Friday, September 12, 2014

simple, easy, DIY light box substitute

Excerpt from my September 13, 2014 Friday Newsletter, sent out to my Newsletter Group peeps :-)

It has been a week of highlights and being high, high on inspiration that is! My husband and I were in our usual seats on Monday night, front row, center, for Opera Lyra’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. It was spectacular and then some. I could go on and on about how amazing this particular tenor was ( but in case you aren’t a fan of live opera, I will go back to the inspiration bit – excellence of any kind gives me chills.

When I am confronted with what a human can do it fires me up like not much else. These highly trained singers and the members of the National Arts Centre Orchestra have spent years practicing, studying and honing their skills.

We are capable of so much when we dedicate ourselves to something.

I so look forward to events like this as I always come home energized and more motivated to become the best artist I can be. Woo-hoo!

Another highlight of my week (and there have been several unexpected blessings in recent days) is that my tomato plants are ripening! J I declared it quitting time yesterday at 4:00. I couldn’t stay indoors any longer. We had a strong, cool breeze which meant no bugs. I poured a large glass of red wine and headed for the garden.

The abundance of the harvest is enough to make me swoon this time of year. (Could also be all of that wine my husband makes LOL, he has an Autumn ritual of crushing and pressing ripe grapes shipped from California to Ottawa’s “Little Italy” and eventually our root cellar becomes a wine cellar, I rush to add I am drinking last year’s aged wine. J)

In about 10 minutes I had my first large basket picked. All of my plants were started from seed and put under grow lights last February, deep in the midst of winter. Patience is eventually rewarded!
I hope you all have had an incredible week – wasn’t the moonlight a few days ago incredible?! Wow.

Well I could go on but I had better get down to business here and make good on my promise. Last week I shared that this issue would give you instructions on how to make a simple DIY light box – no nails, screws, carpenter’s glue and no power tools.

Backing up a bit, you might remember that a couple of weeks ago I described the various methods used to transfer a drawing to ‘good’ paper. One of the methods, the illumination method, involves using a window or a light box. This is my preferred transfer method.
A window works very well, but tracing a detailed drawing standing up, working completely vertical on your paper, can be tiring for your hands, arms and legs.

Yet a decent sized light box can be difficult to find and they cost quite a bit.
So here is something that is not really a light box, but works very well.

My Light Box Substitute:

You need just two items!

My ‘light box’ (which doesn’t actually have a box) consists of a length of fluorescent tubing and a large sheet of acrylic ‘glass’ (perhaps you are familiar with the brand name Plexiglas, that is the sort of thing I mean).

You can put this together for as little as $25.00 or $30.00, depending on the size of the acrylic you buy. I bought my acrylic sheeting at Home Depot. They have a variety of sizes and I understand they will even cut a size for you. Ask a salesperson at your local hardware store for help.

Please note that some acrylic ‘glass’ is sturdier that others and will cost a bit more. For example I saw some very stiff stuff labeled high impact glass.

I recommend paying a bit more. You don’t want a sheet that is too flexible. Buy one that is stiff enough to take the pressure of you transferring the drawing. Remember that you might be leaning your arms on it while you work. You don’t want it so flexible that it moves up and down easily.

Even though the product is referred to as glass, please note that this is a plastic product. The edges are not sharp like glass, it isn't heavy like glass and it isn't fragile like glass either. Just be mindful that it does scratch pretty easily.
Here is a picture of my set up:

When I want to use the ‘light box’, I place the fluorescent tubing on a table and then I place the sheet of thick acrylic over top of it. I rest the acrylic sheet right on top of the tubing.

My drawing is positioned over the light. I tape my sketch onto the acrylic glass, I cover it with my paper, turn on my light and I am good to go.

