Paintings from England, Wales and Ireland

Here’s a very short update on my last landscape painting trip before our move to Florence. The trip consisted of a brief visit to Salisbury in England, a week long stay in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales and a trip to Ireland for the Art in the Open plein air painting festival. It was very productive and much fun as we got to meet a lot of our fellow painters and friends, and paint in some truly beautiful areas.

Though I am still full of impressions and wonderful memories from all these places, I am finding it hard to organise words in my head while simultaneously organising the rest of my life in boxes. So, this time, I will let the images of some of my paintings from this trip speak in my stead.


Stonehenge, Watercolor.

Stonehenge. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Welsh Sheep, Watercolor.

Welsh Sheep No. 1. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Welsh Sheep, Watercolor.

Welsh Sheep No. 2. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Tretower Castle, Watercolor.

Tretower Castle. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Dyffryn Crawnon Valley, Watercolor.

Dyffryn Crawnon Valley. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Ballymore Tractors, Watercolor.

Ballymore Tractors. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Street in Inistioge, Watercolor.

Street in Inistioge. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Woodstock Gardens, Watercolor.

Woodstock Gardens. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Curracloe Dunes, Watercolor

Curracloe Dunes. 10 x 14, Watercolor.


Tintern Abbey, Watercolor.

Tintern Abbey. 12 x 16 in, Watercolor.


Tintern Stream, Watercolor.

Tintern Stream. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Sorry for keeping it so brief and my apologies in advance if you’ll have to wait a bit longer than usual for the next update from Florence 😉 In the meantime, have a wonderful rest of the summer!


Recent Paintings and Drawings from Tuscany

As our move to Florence is getting closer, a visit to Tuscany was due in order to do some house hunting. We were very lucky to have found ourselves a beautiful new home, as well as profit from the beauty of the Tuscan summer. There was not a lot of time to paint, but I tried to get the most out of this visit to the Chianti region, as I find the colours and light to be just right this time of the year.

On this trip, in addition painting with watercolors and doing one drawing in graphite pencil, I decided to experiment a bit with pastels – a medium I like quite a bit, but have used only a couple of times before. I thought this would be a good occasion to do some more work with pastels, since we were travelling by car and I had no weight limitations.

Also, knowing that as of this October I will be working only in charcoal and pencil at the Florence Academy of Art, I feel the need to explore different media at this stage and see what they have to offer.

Overall, drawing with pastels was a lot of fun. It’s a rather straightforward material to work with, it’s not too messy and things tend to move at quite a fast pace when using it. Even more so if one does not sharpen their pastels, which I decided not to as I was more interested in the light and color effects then the precision in my drawing.

What I enjoyed the most when working with pastels is that you can apply them in layers and change things as you go. So, compared to watercolors, they are much easier to handle, in my opinion.

What I didn’t enjoy as much about pastels is that the end result seems to be quite fragile. Because of their chalky nature, one needs to use a fixative on top of a finished drawing. Asides from the fact that it smells like cancer in a bottle, fixative seems to darken a tiny bit the overall colors and never really seems to ‘fix’ a drawing completely – at least not the one I was using. Namely, even after applying it in several goes vertically and horizontally, I would still get some residue of pastels on my finger when I tapped it lightly on the drawing.

I am also not sure if I would recommend pastels for painting outdoors – one of my drawings got pretty damaged by just a few drops of rain and another when the paper on which it was drawn got bended by the wind. So, I repeat – pretty fragile stuff. Other than that, a lot of fun to work with.

To cut the long story short, here are the results of the past weeks’ efforts – starting with the watercolors, followed by a graphite pencil drawing and concluding with a small series of pastel drawings.

Damigiane. 25 x 28 cm, Watercolor and Gouache.

Damigiane. 25 x 28 cm, Watercolor and Gouache.


Wild flowers. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

Wild Flowers. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Noce from la Torricella. 20 x 27 cm, Watercolor.

Noce from la Torricella. 20 x 27 cm, Watercolor.


Pomegranate flower. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.

Study of a Pomegranate Flower. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Sunflower. 25 x 28 cm, Watercolor.

Sunflower. 25 x 28 cm, Watercolor.


Peaches. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.

Peaches. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.


Portrait of Marc. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

Portrait of Marc. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.


Tuscan garden. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.

