I was pleasantly surprised a couple weeks ago when I was asked to teach another art class.  There were some cancellations, so none of the originally scheduled classes were happening.  My mom offered to teach about magnetism, and I was happy to help out with a class.  The only question: what to teach?

A DIY-ers dream, I flew to Pinterest for inspiration.  Some sort of painting project was ideal, since the kids always love painting classes.  When I saw a brief tutorial for an acrylic galaxy design, I knew it was perfect.

You may have seen similar images before.  Galaxies have been trending the last few years, unsurprisingly due to how cool they can look.  From an artist’s point of view, they’re also comparatively easy to make.  While things like anatomy and perspective have rules (or guidelines, anyway), all you need to focus on with galaxies are composition and the contrast of values.


Galaxy paintings vary in design, but generally there are a few bright spots of color against a dark, almost black background.  Then small spatters of stars are painted or drawn on top as a finishing touch.  (To be honest, most of them are shaped more like nebulas (a.k.a. star nurseries) than galaxies.)

For the class, I pre-painted the previously white canvases a navy color.  It took about three coats each to achieve a solid color.

I went with the popular blue and pink version for my example [below], as well as some touches of green.  That was the idea, anyway.  When I was trying to blend the green it kept growing, and before I knew it the color became more of a splotch.my-galaxy-painting

I really wanted to create movement in my painting, as if you could sense the swirling of the space clouds.  Taking inspiration from Bob Ross and a pencil tutorial book I have, I tried to be loose with my brush strokes, while also ‘buffing’ the fresh paint to blend it into the background.  The end result was alright, I think, given that I was not working with Ross’ oil paints or any pencils.  I also wasn’t using actual brushes; instead I had cheap foam tools, since that’s what the kids would be using.

Pro Tip: Classical artists often use the technique of visible brush strokes to convey motion and drama in their works.  Some of my favorite masters of this include Joseph Mallord William Turner, Eugene Delacroix, and of course Vincent van Gogh.

Originally, I wanted to walk the kids through the painting step-by-step.  That way I could teach about things like brush strokes and how to use acrylics.  But most of it ended up too complicated.  Most just wanted to paint, and I understand that.  The other students did ask for more instruction and feedback, which I was happy to provide.

Because the concept of painting a galaxy leaves so much room for creativity, it was fun to see how they each interpreted that.  Many of the boys were excited to add black holes to suck in their galaxy.  It was interesting, too, how the kids played around with the shapes and colors of their paintings.

Be sure to click through the slideshow to see their artworks!

The real excitement came when it was time for the stars.  There were a couple kids who preferred using a brush to paint them on, but the idea of using toothbrushes for art was hilarious to the others.

The way it works is you dip a (clean) toothbrush into a tiny bit of water and then into white paint.  It’s a little hard to explain, but you can then use your thumb to push through the bristles fairly quickly towards the handle.  This causes the paint to splatter forward, creating a random scattering of dots.  In this case, they look like stars.  The more water you have on the brush, the larger the dots will be.

Perhaps my favorite moment from this class was when two of the kids were discussing how to sign their paintings.  Like famous artists, they wanted to hide their signatures somewhere within the work.  Also, one of them told me that, “If we rated classes, I would give it five stars.  No, five galaxies!” It made my day.

As it turns out, this was the last class I’ll probably be able to teach for a while.  The homeschool group’s ‘school year’ is over, and I’ll be heading to London for college before they start up again.  I want to give a big thank you to all of the wonderful kids and parents there.  Thanks for letting me share some art with you!

When I worked at Michael’s, one of the best parts was walking by all of the art products.  Especially the art books. The Art of Pencil Drawing was one I had my eye on in particular. After a few weeks, I couldn’t resist any longer and picked up a copy after my shift.


Not to be confused with Ernest W. Watson’s book of the same name (although I’m interested in his as well), The Art of Pencil Drawing by Gene Franks is a beautiful insight into pencil work. All of the art is created using graphite pencils of varying hardness.

One thing is clear from the start: Franks is passionate about his craft. It’s immediate from the quality of his pencil drawings, and is heartfelt in the introduction. The back cover states that the book includes work from the publisher’s previous art books by Franks. If you already have those, then not all of the art in this next installation will be new (for you).

