Learn to Draw 2020: Update #1

Windflower 12-27-19 #3

In an effort to get back on track with Learn to Draw 2020, it’s time I shared my progress. No, I have not been working on this project as consistently as I had hoped I would. Yes, I am still proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

No, I will not allow myself any negative self-talk about my drawings.

I’m not going to share every single page, because even if I haven’t been drawing every day, I do have a lot of images and I’d rather highlight the ones that show my evolution than dump all of them out there at once. (I do post all of them individually to my journaling Tumblr, if you want to see.)

As I said, I was technically starting before 2020 did, because I had a weeklong vacation between Christmas and New Year’s. Thus, on 12/27/20, did I find myself one evening doing a blind-contour exercise of a sewing machine sitting in the corner of my guest room. (Blind contour is when you draw the outline of an object without being allowed to look at the paper as you go.) It’s odd-looking, but it is at least recognizable as a sewing machine.

Next up, modified-contour drawings of my hand “in a complex pose” and a few days later, my feet. This time, I’m allowed to look at the paper as I draw to make sure I’m not scattering elements all over the page, but I’m training myself to “see” edges of objects and replicate them on the page.

The negative-space exercises begin! A chair, my snake plant, and my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, all done not  by drawing the object, but by drawing around the object by focusing on the negative spaces.

And finally, where I am now. Both drawings were done from photographs I took at a local shopping plaza, going for complex and interesting angles to draw, because the newest lesson is on sighting. Which I am having a hard time with–these two drawings are just over a month apart, because I found the process so awkward and unpleasant, constantly stopping to hold up my pencil and close one eye and judge angles and relative proportions. My brain doesn’t like something about that, though it’s too soon to tell if a) I’m just bad at it because I’m just starting, or b) it really does make my poor sick anxious brain upset to have to refocus my sight so frequently in such an unnatural way. More practice will prove which is true, because either it will get easier as I do it more, or it won’t, and I’ll know this drawing technique isn’t for me.

After I do a few more of these, I’ll get to move on to portraits!

2020 Goals: Learn to Draw

To the best of my knowledge and this blog’s search function, I only briefly talked about my attempts in 2016-2017 to learn to draw from from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and its later revised edition, both of which I have. The left photo is the set of “pre-instruction” drawings the lessons have one do as a baseline of ability–I’m not terrible, I’ve taken some art classes and have some basic skill at proportion and perspective, but I’m not great–and the right, one of the last exercises I did from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which, amazingly, I found used in my local library book sale room only a few months after starting the original edition.

I jumped tracks partway through and started using the revised edition, only to discover I didn’t like it as much. The viewfinder it had me build was awkward to use without a third hand, and I abandoned my “lessons” not long after doing that second drawing.

I was clearly making progress, but wasn’t enjoying myself as much. I still wish I had finished, though, so I’m going to try again in 2020.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Worth through all of the original Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, doing lessons as consistently as possible, and drawing on a daily basis even if I don’t finish a full lesson.
  2. Whenever I finish that (and I have no clear idea how long it will take) I will choose a second medium to “learn” to get color on the page. I’m leaning toward colored pencils, which I already love and seem a natural first step beyond pencil drawings, or watercolor, which I don’t know as much about but have always been curious to learn. Online tutorials abound for both, so I will not lack for instruction.
  3. Journal extensively about the process on Tumblr, where my side blog @elenajournals was sadly neglected through basically all of 2019; update monthly here with my progress like I used to in my “From My Art Journal” series.
  4. If I’m happy enough in my progress later in the year with color medium #1, try a second one as well, but that’s up in the air for now.

Meanwhile, on the research side of things:

  • Gather examples of book covers I like, both stylistically and for “art” reasons–most book cover art is digital these days, but I’ve seen some pretty gorgeous examples that aren’t.
  • Brainstorm ideas for covers for whatever unpublished projects I’ve got in the pile.
  • Eventually do the art for my own covers!

Because that’s where I want to do with this. I love the company I worked with to create the covers for the What We Need trilogy; they did great work and were pleasant and easy to work with through the entire process. But commissioning design work is expensive, and every time I think about putting out a smaller, non-novel project, especially if it’s something I want to offer for free, I simply can’t justify doing it when I would/should drop several hundred dollars to get a cover made.

If I can do my own, though? The self-publishing world becomes my oyster.

That goal is likely a decent way off (like, maybe not even in 2020?) if I want my art to be “good enough,” but I think having a concrete (and business-related) goal in mind for this second-attempt drawing journey will help keep me on track when I’m fully aware I often abandon projects like this halfway through. Like I did in 2017.

Honestly, I’m so excited about it I want to start now, but I’ve got a novel to finish and Christmas cookies to bake and Christmas presents to wrap and a holiday vacation to take. Actually, I did already “start”–I did a second set of pre-instruction drawings last week and all of them look about the same, except for the hand study, because boy have I done a lot of those over the years, even before picking up DotRSotB. But the real work begins next year.

