04 June 2017

Any excuse

So today is supposed to be chore day, starting with dishes. I washed one drying rack full (15 plates, one bowl, four cups), and then discovered that all my tea towels for drying were missing or dirty. So, leaving those to air dry, I put a load of towels in the washer, and cast around for something else to do while the rack of dishes dried and the towels washed AND dried. I decided that, rather than embark on some other chore that would get complicated and ultimately sour me for continuing the dishes once I was able, I would instead paint something. As an inveterate slob, I will take any excuse to avoid doing housework...

My gardenia bush just burst into glorious blossom, and smells divinely outside my bedroom window. I decided I'd paint a vase of gardenias. Since they are white, I decided I would do a negative painting of sorts, by doing the background dark so the flowers would stand out. So instead of drawing in pen, which is my usual habit in my sketchbook, I drew in pencil, then erased until I could see the lines fairly lightly, and began.

I'm pretty happy with how the gardenias themselves turned out, but I was so anxious to get to them that I shorthanded some things that I shouldn't. The vase in which I put them is pottery, and although it's dull, it does have some shine and sparkle in the light, but I left out the highlights. It also has weird markings that are white because wherever they are scored into the clay, the paint didn't follow, but they are really hard to translate in art. In retrospect, I wish I'd left some simple highlights and left out the white lines. Also, although gardenias are soft and almost chalky in appearance, with few highlights, the same cannot be said of their leaves, which are all colors of extremely glossy green, and there, too, I neglected to leave the highlights that would make them sparkle. If I had been working on watercolor paper instead of in my sketchbook, I could have lifted some; but this paper isn't that forgiving. And similarly, the paper in the sketchbook reacts differently to big washes of color, and it was impossible to maintain "the bead," the all important wet line at the bottom of your wash that allows you to continue it top to bottom without it looking scrubby. So there are lots of things wrong with this little painting.

If I hadn't determined that this would be the day I would have a clean kitchen, I would have retried this on watercolor paper; but after having put away the first, dry rack of dishes and washed another one...after having taken the towels out of the washer and put them in the dryer...and after having cooked myself a nice lunch (onion and mushroom frittata with parmesan) and messed up a plate and a glass again, I can't refuse to confront that kitchen any longer.

03 June 2017

Unexplored Los Angeles

I have to admit that although I have lived in Los Angeles for 40 years, there are parts of it with which I am familiar, and parts to which I am a total stranger. I went to Pepperdine University, so I know Malibu. I like the beach, so Santa Monica and Venice are regular destinations. I live in the San Fernando Valley and work in Burbank, so I know those well. I commuted to Hollywood for 12 years (split into three batches depending upon the job/employer), over the course of my career. And I've driven through most parts of it, on my way to somewhere else. But there are a lot of places I have never stopped. I went to one of those this morning.

Los Angeles urban sketcher Virginia Hein is going to be one of the teachers at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago this August. Since I forgot to sign up for that until so late that all the good stuff was already full, and decided against going for that reason (among others), when I saw a post on Facebook that Virginia wanted to do a "dry run" (that's a pun, since it's watercolor) of her class, "The Color of Light in an Urban Garden," this morning at Echo Park Lake, I decided that would be a fun way to experience a teensy part of Chicago without the plane fare. The class was from 9:00 to 12:00, so I got up early, packed up my kit, and drove down to Echo Park, which on a Saturday took me about 20 minutes. (On a weekday? 1.5 hours, probably.)

She was proposing a new way of working for me, which is always both good and awful in equal measure: Good, because I learn something; awful, because I never have much to show for my efforts at these workshops. I'm so focused on figuring out the technique that I mostly make messes I wouldn't show anyone. Which is always frustrating to my non-artist friends--they find out I'm taking a workshop with some talented and accomplished person and automatically expect me to come back having created a masterpiece in a new style. The reality is, learning anything takes time and repeated flubs and missteps, and I never have much of anything to exhibit.

