Graphic Traffic

Drawing Challenge : Still Life

Alright it is week two of the #InkCovid19 drawing challenge. Last week we started with a couple master copies. Our aim was to try and deconstruct these drawings. Our aim was to understand how an artist thinks about showing 3D space on a flat surface.

This week the training wheels come off. We are going live. I challenge you guys to work from life! I want you to set up your own still life and try drawing it.

Nothing is more challenging or rewarding than drawing from life. When we work from a photo or another artists drawing part of the job is already done. Those images have flattened space. When you work from life, you have to think about how you can use lines to recreate form and space.

Set up your still life

So to take on this drawing challenge you will need the following items:

  1. Toilet Paper Role
  2. Orange (or any round fruit)
  3. Salt shaker
  4. Thick book
  5. Large book (with limited images or text on cover)

Set up these items using the above image as a reference. Spend some time trying to match the composition. Think about the relationship between the different items. Look at how the orange crops the bottom left corner of the toilet paper role. Look at the salt shaker. Most of it’s form is seen against the table top. Only the top part of the shaker is silhouetted against the purple background.

Getting your still life set up accurate is about practicing your observation skills. It’s about training your eyes to notice these kind of detailed relationships between the different objects we are drawing. All of this information will be used in the drawing process.

Block in: Big to small

Just like we did for our last drawing we are going to start with a very general black in. If you only had 4 or 5 lines how would you represent this group of objects. Think about the highest point (top of the toilet paper) and the lowest point (bottom of the book). Now mark the furthest point to the left (front edge of the book) and the furthest point to the left  (left edge of the slat shaker).

Orange our unit of measurement

Once you have a large general shape we want to start blocking in the different objects. We want to be very careful and make sure we get the right size for each object.

How can we measure that distance? We need a unit of measurement. You can make anything your unit of measurement, for this example let’s use the orange. Stick your arm out nice and straight with a pencil in hand. With one eye closed the pencil can act like a ruler. Using the top of the pencil and your thumb measure the height of the orange. Loosely block in your orange on your page. With a straight arm measure your orange again and use that measurement to get the relative size and placement of the other objects.

If I measure the orange in my picture. I can see that that orange measurement will get me from the top of my orange to the top of my toilet paper. Keep taking measurements and making marks on your paper.

Horizon line and object tops

Now that we have the general shapes of our objects and their placement we want to add some detail. Our initial goal was to show 3D space on a flat piece of paper. The way that we can best express space is to show the volume or the form of each object. This means we want to express the different sides or planes of the objects.

For now we are going to keep things simple. Our goal is to express the top and the sides of of each object.

To do this we have to think about perspective and the horizon line. Again let’s keep things simple. The horizon line represents our eye level of the artist.

Generally speaking where is the horizon line in this drawing? Look at the top side of the toilet paper. Can you see the whole made by the cardboard cylinder? Or look at the orange. Can you see the flower stalk of the orange? Because we can see all of this information that makes up the tops of these objects we know that the horizon line or the eye level is above our still life.

If these objects were placed on a high shelf above our eye level we would not see the top side of our objects.

Back to our drawing, measure the height of the top side of each object compared to it’s vertical sides. A common mistakes when you first do this kind of exercise is to make that top end too small. So measure twice. To make your drawing even more 3D ad some simple shading to the vertical side of each object.

When we get more advanced we will use a lighting set up to make shadows on the objects as a way to indicated the different sides. For now I want us to think analytically. So we are using shade to indicate for our self the difference between the top and vertical sides of each object.

If you get this far, amazing! Move your object around and try a second set up.


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.

Working for an Art School

My Art School Job

I had a somewhat unorthodox art education. I worked for the art school (Syn Studio) where I studied. First as an intern and than as the office manager.

A big part of my job was helping the teachers prepare the set up for their classes. As an intern I would come 20 min before the class and help them set up the lights and the backdrops for the subjects we would draw (we always worked from life). As the manager I trained interns to help with set up.

Learning to Set Up Lighting

All of this meant I learned how to set up and light a still life subject for an academic drawing. Seems like a silly thing to brag or blog about but for me it was a big deal. Doing these set ups week after week, and than drawing them in class, I had a better understanding of what my teachers were trying to communicate with each exercise.

It comes back to this idea of active observation. As artists we are always trying to overcome the temptation to simply copy what we see. Great art should communicate a profound understanding of the subject.

In a very basic exercise like drawing geometric shapes we are trying to understand how light interacts with form. The aim of my shadow box (something I learned to build as an intern) is to block out the light so that only the lamp light is hitting the shapes.

In real life there are very few situations where a subject is only lit from one side. But the knowledge you gain from this exercise becomes a tool for understanding more complex lighting situations.

Laura Muntz and Motherhood

As part of my Toronto trip I had the opportunity to discuss potentially doing an art talk on the work of the Canadian Impressionist painter Laura Muntz and Motherhood. Fingers crossed that it all comes together. I would really love to share the life and work of this wonderful artist.

Artist Laura Muntz

Muntz started her career in the 1880s and was part of a group of Canadian artists who travelled to Paris to train in the world renowned Paris Atelier system. Muntz was paying her own tuition and managed to get work as a teacher’s assistant. This work allowed her to stay on and study in Paris for seven years. On her return to Canada she found success as a portrait artist painting the kids of wealthy Toronto and Montreal patrons. She also showed her narrative paintings at important world fairs including the Louisiana Purchase exhibition in 1904 – where she was awarded a silver medal.

Motherhood for Muntz

In the middle of her career tragedy struck: her sister died leaving behind 11 children. Muntz took up the responsibility of raising the children. For about seven years she all but abandoned her painting practice and embraced motherhood.

