Strokes of Genius, The Best of Drawing – The Sixth Volume: A book review

This book is the sixth in a series called “Strokes of Genius,” edited by Rachel Rubin Wolf (an artist and freelance editor), an excellent resource of 144 drawings from 142 artists.  The goal of the book is to provide readers with a collection of drawings that illustrate values, lights and darks created from different mediums (mainly graphite and charcoal) across a wide spectrum of subjects.

I’ve been looking for a drawing resource that is not so much instructional, as is a collection of high quality drawing images that are large enough to let me study artists’ results from a variety of techniques to achieve certain looks.

If one is looking for complete instruction, this is not the book, but here are several reasons why this book met my grade:

  • Each image has a corresponding paragraph from the artist explaining something important about how or why they achieved the result of their drawing.  It’s this personal touch that makes the book invaluable – giving just a hint of information, but enough that allows an artist to discover techniques on their own.
  • A couple of gems that I picked up in the book.  The one consistent message I heard over and over throughout the book was about value, artist Scott A. Williams message was spot on, “The correct use of value is critical for defining forms, controlling edges and creating a believable three-dimensional reality.”  Period, end of story – get the value right and all else falls into place.  I’ve returned to drawing in B&W over the last several months to work more on values, lights and darks.   In the book artist Linda Lucas Hardy summed up perfectly why I’ve been working so hard on this aspect of my art, “Value without color has the power to standalone – color without value can’t.”  It gets no better than this simple enough, but very powerful statement.
  • Many images fill the full 12” x 9.5” page, but you’ll also find many in the range of ¾ and ½ page sizes too.  For me this is an important aspect because the sizes allow me to see very clearly the artists’ work, and analyze their drawing techniques.
  • Additionally the larger sizes allow me to see the differences in how certain surfaces (papers, boards and other) and mediums perform as they respond to the artists’ strokes and touch. Very important because I have a tendency to get in a rut using the same support surfaces just because it’s there.  But here my vision for future works was sparked with many creative possibilities.
  • And finally, the quality of construction and materials this book was made from.  It’s a good solid, hefty book measuring 12” x 9.5”, with a matte finish used for the book cover and inside pages.  The high quality thick paper used for both the book cover and inside pages is top notch – meaning it could get a good handling from readers and won’t get worn down quickly.

In fact this book would make a very nice coffee table book, but seriously I wouldn’t do that because there is too much value in those beautifully illustrated pages – it should be picked up and used for the great artists’ resource it is.

If you are interested in the book, it can be found at North Light Shop. 

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Linwood Gardens is a Showplace for Peonies Trees – A Destination for Photographers, Painters and Lovers of Peonies

Tama fuyo

If you love Peonies, are a photographer, or a painter then you might want to consider putting Linwood Gardens in New York State on your go-to list of destinations.  Linwood Gardens is located in Pavilion, New York, 35 miles southwest of Rochester in the farmlands of the Genesee Valley.   The gardens include a distinguished collection of Japanese and American tree peonies that are featured each spring at the Tree Peony Festival of Flowers.  During the summer months, Linwood Gardens offers a peaceful garden sanctuary for workshopsopen garden days, wedding ceremonies, and guided tours.

A little history from the website, “William Henry Gratwick II, from Buffalo New York, created Linwood Gardens as a country home in the years between 1901 and 1910.”  Architect Thomas Fox designed portions of the Summer House with an Arts and Crafts style, as well as the original garden areas that include walled gardens with pools and fountains, ornamental trees, and a view of the valley beyond.  More information on the history behind this incredible property can be found at

This year Linwood Gardens is celebrating their 20th Anniversary of “A Festival of Peonies” that runs May through June, check here for details Linwood Gardens – A Festival of Peonies.

Perhaps Linwood Gardens will be your next destination for inspiration ~ I’ll be off for the next week spending time with some dear friends.

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2016 Yellow Roses, from my garden – photography

Here in North Texas we have had the unfortunate experiencing of Rosette, a virus that has nearly wiped out all our roses.  Fortunately for us, we’ve been lucky to still have a couple of our bushes left.  This year both our Yellow roses and White roses came in beautifully.

Last evening I took some photographs before we got a downpour.  Good thing I did because the roses were smashed during the nighttime storm.  Thank goodness I got a few shots of the first batch the yellow rose bush produced this year.

Please see free to use these photographs as inspiration for painting, writing or just to enjoy the goodness of nature!   click onto the images for a larger view

FOT5E6AFOT9955FOTF2FBHope you have a wonderful weekend!

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2016 Ennis, TX – Flower Power, photographs

Yesterday we took a trip down to Ennis, TX to see the annual Spring blossoms of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes ~ everywhere you looked there was a spectacular showing of gorgeous flowers.  Here are a few shots for you to enjoy!

FOTE83BDSCN0487DSCN0502DSCN0503Please feel free to use these photographs as inspiration for drawings or paintings.

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Lake Reflections, graphite drawing

Reflections can take on several meanings – in this scene nature showcases the foreground rock and weeds by mirroring back from the lake, but a peaceful scene like also gives way to letting us quietly reflect on life ~

Lake Reflections, a graphite drawing (8×10) was drawn on Strathmore Bristol Vellum paper using a minimalist approach.  Graphite pencils used were 2H, HB, B, 3B, 6B, and for blending tools a tortilium, pad and kneaded eraser.  The scene could have been drawn illustrating the lake as a full body of water using highlighted lines to symbolize water movement, but instead I went for a minimalist approach hoping that the reflections of the foreground subjects provided the vision I was after.

