 in the afternoon) to book it to the studio to frame my portrait (it would’ve gone so much faster if it wasn’t for the blizzard of dust sticking to the glass in the frame, ugh!) and to jump back in the car with all of the framed drawings while Bryan finished framing the third (even though he dropped all of his tools in the grass on the way to the car and got the frame stuck in the car door. Miraculously it did not scratch or crack). We inevitably got there late, but make it we did. I was still shaking from the trauma of the experience the following morning.

Back in art school our instructors advised it’s always a good idea to have a story behind each piece for prospective buyers. I would probably proceed to describe the outer and inward beauty of my sitter (who truly is a remarkable young woman), but secretly I would be thinking of this story. But frankly, as absurd as it all sounds, this stuff, to an artist, is a perfectly normal and expected part of her day.