Linocut tools

Linocut tools

Linocutting tools

Since I had them out to play, I thought I’d snap a picture and show my linocutting tool kit – even though there’s not much in it – someone may be interested…

  • two tools: a small v and a gouge out of a set of Japanese wood carving tools. I do have the set but only tend to use these two. I also use them for woodcutting so I’m careful to keep them sharp. Sharp tools are easier to use and safer too.
  • a strop kit to keep the tools sharp, I use this one but any strop would work. Small is fine because the tools are small. Clear instructions came with my kit but there are also good instructions in this thread at the Wet Canvas forum (go down to the third post by Willamette)
  • a small piece of the rubbery stuff that goes under floor mats to stop them slipping – any department store should have it. I “borrowed” mine from under the mat in the hall… It works better for me than a bench hook (shown below) – mine is home made from scraps of MDF and works just fine. I’ve simply come to prefer the bit of anti-slip mat.

Linocut bench hook

Linocutting bench hook

Beyond that that you need good lighting, a comfortable chair and some good music. It can be a long process on the bigger or more intricate blocks – please take care of your back by not hunching over. Remember to take regular breaks to stretch.

That’s it… happy linocutting.


Adding cones and spheres

Today’s paintings are pretty much the same as yesterday with the addition of cones and spheres. I also left out the black cube so I could use the values I have to better effect on the grey one.
This first effort at painting a sphere was one of those penny-drop moments – the tones are the same as the cube, just blended a bit and a lighter patch to show the reflection from the grey cube. There was no reflection from the cloth of course because it’s too dark.

Cubes and spheres 1
Cubes and spheres 1

In this one I added the grey cone to make it just a bit more difficult. I also angled the white cube differently to make it a bit darker on the shadow side. I ended up with it measuring the same as the sphere – giving me a lost edge. I also experimented with softening the edges more – particularly on the sphere. I think I went a bit too far. The cone is probably the more successful.

Cubes and spheres 2
Cubes and spheres 2

Groups of cubes

More grey cubes, this time in groups of three. The last exercises showed that the problem areas are at the extremes of light and dark. These exercises, I think, show that the real power is in the middle values. The adjustments to compensate for the limitations of the white and black paint are the same in these grouped cubes as they were for the single cubes – except of course – that they’re all happening at once.

At the light end I have foregone the white highlight on the edge of the cube and used my white paint for the light side. The values from there down are as they are measured. At the black end I still had the problem of the shadow side of the cube being darker than my black. I painted it the same as the cast shadow. Even though I started as light as I could I still ran out of steps, it was even worse on the next painting as I will show.

Paul at Learning to See has suggested that changing the cloth for a lighter one would make these exercises more worthwhile because I’d have more steps to play with. I think he’s right (as always!).

Group of cubes 1
Group of cubes 1

This second example is slightly different. At the light end I chose to paint the lightest side with N9, preserving the white paint for the light highlight. This forces all the values for the white cube down a notch to compensate. The grey cube is as seen but again minus one value to be in step with the white cube.. At the black end I have run out of values and have no choice but to paint the top, the shadow side and the cast shadow all in the same black paint. The effect is still convincing. Three cubes on a dark cloth.

Group of cubes 2
Group of cubes 2

That’ll do for today. The others I painted were all variations on these, just moving the mid value up and down for different effects. Trying to keep the relationships so the form was convincing but under different conditions – soft light, bright light, chiaroscuro and Aussie sun…


A chook called Dippy Egg

Really! She’s a breed called ISA Brown and definitely getting on in her years but still a favourite with all of us. She was really friendly and proved to be a natural clown from the day she came to live with us – hence the double meaning of dippy – on the one hand a soft boiled egg and on the other someone slight soft in the head! Do other people call chickens “chooks”? Or is it just an Australian thing?

This the first proof from the linocut block. I rather like the single colour here but I’ll experiment on some proofs with watercolour to see if I want to add colour. I could offset the block and make more blocks for other colours. Edition pending a decision.

