Marianne Morris | Artist

Living Life in Full Colour

Tag: drawing

That Elusive Muse

Drawing of two pears in oil pastel by Marianne Morris

“Pair | Pear”, Oil Pastel on paper. I think this was the most successful of my three drawings. I’m amazed I remembered how to use my pastels, but somehow it felt really natural.

There was a time I got excited when I managed to free up some time to go paint. If you are a regular reader, you know that lately, it all has seemed like a bit of a chore. It always does when things aren’t going well. In an effort to get that feeling back, I’ve been changing things up… last week I did a lot of drawing, and on the weekend I participated in a group art night.

It wasn’t what you would think. The people I was painting with were scattered across the continent. We had met in an online art group. Patti was Canadian from the opposite end of the country, who I had never talked to before we started. Kim and Thomas have know each other for years, one in Wyoming, the other in Florida. We started a group chat, decided on a subject (abstract still life), Thomas set up a Spotify playlist which we all tuned into, and off we went.

The process reminded me of school in a way. We all worked away, then my phone would beep… someone would post a photo or ask a question, we would chime in when we could. We weren’t in the same room, but we were connected in a way. I got out my oil pastels since the others were talking about working in pastel. I figured working with something other than paint would probably help reset my brain. I haven’t used oil pastel in probably 15 years. It was a nice change. And I remembered more than I thought  I would. My pieces were actually decent.

I really enjoyed the camaraderie of working in a pseudo-group. I’m hoping these nights will become a regular thing. I may not be able to manage every weekend, but it is important to fit some play time into my schedule. I’ve managed one work session this week and I really looked forward to getting into the studio. That in itself feels like a huge leap forward.

Drawing Drills

Ink and wash drawing in my sketchbook

The photo I was working from was very dramatically lit. I don’t get the same sense of drama from my drawing… mainly because I am too lazy to spend all that time hatching in a dark background. I think I managed to get the feeling of his age without drawing in every wrinkle. And this one is a bit looser, which I like.

This week, on a whim, I decided to sign up for one of those online challenge things. If you haven’t seen one of these before, what happens is an online facilitator, in this case, Carrie Brummer Hanna, walks participants through a series of exercises designed to do one thing or another. This one was to improve our drawing skills.

Now I’ve been drawing for eons. I have taken the occasional long break… some breaks have lasted years… but I always go back to it, and it usually doesn’t take that long to reconnect my eyes and my hand. A few days maybe. But there are some things that I am just not good at and so I tend to avoid them. So I do have things that I can work to improve.

I love to draw in ink. But until recently, when I started drawing the dogs, the only ink drawings I have ever done have been sketching on location (landscapes and buildings), or imaginary, illustration type of drawings. Any other drawings were in graphite or charcoal. Media that are easy to shade and create form. Ink is not so easy. But with the discovery of washable ink… well that opens up a whole new world. My goal for this challenge was to get comfortable drawing people in ink. I chose a copyright-free image for each day right off the bat; I know myself well enough to know if I am tired when I sit down to draw I will pick the easiest thing, and not necessarily the thing I need to work on.

Carrie suggested setting aside 15 minutes a day. That is doable, even on really busy days. Of course, the 15-minute limit only lasted three days… the fourth day I totally screwed up the drawing and had to do it again, and the next day the image I chose was way too difficult to complete in that time. I’ve not finished the challenge… it started last Friday but I didn’t start until later on… but I was amazed at the posts I saw in the Facebook group. Some people made HUGE improvements in their skill level in only 7 days. I recommend this to anyone who wants to up their game. It obviously works if you commit to it.

If you are interested in going through this exercise yourself, I think you can access Carrie’s webinar on her website. And she also has a Facebook group that can provide valuable feedback.

I need a Hero…

Ink drawing of Mastiff dog

Our “loaner” dog, Hero. He stayed with us for a week, booked through the dog-sitting service DogVacay. He was a very agreeable subject. He let me take photos, and sat still enough I could draw from life. Sometimes.

So, for those of you who have been reading a while, you will know that I lost my dog in December. And the year before that, my other dog passed away. We went from being a 2 dog family to a no dog family, and it was difficult. As I am a dog person… and I mean really a dog person… people were predicting a couple of months before we got another dog, no matter how much I insisted we were not going down that road again.

