Quick musical update

It’s a few days I plan to post on my blog and can’t find the quiet half an hour to write a good post. The reason is that I’m preparing a concert with a new orchestra, as guest percussionist. I had two weeks to get acquainted with the pieces we will play, and I spent the whole weekend with the orchestra in a musical retreat in Brandenburg – catching up was definitely not easy, moreover I had to learn to properly play tubular bells and xylophone, and these pieces are the most difficult I had played yet (or at least it feels like it!). As I joined the rehearsals so late, I’m listening to recordings of the pieces while reading my parts, and I’m adding a LOT of annotations:

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What I usually add are colors for the different instruments I have to play (it’s quicker than reading the tiny names on the score!) and annotations about the instruments that play right before me – that saves me from counting the empty bars, and prepares me better to the moment when I have to jump in. These annotations are especially necessary, as I have not been playing with the full orchestra often enough, and it happens very often that I don’t know who is supposed to play, and at which point of the piece we are. I’ll be watching the conductor closely, but I’ll definitely not getting cues all the time; for sure I’ll keep an ear for my fellow percussionists, as we studied our parts together and know them well. Let’s hope for the best 🙂

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Drawing update: goats, sheep and lions’ noses

Here are a few studies I made this week: the first is about goats and sheep. I found a book of livestock breeds and decided to draw some of them. I found out that some sheep look like goats and vice versa, but chose to draw rather typical breeds to practice proportions and textures. Well, I tried… the sheep with black head and legs is a bit off, the back too high, maybe the head too large. I think I didn’t work on the proportions long enough, as I wanted to draw the details of the wool (and I find it came out great!)… Next time I also want to draw more horns, as the goats’ horns in particular have a peculiar section and therefore make funny spirals that look different at every angle. Sheep horns make more regular spirals.

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The second set of sketches is about lions’ noses. In the library I found a great photography book on big cats (Raubkatzen: wild und faszinierend) and could easily examine quite small details. I decided to make a kind of plot and position noses according to the angles of the head:

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Next time (next species in my list will likely be another big cat, or the fox) I will make a plot with axes meeting in the center of the page, so that I can draw noses pointing to the left or pointing upwards. There are otherwise too many pictures I couldn’t use, or had to mirror during drawing (and it’s really too difficult for me now).

That’s it! Stay tuned for more updates 🙂

Drawing update: mammal heads and faces, seals, horse muzzles

Some time ago I watched John Muir Law’s lesson on drawing mammal heads and faces, sketched along and took notes:

Along the lesson John gives ideas for drawing tasks that make you practice what he explained, for example “draw 10 heads and faces of the species of your choice within a week of the lesson”, “draw 10 ears of the species of your choice”. I was a bit cold about this kind of homework, but I discovered that it made me observe better, and remember the concepts better too.

As first homework I chose to draw heads of two seal species: grey seal and harbour seal. I found a book in the library, “Robben an Nord- und Ostseeküste”, that presents the two species, and features high-quality pictures. There was an extra challenge, as the description of many pictures did not mention the species, and this made me observe them with even more attention. I drew seal portraits on two pages, one for each species.

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Grey seals
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Harbour seals

Another homework I picked was “draw 10 noses of a species of your choice”. I chose horses, first because they are my favourite animal, and second because I have never drawn decent horse muzzles. I first thought that ten muzzles would be too much, that I would get tired after the first five. On the contrary, after the first attempts I noticed that I was nailing increasingly more details, seeing more in three dimensions, and getting the proportions and shades right. My favourite muzzle is the ninth, from the picture of an Arab horse.

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For the next tasks I have found a book about foxes, with a lot of pictures! I’ll keep you posted on the drawings I’ll make – spoiler alert: one homework is “draw one page of a species’ ears” 🙂

Book recommendation: “Mythos Begabung” (“The Myth of Giftedness”) by Ulrike Stedtnitz

I’d like to write a review for this book, even if it’s currently available only in German. I found it a compact yet deep analysis about the perception of giftedness in my cultural environment. Each chapter ends with a page of questions that readers are invited to ask themselves, with the goal to better understand their own thinking and how it influences the people near/dear to them.

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Dr. Ulrike Stedtnitz starts the book with the analysis of potential, success, intelligence, and giftedness. It is nowadays clear that all these concepts can be modeled in many ways. Moreover, gifts evolve with time: for example, a child who learns to read at an early age is not necessarily going to keep being a reading genius, nor show potential in other domains.

