Art Blog

Monday’s Mini Art Lesson #2: Values and Shading Techniques

Dorothy, by Susan E. Brooks, 11 x 8 inches, Pencil on Paper

What’s so important about values?

Values are variations of darks and lights in our artwork. As an art teacher for many years, I encouraged my students to push dark values and contrast in their work. When they entered art contests, I would show them that the winning entries nearly always had lots of light and dark contrast to catch the eyes of the judges. Too often, a talented student would have a nice pencil drawing she had rendered accurately, but it was just a light outline that paled in comparison with a drawing full of contrast and a range of values from dark to light. Even a quick sketch like the one above needs to have dark areas that draw the eye towards the centers of attention, such as the eyes and the smile.

Tanzanian Girl, by Susan E. Brooks, 8 x 5 inches, Pencil on Paper

How do I add values?

You add values to a drawing by shading. So many shading techniques exist, but let’s start with these three: filling in an area with the point of the pencil, laying the pencil sideways, and cross hatching.

  1. Around the eyes and mouth of the portraits above, I filled in those smaller areas by pushing harder with the point of a softer, darker pencil, such as a 6B.
  2. In the larger areas that needed shading, I laid the pencil sideways and used a broader stroke to shade.
  3. To shade around the nose and mouth on the Dorothy sketch, I used cross hatching. To cross hatch, you put down a series of parallel lines, and then go back over them with a second set of lines in another direction to darken the area. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, but you might want to practice on scratch paper before attempting it on a favorite drawing.

That’s enough for now. Experiment with shading and push those values!

For more on pencil drawing and to see my time-lapse drawing video, go to Mini Art Lesson #1, Pencil drawing for beginners at

Art Blog

Monday’s Mini Art Lesson #1: Pencil Drawing for Beginners

Beauty in Ghana by Susan E. Brooks, Pencil on Paper, 5 x 7 inches

Pencil drawings can be preparatory sketches for larger paintings or beautiful artwork in themselves. Pencil drawing ideas range from simple geometrical shapes to flowers to complex portraits. Whether you choose to draw from life or from photos, the following tips should be helpful.

1. Know your graphite pencil scale.

Graphite pencils are labeled according to their hardness and blackness.* Think “H” for hard and “B” for black. “HB” is the hardest pencil in many sketching sets, probably because softer, darker “B” pencils are better for shading. For shading, the higher the number, the darker the “B” pencil. “8B” is the darkest, softest pencil in my set.

2. Start your outline with a harder pencil.

Use an “HB” on a “2B” to begin drawing your outline. While you are establishing proportion and accuracy, the hard pencil will erase easily and smear less than the softer, darker one.

3. Once your outline is established, switch to a softer pencil for shading.

Look for the darker areas, and begin to shade lightly with a “2B” or “4B” pencil. You may want to use overlapping crosshatching marks, or lay the pencil on its side for a thicker mark. A third option is to let your pencil shading follow the curve of the edges of your subject.

4. Switch to a softer, darker pencil for the darkest areas.

As you finish up with shading, think about the darkest areas and use a “6B” or higher pencil to darken and add contrast to the drawing. The area with the strongest dark/light contrast will probably become the center of attention, so choose your darks strategically.

In later posts, I will explain values, shading techniques, and positive and negative space. Until then, play with different pencils and have fun with your drawing!



Thin Places, Mom, and the Milkshake

At Mom’s Window by Susan E. Brooks, 18 x 24, Oil Pastel on Paper

At Mom’s Window is inspired by a crazy photo I took while looking in at Mom on a visit to her window. Somehow, all the barriers blurred. The reflections from the window showed the happy sky that seemed oblivious to my grief, as well as the flowers we all sent to hang outside to cheer her. The photo also showed Mom and the faithful aid feeding her the milkshake, along with the edge of my phone, framing them in. It all seemed symbolic of the time we’re living in, and it looked like a magic door I wish I could step through, like in Narnia, to suddenly be inside the nursing home with Mom, giving her a hug.

This artwork also reminds me of a story I shared earlier this summer about thin places and the wonderful way the nursing home staff takes care of Mom. In case you missed it, here’s the video:

Let’s keep our eyes open for thin places, where barriers are blurred, and heaven touches earth.

Art Blog

Mixing Colors for Acrylic Painting

Blackberry Lily, 6 x 6 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas, the original was donated to Prints are available at

Acrylic painting is great for beginners or pros. Acrylic paints dry much more quickly than oils, so colors need to be mixed and used immediately to avoid waste. Mixing too much paint at one time can lead to big blobs of paint that dry before they can be used. Acrylics require a little planning, but they are less expensive than oils and easier to clean up, requiring only soap and water. If you want to plan a simple painting, see my article “Acrylic Painting for Beginners in Seven Steps.” Follow the steps below to mix your colors for one section at a time.

  • Choose your colors.

Keep it simple if you’re a beginner by choosing a small number of colors. The names on the paint tubes can be confusing. To paint a red flower against a green background, for example, you will need a red, which in the tubes can be a dark purply red (sometimes called crimson) a medium red (scarlet) or a red-orange (cadmium red light or vermilion). Other names may also be used, but usually the color on the tube is close. Choose the red that is closest to your subject. Though green can be mixed from blue and yellow, it is sometimes difficult to mix the shade you want, so you may want to buy viridian, which is a lovely dark green, and you can add yellow and white to it to lighten it. Ultramarine blue is a dark blue that I like to use instead of black to darken my greens or to mix a dark red-violet. Here’s a list of paints for a red flower painting:

Crimson (red)

Cadmium Red (red-orange)

Viridian (green)

Zinc White (generally flows better than Titanium White)

Ultramarine Blue

Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow

  • Mix the background color.