My husband and I are still dogless. We want to travel. Together. It’s a challenge when you have 4 legged beasties to take care of. But we needed our doggie fix. So after a bit of investigation, we discovered the dog-sitting service DogVacay. It’s like the Air b&b of dog-sitting. Dog owners can search for a caregiver by location and availability. Hosts can choose what works for them, in terms of dog size and care requirements.  We immediately signed up to be hosts. Essentially, we get to have a dog now and then without having to commit to being full-time “parents”. How perfect.

Our first “loaner”, as I’ve taken to calling them, was Hero. He is an adorable 2-year-old Bull Mastiff pup, and he stayed with us for a week while his family were off on vacation. It’s amazing how quickly we got attached. It was a bit sad to see him go home, but it was nice at the same time. We got to do the walks and play with him for a short time, which was fun. But it isn’t something that’s required daily for the next 10 years, and I can appreciate that. And it was wonderful that he was calm enough that I had a great subject to draw while he was here.

And I’ve had that old Bonnie Tyler song stuck in my head for the entire time…

A pen and a sketchbook is all I need…

Ink sketch done on the beach in Albufeira, Portugal

I loved the rocks and trees by the beach. I tried to capture it a few times.

Oh, it’s good to be home. I had a great time, and I am so incredibly inspired… but hell, it’s wonderful to sleep in my own bed. I missed my home, I missed my boys, and I missed grocery shopping in English.

I am so fortunate that I was able to paint during my visit. It’s not a luxury I would have had if I stayed in a hotel. I will be eternally grateful to my host for the opportunity. But as an artist looking for inspiration, I know that all I need is a sketchbook and a pen. The rest is a bonus.

My drawings started off a bit rough… after the first time out I was actually beginning to think I had forgotten how to draw. It has been a long time, after all. But persistence is one of those things that usually pay off. After a few days working consistently I started to feel more comfortable. My drawings improved. Then I discovered my new fountain pen has water-soluble ink… what an awesome discovery!  I also got out my watercolours and did a few coloured sketches. By three weeks in I was doing a couple drawings a day along with whatever else I was working on. It’s like I found myself again.

Now if only I can manage to hang onto this feeling now that I’m back at work. Easer said than done, I fear.

When you think it’s over but it’s not over…


Drawing of a sleeping dog

My sleeping dog. A pencil drawing.

On thanksgiving weekend, my 90lb dog could suddenly not stand up. She’s old. 14 is a good, long life for a large dog. She had seemed quite healthy apart from a problem with one back leg that didn’t always do what she wanted it to. We’ve had to cut the length of the walks down a bit in the past year, but her enthusiasm has not waned at all. But given her age, when we had to carry her down the stairs to get her into the car, I was pretty sure this was it.

The vet wasn’t so sure. Apparently, older dogs sometimes get this thing called “Vestibular Disease”. It’s this thing with the inner ear that makes them really, really dizzy. It was difficult to diagnose because she refused to even try to get up, and resisted all efforts at assistance. But without really expensive testing that would be even more stressful for her, we couldn’t tell if it was that or something more severe. We decided to give her some time and see if she would recover. Apparently, many dogs will be up and around within a week or two.

For the last two weeks we have been assisting her outside, feeding her by hand, holding her water dish so she can have a drink, doing constant laundry to make sure her bedding is clean and dry. My husband is even sleeping in the living room because we know that she will attempt the stairs if we both go up.  That could be disastrous.

Gradually, she has improved. And yesterday, for the first time since it started, she actually went for a very short walk. She attempted to eat standing up today, but promptly fell over, so that will likely be another week or so. Improvement has been gradual, but every little thing she can do on her own is a positive sign. Such a relief to know that this is not the end. I know it will happen eventually, but she’s good company and I want her around as long as possible.

Inktober Drawing Challenge

Ink drawing of a woman

One drawing for #Inktober from this week. Prompt for that day was “lost”.

Anyone in the online art community has heard of Inktober. For those that haven’t, it’s an online art challenge that asks artists to produce 31 ink drawings in 31 days. I haven’t done it before, because I’m usually immersed in some project or other and can’t scrape together the time. I’m not being religious about it though… the point is to have a no-pressure project, so beating myself up because I didn’t get a drawing done that day kinda defeats the purpose. And since drawing is like meditation for me, so it seems like a no brainer.

This year, the founding artist has produced a prompt list. I guess sometimes people have trouble figuring out what to draw when doing it day after day. I’m only going to turn to the list when the word grabs me… I have my own goal. I’m going on a trip in January, and as it’s been many, many years since I’ve done travel sketching (and ink is my preferred medium), I thought I’d get some practice in. Since most available daylight hours are spent indoors in a windowless room (see last week’s rant), I’ve decided to go on a couple little photo excursions to provide reference for me. It’s been quite fun… but I’ve taken a lot of crappy pictures. Better work on my photography skills as well.

