I decided to change my approach today. Over the past several weeks, I have focused on multiple projects at a time. Beginning today, I’m going to focus on only one.

I’ve already experienced the benefit of the change today. Typically when I get bored with a painting I would switched to a different one. Today, instead of swapping out canvases, I went for a walk. I think that’s probably a better use of 20 minutes than going from canvas to canvas.

I started with a 60-minute sketchbook drawing. I did a Loomis study, focusing mainly on his sense of design. I then spent about 45 minutes painting a pear in my painting sketchbook. Here are the photos:

I’m not too crazy about the Loomis study. I think I was rushing it. For some reason I’ve gotten into my head that a stetchbook drawing should be quick. But one of the things I’m learning from Jeff Watts’ sketchbook class is that each drawing needs to be treated with the utmost respect. That the sketchbook itself should be a work of art. That’s a novel idea for me, but one I really like.

The pear study is coming along. I can sense my eye is getting better for detecting temperature. I have a long way to go, but today, as I was looking at the stem trying to decide on the color I realized it was a warm brown, not a cool brown, and some burnt sienna with a touch of raw umber dark did the trick. I still need to refine the stem — and I have a long way to go when it comes to color — but it was a nice marker of improvement.

Then I turned to Miles, a character from Lost. I think he’s coming along nicely, and to help me take him to the next level, I decided to put my painting side-by-side with my reference photo:

My biggest focus for tomorrow needs to be on darkening his hair, refining his clothing, soothing out the background, and bringing out some of the highlights on the right side of the painting. I think that will help me focus in on the details of his features on Friday.

Avatar Complete, Miles Begun, and Hugo Abandoned

Today was a good day for art, especially compared to yesterday.

I started off working on the planes of head (no photos, sorry), and then moved to painting. I finished my son’s Avatar painting and will give it to him tonight when his mother gets home. I also started my next Lost painting — this one of Miles — and decided to abandon my Hugo painting.

Here are the photos, with some thoughts about motivation.

First, I want to say something about the Avatar painting. I think it’s pretty awesome, myself, but if I had to do it over again, instead of using a small round brush with Ivory Black for all the outlines, I would have used a Sharpie instead.

Next, motivation. Today, my Hugo painting went south, and it went south rather quickly. As soon as I put him back on the easel, I saw that something was off with his nose. Looking back, I think I knew something was off on Saturday, but didn’t want to admit it.

Now, when I was studying to be a writer, one of the things I learned, not only about myself but also about the creative process, is that we have two “voices” in our head — a creative voice and a critical voice. With writing, the critical voice is pretty easy to identify. “This really sucks,” it’ll say. “No one will want to read this,” it’ll say. Or, at least, that’s my critical voice.

The creative voice is a little different. At least mine is. It doesn’t say much. It just likes to work in peace and quiet. And — what’s important — my creative voice is pretty passive aggressive, because when my critical voice gets the best of me, my creative voice shuts down. And when I was trying to be a writer, one of the most obvious effects of its shut down was my utter reluctance to write and to read. I would do anything to avoid writing. Like, running errands or cleaning the house. Alas, my critical voice eventually won the writing war.

Yesterday, I had zero desire to paint or draw. Yes, I’ve been eating like a 12-yr-old again, and my sleep has suffered for it. But it was more than just lethargy; yesterday, it was about evasion. I even caught myself thinking that this whole art thing is an utter sham, a waste of time. That kind of self-talk has been very, very rare since I started painting and drawing. (It was run of the mill when I was trying to write.)

For some reason, I started thinking about my creative and critical voice today. And I started thinking about previous paintings I have started and then abandoned over the last few months. A few I set aside for obvious reasons: I didn’t know what I was doing and so the “failure” was really a big learning experience. But with Hurley, something else was going on. And I think it was my critical voice.

Oddly, with painting, my critical voice has changed. No longer do I head, “This sucks,” and “I’m wasting your time.” Now, it’s more like, “This is going really really well,” and “I think I’m really going to impress people with this one,” and “I don’t think I’ll need a teacher for too much longer.” All the while, a big fat problem with Hugo’s nose was staring me in the face.

