Posts Tagged ‘ instruction ’

Cultivating the Sketching Habit: Figure V2.0

Today, when I out to the beer garden event at The Olpalka Gallery (the current show In-Faux-Structureis is fantastic, so you really should check it out) I brought a diminutive mole-skin sketch pad and tried surreptitiously catching people as they interacted with the art. The skill I was practicing was to glance once, and hold the image in my mind long enough (usually about 30 seconds) to get a small sketch.

The resultant sketches are loose, some are somewhat humorous, and make me think of the little sketches that populated the books of Kurt Vonnegut.





It’s been a little while since I have updated this particular page. The sketching events have been wonderful, and I have gotten some great images over the last several months.

Here is a small selection of some of the things that came off my easel. Enjoy!


Figure Study, mixed media on paper, model Kyo


Study, model Kyo, compressed charcoal.



fFigure study, model, Kyo, mixed media on gessoed paper.


Figure study, model Tabbi, mixed media on gessoed paper.



Figure study, model, Tabbi, mixed media on paper.



Figure study, model, Hayley, mixed media on paper.


figure study, model, Hayley, mixed media on paper.



figure study, model Muse, mixed media on gessoed paper.


All these studies are coming from the past couple months, I am hoping to find time to rummage through my port and add a few more to what is here.

Our new model Kyo did a great job tonight. He wants to see images of his modeling, so get them to him if you can:


Adding the images from our previous session. We meet and sketch and drink again, this October 24th.




Study, female figure, graphite on paper. (The note, right is a reminder for me to recreate this image in a series of works done in wet gesso and acrylic paint)


Study, back, male, graphite on paper


Study, female figure, Prismacolor marker


two studies, female figure with lap-harp, right, study of arm and clasped hands.


Dancing, interactive pose, graphite on paper


Back, female, graphite on paper


interactive pose, graphite on paper


graphite on paper


Interactive pose, Casein paint, on paper

Thanks to everyone who attended, and special thanks to the models. Let me know if/how you would like your attribution to appear here). It was a great night for me and a great first night for the event.

Also, I came away with a lot of useful studies and sketches which might serve as jumping off points for other works down the line.

Enjoy the sketches, and keep reading below.


figure studies, female and male, standing graphite on paper



Female standing, male seated, figure study, graphite on paper



Figure studies, female and male, standing, back view, graphite on paper



Male, standing, study with figure aids (was explaining a concept to a class attendee) pencil on paper.


Study, female figure, kneeling, graphite and casein paint on paper


Male figure,seated, graphite and Casein paint


Male figure, standing, graphite and Casein paint on paper



Interactive pose, figure study, graphite and Casein paint on paper.

[continued below]

As many of my readers know, I am getting geared up to start a sketch and sip event at a local club. Since I am the host, it’s not like I can let my sketching game get slack. Nope. It’s time to get to work and pick up some graphite and brushes.

I booked a room at the Albany Barn, and scheduled a session with model, J, who is going to be one of our figure models for the event.

Before I scheduled the session, I talked with my model and I wanted to have a theme or an idea to build the session around so I might then have some images to work into a later piece. I decided on a post apocalyptic theme, and borrowed a Kukri (a type of machete) from a friend.

One of the things that is challenging at first, to learn about drawing figure is you simply do not have time to work in great detail. The key here is make each image a study of gesture, –the shapes you see in the body, light and the pose of the body. The images here are presented out of the order in which I did them. I began with a few short (5 minute) poses in graphite, the sketches done in Molotow acrylic paint markers were slightly longer poses (10 minutes) and the poses in which I used a mixture of graphite and Casein paint were 15-20munte poses.


Pose 1, graphite on paper, model -J



Pose 2, graphite on paper, model -J


Pose 3, Molotow acrylic marker (sadly, the marker, which is metallic and reflective, does not show up well in photographs)


Pose 4, graphite on paper


Pose 5, graphite on paper.


Pose 6, Molotow Acrylic paint marker



Pose 8, graphite and Casein paint


Pose 9, graphite and Casein paint.


Goings on With the Class: Visiting the Rockland Living Museum

First of all, many thanks to Julie at OMH for making this possible, by letting me hitch a ride. Secondly, thanks to Chris Randolph of the Rockland Living Museum for being so generous with her time.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

A sculpture made of found objects, it works as a wind chime. At the Rockland Living Museum

I didn’t teach my usual class today. I actually spent the day riding down to Rockland Psychiatric Center to view that hospital complex. Mostly, I am looking to see the Rockland Living Museum. The Living Museum at Creedmore has long been the act to follow in what I do. It’s my goal at CDPC to create a peer-run art therapy program that makes meaningful changes in the lives of the students in my classroom. Through a conversation with my contact for the Art on 8 gallery shows, I learned she makes frequent trips to Rockland Psychiatric Center. There’s a counterpart to Creedmore’s Living Museum there. So, at 8:30am this morning I was standing around the OMH Central Office on Holland Avenue, to catch a ride to Rockland Psychiatric Center.