It becomes clear that giftedness without practice doesn’t go anywhere, and that practice alone usually goes pretty far! Many people (especially children), who show a gift in a particular domain, usually make initial progress quite fast and effortlessy, and start struggling far away along the road, as they need a background of exercise and effort management they haven’t developed. Therefore, the author’s suggestion is to teach how to manage effort, concentration and persistence, and let personal capabilities and creativity collaborate to success.

She then ends the book with three chapters, one about dealing with emotions (how to cultivate/teach emotional stability and resilience), one about early education (where she mentions many principles in common with Montessori method, and the method itself) and the last one about school (with the invitation to abandon fact-learning, test-based evaluations of the whole progress, and to better prepare for working life).

What I liked in Dr. Stedtnitz’s analysis is how she makes clear that giftedness doesn’t require a fast lane or special rewards in school in order to lead to success – on the contrary. It is described as a specific advantage, which can backfire if it allows the child to skip crucial parts of the learning process, especially if it makes the child associate effort to insuccess. Therefore her suggestion is to have an education system that focuses on managing effort, developing concentration, intrinsic motivation, and let children experience and later generate moments of flow. I share these ideas, and I want to integrate them into my teaching model – a likely smooth task, as the Montessori method already shares many of these basic principles.

Weekly drawing: flying change

A few weeks ago I started a more regular drawing routine, with the plan to scribble anytime I wanted, and produce a finished drawing once a week. Some time ago my fellow blogger Anne Leueen made a post about flying change – but it took me until today to make a drawing out of one of her pictures!

I chose one of the pictures where horse and rider faced the camera. During the flying change, the rider communicates the change of lead through body and leg positions, that’s why the shoulders, hips and legs look more on a S-shaped line than on a vertical. That bend is what I wanted to capture on my drawing. Therefore I decided to use only black and white, no shadows at all, and let the lines be the protagonists of the scene.

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It was not easy to visualise the proportions of horse and rider, so I used the pencil-as-a-ruler technique, and started tracing light lines. I discovered that it was especially difficult for me to copy the proportions on the horizontal axis (and I would have made the horse and rider either too broad or too slim, or an ugly mixture of both) so I rotated the picture 90 degrees on the left – so that the head of the rider was on the left side – and rotated my paper accordingly. I kept drawing, checking where lines met: the rider’s hand next to the horse’s eye, the rider’s arm on the tip of the horse’s ear, and so on. It helped me to know a bit about horse anatomy, but I don’t see it as necessary.

When I felt I scribbled enough, I took a new sheet of paper, went to a window to trace the drawing with a graphite pencil. Back to my desk, I traced most lines with a black pen and filled the darker areas with a felt-pen. I briefly thought about adding shadows, but decided not to, at least not for this drawing.

I hope this explanation can give you some ideas on how to approach drawing, and encourages you to try!

Lesson about gesture drawing

Today I watched John Muir Law’s workshop about gesture sketching, that focused on the preparation phase of a drawing: getting proportions right, identifying useful reference lines, blocking shapes, all before diving into details. It put together a lot of tips and gave many occasions to test these by copying from pictures. It is quite useful to learn to put the sketch together rather quickly, for the cases when the subject is an animal that moves fast.

Here is the sheet of paper that I filled while watching the video (notes both in English and Italian, as the video was in English but I write faster in Italian!):

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Value study: kitchen chair

Yesterday I wanted to draw, after a week of total break. I walked around the house in search for an interesting subject and decided to draw a part of a kitchen chair, that had a nice combination of lights and shades.

I tried to remember the explanations and tips given by John Muir Laws in his workshop about colour and value, namely nailing the value of a given part of the drawing rather than focusing on colour. I translate it as getting the shades right, by guessing the black component of the colour of that area. I’m not sure if this is technically correct, but it is a good approximation. Another source for a cool explanation of value, hue and contrast is this colourful post from Tin Can Knits.

I’m quite satisfied with the light areas of the top of the chair and the contrast with the dark background, while I think that the rest of the drawing is not as realistic. My drawing is more the effect of starting the shading from the top of the drawing and progressing one patch at a time. This has the risk of drifting values, especially in a large drawing. I think I can do better by doing a longer observation phase before starting any shading, so that I will keep track of areas with the same value. Another help can come from a black and white preview made with a phone/camera.

Further tips are welcome!