Regardless, the beginning gives a useful description of the tools and techniques used in the tutorials. I found it quite educational. While I already knew about pencil hardness and hand positions, the actual applications of the graphite were like little revelations. It put a name to the techniques I’ve played with over the years, and how to improve them.


As a ‘how to draw’ book, it is definitely for intermediate to advanced artists. Of course, there are many things beginners could learn from it, but the tutorials are anything but basic. In the blurb, the publisher says there are “simple, step-by-step demonstrations”. While technically true, the lessons generally have three pictures: two in-progress and one finalized.

As such, there are huge jumps in between each step, which may be overwhelming for inexperienced artists.


I’d say I’m an intermediate artist, and it sometimes took a minute to figure out what to do next. I’ve followed two of the lessons; one an easier life drawing, and the other a more complicated nature scene.

In drawing the bottles below, the leaps between steps were not really an issue. I could see where shadow was building up, and the accompanying writing was a helpful guide. In total, it took me about an hour to finish my drawing [below on the right].  As with any drawing, I’m sure mine would have been more accurate if I’d spent more time.


One thing I did differently from the lesson was using an electric eraser. In doing the finishing highlights, my normal eraser just couldn’t get them bright enough. So I broke out my Derwent electric eraser to achieve the lightest value.

Next, I wanted to do something more complex. While the tutorials about buildings and figures were equally challenging, I was intrigued with the perspective in this river scene. I also would like to improve at drawing trees with pencil, so it seemed like a good fit.


Now this is where things got tricky. It quickly became apparent that while I could emulate a similar composition, it was near impossible to copy every line and rock from the book version.  At times, it was challenging, though in a fun way, to figure out exactly how each texture was created.

In the end, the so-called ‘step by step’ part of the lesson was only slightly helpful past the initial composition. I also needed to use different pencils than the book recommended. The F and 2B pencils (I couldn’t find my B one) served alright for their purposes, but I had to go much softer than a 3B for most of the drawing.

In order to get a good contrast, I had to use the darkest pencil I have: a 9B. To be fair, Franks said to push hard with the 3B to get the darkness. But in doing so initially, I found it just pushed down the paper, creating a much sharper line than I wanted. And even then it still wasn’t dark enough. Franks suggests a maul stick to assist this, but I don’t have one. With the 9B, I felt comfortable to gradate between the pressures of its application for a range of shades, while creating smooth or sharp lines.


Over time, I looked at the book less and less, focusing more on my own artwork. I had given up on copying every single part, and started emulating the aspects instead. In total, this drawing took roughly six hours, off and on, to complete.

I found I loved not being baby-stepped through each lesson. It forced me to be more creative in replicating the techniques and finding my own way to adapt Franks’ guidance. That said, they were useful check points to see how my work-in-progress matched up with the tutorial.

Overall Impressions

Gene Franks’ The Art of Pencil Drawing shows the often understated potential of what graphite drawings can be.  Through a technique called “action lines”, they seem to come alive on the page. In his explanations throughout the book, readers can begin to understand how to create similarly successful images.

If a lover of sketches and graphite art, this is a beautiful addition to any collection. If an artist looking to improve, there is much to learn here. However, the tutorials are aimed at intermediate to advanced artists, so you may wish to consider what difficulty level you are looking for before purchasing.

All in all, this is becoming one of my favorite drawing lesson books. After following just two tutorials, I can tell I’ve already increased not just my pencil skills, but also my art in general. I’ve always loved creating graphite drawings, and with this book I’m gaining confidence in my ability to create better and better ones.

So far I’ve taught three classes to a local homeschool group: one painting, the second bookmaking, and the third—we’ll get to in a second.

Since teaching that first class last fall, I’ve wanted to do one that’s more about drawing.  As a fan of Mark Crilley’s, I thought it would be fun (though a little intimidating) to try and emulate his teaching style.  If you’ve never seen his tutorial videos, they are usually step-by-step drawings along with Crilley’s encouraging, educational, and often comedic narration.

