The Creative Plan – Expressive drawing


After spending so much time doing controlled exercises it was time to get messy. Expressive drawing still benefits from some control or discipline, but to me it’s drawing with feeling and energy, using your whole arm to draw and not worrying about mistakes. Even if it’s not your thing practicing this kind of drawing is great for dusting off cobwebs or warming up before your main project.



Technical pencil – 2B lead

I was hoping to be very controlled with this but whenever I sketch freehand it becomes very loose and proportionately inaccurate. Why did I want to control it? Possibly as it was a tech pencil and would have been hard to get line variation and the lead would have kept breaking if I drew too quickly.

Exercise_1_pinecone_1Exercise_1_pinecone_image_1It looks like it’s spewing forth pine cone scales, which I don’t mind, however it’s not how I planned to approach this initially. The process was equivalent to speaking out loud before thinking about what you’re going to say.

2B pencil

Exercise_1_pinecone_2Exercise_1_pinecone_image_2I quite like this one, though not entirely reminiscent of a pine cone. It was hard to get various levels of tone with a 2B. I’m pleased with myself for keeping the top left section clean and ‘under worked’ to give the whole picture light direction.

6B pencil

Exercise_1_pinecone_3Exercise_1_pinecone_image_3This grade allowed me to give the pine cone more volume. I had to keep sharpening my pencil because if I had let it dull down the linework would have created an overall flatness to the shape – having that slight contrast with the finer linework and the denser lines gives the subject more depth.

POI – Point of Interest

Something I will elaborate on another time. In a nutshell, the artwork I’m always attracted to will have one or more areas that I keep going back to and get lost in. They may not necessarily be the busiest areas or the most colourful, but they keep luring my eye back wanting to explore it more and find out why it engages me so much.

Exercise_1_pinecone_4Exercise_1_pinecone_image_4I try to keep that in mind (when I remember) and as this was a line exercise, my linework had to generate that interest or energy. It’s always about balances for me as that creates contrast. Here it’s not only line widths or tonal balance but quiet areas versus busier ones; longer, fluid lines against short jabs and dots (not continuous line obviously); controlled pencil work versus expressive.


I chose portraits with lots of feeling and emotion as they are perfect for expressive drawing. I went online and found some amazing photos, which are more like artworks, to help me with this exercise. I used both 2B and 4B pencils.


Anger by Mahesh Balasubramanian
Photo reproduced courtesy of  Mahesh Balasubramanian

The first exercise was me being me, not really planning too much ahead, using my instincts and dive bombing into it. Though I decided to stop when I realised my face, compare to Mahesh’s incredible photograph, was verging more on being sinister than just angry. I couldn’t see how I could change it. The more I tried to fix it, particularly around the eyes, the muddier it became. I wasn’t too pleased with the outcome, but I guess that’s one of the pitfalls of gestural drawing –its impressionistic and spontaneous making it very hard to reverse.

First stages


Last stage, before I abandoned it

I do like the freeness of it but it needs to be balanced with more controlled areas like the mouth, nose and eyes. It’s really hard to switch from high gear to cruise control.


The original photo reference by Jonathon Rosser can be viewed on flickr

The next drawing I approached with more thought and the results are much better. The nose and possibly forehead could have been a bit better but I’m really happy with the variety of linework and texture, which took a lot of restraint not to overwork it.





A much better result. I started off by using the continuous line method for my structural lines then towards the end added speckly and short lines for contrast.

The original photo reference by Jonathon Rosser can be viewed on flickr

Another factor that does count, as I’ve had this happen before, is that if you are spending the whole day drawing it can take a while to warm up, so by this stage I was feeling more confident, therefore more instinctive too.



The other thing I did this time was before I began I spent a few minutes studying the subject – seeing where all the highlights were, the mood of the image, what areas were of interest to me. I saw it as a whole before I drew the first line so I could then see my drawing in its entirety as I was working on it.


This one was challenging because the top of his head was cropped off. It was difficult knowing where or how to end my drawing. As an overall observation I need to work more on my eyes and noses, despite today’s exercises not really focusing on drawing portraiture per se.

Early stages

I do like his beard and mouth. As the subject had darker skin I found myself wanting to shade in the more subtle areas where again I was falling into my habit of focussing on sections rather than seeing it as a whole. Which was also counter-productive with regard to the areas I kept working on, as they were losing a lot of tonal value and volume. I was also really conscious of not slowing down and becoming too controlled.

