16 November 2018


I wanted to keep making art but wasn't feeling too motivated yesterday, so I decided to doodle a bunch of the foods that people eat for Thanksgiving. I ended up doing it in a strip so I could use it as a Facebook header.

I used a new fountain pen for the left side (everything west of the pumpkin), and then it got contrary, so I switched out to a uniball pen. Then, when I went back in to watercolor my drawings, I discovered the ink in the fountain pen was water soluble, so some things got muddy (the onion and the slice of bread, especially) before I realized that. I tried using it to my advantage by pulling the ink away from the pictures at the bottom to create shadow, but then of course had to put in some "manual" shadow on everything to the right.

Even in a doodle, you learn things, and run into challenges! As I watercolored, I realized that I hadn't thought about color placement while making the drawings, so that green things ended up next to other green things and orange and yellow ditto, rather than being evenly dispersed. But—it's a doodle, so no regrets. This was fun to do, and makes me want to illustrate some recipes.

12 November 2018

White light

I hope my friend Veronica doesn't mind that I made her today's guinea pig, er, subject. She posted a photo of herself on Facebook that was so intriguing—with half her head washed out by bright white light—that I was immediately drawn to see if I could duplicate it in paint. I am always awed by artists who do their subjects in watercolor essentially by painting the background and leaving the white of the page to shine as bright sunlight, but it's a challenging technique I haven't yet mastered. Here was another opportunity.

It doesn't quite work: I know in my head that there are bangs and a forehead there, and though I tried to leave it clear, it doesn't read as lit up in the same way that the photograph did. I also didn't leave enough untouched paper on the highlighted parts of the face—the cheekbone and bridge of the nose—and since I was using sketchbook paper, which isn't as forgiving of "lifting" as is watercolor paper, I couldn't do anything about that. And finally, I should have made the background as dark as it was in the photo, to show contrast.

But although some of her features turned out a little exaggerated or subtly off (that nose isn't quite straight, is it?) I think I caught something of a likeness, and it was a great exercise. Thanks, Veronica, for the challenge! (And please forgive me.)

11 November 2018

Long time coming

I have never had this long a hiatus since I started this blog, and it will serve me right if no one is listening any longer, but here I am again. It's November, and my last post was in July; although I don't have a good excuse, I do have a variety of excuses, and several of them are quite hefty ones, so here's a brief explanation:

In August, I found out that the class UCLA had invited me to teach in the fall quarter (Readers' Advisory) was actually on the books and filling up with students, and so I had a decision to make. I knew that because of the hiring freeze in the City of Burbank, I would probably not be allowed to take one day off each week to teach at UCLA as I had been two years ago when I taught Young Adult Literature there; but I was reluctant to say no to UCLA, as this was a class that was dear to my heart and that I had actually suggested to the department head that he offer this year! So I took stock of my current standing in my job, thought about my long-term goals, and decided to retire from my teen librarian job in Burbank. I had been there 10 years, and staying for a couple more wasn't going to materially affect the amount of retirement I received; and although I loved working with my teens and ordering the books, I was weary of the administrative duties and details and also of serving on the reference desk (which I was doing in increasing amounts because we were so poorly staffed!). So in the second week of August, I gave a month's notice (which turned into nearly six weeks), and started preparing to leave my latest career and begin with my next, as an adjunct professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (the library school).

I spent the next few weeks making lists of everything that I did in my job and parceling out what I could to other people. I brought all my files up to date and copied them for my colleagues to use. I cleaned out my office (a Herculean task after 10 years) and my craft storage closets.

The staff threw me a going-away party on Tuesday, September 28th. I then planned to take three days of vacation that week (Wednesday-Friday) to prepare for my first day of teaching, which was Monday, October 1st at 9 a.m., and then come back to work at Burbank on October 2nd and 3rd to finish dismantling things and taking them home. I did all that, but at a distinct disadvantage; on September 29th, I caught some kind of cold or flu and was terribly sick over the weekend. I managed to teach my class on Monday and to show up for both days after that to finish at the library; but the stress and effort prolonged the illness, so that I ended up teaching "sick" again the following week. After that, I slowly got better, but the cough is still hanging on, six weeks later.

I've been to the doctor for extensive tests, and there's no explanation for it: No pneumonia, no bronchitis, nothing. So I have concluded that it's probably allergies, and the best thing I can do is to get my house truly clean and dust-free for the first time in years, and see what happens!

Meanwhile, class at UCLA is going great; I have a small group of 10 students, but all seem fully invested in the subject, and are learning book-talking and working on final projects with curiosity and enthusiasm. Once this class finishes in December, I will then spend the next three months building my new business as the Book Adept, a library consultant in readers' advisory, book-talking, young adult literature, and more! And in the spring quarter, I will be teaching again at UCLA, offering Young Adult Literature for the second time.

