26 May 2018

Class at Olvera Street

Today I had an adventure. Two weeks ago, Virginia Hein, a local urban sketcher and watercolor teacher, posted that she would be doing a class today to try out some things she wants to teach at the Urban Sketchers Convention in Porto this summer. She did this last year too, and I enjoyed it, so I signed up to attend.

Someone mentioned going on the Metro, and since I have never done that, I decided I would try it out. I have had the intention to use it for both of the Women's Marches in Los Angeles, but the Orange Line to get there was so overcrowded I couldn't get on, and I ended up driving both times. I thought trying it out on a non-pressure day like today would be good. Virginia mentioned that the parking in the lot closest to our meet-up was $9, but that Union Station was almost exactly the same distance from there (right across the street) and the total round-trip fare is $3.50, so it seemed like a good decision.

I caught the Orange Line at 7:41 a.m. (I know! I was impressed with myself too!), and was in NoHo at 8:03, just in time to catch the 8:06 Red Line downtown. I made it to Union Station at 8:45, with plenty of time to walk over to our meet-up in the square by Olvera Street.

It turned out to be a bit of an overdo for me, given the recent history with my knees and back (see post about car accident below). Yes, Union Station is right across the street from Olvera Street, but no one mentioned the elevator, the escalator, and the walk down the loooong tunnel one has to traverse from the exit to the Red Line up to the surface and out to the front entrance.

I gimped my way over to the square, and was immediately glad I had come. There's so much to see, from a painterly perspective, that you could spend weeks there painting just from the square and still have things to render. A lot of familiar faces were there from USk Los Angeles and from the Meet-up group--Phoebe, Debbie, and Shiho, Claudia, Gene, and about a dozen others, and of course Virginia.

Our objective was to think about how to draw (with pen) just enough but not too much; to minimize our view so that we were capturing what we wanted and leaving out what we didn't; and the additional idea of leaving some areas completely blank and going in with watercolor after to define those spaces as shapes. Some of us were quite successful at achieving this, while others (ahem) may need a little more practice.

Our first half hour after Virginia's explanations and demo was spent drawing without being minimalistic—drawing what we saw, with little to no editing. I did edit to the extent that I severely cropped the area at which I was looking, but you can see from the drawing at the bottom that I threw in everything within my view.

So in Virginia's version, for instance, the brick walls would not be delineated, they would just be blocks of color, and maybe the windows wouldn't be drawn, they would just be dark, window-shaped slashes in the white. And foliage is blocked, dabbed, and dotted, without drawing each (or any) leaf.

The second drawing, I maybe focused in too closely, and when it came time to add color, I didn't exactly do what I intended. I have a new paintbox, into which I squeezed fresh colors just two days ago, so some of them haven't dried out yet. This made for a messy and unpredictable mix of colors, which resulted in a weird treatment behind this lamppost. It was supposed to be tree foliage back there, but it just looks like dramatic sky, because I ended up with too much neutral tint.

For the third one, she wanted us to look back at a scene we had studied before and edit it down until it had in it what we considered important or interesting. This didn't turn out quite as planned, but I think I'm getting the idea.

I did a fourth one, but I'm not posting it because it was a total fail. Maybe I'll go back and try it again later.

After we wrapped up at noon, we had a convivial lunch at the Mexican food restaurant on the corner (Chile relleno, rice and beans, with a big hot cup of Champurrado), talking about art and our favorite mysteries (Phoebe and I trading multiple author recommendations). Then I set out on my trek back to Union Station (a security guard blessedly showed me a shortcut elevator to get to the Red Line that involved half the walking), then to NoHo, and back to Balboa and Victory on the Orange Line. While I rode on the Orange Line, I drew; she wasn't paying attention to anything but her phone, so she was a good capture, sitting quite still. Only problem was, my brown Micron pen ran out three-quarters of the way through, so I had to continue the drawing with a black pen, meaning I had to go back in and introduce black everywhere so it would work.

Next time I might drive; or maybe by next time my knees and back will be more excellent than they are now. Either way, I'm definitely going back to Olvera Street to paint! (But for now...a nap.)

17 May 2018

Direct Watercolor

Marc Taro Holmes, whose watercolors I have long admired, has gotten together on Facebook with a few friends as administrators to issue a 30-day challenge for the month of June, called 30x30 Direct Watercolor. It's basically another daily practice challenge to get people into the discipline of painting every single day, a goal to which I aspire but almost never achieve. But the part that's different is the word "direct." His challenge is specifically to paint with little to no pre-drawing involved, to think in colors, shapes, masses, and light, rather than getting stuck on outlines and details. Since I have been all about the contour ever since I studied with Brenda Swenson and took up drawing with a pen, this is radically different for me.