Final stage. The original photo reference by Jonathon Rosser can be viewed on flickr

I managed to pull back but the cropped head kept throwing me off and I was subconsciously trying to compensate for it. Apart from the anatomical ‘bumps’ I’m quite happy with this exercise.



I bypassed this exercise as I felt I had covered it with the last one.



I attempted this before but it failed. The idea was a smudgy, textural feel where all the light areas are erased out. My original test was admittedly half concocted but the paper I was using had a rough tooth which I don’t feel allowed the eraser to slide and smudge the pencil work enough. This time round I used a smoother paper and built up more pencil layers for the base.

The original photo reference by Jonathon Rosser can be viewed on flickr


This exercise turned out better than I expected. I used a mix of 3B and 4B. The animated gif shows how I layered the base tones in a very broad hatching style, this was to build up the darker areas as well as the surface planes.

Exercise_4_eraser_stages_1Once it started to take shape I introduced the use of the eraser as a pencil to create the lighter tones and highlights. I also started to use the graphite pencils to draw in the detail and more controlled shading.


I enjoyed it so much I did another one. It wasn’t just the final result I was happy with but I enjoyed the process of creating it and seeing it develop. Exercise_4_eraser_2

Mikus Lasmanis by Errikos Andreou
Photo of  Mikus Lasmanis reproduced courtesy of Errikos Andreou.
Early stage

This is a technique I definitely will practice more, and it will be interesting to see if it translates well across various subject matter or if its only suited to energetic or gritty/textured themes. One of the keys was also using two different graded pencils – one as a base, the other for detail and volume.


Tools used today – graphite pencils and cut off pieces off an eraser

Your_thoughts_post_itA lot of people comment on how loose and expressive my style is and that it’s very confident too. This is largely due to having spent my childhood drawing with pens rather than pencils – I couldn’t rub out my mistakes so had to train myself to be more sure with every line I drew. Then in highschool I was introduced to life drawing where I spent several years practicing quick gestural drawing, the completely opposite approach!

I never thought these techniques would have such a long lasting effect not only on my work but the way I approach new ideas. Do you have a similar beginning where what you learnt earlier in your life carries through to what you do now?



The Creative Plan – Patterns


I’ve never really been into pattern/shape making. It’s something I would only subconsciously do when I’m in a meeting or on hold wth customer service purely to stop me from falling asleep.

Don’t get me wrong, patterns are cool. I love patterned fabric and am envoius of designers who can balance multiple shapes as well as colours. So I was very keen to start today’s exercises. They were still just black & white tasks in pencil but for someone like me who can’t work with more tha n3 colours it was a good baby step.



Prepared grid

I started off small and randomly coloured in triangles of 3 different tonal values, so a set of four boxes would contain two lots of white, ligh, mid and dark triangles. I didn’t worry about the order or alignment of the tones, just let it happen instinctively. I don’t evem know why I chose triangles either.

I did fall into a few traps where I was building up too many dark triangles in one area because I wasnt thinking ahead, but as a whole it doesn’t look too bad. Keeping it to only four shades gave it some consistency and flow when it was lacking in other factors.

Exercise_1_D3_geometric_grid_AThe second one was a repeated tonal pattern built over a sequence of eight squares. I was a lot more thoughtful in the balancing of the different tones and no surprise the result has more fluidity.

For instance, comparing the two, when reading them from top to bottom, your eyes flow more smoothly over Example B. But I do like the scatter gun energy of Example A. B is graceful and harmonious, A is spontaneous and unconvential.


I tried to just do square patterns but it wasn’t giving me enough complexity. I did find myself trying to balance it out symmetrically, despite not having a game  plan other than not to overwork it…which probably should have happened a tad earlier.


I left out shading and focussed on solid squares. The intention was for it to be symmetrical but perhaps my creative subconscious isn’t inclined that way as I lost it in the middle.


Image sourced from the Australian Museum

When I first came across zentangle artwork online my immediate reaction was that this is just doodle drawing, the way a kid decorates their school books with, something with no thought process behind it. However, in the hands of the right creative thinking it can become something really exquisite and beautiful. I’m in awe with the amount of detail, thought and effort that goes into building one.Exercise_2_D3_zentangle

option for another


However, I don’t think its my cup of tea. Although I’m happy with my first attempt at a zentangle I struggled trying to come up with pattern after pattern after pattern, while also being conscious that my choices must work within the shape and size of the area. I really didnt enjoy this at all.Exercise_3_D3_header


I started late today and only had time to create three, so I kind of merged some of the options into one. Tiled pattern design is also something I’ve never attempted before. I learnt how to sew last year so it has made me more aware of fabric patterns and it’s rules of design.