Advantages of this light box:
  • This 'light box' is custom made to suit your needs - you choose the length of light tubing and acrylic that works best for you.
  • It is super easy to store as it consists of just two parts and each can be stored upright in a closet.
  • It is much, much cheaper than buying a regular light box.
  • You can use the acrylic glass for other purposes. I use mine as a work surface when I am on the road with my art and also as a lap table for when I leave my studio and choose to work in a chair in the living room...sometimes it is nice to sit by the fire on a cold winter's night. J

Of course if you would like a woodworking project, you could create a frame, i.e. an actual box.

You could also buy another light tube to add further light which would be helpful if your drawings are large. Simply place the acrylic overtop of both tubes. When I worked on large drawing, I simply moved my drawing around.

TIP: Do you know any health care workers, lab technicians or hospital custodians?
It wouldn’t have occurred to me that this might be a source for getting a free light box but here is my story. Last year I was given a proper light box! (Actually I was given two but one has a cord that needs rewiring so it doesn’t work at the moment.)

They were destined for land fill. My sister in law’s husband is a medical photographer and works in a hospital. These old light boxes were used by doctors to view x rays. Photographers also used them to view slides and negatives. Of course technology has changed a lot and these light boxes were no longer being used. They were getting disposed of. Why not get the word out to someone working in a hospital or clinic to see if they have some unwanted light boxes gathering dust in a storage room? You might get very lucky!


The Coloured Pencil Basics course that starts on the 20th is full. In fact registration is now closed on all of my fall courses/workshops. A huge thank you goes out to all of you that signed up!

If you would like to be put on a waiting list, should a cancellation occur, simply email me. Thank you for your interest!


 Go soak up some inspiration of your own this coming week and perhaps pause to enjoy a glass of wine. Ponder growing some tomatoes next summer (they can grow in containers on a patio or balcony). Nothing tastes like ‘em!

But most importantly, make some art, go on an artist’s date, visit an exhibit...

Friday, September 5, 2014

let's celebrate our unique wiring to create art

Newsletter is September 5th's excerpt...

This week I am pondering our unique brand of weirdness. I hope you will join me in my musings (and in a celebration)...cause seriously, do you ever wonder why you? Why you have the desire to make art?
Maybe you are like me and no one in your family (and I mean no one, not parents, sibling, aunts, uncles or oodles of cousins) has had any desire to seriously pursue drawing or painting.

So why us? Why this compulsion that won’t be ignored?
This week I have been emailing info to my students. I have been sending out the supplies list, maps to my studio and registration receipts. While doing this I found myself getting excited. I am excited for these people and what they are embarking upon.

I wondered yet again what motivates people to offer up hard earned money and move their bodies across the city (sometimes further) to take a coloured pencil course or workshop.

For the most part, these are not aspiring professionals wanting to hone their skills but folks with careers in other lines of work. I used to think that art was just a hobby for them and a group class was a safe bet for some entertainment and relaxation.

Now I am not so sure.

I suspect there is a deeper, more fundamental motivation that drives us to want to learn how to draw, colour or paint.

Perhaps what motivates my students to be present is related to that ancient need to create, apart from the other activities in their lives. There is something essential in the act of creation, or in simply learning to create, that answers this need.

In fact one student has shared that the reason she loves taking classes is that she absolutely loves learning how. This is what gives her immense joy. (and coloured pencil is apparently her last medium left to learn the how of, and boy do I have the course for her, I am going to love rocking her world. LOL)

   some students suddenly looking very busy, heads down working away – cause the camera has come out, LOL

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” Leonardo da Vinci
I take my role as a teacher seriously, very seriously. I deeply value the trust my students place in me – they come with their hopes and dreams, with their fears and insecurities and they really hope that I will deliver - that I will offer up the instruction they need and that I will create an environment of learning that is fun and supportive.