Chibis, a main feature on Crilley’s channel, seemed like a natural fit.  They’re fairly simple, so learning the basics would be accomplishable in a one hour class.  Plus chibis are inherently cute and funny, which I knew a lot of the kids would like.

Because of some scheduling conflicts, the class was moved from last fall to earlier this month.


In preparation, I made a quick guideline for chibi proportions.  The focus of the class was going to be on the animated expressions, but I wanted to give the kids an idea of the head:body ratio that defines chibis.  I’m not totally happy with the drawing (his face is too high, the forehead is too big) but I had to go with it.

You’d think with months of time beforehand I would have everything done earlier than the day before, but…between studying for important exams and battling old procrastination habits I didn’t have much time in the end.

I also made a sheet of basic heads for them. (I’ll have a picture and free download coming soon!)  That way we could go over the expressions without having to draw a new head each time (if they wanted).  I decided to add hair to the first two heads as example hairstyles.

In many of Crilley’s videos, he also recommends viewers think of designing their own characters instead of copying just what he does.  I wanted to communicate that message to the class; just because I drew a girl with a ponytail doesn’t mean they had to.  Art is all about creativity and I didn’t want the kids to think my way was the only way to do things (which it certainly isn’t).


These I actually did in the car a couple hours before the class.  I searched the internet for a variety of expressions that were both fun and useful.  Though it was a little hard limiting the number to 11.  But the sketches were useful as a basis to go from.  Some of the kids had specific emotions they wanted to know how to draw, and having those references made it easier for me to lead the class.

Using a big whiteboard, I drew a chibi head shape and then filled in each expression as we went.  Some kids mainly used the example heads, while others changed to drawing their own.  Either way, all of them did really well.  The chibis were really cute!  A lot of the kids added creative touches to create their own characters.

Make sure to hit the arrows on the slider below to see their awesome artwork!

I think it went great.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the class is quiet.  But some had encouraging ‘thank yous’ at the end, and were happy to share their chibis.  (Thanks for sharing, everyone!)  Like the bookmaking, quiet seems to equal focus.  Hopefully the kids had as much fun learning about chibis as I did teaching them.

Side note:  I want to give a big shout out to Mark Crilley and his amazing YouTube channel.  He’s an awesome teacher and his videos taught me most of what I know about chibis.  Not only that, but his channel was a major influence in my decision to start pursuing art seriously.  His how-to-draw books are also really helpful and inspiring, and I highly recommend them.

If Mark Crilley should ever read this: THANK YOU for all of your videos, books, words of wisdom, and the all-important blushies!

I’m happy to tell you that today is the launch of my coloring page, er, page.  You may have seen, but there’s now a ‘Free Coloring Pages’ button on the header above.  There you can download some fun line art to color—totally free of charge!

As of right now, a chibi Hatsune Miku is taking center stage.  If you want, you can check out this video of me coloring her with Copic markers for some inspiration.

I’ll be adding more over time, both original and fan art alike.  So stop by every now and then and see what’s new.  (There’s a Legend of Zelda page coming next week!)


Happy coloring!

Cake seems to be ever-present in my house sometimes.  Between all of the birthdays and holidays in-between, there’s often some kind of cake or cupcake around.

Usually they’re homemade, but lately my grandmother’s been fond of popular bakery about an hour’s drive away.  They make pretty good cakes.  But after some thinking (and a small suggestion on my part) she decided the time and money to get them wasn’t worth it for Mother’s Day this year.

I really like making cakes, so I was happy to be given the weighty job of making the desserts.  It came with specific instructions: a chocolate cake with plain buttercream frosting for my mom, and a (biggish) yellow cake with lemon filling and raspberry buttercream for my grandmother.  The decorating was up to me.

I’d like to say cakes themselves were totally homemade, but…who has the time?  Instead I used Betty Crocker mixes and a Devil’s Food one from Duncan Hines.  They’re light and moist, and super easy to make.

Before this I’d never made flavored buttercream or any kind of filling.  Embracing the challenge, I flew to the internet in search of good recipes.  Wilton, the brand for baking supplies, has a great raspberry frosting recipe.  Everyone in my family who tried it liked it—even if they’re not big raspberry fans.  Wilton also has my go-to buttercream frosting.  It’s delicious every time.


