Exploding with Ideas


Lately it seems like my hands just can’t keep up with my mind.  I have 20 years of content that is dying to come out of my head for Art Prof, I have years of work to create for Scars that Speak, and today I had another idea for series of drawings that I’ll work on until the day I die.

Sounds dramatic, but I really mean it!  I always joke with my college students about how old and uncool I am, but it’s true; in recent years the process has become noticeable in a way it never was before. The process begins with silly things like watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and realizing that I have no idea who the celebrities he interviews are, or when I mention Woody Allen to a student and they reply with “Who’s that?”

In terms of my mindset, I notice that I care less and less every day about what other people in of me.  I remember being so preoccupied with how other people would react to what I did, both in terms of things small and large.  Today, I really could care less.  That’s a great feeling, it’s really liberating and lets you do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

Many years ago when I was traveling in Japan, I was at a temple in a rural area.  At this temple, there was this GIGANTIC metal bell hanging in the middle of the temple.  The bell was just begging to be rung, but of course, there was a big scary sign next to it that said “DO NOT RING THE BELL.”  I walked a few feet away from the bell, and then I heard the bell ringing!  Right after, I heard some giggling next to the bell.  Standing there were two elderly women, who were taking tremendous delight in their “offense.” I hope I get to that point some day.

While the shift of mindset is terrific, the physical changes in your body can be alarming, the way they creep up on you incrementally, or when you just notice them all of the sudden. My stomach never went back to the way it was before I had kids, my heels are hard and dry, and I’ve started to notice bags under my eyes for the first time. Two years ago I lost a lot of weight, and all of the sudden, the skin on my neck started to sag.  (I think when I weighed more, maybe that skin was backed up with fat?)  I felt like that happened practically overnight. Then the other day, I noticed a callous on my ankle bone that was totally numb.

Art Prof has been consuming my days lately, but I really need to keep drawing.  I don’t have time right now to devote entire days to drawing, so I’m settling for sketches.  Today I drew this fragment above, of the bags under my eyes that are emerging, and the dark patch I have on my right cheekbone. (don’t worry, I’ve had it checked) This sketch was a piece of my body that I see aging. I started thinking, what if I drew “drawing fragments” of the parts of my body that have started to show the aging process? A project like this would certainly satisfy my love of drawing from life,  (which I actually haven’t done for years) and would be manageable given my already hectic schedule. I’m also interested in the idea of coming back to directly drawing myself, given that in Falling, I used an actress as a surrogate for myself.

On the treadmill I began thinking about assembling these fragments to create a figure, except that large sections would be missing. I’d keep making these fragments until I assembled a figure, and then start again.  I would continue drawing these fragments, knowing that with each year, there will be more signs of aging, and the figure will become more complete.  Until I get to the point where all of the fragments are a full figure. I’m not sure I’ll have the patience for this, as it really would take years for a project like this to make sense.  I love that something new is percolating, as if I didn’t already have enough to do!


December Art Dare extended through January!


img_7472Submission for this month’s Art Dare from Sarah from @sketchofthedays.

Since many people are on vacation in the last half of December, we’ve decided to extend our December Art Dare through January 31!  Get details below on the Art Dare. 

“My 2016”
Create an artwork about what 2016 was for you, in any 2D media.
Your piece can be about a subject that didn’t directly happen to you, or it can be about a personal experience.

Below are topics if you want a place to start:
a change  •  a new person  • a new place  •  a success  •  an event  •  a death  •  a celebration  •  a failure  •  use the text “2016” in your image


An #artprofwip submission for this month’s Art Dare by @emotional.cabbage.

To Submit
Post your artwork on Instagram, tag us @art.prof  w/ #artprofdare.
Or, post your artwork on our Facebook page.

Use #artprofwip, and Prof Clara Lieu might drop by and give feedback on your in progress artwork. We feature submissions on our Instagram and Facebook page during the month!

Submissions close Tues., Jan. 31 @ 11:59pm EST
Questions?  Comment below or Email us.



Submission for this month’s Art Dare from Owen from @sketchofthedays.  He writes: “With this sketch I hope to elaborate on my change as a person throughout the year of 2016. I feel this year, I’ve been closer to my true self then I’ve ever been. This is mainly due to the pre-college program I attended over the summer. I’m currently figuring out ways to brain storm this transformation.”

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts which provides equal access to art education for people of all ages and means.

Be notified of our early 2017 site launch by subscribing to our email list.


