Einstein is easy…the self portrait challenge

SP 2 overview

We all struggled with Einstein, some ending up dreaming about Old Albert, and one person using the excuse that her husband knocked hers over just before she finished with a tennis ball.

Having worked for two days on that portrait we then had to take a photo of ourselves (howls of anguish) and do that in powdered glass.  It should be easier, we should know our own faces…but it turns out I have no idea where any of my features sit in my face.

I took a bunch of photos with sidelight from the kitchen window as I thought that would make it easier.  For the first attempt I put the glass and photo upside down and sifted on a good layer of glass powder in the areas with the darkest shading.  I then turned it around and tried to get everything in the right place.  I found it hard to remove powder in any sensible way if I had too much, unless I took all of it off.  I know some people became good at removing just a bit of the powder with a fingertip, but I felt it just made the piece look like I’d got my fingers all over it accidentally.  I worked quite hard, showed my husband, and he said he thought it was good, but was it a picture of a man or a woman.  So, it isn’t just me that doesn’t know what I look like.

self portrait 1

Today I tried again, after waiting for the studio to get up from its early chill of 10C.  The kiln had been on overnight but it is so efficient that it doesn;t leave the studio warm.

This time I started with the eyes.  I did this because the nearly invisible eye on the far side of the face had completely confused me on image one.  I worked on these, then added extra powder, did a bit more work, added more powder and so on.  I think I have ended up with quite a weak and innocuous image, so I am not very pleased with it. If I did another one hopefully I would get some of the good attributes of each and make a stronger image.

self 2aself 2bSP 2cSP 2dSP 2f

SP 2g


Einstein – two intense days of trying to do his portrait


Around the world went the cries of anguish when participants in th 30 in 30 days Sgraffito Challenge read the task for these last two days, followed by waves of despair and destruction.  We were to work with this photo of AE and, starting with the image upside down, sketch in the light and dark areas and gradually work on the piece whichever way we wanted and with any tools.

Einstein 1

sifiting powder upside-down

einstein 2

beginning to add details

einstein 3

some weird Colonel turned up!

einstein back in jar

back in the jar

I decided I needed to understand the eyes, so did a quick sketch of these.

einstein eyes

I sifted powder on.  Got completely muddled about which the chin line was.  Fiddled.  Tipped the powder back into the jar and started again.

einstein v2 with photo

einstein v2 1

starting again

einstein v2 2

einstein v2 3 trying to tidy his chin- realising everything is the wrong place

Tipped the powder back in the jar and started again.

einstein V3 5 rotated

Version 3 – where should the chin be !!!

einstein finished?

keeping this one.

Kept this final piece.  I realised that, like most of the others posting progress pieces, I was relentlessly centering AE’s eyes in the image instead of giving him a partial profile.  Even with starting upside down, which should help us to see what is actually there and not what we think is there, I was sticking his features where I thought they should be not where they were.

So, a difficult challenge and a not entirely successful outcome.  However, when we compare the work we did on this piece with the way we handled the powder back on January 1st we can see how much our technique has improved.

I wanted to increase the tonal range (made the darker areas darker and the light areas lighter) but I felt as if I’d lose any sense of AE being amused in my image if I fiddled any more.  I’ll fire this one when the kiln is free and see what it looks like.

If you want to see other participants work you check out the links at the base of this blog.

ambidextrous or ambisinistrous? More trees, both hands

trees both hands

Todays challenge was:

“This time, the tree should be created upside-down. That means that you will start at the top of your glass with the trunk, and pull the glass toward you to make the branches.

Today you may use both hands in your work, plus the business card and your choice of tools.

Here is the ‘catch’… Anything on the left side of the tree must be drawn with your left hand, and anything on the right side of the tree must be drawn with your right hand.

Even though you have full access to your ‘tools’ you should still use them in the appropriate hand, depending on the side you are working on.” Modern Ancient

I have to admit I forgot about the upside down bit, though I can see that it would make sense for a free flowing action to divide large branches into smaller branches. I’ll do another one sometime like that for the learning.

I focused on the both hands bit. I remembered having read that Landseer could paint a picture using both hands simultaneously and so I attempted to do that…though with no expectations of that quality.