Tuscan Garden. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.


Wild flowers. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.

Wild Flowers. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.


Bistecca Fiorentina. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.

Bistecca Fiorentina. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.


Cipolle. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.

Cipolle. 21 x 30 cm, Pastels.


Glazing an Oil Painting

Recently, I learned how to glaze an oil painting, so I wanted to share with you experience. Now, let me first explain very briefly what glazing means. Glazing stands for a procedure usually performed at the middle to final stages of an oil painting, which essentially consists in applying a thin layer of oil paint broken down with lots medium and turpentine over the existing layer of dry oil paint. It is done in order to subtly alter the color effect and add translucence to specific portions of an oil painting.

For reasons yet unknown to me, glazing an oil painting seems to be a somewhat controversial issue in the fine art painting circles. While some think it should never be done, others argue it is the best thing ever. Personally, I like the effects that glazing can create – mainly getting a glow in the color that can’t be achieved with direct painting. So, after being shown how to do it, I have decided to try it on a small section of one of my own recent paintings.

Specifically, in my recent painting of Peruvian lilies, previously featured on this blog, I glazed a lead white highlight. I wanted it to get that glowing yellowish-white effect we see when light hits a copper tone metal surface. In other words, I wanted the previously purely white highlight to get a subtle yellow glow that would make the highlight look more natural. So, I glazed my highlight with a touch of cadmium yellow light and Roman ochre, mixed with a generous amount of medium and turpentine. Here’s the short video of the process:

First, I dipped my brush in the medium (a mix of sun-thickened linseed oil and Canada balsam) and put a small amount on the palette. Then, I dipped the brush into turpentine and added a small amount to the medium already on the palette. I then proceeded to add a smidgen of oil paint to the previously made mix of medium and turps. Once satisfied with the color and transparency of my glaze, I applied it to the highlight.

As you can see, glazing is quite straightforward. The important thing though is that you glaze over dry paint. You should allow your painting to dry for at least 6 months before glazing it. Doing it over a perfectly dried painting not only prevents the muddying of the underlying paint, but also allows you to reverse the process if you don’t like its outcome. You can do that by simply wiping off your glaze with a clean tissue or a paper towel. It’s a simple as that.


Recent Paintings and Drawings

In the past few weeks, the road has taken us to North Carolina, South Carolina and New York. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, surrounded by beautiful scenery and friendly folks all along. All this has been inductive to producing some more artwork, which I’d like to share with you here.

Asides from landscape painting en plain air and painting of still lives indoors, I also did some graphite drawings both outside and inside, depending on the subject matter. While I typically start my watercolors by drawing with graphite first and then painting over it, in case of my recent drawings, I started by prepping the paper with a wash of watercolor and then drew on top of that. I found this reversal of process to be quite refreshing and fun.

So, here are the results of some of my recent efforts, in mixed media – starting with plein air paintings, followed by still lives and concluding with the drawings.


Charleston Backyard. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

Terracotta Pots. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


By the Toogoodoo River. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.

By the Toogoodoo River. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Sunset on the Toogoodoo River, 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.

Sunset on the Toogoodoo River, 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Ashe Point Farm. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.

Ashe Point Farm. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Roosters. 7 x 12 in, Watercolor.

Roosters. 7 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Scarecrow. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor and Gouache.

Scarecrow. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor and Gouache.


Feathers. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.

Feathers. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Magnolia Blossom, 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

Magnolia Blossom, 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


A Bowl of Freesia. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.

A Bowl of Freesia. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


 Woodcock. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

Woodcock. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


The Mallard. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

The Mallard. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Bufflehead. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

Bufflehead. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Self Portrait. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

Self Portrait. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.


Old Oak. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

Old Oak. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.


Young Oak. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

Young Oak. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.


Catalpa Tree. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

Catalpa Tree. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.


Copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

Copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist. 9 x 12 in, Graphite on Paper.

A Painter’s Model

Today, I have taken a day off of painting and instead posed for a painting. So, I thought a few words on that aspect of my existence would be in order, as it is closely tied to my decision to become a painter.

