More Sketches in Graphite

I drew the following with a clutch pencil.  Some artists claim they don’t use anything other than clutch pencils to draw in graphite.  They value the stability of these instruments–unlike wooden pencils, they don’t change in length nor much in weight as you use them.

basket of pears

A basket of pears, above.


jianzi I picked up in Houston’s Chinatown.


My clutch pencil has a built-in sharpener.  The graphite shavings from this sharpener can be used to add tone and to vary value, as in the above drawings of my eye, thumb, and foot.  Without a clutch pencil, one would have to resort to a graphite block or regular pencil and rubbing with a tortillon, blending stump, or piece of chamois.  This risks damage to the paper, which some artists consider unacceptable.  (Other artists don’t care as much.)

Highlights can be lifted out with a rubber eraser (I prefer the Pink Pearl by Paper Mate) or with a kneaded eraser.

More Ink Sketches

orchid sketch

I love drawing on cardboard–I’m not sure if it’s the tone or the firmness of the paper that’s so appealing.  I was house-sitting for my parents on March 26, 2014, so I found a black ballpoint pen and some cardboard and quickly sketched one of my mother’s orchids before I fell asleep.  Here’s another drawing on cardboard, this one with an Ebony pencil.


My girlfriend gave me a lined Moleskine notebook.  I used a black Sharpie fine point pen to sketch the above face.  I don’t remember if I just drew an imaginary face or if I sketched the face of a statue somewhere.

foot drawing

I sketched my foot with Pentel Pocket ink brush pen while talking on the phone. Casual phone conversations are a great opportunity to practice drawing because it’s a nonverbal activity: you can draw and talk at the same time.

Rapid Sketches from Photos, Mostly of Birds, and Mostly During Call

During fellowship and shortly afterward, I spent some time moonlighting at a one-bed emergency department.  (Yes, a single bed.  It was great!)  One can only study so much while stuck in a call room waiting for patients to roll in, so I spent some of that time improving my freehand drawing skills by sketching birds from photos I found online and in magazines.  These graphite sketches–made with a clutch pencil–are shown below.

The cardinal and the golden jackal were drawn on a Boogie Board (an LCD tablet).



Painting of an Imperial Moth in Mixed Media

imperial moth painting

“Such is the method of nature: start from a basis of utter simplicity and from it create complex and beautiful forms.” – Lee F. Ryan, The Natural Classical Guitar

The above is a painting of an imperial moth (Eacles imperialis) that spent an entire weekend on my doorstep in late August.  The view is slightly askew, not directly overhead.  One wing is more brightly lit than the other.  It’s >99% transparent watercolor–I haven’t yet used opaque watercolor in any paintings–with a few final touches in wax-based colored pencil.

I spent weeks working on this painting off and on, from as little as one minute a day to two hours a day, finally finishing it after a six-hour marathon painting session yesterday after work.  My references were multiple photographs that I took of the moth from different angles.  In the future, I will also take written color notes of a potential painting subject (some professional painters do this because they don’t trust the colors of photographs).  This is the most complicated watercolor I’ve attempted so far as a nascent painter.  Even the freehand pencil sketch that forms the basis of the painting took some time.  Perhaps I’ll detail the stages of the painting in a future blog post.  (Some artists recommend using mirror images to speed up drawing the second half of a moth or butterfly, but my view of the moth wasn’t symmetrical.  Also, I simply enjoy the challenge of drawing freehand.)

Watercolor is an unpopular medium because it is technically unforgiving.*  My friend, who is a master-level chess player, says that the first few moves in chess often decide the game.  So it goes in watercolor, too: make a few big mistakes anywhere in the painting process, especially early on, and it’s all over.  Watercolor, like chess, is all about planning.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how to move forward before attempting each stage of the painting.  There were color harmony issues to think about, difficult technical issues such as how to portray certain features of the moth using available watercolor techniques, issues of presentation (e.g., “Should I portray the moth impressionistically or with scientific accuracy?”–I opted for scientific accuracy), etc.  However, despite the difficulty of watercolor, I discovered that one can often make a total comeback from perceived minor mistakes or inaccuracies.  (This is also true in chess.)

Before it landed on my doorstep, I had never seen an imperial moth in-person or otherwise in my entire life.  It was huge and arresting with its idiosyncratic color scheme.  My girlfriend called it “that 70s moth” because of its soft dull orange and bright yellow colors that were popular in the 70s.  I learned, through an internet search, that imperial moths are highly variable in color and pattern but are usually a combination of yellow and purple/red-brown (note that brown is dull orange from a color-theoretic standpoint).  This particular moth’s darker colors were brown and red-brown under natural light with possible hints of purple under flash.  I thought about going over the brown in the finished painting with a very light glaze of purple but feared ruining the painting if I did so.  Perhaps I’ll try it in the future, but I think that sunlight portrays color more accurately than does a standard flash bulb. These were my two primary reference photos:

The internet says these moths don’t eat in the adult phase. They don’t even have functional mouthparts.  They live off their fat stores, and they don’t live for long:  for a few days to two weeks at most! Their sole purpose as adult moths is to reproduce.  Females wait, releasing pheromones at certain times, while males search for females.  The internet also tells me that males can detect the released pheromones from up to a mile away.

