Drawing Challenge: Teapot from Life

We are back! This week we are doing another drawing from life challenge! Working from life is where we really test our ability to analyse visual information.

We are doing a very similar drawing to last week’s exercise but don’t be discouraged if this feels a lot more challenging. When we copy a photo or another drawing the information has already been flattened. When we work from life we have to translate 3D space into a 2D pictorial language.

So why bother? Why not just work from photos or drawings? Working form life teaches the artist to think about the form of an object. Learning to decode the structure of objects teaches us not only how to copy but also how to construct reality. For any artists looking to create imaginary images, characters and worlds this ability to draw constructively is essential.

This week’s challenge

For this week’s challenge you will need to find a teapot. Don’t worry too much if your teapot looks different to mine.

My aim is to teach you a process not to teach you how to draw my teapot. Read through the instructions below and use them as a guide for drawing your teapot. Don’t copy exactly my lines and shapes.

If you are feeling really intimidated, do two drawings. First do a drawing from my photo of a teapot and use my sketches as your guide.

Now do your own drawing from your teapot and try and recreate the three steps that I demonstrate but using the shapes that define your teapot!

How to start the drawing

To start our drawing we are going to block-in the teapot by reducing its parts to basic flat shapes. Start by blocking in the general height and width of the teapot with 4 lines. For now the two verticals lines will represent the furthest edge of the handle and the spout. Next draw a vertical centre line.

The body of our teapot looks like the bottom half of a triangle. The two sides slope inward. We can imagine that these two lines would eventually meet at a point. Already we understand what is being represented. The lid of our teapot can be represented with a triangle. We don’t need to show any of the detail – we just want to show the overall space that the lid will take up.

Even though we have only used a couple lines and flat shapes we can already imagine our teapot.

Top and bottom side

To give our teapot a sense of structure – to translate it from a 2D to a 3D drawing we need to indicate the base and the top side. Take your time and compare the length of your top side to the length of the body of your teapot. A common mistake is to make that top side too narrow. Sp measure twice.

For my teapot the top and bottom side are a circle shape. Because we are seeing these shapes in perspective we don’t see a circle we see an ellipse or a squashed circle.

Even though we can’t see the whole ellipse it’s important to indicate even the back side that is invisible to our eye. Again our goal with this drawing isn’t just to represent what we see but to understand the structure of our teapot.

To help us draw our ellipse we first draw a centre line and mark off the length and width of our ellipse. With all of this information we can now draw our ellipse. My teapot has four ellipses. One for the top and bottom side of my teapots body (blue). One for the base of my lid (orange). And one for the bottom side of my teapot base.

Finally, let’s indicate the outer edge of the teapots spout and the handle.

How to clean up your lines

Now you have enough information to add the details that make the drawing interesting and dynamic. Take your time adding these last shapes.

When you are satisfied with your drawing, you can take a darker or thicker pen to draw over your lines. Make sure to take your time on this final step. Keep looking at your teapot. It’s easy to fall into automatic mode here and lose some of the subtlety of your lines.

Drawing Challenge : Line

I am so excited to say that we are one month into the drawing challenge! For those of you who have been drawing with me since week one or two, Thank You! It has been soo much fun to see all of your awesome work!

Drawing Challenge Student week 3

For those of you joining us for the first or secound time, welcome! To find out more about the drawing challenge, I’ve posted an overview of the challenge here.

This week’s challenge

This week we are going to work from a really great drawing book on ornament design, Cusack’s Freehand Ornament, by C. Armstrong. The book was printed back in 1895 and a free PDF is available online.

For a little perspective, these exercises were intended for school children. That’s right a hundred years ago, kids as young as 12 were expected to have fundamental drawing skills.

In his introduction Armstrong writes:

Art is long, one must not be discouraged, but must give the subject more time and more brain effort, by which in the end they will succeed. It is to be remembered that not the fact of being born clever makes a genius, but that infinite trouble is the mother of genius.

So with that in mind let’s take on one of the biggest challenges in drawing : Line Quality.

The challenge with lines is that they require practice. There is only so much of the process that you can intellectualize. To get beautiful straight or curved lines you have to practice. That means making a lot of ugly lines and that can feel discouraging.

But there are tricks to help attack this challenge. Building on the block in technique we learned in weeks 1 and 2, Let’s explore a process that makes our job simpler.