Thanks for checking in – click onto the image for a larger view.

Lake Reflections



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A Few Signs of Spring, photographs

Cleaning the flower beds this weekend and my husband happened to see a 13″ – 14″ Smooth Earth Snake (red, slender body) about a foot behind me.  Just hanging around, you might say!  Anyways I hope you enjoy a few signs of Spring around our place .  .  .

Petunia’s that are annuals around here, but never died last year – happened to live through the Winter are in full bloom:

FOTDB2B petunias 2016 - Copy

Purple Shamrocks – perennials and flower all Spring straight through Fall:

FOTE32C - Copy

Coreopolis – wouldn’t be spring without these beauties!

FOT81D4 coreopolis

Verbena, a perennial, are gorgeous this year – nice flowering plant Spring through Fall:

FOT3E33 - Copy

Here’s to Spring, a time for renewal ~


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White Flower Study, charcoal

Today a little something to celebrate the beginning of Spring ~

White Flower Study, was a quick charcoal drawing (9×6) on Strathmore Bristol Vellum paper.  My objective for this still life was to sketch the flower without too much detail leaving an overall impression of soft infused light.  Some interesting patterns developed that I’ll probably use in a future drawing.

Thanks for checking in.

White Flower Study



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Misty Wheat Field, graphite drawing

Abandoned fields are a thing of beauty, I can’t tell you how many I’ve driven by and never given them a moments notice, that is until now ~

Misty Wheat Field, a graphite drawing (8×10) was done on Strathmore Bristol Vellum paper using 2H, HB, B, 2B, 3B graphite pencils and B/2B Carbon pencils.  Tools used for producing some technical effects were:  cotton ball, tortilium, kneaded eraser and Tombow mono eraser.  One thing I love about graphite is its reflective qualities, combined with carbon you get a whole different look to a drawing from any number of different angles.  The back-light glancing over the field is what captured my attention and with the distance barely there, my attention was centered on the foreground grasses was a lot of fun working out as a drawing.

Thanks for checking in ~ Click onto the image for a larger view of the details.

Misty Wheat Field



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UPDATE: Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil, by J.D. Hillberry – a book review

UPDATE to original post:  I’ve been contacted by North Light Shop, an online artist resource site.  They are offering readers of my blog an additional 20% discount off their price of this book.  If you use the link provided herein this paragraph and use the code: MARY when ordering, you’ll receive the 20% discount off their stated purchase price. offers a great selection of painting and drawing resources for artist of all levels. Fine art instruction and inspiration can be found here in their videos, magazines, online seminars and books for artists. is dedicated to offering artists the best products and services for their fine art needs.

My Book Review:  Several years ago artist, J.D. Hillberry had a booth at Fort Worth’s annual art festival.  I couldn’t help but notice how many folks were at his tent, of course curiosity got the best so I stopped by to see what all the commotion was about.  In a word, I was wowed – his drawings are ultra-realistic like looking at a photograph.   No matter how close I got to the drawing, it was extremely difficult to see any strokes, smudges, etc.   They were that good.

When I discovered he wrote a book, Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil, it took me all but a second to purchase it.  Not only did I see several of the drawings from the art festival documented in his book, but it contained several others that were equally as good.  It was from this book that I learned the most about the medium, tools and techniques – here are just three areas that are real gems:

  • The difference between graphite, carbon and charcoal:  this was perhaps the greatest piece of information that helped me understand how to use each more effectively within a drawing, and when you can and can’t use one over the other (excellent examples).    Graphite is reflective, carbon and charcoal are both flat, but carbon has more of a smoother appearance of the two.  So now when I’m drawing, these factors are evaluated before I start so I can control the ultimate effect of the drawing.
  • Blending tools and achieving texture:  while most tools I was already familiar with, there were a few like felt, chamois cloth that I was not.  J.D. took this opportunity to demonstrate how each tool behaves during blending (stumps, tortilium, felt, etc.).  This information helped to further develop my drawings, especially with metal, wood, rocks, skin tones, etc.
  • Demonstrations:  excellent.  Several step-by-step demonstrations allowing the reader to follow along at their own pace – these exercises are invaluable in helping to strengthen an artists understanding of drawing mediums.

J.D. book isn’t about how to draw, rather it shows the artist how to use the medium and tools most effectively so they can achieve the desired results they’re after in their drawings.

If you want a resource that will help increase your drawing skills, this is one I highly recommend.


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Morning Light, graphite

My last drawing in charcoal was a little heavy and I thought why not lighten things up with this next piece.  Graphite was used because of its reflective qualities and along with certain blending techniques a soft atmosphere developed allowing the morning light to glance over the land and pond ~

Morning Light, a graphite drawing (8×10) was done on Strathmore Vellum Bristol paper using 2H, HB, B, 2B and 3B graphite pencils and loose powder.  The background was both applied and blended lightly so the atmosphere appears soft and showcases the morning light.  The foreground grasses, reeds and weeds were laid in more sharply and blended slightly less allowing more detail.  Additional tools used was a cotton ball, a sable-haired brush, tortilium and a kneaded eraser – what would I do without my tool!

Guess what?  This is my 500th post – who would have thought!  Thanks for checking in ~ click onto the image for a larger view.

Spring storms are finally starting to fire off here in North TX, keeping my fingers crossed no tornado’s pop up.


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