Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: Portrait Drawing by Mau-Kun Yim

I recently had a chance to read a copy of Lessons in Masterful Portrait Drawing: A Classical Approach to Drawing the Head by Chinese-born artist Mau-Kun Yim.

The book consists mainly of Mr. Yim's charcoal portrait drawings from life.  

The book includes many step-by-step sequences that show his process. He with a foundation of straight lines to establish the structure of the head and the placement of the features.

Then he adds masses of tone in a sculptural but painterly way. He describes drawing as "painting without color," and he compares making a drawing to building a house. Edges and highlights are reserved for last.

The title of the book, "Lessons in Masterful Portrait Drawing: A Classical Approach to Drawing the Head" is a bit of a misnomer, because it's not really presented as specific lessons to follow so much as ideas and drawings to be inspired by. 

The book is helpful for the drawings themselves, which are well reproduced. A gallery section of full-page examples takes up the last 50 pages of the 144 page hardcover book. I found the book is also helpful for understanding his philosophy, which he has developed through his study of many traditions of drawing: not only Chinese, but also European, American, and Soviet. 

He quotes the teaching of Soviet master Konstantin Maksimov on the principle of wholeness: "Start with large blocks, straight lines, and masses of light and shadow, before gradually moving on to the features, details, and expression in a drawing. If you can get the relationship between the building blocks right, then a harmonious whole will emerge."

He is a believer in keeping a sketchbook. "Sketch often and sketch slowly," he recommends. "Is faster better in sketching?" he asks. "Not always! I've seen many private studios in the West, Hong Kong and Taiwan where the time allowed for nude sketches is so short that the paintings come out looking like wild scrawls."

There are several videos showing his method on YouTube, such as this one, sponsored by Nitram Charcoal. There are other videos on his own YouTube channel, where he also shares his masterful oil portraits. (Link to YouTube)

His website is Mau-Kun Yim

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Berkey Crowd Scene

John Berkey's widow, Demi, remembers what it was like for John to paint the massive crowd scene in this Indianapolis 500 illustration.

"John hated those crowd scenes. One of the things he did to keep from going completely mad was to mask off most of the painting and work on only one section at a time. There was just no way to do the crowds fast. A piece like this took many days."
See more Art by John Berkey (1932-2008) at Jim Pinkoski's fan site

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Your New Easel Builds

You've been sending in photos of your easel builds, and I've been very impressed with the ingenuity and problem-solving you've brought to the task.

Glenn Tait

1. The Coroplast Pochade Board
This light-weight, three panel, rig is built using a 14.5" X 6.25" panel of 1/4" plywood painted black to which black Coroplast panels are attached using Chicago screws and washers. Metal rods are inserted the length of bottom panel giving structural strength to support my water and paints. They also double as magnetic attachment points for my water containers. Neodymium magnets are placed into the right side of this panel to hold my palette. The board can be tilted using the 360 degree head mount on the tripod while the panels are adjusted with a 550 Paracord rigging tightened with a Cord Lock Stopper. Brushes are stored in a hanging support under the rig for easy access.

1B. Water cups
Other materials, extra water, etc. are easily accessed from the backpack, which hangs beneath the tripod acting as an anchor holding everything down.

2. Diffuser Screen
A wire mesh desk caddy found at a Dollar store made a great frame for my diffuser. The mesh was removed from the frame using pliers. A white nylon stuff bag was sewn for the diffuser cover. The support was made using a set of self-closing hinges with knurled screws for tightening all of which was attached to two sets of metal strips. 

2B. Diffuser Clip
This unit slides onto the plywood board and can be used whether the board is in a landscape or portrait orientation.

3. Tripod
I use a light, compact tripod with a sturdy load capacity. The Triopo MT-2205, an aluminum tripod with a 360 degree head mount, a spring loaded hang clip, a max. load capacity of 8kg / 17.64lb, a height of 162cm / 63.78in, folds down to 37cm / 14.57in and weighs 1150g / 2.54lb.

4. Construction and Materials Notes
I have no workshop or power tools but was able to build this using a few hand tools: a leather punch for the holes in the Coroplast, a universal screw starter to "drill" holes in the plywood, a utility knife to trim the plywood, scissors, a butane lighter (to melt the ends of the Paracord) and pliers.

Materials included Coroplast/Tenplast, Gorilla duct tape, Chicago screw, various sized washers (metal and rubber), 1/4 T-nut, Neodymium magnets, 550 paracord, Cord Lock Stopper, self closing hinges, brass knurled nuts and screws Loctite Super Glue for Plastics, (an instant super glue used to attach the magnets to the Nalgene containers.)

Nate Billings

Here are a couple of pictures of my build. I need to do some upgrading, but right now things are held on with clips and velcro in a modular system. I keep velcro on the back of my watercolors, cups, etc. It prevents things from falling off. 

Normally, I attach it to a tripod, but for this event, I had to use my standard easel. The bulldog clips allow me to attach it below the painting for easy access!

Keith Yong

Just wanted to share my very simple plein air setup. It's essentially just a flat plywood surface and some clips. I plan to add a light diffuser on top in the future too. It weighs at 440g (15.5 oz) and has a large available surface area. 