How to start the drawing

drawing challenge

To start our drawing we are going to block-in the glass by reducing its parts to basic flat shapes. They will be represented by a squared semi-circle. For the stem we ignore all the detail of the final drawing and we use an upside down triangle. and for the base a secound triangle. Already we understand what is being represented.

Work big to small

drawing challenge courntey clinton

As we start to add detail, we want to keep in mind the principal of big to small. This means we start by adding the largest shapes.

The upside down triangle should act as borders for the new shapes you are drawing. Think about the negative space between the curved lines and the edges of the triangle. Make sure that your new shapes stay within your triangle. If they don’t seem to fit, go back a step and redraw that triangle.

As you add these large shapes, take measurements. Compare the size of the curved part of the stem with the top of the glass. These two shapes are very close in length. Make sure that is true of your drawing.

How to clean up your lines

Now you have enough information to add the details that make the drawing interesting and dynamic. Take your time adding these last shapes.

When you are satisfied with your drawing, you can take a darker or thicker pen to draw over your lines. Make sure to take your time on this final step. Keep looking at the original drawing. It’s easy to fall into automatic mode here and lose some of the subtlety of your lines.




Composition is the link between  abstract and realist art! By taking a deep dive into composition, I want to show what these two genres have in common!

Illustration and AbEx


heffel jack bush composition cresendo spring auction
Jack Bush, Crescendo, 1974, 28 1/2 x 36 5/8 in (part of Heffel Spring Auction)

To illustrate the link, I’ve chosen two works by the great Canadian artist Jack Bush. By day he was an illustrator. By night he was an abstract painter.

These two genres look very different but what unifies them is a really strong composition or design. At it’s most basic, composition is about thinking through the placement of the different elements that make up the picture.

In Bush’s abstract work he places color in a way that conveys a sense of motion. In this painting the color tiles seem to be falling in space.

jack bush illustration art composition

In his illustration he uses proportion to create a sense of atmosphere. The antique candlestick is much larger than the main figure. It creates a sense that the figure is surrounded by antique objects. There is only one object but we understand that she is in some kind of antique store. This information is communicated through composition.

Composition Strategies

richard diebenkorn scisors clinton graphic traffic

Good composition gives an artwork an emotional quality. It elevates a picture of a pair of scissors from an industrial design sketch to something we call fine art!

Composition is a tough concept to pin down. There are no set rules for what makes a great composition. But there are strategies you can learn to approach composition from a more analytical point of view.

Diebenkorn’s Scissors

The American painter Richard Diebenkorn was a master of composition. A contemporary of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Diebenkorn experimented with both abstract and realist painting throughout his career.

Drawing from life was a big part of his practice. He produced a prolific number of pen and ink wash drawings of still life subjects and life models. He would often turn these into more abstract paintings.  In this way he used his realist drawing as a kind of composition strategy.


ink wash scisors diebenkorn graphic traffic composition

One of his most famous motifs was of a pair of opened scissors.

There is sooo much we can learn about composition by studying these works. Notice how the subject never changes: it is always the same opened scissors.

What changes is the orientation or size of the scissors and their placement. By making these simple changes the narrative and emotive quality of the scissors changes with each image.

In this way the first principal of composition is placement.

Drawing Challenge: Composition

For this week’s challenge I’m calling on all abstract artists to join us! This exercise is a crash course in composition. We are going to learn how to place the different elements of a drawing. The purpose is to come up with a system to insure that our pictures have an interesting and engaging design. Today’s challenge is a kind of analytical approach to creativity.

We are going to learn the thumbnail approach to help overcome the stress induced by the dreaded white page!

What is soooo cool about today’s lesson is that it can be applied to both realist and abstract art. So in a way I’m going to challenge the misnomer that these two genres of art are somehow separate!

Choosing our source material

For today’s challenge we are going to borrow elements from two old master ink drawings.

We are going to use part of the Roman ruin from the drawing below:

And you can choose one of the following characters drawn by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo:

Simplifying and flattening our main shapes

We are going to do a series of very small, quick, drawings so it is important to simplify our main shapes. No detail. We want to reduce each element into a flat shape we can draw in less than 30 secounds.


Often I will get really excited about an idea I have for a drawing and I will start a very finished version before trying out different approaches. I will get two-thirds of the way through my drawing and all of a sudden a better composition will hit me.

By taking the time to rough out a bunch of small versions of our final drawing, we avoid this kind of mistake. Also it’s a great exercise to start to develop your own personal aesthetic or theory of design. Our goal is to do somewhere between 6 and 12 quick sketches. We want to try out a variety of different compositions.

