|Gnarly carrot and color pencil drawing together.|
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop at the US Botanic Garden with renowned botanical artist Wendy Hollender. She was a wonderful instructor--one of those rare teachers who can verbalize her thought process while doing a demonstration, who really gets across the principles and ideas behind her work as well as the techniques.
There were fourteen of us students, most of us experienced artist members of BASNCR (Botanical Art Society of the National Capital Region). The theme of the workshop was roots, inspired by a fascinating ongoing exhibit the USBG has on this subject. Wendy brought a fabulous assortment of root vegetables grown on her farm in upstate NY: carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, etc. all of which had a great deal of "character" as we artists like to say.
The first thing she asked was whether we knew what type of soil her farm has. As a gardener struggling to grow plants in Shenandoah Valley soils, I recognized the familiar twisting, contorted pattern of roots growing on very rocky soil right away and said so--my guess was correct.
I chose to draw this gnarly carrot for its intricate pattern of roots going off at all angles--it seemed to actually be a combination of five normal-size carrots with some tiny ones emerging here and there. My fellow students chose their vegetables, and we were instructed to start our life-size drawings with light graphite pencil, measuring and getting the proportions accurate.
Once we had drawn the basic outlines, Wendy showed us how she started toning the shapes with a dark sepia pencil to bring out the form, in effect creating a grissaille, and then adding a bit of color at the same time.
|Wendy Hollender demonstrates technique.|
|Wendy's demo Day 1|
She put down some color using watercolor pencils and applied a small amount of water with a "water brush" (a very clever brush with built-in water reservoir that saves one from having to carry a water container on site). The idea was to cover most of the grain of the paper, leaving only a bit a white for the highlights.
My electric pencil sharpener did not fit the Faber Castell watercolor pencils we were using, so I decided to try to stick to plain pencils for the most part.
|Starting to add color to my early stage grissaille.|
|At the end of Day 1|
Towards the end of the first day I had my drawing fairly filled in with color. I felt I was probably close to being finished. I voiced my fear of "going too far and ruining it," a feeling I think many of us share. This obviously struck a chord with others in the room.
Wendy's answer was, for me, the workshop's number one take-away. She said, "Most people take their drawing up to a point and then stop, thinking that's good enough. That's the point where you need to push yourself, to push your work to the limit. Keep pushing and pushing past the limit to see what happens."
That clicked with me--what were we all so afraid of? It's a drawing, after all, not a life and death struggle (though sometimes it may feel like that)--if it doesn't turn out well one can always start over. Wendy's insight is a life lesson one can apply to anything, not just art--all who succeed do so because they push themselves past the previous limits.
The next day started with renewed energy. It was time for me to work on getting the darks darker, for a full range of values on a scale of one to ten. Wendy had us do exercises on strips, toning small sections to create a 3-D impression of roundness. Some of the students had a difficult time understanding this, and she worked with them patiently, but insistently, until they got it right.
I tried out the watercolor pencils on the top stems of my carrot and found it an interesting way of covering the grain of the paper faster. I'll have to try more of this in the future once I get a sharpener that works with the thickness of these pencils. I used the Verithin black and dark brown pencils (quite hard compared to the Faber Castell), to darken and sharpen the edges, all to good effect. I used an ivory pencil to burnish in the colors.
By late afternoon my eyes weren't focusing and I was utterly exhausted--who'd imagine that drawing could be such hard work? I took a walk around the room to check our the other artists' works.
|Workshop students' artwork|
Wendy had demanded the best from each of us, and at the end of the day, when we all put up our drawings for display and a final critique, the transformation we had undergone was visible in each of the works. I never knew I could achieve such results with color pencils! I wish all workshops could be like this one.