Backyard Llama and Great Drawing Tool: Accurasee Review

Backyard Lama, oil on panel, 8x8"

Backyard Lama, oil on panel, 8x8"

When I spotted llamas in a residential neighborhood backyard near the beach in Pacifica I took a few photos of them for painting later. In the process of this painting I experimented with a terrific new drawing tool, Accurasee, and put this llama through its paces.

I started with this watercolor sketch in my journal:

Backyard Lama, ink & watercolor, 5x5"

Backyard Lama, ink & watercolor, 5x5"

While sketching I edited out the apartment building in the photo and got some understanding of the subject. Then I put the sketch and my iPad displaying the photo on the table by my easel so that I could refer to both as I painted.

Blocking in the values

Blocking in the values

First I sketched in the llama on the panel (above) with thinned paint (hoping it was fairly accurate) and blocked in where I wanted the darks and lights in the painting.

Lama attempt #1, but drawing wrong

Llama attempt #1, but drawing wrong

I thought I was nearly finished (above) but after a break from it, realized that the drawing was wrong: the face looked more like a dog than a llama and the neck was too short.

Then I discovered Accurasee, a free computer program for Macs and PCs (plus an iPhone app) that helps you be more accurate in your drawing or painting by using an innovative approach to the “grid drawing” method as a way to help you see. Accurasee adds a grid to a photo or scan of your drawing and you create a matching grid on or beside your painting. Then you use the grid coordinates to find the landmarks, height and width of objects in the composition.

You can read more about the history of gridding up here and see how much easier it is using Accurassee in these demos or read their user guide (pdf). (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in promoting this product or this company, but I think it’s great!)

Photo after gridding in Accurasee

Photo after gridding in Accurasee

Accurasee offers a collection of clever drawing tools, including special measuring tape but I made my own using masking tape and marked off the inches:

Tape with inches marked to match Accurasee

Llama Attempt #2 Redrawn: Tape marked to match Accurasee grid

By mentally visualizing where the intersection of the lines would be, I redrew a little more accurately (though still not quite right). As they say on their website:

The ultimate goal is not to create a “dot-to-dot” drawing, but a proportionally accurate one. The Accurasee Method and tools are designed to be used as drawing aids, not a crutch. When used correctly, the Accurasee Method can quite literally train you to see more accurately.

Lama attempt #3, almost there

Llama attempt #3, almost there

When comparing the painting to my watercolor concept I saw the ground was too dark so lightened and brightened it, worked some more on the face and neck and all around.

Eventually I just got tired of the whole production and decided that I’d learned everything I was going to learn from this painting, had nothing more to say, and called it done.

UPDATE: Julie asked how I was using the iPad vs my computer monitor and how I had it setup. Here is a picture:

sketchbook and iPad set up by easel

Sketchbook and iPad set up by easel (plus messy desk and computer monitor)

I have in the past used my computer monitor to paint from but the iPad is handier because I can have it right next to the easel or on my drawing table and with two fingers I can enlarge (as in the above photo) or move the section I’m viewing or go back to seeing the full picture. I use the iPad Smart Cover which when folded back works well as a stand.

Blowsy Rosies

Blowsie Roses, oil on Gesobord panel, 6x6"

Blowsy Roses, oil on Gessobord panel, 6x6"

Blowsy. [Adjective: (of a woman) Coarse, untidy, and red-faced.] That’s just what these roses were when I picked them from my poor neglected rose bush: brightly colored but messy and past their prime; yet they were just fine as my model.

It seems like once I gave myself permission to work on a painting as long as I wanted to, I’ve started being able to finish them more quickly. And it’s not just the small size;  I’ve spent hours and days on other 6×6″ paintings in the past.

It could have gone even more quickly than the three hours I spent on it, had I left some of my earliest brushstrokes alone. I just find it hard to believe they were right the first time, even though that was my goal with this painting: to put down the right strokes with the right color, temperature and value and then leave them alone. (Or scrape off the stroke immediately if it’s wrong and replace it with the “right” one, rather than adding more and more paint, which eventually leads to making mud.)

I also tried to focus on using warm and cool colors to shape the form, along with the dark and light values. I’d also like to cite my inspiration for this painting, Kathryn Townsend, whose flower paintings mesmerize me.

Baby Hydrangea: Little Pitchers Have Big Ears

Baby Hydrangea, oil on panel, 6x6"

Baby Hydrangea, oil on panel, 6x6"

I’d heard that saying before, “Little Pitchers Have Big Ears,” but without giving it any real consideration, assumed it had something to do with Little League baseball pitchers. Wrong. According to The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, “Adults must be careful about what they say within the hearing of children. The saying refers to the large handles (ears) sometimes attached to small vessels…” like this little pitcher.