Placement of shapes

First step is to block out a rectangles on a blank page. It should measure about 2 inches or the length of your thumb. Keep your thumbnail small. By keeping it small we make it impossible to include detail in out drawing. At this stage detail is our enemy.

Start by making your rectangle into an evenly spaced grid. Create three equal columns and three equal rows. Drawing corner to corner, draw an X across your rectangle.  Repeat the same process for the next 2 thumbnails. For now keep your rectangles the same shape and dimension.

Using these grids we can think of our canvas in terms of different quadrants. Using your three thumbnails, lets try three different designs where we keep the architectural shape in the top left quadrant. For each drawing lets place our figure shape in a different column.

If you like one of those designs, now try 2 to 3 designs where you keep the figure fixed and instead move your architectural shape from left to right.

Size of shapes

Another way to vary our design is to play with the size of our shapes. Grid out three more thumbnails (3 x 3). Choose your favorite design from the last exercise.

Let’s say your design has the figure in the bottom right of the canvas and the architectural shape in the top left corner. Again let’s keep the architectural shape fixed. In the next two thumbnails, let’s grow our figure. First, Let’s take it all the way to the top row. For our third version, we can actually grow the figure to a size beyond that of the canvas. Let’s make it so big that you only see the lower half of the figure.

Again choose the design you most like and let’s try two new versions where you keep the figure fixed and grow and shrink the architectural shape.

Shape of your canvas

Working this small gives us ultimate freedom. Another great way to inspire new designs is to change the shape of your rectangle. Try flipping your rectangle from a portrait format to a landscape format. Or try varying the proportions of your rectangle. It is amazing how much the shape and orientation of your page will inspire composition!

Using line to guide your design

Instead of using a grid, we can use line to help us think about the spacing and relationship of the different elements in our picture.

A couple lines to keep in mind are:

1. Cross

2. S curve

3. C curve

4. L curve

5. Diagonal line

Start your composition by indicating one of these lines. Now think about how you can place your elements so that their positioning suggests the line. To better understand look at the following example by Andrew Loomis:

Final drawing

The aim is to produce at least 12 different thumbnail designs. Each new design should build on idea discovered in the last sketch. Once you have come up with a really great design, do a larger more finished version of the drawing!

For any abstract artists, why not use this design as a starting point for your next painting? Or you can play with the shapes. Reduce them to something even more simple. Or changes some of the lines from straight to wiggly. The possibilities are endless!

Ode to Collaboration

I’m in the middle of an intense period for application writing and I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the invisible labour that goes into an arts career. Being an artist is a lot like being an entrepreneur. Not only do you make the work, you also have to get it out to a public.

The later half can take up a lot of time. If you look at the careers of so many great artists they all had support from a collaborator (usually their wife).

My collaborator

In my own practice I’m equally indebted to a handful of people who have quietly offered their expertise and helped me in so many ways over the years. I wanted to pay homage to a key collaborator, my sister, Lou Laurence. The image is a painting I did of her years ago. It’s based on a photo from a rainy summer month we sat on our front porch conspiring to become creators.

For half a decade she has acted as my editor and chief collaborator. Not only has she helped me correct countless applications and artist statements, she has been the person I go to when I need feedback on a new idea. A musician and a total brain, she has helped me refine and articulate my work and my artistic vision. To have this kind of collaboration has been central to my development as an artist.

Value of Collaboration

Because of the familial nature of these partnerships this work gets overlooked. It doesn’t show up on our tax statement and so it doesn’t exist. It’s a problem because it means we have a false understanding of what it means to make creative work.

Making visible my own community aims to challenge the stereotype of the independent artistic that gets discovered thanks to some divine force. It’s a reminder that we all depend on collaboration and community.

Drawing Challenge : Copying

So with social distancing taking effect it is time to get a hobby! Why not learn to draw? For anyone with time, paper and a pen copying old master drawings is a great way to learn to draw. Below you will find a list of high res drawings that are great drawings to learn from.

Join our growing community of art lovers! Thanks to the CBC for sharing this drawing challenge!

Choose a drawing

Set up Art Exercise:

Grab a pen and paper and a large book (9 x 12) that you can lean against the table. You never want to draw on a flat surface. Tape your paper to the book and lean it against the table, resting on your lap. Now you can look at the paper head on. When the paper is lying on a flat table you are seeing everything in perspective and making your job twice as hard.