The lemon filling was a little trickier.  A lot of recipes required eggs, and I’ve seen too many crème Anglaise gone wrong on Food Network to not be nervous.  Essentially, the eggs can go from ideally delicate and warmed to chunky and scrambled fast.

So I chose a recipe from Betty Crocker that was egg-less.  It tasted good, but I don’t think I cooked it enough.  Despite hours in the fridge, it never set up.  Instead of a creamy filling it became more of a liquid glaze.  My solution was to brush it onto both layers, and then use the frosting as a filler.


For decorations, I tried ‘drawing’ on a cake for the first time.  It was a little, purple owl for my mom’s cake.  She had insisted on not stressing about doing any kind of design, but she deserved some kind of personalized cake.  Green was a nice compliment to both the subject and purple color, so I made a little support for the owl and brought it down into a bottom border.

I wanted to do something more formal for my grandmother.  When I googled ‘raspberry cake’, almost all of the images depicted a fairly simple cake topped with fresh raspberries.  Strangely, they reminded me of a cake in a Mario Party 8 mini-game.  The end result was a combination of abstract flowers and the raspberries.  I added a small amount of red food coloring to the raspberry frosting to make the darker pink color.


It was a success!  While both cakes were not as refined as I imagined them, everyone enjoyed them.  My mom was happily surprised at the owl and my grandmother commented on how good the flavors were.  My grandfather said, “I don’t like cake, but this was a good cake.”

So if you’re ever looking to try out new baking recipes, I recommend perusing through Wilton and Betty Crocker’s online selections.  This certainly isn’t sponsored, by the way, but Wilton’s frostings are always popular when I’ve made them, and this Betty Crocker lemon filling was delicious (even though I didn’t cook it enough to be a thick filling).

Happy Mother’s Day!

This week I was still inspired from last week’s chibi class and writing about MerMay, which could only lead to one thing: a chibi mermaid.

I actually used an extra paper from the class prep that had chibi proportion guide lines on it.  You don’t need to draw them every time to ensure the head to body ratio, but I figured I would use it to make things easier.

Like most mermaids, she needed an aquatic companion.  Since I wanted her to be mostly blue, I thought an orange clown fish would be nice contrast.  I also decided to give her little pearls and a starfish barrette to add some cute details.


For some reason her skin kept getting washed out in all of the pictures, and I couldn’t edit it to look right without ruining the rest of the coloring

Fish are friends, not food.  Well, in this picture anyway.  The idea is that she is hugging her little fish.  But when I showed my mom the sketch she said, “It’s cute but she’s not going to…eat it…is she?”  No, it’s just supposed to be her buddy.

[That was a better comment than my grandmother’s.  She took one look and said, “You drew a creep!”  Turns out she wasn’t wearing the right glasses, so the image was so distorted that the fish was the girl’s mouth and the eyes were messed up.  She changed her mind with the right eyewear, saying she was impressed I drew it myself.  I’m choosing to take that part as a compliment…]

So I’m not sure how successful that part of the picture is, but I’m really happy with the coloring.  I’ve been improving with my Copic markers lately and am also trying to be more aware of using color thoughtfully.  By only using one orange and two blue blends (plus a peachy skin color), the image feels unified.

I like her. I actually filmed about half of the coloring for a short YouTube video, but my phone ran out of space.  Before I realized it stopped the recording the drawing was almost done.  Oh well.

I’m not officially doing MerMay, but I’d like to contribute a couple more mermaids this month.  You can expect a blog post or two in the next couple weeks about them, or follow me on Instagram to see the progress of more mermaid-y drawings.


Japanese dancers from page 73 of “Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun”, 1894

Think of it.  One million historic pictures to use and adapt however you want.

That’s the goal of British Library Labs, an initiative within the British Library.  On their website, they describe their mission as “guarantee[ing] that the wealth and diversity of the Library’s intellectual digital heritage is available for the research, creativity and fulfilment of everyone.”