So, enough with the reasons why no art has appeared here in months, and on to the real point: I made no art for all those weeks, but I knew that at the beginning of November, that was all destined to change, because I was signed up for SKETCHKON 2018! Sketchbook Skool is an online "facility" with two founding artists and many instructors, and they decided it was time to have a convention so that all we distance learners could get together and get acquainted. To my delight, they decided to hold the first one at the Westin Hotel in Pasadena, California, only 20 miles from my house! I signed up immediately and then watched in awe as people from all over the country and all over the world stated their intentions to attend. It ended up being about 500 people strong, with visitors from Australia, Singapore, England, and Portugal, as well as from practically every state in the union. It was three days of overwhelming, entertaining, enlightening, engaging fun and learning. I spent so much time taking notes that I didn't do a lot of drawing, but here are some that I can share:



These above were from multiple sessions designated "Pasadena Noir," at which models from Sketchy came dressed in 1920s styles and posed for us in murder mystery tableaux. There were more, but these were my better sketches and the ones I chose to watercolor. The last one seems and is an anomaly; at the end of the murder mystery, the two founders of Sketchbook Skool, Koosje Koene and Danny Gregory, came dashing in and snatched the disputed briefcase, posed for a few brief minutes, and ran out of the room! A fun end.

Here is a sketch I did in paint alone (no pencil or ink lines) of the view of Pasadena City Hall from the Westin Hotel's balcony. My friend Cynthia noted that it looks like the set of a disaster movie right after the big one hit, because all the towers are tilting in every direction, as if a sinkhole had just opened up beneath them. Hey, perspective isn't my strong suit.

And finally, although I took notes in a rather traditional fashion throughout the weekend, decorating a page here and there with a single sketch, other more forward-thinking (and accomplished) of the attendees took "visual notes" in which they drew their notes more than wrote them, and when they posted them later on Facebook, I was so enamored of the style that I decided to memorialize one lecture I particularly enjoyed and appreciated in that style myself:

My favorite part of these notes is the two braids hanging from either side of Roz's name, since that is her signature hairstyle:

Now that I have had an entire weekend of SketchKon to reinspire me, AND now that I am semi-retired, I will have more time to devote to art. I have already signed up for a new "kourse" at Sketchbook Skool, so I'll be sharing the fruit of that with you shortly.

06 July 2018

Farewell, Evelyn

Tomorrow is the going-away party and last day at work for my friend and colleague, Evelyn. She has been in her current position in the administration office at the library for about seven years, I believe; before that, she worked as a clerk in the audio visual department, and before that I'm not sure, but it seems like Evelyn has always been at Burbank Public Library! I'm not sure she's quite ready to retire, but she's bravely walking out the door, and I know that she will find so many things to do out there, just as she has at the library.

It will be hard not to have her up in the admin office—most of us at the library think of her as our person to go to when we want to share something good, when we want a pick-me-up from something bad, or when we have insider information to give or get. Evelyn is always at her desk, happy to see you, greet you, amd make you feel at home, and she always has chocolate.

I feel like in some ways Evelyn is the heart of the library. While she is not a librarian, she enthusiastically supports and facilitates everything we do, always with a cheery word, a sympathetic ear, and a generous impulse to help. Evelyn is the one who runs the monthly birthday parties, who orders all the decorations and gifts for the retirements, baby showers, and weddings, who picks out good books for the book clubs, who knows just the right thing to say when your cat or your parent dies, and she is most generous of all when doling out praise for the things you do in your job that maybe nobody else notices.

She has been a one-woman cheering section for everything I have done in my job as teen librarian, and has consistently praised the direction in which I have taken the program since I started. I don't know what I would have done without that; although I am a relatively self-actualized person and don't do what I do for either the money (fortunately) or the admiration, everyone knows it helps to get some positive feedback occasionally. And it's never been empty praise, either; Evelyn has always been intensely interested in all the philosophy, reasons behind, and details of what I wanted to do, and has been a great listener with good advice and insight.

As I write this, I think that even I didn't realize how much she has done for me, and how much I am going to miss her. I'm hoping we'll remain friends and, now that she's a lady of leisure, maybe even lunch buddies from time to time.

I decided she needed something special for a going-away card, so I sat down and made one tonight. I hope she likes it, and her gifts, and enjoys her retirement thoroughly. Although we don't want to let her go, she deserves some leisure and some fun. Maybe there are people out there who need her as much as we do at the library, and she will get to pass on more of her warmth and generosity.

03 July 2018

World Watercolor Month begins

Yes, it's another challenge! A little less specific than the last, in that you can paint anything you want and use any tools or styles, but Charlie at Doodlewash does offer a daily prompt list in case you get stuck.