Uncaring, lazy art teachers do exist and so do terrible courses. Even if coloured pencil doesn’t end up being their favourite medium (not sure how that could happen J) they should go away having had a great time, having learned an awful lot and still be inspired to keep on creating.
I have had my own art teacher/course from hell experience. Seriously, it was so bad that when I finished the course (it was a basic watercolour class), I put all of my art supplies away. I was convinced art wasn’t for me. Fortunately a year later I came to my senses and pulled myself up by my bootstraps and started teaching myself to draw and colour in spite of that horrible teacher and that horrible three month experience.

Please don’t ever let a bad art experience stop you!
So perhaps my role is more than teaching people all sorts of useful and necessary techniques.

What if my job is also facilitating a connection with this real reason they are present, the universal fundamental desire to create?
Woo-hoo, that steps up my game a notch! I love it.

 It is this love of creation that brings us all together. It is why you are reading this newsletter.

 So this week, please let me encourage you to celebrate this uniquely weird thing about you. You love to draw, to paint?! Then by gosh go do some drawing or painting.

 Create...explore. And savour the knowing that there is a tribe of like minded souls, hard wired just like you that are also creating just for the sheer love it.

 Why not us? I for one am very grateful for my unique brand of weirdness. J

And if you work in coloured pencil and you love drawing all sorts of detail, well, let me just say that you are a super sort of weird and a super sort of wonderful!!!!

If you want to share your thoughts on being gifted with this desire to make art, I would love to hear from you.  What are you going to do to celebrate your unique brand of weirdness?

Here is a sneak peek at next week’s newsletter – I shall be sharing instructions on how to put together a very inexpensive light box. No screws or nails, no power tools, I promise!


Last call: If you have been away on vacation, living under a rock or gasp not reading my newsletters this summer AND you want to join us for the CP Basics class starting on the 20th, check out the details and register ASAP, here’s the link:  


Friday, August 29, 2014

5 Actions to Kick-Start Art Making this Autumn

It is Friday so here is another newsletter excerpt...

For those of us in Canada and the U.S. this weekend is a long weekend with Monday being Labour Day (or Labor Day as it is spelled in the U.S. colour versus color, we Canadians like our ‘u’s J)
This weekend might not be the official end of summer but it marks it in many other ways. It is back to work, back to school and back to all of the activities and courses that we choose to participate in.

Before we launch into the excitement of a new season of activity let’s look back at our summers. Those of you with very good memories might remember my ideas of a couple of months ago on how you could incorporate art into your summer, especially your holidays.

How did that go for you? Did routing through your stash of unfinished work and then your stash of art books leave your house in a mess? J Sorry about that. It was for a good purpose!

Did you find time to create art with the children in your life? Anyone attempt my coloured pencil-on-Mylar fish project?

If you didn’t get out your sketch book as often as you had hoped, or you still have some art books you want to have a look through, give yourself a wonderful gift – find some time to just sit this weekend. Grab that sketchbook or an art book, pour a cup of tea, settle into a chair in the shade and soak up the pleasure that art gives you.


a sketch of a hay bale done in ink and coloured pencil, copyright Teresa Mallen

While you are enjoying your lawn chair this weekend, this would be a good time to journal a plan - an art making plan, for the next few months.

Let’s face it, between being back full steam at work, your yoga classes, your volunteer work or whatever else you enjoy and the craziness around Thanksgiving and the December holidays, it can get overwhelming.  All of your intentions to create art can get shoved aside when ‘real life’ sets in. I have some suggestions that will help you...

5 Actions For Your Autumn 2014 Art Making Plan:
1)    Commit. Sounds simple and it is. Make a commitment to do art regularly this fall and then schedule it in. Here is how easy it is to make this work:

 Let’s say you signed up for an art class that is set to take place every Thursday night, 7-10 p.m. for twelve weeks. You would have to do things each week to make it possible to attend. You might have to arrange to have the family car that night. You might have to cook dinner early and also make sure that you didn’t work late that night.

