07 December 2012

Lousy reason to draw

My house was burglarized on Wednesday while I was at work. They took my TV and my (new iMac) computer, but what really hurt was the jewelry. I love earrings and pins, and I have been collecting vintage, one-of-a-kind specimens for almost 30 years. They were unique and mostly irreplaceable, and they are all gone. The thief overlooked two brooches and one pair of earrings that were not in my jewelry box (plus three or four singles that fell on the floor, thanks so much), so with the pair I was wearing, that's two, where I probably had 40 pairs--all colors, styles, sizes, to go with every outfit.

Also, of course, I had incorporated my favorite pieces from my mother's jewelry collection, and those are gone as well, including the rhinestone bracelet and earrings set I drew previously for this blog.

The policeman who took the report said that if there were any unusual pieces it would help to have details, because it was much more likely they would catch someone if the item was unique, so I gave him a couple of descriptions. The next morning, when I woke up, I realized that I know my jewelry pretty well, and that I could DRAW PICTURES of it to help with the search. So I sat down and drew two pages' worth and watercolored them. Here is page one.

I don't really expect to get anything back, but it was worth a shot. Hopefully in the coming weeks I will have some better subject for art.

(By the way, this is an out-of-focus photo from my Droid, because without the computer I can't use my scanner. And I'm not buying a new computer until I first replace the two busted doors and the garden gate!)

26 November 2012

The story of Beatrice

In 1998, there was a cat named Hazel living in my back yard. She was the third generation in the family tree of Fraidy (a feral cat who had adopted me), and was the meanest cat I ever met, before or since--at least to humans. She was apparently not mean to her fellow cats, since every three to six months she was producing yet another litter of kittens. It took me two years (she was smart and wary, in addition to being mean), but I finally sequestered Hazel in my garage, trapped her, and had her spayed. I made my best effort to find homes for all those many kittens, but she left a legacy of about a dozen unclaimed, who I fed and cosseted in my back yard until they either died of old age, found another home, or disappeared in less pleasant ways (coyote or hawk).

Since she was an outdoor cat with no medical advantages, and since she seemed to produce kittens without regard to the season, some of the kittens in her litters were less than healthy. One morning in January, I came outside to discover a two-week-old black kitten lying all by itself on the sidewalk, gasping for breath. Hazel had apparently carried her there, banishing her from the litter, because she had a severe upper respiratory infection. I took the poor little thing to the vet, but was told that she was too young to handle antibiotics, and that I could either euthanize her or try to raise her with a bottle if the mama cat wouldn't take her back. I knew better than to even broach the subject with Hazel, so I bought a doll bottle, some formula, and a cat carrier, and thus started Beatrice's daily treks to work with me. She had to be fed every two hours, so there was really no other solution but to take her along. Once she got over the respiratory infection, she quickly charmed everyone at my office, including Harold Adler, a talented calligrapher and a lovely man in his 80s who rented an office from Cinema Research Corporation, where I worked as a movie title artist. He wrote this tag and taped it to a cat toy he left on my desk for her:

He perfectly captured her sweet expression in just a few strokes.

After a couple of months, Beatrice was able to stay at home, where she was joined soon after by two others of Hazel's kittens--Miniver, who was actually born in the litter before her, but who had stayed outside until a severe injury made it necessary to bring her inside to recuperate; and Dante, from Hazel's last litter, who was invited indoors because he was just too charming and cheeky not to make into a special pet.

Beatrice was quite the personality. She wasn't exactly an affectionate cat--not a lap sitter, not a bed sleeper, and she let you know with a growl within about 30 seconds of you picking her up that this was not her idea of a good time. She showed her love in more unusual ways. When I sat in my chair to read (said chair being a Mission rocker with open slat sides), I would suddenly feel claws scratching gently at my thigh, and look down to see
On her back for a belly rub--this was the "crazy eye."
Beatrice poking at me through the slats. I would hold out my hand to her, and she would flop down on her back, grab my hand with her front paws, and kick it with her back feet--never digging in her claws, never hurting me in the slightest--and then gnaw on my fingers for a bit, never biting hard enough to break the skin. She did this from a very young age (a friend of mine suggested that I change her name to Vampira) until almost the end of her life.