So I wonder if my creative voice simply shut down yesterday. It basically said, “If you want the Critical Voice to take center stage, that’s fine with me. See how well you’ll fare then!”

And oddly, once I threw up my hands and declared defeat with the Hugo painting, I had a surge of motivation.

At any rate, I don’t want to take all of this too far. I think my point is this: there was a part of me that knew Hugo wasn’t going in the right direction, and that’s one reason I wasn’t very motivated yesterday. It was my subconscious, or my creative self, trying to let me know that something was wrong — not just with my Hugo painting, but with my attitude as well.

One must be humble before one’s creative power.

Catching Up

While I didn’t post on Saturday, I did spend a couple of hours in my studio. Then I took Sunday off, like I always do. Today, I was way too unmotivated to paint. Don’t know why this was. Lack of sleep? Poor eating? Distracted thoughts? Maybe a combination of all three. At any rate, instead of focusing on any drawing or portrait painting I spent the day working on my son’s Avatar painting. It’s almost done, too!

Here are the photos from Saturday and today. Everything except the Avatar painting is from Saturday: a page of quicksketch figures, a pear study done with Faber-Castell pencils, a drawing of Miles from Lost, and another progress photo of Hurley from Lost.

“Sun” Revisited

Today was an awesome day for art. I started by working on the Loomis planes of the head. Yes, the basic planes are memorized, so I started working on the intermediate planes. No photos because they’re not very interesting.

Then I spent an hour working on the drawing for my next Lost painting — Miles. The drawing is coming alone, but something is not quite right with it. I think it might be the lips or the nose. I will need to spent some focused time on each of these features. (I didn’t have time to work Hurley.)

Then I had a one-hour Zoom critique/coaching session with my portrait teacher, Matt Philleo. We spent an hour talking about my Sun painting, about what was good and where I could improve. I was so jazzed after our meeting I spent the next three hours incorporating his suggestions. She turned out a lot better.

Then I went to my sketchbook painting and worked on that until I was pretty happy with the result. The nice thing about the sketchbook is that I feel free to experiment. With the first half of the painting, I experimented with the Zorn palette, and with the second half I experimented with a more opaque technique. Her nose is slightly off, but overall I like this result. I’ll be moving on to another sketchbook painting tomorrow.


I had a good, productive day of art. I started off working on the Loomis basic planes of the head (no pictures) and discovered that I have it memorized. Now comes the real test: drawing the basic planes of the face another 90 times over the next month to ensure that it’s engrained.

I moved on to a sketchbook drawing. I’m taking a Sketchbooking class at Watts with no other than Jeff Watts, and this week is figure drawing. I wasn’t too motivated by the images he chose, so I picked my one. Two big lessons: first, studying the nude figure really does help when drawing a clothed figure; and second, I need to study drapery!

Then I spent several hours on my next Lost painting, working on one of my favorite characters in the series — Hurley. I’m really liking how this is coming along. I think I’m really getting the hang of the glazing method, especially for the first 50% of a painting — which is the most important part, because, as the old saying goes, do enough starts and the finishes will follow.

Finally, I spent some time in my painting sketchbook. I decided to move away from the Zorn palette back to the limited palette I’ve been using: organic red-orange, naphthol red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, and raw umber dark. I’ve made some progress, but still feel like I have some work to do to get it to the next level.

Sun is Finished

Today was a good day, but it did have its frustrations.

I started the day with the basic Loomis planes of the head. My goal is to memorize it, so I spent an hour drawing and redrawing it. I had it memorized by the end of my hour drawing session, but we’ll see how much of it I can remember tomorrow.

I then spent several hours finishing up my next Lost portrait — Sun. Overall, I really like how she turned out, but when you compare her to the reference, there are a couple of issues with likeness. I need to be much, much more careful when I start painting and make sure I preserve the quality of my drawing.

I then turned to my sketchbook painting — a painting done with the Zorn palette. I’m not entirely sure the Zorn palette works that well with glazing. How well this portrait shapes up will be the ultimate test.

Planes of the Head

This week I am continuing my Watts Learning Path by focusing on the planes of the head, which is an important step in their head drawing phase. Technically, I should be focusing on the Simple Asaro Head this week, but I’ve decided to stick with Loomis’s planes of the head instead. Like Asaro, Loomis starts with a simplified version of the planes and then moves to a more complicated version. But I suppose the question is, “Why Loomis?”