Namely, the curious thing about painting and myself is that this relationship first started by me being painted, to only later evolve to me being the painter. And while I clearly love the later bit, I feel somewhat divided about the former. Here’s why:

Most of the times when I model, I pose for my husband. Occasionally other painters paint alongside him, but the project is his and mine primarily. This means that when he paints me, Marc and I jointly chose the location, the pose and the clothes. Subjectively speaking, this is the fun part: creating a beautiful work of art together and sharing a unique artistic experience, each on our own side of the canvas. In fact, being able to witness the magic of the process on the other side of the canvas was largely an eye opener into how amazing the life of an artist is and how much I want to live it myself. So, from that point of view, I feel happy and grateful to pose.

Objectively speaking, however, being a model for artists is considered an extremely boring business. In fact, it is considered to be not only boring, but also quite painful, depending on the pose a model has to hold. Undeniably, there is some truth to that too, especially when you get out of the la-la land of posing for your spouse and into the world of posing for other painters. Yet, there are ways to make it, if not entertaining, than at least bearable. Here’s how:

  • Make sure you’re as comfortable as one can be – once the painting has started, there is no changing of the pose. So, you what to make sure you will not commit to a pose you can’t sustain for prolonger periods.
  • If the pose allows, find a way for to amuse yourself or be productive while modeling – In most of the paintings I posed for, I would either read, write or take online language courses.

For instance, while this painting was painted, I was listening to Italian language lessons on my computer.



Here, I was reading a very entertaining book by my brother in law.



And here, another great book, which I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t finished yet.



In this painting, I was writing a chapter of my own book.



And here, I would have been really bored, if I wasn’t tormented by the idea of a hornet bite from above or a shake bite from below. Stomping on the ground helps to avoid the later, or so I told myself.


In any event, let’s keep going…

  • If you’re being painted outside, make sure you’re protected. – More precisely, I would strongly recommend you ware lots of sunscreen, a bug repellant and a hat (if the painting allows). I realize that the photos above look quite idyllic, but the reality is that it was insanely hot in most of these instances (Marc actually got a heat stroke after finishing one of these paintings), and everybody involved was getting massacred by bugs (mosquitos mainly). The message being: posing is already hard enough on its own, so if you’re being painted outside, make sure you’re exposed to the elements as little as one can be.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for a break. – It’s easy to get into your head that a masterpiece depends on your endurance. Be that as it may, your ability to function properly after the painting session is over, and go on with your life, depends on taking frequent breaks. When I first started posing, I would literally wait to ask for a break until something started hurting. As I’ve learned later, posing alongside a professional model in a fine art studio, models are not only taking constant breaks (every 20 min, and using a timer to make sure they do), but they are actually the ones dictating the work v. rest balance. Now, it is true that painters get a lot shorter window of opportunity to achieve what they want when painting an outdoor, rather than a studio, figure painting. If that’s the case, you as a model might want to give them a bit more leeway. But still, don’t repeat my mistake and wait for a break until you get so stuck in your pose that you can barely get out of it.

To conclude, as a model, treat yourself kindly. And as a painter, take note of the fact that while posing may not be intellectually challenging, it can be very physically strenuous. So, do unto your models as you would have them do unto you. After all, you never know, one day your model may be painting you 😉


The Golden Rules of Plein Air Painting

As the warmer weather comes along, I find myself painting outdoors more and more. As much as I enjoy it though, plein air painting can sometimes be tricky. Not only are you fighting the atmospheric elements when you’re painting outside, but you are also exposed to an overwhelming amount of information that needs to be broken down and simplified in order to address it in a painting.

On top of that, beginners and even classically trained studio painters often tend to repeat the same types of mistakes – which are very obvious and easy to fix once you know the rules, but difficult to perceive and address if you haven’t been told what they are. So, this time, I would like to share with you some dos and don’ts of landscape painting that I learned so far and find very useful.