I started thinking back, and can't honestly remember ever making a painting without first making a fairly elaborate and complete drawing. So I'm going to try it. It's not a requirement for the month, so I may also do some of my usual ink-and-then-watercolor efforts. But it's definitely a good method to change the way I look at my subjects, and it's probably about time I took on something different.

I had a little time this morning, so I did a straight, brush-to-paper rendering of the orange tree in my back yard as a practice, anticipating June. It definitely looks different to my regular efforts. This month will be interesting.

15 April 2018

Suitcase of tasks

To win prizes this year in our Teen Summer Reading Program, instead of a reading log we are posting a collection of tasks the teens can do. They still include reading a book or writing a book review, but they can also do other things, like check out an e-audio book, try a new recipe, learn some phrases from another language on Mango Languages, and take a selfie with our library gnome to post on Facebook.

The task page is already made for us—we are co-opting the one the adult program used last year, since all the tasks are inside of tiny suitcases, which is perfect for our travel theme this year. But I needed a graphic to go with it, and I wanted it to be more than just an array of books, like I usually do for the reading log. César Garcia, one of our publicity people, inspired me with a graphic he created for the adult program last year, so I stole his concept and reworked it to suit ours.

His suitcase graphic had the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Colosseum, a bunch of mountains, and some other popular travel destinations emerging from it. I copied his suitcase, and then "filled" it with things that symbolize our tasks checklist instead, and in the background I depicted (sort of like travel stickers) some of the prizes the kids can win for performing those tasks.

It's more or less a cartoon, so it was more an exercise in drawing and coloring in than showing any nuanced skill in watercolor, but it's bright and busy and I think it will perfectly suit our tasks page and our brochure. Thanks, César!

14 April 2018

Cruising towards disaster

For the third year in a row, our Teen Advisory Board (TAB) is creating an original lock-in murder mystery night as the finale of our Teen Summer Reading Program. Since the theme is "Reading Takes You Everywhere," interpreted as "travel," I suggested they place their murder on a bus to Washington, D.C., for their annual choir concert. No, they said, a bus didn't give enough scope, they wanted to fly. Okay, I said, murder on a plane!

They thought about it for a while and decided that this was likewise lacking in scope: Where would they accomplish the murder? A bathroom was too, erm, icky, and nobody wanted to be crawling around in the luggage space. How would they discover the murderer? After all, the audience is supposed to be able to walk around and question the suspects and the innocent standers-by, but how would that happen in the close confines of a plane? Also, they wanted more of a theme for their merry band of possible killers.

So the final choice was, murder on a cruise ship. And most of the suspects (and the murder victim) are members of an acting troupe hired to entertain the passengers, so the murder could take place on stage. I was happy to go along with this, as long as they gave me their venue and their title for this year's passion play.

Oh, a title. Much brainstorming ensued. The favorite (to much laughter) was "As-sea-sination," but they ultimately decided that while it showcased them as the ultimate punsters, it was a little hard to grasp for the uninitiated, let alone spell. So the final choice was "Death on Deck," and now it was my turn to provide an appropriate illustration.

Here it is. We'll see what they think of it.

My only personal concern is that the smoke "effect" is too realistic to go with the somewhat cartoon-y nature of the rest of the drawing. After looking at a lot of photographs of actual cruise ships, all of which were unimaginatively shot horizontally from the side, I ended up semi-copying someone else's drawing that had the qualities I wanted—the looming prow, the row of life boats, and not too much complexity in the windows. While cruise ships today don't have the smokestack, since the TAB has already decided that this might have taken place "back in Titanic times," I appropriated and added the smokestack so as to be able to also add the atmospheric suggestion of death coming out of it!

I also neglected to put a ship name (the USS Sappy Seas?) on the prow, as would normally appear. I'm going to ask them about that and will perhaps add something, though I don't want it to distract too much from the title of their "play." We'll see.

11 April 2018


I posted the last one on World Watercolor Group's Facebook page, and asked for opinions. It was about evenly divided between "I like that the books are flying off the page! It's lively, and it's not a photograph, it shouldn't have to be in perfect proportion" and "Every book is drawn from a different perspective, what were you thinking?" (What I was thinking was, I'm NOT good at perspective—if I could have made the first one proportionally correct, I would have!)

So, I did it over. I decided to simplify, by using three books instead of four, and simply setting the mug on top, instead of having it shoving a book off the pile (which worked last year but somehow just wouldn't, with the exact same mug, this year). Since I was doing it over, I took the opportunity to switch out one of the books, and I think the resulting color combo is more pleasing to the eye.