I'm going to be brave, however, this time, and show one of the three sketches that we did. I'm under no illusions that it's any good, but it was a fun morning and I wanted to post about it, and this IS an art blog, after all. Also, I am enamoured of the subject of my painting, a 14-foot, art-Deco-style female statue called "Nuestra Reina de Los Angeles" (Queen of the Angels), more commonly called "Lady of the Lake" by people in the neighborhood. She was sculpted in 1935 by Ada May Sharpless, as part of the post-stock market crash government program called the "Public Works of Art Project" (PWAP). She's a beauty, and I'm including a photo of her from 1937 (courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library) so you can see her true contours.


Here she is, in place, and here is her creator, Ada May Sharpless.

And here is my 20-minute urban sketch of her. Our objective here was not to draw first, but simply to put in a few defining lines to indicate focal point and major elements, and then go straight to paint (something I have never, ever done). Our other objective was to squint our eyes to discover the light and the dark, the warm and the cool, the dominant and the recessive, and use just two colors to make our entire painting. After that, we were allowed to use a third color to pick out some highlights or beef up an area of heightened color or interest.

For those not familiar with Echo Park Lake, that column of white behind her is a huge fountain that bursts up in two parallel streams from the middle of the lake to tower over everything. White water on a pale blue sky background is hard to paint!

Now that I have discovered Echo Park, I will make another expedition on a weekend morning to paint some of the other beautiful sights (or sites) I found there. Here are a couple:

If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the Lotus Pond while they're blooming. They're really spectacular.

23 May 2017

Busman's holiday

On the last weekend in April, there is a horror convention for literature called StokerCon. This year it took place at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, and Anarda and I got out of the library to do a little refresher course in horror to boost our collection chops (neither of us is a horror reader, so we thought we'd see what was new out there that we should buy for the library). We didn't hit the whole convention (we're not masochists), but StokerCon does this nice thing where they invite librarians to come all day on Thursday, and they have a few panels stocked with authors and publishers for us, and they feed us lunch, and we can shop for books from the booths the publishers set up.

We were sitting in the room where we had just finished listening to one panel and were waiting for the next to begin, and Anarda was chatting with some people I didn't know, so I pulled out my sketchbook and captured a moment. One of the volunteers running the librarians' day was herself a librarian; we both knew she looked familiar, and thought we might know her from grad school. She is a rather large woman, and I give her respect for her clothing choices. While most of us who grew up watching our weight and then giving up watching it (except to watch it grow) take care to wear dark colors and neutrals (slimming, right?), this woman always dresses with impeccable taste in dramatic fashion and intense color.

On this day, she had on a bright scarlet dress in a stiff material that wasn't satin, I don't think, but acted like it in the way it draped and folded, and in this moment between panels, she sat down to rest for a moment in a chair in front of me, with one leg tucked up under its voluminous skirt, and let it billow out around her. So I did a quick sketch, and then captured a few details from the room around us. I started drawing in the ornate pattern of the rug, but I liked the conceit that it was only blooming in her shadow (and also, the panel was about to start and she got up), so here she is, the lady with the talent to make the carpet sprout color.

21 May 2017

Draw dinner, make dinner

I was going to paint a "real" painting today, but my plan was to paint a vase of roses, and my roses were just "beheaded" by the gardener, so there are no new blooms yet. Rats. So, as an exercise, I decided instead to immortalize my ingredients before turning them into Black Bean Chili.

This is when I find out that it really is important to draw and paint more regularly. Proportions are so wonky in this thing--the tomatoes look like they are half the size of the onion; the black bean bag is too small to contain 16 oz. of beans when compared to the giant green pepper; the ear of corn is a lot wider than it is long when it should be the opposite. In fact, there are two completely separate size ratios here: The beans, chili powder, garlic, and tomatoes belong in one drawing, while everything else belongs in another, larger one! And my original layout had the chil powder on the other side, in order to have some variation of color across the page instead of grouping all the red with all the red and all the green with all the green, but due to the size issues (and starting too far over with the black bean bag), there was no room on the sketchbook page for the chili powder, so I had to put it on the left. Oh, and worst of all, I left the "n" out of "Organic." Curses.