Bookish DIY: I’m Still Making Books, and a Bonus Book Review

84 - Making Handmade Books

#84 – Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures, & Forms by Alisa Golden

  • Read: 2016 – 2019
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (56/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It didn’t actually take me three years to read it. But I bought it in 2016, scratching the itch I wrote about almost four years ago, and decided I would make an example of every book from it. Because I’m ambitious(dumb) like that.

In the beginning, that was easy, because the binding styles go in a rough order of increasing complexity, the first section being devoted to folded books that require very little in the way of time or supplies. I think I cranked out the first four models in one afternoon.

But they weren’t satisfying. I bought this as a reference book for multiple types of bookbinding, and it is–but it’s also written by a book artist and geared towards those wishing to make books as art. Whereas I, who loves both books and art, wanted a book to teach me to make books to make art in. I want to make journals, not art projects.

That sounds like a criticism, but it’s not really–there’s no reason I couldn’t use the books I made however I wished, and the model art works provided as examples were inspiring, even if that’s not what I aspired to.

As I worked through the projects, I began to skip the forms that didn’t suit my needs for journaling–the pop-up books, scrolls, Jacob’s Ladder, and so on. But it’s great that they’re there, that the book is so exhaustive in cataloguing and providing instructions for so many types of bindings.

There are still forms in here I want to try, but lack the materials for–I haven’t invested in “proper” bookbinding tools, as most of the simpler projects can easily be made without them, or with makeshift tools borrowed from other crafts (of which I have many.) And as this book is such a comprehensive overview of styles, I don’t feel the need to buy any other works on bookbinding any time soon–possibly never, unless I get the craving to go more advanced and need something more specialized to teach me.

So while it’s geared towards artists in tone, it’s an excellent introduction to the craft for hobbyists like me; and for such a large book packed with detailed instructions, I found incredibly few errors, none of which threw me off for longer than it took to double-check a diagram or reread a few sentences.

Time to share a few of my favorites. This is the Concertina, an accordion-style form where the pages are glued together at their outer edges. I made it from book pages cut from my art journals for space, many of which had been painted over randomly to use up mixed paint I couldn’t scrape back into its bottles. I made it more journal-like by adding a wrapped softcover, a page from this years Shen Yun tour (a traditional Chinese dance company, which I have never seen, but they come to Detroit every year and I always get mailers and their photos are beautiful.)

This is the Crown Binding, where the pages are actually removable, held in only by the folded tabs that create the spine. While I don’t need a journal with removable pages, it was an interesting structure to learn. I finished the book blank with individual hardcovers.

This was a fun one. It’s called Piano Hinge with Skewers, and the signatures are notched at the spine edge so they can be interwoven along bamboo skewers. It’s not the best for journaling–the spine is incredibly thick compared to the book block, and it doesn’t lie flat to write in. But it’s pretty, so I’ll use this one and probably not make another.

Exposed Stitch Binding

My first try at the Exposed Stitch Binding. I see this one a lot in journals for sale on Etsy and the like–it’s not difficult, it’s pretty, it’s sturdy, and for thin books like this one, it lies flat quite well. I made this last week to keep records of my latest batch of experimental recipes–I always need one of these in my kitchen! Also, in my last fallow period between batches of books, I had the brainwave to use completed coloring-book pages to make my covers, and this was a perfect opportunity to try it.

Secret Belgian Binding

Finally, the one I made last night while I was thinking about finally making this post! It’s the Secret Belgian Binding, and aside from the Coptic Stitch books I taught myself all those years ago, it’s the most complex thing I’ve attempted. The spine of the hardcover (done in another old coloring-book page) is actually free-floating inside the stitches keeping the front and back cover together, and the signatures are laced to the inner spine through those stitches. It’s clever, it’s gorgeous, but it’s a little trickier, and my tension isn’t perfect. But this might be my favorite so far, because it feels like a “real” book and lies flat to work in!

From My Art Journal #13: Second Altered Book Complete!



It started out life as one of the books I won in a Random House giveaway back in 2015. I read it in 2016 and didn’t like it, but I was just getting into altered book journals, and it had a lot of art-related words in it, so I turned it into one in 2017. For the last year and a half, I’ve been filling it with all sorts of nonsense.

Lace Journal 8-17-18Lace Journal 8-18-18Lace Journal 8-19-18

The last three page spreads that finished the book! I can’t believe I left the journal hanging, so close to done, for three months.

Lace Journal Finished

The final thickness didn’t end up much greater than the original; I was pruning pages all the time to account for everything I was adding, and while I love seeing other artists’ journals stuffed until they’re yawning, I keep my finished journals on the same shelves as my regular books, so I need them to be as close to flat as possible.