  • Try to find a view that has a foreground, a middle ground and a background that compose well together. – This is considered to be the Holy Grail of plein air painting, as it is difficult to find all three working together at the same time. Such views work particularly well as landscape paintings because they have the elements needed to give the viewer a sense of depth and space. I should mention that a decent amount of walking and scouting is often required to find such views. But if you make sure to search thoroughly before setting up, I promise you’ll find the results gratifying.
  • Avoid bad design. – Bad design can be either due to a bad choice of subject matter or a bad painterly execution thereof. Either way, they are several ways to avoid it. One of the rules I was taught is to make sure you’re not having objects of the same size in your painting (even when one is horizontally and the other one vertically positioned). Another one is to avoid diagonals leaving the corners of your painting. And the third rule of good design is avoiding tangent lines. If you happen to find the so-called ‘unfortunate tangent’ in your view, even as a realist painter, you are encouraged to tweak the reality and change the nature’s ‘bad design’.
  • Once you have found your view, make sure that things in your painting get smaller, lighter and bluer as they move into the distance. This is due to atmospheric perspective – the way the air in the atmosphere reduces contrasts in the distance and makes everything paler and cooler (with the exception of very light objects, which in the distance also move towards blue, thus becoming slightly darker). In that regard, beware of the fact the fact that the rule that things get lighter and bluer as they move into the distance applies both to the lit-up objects and the shadows that they cast. Following this simple rule will allow you to achieve a sense of atmosphere and depth in your painting.
  • Compress your values. – In other words, squint and compare values of the lightest elements to the darkest elements of your whole view, instead of the lightest lights and darkest darks of a particular thing you are painting. To clarify this on an example: if your view consists of a clump of trees on a field and the sky above them, you should compare the overall lightest light in your view (say the sky) to the darkest of darks (say the bottom shadowed parts of the trees, or their trunks), rather than the lit-up parts of the trees to the shadowed parts of the trees. This leads me to another useful advice, which is:
  • Key the rest of your painting of the sky. – This will help you get closer to the actual value and color range, and prevent you from going too light or too dark in the rest of your painting. The sky, if it features in your painting, is in that sense great for setting the values for the rest of your painting.
  • As far as lights and shadows go, mass things in and only then work the details. – As I already mentioned, things in nature tend to get overwhelming and fussy. So, in order to simplify things and cope more efficiently with the information in front of you, squint and determine the larger light and shadow areas and block the big masses in accordingly. Only then work the details. This basically draws on the outline, shadowline, shadow rule that they teach you when drawing a cast, which I discussed in one of my earlier posts.
  • Pay attention to the rhythms of nature. – That is to say, do not paint on autopilot, and avoid the repetition of shapes. This is a mistake many (even professional painters!) make because it is in human nature to look for patterns. Yet things around us are much more diverse then we instinctively perceive them. Each flower petal, each leaf, each cloud, each wave and a strand of grass is unique. So, to get closer to reality and avoid regularity, the key is to slow down, concentrate and avoid painting in an automated manner, so as to better follow the rhythms of nature. In order to avoid repetition and translate the natural beauty and diversity around you into a painting, it is advisable not only to keep variety in forms, but also in edges, hues, brushwork, etc.

And, finally, the last rule of landscape painting I was taught is:

  • Once you know (and are able to apply) all of the previously mentioned rules, you are allowed to break them. In other words, if you can control the process of painting outside and can see all the potential problems related to your choice of a view and its visual translation into a painting, you can break the stated rules of landscape painting for aesthetic or other reasons. In fact, some of the best works of art are said to break the conventional rules. But the artists who produced them did so intentionally, rather than accidentally. And this is what makes them the masters of their trade.

Being ways away from that stage, at the end of this post, I’d like to share with you the last few paintings from my recent trip to California, where I tried to follow the golden rules of landscape painting.


Marina Dunes Beach, Watercolor.

Marina Dunes Beach. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor and Gouache.


Carmel Dunes in Spring. Watercolor and Gouache.

Carmel Dunes in Spring. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor and Gouache.


Point Lobos. Watercolor.

Point Lobos. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Recent Efforts – Painting Rocks and Flowers

Since my last blog post, I have been on the road and finally able to paint day in, day out. I find Central California, our current location, so mesmerising, especially in springtime. Right now, it is lush and green and bursting with wild flowers. The weather has been consistently and predictably beautiful, with just a couple of days of rain (much welcomed by the local vegetation). All of this has been very inductive to spending lots of time outdoors and plein air painting.

Here, I would like to share with you some of my most recent artistic efforts. Going through my paintings, I realised that my focus so far was mainly on sea rocks and wild flowers. That is to say, my attention was divided between grand vistas of the ocean and giant rock formations, and close up views of delicate floral spring motives. As diverse as they are, I find them both equally inspiring, beautiful and humbling. So here they are, divided by subject matter, starting with the coastal landscapes and followed by the flowers:


Garrapata Beach, Watercolor

Garrapata Beach. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Big Sur Cliffs

Big Sur Cliffs, View Towards the South. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Big Sur Cliffs

Big Sur Cliffs, View Towards the North. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor.


