Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit

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Face Practice with Prompts

A couple weeks ago, I learned about Galia Alena’s blog where she was hosting a 30 Faces in 30 Days Challenge. I decided to join the challenge earlier this month and started sketching faces using her prompts as inspiration.

I haven’t been able to sketch a face every day. Which means I’m taking to heart the second “guideline” for this challenge:

If a face a day is too much for you, don’t let that stop you, do what feels right for you– we’d love you to play along in whatever way feels right to you.

I like that type of guideline. So for me this may be a 30+ day challenge.

I’m committed to finishing this challenge. Regardless of how many days it takes. Because I usually don’t make it to the end and typically drop out or stop participating somewhere along the way.

Right now I’m using my larger sketchbook to create these pieces. Most take about an hour to complete.

Day One: Drips and Splashes

The first piece was created on a piece of pre-splattered, painted paper that was leftover from a previous workshop. I was trying to emulate what I created in one of Gillian’s classes. That attempt, below, kind of failed.


I wanted to try this prompt again and decided to move on to my sketchbook. I used a black ink wash to create the background. Once that dried, Conte pastel pencil, white ink, black ink, and thinned acrylic paint were used to create the face.


Day Two: Dream

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to create for this prompt. I kept seeing an image of a face with closed eyes. Paint, paper, ink, Caran d’Arche crayons, and oil pastels were used.


Day Three: Text

I woke up on Saturday morning with this prompt knocking around in my head. I immediately envisioned a background with words. Before sitting down to create this piece, I burned some sage in my studio, closed my eyes, and meditated on the word “text.”

I asked my creative guides to join me and pulled out a couple pictures to use as a reference. During the process I was inspired to use the strands of her hair as lines for writing more text.




Day Four: Wing

Up to this point, I’ve been stuck on putting circles on the cheeks and noses of these pieces. I have no idea why. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word because I’m just following my intuition when sketching these pieces.

That, however, ended (for now) with the day four prompt.

I followed the same preparation process before sketching; burn sage, meditate, and ask for guidance. The piece came together almost effortlessly. Sometimes I continue to surprise myself.


This piece was created with graphite pencil and charcoal pencil. Red Conte pastel pencil adds a pop of color. Silver oil pastel was also used on the feathers of her wing.

This is my favorite piece thus far.


Looking Backwards, Moving Forward

In Gillian’s online class, Drawn to Expression, we created a lot of studies. This was new for me. I’ve sketched rough ideas that may or may not turn into a finished piece. But I never created multiple studies of an object or a portrait or a landscape. I definitely see the benefit in this approach.

One aspect of creating the various studies was returning to a particular piece, usually one that was not “precious” or complete, and reworking it. It’s kind of like a do-over. Can you take a “meh” or “blech” piece and make it more appealing? Pretty or beautiful, perhaps? Or, do you push it too far and turn it to mud? (Another lesson in itself for sure.)

I’ve started to think of this as looking backwards to move forward. Here is what I mean.

One Minute Sketches

Early in the class, we created one minute sketches. It was a good way to warm up the memory yarn. These were definitely NOT precious sketches.


Here I was learning how to use charcoal, understanding its quirks. These faces aren’t pretty and look quite rough. Returning to this sketch, and without a time limit, I used techniques Gillian taught to redo the faces. Were there characteristics I wanted to emphasize? How could I make the face more expressive?

Going from before to after often involved erasing some portion (or perhaps a lot) of the sketch or maybe using white charcoal or white pastel to obliterate some features.

20 Minute Sketch

It was fun to rework the one minute sketches. Though the size of each face was a bit constraining. So I decided to move on to a larger sketch.

Here is the before image. I got a little carried away with the graphite powder. It’s not a bad sketch. It’s not terribly expressive or loose in the use of lines.


And here is the re-worked sketch.



A lot of erasing, more graphite in other areas, and the addition of blue Conte pastel pencil turned him into a “sentimental gentleman.” (The Red Hot Chili Peppers “Show Me Your Soul” happened to be playing in the studio while I was working on this sketch.)

Family Gets a Do-Over

As happens now and again, I did not get into the studio for more than a week. I felt very out of practice, as if I’d forgotten how to draw. Of course, the best way to get back into the swing of things is to start drawing again. I had been working on a mixed media piece and decided to use the “family” in that piece for my sketching practice.

Here is how my face sketches looked after not being in the studio for more than a week.