So, more trees, the lake in snow picture saved from a christmas card…and I did try to keep both hands moving at once. It made sense of the snowy shoreline, with the trees and reflections of the trees being drawing in at the same time with symmetrical actions- though  the symmetry somewhat vanished with later fiddling.

I set out to make it look as if snow was lying on the branches, but I think I don’t have the skill to do this, and the tiny scale (about 5×10 cm) doesn’t give a lot of room to manoeuvre.


Yesterday’s picture is sitting on my studio table as I was firing something full of joyful colour as a rest from all this black and white tiny stuff.  It nearly got destroyed by BB going to pick it up to look at it- only just stopped him after his fingers closed around the edges.  He’s gotten used to being able to pick up the drawings lying around the house and seems to have forgotten they start as loose powder.  Claimed it wasn’t obvious that it wouldn’t have been fired yet!

Left handed again…more trees, more tools

trees by lake left hand

Today’s challenge was to draw another tree using the non-dominant hand, but we could use any tools we liked.  Having seen some amazing drawings from other participants yesterday I decided I had set my sights too low, and was determined to try harder. I went for a stroll around our local park and took some photos of trees to act as the guide.

It was interesting how comfortable using the card felt compared to any of the new tools, having used it left handed yesterday.  I added in the toothpick and a cotton bud, but did mostly use the card for this.

left hand only – drawing a tree

tree left handed

Today’s challenge was to draw a tree using only a business card (or a scrap of cardboard in my case).  Back to the start of this month, which certainly seems a long time ago.  Difference is, got to do this using your non-dominant hand.

Here is a tree, with a little bench (I wanted to see if I could do that).  To make it easier I just made up the image, working with the easiest way to use the materials.  I can see now that the bench is completely the wrong scale for this tree.

feather 2 singing bird

As it has been days since I fired the kiln I then quickly did a few extra sketches to fill the space and set it going.  Never before has it seemed that my kiln was giant.  So, a scribbled singing bird, a feather and a sea scene based on the Cornish tin mining along the coast.

cornish tin

Full enough to fire the kiln.

kiln jan 24 2015

Silva Populi

Silva Populi drawing

Today’s challenge (to give us some light relief from the struggle with the safety pin) was to draw something you collect. I have lots of stuff but I don’t ‘collect’ anything.  I do, however, have two brooches by the amazing Murgatroyd & Bean, so drew one of the Silva Populi (does that make her a Silva Populus?).  These are shy woodland creatures that wear masks to keep their identity hidden, especially important as they are burdened with a brooch pin on their backs and are often worn on coat lapels.

I tried to get the feeling of felt with embroidery silk stitches – not sure how successful that was, and I got the overall shape a bit off, but working on this piece certainly made a contrast with the safety pin.

Silva Populi

Drawing flowers with powdered glass

poppy in kiln

The last few days on the 30 in 30 sgraffito challenge has been to draw flowers.  We’ve been trying to get a greater tonal range – and several people have posted exquisite drawings which make it clear how much further I need to develop my techniques.

I’ve been drawing the tiny pot of daffodils as they come into bloom.  Today I also used a photograph of a poppy.  I’ve long had a desire to be able to represent poppies well in paintings, so this seemed a sensible thing to try to do- though the translucence and luminosity of the fragile poppy petals have eluded me so far.

daffodil 1 daffodils in pot

White, white, white- sgraffito challenge days 16-18

Lucy Rie potting

White objects for three days using light glass and black powder, and then a mysterious something else to do.  I tried some lacy fabric (really hard), some lychees- not white on the outside but white inside, and I wanted to see if I could get the contrast between the succulence of the inside and the spikyness of the outside,  I then set out to do a Lucy Rie triptych- an image of her (white hair, white shirt) making a pot, and the cracked flower pot and two tea cups we have by her in the house.

lucy rie cups lucy rie flower pot

Stupid, really, to set out to do things where the actual shape mattered so much.  Stupid too, to do a picture where there were two cups – though in real life they are not the same shape, and again, lots of overlapping circles, saucer, top and bottom of cup. Quite a challenge.  I worked on these today until my feet got too cold to continue, warmed up and then carried on.

lychees lace

lemons- an exercise in lots of interlocking and overlapping loops!

lemon 1

Today’s challenge was to draw something we’d eaten. Not sure how to tackle this at first..I’d eaten out the previous day and had risotto (not going to draw that) and if the purpose was to look carefully at the thing we were drawing, if we’d already eaten it we’d get an array of grimy empty plates.  I have a friend who is doing a series of works on her plates after she has eaten the meal – she works in embroidery, but I didn’t feel ready for that yet.

