Inktober week 3: Maddie

This week in Inktober is Maddie, age 31. My pen may be running out, so hopefully it will last another two weeks. I realized that I sometimes start making these expressions too while I’m drawing them…which is probably a little odd in public.

Here’s the rest of my Inktober sketches in case you missed previous weeks.

A little too much drawn around the nose here, I think.


One of the best side-view poses for her.


Started paying attention to the unruly parts of the hair on this one; guess it goes with the mood?


Aw yeah.


Been having trouble getting the eye contact right on some of these, but I'm pretty happy with this one.

Not buying it

Another one meriting a bit of unruly hair. Something's about to do down!


Sugar Skullduggery

I considered filling in the eyes, but this makes is look like's she's smiling with her eyes closed, anime-style.

Una calavera poquita

!Ay Dios Mio! in San Pedro Square Market hosted a sugar skull-making day today, in prep for Dia de Los Muertos. I missed it last year so I was glad to catch it this time. This one is complete with earrings, glasses (kind of), and braces…to correct the overbite, I’m guessing.

Inktober week 2: Michael

For this week of Inktober I’ve been sketching Michael, 23 years old. Last week I decided to go directly to ink, and continued that this week. Like last week, the first one felt a bit awkward and got better with successive expressions. The mustache was a bit too heavy on the first, and I realized I needed to use a lighter mark to make it look right. It was also challenging to draw someone much younger (few creases!) so every mark counted. I finally noticed the small bit of a wave in his hair on the final drawing too.

Lots of stippling with his hairstyle! I enjoy stippling, but it takes a lot of patience. There are so many ways to unintentionally create strange patterns or marks, especially if you rush it. I usually end up blurring my vision a little bit and getting into an almost trancelike state to stipple consistently.

I've been starting with the neutral expressions to get a sense of their overall look.


Good hair on this one, and definitely a better mustache.




The eyes on this one look a little more accurate than on the smiling one.


Woo hoo!


This looks like it's saying "really? This is the one you chose?"


Sketches: Undefined Variables

I have this little book with me whenever I go out. At the time of posting this, I'm close to halfway done.

Undefined Variables, the book

This is the latest little sketchbook I’m carrying around for the occasional moment to draw. The theme of the last one was Object Oriented, and it was a little brown book with sketches of objects drawn in brown ink. For this little black book I wanted a different theme, ideally playing off of another computer science term. Hence: Undefined Variables.

I’m trying out a more elaborate ruleset on this one. I didn’t really know whether it was working until I’d gotten four or five of these done. The ruleset is this:

1. Draw a scene of the objects in front of me and pick one object to cut out, leaving only the outline of the space where it would be.
2. Instead of drawing the true background, fill it with a nearby pattern.

Here’s the first quarter or so of the book.

Zach's sippy cup, and a very strange children's book.



SJ Singlebarrel

These chairs are like miniature couches.

AMC Saratoga

Pro tip: don't buy a kid's bike from a guy on the street.

SOFA district

Always a good time with Ted & Claire!

Parker, CO

Denver of the variable weather, and tons of craft beer.


Celebrating Lulu's bachelorette party in style.


Think I've had enough time on the lawn. It's seats all the way now!

Shoreline Amphitheatre

Dan Savage is super nice in person, as you may have guessed.

Hancock Building

Go here. This place, and the ACME Hotel it's in, are very cool.

Berkshire Room

Universal remote? Naah.

Daly City, CA

There would probably be more Chromatic drawings in here if I weren't trying to actively change these up.

Chromatic Coffee

Slo-mo flames are pretty relaxing to watch.

5a5 Lounge

Inktober week 1: Roshan

I’m participating in Inktober, an annual event since 2009 that’s an excuse to practice inking. I decided to practice facial expressions as a counterpoint to my Statement series of paintings.

Here are the rules I’m following: pick one person from the excellent Facial Expressions reference book, and each week, focus only on that person and draw a different expression every day. The book is a wonderful reference of people of a mix of ethnicity, body type, and gender, from 20’s to 80’s.

This week I chose Roshan, a 47-year old woman. I started off by penciling first and then inking. I’d barely started on the eye when I quickly realized that the Uniball Vision I was using put out too much ink for the notebook I’m using (a blank thin-paged paper-cover Moleskine). I switched to a Micron 02 (0.3mm) since the paper is so delicate. It’s much easier to draw creases and wrinkles when drawing with thinner lines overall. It feels slightly like cheating to me because I’ve been drawing with thicker (more unforgiving) lines. I figure if I do this for a while I can get more confident about working back to the thicker lines. I felt like it lost a bit of the expressiveness by drawing it in two stages (pencils & ink) so for the rest I used ink only. Week 1 is done!

