Graffiti Bark (or, how a metal pole can resemble a tree)

Metal street pole with graffiti mimics neighboring tree trunk and bark

Any time you think:

I don’t know how to draw something;

I don’t have the skills;

I don’t have the imagination, the talent, the schooling;

Think about this “graffiti bark”.

Someone scrawled thick black lines on this metal light pole. Nothing new, right? But next to it, there’s a skinny tree. They are about the same size.

So?

Compare the inked black squiggly lines with the tree’s chunky crevices.

Aren’t they surprisingly similar?

Doesn’t the metal post now look like a radically modern version of a tree. How fantastic is that?

Without sweating the details and worrying about what bark really looks like, we have an example of how it can be drawn.

Take away your self-imposed rules that dictate how you should see or draw something. Free up your hand and loosen your mind, let your own interpretations unfold in front of you.

You can draw.

Hugging Tar (or, how an abstract line became a koala)

Pavement tar and white dividing line create koala hugging tree

This photo is of a road with a tar patch and white divider line.

Look at it again: can you see that the tar patch takes on the shapes of some sort of square-headed bear hugging a white tree trunk?

No, I’m not crazy. I’m seeing basic shapes.

We learn how to draw by looking at things. But most of the time we think we need to put a bowl of fruit or a live model in front of us to gather information.

If you wanted to learn how to draw a koala bear hugging a tree, you’d go to the source or find a picture and you’d use that as your teacher. But sometimes drawing lessons come to us. Like right now: this is a strong opportunity to grasp the basics of the koala image by looking at this tar patch. It’s true!

Lesson: Basic structure

The basic structure is: a rectangular shape (the bear) behind a skinnier and taller rectangle (the tree) with another smaller shape coming around to the front (the bear’s arm holding onto the trunk). And while we’re at it, that smaller dark triangle below the arm? Let’s call that his little foot grasping the bark and maybe the manhole cover is a sun…

Lesson: How does it work?

How does this work? The bear has to sit behind the tree. One way to do this is to make it a similar value as the background (value is dark or light) in this case that’s the dark grey. For the tree to come in front of the bear it has to be sharper, stronger or a different value and in this case, it’s white, sharp and bold.

For the bear’s arm to come around in front of the tree, it now has to be different enough from the tree so that it stands in front of it. So, it’s a strong shape and a different color. Add appropriate proportions to all of these elements, i.e., the size of bear shape to tree trunk and the size of a bear arm to its bear body, and you’ve got the basic structure of a koala hugging a tree.

Beauty: The take away

So you’re not drawing a koala bear anytime soon? Not a problem. Gather your observations and store them in your mind’s eye. You’ll be able to pull upon them when you are working on drawings that work with similar elements.

I’ll be finding more examples from the street and post them. If you find some, feel free to share.

Heart Vine (or, transient love seen)

orchid plant peeking over desk and forming the shape of a heart

orchid plant from a different angle and the heart shape disappears

Have you ever stood in front of a painting and seen something in it that nobody else is seeing so you point it out and then it becomes obvious?

Have you ever stood viewing a painting with the artist and you tell her what you see in the painting and she says that’s not what she intended but it’s cool that you see your own interpretation.

Have you ever read the title of a work and thought: what in the world could that artist have been thinking because this painting looks nothing like the title?

It happens all the time. That’s the beauty of art.

Take this for example:

I’m walking down the hall at work and I see a beautiful heart visually formed by the branches of an orchid. I asked around if anyone had seen it. No one had. Once I pointed it out though, everybody said it was totally obvious.

The reality is: this is a desk with a plant on it.

The beauty is: this is also a message of love.

Looking Around (or, staying open to interpretations)

Paper plates and pizza box strewn on the sidewalk

Store window with 3 round nesting tables and rectangular books

Sometimes I walk around and something catches my eye. These 3 paper plates did just that. They registered in my brain as 3 bright white discs. I continued walking.

Not twenty feet away, I passed a shop window and saw these nesting tables. They also registered. I paused. There they were again, the 3 discs.

Take a look back at the picture of the paper plates; here they lay, fallen in a sequence not unlike the nesting tables. One, two, three, almost like they’ve been pulled out one from under the other.

And the pizza box, that shape, there it is sitting on top of the tables.

How beautifully random, this find, these objects, their close proximity. If I had seen the window display even one block later I probably would never have connected the plates to it.

These visual connections are everywhere. Try and catch them when you can though because they are fleeting. When I went back to snap a photo of the paper plates, a shop owner was sweeping the sidewalk. Thirty seconds later those plates were gone.

Blue Wall Tan Wall (or, color is all around us)

wall colors remain neutral at this specific daylight hour

specific time of day throws a light that changes the tan wall to a blue wall

What light can do. Truly, it’s amazing. Never underestimate it and never ignore it when you’re painting.

I was visiting my brother in South Carolina. He had mentioned to me how the interior walls of his house get light throughout the day and that he couldn’t believe the effects it created.

And how right he is; take a look at these pictures. Both face his stairwell; one in the afternoon and one the next morning. To the left of the stairwell and out of the picture is an entryway with walls lifting all the way up to the second floor in an open cathedral ceiling design. There is a sky light way up there and plenty of room for light to bounce around in.

The first photo is a lesson in basic neutral tones. Depending on where the light’s hitting, the walls go from dark to light. Really sit with them for a minute, though, and see how the gradation from dark to light is so beautifully precise it’s almost scientific. And the more you look at them the more you see how the three wall sections really define themselves by these tones.

Now let’s go to the bottom picture, with the blue wall at the top. That blue is real. I did nothing but get my morning coffee, gasp when I saw that color, and then click the photo. That’s the effect morning light has in my brother’s hallway.

So, the next time you are convinced that the color in a painting is absolutely fake, think about that blue. Artists take liberties, for sure, but nature is just as poetic.