This exercise wasn’t really about that though as it would require more than just an afternoon to dissect what makes a good pattern design. It was merely a framework for me to structure an exercise that featured repeated patterns.

Exercise_3_D3_tile_geometric_1Example 1: In keeping with today’s theme I stayed with the geometric pattern approach. I didn’t use rulers or elipses, etc. (except for the base grid) so none of the shapes or spacing are accurate. Again, I applied a similar tactic to my very first exercise where all the tones are randomly chosen. For me it lacks spark and character.


After I scanned everything in, I quickly tiled my pattern to see what it would look like repeated. This might work better if it was balanced out with say, one larger flower device or a reversed block. But again, it’s not the point of this exercise.

Exercise_3_D3_tile_line_1Example 2: When I created these exercises it was some time ago so I can’t quite remember what my intention was. I dont believe I was to take the line pattern example so figuratively but after a day of drawing and colouring in squares and triangles, I needed to draw something more substantial! It’s a mix of No. 3 and 5.

Exercise_3_D3_tile_line_pattern_1I kept with the floral theme primarily because as the day wears on, it’s so easy to get hit with creative block. Time can be wasted having to come up with ideas just to carry out these tasks ‘What should I draw? No, that’s too hard. No, that’s too easy.’  By having prepared themes, images, templates or even props there’s less disruption with my creative process.


Example 3: This was a combination of the last three. I return to patterned shapes, but as you can see in the centre I lost count and got quite confused with all my overlapping petals. However, I do like the feel to this one. It’s very sensous and delicate.



Although it’s my first attempt at creating with patterns and geometric shapes I’m feeling it’s not my thing. It doesn’t seem to engage my mind enough. A lot of it felt more about keeping between the lines.

Your_thoughts_post_itThe constant need to create new shapes or patterns along with making sure my ‘colouring-in’ never clashed with other sections was sapping all my creative energy. At no point did it feel instinctive. However, I will endeavour to try again, there is definitely the possiblity that I didnt push myself further enough with it. I do love the works of Gustav Klimt and Paul Klee, both of whom did inspire this whole day initially.Quite possibly when I start using different mediums it may reveal more.

The Creative Plan – Cross-hatching



I chose a mug because of its cylindrical shape, its always harder than something with a straighter edge. Also, I think I’m not alone when I say the the mouth of any cup, glass or bowl can be really tricky not only in getting the shape and angle right, but where the highlights and shadows begin and end.

The reflective surface was another challenge – I had to place some black card underneath it to stop everything sitting on my table reflecting off it. I also noticed that whenever I raised my head up from my drawing to refer to the real mug, the slightest angle variation gave me different reflective shapes.



I didn’t look like I was getting anywhere but by the end I was fairly happy with it. I’m happier more with the exterior than the interior of my mug.

The first couple of stages


I grabbed a padlock to draw because it had a nice simple, solid shape that included curves and straight edges.



I’m sure there are more cross-hatching styles but the three listed are the ones in common practice, and the most distinctive.

Line hatching – (Top drawing) where all lines are drawn in the same direction or angle.

On a contoured surface it was really had to resist shading around the edges – it was going against my natural instincts. It does look nice, though it was hard to layer the darkest areas because this technique builds up colour over the same area or grain of the paper, which can only handle so much.

Cross-hatching – (Middle drawing) building up tone by varing the angle of linework with each sucessive layer.

I quite like the multi-prism pattern its created. The shiny surface of the body isn’t as convincing as the hinge (or whatever it’s called). It does feel a lot more weighted compared to the line hatch version.


Contoured hatching – (Bottom drawing) the layering of linework follows the object’s surface contours.

It looks a little weird. The whole thing looks as though it’s been wrapped in cotton. However, the reflective surface is good and it feels weighted well.

Overall, I prefer the second version, primarily because the texture created also gives the drawing some personality. It’s not just a drawing attempting to replicate a real object – it embraces the technique and almost flaunts it, making you want to look closer at the detailing and lose yourself in the linework.


My model for today was this little fella I bought at a Salavtion Army (thrift) store, he caught my eye as I walked passed. When I went in, I literally said (and unintentionally) “How much is that dog in the window?” The store manager was waiting for someone to say that. I’m glad I fell for it!



