27 September 2015


They have a little carnival set up in the playground at St. Bridget's of Sweden Catholic Church, up the boulevard and around the corner from my house, this weekend. It's not often you get the opportunity to draw and paint something like that without driving a long way to find it. So I got up at 6 a.m. (because it will be 100 degrees by 9 a.m. today), packed up my sketchbook, watercolor paper, brushes, and paints, and went up there to do a little en plein air painting.

My intention was to do some preliminary pencil sketches to get a layout, and then do a "real" painting (i.e., large and on watercolor paper), but that's not exactly what happened.

First of all, it was hard to find a good place from which to paint. There was no convenient low wall to sit on, and because the church's playground borders on a main boulevard with lots of traffic, I didn't really want to sit on the dirty sidewalk across the street and inhale fumes from the passing cars. Closer up, though, I couldn't see the bottom half of things for the vine-covered fence that borders three-quarters of the lot. I actually went inside the "fairgrounds" for a bit, but then the carnival people came out of their trailers and started setting up for the day, giving me looks that, had we shared a language, would have translated into "Get out of here now, weird lady, you're in the way," so I did.

I settled on a view from out in the alley, sitting on a handy electric box, and got out my pencil and sketchbook. I tried sketching one of the two Ferris wheels twice, but I simply couldn't pull it off. This is when I find out how bad my drawing skills really are: When it comes to a couple of items sitting on a table, no problem; I can look at the contours and get them right. But a large scene, in perspective, with lots of detail? Hopeless. First the wheel was too small in proportion to the "cars," and then I had the opposite problem. And as much as I would like to be an artist like Milford Zornes, who I once watched capture the profile of a Ferris wheel with about 20 quick strokes of a brush filled with a beautiful mix of burnt sienna and ultramarine, I am not that free. Being painstaking as I am, however, isn't getting me very far!

I finally gave up on those pesky Ferris wheels. I walked all around the grounds, crossed the boulevard to the other side for a different perspective, and also walked down the side street, photographing the scene from all angles so I'd have reference photos for later.

Then I got out my pen and did a contour drawing of the relatively simple Kamikaze ride in my sketchbook. I watercolored it, then packed up and headed for home! There may be a carnival scene in my future, but it will take some measuring and a lot of practice sketching before I get there.

26 September 2015


Can it really be two months today since I posted anything? That's shocking. Have I really been in an art slump for that long? And I don't have much to post today, just an incidental that took me about 10 minutes.

I have done one other piece of artwork in the past week, but it was for someone else's blog and she hasn't posted it yet, so I don't feel like I can put it up here until after she has. In a while. In the meantime…

The little boy across the street (he's two) decided this morning that he wanted to give me a flower, but then when it came to handing it over, he was so reluctant to let go of it that his grandmother took it from him and handed it to me. He looked a little forlorn, so I came home and painted him one he could keep, before I had my breakfast.

26 July 2015

Inspired by Singapore

I have never been an on-location (en plein air) painter. Most of my work is done on the table inside my screened-in back patio, and on the rare occasion I have drawn something on location, I always bring the drawing back to the house and paint it afterwards. But all the fabulous pictures being posted by everyone who went to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore this past week inspired me. So this morning, I decided to take minimum gear--my 8x8-inch sketchbook, my Altoids watercolor palette, a pill bottle filled with water, my telegraphing brush, a Micron pen, and a couple of paper towels--and hit the road at 8 a.m. (I also took a fake bacon sandwich and an iced coffee--must have sustenance!)

The San Fernando Valley doesn't have that much in the way of elaborate architecture--it's mostly boxy little houses built post-war in the 1950s, with latter-day McMansions jammed between them. But there are a few buildings that are fancy, and one of them that I have driven past and thought, That would be fun to paint! is the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church on the corner of Moorpark and Lankershim.

My results were disappointing to me, for a few reasons detailed below, but the experience was satisfying.

First of all, I apparently have zero sense of proportion (and very little sense of perspective)! My intention was to do a Nina Johansson-style panorama of the entire church plus the street scene--small olive trees, people, and cars at the curb included. But all I came home with was some large up-close details of very small portions of the building, because I was taught to draw big, and now I can't draw small!

Second, there are only five colors in this palette, and while in theory one can mix any color from red-blue-yellow, the truth is, it matters if it's a warm or a cool yellow, if it's a red that leans towards orange or pink, if the blue is dark or bright. So some of my color mixing was really wonky until I got the hang of it.

Third, my telegraphing brush is pretty tiny, so the wash for the background blue sky was a splotchy effort. It didn't help that it was more than 90 degrees, very dry, and slightly windy. The trials of watercolor in Southern California, where everything dries instantly.

I took some panoramic photos of the building, and perhaps when it is all contained within the borders of a piece of paper, I will be able to look at it and draw the whole thing. I'm going to give it a shot. But I'm also going to be persistent about going out regularly and trying it the spontaneous and in-person way! It was fun.

I do, however, need to invest in one of those little folding stools that I saw so many of the Singapore sketchers parked on--sitting on the sidewalk means dusty trousers and legs that go to sleep if not shifted regularly! Or even better, one of these…people seeking ideas for birthday gifts, take note!