You get the idea. So, why not take this level of commitment to your art making even if you aren’t taking a class? Pick an evening and share your news with your family. Do what you need to do – the early supper and all of that. Then go to the room where you keep your art supplies, shut the door, put on some of your favourite music and get creating. Turn off your phone (no email or texting), post a do-not-disturb sign and don’t tolerate interruptions. Train your loved ones! It can be done. Imagine what you could accomplish in 12 weeks. Pretty exciting, huh?

2)    Buy supplies. Whether or not you enjoyed school, I think we can all agree that it was fun to get new pens and pencils, crayons, binders etc. Take advantage of the back to school sales and grab some fun art making supplies. Treat yourself to something new, maybe some coloured pencils from open stock that are a brand you have never used. How about trying some new paper?

3)    Book some artist dates into your plan. No doubt most of you reading this have heard of Julia Cameron’s famous book, the Artist’s Way. Her idea of us going on artist dates has spread far and wide. It has spread because it is a great way to stoke our creative fires. When was the last time you went on your artist date? Hum...

 So go ahead and plan some fun arty gigs - anything from checking out a new art exhibit at a gallery in town to taking a workshop, to messing about with your stash of unused art supplies. It can be an hour or two carved out during the week (maybe a lunch hour) or it can be a decadent outing on a weekend afternoon. Just make sure to schedule these fun and inspiring activities in.

4)    This one is optional but if you are the sort that finds it hard to follow through on your plans, it might help to get an accountability buddy. Have your spouse or a friend check in with you once a week to see how you are doing, to see if you are working your plan. This check in can be quick. It can be a phone call or a quick cup of coffee together but it does help if you have to explain yourself to someone. Of course pick a person that won’t sympathize about your distractions but will help keep your feet to the fire!

5)    Post your schedule. It can be awful easy to forget about something heartfelt and important written in a pretty journal and then stored somewhere. Grab the family calendar and start marking your weekly ‘evening at home art hours’ in. Put it all down. Block off the artist dates, even if you don’t know yet what you will be doing. Write in the weekly accountability phone call.

Remember that you are the artist of your ‘every day’, on the canvas of your life.

 Novelist Marie von Ebner-Eschenback wrote in 1905 that “Nothing is so often irretrievably missed as a daily opportunity.” You may not be able to get to your art making daily but you can make a plan that incorporates more art “opportunities” than you are currently enjoying.

 Now go grab that cup of tea or glass of wine, your sketchbook, pencils and a calendar for plotting your plan and position that lawn chair just so...I’ll be thinking of you.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Impressed Line Technique and mini-lesson

two of our Barred Plymouth Rock hens out and about
Excerpt from the Friday August 22nd issue of my TMS newsletter:
This week’s newsletter is for those of you that work on paper and it contains a mini-lesson on the how to get a drawing down onto your paper without damaging the surface.
Plus there is a show and tell example of the Impressed Line Technique.

Lucille in Quebec wrote me and asked this:

“I am new to working in coloured pencil. My problem is that I end up with lines in my paper from my drawing. I can see them once I start using my coloured pencils. The pencils don’t cover up the lines. What can I do about this? Is there something you use to fill in these lines?

Great question Lucille and thanks for asking.

 The reason you have lines on your sheet of paper is because when you created your drawing, the pressure of your pencil scored the surface of your paper.

Rather than try to find a way to deal with these lines, I would suggest not making them in the first place.

The easiest way to avoid this problem is to create your drawing on a different sheet of paper. Then transfer that drawing onto your ‘good’ paper.

This does add another step to the creative process but it spares you from having to deal with lines showing up where you don’t want them.

Also, most of us do not draw without ever needing to change or correct something.

 If you are drawing on the paper that will be your finished work, this can be a problem. Even the best paper doesn’t take a lot of erasing well so if you make changes to your drawing as you go, erasing some lines, and adding new lines, you risk damaging your paper’s surface texture.

Therefore, the huge advantages to transferring a drawing are that you are going to keep your paper in great condition AND you won’t have etched lines showing up in your work!

