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If you visit Amazon and run a search for books on "How to Draw," or "Drawing Instruction," you'll find an enormous list of books, covering all sorts of very specific drawing topics:

  • How to draw dragons
  • How to draw cartoon people
  • How to draw animals
  • How to draw anime
  • How to draw Pokemon
  • How to draw Marvel superheroes

And so forth. After a couple pages of this, things got ludicrously specific. I half expected to see books titled something like, "How to Draw Pepperoni Pizza with Extra Cheese and Olives," or "How to Draw a Dalmatian Puppy Chewing on an Old Boot."

Many of these books, I suspect, are very useful if you want step by step instructions on a very specific sort of picture. Dodson's book, on the other hand is very generic. He's not going to give you step by step instructions on how to draw a dalmatian puppy chewing on an old boot. But he will give you good general advice, and exercises that he encourages you to try, and in the process, he'll help you become better at your craft.

What did I like most about this book? The very relaxed nature of the pictures. Most drawing books are filled with very refined, flawless pictures. Dodson shows you the messiness and flaws of drawing.

This was personally refreshing for me, to see that it's okay to scribble, to make mistakes, to ignore the mistakes and keep scribbling. The relaxed sketching, without concern for how refined my final result is something I needed to do; the more you sketch and doodle, the more you develop your own style. 

That's it. Now that I think about it, that's why I like this book. All those other books are about how to mimic someone else's style of drawing. But not this book.

Dodson wants you to develop your own style. Don't worry; along the way he covers all those important ideas like perspective, lighting, composition, foreshortening, etc. But it's not to make you draw like him. It's to help you draw like you, only better.

When I was younger I used to paint with oils, and also with acrylics. It was a great way to relax and be creative at the same time. As time went on I had less and less time for painting. And then I got married. And had kids. And suddenly it wasn't just that I had little time for painting; I also had little space! 

The hassle of trying to set up an easel and all the painting supplies in a toddler-proof space (or while a toddler was napping) and then tearing it all down again seemed like such an effort that I couldn't generate the enthusiasm for it. But I missed the relaxing creativity of painting. So I started looking for other art media that I could use that wouldn't take up much space, and could be easily and quickly moved out of a kid's reach.

Enter the Prismacolor Soft Core Premier Colored Pencils. After reading several reviews on art websites, I decided to break down and buy a set. They weren't cheap. But if you shop around you can find good prices. For instance, don't even think about getting them at Hobby Lobby; the HL price on these particular pencils can run close to three times as much as it might be at another store. I got one set of pencils through Amazon, and later, a different set through a local art store which gave me a reasonable price.

The set I got was the one pictured above; 72 different colors, all pre-sharpened, and sorted into three trays in a single box.

I'm not an artist. Other than what I learned in elementary and middle school art classes, I'm self taught. With that in mind, here's an example of what I was able to do one afternoon with my new pencils. This is a picture of my son sitting on top of a mountain eating a snack (click on it for a larger image). These pencils blend so wonderfully well, creating all sorts of color shades and combinations. They can be applied lightly, or heavily, and laying down color after color after color produces deep, layered results. I love the vibrant reds, blues and greens that are possible with this set of pencils.


The very first picture I colored was this picture for my son of the two of us on the moon. As you can see, there is little color variation in the sky - it's virtually all black, and that was tedious to color! This picture made me realize it would be nice to have a different coloring tool that would help me cover large areas more quickly.


It didn't take long to discover this companion product to the premier pencils: Art Stix. These are "woodless" colored pencils. Which really means each one is just a big rectangular prism; perfect for filling in large areas. They are quite versatile; they are made of the same material as the "regular" pencils, so they blend and layer just as you would expect. You can also color using a long edge, a short edge, or a corner, resulting in many thicknesses.

These are great for aspiring art students, as well as dilettantes like myself. If you're buying these, you'll want to pick up some good coloring paper as well. Strathmore has a pad specifically designed for colored pencil; it is described as "toothy" - which means it's a rough surface, making the colored pencil grab onto it well. I like this, but I also like using Bristol board, which is very smooth; the pencils behave differently on Bristol, so experiment and see what you can do!

Board games are lots of fun, but what about boardless games? That's what Hive is. In Hive, the pieces are unconstrained by a physical playing board. 

Also, all the playing pieces are hexagonal in shape, which means this game is very different from most strategy board games; unlike games which are played on a square grid, Hive Game is based on a hexagonal grid. That produces a whole different way of developing strategies. 

The goal of the game is to capture your opponent's queen, and each insect piece has its own rules of movement, making the game similar to chess, but without the 8 by 8 boundary!

Laura and I were introduced to this game by our friends Nate and Charlene, and quickly decided we needed our own set of Quiddler cards! This is a very fun word game, which is a little bit like Scrabble, in that you're trying to create high scoring words.

How is it different from Scrabble? Well, the obvious answer is that it's a card game instead of a board game. But there are other differences too. Quiddler moves more quickly than Scrabble; the games don't take nearly as long to complete. In Quiddler 'Qu' is not the only letter combination on a tile; there are also combo cards like 'CH' and 'BL', and other commonly used compounds.

As well as getting points for high scoring words, in each round there will be bonus points given for the player with the longest word (even if it isn't the highest scoring), and the most words. So even if someone doesn't have a vocabulary of large, high scoring words, they still can stay in the game by putting out a lot of short words and getting the "most" bonus each round. This means it's fun for a whole family, and the children won't feel like they're totally left out. 

Wordy Word is another "Marbles Original" - this game is a great gift for teens and adults, that challenges players to create words, and also to guess their opponents' words!

As you can see from the picture, the game includes five twelve-sided dice, and these dice contain letters of the alphabet. When the timer starts, the players use those letters to create words.

When the players are done creating words they stop their timer, because that's how much time the opposing team has to guess the words they came up with.

Obviously, with the use of timers, this is a fast paced game - more so than many word games!

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