24 July 2015

Sporadic EDiJuly

I'm consumed by the last week of Teen Summer Reading (Book Cafe was Wednesday, and tonight is Open Mic Night and Karaoke!), so I haven't much to show lately. But one product of that was a "six-word memoir" for which I did a visual in my sketchbook, hoping the kids who took the writing workshop for these would go home and make them visual, too. So far, no results except for mine:

This isn't strictly true--I do MAKE time to read, but the clock face is significant, because it usually ends up being around 2 a.m. I read a lot more before I was a librarian, but that's also because it's a full-time job and before that I was self-employed, which gave me more opportunity to indulge. Still, it is ironic to work in an environment in which you are constantly surrounded by books and arrive home on Friday night only to realize you have nothing to read for the weekend! This was my entry for "wacky."

I cheated and combined two other July prompts: "en plein air," and "plants." This is my lone (but prolific) banana pepper plant in the back garden. I drew it while sitting on the grass (the plein air part), but my legs went to sleep, so I moved and painted it from inside the patio, which would account for my forgetting to leave highlights anywhere on those shiny peppers. Oh well…live and learn. I did enjoy the muted color scheme dictated by the atypical gray July day.

I'm always amazed, when I attempt to draw a botanical piece, by the infinite variety of leaf shapes on one plant. The plant, from a distance, has a distinguishable type of leaf, and yet when you start to draw the individual leaves, every one has character--rounded edge, jagged edge, color variation. It can make you kind of crazy if you're attempting an accurate rendering!

13 July 2015

13 July: Stones

Every Day in July's challenge today was "stones." My mind immediately went to stepping stones, so I went looking for a photo that was as close as I could get to what I was picturing in my head; I have trouble drawing just from imagination, and need something concrete to step off from, pun intended.

I documented this one in three stages: drawing, partial painting, finished painting. Here is the drawing:

And here is the partial painting:

One of the reasons for the pause between steps two and three (pun not intended) was that I was working on this on my lovely shaded back patio, and the gardener arrived with his noisy tools and created a wind full of grass clippings. Not good for watercolor!

The other reason is that I am terrified of painting water, so I thought if I could document this before I inevitably messed up the water, at least I'd have part of a satisfying piece of art!

I did not, however, mess up the water. I am actually really happy with this water! I feel like I found the perfect balance between hard strokes that show ripples with soft blending that shows calm water and depths. I like the shadows around the stones, and I like the reflections. I left enough blue to echo the sky. The yellow reflection is of something that is outside my picture (in the original, larger photo, there was a big yellow tree), so I suppose it's a little anomalous, but I like that too. Altogether, a happy experiment!

12 July 2015

One simple, one fussy

Teen summer reading club is taking it out of me. It's great fun, but oh so tiring. So I haven't been painting much. But I did manage a quick one on Friday morning before I had to go to work, to fulfill Every Day in July's prompt for "horsing around." I had saved a photo of a girl and her horse sharing a quiet moment, so I grabbed a sepia-colored Tombow marker off the desk and did a sketch. Since Tombows are not waterproof, I was then able to take a small wet brush and just pull out some color for both tint and shadow. Not the best drawing, but…practice.

Sunday's prompt was "fall." People interpreted it in various ways--everything from sky-diving out of a plane to autumn foliage, and even the "fall" of Adam and Eve. (!) I wasn't sure what to choose, but I haven't drawn any book illustrations lately, so I searched Goodreads for books with the word "fall" in the title and was reminded of this new one from Ally Carter, the first of a new series set on "Embassy Row" in London. I liked her book Heist Society a lot (and of course the Gallagher Girls series), so I figure I'll read this one in the near future. So in the interest of multi-tasking, here's an illustration of that book with a background of buildings from Embassy Row. Once I read the book, I can review it for the teen blog, and use this as the illustration to go with the review! "Fall." Done.

It became a little more elaborate than I planned--I was just going to do a silhouette of the buildings, sort of a vague washy thing, but I started drawing those little cornices and it got busy.

9x9, LePen and watercolor.

05 July 2015

July continues

I managed two prompts from the "Every Day in July" list this weekend:

"SUMMERTIME," which initially presented too many choices, but resolved itself after I got back from the produce stand and realized that all I had bought was stone fruit!

I wanted this one to be quick and "juicy," but it crossed the line into messy because I didn't have any patience to wait before moving to the next area/color. Can't do that, especially on sketchbook paper. Watercolor paper is a little more forgiving because the paint doesn't sit on the surface of the sheet.

"YUCK! (something that icks you out)" was the next day's prompt. I am squeamish about very few things--bugs don't "bug" me much, snakes are fine as long as we keep our distance from one another, and although the sight, sound, and smell of someone losing their lunch is probably the ultimate gross-out for me, who wants to paint that?! (or look at it)

But finally, in the observation of my little world, I realized the one thing to which I have a positive aversion: CLEANING. (Isn't English strange? that a negative association is a positive aversion?)

My mother and my ex-husband were both clean freaks, which may be part of the reason why I dislike doing dishes, I don't like to dust or vacuum or sweep, and I absolutely loathe cleaning the bathroom. (There are so many better things to occupy my time: painting, for instance! Reading. Sleeping.) So I did this nice picture of cleaning tools and materials, which mostly remain pristine in the cupboard. (I need a cleaning lady. Any offers?)

Those of you who think I'm crazy, the ones who feel an effervescent joy overtake you when you smell furniture polish, or who can't think of anything better than the pleasure of giving something a good scrubbing, can feel free to use your Photoshop tool to erase the word "Yuck!" and revel in this sketch for a different reason!