Okay. Maybe they aren’t that bad. I’m amused, however, at how easy it is to revert back to “stiff” lines and wacky proportions. Ironically, the male faces were a bit easier to sketch than the female face. It’s usually the other way around for me because I rarely sketch male faces.

Fortunately, sketching is almost like getting back onto a bike after not riding for a while. Almost.

Here is the family of three after getting a do-over.


All this looking backwards in order to move forward is a great way to document your progress. It helps train your eye to look for what worked and what didn’t work in the study pieces. That, in turn, helps you to create a more finished piece.


Mixed Up Inky Portraits

I’ve fallen behind with my blog posts. Again. Blah. Blah. Blah. I think it’s that perfectionist critic whining in my ear. Rambling on about how dedicated I used to be posting new blog entries. Keeping up with my art. Etc. Etc. Etc.

So, to keep the little bugger quiet, I’m sharing four mixed up inky portraits that I created a while back during the “Drawn to Expression” workshop.

The idea here was to saturate watercolor paper first with water, then add blobs of ink or watered down paint. While the paper was wet, lines are added to create faces. Black and white portraits were used for reference images.

I did not like these pieces when I first started on them. So I walked away and left them for about a week. When I felt ready to work on these pieces again, I kept the paper relatively dry and added water selectively.

The end result is something I’m much happier with. Materials used include inks, thin acrylic paint, graphite pencil, Marks-all pencil, white pastel.






Lady Blue

I’ve been setting aside most of the lessons from “Let’s Face It” as I focused on Gillian’s daily classes in “Drawn to Expression”

However, in week 9 of “Let’s Face It,” Juna Biagioni’s mini-lesson piqued my interest. In this lesson, Juna used a more expressive approach for creating her portrait. It seemed like a perfect follow-up to everything I’ve been learning in “Drawn to Expression.”

The result was “Lady Blue.” Materials used include watercolor paper prepared with a thin coat of gesso, Conte pencils, acrylic paint, and Caran d’Arche crayons.

Background: Created with two shades of blue acrylic paint, plus white acrylic paint. Applied with a paintbrush and old credit card.


First Layer: The face was very lightly sketched onto the background. The first layer for the face was created with the same shades of blue acrylic paint as the background and applied loosely to the canvas. 2LadyBlueFirstFacePaintLayer

Sketching More Layers: The face was again sketched onto the first layer of paint. First with white Conte pastel pencil and then with a darker pencil. The intent is that each layer adds to the depth of the final portrait.



Lighter Tone Layers: Sketching is followed by adding paint in lighter tones. And more sketching.



At this point, we’ve officially entered the ugly stage.

Back to the blue paints and Conte. Now it feels like this portrait is starting to come together.


In Juna’s lesson, she eventually used oil paint sticks and oil pastels to smooth out the skin tone. I tried the oil pastels that I have but wasn’t thrilled with the result. I opted to use Caran d’Arche crayons.


I really like the expressive tone in this finished piece. I debated with myself whether or not to fill in her hair. I tried to visualize how the piece would look if the hair was a solid color. My preference was for her face to be the focal point. Leaving her hair partially complete adds to the expressive nature of the piece, in my opinion.

I could’ve cleaned up the dark lines along the left side of her face and neck as they may look a bit too much like an outline. This self-editing thing can be a bit of a back and forth battle.

Finally, I really tried to emphasize the light and dark sides of her face. I think I achieved that. This is the first piece I’ve ever created using non-flesh tone colors to indicate highlights and shadows. In the past, doing that scared me. It seemed unnatural. Perhaps it depends on the particular piece. After this exercise, I feel more comfortable using that technique.


Inka-Dinka-Doo, Inky Expressions

I truly hoped to have posted another update before now. Sometimes it is hard to pull myself away from other tasks in order to post a new blog entry. Curious how priorities change over time. When I had my business, I was very good about posting new blog entries. It was all part of that marketing, get-your-name-out-there thing.

Now, not so much. The business has moved on and I’m more involved with volunteer gigs, promoting art from the other side of the aisle, so to speak. (Not so much making my own art as bringing art to the community.)

And just as I was getting ready to post a new entry, our 13 year old cat got sick. He started to crash, really. Not eating. Lethargic. I feared the worst for him. And that brought up a lot of other stuff.