For this exercise I used 2B, 4B and 6B pencils. I completed the 2B version first and it was only after finishing the 4B that the differences were more obvious. I’ve always preferred darker pencils to 2Bs but I’ve never done a comparison test.

2B pencil

The 2B, on reflection, was a lot more labour intensive. In this case you can see that in order to create the fluffiness of the dog, the linework ends up being harsher, as well as more energetic.

4B pencil

With the 4B being a softer grade it was easier to graduate the tones without necessarily layering my linework, meaning in one stroke of the pencil I could change the tone from light to dark quite easily, in a tapering movement. So much easier to create darker tones. The shapes feel more defined because I could get more depth tonally and therefore, I think, more personality.

The drawing has more volume and it involved less effort. It only took me half an hour to finish compared to the 2B which was about forty-five minutes.

6B Pencil

The 6B was so soft, it’s probably suited to larger-sized drawings (these were set on A5). It was so sensitive I had to really control the pressure, making it harder to create variation in the darker tones. The pencil also went blunt more regularly so required regular sharpening which tends to interrupt the flow of rendering.

Comparison from left to right  – 2B, 4B, 6B



Under: My first attempt was a crumpled piece of paper – but the size of it and the amount of creases in it would have taken me the whole afternoon. So I opted for a tissue.

The crumpled piece of paper was scrapped
First attempt – but subject was too complicated for the exercise at hand

I’m not sure if cross-hatching suits drawing something so light and soft. I think I succeeded in the whiteness of the subject, but maybe the cross-hatching made the end result feel a bit heavy and clunky..?

Ex4_tissue_treratmentEx4_light_treratment_artPossibly instead of shading in every tone I saw, despite how subtle, I shouldn’t have put it in. I think I should have been more selective about what to put in so that my drawing retained all the qualities of the tissue.

Over: Like the other cross-hatching exercises it never looks like much in the beginning, so much so that I think I’ve totally ballsed it up, only seeing it come together towards the end.


However, this was looking more like an iceberg than a chunk of chocolate and as per usual I started to fill in the lighter areas with tone too much. Thankfully I was more aware of it while in progess so I removed most of it.


Before I finished I decided to add some contoured line-hatching purely to define the subject matter rather than for tonal values.

For instance, the rounded surface on top of the main piece – although that heavy shading along that left edge doesn’t exist, what little shading I originally had there wasn’t expressing the moulded shape enough. By adding contoured hatching it helps you make that mental connection with the typical shape of a block of chocolate.

I also had to use some creative license on the base of the chocolate too. The piece I broke off was a corner section so it had clean cut sides, and didn’t have the yummy chocolate chunkiness I wanted, so added diagonal lines to give it character and much needed contrast.

Your_thoughts_post_itCross-hatching is not something exclusive to pencil but it is associated by tradition. Although if you do a google search on “drawing, sketching, pencil” there aren’t many finished examples where cross-hatching is employed. Maybe some people find it too intrusive. Admittedly it is very labour intensive before you see any results. Personally, I find it adds a lot of energy and character to the drawing. Hell, if it was good enough for Rembrandt it’s good enough for me. Your thoughts?


Mersey Paradise


One of my all-time favourite bands from the UK came to Sydney in December. The Stone Roses were only ever an alternative (i.e. not mainstream/Top 40) band in Australia. Although they have fans here, their impact was not to the extent of say Oasis or the Cure. In the UK however, they were on the cover of every single music and urban lifestyle mag around. Everyone was dressing and walking like them and several bands even imitated their sound. They were also known for not doing the typical touring regime, but put on stand alone stadium sized concerts. I have only seen them perform once before at Wembley Arena and that was in 1995! It was close to their demise, but have since reunited in the last couple of years.

I was a bit reluctant to buy tickets when it was first announced as the venue was the Sydney Opera House. Not that its a bad venue, on the contrary, I’ve seen many performances there and enjoyed it. However, they have been classical  concerts or at least “sit-down” affairs.


The Roses were known for crossing indie music with dance, whichever way you look at it, the music they play is upbeat and poppy. From all my years of seeing live music, one thing I was certain of is that in Australia when people see bands, irrespective of what type of music it is, if you give them a venue with seats they will sit down, like there’s some magnetic attraction between their arses and their seats. They will not raise from it unless everybody else does or its the last song, i.e. the big hit/the only song they know/the song that they’ve been waiting for. Which sucks because they also don’t like it if you want to get up and obstruct their view. I find it infuriating, don’t they know part of seeing a live band is also audience participation? How do they think an atmosphere is created?