I initially thought that this particular imperial moth that spent the weekend at my place could be a female waiting for a male, but I now think that the large amount of dark coloration on its wings indicates that it’s a male.  It had a single antenna.  I often wondered, while painting it, about what might have happened to its other antenna.  Creatures with missing body parts are probably very common in the wild:  I sometimes see birds (especially grackles and crows) with one foot, butterflies with nipped wings, and just last week I saw a grasshopper with one leg.

*On the other hand, watercolor is the “functional programming language” of the painting world:  with a functional computer programming language, one can accomplish a lot with just a few lines of code.  With watercolor, one can be very expressive with just a few brush strokes. Each is also used for rapid prototyping in its respective domain.

The Year of Oat Groats


I’ve had oat groats with nuts and frozen blueberries every morning for breakfast for a year now.  Oat groats are hull-less oat kernels, the least-processed form of oatmeal.  (I briefly mentioned groats in my post about weight loss last September.) My girlfriend and I started out by eating steel-cut oats for breakfast, but she wanted to try oat groats after researching them online, so we ordered them from Bob’s Red Mill.  The taste and texture hooked us right away.  Cooked in large quantities once a week and stored in the fridge, they keep and reheat well for at least 1-2 weeks in our experience.  We never returned to steel-cut.

After last September’s post about weight loss, my weight eventually reached a steady-state twenty pounds less than a year and a half ago.  These are the dietary changes I made last year:

  • Oat groats + blueberries + nuts for breakfast
  • Decaf coffee + milk (café au lait) during breakfast
  • 2% skyr during breakfast
  • Cut out carbs with a high glycemic index (GI)
  • Replaced sliced bread with flourless, low-GI, sprouted grain bread
  • Cut out eggs entirely
  • Fasted for 1-2 meals weekly (intermittent fasting) over the past couple months to negate the effects of calorie creep and to maintain my weight loss
  • Didn’t snack between meals
  • Fell out of the habit of taking fish oil regularly
  • Fell out of the habit of eating oily fish and other seafood weekly
  • Ate more Greek yogurt and skyr
  • A month or two ago, started replacing non-fat dairy with 2% dairy (I might eventually go up to full-fat dairy, but I’m on the fence about that right now)
  • Continued to minimize red meat
  • Continued to eat veggies and fruits
  • Continued to eat an almond butter sandwich regularly (usually during lunch)
  • Continued to eat a small amount of 85% dark chocolate every morning (I might stop doing this)

My stress level increased as I transitioned from fellowship to being a full-time attending, and I realized a few weeks ago that the memory-foam mattress I bought 1.5-2 years ago had really ruined my sleep for at least 6 months.   I switched that out with a coil-spring mattress with a foam topper.  I continued to work out  5-6 days a week, alternating running with strength training.  Ironically, in spite of my belief that daily meditation is one of the most important habits, I didn’t meditate regularly at all. Nor did I practice yoga.  Everything else stayed about the same.

These are the other physical changes (besides weight loss) I experienced:

  • Blood pressure remained normal but is slightly less than before on average
  • Total cholesterol remained normal but dropped by 15 points
  • Triglycerides remained normal but dropped by 26 points
  • LDL remained exactly the same (normal)
  • HDL dropped by 10 points but remained normal
  • Transaminases remained normal but decreased significantly, suggesting I was heading toward a fatty liver before I started losing weight
  • Hemoglobin A1c remained normal but dropped to where it was three years ago

So, definite improvements overall.  Note that exercise was held constant while diet and a couple other factors (sleep, stress) changed.  Going forward, I hope to start meditating and practicing yoga regularly.  I might also increase my weekly intake of oily fish.

Autumnal Chinese Tallow Tree Leaf in Mixed Media


My girlfriend asked me to create a painting of a leaf she found, so I painted it in watercolor and then used ink and colored pencil for final details.  It’s a Chinese tallow tree leaf.  In our neck of the woods, there has been a decades-long fight against these trees because they’re an invasive species with toxins in their leaves that make the soil uninhabitable for native species.  They naturally create monospecific forests if left unchecked.  The internet tells me that they were introduced to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. for soap-making in the early 1900s.