Category Archives: inspirations

{Art Together} Drawing From Photographs

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

One of the reasons I began regular art time alongside my children was so that I’d get a chance to make art, too. Art-making isn’t just for the kids. It’s for us (that means me and you), too, and that’s why I wholly support presenting something you’re interested in as a jumping-off point. That’s the basis for this week’s post; I wanted to do this, so I asked my kids if they wanted to try, too.

Recently, somebody retweeted a link to National Geographic’s Tumblr, Found, which is a “curated collection of photography from the National Geographic archives” (read more here). I fell into this site, drawn both by the historical interest of the photographs as well as their composition. I found my way to an art minor via photography, and the framing of a good photograph is still something that I appreciate very much. Add in that these are actually film photographs…well, I could spend quite a bit of time on this site, and suspect I will.

While browsing, though, I thought this picture of people strolling through a park in Finland could inspire a painting…the contrast between the brightly colored umbrellas and balloons and the grey day with birches drew me in. I wanted to sketch it and try to figure out how I might paint it later on. (I also want to sketch this picture of the Palace of Majaraja’s pond; isn’t it fantastic?) I explained the website to my kids and asked if they’d like to try to draw from a photograph too. They were willing, so we scrolled through the site together. My 8yo chose this challenging photo of Luray Caverns in Virginia, and my 4yo chose this image from Madrid. I printed the photos on our home printer, and we set up the drawing boards, paper, and sketching pencils and got to work.

The drawing boards, by the way, are pieces of hardboard from Home Depot. We originally got them for wet-on-wet watercolor painting, but we often use them to draw on the living room floor. It’s a nice, portable, smooth drawing surface.

My son got a bit lost with his sketch and asked that I not photograph it, but he spent quite a lot of time trying to re-create the forms of the cavern. My daughter drew various elements from her photograph, looking first at the remnant of the old wall, then at the grass, then at the bus.

I tried to decide what to include and what to leave out, and then added some color to try it out. If I paint this (and I really want to try, never mind the list of projects I have backed up in my head), I want to try to abstract the people even more. I want those bright umbrellas and balloons to pop right out of that wintry day.

It’s something to aspire to, because I don’t think my skill level is where it needs to be to do justice to the image in my head. I know some of you who have been checking in to this series are struggling to overcome early art discouragement, or a lack of confidence, or a feeling that you can’t do [insert whatever you think you can’t do here]. So I want to make sure you know: there is so much I feel I could improve on, too;  everybody feels that way. But there is real delight in the process of showing up to try.

Further Resources

These are not resources per se, but rather a couple more examples of parents taking the lead to pursue their own creative interests with kids alongside.

Francesca decided she wanted to do some watercolors of botanical subjects, so she did…which enticed her daughter to try, too: watercoloring with my girl.

In Tuesdays With Maggie, Cameron describes how she and her daughter both created artworks—and she demonstrates their process step-by-step as well.

Share Your Experiences

Flickr’s re-do is making my head hurt, so I’m not linking to them this week! But I’d love if you’d share, in the comments, your own experiences of how following your own interest alongside your children worked for you. Creating a family art habit meant I was able to get some art time in, even when the needs or schedule of the family made it very difficult for me to get that time alone. At times, this has been a life-saver for me. Of course, I try to make sure our art together time is something we’ll all enjoy…but it’s okay to think of our own interests at least as much as we think of the kids’.

Coming Up

Next week’s post will be a round-up of outdoor art activities and ideas that we’ve done in the past, since we’re heading into summer here. It will also be my last weekly post in this series for a while, although I’m sure I’ll be sharing during the summer here and there. Over the summer I’ll be concentrating on writing something a bit more in-depth, the goal being to have that ready by fall. I’ve placed an email announcement sign-up on the sidebar (or you can jump to it directly here). It’s not a regular newsletter at this point, but intended for occasional announcements, to let you know when the things I’m working on are ready to be shared.

Inspired by Haeckel

When I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum earlier this month, I bought myself a copy of Art Forms from the Ocean by Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist. It’s subtitled The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862, and it is full of his illustrations of these miscroscopic organisms, which are simply beautiful in their detail and complexity.

A page from the Haeckel book.

A page from the Haeckel book.

I knew that I wanted to embroider something from this book, but my embroideries are inspired by his drawings, not exact replicas of them. I filled a couple of sketchbook pages with images, worked further on some, and finally chose several as good possibilities for embroidery. Here are two:

Two radiolarian-inspired embroidery designs.

Two radiolarian-inspired embroidery designs.

Also at the Gardner Museum’s gift shop, I saw zippered pouches with very simple embroidery–simple line drawings–selling for $48. Hmm, I thought. I like embroidery, and I like making zippered pouches. How might I combine the two? The above piece of embroidered linen will hopefully become a pouch. I’ve always made zippered pouches using separate pieces for each side of the outer and inner portion, but here, I’m trying out having one continuous piece for the outer portion, so the embroidery can float over the bottom fold. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out. It’s completely possible I’ll ruin this embroidery trying out this idea; sometimes that has to happen.

This little piece is also destined to be a pouch, so I’m showing it to you even though it has nothing to do with radiolarians.

Stamped and embroidered linen.

Stamped and embroidered linen.

I stamped the linen with a hand-carved stamp using screen printing ink, then I added buds using embroidery. (Those are all French knots.)

I’ve got several pouches in the works, using the zippers I have on hand as I try out the ideas. They are all either stamped, embroidered, or both, using my own drawings and designs. I feel like I’m moving incredibly slowly–I’ve been sick all week, too, which doesn’t help–but I’m getting there. Once I have these first few, I think I’ll have a better idea of where I might go with them.

I wanted to link with Dawn for her making and listening post, but I think I was mostly listening to the college basketball tournament while I was embroidering these! I guess that will have to count for this week.