What I Do When I Get Stuck

What I Do When I Get Stuck

There comes a time in some projects when you just don’t know what to do next. It happens to all of us, so I thought I’d take the time to tell you what I do when I get stuck.

Two Difficult Projects

Yes. After the decades of being an artist, you’d think I would have found all the ways to avoid getting stuck long ago. The truth is that the more I learn about colored pencils, the more I discover that I still need to learn.

The last project for 2022 was the portrait of a pinto horse that I drew for Ann Kullberg’s Painted Pony tutorial. That portrait not only went smoothly, there were only one or two occasions when I hit any roadblocks at all. They turned out to be minor detours, and the portrait was finished ahead of schedule.

(Trouble-free projects are great when they happen, aren’t they?)

Lessons I Learned From that Portrait

I learned (or remembered) two things as a result.

First, I discovered that I could still draw a decent horse portrait and have fun in the process. It has been years since that happened, so I was delighted.

Second, I learned that I could produce the magazine, blog, and create a portrait in a month. That was the biggest take-away.

It was this second discovery that led me to accept a dog portrait in February. It was a simple head and shoulders style portrait of a Welsh Corgi, so I was certain I could finish it in a month and that it would be no problem.

It’s now May and I’m still working on that portrait. Some of it has been fun, but it has also been troublesome. So troublesome, in fact, that I’ve thought about starting it over.

So far, I’ve avoided starting over. Showing you one way I do that is what this post is all about.

What I Do When I Get Stuck

I’m primarily a self-taught artist. I had one semester of oil painting at the local community college after graduating high school. I’ve also attended one oil painting workshop at the gallery here in Newton (that was years ago.)

For everything else, I’ve figured things out for myself or read books or watched videos.

So far, the books and videos have been helpful in a basic sense. But my problems with the Corgi portrait required more than the basics. I needed to figure out how to get beyond my current skill level.

This is one of the problem areas on the Corgi portrait.
Step One: Find An Artist

I searched YouTube for colored pencil artists who were doing pet portraits in a realistic style, and with lots of detail.

Among those I found (and there are a lot of them), I looked for artists whose work was enough beyond my current skill level to provide the challenge and information I needed.

The last thing I looked for was an artist whose instruction was clear, and whose teaching was a good match for the way I learn. In other words, someone I could connect with in a solid teacher-student way.

Who finally met all those criteria?

Leontine van Vliet.

Step Two: Watch Lots of Videos

Leontine has been a colored pencil artist for many years and she has a YouTube channel full of videos. What’s even better, she has a good selection of playlists for those who want to watch videos in a more dedicated fashion. The two playlists that caught my attention where a playlist featuring nothing but fur drawing videos, and an another playlist dedicated to colored pencils.

I’ve been watching the fur drawing videos because my problem has been accurately drawing the thick, straight hair that is characteristic of Welsh Corgis. I even watched some of the videos in which Leontine uses pastel pencils, because some of her techniques work for both mediums.

Tips like drawing fur by starting with the shadows, for example.

Her method of laying down smooth base layers, then adding details with “flicking” strokes also works for both mediums.

Suffice it to say that I’ve watched a lot of videos in the last week!

Step Three: Look for Helpful Little Tidbits

One thing that really helped get me over the roadblocks on the Corgi portrait was watching/listening to videos while working. I could stop the video or rewind it a bit to see how something worked, and then try it immediately. That was a great help.

But I also looked and listened for helpful tidbits that were almost incidental to the drawing process.

For example, in one video, she sliced the eraser in a Tombow Mono eraser so it had a sharp edge. Then she used that sharp edge to eraser a thin patch of color to make part of a horse’s forelock. I could immediately see how that would be helpful in drawing whiskers or adding other details.

This is a detail of the white fur on the chest. Before my “tutoring” it was just a mass of shapes. This is how it looks after my tutoring.

And That’s What I Do When I Get Stuck on a Portrait

The bottom line is that instead of starting over with this portrait, I kept going. One day at a time, one video at a time, one tip at a time. No, I haven’t finished the portrait, but the most difficult part of it now looks finished.

And that’s a big deal!

Now that you know what I do when I get stuck, I hope you’ll know what to do the next time you get stuck!

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  1. Gail Jones

    Good advice Carrie, sometimes when I get stuck on something art wise, I will also look for a tutorial I already have that might give me the info I need. Or, in certain classes I took notes, so I may go back over my notes to refresh my memory on how to do something. I am also looking forward to seeing your Corgi pic. when you are done. 🙂

    1. Gail,

      Keeping notes is a great idea. That’s one reason I started keeping a journal on every painting and drawing I did so many years ago. When I needed to know how I’d done something before, I could go back to those journals and refresh my memory.

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