The other way to get Beatrice to pay attention to you was to sing or whistle. I never figured out if she loved it and wanted to encourage me to continue, or hated it and hoped she could make me stop, but if I sang to her (she preferred "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" but also responded to "Frere Jacques"), she would run into the room, jump up on my chest, and start "knitting" and purring like crazy.

My model, on the patio.
Although, as I said, she wasn't overtly affectionate, she was attentive. She didn't openly follow me around, but whatever room I ended up in--bedroom, office, kitchen, patio--she would soon be there, usually sitting across the room so she could keep an eye on me. She was also johnny on the spot whenever she heard anything that might be associated with food or a handout--paper rustling, plastic lids peeling back, the opening of the refrigerator door. She was a big fan of cheese in particular, but didn't turn up her nose at sour cream, yogurt, or scrambled eggs. And having been weaned off her formula with baby food meat from jars, the seal-breaking pop of a lid could bring her running from the opposite end of the house.

Because she was ever-present somewhere nearby, once I took up drawing and painting she made a good model, and was the only cat I have ever drawn or painted from life rather than from photos, because she would get into a pose and hold it as long as she wasn't distracted or surprised. I wish so much that I had painted more of her while I had her.

Josephine and Beatrice come to dinner.
Because of her tenuous beginnings, Beatrice had many health issues throughout her life. She was prone to respiratory infections and suffered through quite a few of them. She had a touch of congestive heart failure, and between this and the respiratory issues, she had slowed down considerably during the past few years. Two years ago, however, I took her to a specialist who suggested she have a procedure to open up her nasal passages, and this made a huge difference in her quality of life for a few years. But then, six months ago, a huge buboe appeared above her right hip.

At first, the vet thought she had suffered some trauma from a fall, as it appeared to be a hematoma, but more investigation revealed that it was hemangiosarcoma, a cancer arising from blood vessels that is considered very rare in cats (much more common in dogs). There are two forms, with the cutaneous version being operable. This was the form Beatrice's took, so the vet surgically removed the tumor, with clean margins, and we hoped that would be the end of it; but two months later she had recurrence both at the site and internally. She waxed and waned over the next few months, but she was a stubborn and determined little cat, and every time I thought we were near the end, she would rally. She met me at the front door every night, and was happiest on the nights when I showed up with El Pollo Loco just for her. She loved to hang out on the patio, sitting in the sun and smelling the breeze, and curled up on the sofa every night with Miniver beside her.

She was alert and in good spirits until Thanksgiving Day, when she seemed lethargic and didn't purr or knit when I put her on my chest. I decided to stay home from the family festivities to be with her, and she died at 4:30 that afternoon, after a brief struggle to breathe.

She is going back out to the yard where she was born, and her ashes will rest under a lavender bush just like the one from which she emerged to grace my life almost 15 years ago. She is missed already--I and the other cats keep thinking we catch sight of her, out of the corner of our eyes, and when I sit in my chair to read, I hang my hand down hoping to feel her grab it. I have had many cats in my life, and have loved them all, but Beatrice was special. Hail to you, Queen Bea.

22 October 2012

Fall Sunday

No new paintings this weekend--I was otherwise preoccupied--but a couple of snapshots. This is the burst of blooms that greets October along the side of my house--asters that bloom once a year, and almost always open on my birthday early in the month. They are really coming into their own now, a few weeks in, and still have a couple of weeks to go before they get cut down to the ground to start over for next year. These all grew from one small 9-inch pot!

The preoccupation this weekend was with Beatrice, my cat, whose health issues are unfortunately not over, and whose outlook is shorter than I had hoped. But today she went out on the patio of her own incentive, jumped up on my little wicker sofa, and spent a few hours sleeping, watching other cats out in the yard, and sniffing the breeze. A good day.

07 October 2012

Oops! Delible issues!