With this setup I can use it pretty much like a desk top. I attached a mini Swiss Arca plate on the bottom with screws and it's very solid. The only downside is that it doesn't fold, but it fits well inside my backpack like a thin book.

Edit: "I did add a light diffuser in the end and it works perfectly"

Piya Wannachaiwong

I just wanted to share my version of the Sketch easel (frankly I do more call it the Gurney easel). It's about 9" tall by 12" across for each panel. I use a Caran D'Ache 15 color gouache pan set and I'd like to be able to accommodate a Moleskine Sketchbook or a Perfect Sketchbook.

I've incorporated a 'ledge' for my sketchbook to sit on. It's simply a 1.25" tall and 12" wide strip of wood glued on just above the hinges. 

Wood-burned onto that ledge is the instruction 'First, Composition, then Values and finally, Colors'.

Also after using the easel for the first time, I decided I wanted to install a fold out brush holder. It's 4"x7", with ledges on the bottom and side. As I'm left handed, it's installed with simple hinges on the left side. I simply set the brushes down, I have found drilling holes on the side so the brushes can stand up makes the brushes an obstacle.

Otherwise, it's pretty close to what you suggested in your video. I have yet to install a holder for a light diffuser, but further down the line I probably will.

By the way, if anyone asks, I don't recommend birch plywood from Michael's. It's layered wood that tears apart under a circular saw and definitely made this easel a little less refined than I'd like. I'm planning on building another one for my wife with oak soon.
Thanks, everybody for sharing all these wonderful insights on all these builds. If you want to join the fun, check out my tutorial video. It covers how I make both the easel and four different diffuser designs.

The HD download of "How to Make a Sketch Easel" is more than an hour long and costs only $14.95.
It's available now from Gumroad, and Sellfy, and Cubebrush

The DVD version is available for $24.50, and it includes a slide show. The DVD is also available on Amazon

My materials list for making a sketch easel
Also check out previous posts Your Sketch Easel Designs and Your DIY Sketch Easels

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Watercolor Video 10% Off Today

(Link to video) Spontaneous portrait of a Civil War re-enactor, an excerpt from my video tutorial "Watercolor in the Wild." It's 10% off today at this link. The DVD is also on sale for 10% off today.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Modification to Southco Hinges

Blog reader Paul Savoie of Ontario Canada says:

"After viewing your latest video on "How to Make a Sketch Easel" I promptly ordered the friction hinges . They arrived a couple of days ago. After a bit of head scratching I figured out how to modify the hinges so that they can fully close for a standard installation. (No need to create a wedged hinge recess in order for the easel to close properly).

"First, the dome of the round head bolt needs to be filed flat. Use a standard mill file, and elbow grease, with the bolt fully seated into the nut and held in a vice. Once the dome has been removed place the nut and bolt assembly in a drill chuck and file a new dome as the bolt spins. Use a fine sandpaper (240 grit or finer) to give the head a satin finish. This still leaves plenty of the Phillips recess to provide sufficient purchase for the screw driver. The thinner bolt head is more than strong enough in this application since, as you know, VERY LITTLE torque and pressure needs to be applied to stiffen these friction hinges. The bolt modification alone is not quite enough to allow the hinge to close slightly past parallel.

"Second, a countersunk hole needs to be drilled into the cross brace of the hinge flap opposite the bolt. Remove the nut and bolt. Fully close the hinge. Use the hole where the bolt sits as your guide for drilling a SMALL hole through the opposite flap cross brace. You don’t want to weaken the cross brace too much by drilling a large hole. Countersink the new hole as shown in the attached photos. The shallower bolt head can now nestle into the new countersunk recess and VOILA!…the hinge can be fully closed!!!

"TIP: After the easel is finished, and just BEFORE you make the final tension adjustment on the hinges, add a tiny dab of clear nail polish to the bolt threads. This will “lock” the bolts in place but still allow for future adjustments if needed. Commercially available “Loctite" thread sealant will serve the same purpose if you have any."

Thanks, Paul, for sharing this valuable tip! If any of you would like to share a tip or a build idea from your easel, please send me a couple photos and captions. I'll do a round-up soon. Thanks to those of you who have been sending them in.
Southco Adjustable Torque friction hinges
Loctite  Heavy Duty Threadlocker
Video tutorial: "How to Make a Sketch Easel"

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Chris Rodley set up his computer up with a deep-learning algorithm to combine 19th century fruit art with dinosaurs. 

The resulting Arcimboldo-esque 'fruitosaurs' have pears and plums rounding out their rib sections. Berry textures stand in for pebbly scales.

Mr. Rodley's software also crossed dinosaurs with an old book of flowers, creating a botanical mashup that's different from what a human collage artist would invent. 

There's an overall color and value logic to each dinosaur, and a clever solution for each of their eyes. The background texture is fragmentary, not quite identifiable as specific plants. And the "writing" along the bottom is mumbo-jumbo.

While it's all delightful fun, it raises some serious questions for working illustrators. Is this truly creative or artistic? How will illustrators—or art directors—use these tools? Should illustration competitions such as the Society of Illustrators or Spectrum permit entries created with artificial intelligence? How could they ever stop it?
Here is Chris Rodley's website and Twitter feed. Thanks, Kevin Cheng