My goal here was a simple one: to see what people at larger, long-running art therapy programs were doing and learn from that. Compared to CDPC which has a capacity of about 136 people in a single building, Rockland has a sprawling campus of buildings (many of which are abandoned). Post-deinstitutionalization, Rockland is a much smaller operation than when its reputation was much grimmer. I had heard about Rockland because of an innovative art program. A little searching around the web reveals the hospital was once considered a pretty bleak and hopeless place by many locals (its location is about 17 miles north of Manhattan). As I’m researching this blog about the history of Rockland, I quickly loose interest in the more salacious bits of its history. Grim suggestions of an overwrought staff and abused and neglected population dominates a lot of commentary from those who knew it or lived or worked there. I’m not looking for horror stories, not now, though I may read up on that later.

Lately, I am in the business of looking for answers to help even the sickest of Albany’s psychiatric patients recover and reintegrate into the community as much as possible. What I do, I do to get people well and empowering them to keep it that way. I have to believe people do recover and stay well, because I need to believe it for myself. Before I taught an art class at CDPC (as I remind the students in my classroom) I sat in the same chairs they are sitting in. Art therapies are a way to bring people out, and help them recover from severe and persistent mental illness. That’s what brings me to meet Chris Randolph today.

Chris Randolf is an art therapist. Her professional profile on a popular web site shows she once worked at a private facility in the same upstate New York county I was raised in, near a hospital where I was sometimes hospitalized, all in the city where I lived in a group home for 9 months. She’s the director of Rockland’s Living Museum, and over the phone she agrees to meet with me when I describe myself as the teacher of a peer-run art class. She does this a day before my arrival. She is even unfazed when my ride calls and asks her to meet me a couple hours ahead of when the Living Museum opens.

This serves as an outdoor sign for the Living Museum, part of a sculpture garden patients are rebuilding after it was damaged by a severe storm.

This serves as an outdoor sign for the Living Museum, part of a sculpture garden patients are rebuilding after it was damaged by a severe storm.

It’s far too warm for a day in October. I tend to be extraordinarily anxious in longer car rides. Mercifully, I get a stop at the rest stop mid-way. Lately especially, whenever I am in situations I can’t get up and move around I get stressed out. Nonetheless, since we arrive early, I am offered a breif tour of the whole facility before we park to sign in at the modern main building.

The main, modern building at Rockland, I find, reminds me in an unpleasant way of a building at Pilgrim State Hospital. This isn't the best picture to show that, but the similarity is there, and the psychological effect of the imposing building is the same.

The main, modern building at Rockland, I find, reminds me in an unpleasant way of a building at Pilgrim State Hospital. This isn’t the best picture to show that, but the similarity is there, and the psychological effect of the imposing building is the same.

Much of Rockland’s Campus is a series of ivy-covered, abandoned buildings. I am treated to the site of decaying structures bedecked in color, thanks to turning leaves. Here is one of those images, but I am intending most of that for another blog.

The buildings in the abandoned portions of Rockland's campus are still accessible. A walking path on the campus goes right along them.

The buildings in the abandoned portions of Rockland’s campus are still accessible. A walking path on the campus goes right along them.

My traveling companions sign in, and in a few minutes, Chris is on her way to pick me up to bring me across campus to Building 19, where the Living Museum anchors a large room of one side of the Recovery Center. We park in a small lot at the back, and Chris begins to show me the work that takes up her day from 1-4, when the Living Museum is open. She has the help of art therapy interns to work directly with the patients. Still, she seems to have a small anecdote for nearly every object outside. Aftr seeing the garden, we get into the actual studio in which the museum’s art is created, by residents of the hospital (many of whom are beginning to transition out of inpatient care).

The Living Museum has several areas which allow patients to work, and relax, listen to music or enjoy a cup of hot tea. Art by patients decorate the room throughout.

The Living Museum has several areas which allow patients to work, and relax, listen to music or enjoy a cup of hot tea. Art by patients decorates the room throughout.

The Rockland Living Museum was developed based on the pioneering Living Museum at Creedmore Hospital in Queens, NYC. The emphasis is on a peer-run program which uses art therapy to empower patients and assist recovery from mental illness. Under the direction of Dr. Janos Marton, a 2002 New York Times profile described the mission of the Living Museum as being a place of “refuge” where “over 800 men and women shed their identities as psychiatric patients and bloomed as artists.”

Patients simply come into the Living Museum space, and without lessons, or direction, they make art. That art has been widely exhibited. It is a series of paintings by patients at the Rockland Museum that piques my interest. At the Art on 8 exhibit (which I have my own work in, as do many of my CDPC students) a conversation about the work in the show from the Rockland Living Museum results in a plan for me to visit Rockland.

My own program is a nascent one. I have only just begun working in the hospital in April. I hear many complimentary statement from students. My class is something they look forward to all day and all week. I know I can make it more meaningful and powerful for my students. I know my story is compelling to them. I was sick on and off a long time. I got hospitalized, voluntarily or involuntarily, a lot. Now, I live in my own apartment and pay my bills. I haven’t needed a hospitalization in 4 years. I know it probably seems to my students that I know something they don’t. If there’s any truth to that at all, the thing I know is this: I need all of them as much as they need me.

That I am teaching again is important to me. Also, it matters that I am teaching people with whom I share a common struggle with chronic mental illness. Its my personal belief is that mentally ill people need to create a community of mutual support for each other. That’s why I do peer mentoring. I teach art because creating art has always been a large part of my own recovery and healing from mental illness. We as a community of psychiatric survivors, –we need to do it for ourselves.

