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Discover Art With Sandra

Even "Bad" Stuff Can Be Good When Making Memories

Posted by Sandra Angelo on

Sometimes I feel like a story magnet because the craziest things always seem to happen in Sandiland!

But truth be told, incredible stories are going on around you too, if you just notice them. We just have to be on the lookout—with our cameras ready—because knowing how to catch inspiration is part of being a master artist.

Teaching Becky to Skate—Or so I Thought…

One Christmas, when my cousin Becky was just six years old, I took her ice skating for the first time.

Spending my teens in the bitter cold of Illinois winters, my one consolation was skating. I lived next to Wheaton College, and their athletic department flooded the tennis court next to my house to make a skating rink. Being very athletic, I loved skating and was really quite good.

When I moved to mild San Diego, most skating was indoors. For me, it's just not the same... but when I heard about a new outdoor ice rink downtown that was like a mini Rockefeller center, I couldn't wait to take Becky and teach her how to skate.

Brimming with excitement, we got all bundled up, walked from my house to the rink and rented our skates.

We made one peaceful lap around the rink, and then I kind of got the gumption to show off and pick up speed. Grabbing Becky's hand I accelerated as we flew across the ice.

But it had been a while, and I forgot that putting your foot down in front, is the way you brake. I accidentally planted my foot and went flying through the air.

Panicked, I threw myself in front of Becky so she would land on me instead of the ice.

We lay there in a cold wet heap as I felt the searing pain in my arm pulsate through my body. I knew my arm was broken, but of course, I couldn’t let Becky know I was in pain. She was only six, so I put on a brave grimace, and we headed home.

Instead of skating, we spent the evening baking Chocolate Mug Cake and writing Christmas cards. 

Knowing that my elderly neighbor didn't have anyone to celebrate Christmas with him, we decided to cross the hallway and sing Christmas carols. Becky rang his doorbell and caroled at his door till it opened. A huge smile slid across his face when she handed him his card, and he taped it to the wall, next to all the notes she had given him.

I caught all that on camera, and now I plan to draw our special memory. (In fact, I use those photos in a new book about finding inspiration.)

But here's the thing; what we set out to do that day wasn't even what I drew. It's often during Plan B, that you find the ideas that inspire your muse.

This is the photo I will draw.

And here's the coolest thing...

Now, when Becky comes over to help me decorate for the holidays, she hangs a little pair of skates on my tree to remind us of the fun we had when I tried to teach her how to skate. 

Why am I telling you this story today? Because if you want inspiring art, you need to create an inspiring life. Of course, you don’t have to break your arm, but you do have to go out and put yourself in the path of adventure.

3 Tips for Snapping Great Shots

You might not believe it, but the #1 problem my drawing apprentices have is taking good photos. If you don't have a great photo, you will really struggle with your drawing.

Fortunately, it is not hard to learn to take better photos.

Here are three tips:

1.Wear the right costume—It might sound silly to dress up for real life, but when you are creating masterpiece drawings, you want to have all the details just right in your photo, so you don't have to change things.
  • No fancy hair dos; they are hard to draw. Straight and simple is best. Or better yet, wear a hat. Sometimes they are easier to draw than hair, so consider decking out you and your family in fun hats.
  • Also, solid colors are better than busy prints for creating great portraits. and it's easier to see the shading on plain clothing.

2.Take shots from multiple angles— If you want to draw the whole scene, take a wide shot. But then take some more where you zoom in, so you can gather the details you need for drawing.

Above you can see another of the many shots I took when Becky gave the card to our neighbor.

This one would be too hard to draw but it's good for our scrapbook because it helps tell our story.

I like to create a visual diary of our memories so that Becky and I can wander down memory lane together.

3.Notice lighting—It's best to shoot your photos in natural light, but not harsh sunlight.

  • If you are outdoors, put the subject in the shade.
  • If you have to shoot in the sun and there are shadows on the face, use a flash to get rid of them.
  • If you are indoors, try to use natural light from the window instead of a flash.

It's really important to see a wide range of values in your shot, so that you can use those values to make the portrait three dimensional.

This picture takes advantage of great outdoor lighting. But because Becky and JJ are in the direct sunlight, there are some harsh shadows across their faces. Here, even though this is in bright sunlight, I should have used a flash to get rid of the shadows on their faces.

In this photo of Becky and JJ, you can tell that this corner of the house was dimly lit, so I used my camera’s flash to take a better shot. But because of the flash, there is a small range of values in this portrait which makes it appear flat and difficult to draw.


Now, these two pictures have much better lighting with a range of values good for drawing. You can see in the second photo that I used both the natural light coming in from the window and my flash to snap these shots.

Why Are Memories So Important?

So why am I making such a big deal about creating memories? Because if your heart and soul have not been involved with what you are drawing, your art will be lack luster. And there's a bonus... not only do wonderful adventures inspire your artwork, they amplify the quality of your life.

Ice skating and other stories are all a part of the history and love I share with my cousin Becky. Now she is a young lady, and life is busier. But we still have a foundation of magic moments together—many of which have become masterpiece portraits.

So this year, plan some new Christmas memories and capture your stories with great pictures!

And please leave me a comment below...

Sometimes when I write blogs, or emails it feels like I'm talking into the wind, so do me a favor and type something in the comments... even if you just say, "I'm here"... or "I like this idea" or ask me a question. Comments are way at the bottom of the page--so just keep scrolling. 

Or, if you can't find the comment section here, email me your feedback at

I love to hear from you and know what you are struggling with in your portraits so I can include more tips in future blogs and lessons.

Look for more tips coming soon!

  • Lighting
  • photos
  • pictures
  • camera
  • costumes
  • angles
  • Christmas
  • memories
  • drawing
  • tonal values
  • value range
  • taking pictures
  • how to
  • adventure
  • ice skating