So what’s next? I have one more full-size altered book journal ready to go, but I’ve got a mini one already started that’s devoted to found poetry; a handcrafted mini journal to fill with art; the “found” small journal I discovered last month; and just recently, I bought an imitation “Wreck This Journal” style journal that I, of course, started immediately on. So I might try to wrap up one of those (which will take a good long while) before I dive off another new-journal cliff.


From My Art Journal, #12: Lost and Found Edition

Meet the Journal - Moon Journal

Sometime in early 1997, I bought this small blank journal. Sometime in the early 00s, I thought I lost it–whether during the move into our current residence, or the original post-college move into our first apartment together. Considering that one of us changed countries for a year between the two and a lot of our stuff went into storage while we were apart, I figured it had gotten lost in the shuffle, never to be seen again.

Imagine my surprise when I found it in a box of old art supplies than had gotten shoved, apparently unopened, under our bed. I found it a few months ago during the big spring clean!

I debated what to do with it. Some of the art in it is terrible and cringe-worthy to my adult self–keep in mind that ’97-’98 was my senior year of high school, and while I’d always enjoyed making art, I hadn’t studied it much or gotten all that good at it–and I thought of shelving it with my other journals, unfinished, but a memory of my teenage years.

Then I said screw it and decided to finish using it anyway. So what if there’ll be an 18-year gap in the entries?

What follows is a selection of the pages I’m not completely ashamed to claim credit for.


The very first page (2/17/97) and a current picture of its subject, Mercutio, named because of his resemblance to Harold Perrineau’s wig-bedecked version of the role in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. He also featured in a whole series of works I did in my Thematic Art class in college, I’m pretty sure I have all those in the back of my closet, I should get them out sometime.

Moon Journal 2-17-97

The very next day, apparently, I brought my charcoal pencils to study hall and did a portrait of my chemistry teacher.


On vacation in August that summer, I bought my art supplies along and for some reason decided to draw card faces? The detail astonishes me all this time later, but if you turn them upside down the faces, which are supposed to be identical, are completely different.


Same trip, a few days later. I don’t remember where we’d gone (I could consult my dad and I’m sure he’d be able to tell me) but I must have been bored at least some of the time, because I did these two.

Moon Journal 2-15-98

I forgot about the journal for a few months, judging by the dates–that hasn’t changed about me at all! This is from February 1998, and while I remember “hand” art being a thing I did a lot freshman year in my school notebooks, apparently I decided to revisit that style for a page three years later.

Moon Journal 3-3-98

I like drawing my stuffed animals. I should do that some more. Meet Caledonia, my happy baby elephant, one of the few animals I’ve bought who kept the name on the tag she came with. I don’t know why an employee of my then-local Hallmark store hand-wrote a bunch of random fancy names on a batch of elephant stuffies, but they did, and so I took her. (Yes, I still have her, too. My menagerie is huge these days.)

Moon Journal 8-20-00

This was the final entry from the original journal, which I had the sense to label with a place, since I was clearly on vacation again. There was a really, really big willow tree outside our hotel that day, and I love trees, so I drew it. Not that well, but as best I can remember, I didn’t have a lot of time before we were heading out to dinner.

So that’s a sampling of the old stuff, and I’m surprised/not surprised by similarities I see to my current “work.” I still like odd (or maybe I should say non-traditional) color combinations, mandalas, and abstraction. When I drew from life, I chose a lot of random subjects: not pictured are a candlestick, a table full of empty glassware, a laughing gargoyle statue that I used to have, one of my bookshelves, and a spectacularly awful attempt at a vase of flowers.

To start off again, I grabbed my gel pens, put on some music, and got doodling.


Song lyrics + Zentangles might be a thing for this new journal, at least for a while.

From My Art Journal, #10

Lace Journal 2-7-18

It’s been a long time since I shared any of my art journaling here, but most of that was because it had been a long time since I’d done any. In an effort to streamline my blogging a bit, and feel less like I’m scrambling to get post ideas, I’ve blocked out a rough monthly schedule, and there’s room in it for an art journal post!

I think it’s important for writers to have a creative outlet other than writing, to turn to when inspiration is low, or the block is tough, or there simply isn’t the energy for words. I’ve been feeling that way off and on lately, and now that I’m doing it again, I think art journaling is good choice for me in particular because even though I do share my work, I don’t feel nearly the same level of perfectionism about it, or worry about it being judged the same way my novels are judged. It can be weird and quirky, even downright bizarre, because it’s smaller and freer than writing, with so many fewer expectations attached.

And now that I’ve poured out my heart about it, on to some more pictures of what I’ve done!

Lace Journal 2-15-18

Lace Journal 2-16-18

Lace Journal 2-17-18

Lace Journal 2-18-18

Lace Journal 2-22-18

Lace Journal 2-25-18

…because, yeah, why not a little Sandman joke, since I was lucky enough to come across artwork of Morpheus in an issue of Entertainment Weekly?