Choose one of the below drawings. You can print it out and tape it to a wall or you can use the image from your screen. Make sure the drawing is far enough away. You want a least one arms length between you and your subject.

How to start

Never start with the eye. We are going to work big to small. First try and block out the big shape of your drawing. Imagine if you only had 4 to 5 big lines. How would you represent this drawing?

Get the right measurements

Now you want to take some measurements. What’s the middle point of the drawing? If it’s a portrait draw a dash line to indicate where you would place the eyes, the base of the nose and he middle of the mouth.

To make measurements stick your arm out so it’s straight and close one of your eyes. Use your pen as a kind of ruler. Measure the space from the chin to the eyes and than from the eyes to the top of the head. They should be pretty close. Now check those same measurements on your drawing. Keep measuring different sections and compare the measurements of the drawing with your copy. Try and do this for at least 15 minutes.

How to add shadow & detail

Now you can start to ad detail to your outlines. show the roundness of the line outline and started adding the features (eyes, nose, mouth).

When you are feeling really good about placement, it’s time to start looking for shadow shapes. In all of these drawings the artists have used line to show shadow. Before we copy the lines lets try and outline the shapes of the different shadows. Draw lines that represent the boarder between the light area (no lines) and the dark areas (groups of lines).

How to get feedback

If you want to get feedback on your drawing tag me to your copy on instagram @clinton.courtney




Corona Virus Drawing Challenge

Drawing Challenge Overview

So with social distancing taking effect it is time to get a hobby! Why not learn to draw?

Join our growing community of art lovers! Thanks to the CBC for sharing this drawing challenge!

How to participate in the challenge

Drawing challenge materials

To take part in the drawing challenge you will need:

  1. Pen (any household pen)
  2. Paper
  3. A drawing board

You don’t need fancy artist supplies to participate. Find any old pen lying around your house. For paper you can use any smooth paper. A great choice is printer paper. You will need something that you can lean against a table so that you can draw on an inclined surface. I like to use a coffee table book.

New challenge every Tuesday

Every Tuesday, I will post a weekly drawing challenge to my blog, Graphic Traffic. The blog will outline the challenge and give you step by step instructions. This challenge is aimed at artists of all levels. So there are lots of resources to help you succeed!

Thursday Instagram Live drawing session

Every Thursday at 5pm (Eastern Daylight Time) I will host a live drawing class on my Instagram Live. You can find me on Instagram at @clinton.courtney. The Drawing sessions will last approximately one hour.

The live drawing session is structured like a class. The audience is encouraged to have their pen and paper and to draw along!

Live drawing schedule

  • 5 pm to 5:30 pm : Intro and warm up exercise
  • 5:30 pm to 6 pm : Weekly challenge exercise
  • 6pm : Q & A with the Artist

How to get feedback on your art

If you want to get feedback on your drawing tag me to your copy on Instagram @clinton.courtney

How to find the weekly challenge

You can find all of the Corona Virus drawing challenges on my blog, Graphic Traffic.

Here is a list of all the past challenges

Failure: My Adventure in Italy

An Ode to Failure!

I came across an old postcard I sent to my mom right after University when I was living in Italy.

Peggy Guggenheim Portrait
Peggy Guggenheim, photographed by Man Ray, Paris 1925

I like to joke that I spent my 20s living like an artist and now, that I’m actually an artist, I live like a mild mannered accountant. I save all my wild energy for the studio.

Ticket to Italy

So after graduation and a year working in a restaurant, I concocted a crazy plan with a good friend to move to Italy. It all started with a shared dream to intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I spent at least a month putting together the perfect application. I poured my heart and soul into it….and I didn’t get it.

I kept applying for different jobs from Canada as I saved up for the trip. I felt like I needed a job to be able to really commit to this adventure. For 6 months I got nothing but rejections. Finally we decided we would go even without jobs. I had enough savings to get me through the first couple months and the courage (ignorance?) you can only have at 22. So we applied for our visas and booked our tickets.

Learning to Fail

The day of my flight I got an email inviting me to interview for a position with a small newspaper in Milan. They needed an English speaker to write for a European focused blog they ran. Somehow I got that job and spent about a year as blogger in Milan. Writing wasn’t my calling. I have a mild learning disability so I make what looks like a lot of typos when I write. Not great when you have lots of tight deadlines. I tried to pursue journalism for a while but eventually moved on.