Crashing Wave, Watercolor and Gouache.

Crashing Wave. 7 x 10 in, Watercolor and Gouache.


Douglas Iris, Watercolor.

Douglas Iris. 5 x 7 in, Watercolor.


California Poppies, Watercolor.

California Poppies. 5 x 7 in, Watercolor.


Lupines, Watercolor.

Lupines. 5 x 7 in, Watercolor.


Wild Roses, Watercolor.

Wild Roses. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Bearded Iris, Watercolor.

Bearded Iris. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.


Plein Air Painting – Take One

As I am getting ready for lots of travelling and painting outdoors this spring, I’m reminiscing about my last summer’s experience of painting en plein air for the first time. Before last summer, I held a brush outdoors just a couple of times really. This is not to say that I was an experienced studio painter by that point. On the contrary, by summer 2015, I’ve been paining altogether for only about a year, and very sporadically. Still, painting outdoors was a whole new game for me and, last year, I decided to try playing it for real.

Here, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on the last year’s experience, along with some of its outcomes.

The main dilemma I faced when I started packing for last year’s plein air painting trip – and the one which would largely determine its outcome – was: What kind of painting equipment to take? The choice was between oil paints and watercolors – the only two painting media I’ve tried up till that point. After some contemplation, I settled on watercolors, and was later very happy I made that choice.

There are several reasons why. First, using watercolors meant I didn’t have to deal with any of that oily messiness and stainyness, or prolonged drying of my paintings after they were finished. Given the fact that we moved around from one place to the other every week or so, I really appreciated carrying around only completely dried paintings. The second and related reason to the first one was the lightweight character of my outdoor painting products. It’s basically just sheets of paper, rather than wood panels or canvases attached to stretcher bars. This meant I could easily truck my paintings around all summer long, by putting them in a little folder and sticking them into my backpack. Finally, the third and the most important reason for favoring my watercolor choice is that it made me improve my drawing skills and precision more than I believe oil painting would have.

To clarify, in watercoloring, once the paint is applied to the paper, there is very little one can do about possible mistakes one makes. That’s why one usually first carefully draws out the underlying structure of the painting and only subsequently applies the paint over it – knowing that every brush stroke will be traceable. With oil paining, on the other hand, one can always make changes as one goes on. That’s why one can easily start painting with oil paints from scratch, as most do, and correct potential drawing mistakes later by painting over them.

So, while oil painting basically allows you an infinite number of alterations of your work of art at any stage of the process, watercolor doesn’t. This is why I considered the choice of watercolors to be a better way for me to improve my drawing and painting skills. It meant consciously making things harder for myself in terms of education and easier in terms of transportation.

So, these were the pros. The main con of working with watercolors was that I had no one to show me how it’s done, so I was figuring it out on my own – for better or for worse. I hope one day in the future, I’ll get a chance to work alongside an experienced watercolorist maestro, to pick up some tips.

Still, I think watercolor was the way to go for my first plein air painting experience, as I learned a lot in the process, and came back home light and clean. In fact, I liked it so much that I’m planning to do the same this year – with some added gouache on the side, which I recently discovered and absolutely adore.

Before this year’s plein air paintings start rolling in, however, I’d like to share with you some of the results of my last year’s efforts – in order to put things in better perspective and allow you an insight into my learning process. So, here they are, in chronological order:


Noon in the Senese.

Midday in the Senese.


View of Montisi.

View of Montisi.


Corso del Popolo, Chioggia.

Corso del Popolo, Chioggia.


The Statue of Liberty, NYC.

The Statue of Liberty from Rockefeller Park.


Bay Point Docks, Long Island.

Bay Point Docks, Long Island.


Sailboat at East Hampton Boatyard.

Sailboat, East Hampton Boatyard.


Fountain in a Drought, Carmel Valley.

Fountain in a Drought, Carmel Valley.


Agavas, Carmel Valley.

Agavas, Carmel Valley.


Rockport Harbor, Maine.

Rockport Harbor, Maine.


Broad Cove Sunset, Maine.

Broad Cove Sunset, Maine.


Dodge Aspen, Lunenburg.