A good starter post.


I can imagine the sound she's making here.

Oh boy

This is my favorite one, with the head tilt, wide-eyed, with a tiny bit of a grimace.


A little more subdued, thinking or resting.


Or possibly defiant.

Deep in thought

Statement II

Another Statement painting on claybord

Statement II • 10″ x 6″

Another figure & fabric Statement exploration, this time where the drape of fabric comes from the surroundings. This pose presented some fresh challenges that can be hidden in drapey clothing: how to capture its natural balance and ease, and getting the right colors and tones in the shadows.

The sheets had a nice subtle damask stripe which was very handy for defining the shapes. When I first started into the shadows, I used a consistent gray until I noticed little patches of other colors. I realized there were two light sources: a prominent yellowish light (probably a ceiling light), and a much lighter bluish source (probably from a window). Separating these helped create more realistic lighting on the sheets and pillows. The wood was awfully close to the base burnt sienna color (with streaks of burnt umber), so the background was quite easy to clean up along the way.

My “despair” moment on this piece was making the error of using washes to lighten up the figure. It sucked out all of the color, and I ended up repainting over almost all of it. However, in the process of that, I came up with a stippling dry brush style that created a nice texture. I also found it better to gradually move towards progressively darker (or lighter) colors and mixing them as I went.

I think my first instinct when painting is to gravitate towards watercolor-style effects, but they just don’t work as well in acrylic on this fast-drying claybord. The drawing-style effects like stippling or hatching turn out better. The dry-brushing is pretty hard on the brushes, but if it looks good, it’s worth chewing up a brush or two along the way. I’ll just be sure to get the cheap ones.

Forgot to take a photo of the sketch

Yellow ochre

Midtones next

Burnt sienna

Last set of warm tones

Burnt umber

Not much blue here.

A little blue

The sheets are starting to shape up.

Starting to lighten…

Whoops. Just killed a bunch of tones here.

…and too far

Maybe a little too peachy, but better.


Focused on bringing back the contrast here.

Shadow tones

Brought the warmer lighting back on the sheets.

More lighting nuance

Looking at the aquarium

I don't think I had the treasure chest, actually. Maybe a diver?

“Quick” sketch of an aquarium (maybe an hour total)

Once a month, Works/SJ hosts an art-and-open-mike even called Words Drawing Art. I joined in tonight and ended up sketching this. This was one of those “what the heck do I draw?” moments.

I started off with the goldfish, and started filling in the things I remember: the bubbling aquarium, kuhli loaches (I miss those), and the ubiquitous neon tetra. And, of course, someone peeking in.

The Big Yawn

Acrylic on canvas

The Big Yawn • 20″ x 16″

Alan took a photo of our cat I/O a few years ago with this amazing yawn. I’ve wanted to paint this for a while, but couldn’t decide on the right ratio. Square? Rectangular? It looked odd to crop it any more closely. I got an extra 20″ x 16″ canvas from my friend Jenny and opted to use it here.

It had great details: the colors, the ridges of the roof of the mouth, the curl of the tongue, and especially the little barbs. It also had an interesting blueish color cast from the lighting. Though I usually use ultramarine blue for the cooler tones, I switched to cerulean blue deep since that was closer to those colors. I like how the colors look together, so I might stick with this in the future.

I/O is unfortunately missing one of her top fangs now, after it got knocked out after a fight. Otherwise, she is just as (unintentionally) fierce, and is observing this as I write it.

Thanks for the canvas, Jenny!

Initial sketch

First tone

Yellow ochre

Second tone

Burnt sienna

Last warm tone

Burnt umber

I tried a different blue this time based on the blues in the shadows.

Cerulean blue deep

Started defining some of the background.

A little green

Began filling in the pinkish color of the mouth and tongue.

Pinkish mouth

Blues and darker tones to define more of the mouth.

Darker tones

Added highlights to the teeth and tongue hairs while defining more of the roof of the mouth.

Teeth and tongue

Filled in more detail all around for the hairs and whiskers.