Tables allow patients to work together, although some patents choose to work at stations around the room that are solitary. Great care seems to be taken to meet patient's needs and allow them to indulge their preferences.

Tables allow patients to work together, although some patents choose to work at stations around the room that are solitary. Great care seems to be taken to meet patient’s needs and allow them to indulge their preferences.

The underlying purpose of the Living Museum is to place art therapy, not as peripheral to people’s recovery, rather creative expression is vital to real and lasting recovery from mental illness. Art groups shouldn’t be in psychiatric hospitals to keep the mentally ill busy. The purpose of art therapy is to make people well. I believe this, of course, because it matches with my own experience. The historical connection between creativity and “madness” is long and widely studied. I’m a working visual artist, as well as a teacher. I know I do much better when I make creativity and expression my purpose.

Art adorns the whole room, and even the rafters. Many objects that become works of art are donated, including tables and chairs which are turned to objects of art. Chris states her goal is to get rid of all the furniture she feels is "institutional" in nature.

Art adorns the whole room, and even the rafters. Many objects that become works of art are donated, including tables and chairs which are turned to objects of art. Chris states her goal is to get rid of all the furniture she feels is “institutional” in nature.

After Chris picks me up at Rockland’s central building, I launch on a whirlwind tour of the Rockland Living Museum. We start with its garden. Chris explains that she has about a half-hour before some other responsibility she must attend to. In a short time I have seen a lot of things which inspire me, and leave me with a great number of ideas for my own work at CDPC. I also see the enormity of the task I’m trying to undertake.

Nearly every patient who takes part in the Living Museum contributes in some way to the beauty or the tending of this garden.

Nearly every patient who takes part in the Living Museum contributes in some way to the beauty or the tending of this garden.

The garden grows flowers, or herbs and vegetables intended for use in the food at the Big Rock Café. The cafe is a locus of food and conversation for many patients, and its walls also serve to exhibit work done by patients in the Living Museum.

In the Living Museum’s garden, some patients have taken plastic bottles and fashioned them as flowers decorated in vivid colors. Some patients have decorated the ground with painted stone tiles. Another has made small seats for rest or contemplation. Still others simply tend the garden and their contribution is watering the plants and weeding. It strikes me that Chris not only knows each person and their contribution to the garden, but she seems to have found a way to match each person to a way their skills and limitations still allow them to take a meaningful part.

For those of us in the peer/consumer movement, this is what’s known as a “strengths based approach.” The medical model of treatment focused on the deficits of a ill person. Medical professionals list symptoms, and address limitations. Throughout my time in the Rockland Living Museum, the focus remains on building and fostering the skills and abilities of people in treatment. Participants in the Living Museum direct their own projects. They choose their creative medium based on their already presents skills and interests. One man, Tommy, does most of the building in wood, a large section of the room is a dedicated space where he builds benches, chairs, stools and many other projects.

Tommy, who works in wood, has a dedicated space for his projects.

Tommy, who works in wood, has a dedicated space for his projects.

Most of the spaces for the museum’s artists are individual. The space is adapted to the artist and their interests and personalities. Some artists work is crafts or jewelry. The work is self directed, and flexible. Spaces have shelves of donated books, and a small radio for listening to music.

Other artist spaces include easels, shelves of books that are donated, even a handmade coat rack on which some artists have turned old canvases into lovely and unique purses.

Other artist spaces include easels, shelves of books that are donated, even a handmade coat rack on which some artists have turned old canvases into lovely and unique purses.

A lesson in resilience: a severe storm recently damaged an outdoor sculpture garden --composed mostly of driftwood. Patients are beginning to stack the wood, and rebuild the sculptures.

A lesson in resilience: a severe storm recently damaged an outdoor sculpture garden –composed mostly of driftwood. Patients are beginning to stack the wood, and rebuild the sculptures.

In the Living Museum, Chis leads me around from one project to another. Since the space is not yet open and no artists are present, she patiently answers all my questions about her work as director. She relates how the Living Museum started. At the beginning it was just her. Chris gives me many thoughtful recommendations for my own program. Much of the supplies, furniture and other projects are donated items, or carefully gleaned from sites like Craigslist and other free resources. The Living Museum is staffed, in part, by partnering with educational institutions nearby. But primarily, Chris stresses the need to create a program which eschews the traditional therapeutic model. Instead, she insists on a program which empowers patient autonomy and choice. This maxim underlies the program here.

This is of course, something I want for my own program. Changing a deeply entrenched institutional culture is a large task.

After I have seen the actual Living Museum itself, I briefly tour the larger Recovery Center –which constitutes the rest of Building 19. I see spaces that host group therapy, vocational training, computer access, music and performance space, and display space for some of the patient created wares from the Living Museum. I’m given an overview of the other programs. There is an all-day roster of groups available to patients (patients choose their own groups, and participate in creating new groups). I meet both hospital residents and peer mentors like myself. Chris eventually has a supervision to attend to, and I go to the café for lunch.