I decided while I was waiting for my show to come on at 9:00 that I would go back and paint one of my drawings from today. Imagine my surprise when I painted blithely over my first batch of bricks and discovered that the Stabilo pen I had used was not indelible! Much bleeding ensued. I went ahead and persevered (carefully), but this rather muddy mess was not what i had in mind for this picture! I'll try this one again with a waterproof ink and produce it with true colors.

Brenda Swenson frequently uses delible inks (like Tombow markers) and somehow makes beautiful paintings in which the bleed is incorporated and enhances the subject; I have not figured out how to do this yet, obviously!

I took some good reference photos today and am looking forward to painting some other versions, close-ups, other elements, etc. later in the week. What a fun short field-trip this was! Now I have my eye out for other unusual places/things to paint within five miles of my house.

Below is a photo of the place so you can get the overview.

Mission Style

I was driving west on Sherman Way across the Valley a couple of weeks ago, and decided instead of cutting down to Victory to continue on Sherman Way and see where it came out (found out it turns into Platt). Suddenly, as I rounded a curve by the medical center, I saw something that looked like part of an old mission from out of history! I was in a hurry and couldn't stop, but I resolved to come back (with my sketchbook) another day, and today was it. It has finally dipped below the 90s here this week, so I headed out of the house before 9:00 a.m. with my supplies.

I ended up only sketching for about half an hour, because my vantage point was in the full sun, and I could feel myself burning (next time, an umbrella!). But I walked around (they were having a craft fair back in the gardens in the shade, so I shopped as well) and took a lot of reference photos, and will go back and make a more careful drawing to watercolor later. Maybe even later today! but I have a couple of tasks to accomplish that I am determined to finish before my weekend is over.

I got the story from the lady who runs this place--it used to be a part of the Francis Lederer estate, which covered some 300 acres of the northwest San Fernando Valley. He was a silent film actor who was born in 1899. This building was the stables. All the buildings on the property were built in this Mission Revival style. His third wife, Marian, turned it into a gallery (Canoga Mission Gallery, the sign is still up), but now it's a combined gift shop and event center called "Hidden Chateau." Sorry to whoever named it, but SUCH an awful name for such a cool building!

Isn't that roofline fantastic? And they have little twinkly lights along the very edge all across, which looks amazing at night.

Fortunately, the building has been designated an L.A. Cultural Historic Monument, so they can't tear it down; but Marian recently passed away, the nieces and nephews inherited and promptly sold up, and now an assisted living center is due to be built cheek by jowl, cutting off part of the gardens. (HOW could they sell this? I would have moved in!) Southern California is not kind to those who would preserve anything sitting on valuable real estate...

I used a really thin pen for these (Stabilo fine 0.4) and a much sketchier style than usual. The front of the building is thickly mortared pale stone, interspersed with these little patches of brick here and there, so on this second one I mostly just drew in the brick patches and a few clumps of the stone here and there, plus the "fans" around the door and window. Wonderfully irregular.

30 September 2012

What I'm reading

I just finished a trilogy set in between the World Wars by mystery writer Rennie Airth, and decided to do a quick rendition of the cover of the third to accompany my review of his books on my library's blog. Here is the watercolor below, and you can go here to read the review, if you like. It was a good series! Lettering is always an interesting undertaking--the tag line underneath was supposed to read "A JOHN MADDEN MYSTERY SET IN WORLD WAR II ENGLAND" and though I thought I was being proportionate in my rendition of the cover, I had to both omit and abbreviate to fit in what I did!

26 August 2012

Sketch Journal Composition

Our final lesson at Brenda's workshop was to take disparate elements and put them together in a sketch "collage" of images and words. I had a hard time with this--I had three different ideas, none of which could I get to work--so in desperation (and at Brenda's suggestion) I retreated to doing a collage of my tools. Not what I wanted for my final project, but maybe I'll work out the other ideas and share them here sometime.

Before and after

From Brenda Swenson's Sketch Journaling workshop, three weekends ago...

In my previous post with the kitty and the Eiffel Tower, I had been hasty to paint, so on Saturday morning when everyone else was just starting their painting, I was already done. I decided to get out my second set of personal items and draw those, hoping to have time to paint them as well before everyone else was finished.

