03 May 2015

Every day in May!

I decided to take the challenge to draw every day in May this year. Some people on Facebook publish a list of subjects, one per day for 31 days, and then everyone draws his or her version and posts it. I joined the Facebook page, and then hastily took it back (unjoined? disjoined?) when I immediately received thousands of images in my feed, despite unsubscribing to "notifications" (what's up with that?), so I'm just going to go there every once in a while and take a peek while only sharing my own drawings here and on my own FB page. I went to Continental Art Supply and bought a brand-new 9x9-inch sketchbook for the purpose, and...

Here are May 1-3:

I'm actually a fan of dark chocolate these days and only resort to Hershey's in desperation mode, but I liked the idea of drawing the crinkly, light-touched packaging.

This tree grows about five houses down on the other side of the street from me. The whole street used to be lined with Ash trees, but most have died from old age and drought; but this one tree is a Shamel Ash, about twice the height of the others. We think it got planted by mistake, because it definitely shouldn't be a street tree--it has popped up the sidewalk, the curb, and part of the street with its root system! But I hope they never take it out--I like to think of it as the "World Tree."I drew the houses in to try to give a frame of reference for just how big it is, but actually I still didn't get the scale right--it's a LOT bigger. Long live the tree!

Today's assignment was "curtains," and since I only have blinds in my house (except for a shower curtain, and I didn't want to draw that), I couldn't think of what to draw. Then I thought back to childhood and the house I lived in from age 4 to age 13. My dad remodeled it, turning the attached garage into a huge family room, and what used to be the den, with half-paneling in dark wood, became a beautifully light and airy dining room. Mom painted the paneling white, and papered the upper half in a Delft-blue wallpaper called "Portia." Then she curtained the four identical windows in Priscilla ruffled curtains of white muslin, and displayed all her blue and white dishes on the hutch and sideboard. None of this is remotely my style, and yet I look back on that room with positive nostalgia, so I reproduced it here as best I could. Trying to mimic the wallpaper pattern gave me new respect for designers of patterned things like fabrics and wallpapers--what a task! This was a fun one.

Today, instead of doing what I usually do on Sundays, which is laze around reading until about 4 p.m. when I suddenly get the irresistible urge to paint something and try hard to finish before it gets dark, I decided to jump right in. I did this drawing and painting as soon as I got out of bed (and fed the cats--they wait for nothing!), then had my breakfast and coffee, and now I'm feeling energized and ready to accomplish more! A sink full of dishes awaits…and maybe around 4:00 I will paint something else, who knows? I think starting the day with art is a good move.

Stay tuned for more May!

25 April 2015

Last one?

Today I did my last illustration (I think) for Teen Summer Reading. We are doing a "Makerspace Meetup," which is to say, we haul out all our crafty crap (tools, materials, stencils, found objects, etc.), come up with a few concrete suggestions for the kids who don't know where to start, play a few YouTube how-to videos, and turn them loose.

We have no idea how well or poorly this will go, because we've never gone free-form like this before. Usually, we have a specific craft (stenciling T-shirts has been a favorite, and calligraphy, and card-making for various occasions), but we're giving it a shot--encouraging their creativity instead of imposing our own ideas.

So--I picked up some random things that can be used to make stuff and painted a picture of them for the brochure and flyer illustration. It was hard to decide what to include and what to leave out, and I'm hoping no one says "I can't paint or sew or draw, so this isn't for me!" because there are many other things they can do, and many other tools and supplies that will be on hand.

I was fairly pleased with this, but about 2/3 of the way through, I really wished I had done it on good watercolor paper instead of sticking with my sketchbook paper. For one thing, the sketchbook paper was a bit too small, and I redrew this three times to get the top of the glue bottle and the bottom of the scissors and paintbrush into the same drawing (and they barely made it!). Also, it's hard to do multiple glazes on this smooth, thinner paper, and with the shadows I didn't have near as much control as I would have had with 140-lb. rough. But…it's done!

I may need to paint just one more thing, because Anarda reminded me yesterday that I have to design this year's Reading Log, and I need something for the front of that. Some random book covers would be fun. Stay tuned…

20 April 2015

Almost done!

Three more illustrations done for Teen Meetup in the Burb, my teen summer reading program.

The first is a do-over of the Open Mic Night idea--Anarda and others fixated on the possible gender of the hand holding the microphone that I sketched last week, so I took humans out of the equation and did this instead:

She requested something a bit more mysterious and evocative, so I hope this fills the order!