Now I’m doing something I love even more! And that the experience as a blogger gave me enough confidence in my writing that I’ve made blogging part of my art practice. At the time not getting the Guggenheim internship and not becoming a journalist felt like a real failure. Now it all feels fortuitous.

Monkman’s Challenge to “Western” Art

Just listened to a great interview with the artist Kent Monkman on the Art Newspaper Podcast! One thing that has always impressed me about the artist is his ability to clearly articulate his practice. This is someone with a very clear vision of both what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.

Critique of Painting Tradition

In the interview, Monkman explains his relationship with the Western painting tradition. In his early figurative work the medium was the message. His aim was to mimic the historic American landscape tradition as a way to critic that tradition and it’s portrayal (or lack there of) of Indigenous culture.

Kent Monkman trappers of men painting
Trappers of men, Acrylic on Canvas, 2006

Giving Voice to New Stories

In the interview Monkman discusses how his relationship to the medium evolved as he discovered old master artists form other nations (he mentions visiting Prado Museum). Overtime realism became less the target and instead a kind of tool to tell new stories that had not been given voice.

the madhouse kent monkman
The Madhouse, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019

His use of the painting tradition challenges the idea that painting is an expression of Western culture. The artists ability to use the medium to tell the history of his community shows how malleable the medium can be. In trying to understand the nature of art, we have to consider the difference between culture and knowledge. The images we create through painting make up culture. The process we use to make those images is a kind of knowledge.

Art Education in 19th C. Illustration

I’m slowly pushing forward on an independent research project I started in the fall thanks to the curator Ric Kasini Kadour and the Rokeby Museum. My research is based on letters from a correspondence course in illustration (1891-1893) in which Ernest Knaufft of the Chautauqua Society of Fine Arts writes to his adolescent student Rachael Robinson Elmer.

As a trained academic artist, my contribution focuses on formal analysis of the drawing assignments and feedback. As part of my engagement, I am reenacting the main drawing assignment. I want to show how the course rejects the idea of drawing as a kind of image making and instead presents it as a form of research through observation. This idea of going beyond reproduction and striving for conceptual understanding is evidence of a philosophical rigor embedded in the illustrative tradition. 

Drawing Course

Drawing practices are taught in this course through a series of assignments that can be broken down into three categories: copying old master drawings, drawing from life and drawing from imagination. Throughout the letter’s Knaufft meditates on the theoretical difference of copying and drawing from life. He develops an argument in which he claims that copying teaches the artist the craft of drawing (theories on mark making), while drawing from nature teaches the artist abstract concepts related to scientific theories on light, optics and geometry. The art advocate and illustrator Andrew Loomis calls the later the Form Principal.

Throughout the course Knaufft assigns different old master drawings for his student to copy. Generally these drawings are from the French school and portrait images. As a follow up exercise Knaufft asks Elmer to recreate the subjects position and lighting, using herself as a model in front of the mirror.

He argues that true learning happens in this second drawing. That in trying to recreate the essence of an artist’s drawing from life, a young artist comes to understand the intention behind the effects in the master drawing.

#Study (WIP), Selfie, 2020, graphite on paper

In this way Knaufft makes an interesting theoretical distinction between craft and fine art. Craft is defined as an artist’s ability to learn a visual vocabulary used to replicate images. Fine Art is a search for knowledge through a process of observation that employs drawing as a kind of research tool.

Equal Access to Art Education

Also striking is the professional nature of Knaufft’s mentorship approach. This is illustrated by his detailed and direct criticism of Elmer’s assignments and his encouragement for her to apply to art publications. 

In an article in the Art Amateur (an art magazine Knauft edited) Knauft outlines the requirements for a successful newspaper illustration career. In the article he states that a high level of art theory is not necessary for a successful career in the field. He explains that an illustrator can be successful with good ability to copy photographs (a process similar to copying old master drawings).

This suggests that the emphasis on drawing from life, in the illustration course, is not about preparing Elmer for a career as an illustrator but about providing her with full access to a fine art education.

The fact that this kind of higher education was being made available by correspondence – and to women – suggests the illustration tradition may have been engaged with socially conscious ideals.

In Elmer’s case she went on to have a successful career as an illustrator. She is best remembered for a series of fine art postcards – prints from this series are part of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C..

rachael robinson elmer rokeby museum
Rachael Robinson Elmer, Art Lover’s New York, 1914

While further research is required this hypothesis offer a new lens through which to understand the tradition.

Fingers crossed I’m applying for different opportunities to present my early findings and am working towards a creative project and eventual show.