It’s in the café that The Recovery Center feels institutional to me for the first time. Though the food is fine, and the space is well decorated with the Living Museum’s art, several people mill about the cafe or in front of it in an idle and purposeless way. A couple of the cafés patrons approach me either wanting my coffee, or cigarettes. I talk to a couple of people there, and eventually leave to photograph the wooded, picturesque grounds. Much of the hospital’s campus is abandoned and overgrown. It makes a beautiful subject for my camera, since photographing abandoned buildings is a longstanding hobby of mine.

While I am walking the grounds, seeing all the wrecked former hospital buildings, it seems the hospital campus was abandoned in stages. Nearer the road, buildings are lost almost entirely in overgrowth, and as one gets closer to the center of campus and its modern buildings some of the older buildings are being returned to use. I am not sure, but it is likely that building 19 itself, where the Living Museum is housed, began the renaissance of the older buildings being renovated. It’s speculation on my part, but meaningful speculation.

That I was pestered for cigarettes, money, and coffee in the café reminds me that the needs of the mentally ill are great. People whose needs are being met aren’t listlessly sitting about looking for an opportunity to solicit something they don’t have or have enough of. Back at home, (my work at CDPC) there are a great number of people that need to be meaningfully engaged in addressing their own needs. Those needs may be educational, vocational, or –pertinently– creative expression.

There’s a lot of work to do.


Lesson: Sketching From Cabinet Photos

Among my favorite subject matter for sketching over the past several years have been cabinet photos. Cabinet photos were a late 19th century print-making process. Photographers took the photos –generally in their shops and they were often used to advertise for the photographer. These photos satisfied the fascination of Victorian era people with access to an emerging technology –photography. The cabinet photo was extraordinarily popular until about the turn of the twentieth century. There are an abundance of them, and they can generally be bought for only a few dollars per photo.

For a couple of years now, I have been buying cabinet photos from The White Whale, an antique shop in Hudson, NY, each time I have vacationed there. The cabinet photos make for arresting portraiture studies to me for several reasons. First, photography was still expensive and most cameras were only in the hands of professional photographers. This means that most cabinet photos are of regular people, dressed in their best clothes, who must have traveled “into town,” to have their portrait taken. The cards I have bought are often of young women, dressed in probably what is their best dress. So, drawing ordinary people of modest means has a certain appeal.

The second consideration is more of a technical one. Photography was still a technology in its infancy. Long exposures and the process of print-making often did not produce as crisp an image as what we are used to today. In the image I am using, taken by photographer F. C. Flint, of Syracuse, NY, the skin-tones of the woman photographed are pretty uniformly the white of the paper, as are most of the woman’s intricate lace dress. There’s little to go on to draw the normal contours and shadows of the woman’s face, except for some shadow around the eyes and under the woman’s chin. For the way I tend to sketch portraiture, the lack of detail forces you to develop those details yourself, and intuitively. You have to learn to fill in the missing information with a good intuitive sense of anatomy and texture.

Cabinet photo by F.C. Flint, pencil on paper.

Cabinet photo by F.C. Flint, pencil on paper.

A second cabinet photo, this time the image is based on a photo from Farrand & Neale, 18th and 6th Ave, NYC.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The face in the photo is placid. For whatever reason she seems anxious and terrified as I draw her. A reflection of my own state, perhaps. Nonetheless, thank you for viewing.

Also, below the woman’s face, her shoulders and chest begin to disappear in shadow. It’s a challenge to draw with a fair deal of detail from the image, and another challenge to replicate (in pencil) the vanishing light around the edges of the image in Victorian era photography.

Couple, cabinet photo, marked: Chamberlin, Norwich, NY.

Couple, cabinet photo, marked: Chamberlin, Norwich, NY.

This new drawing I found interesting to do, because of the elaborate clothing and the amount of detail in the photo. The image I am working from (the actual photo print) is very small, about 2 and 1/4″ by 4″. This particular photo is much smaller than most of the cabinet photos in my collection, although the others vary as well, in size and shape.

Since I am gearing up to do a portrait on commission, I broke out the pencils today (a new set, sent to me by my kind sister Jennifer) to practice my hand at sketching –something I will very likely be working on a lot in coming days. Again, from one of the cabinet photos my partner and I have collected, this one marked: “DeWitt”

He’s a relatively severe looking, aged gentleman, but I came to like him while I was drawing him and his substantial beard.

Drawing from cabinet photo, bearded gentleman, marked "DeWitt"

Drawing from cabinet photo, bearded gentleman, marked “DeWitt”

Cabinet photos can generally be found in antique shops locally, and can also be found online. They make a very interesting subject, in my mind for practicing portraiture.

Cultivating the Sketching Habit (III)

I’ve started taking around graphite and torn-up sheets of paper around with me wherever I go tucked into my day-planner. The other day, headed to a talented young friend’s gallery show I sketched this out of some trees in Washington Park (Albany, NY)

Graphite on paper.



Today, when I took my son to the library, I did a little sketching with graphite the Molotow Acrylic Paint Markers. The paint markers were part of a recent donation of supplies I received. I have enjoyed using them, and I am learning a bit how to get the most out of them. I know a few artists who use acrylic paint markers heavily in their work, so I have been playing and experimenting with them.

