Monday, November 4, 2013

Art can punch you in the heart

It's just that powerful.

Art is something you can dedicate your life to, much like a person might dedicate his or her life to family or to one particular person. Anyone who has lived in that type of situation knows the risks they run letting something (or someone or someones) dominate their time and thoughts.

Much as people can be bastards and ungrateful and spiteful... art can do the same. You might be lovingly dedicating hours, days, and weeks to the craft and art can in one fell swoop get up off its apathetic backside, stare you straight in the eyes, and tell you how worthless you are.

Art has this power to really hurt you; the crazy thing is that since we love it so much, we're powerless to hurt it back. We're just left in the aftermath of its spiteful attack to pick up our shattered egos.

The only thing that can get you through a time like this is a belief... something that exists outside of art and in your brain in a little black box (much like the airplane black box) that art can't touch. It's fireproof; it's water proof; it's earthquake proof; it's ego-shattering frank reality proof. Inside the black box is the little seed of a belief in yourself that you must have if you're the type of person who will become an artist.

Frustrating as it is, we can't really see the milestones in the pathway ahead ... "how long before I'm decent?" "When will I be able to do 'x'?" and art will sometimes do its best to cloud your vision even further and make you think that you've been wasting your time and going the wrong direction. Best to continue believing in yourself, and find mentors to guide you along the way.

Hope everyone's artful journey isn't met with such nasty things on a daily basis; even with a strong belief in yourself, it does hurt to get punched in the heart.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Preston Blair, and proper study

Heidi Ho,

Another rendition of talking to myself... publicly.

On the recommendation of John K... creator of Ren & Stimpy, I'm studying Preston Blair's "Animation: Learn To Draw Animated Cartoons" because I want to be an animator. After going to Barnstone Studios and learning the classic approach to fine art, I've found that although there is crossover between the two disciplines... they're not the same.

What is "studying?"

By "studying," I mean putting my brain to work solving problems.

How many of you had a math(s) book that had homework answers in the back?

How many of you copied those answers into your homework without going through the problems? The same people then failed the test :-)

I did it, too. But copying the answers to math(s) problems isn't going to get you good at math(s), is it?

So, why do art students think copying from a photo or a book is going to get them good at drawing? Doing that removes your mind from the problem. 

If you copied the answer to the math(s) problem above 100 times, would it teach you much about math(s)? No; you might remember that particular answer. So, should you copy all math problems until you remember all the answers? Of course not.

It's the same with drawing. 

Copying drawings teaches nothing. Copying many drawings is like copying answers to many math problems. There's no learning unless your mind is engaged.

I can copy drawings with the best of them. Here are some copies I did from the Van der Poel figure drawing book a while back:

To learn how to do math(s) problems, or draw, or do anything, you have to struggle with problems. You have to work them out in your mind... otherwise you will learn nothing. 

To know how to do a type of math(s) problem, you must do several of those problems over and over until you understand. To know how to draw, you need to work on good drawing problems.

Problems with Preston Blair study

Shifting to drawing again... from what I've seen, many art students study art books the wrong way. They see a problem next to the solution, and they skip the problem and go straight to the answer.

An example of problem (left) and solution (right) from Preston Blair:

In some people's Preston Blair studies I've found on the internet... they ignore the drawing on the left (the construction) and they copy the drawing on the right (the answer). That's just copying the answer--it's not studying anything.

Maybe this is why we struggle trying to learn from these books, and then put them aside and buy more books... hoping to learn in some way other than working with our minds.

How to Study Preston Blair's book

Now this is just my opinion (and I could be way off), but this is how I think the Blair book should be used.

To do a problem, you need some information. You need to know how to work it. You need the formula. So, for the Preston Blair egg... you need the formula. And here it is:

Follow Preston's instructions. Indeed, if you use this as your formula, and then turn the egg in several different positions... your mind will be taxed. THIS is what teaches the Preston Blair material.

So here's how to use the examples. Ignore the solution to begin with, and concentrate on the construction.

Now, using the formula from above, try to imagine drawing on the curved surface of an egg... drawing in the features you see in the formula... in perspective. (It is HARD!)