Linocut chook

Dippy Egg, linocut, 30cm x 30cm (12″ x 12″)


First cube paintings

Finally, the first paintings of the cubes. This exercise was started with the cutting of the wood for the cubes on the 29th March… all I can say is that college, entries for three exhibitions, umpteen attendances at life drawing sessions and just plain life got in the way.
I’m on holidays again now. I have a month. I have plans…

The first painting is the mid grey (value 5 on the Munsell scale). I figured this would be the easiest and therefore number one. I just measured each tone against my Munsell chips and painted what was there. A slightly wonky cube but it is the first and these are exercises not masterpieces.

Grey cube

Grey cube

Next the black cube. A little more difficult because the dark cloth is making the cast shadow very dark. Cast shadows always depend on surface they are on NOT the object doing the casting.

The shadow side of the black cube is darker than the cast shadow – black in shadow vs dark grey in cast shadow – but when I measure with my Munsell chips the black chip is a good match for the cast shadow. Obviously I’m not going to be able to match the dark side of the cube. Problem? Not really, that’s what these exercises are about – measuring what’s there and then mapping that to the available paint. It’s the relationship between the tones not the tones themselves.

So I figure I have two ways to paint this – use the black for both the cast shadow and the shadow side of the cube since they’re so close – or use the black for the darker one and the next value up for the others to preserve the relationship.

I painted both versions. The one shown here is the first option: paint both black. I was dubious as to whether this would give a convincing cube on a dark grey cloth. I think it worked.

Black cube, oil on panel

Black cube

The next exercise was the white cube which had similar issues to the black one but at the other end of the scale. The light side of the cube looked lighter than my white chip. There was also a white highlight on the top edge of the light side that looked even lighter.

Two options again. My first version uses white for the light highlight on the edge and then my next lightest value – N9 in Munsell notation – for the light side. The other tones are as measured with the chips but painted one shade darker to compensate for the N9 on the light side. Amazingly it still looks like a white cube even though none of the sides are actually painted with white paint.

White cube

White cube 1

The second white cube is done differently. This time I have ignored the highlight and painted the lightest side with the white. The effect is still a white cube but it looks like it’s catching a brighter reflection. You can tell that’s Australian sun shining on that cube – definitely an effect I have a use for!

White cube 2

White cube 2

That’s it for today…

Munsell greys

I’ve started painting the still lives of the cubes. Just the cubes at this stage – the spheres and cones can wait until I better understand what I’m about. While I had some left over paint I also made these little chips to use for measuring.

Munsell Student book

It’s an improved version of an exercise suggested in the Munsell Student Set – theirs call for painted cardboard – these are MDF. I didn’t like the cardboard idea from the beginning – too easy to lose one.

I had made a chart on a small piece of masonite – it was a bit cumbersome to use. Paul at Learning to See made what he called dog tags – MDF with the hole for viewing – I have blatantly copied… (I’m really, really hoping that I can contribute something new to this experiment instead of just tagging along). His are still nicer than mine. I’m struggling to get the paint smooth.

Munsell chart with chips

Munsell chart with chips

Life drawing – a struggle

Life drawing portrait sketch

Life drawing portrait sketch

This week’s effort at life drawing group showed little improvement in my figures but yet again an acceptable portrait sketch. I even managed a likeness. Obviously I have no photo to show to prove that since cameras are a no-no. You’ll have to take my word for it.

I have to wonder about this, why faces are fine but I still struggle with everything else. I’ve drawn more faces. Maybe. I’ve certainly seen more faces than unclothed bodies. Absolutely. Measuring. Anatomy study – or the lack thereof. I really do think that is where the problem lies.

I’ve read and copied the drawings in Bridgman’s Life Drawing. I started working through Loomis’ Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth during the last holiday break. I should finish that. I also have Stephen Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist on the shelf. Maybe I need to read it again? The truth is the books don’t seem to be helping that much.

Thinking about it, I realise that I’ve never actually had any instruction in anatomy or drawing for that matter. Yes I’ve been in art college for two years. Drawing though isn’t actually taught. We have a class called Formal Drawing which entails a still life, or on three occasions per semester a model, and we just draw. No instruction.

