Back in college, in the first minutes of the first session of my first drawing class, our instructor marched to the front of the room, jumped straight up onto a desk and, towering above us, held a pencil out in front of himself. He told us that we were not there to learn how to draw; that it was his job to teach us magic. He pointed to the sharpened tip of the pencil and said, “This is your magic wand. Using the pointy end, you can make anything you can imagine appear out of nowhere.” Pointing at the eraser he continued, “And with this end, you can make anything disappear, no matter how big it is.” It was his job to teach us not to be cameras, but how to use our magic wands to create something from nothing.
I know in a recent Coffee Shop Studio post, I talked about how non-artists look at us like we’re wizards. But we’re not. We have simply learned (or are still learning) the visual language of drawing. Drawing is nothing more than a written language that anyone can read, but to write it (and write it well) can take hundreds or thousands of hours, if not years. And like any written language, mastery of the language of drawing can evoke magical feelings or emotions from the reader. But this idea of artists wielding magic, however untrue, has always stuck with me, and here is why.
Drawing isn’t magic. The pencil isn’t magic. The real magic we artists command comes from the creativity and imagination within each of us. If I were to use my drawing skills and pencil to draw a vase of flowers, sure, I made some flowers appear. And they might be really beautiful, but they’re still just flowers. We see flowers everywhere; no big deal. What if they were polka-dot space-flowers… in space?! What if they were giant flower-horses grazing on tiny unicorn-plants in a topsy-turvy meadow? What if they were fancy flower-people wearing their Sunday suits and dresses? This is where the real magic begins to manifest.
I had been thinking about that previous post of mine as well as the ever-nebulous “Holiday Magic” (what does that even mean?) when I recently created Gingerbread Morning for this month’s post. I plopped myself down for 30 minutes of pre-work coffee and began sketching the shop’s patrons and drive-thru beyond the large window using a Blue Col-Erase pencil. As I sketched with my usual fury and abandon, losing myself in the action, my mind wandered. I wondered what it might look like if gingerbread people stopped off for coffee on their ways to work.
Once I finished my full sketch of the scene—people, tables, chairs, truck—I erased the whole page so only faint blue lines remained. Then I pulled out a Brown and a Carmine Col-Erase pencil and began re-imagining the people and objects as cookies, peppermints and icing. What colors would they be? How would the light bounce off of these new shapes? What parts would be in shadow and what color would the shadows be filled with? If a cookie could sit, how would it be bent? What sort of gray do I need to make a cookie surface look like it is reflecting dull blue sky light?
I continued that train of thought, completely redrawing the picture in red and brown. Later that day, after work and no longer at the coffee shop, I spent about 12 seconds searching the internets for gingerbread houses to fact-check my shapes, colors and confectionary details. Once happy with the drawing, I decided I would finish it by painting in gouache so I made a photocopy (to ensure I wouldn’t lose my drawing beneath paint) and put everything away for the day.
The next morning, I returned to the coffee shop so I’d have live lighting references and set myself to painting. The colors I used for this piece are:
DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Cadmium Scarlet Hue
DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue
M. Graham Gouache Dioxazine Purple
M. Graham Gouache Titanium White
M. Graham Gouache Yellow Ochre
Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache French Ultramarine
Dr. P. H. Martin’s Bleedproof White
The browns are all creamy mixes of the above colors.
Whether it is holiday magic or just to feel like a kid again, try injecting imagination into your sketches. In Alice-in-Wonderland fashion, try imagining seven impossible things before breakfast. Allow yourself the time and space to be creative, not just capturing scenes but creating new things the world has never seen. If you’re afraid or worried that your imagined drawings won’t turn out, I have great news for you!: Nobody ever has to see your sketchbook. The worst outcome possible is you ruin one sheet of paper. That is a small risk when the reward could be as magical as bringing cookies to life and giving them nine-to-five corporate desk jobs.
Joe's Supply List
- DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
- Cadmium Scarlet Hue
- Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue
- M. Graham Gouache
- Dioxazine Purple
- Titanium White
- Yellow Ochre
- W&N Designer Gouache - French Ultramarine
- Dr. P. H. Martin's Bleedproof White
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