First BMC Assignment: Carbon Dust Drawing

Anterior View of Human Skull

Hello! In the spirit of Halloween, I just so happen to have drawn a human skull as part of my first biomedical communications assignment 🙂 For our first assignment, we had the privilege to draw dissected specimens from the Grant’s Museum, which is located at University of Toronto. These specimens are the same specimens that you see illustrated in the famous Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy textbooks used by medical students worldwide.

For my first assignment we were given the choice to use carbon dust powder or wash using watercolour to demonstrate continuous tone illustration. I decided to use carbon dust because a) it’s a traditional method used in medical illustration, and b) I never done it before and it would be a good opportunity to learn. Carbon dust is a medium derived from carbon pencil that have been sanded down into shavings by using sandpaper. This method was created by Max Brödel, a medical illustrator in the early 1900s, and became popularized among medical and scientific illustrators because of its grey-scale, tonal appearance. Back in the day, this made black and white reproduction easier. The technique involves dipping a paintbrush into the carbon dust and “painting” it onto your drawing. Its really just rubbing/blending the dust into the paper until you achieve an even “tone” and then working in your shadows and highlights. You don’t need whole lot of dust/shavings/powder- a little goes a long way. The medium is also very forgiving, so you can erase it very easily.  To store the carbon “dust/shavings/powder,” it’s best to store in a small container to keep it contained since you can imagine it could get very messy!

Even though I had sketched some specimens from the Grant’s Museum, I decided to draw a skull from my bone box (yes, each student was given a bone box to study from!) because the even tone created by carbon dust would make an amazing bone illustration. So, I decided to tackle the challenge of drawing a human skull even though originally, I told myself not to do because I was intimidated by the complexity of some of the structures found in the skull.

Initially, I will admit I did not like using the carbon dust. I was having difficulties achieving that “even” tone, but after getting some assistance from my prof, I learned that patience was key! Also, you need to work on building layers. So first, fill in the outline of your drawing (including negative spaces, but not the background) with a light “wash” layer. Then continue to build your layers and creating the form of your subject by filling in the general shadows and thinking about where your highlights are. Once you got the form right, you start adding more details by working more on the details of the shadows and outline of certain structures.

I was warned by upper year students that this medium was very messy, but I actually didn’t find it too bad. I was also surprised that I didn’t need to shave a whole lot of carbon pencil to create carbon dust and a small amount of dust covered quite a bit. I’m actually surprised this method is not used much among the art community because it achieves such a realistic look. To me, it seem very similar to drawing with graphite pencils and using a blending stump, but instead you are using a paint brush to “blend” your drawing. Overall, I’m glad that I got a chance to work with this medium and I’m actually thinking of using it again some time down the road.


Feature Friday and Special Announcement!

So I decided to feature a website that I discovered awhile ago and think would be helpful for those who want to explore or improve their digital painting skills. It also perhaps coincide with what I will be announcing to you. The website that I would like to feature is called “Ctrl+Paint.” It is a free resource to learning the basics of digital painting. In the past, I struggled to find a great resource that went through basic digital painting skills and I found Ctrl+Paint to be perfect in providing easy to follow tutorials. There are some videos that are more in depth that you do have to pay for to view, but overall the free videos provide just enough information in my opinion.  The website also offers a blog which covers some great topics including whether copying a style is acceptable or not, the importance of thumbnails or the source of light, and even email etiquette. Overall, I highly recommend you to visit this website if you are interested in digital painting 🙂

Now onto my special announcement that I would like to share with you! I am please to announce that I’ve gone back to school for the Master of Science in Biomedical Communications program at University of Toronto! What is biomedical communications, you ask? It’s really just a modern title for medical illustration. This program is the only accredited program in Canada and combines the two things that I love which is art and science 🙂 As you can see, this explains why I’ve been absent from my blog. I’ve been drowning in anatomy over the last 8 weeks and I still have a couple more weeks of it!