I’ve always thought the Asaro head was a little too complicated for it’s own good, but lately I’ve refined my opinion. The problem isn’t with the Asaro head; rather, it’s with the way Watts teaches it — namely, drawing the whole head. I think a more practical way of studying the advanced Asaro head is to look at each part of the head (eyes, forehead, nose, etc) and focus on that area.

But it’s also good to see the planes of the head as a whole, within their larger and proper context. Because I’m so grounded in the Loomis head, it makes sense for me to focus on the Loomis head. Doesn’t it? I think so, and after today’s drawing session, in which I went back and forth from the basic Loomis head to the simple Asaro head, it was confirmed for me: focus on the Loomis head.

Looking at my drawings now, at the end of the day, I see that they’re not very good. I think there are two reasons for this. First, I was using Wolff’s Carbon on newsprint, which I haven’t used in a while, so I was a bit rusty. And second, I think I was overly distracted.

At any rate, I spent the rest of the day painting. I started my painting day with 30 minutes in my sketchbook painting a portrait. I’ve decided to use the Zorn palette for this one. I like the way it is coming along. Then I turned to my Lost challenge and spent several hours on Sun. I like the way she is turning out, but I’m discovering that the subtle lighting of the pose and her Asian features require a very, very delicate approach.

Drawing Day

After a busy morning, I got into my studio around 2:20 and spent the next couple of hours sketching. I also refined the drawing for my next sketchbook portrait painting. Here’s the best sketchbook drawing followed by the drawing for my next sketchbook portrait.

Happy Accident! Discovering the Zorn Palette

Today was a great day of art. I got in about seven hours, which is awesome. I’m tired, but I feel really good about today’s work. But I also made an awesome “discovery” today!

It started with sketchbooking a few heads. Neither are very good. I don’t want to analyze the why too much, but I think it had to do with the fact that I was listening to a lecture while drawing instead of focusing.

Then I spent about 30 minutes or so freehand drawing a portrait for my painting sketchbook. My last two monochromatic paintings have been on watercolor paper in a sketchbook. I really like working in this sketchbook. I like the idea of having a book of artwork when I’m finished. I like having a place where I can explore — such as freehand drawing a head as the foundation for a portrait. As I’ve mentioned before, for all of my portrait’s I’ve been using a grid. I’m surprised how much this way of drawing has taught me about drawing in general and head drawing in particular. But I don’t always want to use a grid. In fact, I see the grid as being ultra-important for commission portrait work, but I also want to paint “fine art” portraits — that is, using a reference as a springboard to my own vision. To do this well, I think freehand drawing is absolutely essential, because that is where your vision begins to develop. All in all, I like where the drawing is going, but it does need some work.

Then I spent a couple of hours working on my son’s Avatar painting. It’s a fun project, but it’s also a great way to learn more about how acrylics work. I’m also fairly amazed at how this kind of artwork follows the basic rules of art — the laws of light, edge, value, etc.

Finally, I moved on to my next Lost challenge portrait — Sun. And this is when the happy accident occurred. Normally when I paint portraits, I use the palette recommended by Matt Philleo: Organic Orange, Naphthol Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Raw Siena, Burnt Siena, and Raw Dark Umber. But because I started with the Avatar painting, I also had Yellow Ochre and Ivory Black on my palette.

Now, one of the issues I’ve run into over the last six weeks of portrait painting is that of skin tones. I still feel like I’m flailing around while trying to match skin tones. So when I began my portrait of Sun, I started as I normally do: with a glaze of Ultramarine Blue in the hair to give is a cool tone and a glaze of Raw Umber Dark to establish the shadow areas of Sun’s face and neck. But as I was working, I dropped my paper towel right into my dollop of Yellow Ochre. I had completely forgotten it was on my palette. Serendipitously, at that very moment I was studying Sun’s skin tone, wondering what I needed to mix to get it.