Dodge Aspen, Lunenburg.


Meisner's Island, Nova Scotia.

Meisner’s Island, Nova Scotia.


Cranberry Bog, Cape Cod.

Cranberry Bog, Cape Cod.


Marconi Beach Guards, Cape Cod.

Marconi Beach Life Guards, Cape Cod.


Sunset, Amrita Island.

Sunset, Amrita Island.


The Longfellow Bridge, Boston.

The Longfellow Bridge, Boston.


Cast Drawing – Some Tips and Tricks

In my last post, I talked about the main stages of drawing a cast – both from the methodological point of view, as well as the emotional. Now, I would like to share with you some of the most important things I learned in the process of drawing my first two casts. Here they are:

  • Keep your charcoal sharp at all times. – That is, if you draw with charcoal, like I did. Personally, I find it’s a pain having to sharpen my charcoal all the time, especially since the sound makes me cringe. But it’s essential if one wants their drawing to be accurate. As I already said, even millimetric differences count, so you really want to follow this advice.
  • Do not touch the paper with your fingers. – Otherwise you risk getting grease and dirt on it, which in turn can ruin your drawing because it will cause the charcoal to adhere unevenly.
  • Pay attention to the negative shapes. – That is to say, carefully observe spaces between the defining contours of the object you’re drawing. In other words, think of your object and its background as two puzzles fitting perfectly together. You need to draw both puzzles accurately if you want your drawing to correspond to the visual appearance of your subject-matter.
  • Do not rush! – I cannot overstate the importance of this one. Doing a cast drawing is not about producing a masterpiece. It’s about learning to see and learning to draw precisely what you see. And to do that, you need to take it slow – especially in the preliminary stages of your drawing.

I’ve been told some spend 6 months on their cast drawings (!). Just to give you an idea, I spent about three weeks on each these two (and they are far from the level of finish some art instructors would require):

Cast drawing 1


Cast drawing 2


Overall, the message is, take as long as you need, but don’t overwork it. This brings me to the next important lesson I learned, which is…

  • Do not look into the shadow. – When they start drawing, students tend to focus too much on details and forget to look at their subject-matter as a whole. Hand in hand with that mistake goes staring into the shadowed areas. Both of these errors lead to two problems. One is getting a part of your drawing perfect, but out of sync with the rest of it. The second is known as “overmodelling” – which basically means overemphasizing values in certain areas in relation to the natural look of the subject/object as a whole. These problems are bad not only from the point of view of accuracy, but also from the esthetic point of view.

Having said that, sometimes reflected light areas in the shadow are quite noticeable, even if you squint. In this case, they should be reproduced in your drawing. When drawing those, however, it’s easy to get your values wrong in relation to the halftones in the rest of your drawing. To avoid that problem, I was taught to keep the edges around the reflected light in the shadow soft. Additionally, I was advised to emphasize the reflected light in the shadow by darkening the areas around it, instead of lightening the reflected light.

Speaking of the darks and the lights, here’s the next piece of advice, which is:

  • Be careful with the halftones – When surrounded by shadow, halftones are usually darker than you will perceive them. When surrounded by light areas, it’s the opposite. In order to get them right, squinting and throwing your eyes out of focus (which I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts) really helps.
  • Vary your edges. – Meaning sharpen some, soften some – as they naturally appear when you look at your subject-matter as a whole. This, however, should be done in the last stages of your drawing. And in connection with finishing a drawing, here’s another pearl of wisdom worth sharing, which is:
  • Do not worry about the finish until the big shapes are right! – That is to say, leave refining the details for the very end. If you spend a lot of time on them in the earlier stages of your work, you risk having to erase them when you notice bigger problems with the overall shapes in your drawing (and you probably will notice them).

Finally, when it comes to erasing, here is the last piece of advice I would like to share with you and that is:

  • Don’t be precious about your work. – I know that’s hard, but if your work it needs fixing – fix it. I’ve heard about students having major meltdowns when teachers made them erase stuff that they spent a ton of time on. Understandably, this can be extremely frustrating. But remember, this is not about creating a masterpiece. It’s about learning the basics in order to be able to create one later.

Drawing a cast

When looking at things, people tend to focus on their important features. For instance, when we look at a human face, we focus on the eyes, the nose and the mouth. And in forming our perception of a face, we are guided more by our sense of touch and the felt shape of these important features than their actual visual appearance.