So because of this new journey, I’m not too sure how my blog is going to evolve.  All I know is that I still want to post my work, my work in progress and hopefully share with you some neat or innovative tips or techniques that I’ll learn along the way in improving my art skills and becoming a medical illustrator.  The program is two years long and I’m excited to see what will happen in the next two years 🙂

Stay tune for some drawing assignments that I have coming up soon!


MScBMC swag

My First Life Drawing Class

Recently I decided to enroll myself in a 7 week life drawing class because I wanted to improve my observation skills and wanted to learn how I could be more efficient with my drawing process (that means mastering the good ol’ gesture drawing!). As I have mentioned in a previous post, I paint/draw slow because I tend to get caught up in the details and lose focus on the main “picture.”

Prior to the class, I had only been improving these skills by using online resources like “Figure and Gesture Drawing: Tools for Self-educating Artists.” However, I felt like I needed more direction and decided to enroll myself in a class. What I had enjoyed about the class is that the teacher encouraged you to draw in whatever style you want and there was no right or wrong way. To me, it felt good to get back to that sense of freedom where it didn’t necessarily had to be perfect (just as long as the style stayed consistent in the drawing though!). This class consisted a diverse group of people who were at different skill levels and a class critique of our work was encouraged at the end of each class.  I found these critiques helpful because it opened my eyes in how I could approach my drawing. For example, at the beginning I was drawing my model in small scale because I think I’ve never actually seen a figure drawing in person and when I had looked at figure drawings online they looked small to me. So, during the critique I would see some of the advance drawers had drawn the model at a large scale. Or instead of drawing a complete outline of the model, some would have drawn an “abstraction” of the model where like the outline of the back or arm was not all drawn in (since the human eye tends to fill in the “missing” blanks). Being among a diverse group of people with their own sense of skill and style helped me develop my own style (which is still something that I’m working at!).

Below, is a sneak peek to a few of my figure/gesture drawing that I did in class:

-This was one of my first drawings I did in my first class. I think these were 1-minute or 3-minute drawings.

-Sample of some of my gesture drawings. Definitely something that I want to improve on more, but I’ll admit they are fun to do. It’s amazing to see how much you can draw in 30 seconds!


If you want to improve yourself as an artist, I highly recommend attending a life/figure drawing class. It’s nice to get back to learning the basics.

Update! My Secret Obsession

Well hello there! Yes I’m still alive and feel terribly bad for not keeping this blog up to date! Like most new bloggers, I fell into the “I’m too busy” trap- *sigh. However, I’ve taken on a few personal and professional projects recently and things have settle down now and can finally post something for you 🙂

If you have read the title, I have a secret obsession to confess- I’m OBSESS with Instagram! If you do not know what Instagram is, it’s a social network app where you edit and share your photos/videos.  And if you haven’t been living under a rock, you would know that it has become extremely popular over the past couple of years!

This blog post is probably long overdue, but I decided a post on this because I wanted to share with you why I’m obsess with it and why other artists should be too! I was fortunate enough to join Instagram when it was still relatively new, but was starting to get popular so I was able to find some talented IGers (people that use Instagram called “Instagrammers”) to follow. The thing is, once you find a talented IGer that you admire, your list of people that you follow may expand and a “snowball” effect may occur.  For instance, if you check out the newsfeed page, you’ll see photos/videos that are liked by the people you follow or they might tell their followers to check another IGer’s page. You can also search hashtags to find some talent as well by looking up #art or #drawing for example.

If you are still not convinced in joining, there’s an incredible art community on Instagram and is another creative outlet for you to publish your work or even your work-in-progress. One of the cool features on Instagram is that several artists have been showcasing their art skills by posting a short 15 sec video of themselves working on their artwork or they even share a cool art technique to their followers. It can therefore be a great learning tool for an artist to see how other artists interpret a subject and is probably why I’m on it 🙂


These are a couple WIPs of mine that are posted on my IG page.

IMG_0200[1]Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetIMG_0425[1]

These a few of my fave pics that I’ve taken and posted so far.