Fortunately, and thankfully, after a visit to his regular vet, the emergency vet hospital, and a few days and nights of treatment and observation, Pippin returned home and is on the road to recovery.

So let us now return to our previously scheduled program, er blog post…

Inky Expressions

In the Drawn to Expression online class, we’ve worked with charcoal in its many forms. We’ve sketched faces and tried to loosen up our mark making.

Then Gillian challenged us, again, with ink.

I haven’t used India ink since high school. After we moved, I gave my calligraphy tools to a friend (nibs and two holders that I had since high school.) It was like Murphy’s Law. I hadn’t used them for many, many years, so why keep them now that we had downsized? And, of course, just because I gave them away…

This is why people hold onto things. You never know when you might need those things again.

But I digress.

We started by making small, inky faces. Similar to the timed task when we sketched small faces. But ink is less controllable.

Quite frankly, I did not like working with ink. Well, not the ink itself, but the bamboo dip pen. It took quite a bit of trial and error to figure out how to hold the dip pen in order to get the best flow of ink. It really didn’t work well for me when the paper was on the easel. Working on a flat surface is a bit better.

One Object-Three Ways

Next up, sketching an object from three different perspectives. Tools used included a dip pen, nib, paintbrush, squirt bottle, Marks-all pencil, black and white ink.


Overlapping Inky Gargoyle

This was a bit more fun. Love the drippy ink. My favorites are the Gargoyle on the left and the one facing us straight on.

What I’m learning, though, is the cheap watercolor paper isn’t the best for ink work. Since this is just play and practice, it’s not terribly important. I also found that the ink was drying very quickly which may have more to do with the heat in my studio. In some sections of this piece I had to saturate the paper with water. Which subsequently made it buckle.

Overlapping Faces

A final assignment in playing with inks was to sketch three different faces in three different perspectives. This was a challenge for me as my comfort zone is a straight-on face, facing forward. They are easier to draw and the ones that draw my eye whenever I look for reference photos.

But, we’re not learning if we stay in our comfort zone. So I found some new reference photos and gave it a go. Here we used inks, Marks all pencil, a bit of charcoal, white pastel, nibs, dip pen, and paintbrush and squirt bottle.


Three Inky Faces In Progress


Inka-Dinka-Do Faces


Left looking face


Straight on face


Right looking face

In the end, this turned out to be quite a fun exercise.

I believe part of what was holding me back was trying to achieve a look similar to Gillian’s when she creates her sample pieces. I know that in order to learn it is quite common to copy the samples that a teacher shares. I have no problem with that.

However, she and I have different styles. She has also been doing this a wee bit longer than I and has a bit more practice. Simply put, I find I do better if I let go of trying to copy and just try to make the piece my own with my own style (or lack there of.)

I’m also still learning how to create loose, expressive face portraits. I’ve got a feel for it using pencil and charcoal. Adding another new medium into the mix, the ink, and it felt like I was going backwards.

Overall, I’m happy with the way these overlapping faces turned out. Could I have pushed it a bit further? Perhaps. Or did I over do it, get too detailed and lose some of the expressive quality? Maybe. Self-editing is a never ending learning process. It continues to take practice, practice, practice.


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Letting Loose with Expression

The fourth and final week of “Drawn to Expression” started this week. I’m still playing catch-up. I’m so inspired by Gillian’s work and challenged by several of her lessons. Which is a good thing. If it were all easy-peasy, I don’t think I’d grow much as an artist.

Expressive Animals

We spend a fair amount of time working with portraits in class. We’ve also been challenged to sketch animals. I can’t quite figure out why sketching an animal seems easier and quicker (in some cases) than human faces. Do you find it easier to sketch an animal versus a human face?

In this first sketch, we were challenged to create the bee without outlining his body. That is, use tone to create the shape. And to imply a sense of movement.


Bumblebee (Charcoal, charcoal pencil, graphite powder, Conte crayon, graphite pencil)

The next animal we sketched was an owl. Here the challenge was to create the image of the owl without putting in every.little.detail. Quite a challenge when you’re used to being told to put all the attributes of the model into your drawing.


Owl (Charcoal, charcoal pencil, graphite, white gesso, Conte crayon)

Then, just for an extra challenge, we were asked to draw pairs of beetles (or butterflies, or flowers) using both hands. At the same time.

Yep, a piece of charcoal in one hand. And a charcoal pencil in the other hand. Drawing at the same time. Drawing with both sides of your brain.