We are doing two writing workshops this summer--one is a "make a mystery" workshop, on the elements of a good mystery and how to put them together, with teacher (and author) Gay Toltl Kinman. For that, I got our young library assistant, Kristen, to pose for me with a magnifying glass like a hip, female Sherlock!

The second workshop will be short forms: Flash Fiction, which is the art of the extremely brief story (300 words or fewer); and Six Word Memoirs, which Smith Magazine editors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser turned into a "thing" a few years ago when they challenged people to write some and got such an overwhelming response that now they have published two or three books of them! I couldn't think of an image evocative of either of those, so I turned to creative lettering instead:

Just one more illustration to go. I was hoping to get all four done this weekend, but not quite. I think, however, that since all my crafty materials are at work, I will set aside some time tomorrow, assemble an interesting and eclectic tableau of tools and supplies in the Literacy conference room where I will not be disturbed, and do the final drawing for our "Makerspace" craft day there. Then I can watercolor it when I get home!

I'm excited to see the brochure with all the illustrations finally in place, and all the flyers too. This has been a fun project, although it has taken more time and effort than I expected when I first started. But it definitely keeps the "day job" interesting!

12 April 2015

More summer reading sketches

Each weekend, I'm slowly working through the drawings I need for the brochure and all the flyers for "Teen Meetup in the Burb." Last weekend, I only managed time for one, which I had intended for our finale, an Open Mic and Karaoke event, but I may paint something else, as I received all kinds of second guessing about the gender of the person holding the microphone and decided maybe I'd better do one with no one in it! I will probably use this for the brochure, since it reads well small, and do the other picture for the flyer--I'm planning an empty stool and a microphone sitting in a spotlight.

I finished two more this weekend--one for the Sketch Journal we are asking the kids to keep for six weeks, and the other for our music program--the band Flood Zone, who will be playing in the park one night at our smallest branch.

The sketchbook one was a bit tricky--I had to draw a picture of a picture I drew in my sketchbook, along with the whole sketchbook! I picked the Farmers' Market picture as being simple and colorful and a good example of sketching while you're out and about, and also included the opposite page, which had my grocery list for said Farmers' Market, plus some commentary about a funny encounter, and a few notes about colors so when I got home, I could watercolor my drawing. We are teaching a short seminar to get the teens started on their sketchbooks, as well as a small sketch crawl meetup for them. We will go out as a group and sketch around downtown Burbank for two hours. I'm really looking forward to this!

We have wanted to feature a band at summer reading for some time, but didn't know anybody who had one until now. The guy on the right in the beanie is Allen, a former book club member who graduated high school last year and went on to music college, and has recently joined this band. This was a really challenging one to paint--all I had as reference material was an exceedingly dark screen grab from a concert they did, and between the dark stage, the laser lights, and the bobbing heads standing down in front of the stage, it was hard to get a good one! So I greatly simplified these instruments, as well as altering the stage set-up to pull all the band members in closer together. I sent the jpg to Allen tonight, and he seemed happy with it, though, so I think we'll go with it. I should have asked first to find out that Flood Zone is two words, but he was okay with that too, fortunately. Otherwise, I'd have to exercise some seriously atrophied Photoshop skills to put a space in there!

More to come this week…

30 March 2015

Another idea

This was from a photo that we actually used for summer reading about five years ago. It was taken by John Reiff Williams, a professional photographer and the husband of my colleague, Anarda. But since I am doing drawings for all the flyers this year, and since the theme is "Teen Meetup in the Burb," I thought this one might work, so I did a pen drawing/watercolor of it. I'll have to check with John to make sure he doesn't mind! Since he took it to use for summer reading, I'm hoping he won't!

22 March 2015

Teen Summer Reading Club

Every year, my colleague Anarda and I struggle with the theme and artwork for our teen summer reading program at the library. The kids' programs are easy--hire a magician, a clown, a puppeteer, put their pictures on the flyer, and 200 kids (and their parents) show up. It's different when it comes to teens. You have to find something that's cool without being niche, or you have to take something that's not cool and make it cool somehow. And doing this as two women in our 50s? Yeah, it's a challenge. Some years, the themes provided by the state library or the American Library Association are good. But usually we think they're lame, and go our own way. Last year we did science fiction (Set Forth! New Worlds Await You…), which was a flexible and inclusive theme, and got pretty good results. But we shot ourselves in the foot (feet?) because this year's provided theme is superheroes, and we already included them as part of our sci fi extravaganza last year, so we were stuck--we had to come up with something on our own. So, we did what young adult librarians are supposed to do--we asked the teens.