There are also a number of different art communities for you to join too and possibly get your artwork featured! I happen to follow @arte_muse which is an IGer that helps promote, motivate, encourage and inspire artists. Back in the Fall, arte_muse had asked followers to email them their artwork for a chance to be featured on their page. I decided, “Sure, why not?” So I submitted a photo of one of my paintings to them and figured I probably wouldn’t get featured (mainly due to the fact that the art they were featuring lately was not exactly similar to mine). During the month of January, I was scrolling through my homepage and happen to see my painting posted by arte_muse! The funny thing was when I was scrolling through and saw the painting, it didn’t register to me at first that it was my work and I was like “Wow that’s a nice painting…oh wait, hey that’s my painting! How did that…oh right I submitted that to them!” I’ll admit it was a real highlight for me after seeing the likes and comment as it motivated me to keep doing what I was doing and was a great honour to be featured. So thank you @arte_muse!

"Pink Hollyhock" featured on arte_muse instagram page!

“Hollyhock” featured on arte_muse instagram page!

So overall, what I’m trying to say here is that if you are stuck in a rut and want to find a source of inspiration, check out Instagram! The reason I find it useful and would be a useful tool for other artists is that not only are you showcasing your work, you also connect with others at another level by showing them shots/videos of your progress. I’m literally on Instagram everyday (it’s one of the first things that I check on my phone in the morning and last thing I check before I go to bed lol!) and everytime I’m on, I am astounded by the number of talented people out there. It just opens your eyes to new opportunities and pushes you to create something yourself. Below, I’ve listed a few IGers that I think are worth following. Before I check out, let me know in the comments below if you are on Instagram (or not?) and if you enjoy it as much as I do 🙂 Follow me @soniasetostudios or @sseto (private account).

Suggested IGers to Follow:

@becwinnel -probably one of the most talented artists out there. Incredible artwork from a self-taught artist! Sometimes she shares her tips/tricks 🙂

@artworkbygabrielle -wonderful portraits

@tonoariki -incredibly talented and creative IGer. He mainly takes photos of buildings in city of Toronto, and despite the city chaos, he makes the city look beautiful. Definitely worth checking out his feed!

@tokomo -talented doodler that doodles on Starbucks cups! Worth checking out.

@kinok0girl -another talented Japanese-style doodler. A fun feed to check out.

@ba_pan -artist that illustrates their surroundings at a cafe

@toolkit04 -a popular IGer that draws amazing portraits

@elfandiary -another popular IGer that creates amazing illustrations

@alicexz -Alice does incredible portraits of characters from shows, movies, books, etc.

@j_isabel -photographs have a mystical and magical feel to it. Worth checking out.

@88liz88 – oh how I wish she’d come back! She hasn’t been back on IG for awhile but was one of my fave IGers! Took mainly macro shots of nature. Check out her work!

@leesamantha -she creates food art! Still confused? Check it out yourself! A fun feed to look at.

@evabutterfly5 -stunning, but fun macro shots of nature, especially snails!

@melisacaprio -I must mention Melisa because she was probably one of the first IGers that I had followed and by following her I had discovered other talented IGers along the way. However, she hasn’t been on IG lately, but worth checking out!




Record-breaking Moment (for me at least!)

Hi followers! So I thought I’d give you an update on what has been going on lately since I haven’t posted anything for awhile (so sorry!) and well there is a very good reason for it!  Over the two months I had been busy getting ready for my first ever art show and was painting my life away.  I was painting so much that I had broken a record for myself, which is why I’m calling this post “record-breaking moment.”  As an artist, I will confess that I’m a pretty slow painter/drawer.  Like I could spend a good couple of hours painting a 4″ x 4″ area of the canvas!  I’m still trying to experiment ways that I could somehow speed up the process without jeopardizing quality.  Anyways, so about prepping for the art show. I had started working on my paintings about 6 weeks before the show and I had about 5-8 paintings/drawings in mind. So the only way in my mind to get some done was to work on at least 2 paintings at the same time, meaning if I needed a break from one painting, I’d work on the other or while I wait for one painting to dry, I’ll work on the other.  So in the end, I had painted 5 paintings (all various sizes) in 6 weeks!  Personally, I’m pretty proud of myself that I was able to accomplish that 🙂  Here are the paintings that I did:

"A Special Day"

“A Special Day”

"Spring is Here"

“Spring is Here”

"Green Envy"

“Green Envy”



"Wild Thing"

“Wild Thing”

So there were some amazing things that I had learned during this experience, especially about myself, that I want to share with you.  First, I have to say that music is what kept me going.  If you don’t listen to some music while you work on an art project, you should give it a try!  Music was a nice background noise for me.  Sometimes I’ll have a movie playing in the background, but I find what good if it’s playing when you can’t watch it because you are busy concentrating on observing and painting?  So that’s why I usually resort to music.  I also have to add that Adele is probably by far the best artist to listen to while painting/drawing.  I highly recommend her music!

Another thing I highly recommend is getting a massage done after prepping for an art show or after you complete a major art project.  The last two weeks before the show I was suffering from major back aches and a massage was definitely one thing I was looking forward to after the show was done!

Lastly, the thing I had learned from this experience was something about myself.  I will confess that the last two weeks before the show I was having a difficult time where painting for several hours straight was wearing me down mentally and physically.  I will also admit that I did have a little voice telling me that I may not get certain paintings done on time plus had others around me questioning whether I could reach my goals or not.  However, I discovered that I’ve reached a time in my life now where I was confident in my art abilities and knew I was going to get it done one way or another.  I just believed in myself that I was going to get it done.  And the funny thing is is that this is probably the first time that I felt confident in what I was doing and had believed in myself without a doubt. Even though I did have that little voice in the back of my mind, I just kept telling myself that I can do this!  I’ve always heard people say “You can accomplish anything if you believe in yourself” and never really believed in that saying until now and I have to say it feels great!  Now if only I can apply it to all my other self-doubts that I experience everyday, I would be golden 🙂

Have you experienced a record-breaking moment?  Do you consider yourself a fast or slow painter/drawer? How do you motivate yourself when the going gets tough? Let me know by leaving a comment below 🙂

Photography Rut

So last year, I had experienced what every photographer does not want to experience.  It’s something that I like to call “photography rut” or “photographer’s block.”  If you have not guessed what this term means already, photography rut is what I like to refer to as when a photographer becomes uninspired and does not have that passion to shoot photos anymore.  It’s like hitting a wall where the things that you use to enjoy photographing is now boring to you and you can’t find new material to photograph- kind of like a writer experiencing a “writer’s block,” but instead it’s a photographer who doesn’t know what to photograph.

When I had experienced my photography rut last year, I didn’t expect it to happen so soon because I had only been serious about photography for about 5 years (which to me doesn’t seem that long).  Usually when I see something that I want to photograph, I become excited and inspired. But during my photography rut, I did not feel the desire to shoot pictures, especially things that I would usually take pictures of.  I began to notice my rut during the spring/summer time last year, which was the time when I would go crazy over the blooming flowers.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still excited to see flowers blooming (and who wouldn’t after being stuck in cold, snowy and sloppy weather for 3 months!), but I just didn’t have that desire to photograph them like how I use to.  Every year, I would shoot the same flowers.  It was a bit of a vicious cycle where if I had taken a “great” picture of them last year, I would try to achieve the same shot again, but also try to get different angles, aperture, etc.  However, last year, I felt like I had already accomplished what I wanted out of my pictures of these flowers and didn’t need to “up” my game because what’s the point?  It’s the same thing anyways?  I got a good picture before, don’t need to do the same thing again, right?  So, because of this thought-process and because last year was a terrible season for flowers and plants, I lost inspiration.  I was also experiencing a personal matter, which I didn’t think would affect my creativity, but it did greatly.  HOWEVER, things have settled down now and I am happy to say that I’m out of my “rut” and am happily shooting pictures away 🙂

Here are some pictures that I’ve taken recently:

Cupid Blowing Orchid Kisses

Cupid Blowing Orchid Kisses

Striped Orchid

Striped Orchid









So my words of advice for those of you who are currently experiencing a “photography rut” is don’t fight it.  Yeah it’s going to suck and you may feel like a crappy photographer, but eventually you’ll be back in your groove.  Hey it may take a couple weeks, months, a year (or more!), but there will be a day where you are going to pick up that camera (and not feel like you have to, but you want to) and you’ll feel rejuvenated and inspired to take pictures.