Talk about a brain cramp.

Keep in mind the idea here is to challenge oneself. These are not meant to be pretty pictures that end up in a gilded frame. These are exercises meant to stretch our creative brains. To loosen us up. And to make us giggle. Which is what happened here.


Two At One Time

The pair at the top in the center look like they’re waltzing. Personally, I think they look more like smooshed frogs than beetles.

And Bold Flowers

One of my favorite exercises thus far has been sketching flowers. Some of Gillian’s approaches in helping us become more expressive is to draw fast and then slow. To create and then obliterate. It moves one away from detail and from becoming too precious with the outcome. The hard part is noticing when you are getting “too detailed” or “too precious” with your piece.

We set a timer for this assignment and turned the paper 90 degrees every few minutes. I’ve taken the same approach (turning the paper or canvas 90 degrees) when painting. It really does force you to look at your piece differently. Perhaps finding a spark that you didn’t notice before.

Landscape pose:


Flowers (Charcoal pencil, graphite pencil, Conte crayon, soft pastel)

And portrait pose:


Oh, not only did I turn the paper 90 degrees every few minutes. I also turned the vase of flowers each time I changed the direction of the paper. So the visual perspective was changing all the time.

I have much more to share but will end here for now. Till next time…



Going Back to the Beginning

One of the early exercises in “Let’s Face It” is to look back at some of the face sketches, drawings or paintings that we created early on in our creative journey. It’s a great exercise to remind us of where we started and where we’re going. It will also help us see our progress throughout the course this year.

So I thought it might be amusing to share with you some of my early face drawings and paintings. It’s okay to laugh or cringe at some of these faces. I do the same thing when I look at them.

Turn on the Way Back Machine, Mr. Peabody

These drawings were created about 6 years ago. I was dealing with some health issues and used art to work through that process. This was my self-portrait. The question mark represented not knowing what would come next in this situation.


I hated drawing noses and almost always placed the eyes too high on the head.

Ironically, I made sculptural pieces, my Spirit Messengers and Ornimals, for several years. But many of those pieces had heads/faces that were imaginative and not all were based on humans.

Fast Forward

Now it is 2013. I’m taking a non-art related class though we are creating mandalas or other forms of expression in response to readings. Here I decided to create my first “portraits” in many years.


I notice how much I enjoyed creating these pieces. Not anywhere near “perfect” but it reminds me how much I like drawing and painting.

As time progresses, I stop making sculptural pieces and turn my focus to sketching, drawing and painting. I start finding sources with instruction and guidance on drawing faces. (Waaaay too many resources, in fact.)

However, that doesn’t mean lady confidence emerges and my paintings of faces magically appear on the canvas. Hardly.

In these two paintings from 2014, I found myself quite afraid to paint eyes and noses. Again. Instead of taking the risk that I might completely mess up the faces, I found it easier to give the appearance of eyes (or eyelids). That perfectionist voice inside, the one who says “You should know how to do this” appeared to win this round.


Finally, in 2015, my love of drawing faces and the desire to put in the effort to improve my skill comes full circle. I buy Pam Carricker’s book, “Mixed Media Portraits. I sign up for online classes. I’m invited to participate in a sketching group.

Now the practice begins to pay off.

Where is this leading?

Even though I took art classes during all four years in high school and had a basic knowledge of how to draw a face, I found that it was easier to avoid drawing or painting a face at all costs. Perhaps it was some old memory of being told I “couldn’t” draw that kept me from creating faces. Or old lady perfection who was more worried about screwing up the facial features instead of just playing and experimenting.

What I can say is that if you also love to draw faces, then by all means, draw those faces. There are many resources out there with tips and tricks to get you started. Yes, practice is important, whether it’s every day or a few times a week.

It’s also important, I think, that you try really hard to get past the worry that the face you’re drawing won’t look like whomever. I told myself early on that I wasn’t going for perfect portraiture. I’m developing my own style and you should too. Make your face drawings whimsical. Make them caricatures. Give them green hair and purple eyes. Have fun with it.

In both the “Let’s Face It” class and “Drawn to Expression” I’m feeling better about interpreting the faces in a way that fits my style. Whatever that style is at this time. Finding a “style” or “expression” doesn’t happen overnight for most of us. It takes practice (which, for practice sake, might include copying). It takes having an open mind and a willingness to play and experiment. It’s an ongoing learning process.