Monthly Archives: July 2013


Remember the Zentangles?  This assignment is to make a format (margin) about 5 x 7″ in your sketchbook.  With either pen and ink or pencil, draw an object or animal (like a fish) inside, but let part of the object go outside the format.   In the negative space around the object, make sections and fill in with different zentangle patterns.

In a Sea of Tangles



Draw a shiny object in graphite pencil.  Use strong contrast to show highlights and reflections.  Then draw a rough, textured, or dull object in graphite pencil.  Try to show the roughness or texture in the item.  Notice the amount of contrast — is there more on the shiny object than there is on the textured?

shiny rough


I like to play around with cliche’s from time to time.  This sketchbook assignment was made at the time we were trying to sell our house (it was on the market for a year before it finally sold).  We were having several open houses, and I was engaged in staging and cleaning constantly.  So I gave the assignment:  Draw what is bothering you this week.  Use your imagination, placing your problem on a symbolic plate.  This was my endeavor — it doesn’t look anything like our house — it was a three story brick building!   Everybody has something on their mind – a problem, a project, or a story to tell. This is a way to make it visible.

what's on your plate

Zentangles and Zendalas


I have been drawing zentangles for about a year in my sketchbook, and also using them in making notecards with scriptural passages.  The Zentangle is a method of drawing patterns and repetitions in shapes that is both enjoyable and meditative.   All one has to have is a pen and/or pencil, some drawing paper, and time to sit and draw.  The concept was created by Maria Thomas, a calligrapher in 2005 when she realized that drawing patterns on her manuscripts caused her to relax and focus on one thing.   Many books can be found about zentangling, and countless UTube videos are available.

Instead of a the usual square format, the above drawing is in the form of a mandala — an ancient symbol of oneness.   Use a compass and a protractor to divide a circle into 8 equal sections.  Begin your design from the center outward.  With a pencil, draw a series of circles about 1/2″ apart from the center to the edge.  Then use the intersecting grid to make symmetrical patterns all the way to the edge of the circle.  You can complete this with pen and ink, or use colored pencil or watercolor pencils to embellish.  Let me know if you try this, and if it’s as much fun for you as it is for me!

The Eyes Have It!

eyes in a mirror

Look in your mirror and draw only your eyes – include your eyebrows, wrinkles (if you have any), glasses, bags under the eyes, etc.  Finish in color.

Make several studies of yourself from a mirror image.  Make a composite drawing using your favorite along with object drawings that define your personality or interests.

Depict an emotion without a figure through the use of space, light, and/or perspective.


I read somewhere that in order to improve,  an artist should draw in his/her sketchbook for 10 minutes per day.   I don’t always follow this maxim, but I do have a lot of sketchbooks filled up over time.  These next ideas are some sketchbook assignments I have made for my students, but not necessarily tried myself.   I don’t really remember where they came from — some book, I guess.  See how you like them —

Observe a person busy doing something. Draw the person as a full figure and focus on capturing the action he/she is engaged in.  Draw the same figure again, focusing on details so that the story is told through costume, uniform, etc. or other details that add to the viewers’ knowledge.  (A good place to practice this is at the airport waiting area, or doctor’s office, etc.)

Draw (from life) an animal at rest.  Could be your cat or dog.  Draw another one in action using gesture drawing.

Make a drawing of an exterior scene from your everyday environment. Draw an interior scene from your everyday environment.




Find a common household object with lots of interesting shapes.  The first day, draw it in charcoal as realistically as possible with light and shadows.  The second day, look closely to find some repetitive angles, curves, and lines.  Draw just that much in charcoal again.  The next day, take what you’ve drawn from the previous day and simplify it, looking for contrast, repetition, balance, and movement so that it becomes abstract.  Add some color if you wish.

Final composition ideas

Birth of Spring

Having a subject in mind, splash intense watercolors indiscriminately over your support.   Then build up the subject with pastel, acrylics or colored pencils keeping the bright areas as your background.


Cut or tear up shapes from an unsuccessful watercolor and see what they remind you of.  Position on a black background to tell a story.  This is called Family Feud, and represents the occasional divisions of a family over a perceived insult or quarrel.  The shapes are facing inward, with some diagonal shapes to represent friction.

Harlequin Lilies

For your background, make a grid of related shapes — vary the dimensions and change the hues as the shapes cris-cross.  Use repetition of shapes and colors to suit the subject.  Can you tell I used a set of curves as my shapes?

This is the last entry in the “Ideas” section (I’m out of ideas?)  The next section of my blog will include suggestions for sketchbook drawings that I have taught and have practiced in my own sketchbooks.  Keep visiting!

Additional ideas

blue set

Ignore depth of space and simplify and flatten the shapes in a still life.  Use a complementary color scheme with close values.  Let either warm or cool colors dominate.


Try using either a high horizon or a low horizon line.  The choice depends on where you want the emphasis to be.

At the Rivermarket

Go to a fresh food market and take pictures of the displays and the customers.  Try to tell a story with the characters in your scene.

Still more to come:

Faith, Hope, and Love

Illustrate a Bible story from your perspective.  Use a triptych format to tell the story.  This is about the Prodigal Son parable.

A Thread Runs

Focus on your hobby – arrange your tools or necessary supplies on a surface and photograph.  Paint, using colors and rhythms to tie the subject  matter together.


Memorize a scene and try to duplicate it later on.  Less attention on detail and more simplification will result.  I saw these clouds, but didn’t have a camera to photograph it.  When I got home, I painted it in pastel from memory.  I like it better than those I paint with great detail!