Ink Drawing : Variations on a Theme

Ever heard of Aubrey Beardsley? He was an illustrator from the late 1800s, whose most famous work was in pen and ink. When I was in University, I once had a professor tell me my ink drawing looked like he had been an influence… except at that time I had never heard of him. Of course I looked him up, but I actually couldn’t see it. I can see it now… and I’ve decided to take a deeper look and see how I can purposefully use his work as inspiration.

Ink drawing on paper

My first ink drawing using Beardsley as an influence.

My first ink drawing following my research was more of a direct influence. I took a sketch I had done and worked it into what I thought his might look like if he had used the same starting point. I had planned to do a couple more of these, but then I saw a photo my friend Dana had posted on her flickr page that I loved. So, after getting permission, I took that image and did a few variations.

First I did a couple pencil sketches… my drawing skills are maybe a little rusty. I actually started this project months ago. Since I haven’t been doing much of anything the last bit, I finished up the last one yesterday after physio. It’s so nice to be able to do something. I ended up with 4 variations on this pose, each one being different enough that I think they stand on their own.

Clairvoyant Crows – A drawing

Clairvoyant logo ink drawing

Illustration created for the Toronto band Clairvoyant, eventually to be on t-shirts, stickers and other assorted merchandise.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you know my son is a musician. He currently plays bass in the band Clairvoyant, who I happen to think are pretty darn good. Even if I didn’t like the music (which I do), I’d still have to admire their dedication. They practice at least once a week. They are constantly working on new material. And they understand the basics of internet marketing and building a following.

This week, they officially released their first EP. All songs were written and performed by them, and recorded in my basement. I did the drawing for their cover art… if you are interested in reading about how that one came together, you can find it over on my old blog. When they asked if I would put together something they could use as a band logo, I went about finding a way to merge my obsession with crows, the drawing style I had used on the EP cover (not coincidentally, also a crow), and my recent realization that the ink drawings I had done in the past were actually pretty decent.

I have to hand it to my boy… the kid has a pretty good eye. I knew that, of course, but he proved it to me yet again with this project. I had done a bunch of sketches… really rough ideas… and he picked out a couple to work up more throughly. He made changes. We chose one to do as a final, and he made more changes. He made some observations about what I had done, and even though I was getting a bit exasperated by this time, I have to admit that with the changes he asked for, the drawings were a lot better. If I had done what I had initially thought was my best idea, it wouldn’t have worked out as well as it did.

I’ve always believed creativity is something that can be learned and worked on. It isn’t the elusive, magical “talent” that everyone thinks it is. It’s a matter of taking things in, and working through the obvious crap until you get to the good stuff. I’ll be the first to admit that my initial ideas are never my best. Actually, a lot of them suck. I need to take the initial spark and keep going with it until I feel like I’ve wrung out every decent idea there is. Maybe it isn’t that way for everyone, but I think if you want to be creative, you can. But it takes work. And that’s the hard part.

Speaking in your own voice

This is a recent drawing. I finished it last week. But it’s taken me years to get here.

Years ago, before I started my music series, I was part of this little art group. Only a few people, very informal, none of us doing any showing. I had started working on a few drawings in a similar style to this one. I did a bunch of small ones in my sketchbook, and a couple at a larger size on watercolour paper. I took it in to show the group.

There was one artist in the group, and while she worked in a style drastically different to my own, she was very skilled and had excellent taste. I respected her opinion. So when she told me she really didn’t like these drawings, I took it to heart. And I stopped.

Fast forward a few years. I’ve been posting a #paintingoftheday to Instagram pretty much every day for a while now. I have a large inventory and have been painting regularly for years. But still… after a year of daily posting, I was running out of images. So I dug out these drawings. And you know what? They got a pretty decent reaction. I even got a commission out of it.

So why did I stop? I thought these drawings were pretty good. But I didn’t have the confidence to speak in my own voice. I was relying on other people to tell me my ideas were good enough. That I was good enough. But somewhere along the line I have figured out that I can trust my own instincts. If I think something is good, chances are there will be someone else around that agrees with me. Undoubtably there will be a few that don’t, but I know now that I don’t need to be everything to everyone. I’m ok with who I am. And I will speak in my own voice.