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New Drawing Demo this Week

Coming this week! 23 videos, about 1-3 min. each showing a drawing demo from start to finish of how to draw with cross-hatching using charcoal. We’ll cover topics like how to pose and light the model, create compositions through thumbnail sketches, cross-hatching techniques, specific charcoal tools, and more. This demo is a tiny appetizer for you to see what kind of free content we can offer if our ART PROF Kickstarter campaign is successful.  We hope this will be the first of many more videos to come!


My partner Thomas Lerra and I were really excited about this demo, despite the fact that the shoot was extremely challenging and we both probably lost a year of our lives that day. We shot the demo using 3 iPhones, which allowed for three different points of view on the demo, as you can see in the photo below. We had no cameraman:  just us, Art Prof Intern Olivia Hunter as the production assistant, and Marianna our artist model. The shoot was very challenging, but we saw this experience as a blessing in disguise. Afterwards, we both realized in retrospect that although the shoot itself was tough, we realized that our gigantic experiment had opened up ways that we could potentially stretch our budget further and still produce high quality content.

We want ART PROF to be free for all as long as possible!  In addition to our Kickstarter campaign, Tom and I are looking into sponsors, and alternative ways like this one, that will allow us to continue to generate content on as small a budget as possible.

Don’t miss this tutorial, subscribe to the ART PROF Youtube channel today!


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Help us make ART PROF free and accessible for all! Donate to our Kickstarter campaign before July 19!

Crit Quad #4: Hiratsuka Niki

Ballerina No. 4

Hiratsuka Niki
“Ballerina No. 4”, conte crayon on paper

“Inspired by Edgar Degas’ work, I chose to explore the theme of the “backstage ballerina” in this piece. The dancer is depicted in the midst of a warm up stretch. Wholly unaware of being viewed, and engrossed in an inner world, the subject unintentionally reveals components of her private self. In not attempting to showcase her beauty she embodies more of herself within this intimate moment of self-contemplation. This paradoxically brings to light a form of beauty which cannot be witnessed onstage.”

Casey Roonan, Teaching Assistant
Casey Roonan, Illustrator & Cartoonist
“This is a very elegant piece in a few ways.”
Mentioned: John Singer Sargent, Wally Wood, Bernie Wrightson, Edgar Degas

Annie Irwin, Teaching Assistant
Annie Irwin, Weaver, Textile Artist, Painter
“The way the conte crayon is applied to the surface has different weights to it, you’ve managed to accomplish a range of value.”
Mentioned: Seurat

Alex Rowe, Teaching Assistant
Alex Rowe, Book Illustrator
“In just a few simple marks you’ve captured the darkest shadow, the light, the reflected light, the light hitting right on the forearm, that is absolutely beautiful.”
Mentioned:  Coles Phillips

Clara Lieu, Visual Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD
Clara Lieu, Fine Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD
“What I don’t see in the drawing is your opinion. What is your view of ballet?  How do you see ballet?”
Mentioned: Misty Copeland, A Life in Motion

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Ask the Art Prof Live #2: Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork


Aches while drawing

The artist’s run

What distinguishes professional artwork from student artwork?

Archival art materials

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Our Kickstarter campaign hit its $30k goal on July 19!  Get info on our future launch by subscribing to our email list.

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Ask the Art Prof Live is a weekly live video broadcast on my Facebook page where I provide professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Ask me your questions by commenting on the live video post as the video streams, and I’ll answer right away. I’ll discuss being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more. Like my Facebook page and you’ll receive a notification when each live video begins.

Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#7: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
#6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color
#5:  Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs

RISD Illustration Annual Faculty Exhibition


I’ll be at the opening tomorrow evening from 6-8pm  in the newly renovated Illustration Studies Building at RISD for the Illustration Annual Faculty Exhibition.  I have a large etching ink & lithographic crayon figure drawing in this exhibition. Hope to see you there!


Exhibition Dates: Oct. 1-Oct. 30, 2015
Opening Reception: Thurs., Oct. 1, 6-8pm
Gallery Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-4:30pm

View Photos of the Exhibition

RISD Illustration, ISB Gallery
55 Canal Walk
Providence, RI, 02903

calef brown 11 x 17 copy

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Ask the Art Prof: The Importance of Drawing From Direct Observation

Portrait Drawing

“I know how to draw, but I can only draw things that I can see. I draw from photographs that I find on the Internet. However, I have difficulty drawing from my imagination, and this bothers me because I want to be able to create images on my own. How can I learn to draw from my imagination?”