I sometimes tend to be lazy when it comes to drawing--often just putting down the bare minimum pencil line and going straight to paints--but since Brenda makes us do contour-line in pen, that's not an option, and after the easy sketch of the Giant Cat, I decided to take on a challenge by selecting some VERY complicated jewelry. It was a major test of both patience and observation, and I barely finished the drawing by the time everyone else was done with their painting.

Here is the drawing, with pencil lines indicating where the shadows will be. (We are working in a room with fluorescent lighting, which isn't great for contrast, so we have been taking our objects outside into the sun and turning them round and round to get the best shadow pattern to unite the objects in the painting into a true grouping.) The matching bracelet and earrings and this compact belonged to my mom. You can see the writing that goes with it below, in the completed sketch journal painting.

I finally had time to paint this, three weeks later. Capturing the shine of the pearlescent central stones and the glitter of the rhinestones set in silver was virtually impossible with watercolor (or at least at my level of expertise), but I did capture the colors--I love that ice blue. These took me back to when people still dressed up to go out to dinner, and children were left at home with the babysitter (in my case, Mrs. Rosenberg and her favorite, the Lawrence Welk Show), but it was still fun to live vicariously by watching my mom put on her powder and paint, her stockings and heels, her full-skirted dresses, and the perfect jewelry to complement her outfit. In my eyes, she was the epitome of glamour.

Here we are when I was about 3 years old. Mom would have been 33, Dad 35.

And here they are at about 40 and 42. Doesn't Dad's shirt look like a Charlie Sheen special?

Another lesson from Brenda Swenson

This one is, Don't be ruled by your photographs! Even if you frame the perfect view, there's bound to be something about it you don't like--the light, the shadows, the composition--how did that building end up falling dead center in your composition? That tree is too dominant over there at the edge of the page without something to balance it. There are too many people in this landscape. There are too many details in this city view. Bottom line is, if you are an artist, you may not be a photographer, and many times you are snapping reference photos with your smartphone, so remember that the pictures are for reference and don't let them call the shots.

To emphasize this, Brenda gave us a scene with a lighthouse attached to living quarters, with some pine trees, and water, and rocks. Then she had us separate out all the elements--trees, rocks, lighthouse, sky, water--and recombine them into a composition we actually wanted to paint. It was a great lesson! Here are my thumbnails, with notes:

Also, doing little thumbnails like this before you draw and paint the real thing is an opportunity to work out all those problems like balance, perspective, layout...

21 August 2012


Here's the back end of my science experiment, Beatrice Louise. Doesn't she look like a turkey leg attached to a cat with twine?

She's doing good--everything is healing nicely, and she gets her stitches out next Saturday. I wonder how long it will take for her fur to grow back?

13 August 2012


I'm picking up Beatrice from the vet today at 2:00. It's been an ongoing drama with her for awhile now (infections, diabetes), and last week after many tests and biopsies, we discovered that she also had a hemangial sarcoma (a tumor the size of a golf ball!) in her side, so on Saturday afternoon she had surgery. The outcome was great--the vet was able to remove the entire tumor along with good "edges" all around, and she should make a full recovery. The prognosis for surgery in these cases in cats is good--without surgery, 60 days; with, three to five years. And since Bea is already 14, that's about right, so I am now hoping for maximum life expectancy!

She will have to wear an "Elizabethan collar" for the next little while until her stitches come out, and will also need to be confined so she can't run, jump, or (more likely) crawl back under things to hide, necessitating hauling her out again. So I went to the pet store yesterday and got prepared, and here is Beatrice's "prison" for the next week or two. (Oh, she will be SO mad...)

Here below is a portrait/pictorial story I did about seven years ago when I was in watercolor class at Valley College. It's called "All Hail Queen Beatrice, or, Bea, Bee and Tea."

An array of artists

While I'm waiting to find the time to finish my last two pix from the workshop, here are a few photos of various examples of everyone's work. We had 14 women (plus Brenda) in this group, and the styles, ideas, and execution are all so different and fun! I took these with my cell phone camera, so the photos are not the best, but you can still see the creativity involved...