Here's my work, compared to the original. This is NOT a copy. I'm working out the problem in my mind:

 It isn't very accurate... the way my Van Der Poel copies were. It could have been more accurate had I chose to copy. But copying the answer isn't the way to learn.

So, I will study the differences between mine and the original... and study the formula drawing again (if needed). And then I will try again.

The Key to Art Book study

I had to purposefully IGNORE the solution drawing. Using only the formula and the construction drawings, I had to do the rest in my head. That's how to study the book, I believe.

You can do this with any of the good drawing books... especially Bridgman's books and Loomis' books--even anatomy books. Separate the diagrams that explain things from the example drawings. And forget copying.

Good examples of Preston Blair homework!

I did find some really, really good examples of the Preston Blair studies at ConceptArt from a guy named "Immortal Cintiq". Here's a link to his wonderful drawings:

Here's his thread on

Additional Notes

When you're doing the Preston Blair construction studies, make your templates count! Don't do lazy spheres or egg shapes. Slow down, and get very accurate with your shapes... as much as you can. 

Make the cross-contour lines (the slices... or the dotted lines you see on Preston's finished egg examples) look like you could cut them with a knife straight through and it would show a perfectly flat cut.

Really concentrate on getting those shapes right.

Caveats (Preston Blair)

Be careful, as the templates don't always match the solution. In fact, many times it's off:

My Preston Blair work

So it's put up or shut up time. A page from today's work. I hope to keep you updated on how I'm doing on this.... maybe in 6 months these things will look dazzling:

Drawing with graphite to kill two birds with one stone... I want to get cleaner pencil work... as well as learn the Preston Blair material. 

If I get a drawing I don't like, I immediately redo it. A check by a drawing means I learned something from it. Each of these takes probably 10 minutes. I expect that to speed up at some point.

I'm not going to move off page 1 until I own the egg and rodent egg exercises. I've been studying this one page for two weeks.

Sample of Blair's Book

Thought I would include this just to show you what's actually in the book. It's copyrighted I'm sure... but it's a fairly cheap book you can buy almost anywhere:


All right guys, thanks for the read!

Until next time!

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Do not resist. Think.

Resistance to thinking has been the problem.

About a year and a half ago, there was a rude person running a Wednesday night model drawing session that excluded me from some advanced drawing classes she had arranged because she thought I wouldn't benefit from them.  She also excluded one other person, who (to put it frankly) couldn't draw a dot with a well sharpened crayon. So I was lumped into the "feeble skill" category by this woman.

It offended me greatly, and it pushed me away from going to all life drawing sessions at the time. Plus, my weekly "quick sketch" short pose session ended abruptly. So I was left without any weekly figure drawing practice.

All of that negative activity took me away from drawing; but that's not what I want to talk about.

I've been trying to get back. And you know what I do? Maybe you do it too. My confused method of getting back to drawing:

  • Review all my old work. 
  • Look at art that I've always admired. 
  • Comment in sketchbook threads on
  • Look at all my art instruction materials (vids, books, etc). 
  • Contact my old art teacher. 

None of it has gotten my butt moving. I feel the pin prick of motivation in my butt because there are still awesome ideas that I want to draw. But, I haven't gotten moving.


It's not what the book Art & Fear talks about. The answer struck me last night; my mind simply doesn't want to think.

Now, thinking is critical when building the skills necessary to draw well. Once those skills are in hand, it may seem like no thinking is required because the trained artist works very quickly. This is why several dimmer bulbs out there (the blind leading the blind) will advise a person to "stop thinking and just draw."


...(as my art teacher would say in his deep voice, with a wry grin)

I've got to remember to love thinking about this stuff. After all, Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, and some of the greatest minds in history were fascinated by the problems that good drawing presented. They diagrammed things. They took things apart. Then they tested their theories by actually doing paintings and drawings. They had to think to solve drawing problems. This is how they got to be masters.

Point is, thinking connects desire with actual creation. It is the bridge that all artists constantly cross. And crossing a bridge literally requires you to get off your ass.

When it's time to draw, as easy as it is to sit on my ass and look at another instructional video by Proko, I must force myself away from that passive act and go to my studio and THINK. Until I start to work out the drawing problems on my own, I will not progress.

Think, dammit. And either learn to love the thinking, or learn to suffer through it.