 How to Transfer Your Drawing:

1)    The simplest way to transfer a drawing is through the illumination method. If you have a light box, that will work great.

 But you don’t need a light box, you can use the light coming through a        window or sliding glass door.

Secure your preliminary sketch or drawing to the window with masking tape. Place your paper over top of the sketch and secure it with tape as well. Trace the outline of your drawing, using the lightest pressure possible. I like to use a soft erasable coloured pencil, such as the Col-Erase brand (made by Prismacolor) for this but you could use a graphite pencil or a light coloured coloured pencil.

This method only works if you are able to see through your paper. But before you despair, check your paper. You may be surprised at how well you can see through print making paper. For example, Stonehenge (a brand of paper lots of coloured pencil artists use) feels thick and appears to be a dense paper but you can see through it very well.

2)    Another method of transferring a drawing is to use a sheet of transfer paper. You can purchase transfer paper in either rolls or sheets. This method is useful if you cannot see through your paper. You probably used tracing paper as a child and this works the same way. You slide the sheet of transfer paper in between your drawing and your ‘good’ paper and you then trace the drawing outline as you would in the illumination method. Again, use very light pressure.

You can make your own graphite transfer paper by covering one side of a sheet of tracing vellum with graphite from a lead pencil. Polish with a tissue and reapply. To be honest I don’t make my own transfer paper as the process is just too messy for my liking.


3)    Another method which I have never used because it also sounds messy, is applying graphite to the sketch. Here is how it works – you do your drawing on tracing paper. Place your tracing paper drawing facedown and apply a dense layer of graphite on the back side, on top of the sketch lines. Turn the sketch right side up, place on top of your chosen paper. Secure with tape. Then redraw each sketch line lightly. If the lines are too dark, you could lift the excess graphite by dabbing with mounting putty or a kneaded eraser. I would suspect there would be some smudging of graphite both in this method and in the home made graphite transfer paper method mentioned above.


4)    Finally, here is a method that is rather crackers but I will share with you because maybe it isn’t crackers to you! J Warning, this method means your final drawing will be reversed from your sketch! Ha.

 If your drawing is done using a soft graphite pencil on a sheet of tracing paper, you can simply place your drawing face down on your good paper and trace over your lines. Tape your sheet down so it doesn’t slide around and use light pressure. If you have a heavy touch, use a soft coloured pencil for the transfer. You don’t want to create any impressed lines. And again, your final drawing will be reversed from what you originally drew.

So obviously you have some options when it comes to picking a method for transferring a finished drawing to the paper you have chosen for your artwork.

I use a light box and when I didn’t have one, I used a window. Nice and clean and no smudges to lift off.

As I mentioned above, transferring a final drawing with very light pressure will preserve the texture of your paper and it will stop you from creating impressed lines.

 But what about when you want to impress lines?!!!

When scoring the paper is a good thing – Impressed Line Technique
 Here is an example of how scoring the paper, called the impressed line technique, can be used to your advantage.

The maple leaf below is an exercise my students work on in my Coloured Pencil Basics Course.

You can clearly see all of the light coloured veins in the leaf which is our intention in creating this drawing.

To start, the leaf is coloured a light green colour.

Then the veins are scored into the paper, creating etched grooves.

 When the various shades of green pencil pigment are applied, the pencils skip over the grooves, leaving the veins to show through. Pretty cool huh?

Impressed line technique, leaf project, Copyright Teresa Mallen
You can use this technique to add texture and detail to tree bark, rocks, brick pathways or to depict cat whiskers etc. I am sure you can imagine how this technique has many possible uses.
FYI: Just two spots are available for September’s CP Basics class. If you are interested, check out the complete course details by clicking here. My intention is to give you the skills and know how you need to get you better at what you do. AND we have fun! J
If you have any questions about the course, I would love to answer them for you. It is what I do. Just write or call...
My contact info is here.
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