We were encouraged to buy a book on anatomy. With no suggested title, I (in my utter ignorance) looking over the offerings at Borders chose Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth. Big mistake. It has inspiring drawings but no instruction. It’s much too stylised for a beginner. The teacher wasn’t offering any praise for my choice, but still no indication as to what would be better. How would I know? I wasn’t even sure how to use it. Copy the drawings?

Under guidance from internet friends (who really can draw…) I did eventually end up with the Stephen Peck book, which is the one to get. Plus during this past year I have bought or borrowed Bridgman, Loomis, Vanderpoel and absolutely everything from the library on the topic. And for the most part read them carefully. And copied the drawings. Something is still not sinking in. What to do? More books isn’t the answer.

Maybe I need to find a teacher. When? I’m already studying full time, spending 16 hours a week commuting, caring for a couple of kids and a small farm. What do I do?


Munsell madness

Munsell cubes

Munsell cubes, cones and spheres

My UK friend Paul Foxton is working through the tonal experiments too. Excep

t he’s doing a much better job of it than I am. If you want to know more about it you can check my archives to see what I’m doing. Or even better check out Paul’s blog.

Paul recently put up a post showing the cubes and spheres he made for the exercises. I couldn’t resist sending a photo of mine.

And being something of a pedantic fool I had decided that cubes and spheres alone wouldn’t make a balanced composition when it came time to paint the pictures. So, I found some styrofoam cones at a craft store and painted those in the Munsell greys too, just to round it out. Think about it… Since when should composition matter in an exercise in painting tonal values? I figured Paul would get the joke.

I think he did, ‘cos next thing I find he wants to put it on his website and share my lunacy with the world. Is that OK with me? Fine, but I’d better’ fess up here first… so here you have it: Munsell madness.


Sheep linocut

Another linocut – this time one of my sheepish friends. He’s named Victa – after an Australian brand of lawnmowers – his only duty in life is to keep the grass down a bit, which he actually finds to be a bit of a chore since he prefers roses. My roses.

Victa, 30cm x 30, Graphic Supplies oil-based ink on Stonehenge paper


Life – drawing in colour

I’m hoping for a little fun at life drawing this week. I work mostly in pencil sometimes charcoal. I quite like the woodless graphite pencils too – except I dropped my new one. Oops. Warning: those things are really brittle and once broken into small pieces are useless.

This week I’ll be trying some Faber Castell Polychromos pastels. They’re harder than a normal pastel but not really hard like I had imagined. More like a Conte crayon with colour. Lots of colour. A whole rack of colour. I didn’t buy a box but rather went through the rack and selected ten more muted colours: ochres, pinks and grey blues and green. The sort of colours I imagined I would use for a life drawing. Then bought a cheap little plastic box to keep them organised and voila – a beginning.

Polychromos pastels in a plastic box

Polychromos pastels

Why so good you ask? Alright you didn’t ask but this is my blog so I’m going to tell you anyway. Most sane people don’t get so excited over a few fairly dull pastels.

One of the problems I have with colour is that I love the bright colours but don’t actually use them. I mean I have a veritable box full of lovely media like Pitt pens, pastel pencils, watercolour pencils and even a small box of soft pastels. Some I chose myself, others were gifts. All collected up over time. Mostly untouched. I really love the colours but when it comes down to it I don’t use them.

Time and again I take something different along to Life Drawing but reach for the charcoal or the stumps of my Conte pencils instead. Dull colours like black, grey or sanguine. What gives? It’s happened too many times to be forgetfulness. I think. I can’t remember.

I don’t think I’m afraid of colour. Not with sculpture or paint anyway. Just drawing. I thought about it and figured that maybe everything I have is just too bright. Too unlife-life. So on the recommendation of a friend I headed off to the art shop (any excuse) to look at Polychromos. This time, I showed great restraint and chose only the more muted colours. Just ten. Enough to experiment, not too many to get scary.

I can hardly wait until Life Drawing this week. I think I’m on to something.