Both images from the book “Digital Photography Masterclass” by Tom Ang. The book itself is a wonderful and comprehensive text for learning digital photography. I gravitate to it because it is full of exceptionally good photography and makes for good sketches and studies.

6.28.16, last sketch in this sketchbook, Form a book of National Geographic Photos, Yemeni Women in a line to Vote, photo by Steve McCurry


From a photo by Steve McCurry, Yemen Women at an Election, Graphite on paper, from a book put out by National Geographic.


A couple more sketches from when I was in the park with my son today.


Study, Tree, Washington Park, Albany, N.Y.. Graphite on paper.



Study, Corning Tower, veiwed From Washington Park. Graphite on paper.





As the weather has gotten nicer, I have been taking a sketchbook with me to nearby Washington Park, here in Albany. The other day, I did a couple quick images of things I saw. (Graphite on paper, all)




I decided to do some sketching out of library books. On Wednesdays, I am always bringing my son to the library, –so, I either catch up on e-mail and web-surf, or I draw for an hour or so.

Today I did the latter


Been doing a bit more sketching while I help my son with his home work. This is again from Tom Ang’s book (see below for full source info)


Older man, from Ang’s book, Digital Photography Masterclass, pencil on paper.


The next several images are from a books on local history including  “Heldeberg Hilltowns,” (by Eberfeld & McLean).



Schenectady Dayline trolley car, pencil on paper, From the book “Adirondak Trail,” by Donalf R. Williams. It is a reproduction of a photographic image.




One-room school house, Rennsylaerville, NY, pencil on paper.



Old Snyder Sawmill, Westerlo, pencil on paper.


The last image caught my fancy, because prior to going into a business of landscaping and selling Christmas trees, my grandfather ran a sawmill, and when I was younger, I remember when that building stood on the property of the business my father –then– ran.



The first piece was drawn from the book “Digital Photography Masterclass” by  Tom Ang. It’s a book about digital photography, butI love to draw from it because Ang’s photos are really good. The really lovely part of this sketch is the model’s face is almost entirely black in the photograph (illustrates using a distant room flash). The sketch was a lot of shading. And I do mean a lot.

I switched between a 2b and 4b to get the shading right. A challenge but fun.


Portrait, Pencil on paper, from Tom Ang’s book “Digital Photography Masterclass”



The second image is from the same book. Admittedly, I have only had occasion to draw a person’s pet once. I have not drawn animals frequently. So, of course, I took it on myself to practice with another image from the book:


Dog, pencil on paper, from the mentioned book.


In the photo, the dog is looking around a corner through a door frame, which is why he/she seems to be missing an ear. Not a great first go, but this is why sketching is important. I have been making more from commissions lately. I’d rather not pass on a commission because I wasn’t comfortable with the work. It is important to vary your work and keep working at those areas that are weaker.

Lastly, I had ten minutes left before it was time to take my son home. I pulled a local history book off the shelves and based this mage off a 1909 sketch by S. Hollyer of Henry Hudson’s ship –that Halfmoon– arriving at the current location of  my home-city, Albany NY.


The Halfmoon, pencil on paper, based on an image by S. Hollyer.

The sketch is very whimsical and very loose. This brings me to an important point: experiment stylistically!!! If you are really tight, do something very quick and loose and with a few lines. If your work is busy, –try something minimalist. For my students that are very young: you are still discovering how you like to create. Experimenting allows you to find your style, to find your own unique artistic voice. There is never just one way to create an arresting image. Goof off. Work fast. But always, always experiment.


A recent sketch I did waiting for my class to start. (6/2015)

Quick sketch before class. Rear of Buffalo State Psychiatric Center (Richardson-Olmstead complex) pencil on paper.

Quick sketch before class. Rear of Buffalo State Psychiatric Center (Richardson-Olmstead complex)
pencil on paper.

Update, 4/10/15 I take my son to the library a couple days a week. He lives with his mother. Between helping him with long division and fractions I sometimes sketch from photography books in the library. These sketches are from a book by Tom Ang that I have drawn from before. Pencil on paper: IMG_0243 IMG_0244 … Update: 3/22/15 Prior to the beginning of class, I did these three studies of people walking in the hall. IMG_0116 IMG_0117 IMG_0118 … Update: 2/28/15 I am adding some more sketches from my sketch book. First some simple studies:

Basil plant, (left) pencil, and brown banana, pencil and charcoal.

Basil plant, (left) pencil, and brown banana, pencil and charcoal.

Figure studies, club dancers, pencil

Figure studies, club dancers, pencil

Edgar, skeleton decoration, w/sash. to the right, Sif the cat, my friend Seamus' cat.

Edgar, skeleton decoration, w/sash. to the right, Sif the cat, my friend Seamus’ cat.

study, figures at a bar

study, figures at a bar

study, park bench with balloon.

study, park bench with balloon.