Among these are morning exercises, experiments with tools (for instance, doing the same image using pencil, permanent ink, and water-soluble ink/Tombow pens), and sketch journaling.

By the way, Brenda did ask permission to group and photograph these, and then the rest of us followed suit, so I don't think I'm violating anyone's privacy or copyright by putting these up. (Also, you would have to be motivated enough to go after them with a magnifying glass to read anything but the titles.) But if someone from the workshop sees them and thinks otherwise, please tell me and I will take them down immediately!

(There are a few repeats from photo to photo, because not everyone realized we were changing pages and photographing again.)

12 August 2012

Sketch journaling from photos

Saturday afternoon, our big project was to find a photo we liked (either one we had brought or from Brenda's giant stash of photo references), paint the scene, then find something to "call out" from the photo, or from some idea associated with the photo, and paint that separately on the page, then join the two elements together somehow with words, borders, shadows, etc.

Everyone's ideas and results were really clever: One workshop participant painted a landscape of fields of grain receding towards distant mountains (it looked like a scene from the Central Valley), and then in the lower left corner of her paper she painted a farmer scattering corn in front of chickens. Another did a diagonal row of baskets--lower left to upper right--filled with fruits and vegetables that looked like a stand at a farmer's market, and her "call-out" was a snail down in the empty right corner, whose slime trail then formed a mustard-colored border around the picture. My new acquaintance Andrea, with whom I have lunched every day, did a pale and ethereal positive/negative image of the Taj Mahal in the upper center background, and below that had a magic lamp, whose steam went up to form the headline for her writing, which was about a child who sold her a lamp outside the Taj.

Here is mine, and of course it has to do with...BOOKS. There was this great picture of a little independent bookstore, and the call-out HAD to be a stack of books that I presumably found and took home with me from my delirious shopping spree. My text is a bit wistful--when even B&Ns and Borders are closing, where can you go to truly browse the shelves any more? Well, the library--but what if you want to KEEP the books? So sad. Amazon and e-books definitely have their place, but it's too bad they had to supplant mom and pop bookstores everywhere.

But I was happy with my picture. It isn't my usual style at all--this drawing with pen seems to be bringing out a cartoon-like illustrator side I never knew existed inside my brain--but it's fun! Drawing and then painting a brick building was certainly a new challenge. Also, looking at it here in scan form, I have to ask--are those books floating? Maybe I need a shadow underneath to nail them down. Floating books ARE my speciality.

Journaling the personal

One request Brenda made of all the workshop participants is that we bring a few items of a personal nature to draw and paint during the weekend. She wanted us to have something meaningful about which we could journal, that we could turn into a "sketch journal" entry by putting art and words together. So Friday afternoon, we all pulled out a set of items and made a drawing, and were supposed to wait until Saturday morning to paint it. My first two items, however, were rather simple to draw, so I went ahead and painted them too, not knowing that she wanted us to wait so we could first have a lesson on shadows and reflected light and incorporate that lesson into our painting.

So, this first picture is my quick-and-easy one, that I finished without benefit from that lesson (as is obvious from the inaccurate, made-up shadow!). Oh well.

The cat is from a small collection I have on a table in my living room; my mom gave me one, other people have brought me some from their travels, and I have picked up a couple as well, here and there. I currently have them displayed all sitting in a circle around one of those collectible pill boxes made in the shape of a birdbath, which seemed like a natural place for a bunch of kitties to congregate. But for this painting I had another idea--Mom also gave me this pill box with the Eiffel Tower on top, and--shades of Godzilla and the Empire State--they just seemed to go together!

So, I learned the shadow/reflected light lesson later, and you will see the results soon. The backwards leaning of the Eiffel Tower was a simple error in perspective combined with slanted paper, but it serendipitously worked--doesn't it look like the tower is rearing backwards with alarm from the advent of the GIANT CAT?

11 August 2012

Words and Pictures

From yesterday:

This one evolved in stages: First we did a contour drawing of a group of three objects. Since we didn't know there was a part two and a part three, some of us chose less wisely than others if we hoped to combine the group into something meaningful, because...part two was to paint the objects, and to unite them as a group by somehow combining their shadows, and part three was to come up with a title or heading for the page, and incorporate some writing!