We did a focus group and ran some ideas by teens of various ages. They seemed to like our ideas (in a rather tepid manner), but then I said the magic words: "It would be kind of like a meetup." Apparently, in teen world, meetups are cool, meetups are sophisticated, meetups are now where it's at. It's all about the lingo. So we promptly adopted this thinking and made our theme "Teen Meetup in the Burb." (We work for the Burbank Public Library.)

Wanting to stick with a casual, spontaneous feel, like actual meetups, I decided that I would draw the illustrations to go on the flyers. We are going to have a weekly "Book Cafe," at which the kids bring the books they're reading, book-talk them, have coffeehouse-type refreshments, and hang out; we're doing a makerspace meetup, meetups for movies, two writing workshops, a meetup in the park with a band, a sketch crawl meetup…and as our finale, Open Mic Night and Karaoke.

So of course the minute I decided to illustrate all of these activities, I froze and couldn't think of any ideas, and when I did, I couldn't execute them the way I wanted them. I was pretty happy with my movie marquee, but Anarda says my cafe chairs are too girly (and I noticed that the perspective on the left-hand chair is pretty wonky), and the sketch I did today (the mug with the books) was overworked into a completely different style, with little spontaneous pen detail showing.

Sigh. I think I might have to take a day off work and just power through a bunch more of these until I get it right. Or maybe two days…?

01 March 2015


I started this painting of a scene from France at Keiko Tanabe's workshop with a plan to paint it in the style we were attempting to learn there. Five hours of work later, I realize that I did not succeed in that goal, and that in fact I could not succeed because I still don't have an understanding of how to paint like that. I understand the theory; but in practice? I'm still painting like me.

In this one, that nearly defeated me, because the amount of itsy, confusing detail in this reference photo is overwhelming. Keiko would have determined the salient details, simplified vastly, and produced a masterful work that completely resembled this scene without literally being this scene. I didn't do that. I drew everything. I got halfway through this painting and put it aside for a few days, and I almost decided not to finish it because I couldn't face all that. (I don't know how people like John Salminen plan out and work on a painting for 40 hours straight, reveling in the placement of beautiful minutiae--that's definitely not me either!)

Parthenay: 12x16, watercolor

I'm not saying it's a bad thing that I paint like me, or that this is a bad painting. It does have its problems: I forgot about saving all the whites I wanted to keep. I didn't decide soon enough where my light source was coming from (the photo was taken on a cloudy day that produced few shadows or clues), so there are some awkward results here and there when I remembered or forgot to think about that. I definitely need practice painting foliage that looks realistic! And I am apparently an absolute literalist when it comes to color. For the life of me, I can't look at a picture, as Keiko does, and see tone and value. What appeals to me about a reference photo or a scene is its colors!

Given all that, what is the purpose, then, of taking a workshop such as Keiko's, if you don't really learn to do what she does? Or if you discover you have no affinity for it, or, worse, that you have the affinity but not the ability? As I found out while making this painting, it can be discouraging, or it can be revelatory. (Or, in this case, both.) What this painting revealed to me is that yes, I can make this kind of painting adequately, or even fairly well, but also that I have a long way to go.

I'm not saying that I want to learn to slavishly copy the style of someone else because I admire their work; but my admiration of their work has made me understand that my own body of work is so small that I haven't had the time to work out the kinks. I don't yet know all that I can do, because I haven't done it. When I said to Keiko at the workshop, after my notable failure to produce a believable drawing of a car out of my head, that I would have to take my sketchbook to work with me so I could sit in the parking lot on my lunch hour and draw cars until you could tell a Prius from a Jeep, she absently remarked, "Yes, at one point I realized I did not like painting water and it was because I didn't know how to do it, so I painted only water for six months." That would be six months of daily paintings.

It would be easy for me to say, Yes, but I work a full-time job, so I can't do that. The truth is, though, that you do what matters. Last night, for instance, I had the choice between watching TV or finishing my painting, and I chose to finish the painting. I could make that choice every night, and have, perhaps not a daily painting, but certainly a lot more than I am accomplishing now on the weekends, when I am done running errands or reading a novel. I make the excuse (about reading, and television, and putzing around in shops) that I need to recuperate from the week that's past and gear up for the week to come, but you have to ask the question: What is better for one's psyche than doing something creative? The more you do, the better you get; the better you get, the more fun you have. So there is a mountain range I need to climb, and the first few slopes are called reluctance, lethargy, and fear, but the peaks are wonder, delight, expression, fulfillment. Time to do a little more hiking.