The area behind the drawing is your background color. It may be blue for the sky or green for a close-up flower painting. For a green background, using a palette knife, mix some of your green color with a little white, and some with a little yellow, so you have three different shades of green, and quickly, paint the background.

Go ahead and paint the edges while you have your colors mixed. Then you won’t need to frame it if you prefer not to.
  • Choose the color for the next largest area that is behind the details.

For example, paint the main color of the flower petals red before adding spots, shadows, or stamen. Again, mix the red with a little yellow or white to lighten it, or add a tiny bit of the ultramarine blue for darker shadow areas.

  • Begin to add details.

Think about the center of interest where you want to have the most detail and contrast. Mix a tiny bit of blue into the red for shadow areas. Light and dark contrast will draw attention, so mix dark and light colors for the important section of the painting. Add yellow or white or both to lighten the red. Adding yellow leads to orange and adding white leads to pink.

  • Mix small amounts of colors for the final touches.

Evaluate what you have left to paint and mix small amounts of those colors. You may need a light green (add yellow) and a shadow green (add dark blue) to finish up the stems or leaves. You may be able to use a little yellow right out of the tube for pollen or spots of color on the petals. Go slowly at this point, using your detail brush, and stop when you are pleased.

I hope you enjoy your painting! For more help with acrylic painting follow this link.

Art Blog

Acrylic Painting for Beginners in Seven Steps

Resurrection Hope, 8×8 inches, Acrylic on Canvas, Sold, but prints are available at

Acrylic painting seems to be more and more popular, and it can yield beautiful results. Acrylic paints are less expensive than oils and easier to clean up, requiring only soap and water. They dry quickly, which can be a positive or a negative, depending on the artist’s personality. For beginners or pros, acrylics are a great option. The following list will walk you through acrylic painting, step by step.

  1. Sketch your subject.

Keep it simple if you’re a beginner by choosing a small canvas and one object as a center of attention. Don’t put the object in the middle of the canvas. An off-center composition is much more interesting. Fill the space, and you may want to let the object go off the edges of the canvas. This can be more interesting as well. You can sketch lightly with a pencil, or if you’re more experienced, you may want to sketch with a small brush.

Don’t worry about the edges when you paint the background. Just leave enough of your drawing showing to guide you later.
  1. Paint the background.

Fill in the area behind the drawing with the background color quickly, painting over the edges of the drawing. Limit your colors to a few to avoid muddy colors. You will paint the foreground over theses edges later, so don’t stress about getting it perfect and staying within the lines. You can add details and clean it up later. As a general rule, the foreground should be more detailed and in focus than the background, so just enjoy the flow at this point.

  1. Paint the next largest area that is behind the details.

For example, paint the main color of the flower petals before adding spots, shadows, or stamen. You may want to add a stem or two first if they are behind the flower petals.

  1. Begin to add details.

At this point, think about the area of the painting that should be the center of interest. You want to have the most detail and contrast there.

  1. Choose your sharp edges and your soft edges.

Sharp edges will draw attention and come forward while soft edges will recede into the background. You may want most of the background to be soft and out of focus.

  1. Add the final touches without overworking it.

Look for the areas that need a little more detail or definition or correction, but don’t over do it! If an area works like it is, let it be. Fresh, loose, and free is a good thing. Avoid the temptation to smooth out every brushstroke. Texture is part of the beauty of painting and what distinguishes it from photography. Too much texture in the background can be confusing, but it is also a matter of taste. Enjoy, and stop when you are pleased with it!

  1. Clean up with dishwashing liquid and water.

Wipe the excess paint off of your brushes with a paper towel, rinse your brushes with water, and then clean them with a little dishwashing liquid or a brush cleaner. Always shape the bristles of your brush back into their original shape—flat, round, or pointed— before storing the brush flat or bristles up in a jar. If you have a reusable palette, scrape it and clean it immediately before the paint dries permanently.

Now you’re all set! Next week, more about mixing colors with acrylics.

Art Blog

Be Like a Tree

Willow Blues on the Ohio, Oil on Canvas, 11×14, painted at Captain’s Quarters in Louisville, KY, by Susan E. Brooks

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

—Psalms 1:3 (NIV)

            Which season is this? After moving from Kentucky to Mozambique, Africa, it was sometimes difficult to tell. In Mozambique in December, my Christmas candles bent completely over like the Golden Arches in the extreme heat. When it wasn’t raining, the sun beamed into our bedroom at 4:00 a.m., and we woke up soaked in sweat.

Then in June through August, sand storms blew so hard we had to shield our eyes just to walk outside. Though the temperature rarely fell much below fifty degrees, the homes had no heat, so we felt the cold, especially after the sweltering rainy season. Our sense of seasons was off balance, but God knew exactly what season it was, not only for Mozambique, but for our lives.

Seasons of change and unrest come and go, such as the season of the pandemic or the season of civil rights movements. How can we stay rooted and productive when we may not even understand what season it is?

Psalm 1 says we need to be like a tree planted close to the water, which is our Source. Then we will bear fruit in season, even if we may not know what season it is. If we stay close to the life stream, fruit will come naturally at just the right time.