Well, the best I can say is, I needed an exercise, and I did an exercise. And, like when you haven't gone to the gym for a while, I will rest for a day and work out again if I know what's good for me, but the sore muscles are a bit obvious at the moment.

I'm just going to go chop it all up and pretend it never happened. And then eat the evidence.

30 April 2017

Last illustration?

I futzed with this all afternoon, and I'm going to let it sit for a day or two and decide whether or not to do it over. I liked the way some of it came out, but I am unhappy with the mug (which is the point of the whole drawing, since it's to advertise Book Café!).

That turquoise color is really hard to work with, and the more I tried to push it, the more it pushed back. I ended up with rather a mottled mess, with weird highlights and smudgy shadows. I don't really have the time to be doing it over, but...I may anyway. Perhaps we are fated to have a lime green mug instead...

I wanted to include three diverse books, for various reasons; Love & Gelato is a contemporary coming of age / romance, The Diabolic is sci fi / dystopic and is on the ballot as one of the Teens' Top Ten for this year, and Crooked Kingdom, the second in a duology by Leigh Bardugo, is my favorite book so far in 2017. But I'm not sure the color combo works between the three books, either; I should have put the white book in the middle instead of on the bottom, and the red pages on Crooked Kingdom are a little distracting (even though they are that color).

I guess I'll ponder...and ask the opinion of my colleague, Anarda, and/or maybe a few teenagers...

23 April 2017

Weekend of art

Some was planned, some was not. On Saturday, I took my car to Glendale Kia for a service, but also because it has been making weird creaking noises when I start and stop and turn. I had a suspicion something major was wrong with it, because after our big winter rains, a bunch of potholes opened up in our streets and highways, and I hit a large one dead on with my left front tire while driving 70 mph in the fast lane on the 5 freeway. Sure enough, when I got it to the dealership, my shocks were BENT and I had to replace them. And, of course, I was also badly in need of a general service for everything. So I left the car and walked to Foxy's for breakfast.

Foxy's "thing" is that they have a toaster on every table, and they bring you your bread untoasted, so you can put it in when you want it and have piping hot toast. I love this immediate gratification (I like my toast at the end of my breakfast, by which time it's usually cold and hard), so I decided to memorialize it as an urban sketch:

I was sitting at a table with a view out to the patio, so I included that in my sketch as well. I had to draw it there but watercolor it later, since Foxy's is a popular place on Saturday morning, and there were multitudes waiting for my table. So I took a reference photo and went over to the Americana mall to see a movie, to pass the time. When the movie was done, so was my car! (I do NOT understand people who take their car in and then sit in the waiting room for five hours when they could walk a few blocks and have some fun!)

Today, I got down to business: drawing and painting two more illustrations for Teen Summer Reading flyers and brochure. The first one was a cinch and took me half an hour to draw and another half an hour to paint; but the second one took me about five hours by the time I was done. I'm pretty pleased with it, though.

Here is the first illustration, an alternate to my too-childish LEGO drawing from last week. I think this one will work better, although it is infinitely more boring!

And here is the second illustration, for the Reading Log. I do one of these multiple-book illustrations every year, and the hardest part of it is selecting the books. They need to be colorful; they need to have a variety of colors (not all the same scheme); the lettering needs to be manageable; and they have to look good together. Also, it helps if they are popular books by popular authors, OR if they are books I'm trying to get the kids to read.

I laid them out various ways, photographed them, and worked from the photo for the drawing (and the shadows), but then looked at each actual book as I went along (I checked them all out and brought them home with me) to make sure I was representing the artwork and colors well. This was a big challenge! Lots of colors, shadows, lettering, detail.

All of these are LePen (it's similar to a Micron) #3, and watercolor.

I had hoped to get my third and last illustration (for Book Café) done today too, but I ran out of time and daylight. Maybe I'll get to it during the week...or next weekend? I'm probably crazy to put all this pressure on myself to illustrate the summer reading program every year, but although it's a lot of work and stressful because of deadlines, I do enjoy seeing my artwork on the final product throughout the summer!

17 April 2017

And at the other end of the spectrum...