I actually drew this grouping three times, because when you do continuous-line contour, you're not supposed to lift the pen, and I kept getting stuck various places and finding myself unable to complete the drawing, and also some of my shapes were WAY off. This is actually the first drawing I did, and the bottle looks like the glass melted and sagged (which it could have done from the heat of the sun here in SoCal this weekend!), but I went with it anyway, because it was (believe it or not) better than the other two!

So, I wracked my brain for how a bottle of olive oil and a dish to hold it went with...a pomegranate. Finally, I decided that "grown in California" could be a common theme, so I did that headline, but I located it a bit too high and there were weird negative spaces above and particularly below it. Brenda helpfully suggested a list format, so I started trying to think of all the fruits and vegetables that are grown in California. I succeeded in being alphabetical for awhile, but then realized I had left out artichokes and eggplants at the beginning, so...non-alpha list.

I'm really enjoying the headline design aspect of these exercises! Fun.


We went back to basics as a warm-up this morning--we did three three-minute continuous-line contour drawings, and then we went back and had five minutes each to paint them. Here are mine...

The object here was to learn how to do shadows so that the reflected light from the object you are painting, which would be the same color as the object, shows in the shadows. The trick is, you paint the object; then while it is still wet, you put in the shadow, leaving a very thin white line between the object and the shadow to keep the colors separate. Then, at several points along the edge of the object, you just touch the object with the shadow, and the color from the object bleeds into the shadow and combines to give you the feel of reflected color in your shadow. I did these on sketchpad paper, because I thought they were just drawing warm-ups, so the bleed isn't as smooth and pretty as it would be on good watercolor paper, but you can still see how that works.

More later, but it's way too hot to scan or write or use the computer right now! 106 outside, probably 90 indoors. Sheesh.

Contour line with words

We did several drawings/paintings (Brenda calls them sketches) for our first day of the workshop today. The idea of sketch journaling is to make the piece a combination of drawing, painting, and words, preferably creating something with a title in stylized lettering. Since I am a type and lettering fanatic, this is fun for me! The first part of the day we did exercises using as models the junk, er, treasures that we all (and Brenda) brought from home, including old dishes, bottles and jars, tools and implements, plastic fruits and vegetables, etc. As usual with Brenda, our drawing is all contour line in pen, which makes for some irregularities but also lends a freshness and immediacy to the drawing, I think.

I found this teacup in the pile, and let the pattern (roses) dictate the headline, and then went on to incorporate a remembrance of my mom's teas. She had about 20 teapots, not to mention all the accessories, teacups, strainers, sugar bowls, etc. to host a tea for 30 or more people, which she did frequently for several years running--sometimes just for fun, and sometimes as a fundraiser for her church. She would cook and bake for days, and serve an amazing array of tea-type savories and sweets (some of which are listed at the bottom of this picture), all delicious and all beautifully presented. We miss you, Mom (and not just for your piecrust, although I wish I had gotten the knack...).

I will share more later, but it's midnight and we start again at 9:00 a.m.!

08 August 2012

Getting ready...

I'm off to Montrose again this weekend for another Sketch Journaling workshop with Brenda Swenson. Three days of intense and concentrated drawing and painting--is it a vacation, is it a treat, or is it work? Maybe all three?

Anyway, after coping with some of the inadequacies of my watercolor palette the last time out (notably all the opaque cadmium paints), I decided to splurge a bit and go buy some new colors, and today I washed out my palette (which was mostly pretty low anyway) and started over. I have a mix of Daniel Smith, Windsor Newton, Holbein, Graham, and some French brand whose name I can't remember, but I made sure to get a few colors that Brenda recommended and with which I became enamored when I saw them in her paintings: Holbein Leaf Green and Cobalt Violet Light, Daniel Smith Quincrinadone Rose and Naples Yellow, Winsor Orange, and some Lunar Black, also from Daniel Smith, which granulates beautifully for washes.

My arrangement was likewise kind of haphazard before, so this time I tried to get like color ranges in the same area together, at least. Some of the colors' packaging was deceptive and I didn't quite get everything perfectly graduated by shade, but it's a lot closer than before!