Another tip that might work, but it might work against you is looking at other photographer’s work.  For example, like I said before, I tend to take pictures of flowers and so usually I’ll study the technique of other nature photographers who I admire.  This way, it inspires me to go and take a picture of a flower using their technique.  The reason I say this might work against you is that you may get frustrated because you can’t seem to achieve a similar shot or you lack the resources.  What I mean by this is that you don’t have the right setting or resources to take that perfect picture that you are aiming for.  For example, I love pictures taken in a farmer’s field, forest woods, sunset by the ocean/beach or of architectural buildings.  Maybe you don’t live near a farmer’s field, ocean/beach, have those cool architectural buildings around, or even have people willing to have their picture taken in these kinds of settings.  So, then you become frustrated and uninspired to pick up your camera and continue along the path of being in a “photographer’s rut.”

Anyways, there are some other great tips out there (I’ve added the links below), but I think the number one thing is don’t force it.  You’ll know when you want to take pictures again and feel passionate about it- Trust me.

Have you experienced a photography rut before?  How did you deal with it?  Let me know by leaving a comment below!

The Daunting Project

I call this post “The Daunting Project” because this art project is probably one of the main reasons why I’m blogging and I’m hoping my blog will motivate me to tackle this project.  So what am I talking about?  Well, let me tell you…

The “daunting” art project that I’m referring to is a scenic painting of Fan Tan Alley in Victoria, British Columbia.  Located in Chinatown, it is five feet wide, and is recognized as Canada’s narrowest street!  This popular tourist attraction is a narrow red brick alley containing several shops and restaurants.  If you’ve been here before, it’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Diagon alley from Harry Potter!  Below are some pics of the alley that my parents took a few years ago.





So as you can see, Fan Tan Alley would make an interesting painting, right?  Yes it would, BUT I’m planning to paint Fan Tan Alley on a 48″ x 60″ canvas (yikes)!  Not only will this painting be the biggest canvas that I’ve ever painted to date, but it’ll also be my first architectural/city scene painting!  Now, I’m not too concern that it’ll be my first time painting buildings; that I feel I can handle, although I know I may face some challenges/frustration.  What I’m more wary about is the logistics of the whole thing in terms of how MASSIVE this piece is and HOW I’m going to set up my workspace.  When I paint, I usually set up my workspace in the breakfast nook at the kitchen table- computer, palette, brushes and paints on the table, and floor easel off to the side of the table facing the window.  If you can imagine a 48″ x 60″ canvas, the canvas is too big to fit on an easel.  Yes, I could rest the canvas against a wall, but having enough room to move around and sufficient lighting may be an issue for me.  Another option would be to register to an open art studio, but I don’t feel I would be as productive- it might be something I’ll have to explore though.  Just talking about this project makes me want to avoid it, but anxious to do it!

I’ve been wanting to paint this piece for quite some time now. Each year I’ll be like, “I’m going to paint Fan Tan Alley this year!” and I end up getting cold-feet about it or something else comes up that needs more of a priority.  So this massive blank piece of canvas is just sitting there, in the basement, waiting for me.  So like I said before, I hope this blog will motivate me to at least get me started in painting this piece.


(Not) Surprisingly enough, I’m going to have to put Fan Tan Alley on hold because I’m going to be showcasing my work in an art show in June!  Just when I thought I’d start painting Fan Tan Alley, something else comes up…

Do you have a daunting art project that you’ve been meaning to tackle, but haven’t had a chance to get around to it yet?  Or do you have an art project that you started, but lost motivation along the process?  How do you get yourself motivated when you know there are going to be challenges ahead?  Let me know by leaving a comment below!