• Susan Klinger, Artist

Back to basics - It's like riding a bike!


I have been in a bit of an artistic lull lately. After any big project, be it a large, involved piece or an extended series of works, there is a letdown as I decide what to do next. The intensity of my yearlong sky series was invigorating, but as it came to a close, other challenges at home had me scrambling to finish the series on a high note while juggling other responsibilities. All this left me feeling drained physically and creatively.

A recent ‘field trip’ to the art supply store to buy some different materials began to lift the curtain of the doldrums. Strangely enough, the supplies I bought that day are not what I decided to use first.

Those of you who know me personally know that I taught art at the high school level for 34 years. Portrait drawing was a unit that I consistently taught to my students. Never my personal favorite, but I felt it was important for my students to have a basic knowledge of portrait drawing. A recent inquiry as to whether I would do a portrait commission of a young child sparked something in me. I had access to a photo of my cousin’s young granddaughter that I thought was the perfect subject for a portrait drawing. I decided to use this photo for ‘practice’, to see if I could dust off my skills. After all, I did draw multiple portraits as part of my teaching for many years. I just never finished most of those demo pieces.

I sat down one evening and did a quick simple sketch of Faith. I was pleased with the outcome and even better, I really enjoyed doing it! I decided to pull out some quality paper and redraw the portrait utilizing a more carefully rendered technique. In a way I went back to basics. I have been working in color with pastels for many years and before that I worked in watercolor. Going back to black & white pencil rendering was like revisiting an old friend. Like riding a bike after many years, pencil drawing felt comfortable and natural rather quickly. Without color, I was able to easily focus on the values. The sense of sunlight and shadow was what had attracted me to this particular photo from the start. Pencil was perfect for capturing this.

After just a few extended drawing sessions, the drawing was complete. OK, there may be a few tweaks yet, but for the most part, it is finished. I am happy with it. I resisted drawing portraits for many years, but now find myself looking forward to doing another. Perhaps the extended sabbatical while I attended to other matters was, in a way, exactly what I needed. Just like Mother Nature uses winter as a time to rest & refresh for another growing year, the unexpected halt in my art making provided a reset to my creative thinking. Looking forward to what’s next!

#drawing #sketching #ArtistLife #stories