We're building a LEGO city for teen summer reading, so this is the illustration (I think) for the flyer. I was going to do something more sophisticated, but couldn't find any good pictures of LEGO buildings to use as source material, and I thought this was cute/silly. We'll see if my co-creators think I should do something more serious for the teens.

Spring Break

No, unfortunately librarians do NOT get a spring break like their more fortunate young patrons or those children's teachers; but I took a short spring break of my own by registering for a painting workshop with Paul Jackson, whose "painting glass" workshop I took last year. I thought we were doing the "magic hour" workshop this time, which is where he teaches you how to paint city scapes during the blue hour just past twilight, but the Valley Watercolor Society opted instead for the "dramatic landscapes" class. I was a little disappointed, but decided to go anyway, because I can always learn something from Paul; and it was quite the enjoyable experience.

We all worked from the same reference photo, taking things slowly, step by step, to learn how to build watercolor paintings in thin layers so as to capture the true luminescence of watercolor. As a person who primarily makes small contour line drawings and watercolors them with a lot of color and a bit of depth and shadow, this is a different way of working for me. I appreciated the reiteration of the lessons on how to control watercolors simply by controlling the amount of water on the page and in your brush.

Here is a photo of Paul's painting, about three layers in:

We have already put Masters Yellow, Cowbell, and some Opera Pink into the sky here; more Cowbell mixed with some Marigold in the sand; and Ocean Blue, Opera Pink, and Masters Yellow lightly in the water. (These are all proprietary colors from the Paul Jackson signature line of watercolors produced by Da Vinci, and I can tell you, they are the best watercolors I have ever worked with--uniform, smooth, true to color, intense.) This was near the end of day one!

The principal rule of working this way is, as long as you lay down your color in an intensity of less than 50 percent, once it dries you can paint right over it and it won't move a bit. (You can also wet it down and take a lot of it back out, if you don't like it!) Get it over 50 percent darkness, however, and you'll have a muddy mess. So you have to mind your color, mind your water, and always work into an entire area at once, or you'll get hard, ugly lines or big uncontrolled blooms. It's tricky, but if you do it right, it works beautifully.

I am not usually at all satisfied with a painting I do at a workshop, mostly because in the process of learning all the tricks, you don't focus too well on the big picture (so to speak), and also because the things you do at a workshop are necessarily new and challenging and you haven't mastered them yet. But I am not too unhappy with my final picture:

There are bits in it that I like much better than I like the painting as a whole, and parts I wish I had left out or done better, but it's not horrible. Which is a big deal for a workshop painting! Now if I can take those techniques and plan something of my own, using the same principles...

Which may wait for retirement. Because the rest of today I need to focus on those contour line drawings with watercolor enhancement that need to be completed for Teen Summer Reading at the library! But it was lovely to have a spring break to consider future paintings...

Here is Paul with his final version. (Look at the luminosity of the water in the foreground. That's something to which I aspire.)

P.S. Let my mistake inform your efforts—don't use that blue "painters' tape" from Home Depot to anchor your painting. It didn't hold the painting tightly enough, and by the second day it had peeled up all along the top and right side and leaked paint out into my margins that were supposed to remain pristine.

Also, Paul is right—you can't cheat when it comes to "stretching" your paper. He wets his on both sides and staples it to the board, and it dries flat every time. I taped mine down, then wetted the front side and used the blow-dryer on it for a quickie alternative, and as you can see from the ripples across the top half of my ocean, that didn't go so well. Which reminds me yet again—if you're going to take a workshop with the experts to "stretch" your abilities, might as well listen to all their advice!

It was really fun to hang out with Paul again, and I hope he comes back and does the "magic hour" or his "birds" workshop next time!

09 April 2017

Teen Summer Reading Illustrations

This was the weekend in which I was supposed to get ALL my summer reading illustrations done. I should have known that it's always one part inspiration and 10 parts perspiration, with the result that everything takes a REALLY LONG TIME. Anyway, I managed to get two done, plus a logo of sorts, so at least I made some progress.