Now I will follow Brenda's instructions by leaving this open to air out and solidify a bit for a day and a night, and then stick my thumbprint in each one to create a well into which I can introduce water when it's time to paint. I'll bet my mixing and painting experience is much more rewarding and successful with this reorganization.

29 July 2012

How does drawing make you feel?

Every Day Matters member Jane LaFazio posted recently that she had sent some interview questions to Danny Gregory, author of Everyday Matters, An Illustrated Life, The Creative License (etc.), and that he had surprised her by using her questions to make a video, which he then sent to her, and which is also posted on YouTube (here). So I watched the video, and was struck by his answer to one question about how frequently he draws and paints. He commented (which I find to be true) that once you skip one day, the next day becomes easier to skip, and then a week goes by, and soon you have lost the habit. And then later, once you overcome your inertia and start drawing again, you wonder why you ever quit, because it's so fun...but then it happens again...

He was also talking about how, when you get out of the habit, there is a certain reluctance or even dread to starting again that is illogical but nonetheless real and present, and then queried, "Should drawing be like going to the dentist? or should it be like eating a hot fudge sundae?" Should it be a should, or might it be a treat instead? Obviously, we would like for it to feel like giving ourselves a treat, but sometimes conquering the inertia is difficult. So I decided today to bypass the painting I have been trying and failing to make for the past couple of weeks (because it's been feeling like dread to start on it) and instead illustrate his question...

Thanks, Jane, for posting the video!

A comment on painting hot fudge...it's a lot harder than you would think! It's drippy up top, but once it's down inside the glass, it's smooth.

15 July 2012

Addendum re: brightness and photos

I thought I would post a photo, before and after, to illustrate what I was talking about in the previous post. First is the original of this raven landing on a branch, and next is the one I bleached out a bit by using "brightness/contrast" in Photoshop Elements.

Note the difference in the shadow on the bird's face--there is virtually no detail in the original, but in the washed-out version, you can see the eye and the details of the beak and also the body feathers. In the second one you can also clearly see all the definition of the wing feathers and differentiate the feet from the edge of the wing.

By the way, I found this photo here, just to give proper credit. Thanks to whoever took it!

Studies for a painting

I've always been fascinated by corvids, particularly crows and ravens, and when I scored an Advance Reader Copy of Maggie Stiefvater's new book called The Raven Boys, I decided to do a painting of one to go with a review for my YA blog at the library.

But birds are such complicated things to draw--the contrary shape of the head and beak (so impossible to capture!), the sizes and layers of feathers, the contour and armature of the wings, the weird spiny feet--so I decided to do some drawn studies first. I started with contour and in one case then filled in a little (though I'm least happy with that one), using various photos from the internet as inspiration.

One note here about photos as source material--it really helps to have a program like Photoshop to mess with them and make them better references from which to draw and paint. Crows and ravens being mostly black (not really such a solid black, but that's how we perceive them), most photos blend everything together and you end up with a basic silhouette, as in this first contour drawing.

But take them into Photoshop or Elements and mess with the brightness and contrast and you can highlight and bring out what underlies that silhouette--body shape, feather definition, the lot. The background gets pretty bleached out, but you can always go back to the original for that later (yes, do a "save as" and preserve your original while creating a new photo from which to work). Try it with a dark photo and see what you can discover when you shine a so-called spotlight on it.

Painting still to come, but these helped me greatly to decide what pose is most interesting, and how to achieve what I want when I get there.

14 July 2012

At the vet

More than a month later...in the midst of summer reading club at the library, selling my parents' house, and taking Miniver and Beatrice to the vet, the 75 days of sketching died a quick death. But I plan to revive it and try again soon. In the meantime, here's a sketch of Beatrice at the vet--they put her onto the kitty scale to weigh her, and she decided it was a good place to settle down, so she sat there placidly throughout her visit. Maybe I'll paint this later, but for now, here's a quick sketch.