Finally, I began earlier in the month drawing images from the book “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from the State Hospital Attic.” It’s been a book I have returned to again and again, some of the photos are archived photos of patients from the New York State Department of Health, and some are photos done for this book by photographer Lisa Rinsler. The photos make exceptional studies, and since I do peer work in psychiatric hospitals, and have been in and out of psychiatric care for much of my adult life, the subject is a meaningful one to me personally. I did these studies (of patients who lived in Willard State Hospital during the twentieth century) with what I hope is a great deal of sensitivity. Also, I hope I am not miss-attributing any images that I have used as source material in these sketches: All sketches are pencil on paper: DSCF0006 A better image of Lawrence, who was a patient and Willard hospital’s long-time grave digger. DSCF0010 Another patient, Dymitre, an artist who painted images of his home village while at Willard. DSCF0011 Sister Marie, who was a nun before coming into psychiatric care. DSCF0012  Ethel, at an advanced age by the time this picture was taken. All of the first names used in the book were the patient’s actual names, the last names used in the book were pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of the patients. This last image is a study of a window in an endangered historic building, in Hudson, NY. This is a window in the First Presbyterian Church, on Warren Street –Hudson’s main commercial thoroughfare. The sketch is in charcoal and pencil:

First Presbyterian Church, Hudson, New York. Charcoal and pencil on paper.

First Presbyterian Church, Hudson, New York. Charcoal and pencil on paper.

[…] Update: 2-9-15 I have been doing a lot of sketching over the last couple days. Most of these are simple studies which I am developing for small works. This sketch though, is one of the more complete renderings i have done over the last couple days.

Pencil on paper, Lawrence Marek, Willard Psychiatric Hospital's (Willard Lunatic Asylum/Hospital for Incurables) long-time grave-digger. photo credit Lisa Rinsler

Pencil on paper, Lawrence Marek, Willard Psychiatric Hospital’s (Willard Lunatic Asylum/Hospital for Incurables) long-time grave-digger. photo credit Lisa Rinsler

The image comes from the book “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from the State Hospital Attic” by Darby Penny and Peter Statsny (photographs by Lisa Rinsler). It was a museum exhibit based on the compiled information in this book that launched my interest in State Psychiatric Hospitals and the patients that lived there. I periodically borrow this book from my local library to read it again. The image here is Lawrence Marek, who was a patient and worked in the hospital’s cemetery from 1937 until his death in 1968 at age 90. This blog by John Crispin talk more about the suitcase project: After this sketch, I am, of course, working on new works for myself, and for the small paintings I have been doing. I wanted to share this sketch though, as well as it’s excellent source material (worth checking out –very much– on its own). Sorry that the image is not the best quality, but I am still without a proper digital camera to take pictures of new works. Hoping some of the work I have currently exhibited sells, so I have an opportunity to replace my digital. Because, there rally are a lot of new works lately. […] Lately, I have been feeling slightly barren of ideas for new works. So, I have returned to sketching a few ideas out in my sketchbook. Two ideas I am developing, today: I am fortunate enough to have my own still model. At times when she is not too busy, she’s offered to pose for me, and I haven’t taken advantage of that nearly so much as I should. In the past she has done art modeling and still modeling. KODAK Digital Still CameraI have just done a simple line drawing. I needed to make sure I can capture the pose. The main struggle here is getting the line of the spine correct when the body is reclined to the side, and since the legs are brought forward, they must be fore-shortened. It is possible I have foreshortened them too much here. I am going to keep working with this pose, there’s probably a larger work coming out of this in acrylic or oil.  The other piece is a simple sketch of an old church in Hudson. The church is currently endangered and there is a strong sentiment in the city to restore and preserve the church. So far as I know, the work is ongoing, both to raise the funds needed, and do stabilization work. KODAK Digital Still Camera There were several other pieces I have done in my sketch book. This first one is of a church that –quite regrettably– met with the wrecking ball locally. This is an image of St. Patrick’s Church, which was recently demolished to make for a new grocery store in Watervliet, NY. KODAK Digital Still Camera There’s a lot of smaller sketches I have been doing, usually during my down times at work. (Get time to sketch when you can take it, is fantastic advice –applies here). A lot of the sketching I have been doing at lately, I have been doing at work while I’m waiting for the class to start. The sketches tend to be of plants in the common areas. There’s also a sketch in here from a book I took out of the library on digital photography, “Digital Photography Masterclass” by Tom Ang. KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera

Quick Lesson, 5/14/14

So, this past week I stumbled upon a lesson idea I used in class. I thought I might share for people that teach students that may have limited or highly varied proficiency. Readers could also try this lesson on their own. Generally, I aim to create lesson ideas that challenge my students who came into my class with a set of fine art skills, but do not loose my students that may be thinking of themselves as artists for the first time. This lesson is intended for a group of adults with mixed skill levels. My students are adults hospitalized for a mental illness.

This lesson I drew inspiration from one of my favorite abstract artists, Paul Klee’s “Drawn One” (1935). See here:



(Image from the website,

The simplicity of the drawing was possible to recreate for less advanced students. I encouraged my students who are advancing to draw a more realistic face.

Because I am working with adults with mental illness, I entitled the exercise “Fractured Self.” Many students used the exercise to explore their own emotional state at class time. I we were working, I talked about how the choice of colors, thickness of lines, and other things may influence the emotional content of a drawing.

I had students working in charcoal (the lines) and oil pastel. I also encouraged students to limit their color pallette to three or fewer colors.

The first step was  to have each student draw a grid of irregular lines that intersect. After creating the grid of lines, students who had been in my class for some time applied what they have been learning about drawing faces, and drew a bust (head and shoulders) in the grid of lines. The last step was to color in the segments of paper created by the grid.