One would like to think that one's skills improved progressively over the years, but I have to say that I think I did a better job both last year (see previous post) and the year before (below). But...it will do! On to the next challenge...

08 April 2018


Today, I set out to do what always seems like the most difficult illustration: Book Café. First of all, I have to pick the right books: They have to be colorful, compliment one another without being too much the same, and work with the Book Café mug. Second, the mug isn't made yet (it's on order but won't arrive for a couple more weeks), so I have to make it up from a stand-in mug and put the logo on it, hoping that it looks like it's actually printed.

Here is last year's illustration:

I was pretty happy with it; although the top book got a bit messy, I liked the extreme color contrasts of light and dark (I especially loved the unusual red pages on Crooked Kingdom), and I was pleased with how the shine on the bottom title (The Diabolic) worked out. I also liked the layout.

This year was a special challenge, because instead of just picking three or four recently published and hopefully popular books for the summer's illustration, I wanted books that had titles reflecting our travel theme. I brought about a dozen home with me, but the best titles (Wanderlost, Rules of the Road, etc.) had less than optimum covers (teenagers kissing, can you imagine?). I finally picked four books, three fairly new and one pretty old.

I also just couldn't bring off the logo for the cup drawing freehand. I made it in Photoshop, and although I could have traced it if I'd thought ahead, I didn't bring a printout home with me, and my home printer gave up the ghost some weeks ago, so I couldn't trace it to get it right. Here's a screenshot from the DiscountMugs website:

Arched, spaced lettering is a challenge, beyond me without electronic tools! I therefore opted to just do the "Book Café" part and leave the rest of it off. For that reason and also for the uneasy layout of the books in this illustration (some slightly strange angles make the top two books look like they're about to float away), I may end up doing this over; but I'm happy enough with it that I probably won't, just because of time considerations!

It always interests me what you have to take into account when putting disparate items into a picture together and making them work. I'm kind of sorry that I picked two books (top and bottom) that both had white lettering, because with the white of the 2nd book as well, the whole comes out a little blander than I would like. Also, after I painted the lime green mug and put shadowing on it in darker shades of green, I waited for it to dry before adding the purple lettering, so I spent my time putting in the little shadows under each book. Then, when I put in the purple lettering, it became glaringly obvious that I had used that particular purple only on the mug lettering and nowhere else, and suddenly the picture didn't work. So I went back and added the same purple into all the shadows, and even into the shadows on the mug itself, and suddenly there was a cohesiveness about the picture.

Like I said, I may do it over, tracing the complete logo onto the mug and also perhaps reconsidering my choice and layout of books. This stack was perfectly stable, and yet in the picture the top two look a bit tipsy. And finally, I probably should have put a great big cast shadow to the left of the books, but I couldn't bring myself to risk it, after all the work I put in.

Second-guessing is a bitch.

07 April 2018

Cover art

When we first decided to use "Reading Takes You Everywhere" as a travel-oriented theme for teen summer reading, we were looking for road-trip books to feature on our book list, and came across one that had the perfect cover for our TSRP brochure. But not only was it someone else's photo, it also happened to have words and drawings superimposed over the picture that were difficult if not impossible to remove and still maintain the background. So I decided to recreate the whole thing and make it into a painting.

Here's a photo side by side of the book cover and the "photo shoot" recreation I did with three of our book club kids (Allison, George, and Katrina) and my new Jeep:

Because our colors for the summer mimic the colors used in our Burbank Public Library logo, which looks like this...

...I wanted to keep the slightly unreal, filtered look of the photo with the turquoise shading to lime-yellow. Here are my efforts.

This is the drawing with its first layer of color. This was probably my first mistake—using sketchbook paper instead of putting this on real watercolor paper—but I didn't really want the texture of the WC paper to be a factor.

This paper stands up to watercolor pretty well...but I was about to ask it to stand up to multiple layers!

I spent about three hours on this, start to finish, and made various decisions as I went along, and although I'm fairly happy with it and will probably use it, I have some regrets. I overworked the capacity of the paper, so it's a bit blurry and scritchy-looking here and there, and the map isn't as "mappy" as I'd like. I didn't end up leaving enough whites showing; I saved some, but ended up covering a lot of them over as individual decisions that seemed right but turned out not to be. Next time I will hesitate and save them a little longer before making those decisions!

This will be the backdrop for the title page of my brochure, which will say "READING TAKES YOU EVERYWHERE!" in some appropriately funky lettering, and then inform about the dates and age range. I'll post it when it's complete, later this week. I'm hoping it works as well as (or better than) the pirated photo did. I tried to leave more space where I needed it (at the bottom) so that the type didn't go over their feet. We will see...