Yesterday's prompt was "delicious food," and although my tendency is to go for sweets, sometimes they don't make such wonderful paintings. So instead, i went for the ingredients of my favorite breakfast frittata.

Today's prompt was "primary colors," and people mostly did bunches of flowers so they could put the three colors together with ease, but I wasn't in the mood for still life. So I looked through a bunch of old reference photos from my trip to France in 2013, and came across a picture of a restaurant on a street in Parthenay. I looked the restaurant up, just for fun, and they had a better photo, this time with the restaurant open and its proprietor standing, hands on hips and belly thrust out, in the doorway, so I used that photo instead and painted this. 

The restaurant's name is Aut'Fouée, and the subtitle is a "medieval restaurant." They seem to feature a particular kind of bread, sort of like pita pockets, and then provide you with all sorts of fancy choices with which to stuff them. When I was there, we were touring quickly and going back to our base to eat, so I didn't experience a meal there—this is from various websites.

The interior lights and flowers are yellow; the façade is definitely red; and I made the proprietor's apron a bright Jackson Blue instead of the dull navy/black that it actually was in the photo, for that touch of my third primary.

This wasn't so easy to paint, proportionally. I did put in a few pencil lines, but tried to paint most of it more loosely without drawing first, like I have been doing for the Direct Watercolor challenge. That was a mistake when it came to the lettering, however, and I almost wish I'd just left it out—it pops out of the red and looks flat. Also, I just noticed that I'm missing a third window above the storefront; I somehow omitted the window and the other shutter. Oh well, daily practice, nothing for which I am trying to be perfect. I did seek out and use a flat brush for the cobblestones, which worked okay, but I had trouble with the angle.

Another day, another practice painting.

02 July 2018

June Direct Watercolor

Alas, an incredibly busy week at work meant I did no more paintings for the Direct Watercolor 30x30 challenge after June 24th, and now it's over. But I did manage to do more than half (by a squeak—I did 16 paintings), which is more than I have accomplished in the past, so bravo for me. Some were surprisingly good, some were truly awful, but all were painted without guides or lines or drawing of any kind. Here they are, all in a group:

I learned a lot, and will keep practicing. Now, on to July, which is World Watercolor Month. I hope to paint at least 16!

24 June 2018

China and pottery

My mom loved fine china. At the end of her life, she owned seven sets of dinnerware that would serve eight to fifteen people each. She had plain white, white with silver, white with gold. She had blue Wedgewood, a blue and white onion pattern, and a few pieces of Flow blue to go with them. She had  (and I still have) some beautiful cream-colored Czech flowered ware. And she had a gold glass tea set. She collected teapots, because her favorite social event was to invite 20 or 30 women over for tea, set up individual tables for four throughout her living room, dining room, and family room, and have enough teapots to put a different one on each table. She likewise picked up stray salt shakers in a variety of patterns, and she loved small pitchers and odd sugar-and-creamer sets. And she is the person who started me collecting wall pockets. I now own my collection plus hers, and haven't got enough wall space to show off more than half of them at a time.

Here is a teapot that I bought her for a birthday treat—it's English, and the teapot was pretty much all I could afford, although I planned to get her the creamer and sugar to go with it some year later. That never happened—instead, I inherited the teapot, along with many others of her lovely things.

Although I am thrilled to have her beautiful china, the collection of all kinds of wall pockets started me down the road towards a more earthy collection. I tend to prefer pottery to china, and am enamored specifically of Roseville, and of majolica-ware. Both of those, although exactly my taste, are mostly beyond the scope of my wallet, but I have been fortunate to find some pieces that were selling for less than their worth because of a stray chip or crack, and to find a person who could mend those flaws so that no one but a dealer with an x-ray machine would ever detect them. Mending these pieces detracts from their value, but since I buy them to enjoy, rather than as an investment, I couldn't care less!

My mother picked up this pitcher somewhere, and had it sitting on my father's desk to hold his pencils and pens. When I admired it, Dad said take it, I don't care what holds my pencils, and you like it. Because of its long history holding lead pencils, I have never used it to serve anything, for fear the lead lingered somehow, but I have always loved its decorative, three-D pattern of branches. I don't know its origin, but it has an art nouveau feel—the depiction of the natural world on pottery.

After I painted it, I felt it looked rather plain on the page, so I gave it a background wash. This sketch paper wasn't meant to stand up to that, so it's a bit bloomy and scrubby, but I liked the conceit that the green background was the trees whose bases are depicted on the pitcher.

I probably needed to leave a little more light on the high points and put more dark in the low points to convey that the pattern isn't just painted on, but actually pushes out of the pitcher. But I did accurately capture the shape and the colors. I painted the entire shape in pale cream color first, and then came back with the details. I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of this direct painting process!