So, I had succumbed to the belief that this was going to be a sit down affair and decided if this was the case then I’d at least get some drawing in. Not a great consolation considering the price of the ticket – a very expensive life drawing session indeed!

sroses_soundcheck_lrAs usual, I got there early, sat down and started drawing the stage and roadies doing sound checks. I was at a good vantage point to be able to get some details. However, only moments into the bands intro music starting up, everyone was on their feet. And nobody sat down at all!! What I attribute this to is that the majority of the crowd were Brits – either living here or holidaying. I’ve seen bands in the UK and watched concerts filmed there on tv and know that this embracing of the moment is typical. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in the nosebleed seats EVERYONE gets up and dances and sings along. If you think I’m being unfair to Aussies – that night the only ones sitting down were two behind me who were Australian (because I knew one of them) and the following night’s concert I was next to an Aussie couple who stood up BUT spent the first 20 minutes of the concert texting and reading their smartphones!! His girlfriend spent most of the second half sitting down as well. I think our relaxed attitude is sometimes too relaxed.

Although we were in a prestigious and refined venue where I have seen the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform Profkiev and Mozart. At this moment in time it was like being in a crowded pub on a Saturday night. Or in the stand at a England vs Germany football game. I’ve never seen (or felt) spilt beer on the Concert Hall floor before. Guys next to me were standing on the chairs swaying back and forth becoming a thorn in the sides of security and the people in front of them. I went by myself but I was singing and dancing with everyone around me. It was one of the best shows, nay best experiences, I’ve been a part of in a very long time.

It was so good, I went back the next night and it was more of the same. Its moments like this where you wish you could bottle it or Command Save and repeat all over again. I was surprised that I managed to get any sketches in at all. My legs were aching and I was covered in sweat and beer but I would do it again anytime of the year in a heartbeat.

All sketches were done with a black Artline pen and waterbrush pen.

It’s Easy As…

I’ve created a couple of new pages showcasing all the materials I use as well as my own personal tips on how to handle them or how I use them. I dont have any professional background when I offer this advice, it’s garnered from regular use and a lot of jumping in the deep end but I hope it helps. I would also love other people’s feedback on anything listed below.


My new love. Using colour inks is like moving into a new house. It’s all very exciting in the beginning – new scenery, new thoughts but mostly unexplored and you’re not quite settled in. Some things are still in boxes and only the necessities have been unpacked.

My drawing style is a bit out there, but as far as exploring what these inks and other kinds of colour inks can do I still haven’t breached the surface. I have no idea what the difference is between my Winsor & Newton drawing inks and Acrylic inks, so if anyone has any info to share that would be great. Click here to read my review on colour inks.


People familiar with my old blog will have seen my extensive use of Indian ink and dip pen. It’s still a favourite and I will continue to push it to its limits, despite the mess! Click here to read my review on Indian ink and dip pens.


Not a medium I use a lot, but when I see objects sitting in natural light, my first thought is “That would look great in pencil”. I recently did a small drawing using a rubber or eraser as part of the drawing process. I quite liked it and will explore that technique more one day. Click here to read my review on graphite pencils.


Another new medium that has great colour intensity. I love its saturation. It reminds me of those picture books where all you had to do was add water with a brush and the colours would appear. Of course the paper was terrible and by the time you finished “painting” a page it looked more like a swimming pool. But it was always exciting to see colours appear from nothing just by adding water. And Inktense pencils are the same – I cant wait to add the water to see how it all comes together. Click here to read my review on Inktense pencils.


Watercolours have become my salt and pepper, I add it to almost everything. Especially my half pan palette. As much as I love using watercolours, I think it’s more the format which makes it so handy. You can add colour quickly to a sketch, or paint up a last minute birthday card. If you have a travel palette small enough you can even sneak into a museum or gallery. Click here to read my review on watercolours.


Not sure if that’s what you call them these days. But I always make sure I have a handful of fresh pens around to use. When I use to work in a design studio I hated it when the “suits” wanted to use these pens to write with. They were under the false impression that it made their writing neater – WRONG! They were so heavy handed with them that they would push the nib into the metal bit and ruin a perfectly good pen. Bloody suits! Click here to read my review on pens.

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