My other reference for the saying is the refrain in John Prine’s touching song, “Sam Stone” about a Viet Nam vet returning home.

Hydrangea and pitcher preliminary sketches

Hydrangea and pitcher preliminary sketches

I was looking for flowers to paint and this little lavender hydrangea was hiding at the bottom of the bush all by itself. I did the value/composition sketches above and set about painting, completely forgetting the first step that I usually find helpful: doing a quick and simple 2-value block in using thinned paint in one color (usually Ultramarine Blue) first.

I think it worked out OK anyway, and in the next painting I did (still waiting to get photographed) I remembered to do that.

White Roses in Creamery Bottle (and painting process stuff)

White Roses in Creamery Bottle, oil on linen, 8x8"

White Roses in Creamery Bottle, oil on linen, 8x8"


Strauss Family Creamery is a Marin County dairy that produces organic dairy products served in old-fashioned glass bottles from happy cows that graze on sweet grass in the hills by the sea. I enjoy their bottles as much as their cream in my coffee.

I started this painting with a goal to complete it from life in one 3-hour session, as so many plein air artists and daily painters do. I had somehow come to believe that I “should” be painting that way too. But while I met my time goal, I didn’t like the results (see original version below). And that’s when I finally accepted that it’s better to take as much time as a painting needs, and relax and enjoy the process rather than try to rush to keep up with someone else’s “rules.”

If you’re interested in seeing how I got here from there, click “keep reading” and stick around. Read More

Stacked! (Stacking the Odds in Your Favor)

Stacked, painting of apples and lemon stacked a top each other, oil on Gessobord, 10x8"

"Stacked!" oil on Gessobord, 10x8"

One way to the stack the odds in your favor with most endeavors is to rehearse. So before I attempted the oil painting above, I did a little thumbnail sketch, a full-sized value sketch, and a watercolor sketch (below). I also took photos just in case the paperclips and scotch tape holding it all together failed (but they didn’t–the stack is still standing!)

Stacked, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

Stacked, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

I did the watercolor sketch first with the fruit sitting on my drawing table and the grey studio wall as the background. I love ink & watercolor. So immediate and so fun!

Stacked, value study with Prismacolor cool grey markers, 10x8"

Stacked, value study with Prismacolor cool grey markers, 10x8"

Then I set up the fruit stack by my easel and did this value and compositional sketch. I wanted the sketch to be the same size as the painting so I used the Gessobord as a template, tracing around it on the sketching paper. Once I had the drawing the way I wanted it, I used Prismacolor cool grey markers (30%, 50% 80%) to shade the values. It was easy to transfer the full-sized sketch to the Gessobord with a sheet of blue Saral Transfer Paper between the sketch and the board, then drawing over the sketch with a stylus.

I revised the background by hanging a dark gold/green cloth hung behind the still life hiding the gray wall.  Now I’m wondering whether to repaint the leaves. What do you think? Is it better to leave them kind of soft and blurry so they don’t attract too much attention. Did you notice them before I asked the question?

(Painting available here)

Leftover Lunchroom Apples (AKA the Zombie Apple Painting)

Leftover Lunchroom Apples #2, oil on board, 8x8"

Leftover Lunchroom Apples #2, oil on board, 8x8"

This is one of those zombie paintings that despite my best efforts to kill it, just wouldn’t die. I painted it again and again, changing the background colors, the shapes of the apples, the colors of the apples, the shadow shapes and colors. And in between painting sessions it sat there on my easel taunting me.

I was determined to finish it today no matter what. So I photographed it, imported it into Photoshop and experimented there with colors and shape variations until I found a scheme I liked. Then I applied those changes in paint on my canvas. (I was tired of the actual background colors which were the same as Apples, Delicious.)

Update 6/12:  I asked a friend to be an innocent bystander and give me his honest opinion of the painting still on the easel. He said, “Uh, well…what are they?” When I said apples he said “Really? They don’t look like apples. But I like the red color.” FAIL? Yes.

It’s probably better to make many paintings instead of getting stuck painting the same one multiple times. But I get determined to figure out what is making me unhappy with a painting and to try to resolve the problems. Sometimes I discover there’s a fatal flaw in the composition or drawing that can’t be fixed with paint (and I fear this is one of those?). Then I just try to learn from that mistake for the next time and accept I’ve gone as far as I can.

I’d like to give the apples one more try (on a fresh canvas), to see if after all this practice I can do a fresh, quick painting that flows instead of lurches along in true zombie fashion.


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