And then I thought — hey, why not try the Zorn palette to see what happens. And what is the Zorn palette? Titanium White, Cad Red Light, Yellow Ochre, and Ivory Black. I didn’t have Cad Red Light on my palette, but Naphthol Red Light is close enough. It didn’t take me long to realize that I might have found my solution to skin tones!

Of course, the Zorn palette can’t address every possible color issue you may find. But to use Naphthol Red, Yellow Ochre, and Ivory Black as the foundation of my skin tones and then made modifications when necessary … well, that seems to me like a process I would like to explore. I’ll continue using it with Sun, but I’ll really tackle the Zorn palette — with Cad Red Light — in my sketchbook.

Yep, today was a great day for art. Now it’s time to go for a walk and to hang out with my wife and kids this evening.

Sketchbook, Lost, and Avatar

Wow! Today ended up being a pretty good day for art … especially since I didn’t sleep well. Here are the photos of today’s work. I’ll talk about them below.

I started off in my sketchbook — a couple of cast mouth studies and then a portrait. The cast mouths were done on white paper, and I’m not very happy with them. I’ve been playing around with materials and realized today just how much I enjoy using Faber-Castell pencils on toned paper (the portrait sketch). I love the soft results the combination produces. It’s the kind of drawing I love best, and I’m very inclined to stick with it. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to the point where I’m a good enough draftsman to sell my drawings!

But for now, I enjoy working in my sketchbook. In fact, I’m taking a sketchbooking class with Jeff Watts over at Watts Atelier. I’ve taken a sketchbook class with Steve Huston, and another one taught by a trinity of Watts’ instructors: Lucas Graciano, Erik Gist, and Robert Watts. Each has his own method, and I’m beginning to see the versatility with sketchbooking. Part of me wonders if I can get away from charcoal and newsprint.

The unique element Jeff Watts brings to sketchbook is this: treat each drawing as if it were a work of art in its own right. Strive to make it look cool, beautiful, interesting. Unfortunately, this has not been my attitude when it comes to drawing and sketchbooking, and it’s an attitude I need to correct.

I then went on to my next Lost painting — Sun. I really like the way the drawing has turned out, but I’m a little concerned that her eyes are a bit off. I’ll need to really study that tomorrow, and then I should be ready to start painting.

Next, I finished up another monochromatic painting — a front skull using Ivory Black, Phathlo Blue, and Titanium White. I really like how it looks, so I think I’ll be using this limited palette more often. I also really feel like I’m getting the hang of the glazing method. I really like the luminosity I achieved on the light side.

I then spent several hours working on another Lost painting — the character Shannon. I’m fairly happy with how she has turned out. I’m pretty close to calling her finished, though I am unhappy with how blotchy her skin looks, especially in the arms and chest. On a less critical side, I really noticed just how much the last several weeks of studying the features (eyes, nose, mouth, and ears) are paying off now. I feel I have a new level of confidence.

Finally, I pulled out the Avatar painting that I’m doing for my son. It’s been weeks since I’ve looked at it. I realized that just need to tackle it from front to back and bring each character up to the highest level finish possible and then go through the whole thing again making very small refinements.


Today was a good, solid day of art. The only hiccup was a phone call I received from my kids’ school principal while I was drawing. I was transitioning into the rendering stage and decided to keep at it while I was talking to him. Not a good idea.

I then turned to my next monochromatic painting — a front skull using ivory black and phthalo blue, which is one of Jeff Watts favorite monochromatic palette. This is my first time using these two colors, so we’ll see how it goes.

Then I turned to my next Lost challenge — Shannon. I’ve spent the last several days watching my portrait teacher’s demos and even following along. I learned a lot and felt like I was able to use what I learned with this painting. I say about I’m about 50% finished.

An Odd Day

Today unfolded in a way I did not expect.

It started off a bit slow. I’m on my kids’ school advisory board, and we had a meeting this morning at 9 a.m. So I didn’t get into my studio until 10 and was able to spend about a hour drawing. But it was hard for me to focus. Here’s the one page of drawing from that hour — three head features, all from a Russian book on drawing:

As I write this, I think I’m seeing a pattern. When I wanted to be a writer, the basic axiom was this: write as early in the day as possible because that’s when your mind is its most fresh. I don’t know how true that is, but what I do know to be true is that any morning distraction that keeps me out of my studio means my day is potentially a wash. So: what’s the remedy?