Our big activity this summer is building, painting, and decorating three Little Free Libraries, which we are then going to install (with the help of the Public Works Department) at strategic locations around Burbank. Although there are already some LFLs in Burbank, ours are going to be specifically donated by the Burbank Public Library and the Friends of the Library, and the Friends will give us the books to help keep it stocked. Because let's face it, although the ideal (and slogan) of LFLs is "Take One Leave One," the books do tend to run out, because more people are taking than leaving. Which is fine, since we always have so many donations of books with which we can fill them. And it can be an ongoing project for our teens, who can get service hours for picking out books and going to fill them up again when they are empty.

So here's the first illustration:

I did it in strong colors to match the summer reading logo we are using this year, but I left it otherwise pretty plain, because I don't want to influence the teens when it comes to their own design ideas.

After last year's success, the Teen Advisory Board decided they wanted to do another lock-in murder mystery game again this year for our finale, and we just came up with the theme, which is "Body in the Book Shop." So I had to find a reference photo (it's a used bookstore in Rome, with the signage changed), and then I drew it twice (the first time it was very crooked), and watercolored it. I spent the next few hours coming up with logotype to go with the bookstore. I had hoped to superimpose it over part of the building, but it just didn't work, so I cropped the bookstore a bit and put it to the side. I think it will work—we will see what others say.

This illustration was challenging, in that you have to make it look like there's something back in the dark recesses of that bookstore, without actually painting all of it and then blacking it out, so I got creative with a few details that lead the eye to believe there's something there. But it was nerve-wracking, because I painted the entire rest of the picture first, and put the dark bit of the interior in last, and if it didn't work...well, let's say I would be less happy right now. But I think it did...

Anyway, two down, and a few more to go: LEGOtopia, Book Café, and books for the Reading Log cover. I hope to spend some time on those during some evenings this week.

19 March 2017


Well, I almost let the rest of the weekend go by without painting anything but...along about 5:00 today, I thought to myself, Hey, spring flowers! Paint some! The problem is, except for some pink heather and a few tiny white rosebuds, the only spring flowers showing their faces in my yard right now are...nasturtiums? What? Not exactly what you think of as representative of spring—that would be more along the lines of daffodils or sweet peas, or maybe some ranunculus. But no. All that rain last month triggered some scattered and partially buried seeds from last year's summer crop of nasties, and they all came up and bloomed. So here is my painting for spring: Nasturtiums.

I was going to put them in a nice vase, but nasturtiums are such homely flowers (not in the sense of ugly, more like common, regular, down to earth) that I decided a spare jar from TJ's would be just the thing. When I started the drawing at 5:15, I had some lovely cast shadows, but by the time I got done with it and was ready to paint, most of those had gone away. So I settled for a bit of reflection off the glass, which was stil barely there in the waning sunlight. Maybe next week I can start a little earlier!

Micron pen, watercolors, 75 minutes.

18 March 2017

Drawing my surroundings

On the first week of January, I took on a new task: I started teaching a 10-week course at UCLA, for the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (i.e., the library school), a Young Adult Literature class for the students getting their masters degrees to become a librarian--hopefully a teen librarian, like me! That class met for the last time this past Wednesday, which explains the long hiatus from posting on this blog; I worked 40 hours a week at the library, and spent every Saturday and Sunday writing a lecture, creating a powerpoint, and preparing myself for each week's class.

It was extremely intensive work, since I had never taught the class before and had to make it up from scratch as I went along. I had some help from some mentors in the field--Michael Cart, who wrote Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism, and who was one of my own teachers at UCLA when I attended; Roger Kelly, the head of the Children's Department at Santa Monica Public Library, who taught children's services at UCLA last quarter and who, when he found out I had taken on this challenge, immediately reached out to me and offered help; and the now-retired but still completely involved Dr. Virginia Walter, UCLA professor and children's librarian and author of diverse works of fiction and nonfiction. So I had support and encouragement and even some outline syllabi, but ultimately I still had to go it alone.