One of the other people doing this challenge had done a very luscious grapefruit, which looked really succulent.  I wanted to try to get this sense of liquid shimmer, so took two lemons, sliced one in half then took another thin sliver, and arranged them on a plate.  As I was passing my bay tree I nipped off a stem and added this to the array…I like Bay and lemon together, but this certainly added more complexity, especially with the shadows.

The challenge was to do this piece in fifteen minutes.  I set to, with the angled circles of the lemons and the plate sketched into a fine sifting of powder with a toothpick.  I then added a bit more powder and started on the interior of the lemons.  At this point I realised what a difficult set-up I had.  By having three cut surfaces of lemon visible I had to do a detailed drawing three times and each cut surface had to match!  By having a thin sliver of lemon I could also see through the slice to the layer underneath  – not a clear view but it did change the colour of the top surface.

I struggled, realised I’d never really looked at a lemon before, noticed how I could see the oil sacs in cross-section on the edge of the slices, and how the outside pores patterned the surface. The bay leaves were awkward as they pointed at various angles and cast dark shadows on the lemons – quite hard to make the shadow and the leaf look different and still be dark. By the time the fifteen minutes were up I had the beginnings of a sketch but I didn’t want to stop.  I took a photo at this stage and carried on.  I added a bit more powder to deepen shadows, and tried to get the plate to look like a plate.  Still not sure what to do on the edges of images.  I think it would be a lot easier to make these look like lemons by adding some yellow, so I’m firing this and might try tinting it in a second firing.  Several people have added colour to their sketches, and it certainly looks like a technique that is worth exploring.

lemon 2

Because I realised how little I knew my lemons I then did a pen sketch and added a bit of acrylic paint.  I had moved indoors to the warmth by this stage so the lighting and angles are different. Went a bit silly around the edge again – I should have stopped when the outer part of the image was just blank paper.  Clearly an area of design I need to put some thought into.

lemon sketch

From Chicken to Shark in one day- Sgraffito Challenge days 13 and 14

shark photo

Yesterday’s challenge was to draw a view of a shark’s mouth.  The photo provided was great but it looked very hard to do and I didn’t feel like spending an hour or so staring into the mouth of a Great White Shark (note the backward pointing teeth to ensure you can’t wriggle free).  It was supposed to be an exercise in depicting different textures.  I chickened out and draw an egg in an egg box – two very different textures, but I focused so hard on the texture I got the scale of the egg wrong compared to the box.


Today’s challenge (following our lively discussion of what it was like to try to draw a shark’s mouth) the organiser told us to draw something that frightened us.  Suddenly working with the shark seemed a lot simpler than trying to explore the issue of what I might chose if I were to work on something that truly frightened me, especially since I’m about to go out and have lunch with my lovely embroidery chums and I want to be in a good mood for that.  So, I went back to the photo of the shark.

shark 1

It is a difficult image to capture well.  Looking at the photo the teeth seem so large and clear and pointed, but trying to get them to have the same impact on the drawing was impossible.  I switched to aventurine blue glass powder rather than black for this, and used some ivory coloured glass as I have used up most of my white with these drawings ( I could have thrown them away each day and used the same glass, but  didn’t want to).  Blue because it would feel like cold water rather than just depth.  I did add a touch of black powder in the middle of the mouth near the end.

shark 2shark 3

One of the things I have learnt to do over the last week is to carefully sift extra powder in small areas of a drawing.  At the beginning of this month long exercise I sifted a thick layer of powder over the whole piece of glass and worked with that.  Now I am learning about subtlety.  A fine layer of powder, a sketch, add a bit more powder, refine the whitest areas, repeat…trying to get the teeth to pop out of the  image.  Not entirely successful, but a very good exercise.