25 November 2016


I'm not a huge fan of cranberries--the twice-a-year experience on the Thanksgiving and Christmas buffet is fine with me, and cranberry-flavored things always seem too tart, even when modified by raspberry or lemonade. But I do love how they look--the small nuances in color from pink to coral to, well, cranberry! to dark purple. So on impulse, I bought a small bag of them at the market while shopping for green beans and mushrooms and pearl onions for Thanksgiving, and this morning I threw a handful on the table on my patio so that I would have not just the cranberries but some dramatic shadows to paint. I had some happy accidents with the bleeding into some of the shadows, while others of them got away from me, but for a 30-minute endeavor, start to finish, I was fairly satisfied with my result.

Pencil, watercolor.

22 November 2016

A recipe for stuffing

I saw today's prompt from World Watercolor Group ("Stuffing") and thought, Oh, how boring, a 13x9 pan full of breadcrumbs, who wants to draw that? So I decided not to paint today. Then, when I turned off Netflix at 11:00, I suddenly thought, Oooh, but the ingredients!

So, I went on Google images (since I had none of these in the house) and found a picture of an onion and an apple and a sage leaf, and then decided to add in the piece of celery, which made for a lopsided composition but a better recipe for stuffing, and I drew and I painted and I scanned, and here is today's prompt, pre-chop and without the breadcrumbs.

It's not my best painting--but at least I didn't go another day without putting pen and paint to paper.

19 November 2016

Soda Pop

They say you can tell what region of the country you come from by what you call your carbonated beverage or soft drink. Is it a soda, a pop, or a Coke? (Or do you go old-school and call it a tonic?) There was actually a survey conducted on this at one point, and then two guys from East Central University in Oklahoma made a map, which I found interesting to look at in comparison to the political maps of the country we've been staring at for the past couple of months:

So why am I telling you all this? Well, for two reasons: The first is that it's National Carbonated Beverage with Caffeine Day (yes, really), and the second is that the World Watercolor Group prompt for today was "soda pop," which made me think about my relatives in Virginia, whose variation was "You wanna sody?"

I was an enthusiastic consumer of soft drinks in my youth (I started every early morning in college by popping the top on a TAB and taking a swig), but the caffeine and sugar or, worse yet, the artificial sweeteners made me ban them from my life decades ago. Now, I enjoy an occasional root beer, or even more rarely go out of my way to buy a new-fangled soda with natural ingredients and flavors  more pleasing to the palette than Coke. Since root beer isn't as fun to paint, I chose an IZZE Sparking Blackberry as my subject matter. And no, there is no alcoholic content, even though the bottle is the tiniest bit tipsy! Just for comparison, here's a continuous line blind contour that I did of a similar bottle back a few years ago in Brenda Swenson's workshop.

LePen .03, and watercolor, in my Aquabee sketchbook.

Art = Sanity

I realized this morning that I haven't drawn or painted anything for weeks. I spent the week leading up to the election plagued by nerves, the week after it in shock and denial, and this past week alternately depressed and outraged. At first, every time I thought about drawing or painting, all I could dredge up was either "What's the point?" or "I have more important things to which I need to give my attention." But...that old adage about taking care of yourself first has merit, and one of the things that keeps me sane and on an even keel is making art. So, I pulled up World Watercolor Group's list of prompts for November and painted me some beets. I'm not a big fan of eating them, but the colors and shapes are appealing. I'm going to get myself back to a regular drawing and painting habit. Because if art doesn't matter, what does?

Le Pen and watercolors, in my Aquabee sketchbook.

06 November 2016

Secret Art Show!

I recently got involved at work with an organization called Burbank Arts for All (BAFA, inevitably), which is a group that helps fund the arts in the Burbank Unified School District. I thought it might be a good networking and partnership opportunity, and also, I am personally interested in the arts and do a lot of arts programming for teens at the library, so it seemed like a good idea.

Last night the organization had its big fund-raiser, called the Secret Art Show. It's a one-night pop-up art gallery, at which they exhibit 4x6-inch pieces of art made by all different kinds of people from the Burbank community--students, amateur artists, professionals who work at the studios, illustrators (such as the lovely and charitable David Shannon, of No, David! picture book fame), celebrities, whoever wants to contribute. There's also a buffet, a silent auction, and some arty stuff happening on the spot. It's fun, and quite festive. The "secret" part is that you have to pony up $40 for a piece of the 4x6-inch artwork before you learn who painted it. It's a little scary for we artists, who wonder, "Will anyone want my little scribble badly enough to spend that kind of money?" But it's all about funding the non-profit to make sure kids get to make art too, so everybody seems to play along.

I ended up making them a bunch of pieces--they kept extending the deadline on receiving art, so I kept making more of it--so my final contribution was these 11. I know for sure that at least one was purchased, because my #2 boss at the library was there, and told me she had bought one she thought might be mine. (I hope she bought it because she really liked it rather than because she knew I made it and didn't want me to suffer from embarrassment!)

Here they all are--if you bought one, and subsequently end up coming to this blog out of curiosity (I put the address in my bio that goes with the pieces), then please tell me in the comments section below! I'd love to know you are, which one you bought, and why!

"Two Hens," purchased by Melissa Potter

"Burbank City Hall"

"Wisteria in Parthenay, France, 2013"

"Twin" (a study for a larger picture)

"Morning Coffee"

"Jukebox at the Great Grill"


"Red Truck"

"Storybook Cottages on Hollywood Way"

"Safari Inn on Olive"

"Farmers' Market Gourds"
I will definitely participate in this again--it was fun! Also, seeing what other people made as their contributions gave me some ideas of what I could do better next time.