This is well explained by Harold Speed in his book called ‘The Practice and Science of Drawing’. In fact, he claims that in developing mental images of things, people very early on start neglecting their sense of vision. Consequently, when they attempt to draw, sight is not the primary sense they consult.

So, if you ask children, as Speed exemplifies, to draw a face, they will probably draw something looking like this:

Faces 1

However, if people were to consult their vision in the attempt to express the actual visual appearance of a face, their drawings would look more like this:

Faces 2

It follows that in order to draw realistically one needs to break away from the inherent human instinct of focusing on distinctive features and forming a perception of them through a sense of touch and the felt shape of things. Instead, one has to start focusing on the visual appearance, defined by the actual proportions and relations of light and shadow in nature, amongst other things.

In classical ateliers, they teach you how to do precisely that. In other words, they train you to draw what you see, instead of what you think you see. In that regard, one of the first assignments students get is to do a cast drawing.

To get myself acquainted with the process before entering an art school, and improve my drawing skills, I decided to do a couple of cast drawings at home. Here, I would like to share with you my thoughts on the process – as they occurred chronologically. And the reason I would like to do that is because I wish someone shared this information with me before I started my project. So, this is how it went:

The first thought I had when I saw that three-dimensional white face staring at me was: No way I can reproduce this precisely, as a realistic looking two-dimensional object on a sheet of paper.

Then, as I was explained the principles of how to tackle a cast drawing, I though: Oh, this is actually quite straightforward and simple! The principles being: first you draw the outline, then the shadowline and then the shadow. After you nailed that down, you start refining your drawing.

Just to illustrate this more clearly, here is a compilation of photos of my progress on a cast drawing over the course of six days:

Progress cast drawing

The first photo is the one of the drawing stating the outline, shadowline and lightly filled in shadow. The following pictures show the modelling and refinements done after that preliminary process was completed.

In doing this, I applied the sight-size approach. Sight-sizing basically consists in drawing the object before you in the exact proportions as you see them from your viewing point. I will refrain from explaining here the specifics of this method, as many have already done it better than I ever could (If you want to learn more about it, I suggest reading a very useful book by Darren Richard Rousar called ‘Cast Drawing: Using the Sight-Size Approach’). But the point is, if you follow these three simple steps – outline, shadowline, shadow – you will soon start seeing your three-dimensional cast appearing before you on a piece of paper. It’s quite remarkable really – almost feels like your cast is drawing itself.

Then, after you’ve experienced this newborn enthusiasm and amazement with the efficacy of the method you’ve been taught, frustration kicks in. Why? Because, as you start refining your drawing, you start noticing some problems that you didn’t see coming. This is especially the case if you rushed through and, consequently, made mistakes in the initial stages of the process – that is, while outlining and shadowlining. And when I say “made mistakes”, I mean millimetric, but substantial mistakes. You may be surprised, but even tiny mistakes in scale can actually be huge in effect, as they will result in the whole drawing appearing as seriously off compared to the visual appearance of the object you’re drawing.

Since the goal is to reproduce the look of your three-dimensional cast as precisely as humanly possible in two dimensions, one really cannot ignore these tiny-huge mistakes, as much as one would like to. And that, as well as making these mistakes in the first place, is frustrating.

What follows next is basically mood swings and your own contradictory opinions of your cast drawing all the way till the end. After a whole day of work you look at your drawing and think: It sucks. Then you dream a bit (or have nightmares) about it during the night, wake up the next morning, look at it and say to yourself: What was I thinking, this is great! At the end of the day you again fall into desperation. And so the merry-goes-round…

Now, this part of the process, no one ever really told me about. But the more I talk to people who have been through it, the clearer it is that virtually everyone goes through the same emotional rollercoaster when drawing a cast (if they are trying to do it precisely).

So, if you’re one of the fellow art students working on a cast drawing and feeling frustrated, know you’re not alone my friend. Having said that, I should also acknowledge that, as challenging and tedious as it can be, the process of drawing a cast is incredibly rewarding. It really does teach you to see better and draw more precisely.

They say behind every great painting lies a great drawing. To get there, and become a great painter, one first needs to learn to see and draw what they see. Drawing a cast is considered one of the first important steps in this educational process.