Well, I can do my best to schedule things in the afternoon. That’s easier now that my kids are older, but that’s not entirely possible. This morning’s meeting is a good example. And next Monday I need to take my daughter to have blood work done so she can start Accutane; since she needs to be fasting, this has to be done in the morning. Now I can’t just say, “Well, Monday’s a wash.” Because it’s not. What I need to do is to figure out how to get refocused. A walk? Meditation? Reading The Art Spirit? Perhaps all three? I need a way to get my mind back in the game.

At any rate, once my drawing session was finished, I decided to watch some of my portrait instructor’s demos and take notes. I did this for several hours, so today wasn’t a complete wash. But now it’s time to get ready to leave for my daughter’s final volleyball game.

Why is it so easy to get side-tracked?

Not that I was side-tracked for long. Just about a day or so. But I often feel like the dogs in Up:

This latest excursion was wondering if I could duplicate a serious classical atelier training at home — the Bargue book, following Harold Speed’s drawing methods, cast drawings, monochromatic paintings, and so forth. You know, the whole kit-and-caboodle. I don’t really know what got into me.

I woke up this morning a little discombobulated about things, but once I regained focus, I felt the energy begin to flow. And that focus is the Watts Learning Path I spent so much time pondering and developing. Even my time studying portrait painting with Matt Philleo fits nicely into this learning path because, well, portrait painting! I’m breaking sequence, yes, but I’m learning so much with him and making so many connections that it’s totally worth it.

And so, today — and the rest of this week — my drawing sessions are going to focus on the features of the face. This time, however, I’m going to focus on construction rather than rendering, say, a cast of a nose. Next week I’ll move from feature to the Simple Asaro Head. You can see my entire Head Fundamentals training here.

After my one hour of drawing, I spent the next several hours focused on painting. Oddly, I began my painting time with another thirty minutes of drawing: I drew a skull in my sketchbook for my next monochromatic painting.

I then turned to my Sorolla master study. It’s not turning out as I had hoped. I think I’m too eager to get into color too quickly, but perhaps more importantly, Sorolla seems to be a master of color temperature. That’s a new concept for me, color temperature is. My portrait painting teacher, Matt Philleo, says that temperature is one step less important than value, and since value is the most important element of a painting, this tells you how important temperature is. Back to the Sorolla mater copy: instead of seeing just purple, I have to ask if it’s a warm or a cool purple, and then I need to figure out how to mix that purple with my palette.

Part of me wonders if it’s time to move on to a new master study or if I should spend a few more days with this one, working in thirty-minute sessions. As Stan Prokopenko and Marshall Vandruff point out in The Draftsmen Podcast, the point of a master study isn’t to produce a copy, but to learn something from the master. And I’ve certainly learned something from this Sorolla. Temperature matters!

I then turned to my next Lost painting: Shannon. Lost has a couple of drop-dead gorgeous blondes on it: Shannon, Claire, and Juliet. I didn’t want to paint all three. I knew Juliet would make the list because she’s older, and that meant it was a toss up between Shannon and Claire. After comparing a few different photos of each, I chose this one of Shannon because I wanted the challenge of her blouse, necklace, and earrings. I also wanted the challenge of the ocean and sky.

I ended the day by working a few more hours on a painting of a young boy taking a nap with his dog. I’m following along with one of Matt Philleo’s demos and have learned a number of things. I’m probably around the 50% mark with this one.

Good Day

Today was a good art day. I started off in my sketchbook with some Asaro lips/mouths. Then I spent about 45 minutes on my first master study — a Sorolla. I finished the day by spending several hours on my next portrait painting — one of my portrait teacher’s demos I’m following.

The problem with following a demo is that you don’t really take time to assess your work in the proper manner and tackle the issues as you see fit. This can lead to a disjointed painting because you’re just keeping up with the teacher.

But there are benefits of following along — namely, understanding how a long-time professional approaches a painting as well as getting a better understanding of the technique he’s using, which, in this case, is the glazing technique.

We’ll see how this practice painting turns out, but so far, I’ve learned a ton!