My students responded well to the exercise. The assignment moved quickly, but is possible in a forty-five minute class. I am still working out with my employer the consent and privacy laws under HIPPA to be able to show any student work. Each class I find it helpful to demonstrate the activity on an easel in front of the room. So, I have included two images of my in-class demonstration.

I hope this may give you some of your own ideas. If you do try this in your own classroom, or on your own, I would love to hear feed back from people.

Sample 1

Sample 1


Sample 2

Sample 2

Mini-lesson: The Ten Minute Sketch

It wasn’t that long ago I was teaching in a classroom 40 hours a week in a subject matter that was unrelated to fine art. The simple reality for a lot of creative people is that a great deal of our days are spent doing things other than create art to pay our bills. So, with that in mind, the single greatest block on an artist’s creativity can be the simplest of stumbling blocks: “Do I have time for this?”

With this in mind I thought about ways that creative non-professionals and even professional artists can kick-start their process. I’m calling this example the “ten minute sketch.” It involves sectioning a piece of standard 8 x 11 1/2 sketch paper in your sketch book into four sections (the sections will be roughly the size of 4 x 6 note cards I was taught in high school to use to take notes for research papers).

Generally, I have encouraged my past students to “scale up” (ie: increase the size of their drawings and art) and to use a full sheet of paper for each piece. However, –this time around and in the interest of time– the idea is to create a smaller image that can be done more quickly as it will require less detail. Since this is meant for a sketch book exercise, it’s ideal for pencil or charcoal. Those who wish to may choose to work in color, but if you want to keep to the time limit (a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule by any means) you will simplify your drawing by working in one color, or with a limited palette.

Here is my example from last evening:


My partner, Muse. Pencil on paper, 3” by 5”, from my sketch book.

Bare in mind, this is an exercise designed to help get the blood flowing. You need not agonize about small works not intended for sale. With the small size you will want to keep your details simplified.

I choose portraiture for the topic of this sketch. The planes of the face are generally simple enough to sketch in this small a size. Subjects that are more intricate and have a great deal of detail might take a great deal more time.

Whether or not you work in areas unrelated to your art, the most important key to being happy creatively is good time management. Set time aside each day to be creative. Whether your ten minute sketch is done in ten minutes or not is not important. The important piece of doing this exercise is getting over the notion of being “too busy” or, “not having time” to be creative. This is a mental trick more than anything else.

Get out there, have fun and create!

Cultivating the sketching habit (II)…

Some more recent sketches here. Many more are due because I am developing ideas for some of the small works I plan to do:

[explanation: I’ve recently become a lot more disciplined in doing regular sketches of images that I find interesting for whatever reason. When I was a kid, or a teenager, it was a natural thing to just pick up a sketch-book and treat whatever I saw. I sort of lost that habit in the business of being an adult. Now, as I am producing more lately, large complete works, it’s all the more detrimental to maintain regular practice sketching small ideas and things that I may want to turn into larger complete works.]

[note] I’ve decided to begin loading new works towards the top of the page, so it’s easier for readers to see new works, rather than scrolling past ones they may have already seen to see the newest pieces.

I am currently teaching an art therapy group three times a week, and looking for opportunities to do similar work elsewhere. Sharing my sketchbook in this way might seem a bit odd, since most artists tend to pretty jealously guard theirs. However, it’s become an important part of my pedagogy to encourage students to pay attention to their pre-drawing process. Many of these sketches are basic and rough ideas. Sketches are supposed to be where you problem-solve, they are supposed to be flawed and have problems. That’s the point. Ideas (should they make it to a final work and be hung in a gallery) do not arise fully-formed and perfect. They have a life before that. They start off malformed and imperfectly executed, –and many ideas wither on the vine and die. Being honest about that part of the process has become an important way to make creating art less intimidating for my students.


Some recent sketches:

7/9, I always encourage my students to pay attention to “pre-drawing.” In that spirit, this was a practice I did in the twenty minutes I was waiting for the class to start Thursday of the photograph of the train tracks looking south from the Rennselaer train station.


Pencil on paper, train tracks, looking south from Rennselaer.


Two recent (from my sketchbook, 6.25.14):

First, an interior view from the cafeteria/common area in the psychiatric hospital that hosts my art class. I usually arrive at about 12:30 for a one o’clock class, and since I had no pressing business before the lesson started, I spent about 15 minutes doing this architectural study:

psychiatric hospital, sketch of interior/common area.

psychiatric hospital, sketch of interior/common area.


Today is one of the days I take my eight-year old son to the library. Normally, I goof around on the wi-fi, but today I opted to use the time to sketch instead. I needed a break from tech anyway. Two sketches of buildings around the Bach Library branch:

Residence, New Scotland Ave, Albany, NY, USA.

Residence, New Scotland Ave, Albany, NY, USA.


And this is the rear of two buildings I sketched from the patio area behind the library:

Rear of buildings, near New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY, USA

Rear of buildings, near New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY, USA

Adding two today (6.13.2014)

The first was a practice in my own sketchbook of a Van Gogh piece I was using to teach a lesson in perspective. It’s frequently helpful for me to sketch on my own and work out problems before I teach anyone what I’m doing:

sketch, done right before class, pencil on paper

sketch, done right before class, pencil on paper

Second image, I was feeling in a whimsical mood this morning, so I drew Edgar. Edgar is a diminutive, plastic foam Halloween decoration that has decorated my apartments for many years.