17 October 2016

Another workshop

This weekend, I went to the long-anticipated three-day workshop with painter Iain Stewart, whose work I tremendously admire.

Fife Sheep, by Iain Stewart

I'm glad I took the workshop, but although I learned a lot, the thing I took away from it was that it's time to quit taking workshops. Not because of anything that happened there; Iain was great. He shared a lot of knowledge and technique, and was laid back and helpful.

Iain's techniques bore some resemblance to Paul's, in that both of them start with a light wash, either smooth or variegated, and then build on that with a middle ground, middle dark, and a foreground darkest dark to highlight a focal point. They are both planners, but while Paul's planning seems to take place more on/during the actual painting, and he considers specific steps in great detail, Iain's planning takes place mostly in his sketchbook, where he does multiple layouts until the composition pleases him. Then he transfers the sketch to watercolor paper, still adjusting as he goes, and once he picks up a paintbrush, things become a lot more spontaneous (and also a lot harder to duplicate).

Here is an example of a piece he did to teach us, and following is my attempt at it:

This is a long view of a landscape in Pals, Spain. Off in the distance is water, with Catalonian islands emerging from it. In the middle ground are buildings, trees, and fields, and in the foreground, a bunch of trees rise up in front of the viewer. The goal with this was to teach background-middle ground-foreground in terms of value intensity, in terms of attention to specific detail, and also to show layout--how you have to balance the elements in a painting (placement of the buildings, direction of the fields, roads, and trees). This isn't the demo Iain did in the workshop; that one was even more monochromatic in terms of color than this one was, and we dealt with fewer buildings. But it's the same scene.

Here is my attempt. (Some of the left side is cut off, due to the capacity of my scanner.) While it's not horrible, and in fact a couple of people complimented me on it, it's a textbook example of what I came to realize, after spending three days with Iain only two weeks after spending three days with Paul Jackson: What I need is not another workshop, but a regular, disciplined approach to painting. I need to make many, many paintings!

I spent much of the three days frustrated, not because I didn't understand what he was doing, but because my eye and hand just wouldn't duplicate it. And it's not because I'm not capable, it's because I'm not practiced. Using this as an example: The islands and sky are too dark for background, as are the trees just in front of them. The church on the right should be bigger than the house behind it, because it's much closer to the viewer, and the villa on the left should be twice that size, so that you have the sense of the scene moving forward towards you. The darks in the mid ground are also too extreme, so that what you have instead of a graduated scene of less detail to more detail and less intensity of value to more intensity, is a series of stripes of light and dark. (We won't talk about the tree line in the foreground at all!)

So the truths I discovered from this exercise were: I don't use my sketchbook to think out what I'm going to do. I don't sketch much at all! I don't spend a lot of time planning things out, or considering what elements need to be balanced with other elements. I don't have a good grasp of perspective and planes. My judgment is not good when it comes to light, medium, and dark gradations. I don't have good control of brush, color, or water. I haven't developed the judgment to know when the brush is too wet or too dry, or which colors to use to mix what I need. And if I want to be a good watercolor painter, I need to learn to make snap judgments as I go, to be fast enough so that the "bead" doesn't dry up on me before I can work it smoothly down the page.

In short, what I had to face this weekend, which made me so uncomfortable that I actually left the workshop early on the third day by making a lame excuse about having to go to work (yes, I need the practice, but doing it in front of other people was getting to me), was that while I have nascent skills that include drawing and color sense, without a regular practice, I'm not going to improve. I enjoy making my contour drawings and using watercolor to enhance them, and I'm pretty good at it; but compared to what the serious artists whose work I admire are doing, I'm just noodling around. While there's nothing wrong with that, and while I will keep doing that, it's time to make a plan for a life as a painter that includes daily attention.

I don't know whether I'm ready for that yet, if I'm completely honest. So I'm not going to make a bunch of resolutions here, only to break them. I'm just going to know that I now have the knowledge, and when I choose to do so, I can develop the skill. But I have to want it. I hope that I'll have great things to post on this page someday that let me take myself seriously as a painter. Until then...I'll keep noodling around.

13 October 2016

Sketchbook vs. "Real"

I posted a picture that I had scanned from my sketchbook on an email I sent out at work, and my supervisor called me up and offered to buy it! I had to say no, partly because it's in a sketchbook (and I don't want to tear it out), and partly because it had lettering under it, which I had deleted from it before posting the picture, so she wouldn't have been able to frame it without that showing.

So, although this was not my art plan for this afternoon (I was going to finish my Paul Jackson "masterpiece," which has been languishing), I decided to make her a new version of it. It's a crucial time to do so, because it's a painting of asters from my yard, which only bloom for about three weeks in October. So I cut some (avoiding dozens of bees in the process), put them in another clear glass jar like I did the first time, and set to work.

The first one, which I did on sketchbook paper, was drawn with a black Micron pen, and then watercolored. For this one, I decided to just draw it in pencil, for a more natural look, since I was doing it on good watercolor paper. But after I got done painting it, it seemed a little lackluster, and also I accidentally washed through parts of it and it became blurry, so I went in afterwards with a sepia-tone Micron pen (not as obvious as the black, and nice with the color scheme) to do some "accents" and outlines.

Honestly, I think I like the first one, which I did in half the time on so-so paper, better than the one I spent the afternoon on! (The second one isn't all here--I made it bigger (with more flowers), so the scanner cut off about an inch on either side.)

I hope Cathleen likes it anyway. If not, I'll try again.