Tricks: no juggling, balancing, or sleight of hand required

neutrals It's that time of year: I was booked through most evenings this week. As I find it's usually a waste of time to attempt to wake up early in order to do art before the other stuff I have to do that day, I haven't been drawing much lately.

In honor of having nothing new for you this week,  I'm sharing a trick. If you talk to creative professionals for long enough, you'll find they all have tricks: tricks for getting around writer's block,  for breaking out of a rut, for doing decent work when you don't want to do any work, for concentrating, for getting more done in less time, and for getting back into it (whatever it is) after an absence.

Today's trick is for changing your medium. The key elements of this trick are learning to see again, and using your hands differently. Both of these activities dust off rarely used neurons, which can be vital for triggering muscle memory related to a long disused medium, and for kicking your thought processes out of familiar patterns. If you are a digital artist trying to do some physical painting, this cuts down on the amount of time you spend saying:  'Cntrl Z. Cntrl Z! Why isn't it working?! Noooooo!'

Liz's New Medium Trick


- One small simple landscape picture. Preferably this is a pencil or charcoal sketch you did yourself, but any picture will work. If you find it on the internet print it out, you'll want to be getting away from your computer.

- 3 -4 'neutral' colors of paper. Lots of it. A newspaper often works, using white paper as your first tone, blank newsprint as your next lightest, dense paragraph text as your medium dark, and black or grey paper as your darkest. As you can see in the picture above, I used white paper, a light grey paper, (here appearing pinkish due to increased contrast) maroon paper and black paper.


-glue, gluestick preferably.

-sketchpad and pencil. (optional)

Find yourself a nice flat working surface. If you're messy with glue, put down newspaper on the tabletop.

Prop your picture up where you can look at it. Mentally begin blocking the picture into the simple hues you have available. If you find this difficult to keep straight, use the sketchpad to block out the lightest, second lightest, second darkest and darkest spaces. Don't go into great detail. Focus on where shades change, i.e. where the edges are.

Choose a 'working' piece of paper. This is the page that you will glue things on to. If your picture is mostly light, I recommend starting with a light piece of paper and then beginning to glue on shapes from the second lightest shade, working your way down. For example in the picture above, I thought the grass was one of the lighter things in my source picture so I glued that onto my white 'sky' as my first move.

Do not be tempted to use fancy tricks to create more than four shades! Part of the exercise is figuring out how to create a sensible picture with a limited palette. Also, no tracing. Resist the urge to draw the desired shape and then cut it out. ( I know, this hurts. If it didn't hurt, you wouldn't be growing new braincells.)

If you make a mistake, feel free to peel it off or glue something on top. This is in fact recommended for getting the right shape.

Lastly: chill. This works best as a low-pressure exercise. Have a glass of wine if you're into that sort of thing. Don't stress about your technique, or if the final will be frame-able. By all means, take the exercise seriously. But don't take yourself too seriously. You know what I mean?