"Edgar," charcoal on paper.

“Edgar,” charcoal on paper.


Again, from the book “Hudson Valley Ruins” (it’s a beautiful book, the history in it and the images are top-notch.)




An abandoned car, from the book Hudson Valley Ruins. (above)





This should be a familiar sight to people who frequently travel from Albany to NYC: The Yonkers Power Station (abandoned).

In my current class, which is a “therapeutic” fine arts group held in a hospital, I drew this sketch to the prompt I gave my students, “And then the fire went out. No one noticed.”


Quick architectural sketch. Image from the book “Hudson River Ruins” (Ranaldi, Yasanik [sp?]) The picture is of Fedralsberg, an abandoned ruin south of Albany:


I have also been doing some figure studies:


figure study, pencil on paper


figure study charcoal on paper

Another in my series of images drawing Eduard Manet’s “The Old Musician


A reproduction of G. Klimt


And second, Timmy of Nixon’s Spirit:


So, I am doing a lot of sketching as pre-planning for larger works:

These are the two pieces I posted yesterday I was interested in essentially “tinting” with watercolor:




Study/sketch, pencil on paper. Pollock and Klingman together near the time of the artist’s death. Photo from a NYTimes article.


Two small sketches: above is a figure study of a Libyan opposition fighter.


Figure study, elderly woman with a rake. Pencil on paper.

The following two images I am planning to do further work with. I will do a similar thing as I did with another small work –an image of a depression-era man selling chestnuts from a vending cart. That piece I drew in pencil, and then tinted with watercolor. I am hoping to do that over the next couple days. I will post the results once I have an opportunity to do so.


This is a reproduction/study of Edouard Manet’s “Madame Michel-Levy.” I am starting more and more to keep Manet as among my favorites of the Impressionists.


This is an image of a TV/entertainment mogul. I found the image in the NYTimes. For whatever reason it made me think of the song lyric scribbled next to the image.


The last image is of a young woman, Shawna Timmonds, who was profiled in a NY Times article.

More to come, soon…

These were both in-class demonstrations (charcoal on paper):


(Note the lines and marks made as I illustrating planning and pre-drawing techniques)

Hope to have some more of the recent sketches out of my sketch-book soon. Here’s one of my ideas from the SWPA series…


Sketch for the SWPA.


In class demonstration.


In class demonstration: placement of facial features.


Based on a photo from the New York Times.

In class demonstrations:111_3721 111_3722
For class, sketching hands and feet.

A piece riffing off Edouard Manet’s  “The Old Musician,” it is a series I am considering for the SWPA (see for explanation here:


Here’s a couple more sketches (in color). This piece is pencil and colored pencil on paper. I was working with a student on using color in shadows:


This piece is also a pretty good color study, this time in oil pastel:


More recent works

Here is some of the recent work I have been doing:


Not the best image, admittedly from the camera, but I liked this one. One of the other assistants in the class I teach brought in the subject for this still life from her day job –which is for a company that installs sprinkler systems, or something of the sort. Occasionally, they have to replace rubber tubing that is overgrown by tree roots, which is what this is.

I like that people tell me it looks like a heart that is pierced by something, or a dead animal or skull of some sort. It was a pretty challenging subject for painting. It’s acrylic on paper.

Recently, I began working on the sketch for another idea. At Trinity Institution where I teach the weekly class, there is a series of photos of the Steven and Harriet Meyers residence. The Meyers house was once an Albany stop on the underground railroad, owned by a prominent abolitionist. The house is currently being restored to be used as a historic site. The photos of the house under restoration are all compelling, but I decided to do a pencil treatment of the following picture as a warm up to a possible larger, complete work or treatment of the subject.

Here is my (unfinished) pencil sketch so far:


The photograph was one that I found compelling because it shows the basement staircase –the basement being place that logically would hide the presence of people not wanting to be found. The photo was compelling as well because the area of greatest light is beyond the door-frame, and the walls beyond them darken into near total darkness at the bottom of the page. It was a very well-shot photograph (when I think to I will update this with the photographer’s name).

I apologize the photograph is not very clear, it seems the next thing I may need to buy is a compact digital camera to replace my trusty Kodak Easyshare. It seems to be on its way out.

A couple weeks ago, The art class I am a part of hosted an art contest held as part of the launch of a community walking path in the Arbor Hill neighborhood. I spent most of the day handing out pencils and paper to young kids in the neighborhood, and encouraging their efforts in the contest. As I was set up, I did a quick line drawing of a tree on the property.

Ultimately, I took the rough drawing home, and finished it in pencil. Still not happy with the result, I layered the painting with thin layers of water color paint. So the piece is mixed media, on a rather large sheet of paper.

Here it is before the water color: 111_2988

And here is the finished (essentially, there is one problem I may want to correct before sale) piece:


Arbor Hill Tree, pencil and watercolor on paper. Inquire about sale and dimensions.

And a couple recent sketches: