As you can see we have been very busy working on the re-imagined version of the Elusive Muse website. Over the past few years, we have really enjoyed sharing art that inspires us, information on some of the classes we have taken and of course our huge collection of public domain images. Although we will continue to do this, our goal with the new website is to also share more of ourselves with you, inviting you to join us as we study the work of other artists.

As some of you may know, Kim and I set aside every Saturday night for what we call ‘Art Night.’ Although we both draw almost every single day, on Saturday night we select a theme, a style, an artist or a process that we want to explore and then we both work on our own to learn what we can. Although we would love to do this type of practice together, Kim lives in Wyoming and I live in Florida which of course makes that a bit impossible. On Sunday’s we share what we have created and how we feel about it.

We have found that studying the work of other artists has really helped us to grow as artists. This is certainly not a new idea, artists have been copying the work of the masters for years, many even do copies at the same size as the original, trying to match it as closely as possible. We learn and grow in part by copying others. That’s not a bad thing. What is bad is trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own. Our goal here is to study the work of other artists, to study their techniques and color choices and then to apply them in our own unique way  – not to make exact copies.

Because we are currently studying still life drawings and paintings, we decided that it would be a perfect place for us to introduce our weekly art practice with you and welcome anyone that would like to join us in what we are calling “Study Hall.” As we complete our pieces each week we will share them here and on the Muse Studio Facebook group; comment on what we liked or didn’t like, what was easier than we thought, what frustrated us, what materials we used and of course what we learned.

If you would like to join us but are not yet a member of our facebook group, click on the Muse Studio Facebook group button to the right. We have also included links to our still life inspiration board on Pinterest and our still life reference photo library on Flickr for those of you that want to use a public domain reference photo as a starting point. Although Saturday night is the time that we have selected for our ‘Art Night” you are welcome and encouraged to select a schedule that works best for you.  There are also no guidelines, create any type of still life you want and use whatever materials you like to use.

Below are our very first still life drawings. This is also the very first time either of us has ever worked in charcoal.

Kim R. Draper

Kim Rene' - Still Life One


Welcome to Elusive Muse!

I selected this piece of pottery created by a friend, Dan, who died from a heart attack. I could have selected anything to draw, a bowl of fruit, a cup or flowers, but to me, the subject had to have significance. I need to connect with my still life; a part of my past. Several people who have come into my life have had an influence on my art and desire to create; Dan was one of those people.

Being so frugal I occasionally have holes in my pants, shoes with broken laces or paint splattered all over my blouse. He would give me heck anytime he saw me, his disapproval of my attire was clearly written on his face, finished off by the shaking of his head.  When one is an artist, art supplies are the only thing on your mind, not the latest fashion trend or hairstyle. Especially when they so very difficult to acquire. Here in rural Wyoming, it often takes months for your order to arrive.

When it came to this study it was very easy to obtain supplies; everything I needed was purchased at our local discount store. For anyone who wants to try their hands at drawing with charcoal or pencil, supplies should not be a problem. They are inexpensive and readily available. You don’t need a studio full of supplies to start.

At first, I found the mess of using charcoal a little annoying, but after a while, I felt like a child running through a mud puddle after a rainstorm. Such freedom! My creativity was unleashed! After studying Dan’s pottery (First step is to study your subject) I noticed that he combined both raw and smooth textures. Taking his lead I started adding and taking away. I allowed the charcoal to roll around my fingers, making marks and scratches. Charcoal is so forgiving and it is easy to change your mind and reshape you’re drawing. Love!

Keeping your white areas “white” – One thing I didn’t like was the fact I couldn’t keep my white areas white. Sounds like a laundry commercial….trying several erasers I finally found one that erased that didn’t tear the paper. In the end, I used my white pastel before using my charcoal pencils for final mark-making.

Shadows – What I do love about charcoal is the ability to make shadows as dark as you want.

Knowing when to stop – Using charcoal is so freeing. I could indulge for hours. When you reach a point of completion, but you feel you need to add one more mark …stop. It so easy to take it too far and make your drawing muddy and unrecognizable.

Thomas - Still Life One


Unlike Kim, who is always very efficient and organized, I somehow deleted the photo of my still life setup and so you will have to use your imagination. If you are reading this blog I know you have an extremely vivid imagination and will have no problem visualizing a plant water pitcher sitting on a wooden box.  🙂

Although it is highly unlikely the MET will stumble upon this art piece and decide to schedule me for an exhibit, I did really learn a lot by doing this and can now take what I learn and push it further in my next still life. I will say that sharing this type of practice work feels a bit like getting out of your cab in Times Square and realizing you are not wearing any clothes. In saying that, our goal is to not only share the pieces we think are finished pieces that look great but all our practice work and the in-between stuff we create along the way. Just because they are not beautiful drawings or paintings, does not mean they do not have value. When learning, each practice will get us one step closer to our goal of learning a new skill. Like most artists, I often struggle with the inner critic and have had to work hard to overcome this idea that everything we create is going to be technically perfect and look great. I have included a quote below by Ira Glass. This quote really resonates with me and I feel that it so perfectly captures what we are trying to share.

In saying that, if a beginning artist stumbles upon this page and it helps them to push forward and to get past the self-judgement we often feel, then it is well worth feeling a little exposed.

VINE Charcoal vs. Compressed Charcoal – There is a huge difference between vine charcoal and compressed charcoal. I had watched a few charcoal drawing videos but didn’t realize that it was VINE charcoal they were using and not compressed.  Compressed charcoal does not blend as well and VINE charcoal is really easy to blend and even get rid of if you make a mistake.

A Big Ol’ Mess – Definitely plan on making a big mess. Charcoal gets everywhere.  Put down drop clothes or work outside.

Paper Types – The type of paper does make a difference. Very smooth drawing paper does not really allow you to build up layers of charcoal very easily. Charcoal or pastel paper really works best as I found out in later pieces.

Charcoal Smudges – A LOT, and even with two layers of fixative, my attempt at scanning my drawings for you to see resulted in smears.

Charcoal is Very Forgiving – I just love how you can smudge away inaccuracies so easily. This really helps when you are a beginner and learning to ‘see’ things.

Wonky Does Not Mean Bad – Although this is not just in reference to this charcoal drawing but my ‘new perspective’ with all drawing and painting, while it is a good idea to strive for accuracy; if a drawing is inaccurate or wonky, this does not mean it is a bad drawing. Don’t give up just because you realize your perspective is way off, just keep going and find the gold in what you are working on. In fact, the inaccuracy is often what makes it more appealing. If you take a look through our Pinterest still life board, you will see a very wide variety of still life art. Many of the pieces are not accurate at all, and yet they are still beautiful pieces of art.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

—Ira Glass

For More Inspiration

Visit the Elusive Muse Blog to explore a wide variety of artists and resources.

Elusive Muse Blog