Final details

Statement I

A bit Lempicka-like

Statement I • 8″ x 10″

I’m starting a series of paintings to explore two things I’ve wanted to work at more: figures and fabric. I’m always drawn towards art that has people in it, especially people with a distinct mood. I also wanted to build up more technical skill in drawing/painting fabric with realistic weight and drape. I’ve been paying more attention to white walls/fabric in particular to get more attuned to subtle influences of light color and soft reflections.

After some thought I’m going with the name “Statement” for these. I’m looking for poses that communicate a point of view, and I’m challenging myself to not rely on facial expressions if at all possible. It’s also a nod to the role of fabric: not just a thing for comfort, but a thing that reacts to our shapes and reflects our stance.

This one is the result of a collaboration with a talented photographer friend, Jillian of Epoxy Studios. She recently took headshots for Alan, and they were good sports to try some artsy poses that I could paint. I really liked the balance of this image.

I’m also trying out a new surface: a smooth masonite-like board called “claybord“. I don’t particularly like the texture of canvas, so this is a nice change. It’s smoother than I’m used to, which is both good and bad. The paints seem to dry much faster on it too, which can be challenging. Overall, I like the size and how solid they are.

The fabric was particularly challenging. Two things in particular helped:

  1. I resorted to the old “turn it upside down” trick. This is an excellent way to sort out things that just aren’t looking right. Turning the image upside down, sideways, or even just looking in a mirror can reveal which parts are looking off. I’ve also noticed that sometimes just taking a photo of it and looking at the tiny thumbnail on a screen can do that too.
  2. Right when I was at the lowest point with this, Alan pointed out that the image looked a lot like paintings by Tamara de Lempicka. That hadn’t occurred to me when I picked this, but he’s absolutely right. I referenced a few of her paintings as I worked through this, making the fingers a little more cylindrical and looking at her fabric gradients for reference.

I’m looking forward to more paintings in this style, hopefully with a range of people.

I really need to clean my art table.

Initial sketch

You know the drill! Warm tones, lightest first.

Yellow ochre

Middle tones in; getting there.

Burnt sienna

Usually not too much of this one.

Burnt umber

Looks okay from a distance, but it's pretty rough up close at this stage.

Ultramarine blue

Otherwise known as the point of the process where I feel like it's just not working.

Starting into detail

Supposedly the guy in the top pic was a cop that she asked to pose for her.

Lempicka references

Had the colors more normalized at this point; much better.

After upside-down

Re-paint: Ye Xian and the Golden Fish

The story of Ye Xian (final)

The story of Ye Xian (final)

This is the third repaint of a calendar: this time the story I ended up picking is the “Chinese Cinderella”, Ye Xian.

Every year House of Chu in SJ gives out these calendar scrolls for the (Roman) calendar year with descriptions from the Chinese zodiac. The calendars aren’t always correlated to the nearest Chinese zodiac year, but they always have some kind of interesting illustration on them. I use the illustration as the base for a painting of Chinese folktales and mythology: so far, the association between dragons and water gods, and the rabbit in the moon.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this one when I first started, so I painted over the calendar portions and filled in the overall color scheme. I have one more calendar to go (the one with horses) so I filled that one in at the same time too. I kept the other calendars nearby for reference about the overall feel, and after staring at the koi one for a while decided I should fill in more fish. While thinking about fish, I remembered the “Chinese Cinderella” story. I mimicked the style of the fish and painted in the large golden koi and a few others.

By this point I knew I’d make the lilypads the most prominent repeated elements, outlined in black like the clouds and river in the previous calendars. I also wanted to have a hint of Ye Xian here, reaching out to the fish. I couldn’t eyeball the right spots to put them in, so I needed to mock up what to do next. At this time Adobe announced a few new drawing apps, so I tried out Adobe Sketch on the iPad. It didn’t really suit the precision and duplication I needed for this style of mockup, but I made do with a very basic, very rough sketch.

While that was enough to get the lilypads in the right place, it was just looking off. I realized it was just looking way too busy. I took a fresh photo and reworked it in Photoshop to simplify it. The most confusing part ended up being the bushy plant at the top. Once I took that out, it was easy to fix it in Photoshop and pretty straightforward to paint it. When I actually repainted it, I left hints of it visible since it looked like an underwater plant.

The original calendar

The original calendar

Making a "blank" canvas

Making a “blank” canvas

Adding the pink

Adding the pink

Hello fish!

Hello fish!

Adobe Sketch mockup

Adobe Sketch mockup

Hand modeling

Hand modeling



The Photoshop mockup

The Photoshop mockup

Nearly done

Nearly done