06 June 2012

More books

One I'm done reading, and one I have yet to read: These are a sci fi/fantasy/Steampunk novel, Incarceron, and its sequel, Sapphique, by young adult novelist Catherine Fisher. I read the first last weekend, and plan to read the second this weekend, so I painted them both together. If you want to read a synopsis/review, it will be up on the teen blog on Friday morning. Both of these covers have metallic elements, which were pretty impossible to capture with watercolor (especially because it was the lettering, key, and keyhole), but I tried to convey the essence of the covers. Still enjoying drawing with pen...

30 May 2012

Quick Draw

There's something about an open book...if you aren't reading it, you can be drawing it. I made myself do the chapter heading lettering just as I was seeing it, which was upside down. Fun! And not too much detail. In fact, I kind of regretted going as far as I did trying to put in the text block on the page. Hard to get it random enough, and at the same time to look like regular rows of type.

27 May 2012

Drawing and Painting

I'm continuing on with the drawing in pen each day. Last night I decided to draw this orchid plant (a gift from my friend Anarda) with my micron pen, and then today I went back and painted it. The colors are so intense/extreme on orchids that it's almost hard to capture them and keep them real-looking. In fact, I think my painting looks a bit pallid next to the real thing! This was fun to draw and to paint.

I'm not so sure about the drawing in pen / painting with watercolor thing, though. When you do your drawing in pencil, you can really define your lines, colors, and shadows with the paint alone; I found on this painting that, for instance, the center of the leaves dipped in and demanded a little different color there, but the space for that was already mostly taken up by the black line, so I had to simplify or omit some of the subtleties. Also, the black outline gives me more the feeling of an illustration or even a cartoon than it does a painting. Or maybe it's just a style thing that I will learn as I go along. Anyway--ORCHID.

26 May 2012


I went to the art store today, because I lost my black micron pen and wanted to buy a new one. I didn't, of course, escape with such a meager purchase! I defy anyone to buy one pen and walk out.

One of the things we did in Brenda Swenson's workshop was draw with Tombow pens, which are colored, water-soluble markers. She uses only one color, a kind of sepia-tone, which is nice; but I decided I wanted to play with using other colors as the basis of a painting. Since the colors from Tombows will bleed into your painting if you add watercolor, though, I decided to stick with some fairly neutral colors, so I bought a gray-green, and a dull purple one.

I went out in my back yard to draw the fence between my house and my neighbors'--they planted a vine on their side, and it has crept around and up over the fence, to give a nice leafy, softening effect. So I drew the block wall and leaves in the gray-green, and then the fence cap and the blossoms on a rosebush and a scented geranium in the purple, and then I decided to paint; but instead of introducing more color, I just used a wet brush over the Tombows.

As you can see, I had very messy results; I guess I went in with too much water, and everything bled together and got blurry. Also, the purple bled into the green, which I should have anticipated but didn't. I'm going to try this again, but using just the green, and then use paints to finish, and see how it works. I like the gray-green as a base color--an interesting change from the sepia.

After this experiment, one of the outdoor cats came along and decided to lie down in the middle of the picture and bathe himself, so I did a few quick studies of him licking various unmentionable parts in some of the extreme positions that only cats can encompass. I liked these better before I introduced water, but...experiment noted, I'll try something different next time.

20 May 2012

Book cover

Here's the cover of a young adult novel I just read. I drew this all in pen, without resorting to sketching it out in pencil, which is a first for me. The lettering was a little irregular, but otherwise, I think I caught the cover design pretty well.

I liked this book--if you'd like to read my review of it, go to the young adult blog for Burbank Public Library!

A couple more...

Continuing with contour line...

It's weird how it looks right to you on paper and then when you scan it you see every little dip and bend and sway, every strange angle and line.... Doesn't this lamp look like she has her hands on her hips and is saying "Wha-a-a-t?"
On this one, because these goblets are clear glass, I went in and tried for the shadows and reflections, along with attempting to capture the way the circular indentations that go all the way around the bowl of the goblet look when you see them through the glass to the other side. This is a weighty glass, and I feel like I rendered the heaviness of it.

So far, all of these are done while sitting in my living room. I'm going to go outside and try something more ambitious soon...