ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Week in Class: Pencil, Pen and Ink Explorations

This past week I had the pleasure of taking a 5-day class. As an instructor at the Haliburton School of the Arts, I get an incredible discount on one course per year. I try to fit this class in each summer, so only a week and a half after returning from France I was on my way to Haliburton. My selection this year was "Pencil, Pen and Ink Explorations" with Marta Scythes, who has been a popular instructor at the College for about 30 years. I can see why: her passion for her subject is obvious. I know how tired I feel when I've taught for two full weeks, but Marta is teaching something like six weeks in the Summer Arts Program (four of them are consecutive weeks)!

An additional benefit of studying in Haliburton is getting away from the city and enjoying a week in cottage country. I know I've mentioned this before, but I literally feel my heart rate and breathing slowing when I round the corner and see this sight:
It is one of the first lakes you spot as you head into Haliburton coming west from Ottawa.

The Haliburton School of the Arts is part of Sir Sanford Fleming College, and is situated in a state-of-the-art facility in the woods.  I love the red front door, where the words, "Within these walls the walls within disappear", are inscribed.

Having taken two formal classical drawing classes at the Ottawa School of Art this past fall and winter, I was looking for something to further my drawing skills, but I was attracted to this class because from the description it sounded like the skills learned would assist with a daily drawing practice, something I've inspired to for a long time.

Pen and ink were the most used tools in this class. There were a lot of play exercises, as you can see from this page in my sketchbook. Of course value, along with instruction on composition and design, were a big part of the class. We did value scales and drawings to show atmospheric or aerial perspective.

When you are drawing with pencil it is easy to shade. With pen, you have to shade using lines. So part of the class was learning various ways to use lines and squiggles and scribbles and dots to shade with.  This is just a small sampling. I did note how much zendoodling draws upon the field of pen and ink. Zendoodling has taken some of this information and made it accessible to a wider audience.

One exercise was to do a small landscape showing the value changes resulting from atmospheric perspective. Then design a border that enhances it.

An additional assignment was to create a drawing and use one of the shading methods to create an image ranging from dark on one side to light on the other. The reverse was to be done with the background. I think this still needs a bit more work to soften the background transition to white in the lower right corner.

We had to do some blind contour drawings of the person next to us. My subject is "Andrew", one of my young classmates. Blind contour drawing involves looking only at your subject, but not at your paper or pencil. It is supposed to force you to actually see your subject. The resulting drawings look a little funny, but we all agreed that everyone's contained the essence of the person it depicted. Our instructor says these are a great way to begin a drawing, helping you actually see and feel the essence of your subject.

After a few blind contours, we had to draw the person by memory, without looking at our drawing. The point of this was to show us how part of our memory of an image can be muscle memory.

We had a live model for half a day and tried some gesture drawings. I LOVE doing these, as you are simply using charcoal or conte to capture the "gesture" or movement of the figure. These are very fast studies and loosely done. It seems to be one of those rare times I can loosen up with my drawings.

We were given an assignment to create a pen and ink design of our initials, and to include a creature in the design. We were to base this on celtic lettering. I don't really care that much for celtic lettering so I deliberately tried to make mine look non-celtic, although spirals are a very celtic motif. I quickly saw that my initials lend themselves well to spirals, and the curl in the Q could become a cat tail.

Our final assignment was to create a creature, either realistic or fantasy, using pen and ink, keeping Fibonacci design proportions in mind, and to design a border to enhance it. I am not big on borders so I tried to keep mine simple. 

I used a photograph my husband took in Italy last year as my reference material:

I'm really excited about incorporating these drawing methods into a more regular drawing routine. I hope that it is something that I can take with me on the road. I'm excited about improving my drawing skills for two reasons. It is a pleasant and enjoyable diversion from the quilts I live and breathe as my career, but I truly believe that drawing (and the seeing skills required to draw) will help improve my art quilts.

The other thing I'm excited about is learning more about Fibonacci numbers, or the golden mean. You have probably heard about the 'rule of thirds', which is a simplified version of the golden mean. I knew that pine cones, sunflowers and seashells all displayed the fibonacci numbers, but I had no idea how much of nature is permeated by fibonacci numbers/proportions. Tree growth, leaf growth, flower petals, and even human DNA reveal fibonacci proportions. I will blog about that in future when I've had more time to read up and research the topic in more depth. Nature sure is amazing!

I feel as though Haliburton is my home away from home.  I'll be back to teach The Art Quilt, July 22-26; Flowers and Foliage, July 29-August 2, and Dyeing to Quilt, October 21-25. That's an entire month of my year spent in Haliburton. 


  1. I loved reading about your drawing exercises. Haliburton School is lucky to have you to teach your art quilting, too! Great drawing of the pigeons.

  2. VERY cool post Elaine! For yet another thrill, check our Fractals!!! Awesome!!!!! You are very fortunate t have this opportunity. Enjoy. We all look forward to the later posts.Happy Canada Day!


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