A comedic advertisement for glue from page 284 of “Monsieur At Home”, 1885

To accomplish this, the British Library posts a variety of images to their tumblr page.  Every day, more pictures are scanned and added from the library’s collection of books.  To see new entries hourly, you can follow their Twitter bot dubbed the “Mechanical Curator”.


A man surprises his love on page 53 of “The Quiver of Love. A collection

of Valentines ancient and modern by W. Crane and Kate Greenaway”, 1876

Besides the visual interest in perusing the catalog, there is also the benefit that every picture is copyright-free.  That means you can download any and all of their images to use and edit however you like.


A comparison of Cleopatra’s Needle and Pompey’s Column on page 615

of “The Manners and Customs of all nations”, 1827.

Whether it’s for a personal project or a commercial business, anything is fair game.  Personally, I look forward to using them as reference pictures for any number of future projects.  It might also be fun to play around with some of them in Photoshop.


A sheet of piano music for a Polish dance song on page 409 from “”Letters literary and political

Poland; comprising observations on Russia and other Sclavonian nations and tribes.

[With an appendix and “specimens of music.” By K. Lach-Szyrma.]”, 1823

Conveniently, the collection is grouped into albums, or categories, like Flora, Book Covers, Heraldry, and Portraits, just to name a few.  There are also thousands of maps which are all interesting to look at.


A German (I think) map on page 83 of “Heiṃatkunde von Steyr, etc”, 1893

The collection as a whole is fascinating.  It truly feels like a time capsule, with little bits gathered from past few centuries.  There are also images depicting a variety of cultures, making the assortment even more meaningful.  Many thanks to the British Library for sharing these one million (and growing) peeks into their massive collection!

Have you checked out the pictures?  Did you have any favorites?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Love art challenges and mer-creatures? Then #MerMay is the perfect thing for you.

What is MerMay?

Started by artist Tom Bancroft a couple years ago, MerMay is a lot like Inktober.  The challenge is to draw a picture of a mermaid every day for the month of May.  You can use any medium and style, so long as it includes an aquatic, tailed humanoid.

Bancroft (an animator of many Disney films, by the way) and other artists, like Art ala Carte’s Valerie, are using the month to tell a mermaid story.  Each day sees the next installment or chapter.

While Bancroft says on his blog that the challenge is definitively a drawing per day on Instagram.  From what I’ve seen online, though, most artists approach the hashtag challenge as simply drawing mermaids in May.  A lot of artists share on twitter or other social media in addition to or instead of Instagram.

Almost all of the people I follow who participate (and myself) just try to do as many mermaids as they can fit into their schedules.

It should be said, too, that some artists prepare ahead of time for 31 MerMay drawings.  They may be doing a drawing every day, but prior to the month they do rough sketches, storyboarding, and/or character design.

My First MerMay

Last year (2016) was my first time participating, and I didn’t really know much about the challenge.  But as a fantasy fan I wanted to join in.


I used Copic markers and a Micron Brush pen.

Since I was busy studying for and taking final exams, I wasn’t able to finish even one mermaid picture.  But that’s okay.  The whole concept, in my opinion, of artistic challenges is to go outside of your comfort zone and push your boundaries.

Though a little awkward, the mermaid’s pose was me trying to do something a little dynamic (an idea I was still pretty new to).  It was also one of my first times using a brush pen and stippling with Copic markers.

For 2017, I’ll be posting any mermaids I draw on my Instagram.  I think I’ve improved in the last year, so it will be neat to compare my new drawings to the one above.

So whether you do one mermaid a day or one for the month, remember that the spirit and goal of these challenges is self-growth: whatever that may mean for you.  If you post to social media, make sure to tag it #MerMay so others can see your hard work!

If you’ve ever taken an art class in school, you’ve likely seen one of these guys:


Pardon my art-y mess in the background, please 🙂

They can be helpful.  Being able to manipulate a figure and lighting to match your idea gives you a reference unique to your design.

Unfortunately, most of these little figures aren’t exactly posable.  For a basic shading reference they can work, but once you start trying to get dynamic (or just un-stiff) poses, it proves useless.  I almost broke mine (above) once trying to put his arm above shoulder height.