To successfully draw from your imagination, you have to be skilled in drawing from direct observation. I am appalled that so few art students draw from life nowadays. Many young artists don’t draw from life because drawing from photographs is extremely convenient, doesn’t require a lot of thought, and gets quicker results. By comparison, drawing from life is much more challenging and time-consuming, but ultimately it is the approach that will provide the necessary skills to draw from any reference.

Skeleton Drawing Assignment

For an art student, drawing exclusively from photographs is the worst approach to take. As a college professor, I invest a lot of time getting first year students to unlearn bad drawing habits they developed because they only drew from photographs. Frequently, the students who have a lot of drawing experience, but who have bad habits, have a much tougher time than the students who have no drawing background. Drawing exclusively from photographs encourages these poor habits:

1) Obsessively laboring one drawing for several weeks.
Consequently, students become accustomed to working at a very slow pace. For anyone who aspires to be a professional artist, this approach is inefficient and unsustainable. Students become precious about every drawing they make, which sets up an impossible expectation that every drawing must be successful. They are so afraid of making a bad drawing that they refuse to try anything new. This severely limits growth and keeps them from expanding their abilities.

2) Being unable to do 2-5 minute gesture drawings.
Gesture drawing is a key principle in all aspects of drawing, it teaches you how to quickly capture the essential spirit of your subject with energy and movement. Drawing from photographs trains people to draw in a very tight manner, which results in drawings that lack vitality.

3) Ignoring fundamental structures and focusing only on details.
The details of a drawing are usually what impress viewers the most; they are the glamorous part of a drawing that seduce and dazzle. However, no amount of detail will compensate for poor compositions and structures. Drawings that invest too much time on details will appear flat and superficial.

Drawing is about much more than copying an accurate representation of what you see. Throughout history, the most pivotal drawings have been images that a photograph could never make. When an artist draws, they are offering an artistic interpretation of what they have experienced. A drawing copied verbatim from a photograph provides no individual opinion; the process just mechanically replicates what the photograph already said. At that point, there’s no point to making the drawing, you’re just making a bad xerox of the photograph.

Drawing from life is wonderful because you get to fully experience your subject. Compare the difference between drawing from a photograph of a person and drawing that person in real life. If you draw from direct observation, you would get to talk to the person, hear their voice, and learn about their personality. All of these aspects of the person that you experience will vastly influence your drawing process.


Many students aspire to create the illusion of depth within the two-dimensional format of a drawing. It’s counterproductive to try to achieve a convincing three-dimensional illusion in your drawing if your reference is a two-dimensional photograph. You have to directly experience three-dimensional space and form in person. As a student, I studied Gothic cathedrals and looked at slides in class and photographs in textbooks. I eventually traveled to France to see the cathedrals, and was astonished by the vast depth of space. Being physically immersed in the cathedral, I was able to capture the mood of the space in my on site drawings.


Amiens Cathedral

You have complete creative control when drawing from direct observation. If you’re drawing a still life, you can arrange the objects any way you want and create a specific lighting situation. With a portrait, you can choose from multiple perspectives or ask the model to sit in a specific position. This allows for much more flexibility and significantly increases all of the visual possibilities.

This is not to say that you should never ever draw from a photograph, as there are instances where using a reference photograph is necessary. In those circumstances, I always shoot my own photographs so that I can control every factor. If I need an image of a gorilla, it means a trip to the zoo. I see all reference photographs as raw material that I will manipulate and transform through my drawing process. The only time I would draw from someone else’s photograph is if I really need an image that is literally impossible for me to photograph on my own. Even then, I only use fragments of the photograph and I mix it in with other references. I would never take someone’s photograph and draw a precise copy of it.


Drawing from life involves a lot of work and patience, but eventually it will reap many rewards. You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of light and shadow, see how structures are organized, understand how forms interact within a space, learn how to articulate textures, and much more. This knowledge will equip you with the skills you need in order to draw from your imagination. From there, it’s a matter of extensive experimentation and practice to see what works for you.

This charcoal drawing tutorial I did on the Art Prof Youtube channel shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from direct observation (see below) I wrote this article which provides detailed explanations of the numerous tools needed to make charcoal drawings.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks

Related articles
“What is a gesture drawing?”
“Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?”
“How can I learn to shade objects in my drawings?”
“How can I draw what I see in my head?”
“What is the best way to practice my drawing skills?”
“How do you get yourself to practice drawing?”
“What is the most important mindset a student needs to have in order to create a successful drawing?”