What I find so inspirational about Muntz story is that after the children got older and were more independent she went back to her art. She allowed herself a next chapter after motherhood. She made a studio space in the attic and got back to a daily painting routine. Eventually she re-established herself and confirmed her place in Canadian art history.

laura muntz painter canadian art

For me her story reminds me that it’s okay to put motherhood first. I think there is a lot of pressure on all of us to somehow ‘have it all’. The reality is that sometimes we have to make a choice between family and career. What her story also illustrates is that we can always come back. Taking a break from a creative practice is not the same as giving up. Life is long and we can always come back to our dreams. Such a feel-good story no!?!

Shared Culture of Laing and Morrice

New book on the go! Morrice: A Great Canadian Artist Rediscovered is a look at the life of the post-impressionist painter James Morrice by the Canadian art dealer Blair Laing. The book is a two for one deal. We learn about a great painter but Laing also includes tid bits from his life as a dealer.

Laing and Morrice

Laing is about a two generations younger than Morrice. Both men were of Scottish Canadian heritage. And both grew up in the Presbyterian Westmount community. It sounds pretty specific but it was the dominant culture in Canada in the late 19th c. and early 20th c.

In the books first chapter Laing focuses on the life of the painter’s father, David Morrice. He argues the father is a kind of archetype for early Canadian culture. D. Morrice immigrated to Canada ‘with only the clothes on his back’ and made his fortune in the Montreal textile industry.

Influence on Modernism

It was the success of his generation that inspired the nationalist spirit embodied later by the, predominately Anglo-Saxon, Group of Seven. And we can see pretty clearly the influence of artists like Morrice on the groups work.

Of course the prosperity of the industrial age was concentrated. In another book Laing talks about starting out his career by writing to a prosperous Toronto merchant and asking for a job, underscoring their shared Scottish heritage. It’s no surprise that the Catholic French-Canadian Automatists, like Jean-Paul Riopelle, broke with the style of modernists like Morrice and the Group of Seven to assert their own identity.

When we look at the work of these artists it’s not always obvious how culture influenced the work. But learning the history it becomes clear that cultural affiliations plays a role in determining an artists style. My point isn’t to criticize the culture of Morrice or The Group of Seven. What interests me is how this story reveals the quiet power culture has to influence our inner world.

Tarantino and Harron on the Manson Family

Tarantino: Revenge and the Manson Family

brad pitt leonardo dicaprio once upon a time

I made it out to see the latest Quentin Tarantino film, ‘Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood‘. Like so much of his work the film is a cathartic revenge fantasy.

What’s interesting about the film is that the justification for the revenge violence is not something that happens in the film. Instead what makes violence feel cathartic is something we as an audience know about the events the story is based on. We go into the film knowing that the ‘hippies’ are members of the Manson Family. We know that in real life they gruesomely murdered innocent people including Sharon Tate.

In the film Tarantino builds up to the crimes but ultimately changes the story sending the hippies to the wrong house only to meet the hero played by Brad Pitt. In the film, what is presented are three very young kids who surprise Pitt in his friend’s home. They are armed, clearly stoned and we know their intention is violence. But they don’t initiate anything.

Pitt’s response is not only to un-arm the intruders but to kill them. Pitt is a stunt double and Tarantino underscores his physical ability, going as far as stating that he could beat up Bruce Lee. Given his control in a fight situation, I think we have to ask, why does he kill the intruders? Why not just disarm?

As an audience member I know what the real Manson kids did. It’s cathartic to see them pay for their crimes. But, in this fantasy world those kids never get to Sharon Tates home. The director has explicitly decided to change the story. So we can’t know if the kids would have gone through with murder in this universe.

Like everyone else in the theater, I was cheering on the hero. That should give us pause. It says something important about how much of an impact culture (or the stories we hear) has on our perception of reality.

Charlie Says : The Story of the Girls

mary harron charlie says

Building on this idea of the relationship between culture and perception is Mary Harron‘s film ‘Charlie Says‘. The story is based on the lives of the women who participated in the Manson murders. The movie avoids gore and instead asks how a group of ‘good girls’ could do something so vile.

There is this wonderfully uncomfortable tension throughout the film between the girls’ crime and their hippie love personalities. The director never wavers from the narrative that these girls are good people and that they willfully participated in a gruesome murder.

Much of the blame for the crime is put on the isolationist group-think culture of the Manson cult. In the beginning we watch as the community normalizes free-love and drugs for it’s members. Isolated from the rest of the world they start to explain the ills of society through a dooms-day conspiracy – like sex and drugs these beliefs are normalized. Through the conspiracy they identify an enemy (the rich, other ethnic groups). Soon they see themselves as warriors destined to save the group (and the world) by attacking their enemies.

Ultimately the women are convicted and have to face the empty nature of their horrific acts.

Perception and Perspective

Unlike Tarantino’s films where good and evil are portrayed as fixed and binary, Harron’s movie forces the viewer to think about these concepts in more complicated terms.

Far from a nihilistic film, it concludes that certain acts do constitute evil – no matter the intention. In this way it highlights how this idea of ‘intention’ can corrupt our understanding of good and evil. Watching the lives of these girls as they build up to the murder, the director makes the case that intention and perspective are linked. We believe our intentions our good because they will benefit us and our community.

In the same way perception influences how we perceive threat. Right now we have a problem in the society where people are responding with violence to a imagined threat by ‘outsider’ groups. Like our response to Tarantino’s hippies, that fear and resentment is not always based on actual events. It’s often based on some outside information that may or may not be true or relevant to the situation.

Both ‘Charlie Says’ and ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ make a case for the importance of challenging our perspectives.