When I stumbled upon these figures by Max Factory, I nearly gasped.  They bend.  And pose.  And that’s kind of it but it’s still exciting.  Thanks to the accompanying stand, you can also position them jumping and flying.


Even in a break-dancing contest


 Or climbing a mighty magnet board

Coming in both flesh and gray colors, the Archetype Next Figmas look like superheroes.  The muscle definition on the man seems especially useful, and the proportions of both genders look realistic (if not really toned).


 Fight scenes, anyone?

Granted, you get what you pay for.  My wooden miniature cost about $8 I believe.

Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised at how these awesome and bendable figures by Max Factory are pretty pricey.  In the original sale, they were about $30.  Now they’re mostly available in secondhand sales, ranging from $33-$104 on Amazon.

So as great as they look, I’ll have to hold off for a while.  (You can tell this isn’t sponsored, because I don’t have one and am too broke to buy one haha).  But I’ll definitely keep the figures bookmarked for the future.

If you want to take a look, here are their links on Amazon:

Flesh-toned Man

Flesh-toned Woman

Gray Man

Gray Woman

On a side note, I’ve also heard of people using action figures for musculature and pose references.  Other artists, like Dinotopia creator James Gurney, build mini sets and models to base their art off of.

Do you use any figures or models when drawing?

[All Archetype Next Figure photos are from Max Factory’s digital pamphlet]

Last summer, I was packing up for a week trip to my grandparent’s cabin.  It’s a beloved little retreat on the side of a mountain, tucked in a forested valley.  Sounds peaceful, right?

I love going there, but was faced with a well-known dilemma for artists: what supplies do I bring?

With dreams of sketching squirrels and woods, I wanted to bring the usual pencils and micron pens, plus some Copic markers.  Faced with the pleasant reality of having too many Copics for my pencil case, I chose a few of my classic Cool Grays, a bold red (R29, I think), and a nice green (maybe G24?).

In the end, I drew neither critters nor trees.  Before leaving, I had a vague idea of a woman, maybe in a 50’s/60’s style.  She would be all in gray, with bright red lips. Hence, my color selection of markers.

This was drawn in a Canson XL Mixed Media sketchbook.

One night, with a lamp’s gentle glow and an HB pencil, I started doodling.  Running with that concept, I loosely sketched her face and hair.

For better or worse, I just drew what felt right, without really thinking of what emotion or style to use.  It was one of those times where the drawing sort of comes together on its own.

The sketch looked a little odd to me, but I hoped it was just the intensity of her expression.  Given this was just for fun, I went ahead and inked with a Micron Brush pen for the hair and a Micron Pigma pen for the facial features.


This picture was taken at an angle, so the jaw looks bigger than it is.

Inking helped her face look a little better.  I was (and still am) inexperienced with ink brushes, so her hair lines are really uneven.  Thankfully, you can’t tell too much once it’s colored.

And by colored, I mean grayed.  Red seemed too bold for this picture after the cool gray hair.  It began to have an old photograph feel to it, and it seemed like crimson would compromise that.

Like the sketching, I took a pretty loose approach to using the markers.  Creating without an exact vision or expectation was a freeing experience.


The finished drawing.

Her hair came first.  The coloring ran dangerously close to being overworked, I thought, but in the end I was surprised by how much I liked it.  The mouth was successful, too.

I was nervous about the teeth.  Teeth are so easy to make creepy: either they’re too realistic or too cartoony.  Hers were surprisingly realistic—in that vintage photo sort of look I ended up going for.

Alas, though, by the time I reached her skin I was afraid of ruining it all.  Especially recently, I’ve been overcoming that fear of shading skin.  But that doesn’t help this woman.  Her face ended up flat compared to the rest of the coloring.  In the low warmth of the lamp, it wasn’t as noticeable. (It was also about 1:30 a.m. when I finished.)

At the same time, I like the contrast between her dark hair and pale face.  I just wish I could’ve done that while giving her some more facial dimension.

Semi-realism is something I’ve played with a little bit since this work, and definitely want to keep trying out.

All-in-all, this was a fun drawing.  I learned more about using Copics and rendering a style different from my usual default.  The relaxing atmosphere of a cozy cabin night likely had something to do with that.