Although it was stressful, it was also fun and satisfying and inspiring for my own library career all over again; I learned some things myself while doing research to present all the facts and theories to my 13 graduate students, and I hope they found it inspiring as well. All that's left to do is to grade their final papers and projects, and I'm not allowed to do that until after today, because they had a time period following the last class meeting to go online and evaluate me as their professor, and no grades are turned in until that process is done. So today is a time-out-of-time day as far as work is concerned.

Because of all of this, I have made almost no art during the past 10 weeks. I thought about it, I planned some things, I yearned to break out the paint palette, but there was simply no time. So the only real pause I had in my schedule was, ironically, every Wednesday morning when I arrived at UCLA. I live 12 miles away, but those 12 miles are on the dreaded 405 freeway over the impassable Sepulveda Pass, so to make it to a 9:00 a.m. class, I found myself leaving at 6:30 a.m. and still struggling with traffic for 45 minutes to an hour to go those 12 miles.

Once I arrived, however, I then had between 60 and 90 minutes before my class was due to start. So every Wednesday morning, my ritual was to buy a big tub of oatmeal with brown sugar and walnuts and a super-size coffee with cream, park myself at a table in the commons, and read whatever book I was working on. (My leisure reading suffered too; for more than three months, I read nothing but young adult literature, in preparation for both my class and my three teen book clubs.) But a few times, I brought my sketchbook along, and if there was sufficient time, I tried my hand at sketching others having their breakfast while waiting for their first class of the day.

First of all, I'm not great at people. Part of that reason is lack of practice; but part of it is that people, for the most part, do NOT like to be looked at that intently, in my experience. Every time I would start drawing someone, they would feel my eyes upon them, become uncomfortable, and either glare at me until I pretended to draw something else, hoping they would become distracted again by the contents of their cell phone, or they would get up and leave before my drawing was complete. I now understand why so many artists who draw people either do super-quick studies or draw from photographs!

Anyway, long story to say: Here are some quick and dirty drawings that I made at UCLA and then watercolored in a hurry later that same day (or week). I hope that, now my class is finished and the weather has warmed up, I will be able to spend more time every weekend out in my patio room, drawing and painting all sorts of things.

This was breakfast: Oatmeal, coffee, my banana snack for later, my book (Jackaby, by William Ritter, for 8+9 Book Club), and my specs.

 This guy caught me looking and got up just as I had finished his head, which is why his body came out so lame and so out of proportion, because I had to make it up and did a poor job of it. This is a great spot in the commons, because there's a fireplace, and the week I drew this, it was in the low 50s outside, so a fire was a welcome sight. I never got around to painting this one.

This girl spotted me too, but eventually, after I looked fixedly to her right and drew all the background stuff, she went back to whatever she was doing on her Mac, and I was able to get a better likeness of her, though still not good--I doubt she'd recognize herself, which is what people should realize when they see you sketching them! Their own mother wouldn't know them. I haven't yet mastered the down-glance, where they are looking down at a book or a computer--she looks like her eyes are closed. Oh well--practice, practice.

Hopefully better is to come!

06 January 2017

At it again—Shelf-talkers

We're having another shelf-talker craft at the library, but this time it's for Valentine's Day, and it's open to children, teens, and adults. We're calling it "The Book I Love," and the object is for everyone to pick a book and do a shelf-talker to put up in the library so that on February 14th, the shelves are papered with love notes to books!

In order to do this, of course, we need a flyer, so I made a few shelf-talkers to use on the flyer as examples of what we have in mind. Of course, they can be a lot less elaborate than this—just text and a few tiny hearts would do—but I tend to like to include something that evokes the book visually. So here are my shelf-talkers—one from an adult, one from a teen, one for a picture book.

02 January 2017

Hiatus, new start

It's hard for me to believe that I didn't draw or paint anything for more than a month...but I didn't. I thought about it, I doodled a little, but I never made time. So on New Year's Day, I decided I'd better do something to set the precedent for the rest of the year. Since it's the Year of the Rooster, I found a reference photo and did one of those; but I wasn't terribly satisfied with it, so the next day I did another. There is such infinite variety in roosters, this could go on for a while if I decided to do that--we'll see! So here are Rooster 1 and Rooster 2, and Happy New Year.