26 December 2018

My other Christmas painting

In addition to our family circle, which always draws names, we have a few people we love who have been joining us for Christmas Eve for many years now. Two such people are my cousin Kirsten's best friend, Kirsti, and her husband, Aaron. This year I had no trouble finding multiple gifts for Kirsti, but I was stumped for Aaron. I found a few things online, but by the time I was ready to make up my mind, I discovered that I was in denial about how long the mail would take (Amazon has spoiled us all), and nothing would arrive in time.

I keep a file of "reference photos" on my computer—photographs that I think would translate well into watercolor paintings—for when I am lacking inspiration, or when I need to capture something that is happening too quickly to paint from life (not a still life, but live action). One such photo had been there for years, and I have considered making a painting from it for that long, but have never gotten up my nerve; I am generally bad at portraiture, and not great at painting animals either. But when I went and "thumbed through" my ref photos file on Sunday afternoon, it popped up again and I decided I was going to give it a shot.

I did the drawing and laid down a nice warm yellow background around 5:00, and then sat down on the sofa with my book to drink a cup of tea and let the background wash dry; suddenly, it was two hours later, and I was waking up to cold tea and the prospect of wrapping ALL of my Christmas presents. So I switched on the TV and wrapped until 11:30. By then, because of my nap, I had a second wind, so I thought Hey, I'm going to finish that painting for Aaron! I figured it would take me an hour, maybe 90 minutes. When I decided the touch of shadow I had just painted was my last brushstroke, I looked up to discover it was 2:30 a.m.! But I got it done, and next day my framer obliged with a mat, and I was able to give it to Aaron on Christmas Eve.

That's Aaron with the guitar, and his quizzical and engaged listener is Owen. Owen sadly passed on a while back, but Aaron appreciated the memorial, and said I exactly captured Owen's expression as he listened to Aaron play. I called the painting "Freebird" not because that's what he was playing, but because of the lyrics: It's been a sweet love, he had to travel on, but this love you cannot change. The love and loyalty of all our wee beasties is so precious. I loved making this picture of the bond between Aaron and Owen.

25 December 2018

Copying art

We draw names in my family, and buy one large Christmas gift for one person. This year, I drew my cousin-in-law, David. As we all get older, it gets harder to find something special to give, because most of us are working, making a decent living, and for the most part buying for ourselves the things that we need and want. So I decided that I'd like to paint him a picture, because that's something he couldn't do for himself; but what to paint? He previously had some Asian-influenced art in his apartment, but my cousin Kirsten said he was phasing that out and going with a pure Arts and Crafts movement vibe. So I went and looked at the designs of William Morris, Charles Rennie MacIntosh, Edward Burne-Jones, and others, and tried to figure out something to paint.

The problem with that movement (which I love probably as much as David does) is that most of the so-called art is actually functional: architecture, a lamp, a chair, a ceramic pot, the tiles surrounding a fireplace, or (in the case of Morris) a wallpaper  or textile design. After all, the famous quote from Morris states, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Although there were painters from that era, I am not so cognizant of the entire movement that I knew who to look up, nor did I feel confident in David's preference for one over another. So after feeling frustrated for a while, I decided to study the wallpaper designs of Morris, and to choose one of those to copy in watercolor.

I ended up with one of his many variations on an acanthus-leaf design, this one including a couple of flowers and with some bright, contrasting colors (so much of his work is subtle and dark and therefore hard to copy from a print). Because I came to appreciate the intricacy and deliberation he put into each of his designs, I documented my steps in painting this piece. Here they are, start to finish:

The "drawing" was done as a trace; I printed out a photo of the wallpaper swatch at the size I wanted, did a double-layer of graphite transfer (translation: I scribbled on the back in both directions with a soft-lead pencil) to the back, then laid the xerox on top of my watercolor pad and faithfully traced all the leaves, flowers, and branches onto the paper.

I decided to proceed from light to dark, leaving the background color until last, especially because with that color being intense, it would cover a multitude of pencil edges so I wouldn't have the challenge of erasing them. So I began with the pale blue-green acanthus leaves:

There was a lot of shading and color variation in each leaf, not to mention the introduction of an occasional dot or splotch or another color (pink, in the case of the green leaves).

Next was the intense mustard yellow:

Again, duplicating these leaves entailed at least three separate colors of yellow/brown, and had unexpected highlights of lime green.

Next came the green of the two blossoms and the darker greens and browns of all the background leaves and vines:

These were particularly hard to achieve, since many of the leaves had veining, which I wanted to be there, but to look natural, not like lines painted over the top. In some places I succeeded, and in some not so much! I think Morris himself must have painted in oils, which might have been easier?

And finally, I applied the background by carefully filling all the remaining white space with a deep, rich red. It really makes all the other colors pop, and shades the borders together too:

Then I went back in and added a bit of shading and a few darks, for more emphasis.

I hope that David enjoys hanging and looking at it as much as I did painting it. It was quite a lesson in layout, design, color theory...there is a reason William Morris was a major figure of his day and continues to be lauded all these years later.

"After William Morris," pencil, Paul Jackson watercolors, on 140-lb. Strathmore paper.

Gift tags

People were impressed that I painted my own gift tags this year, but what really happened is that I was so disorganized that I had no other choice. I turned in the grades for my students at UCLA on Dec. 14, and thought to myself, Okay, 10 days until Christmas, plenty of time to get everything done, and then...I zoned out. I suddenly realized, on Dec. 22nd, that although I had gifts for about 85 percent of my people, I hadn't bought any paper or ribbon or gift labels, I hadn't wrapped anything, and I was still missing a couple of big gifts, at least one of which I was supposed to be making myself. I checked my cupboard and discovered I had enough leftover paper and ribbon from previous years to make it work, but there wasn't a gift tag to be found. So, I chopped up a couple of sheets of watercolor paper and spent an evening in front of the TV drawing little bunches of mistletoe and holly, a couple of trees, and a nice wreath for my main giftee (David)—we draw names in my family, get the person we draw something big, and then maybe a small thing for everyone else.

Here are my tags, most of which arrived with their designees last night (we do Christmas on the Eve), so now I can show them:

Uniball fine-point black pen and watercolors (various makers) on watercolor paper. They were fun to make; maybe I'll make it a tradition.

20 December 2018

Today's effort

I've been watching a tutorial for Urban Sketching on Sketchbook Skool, and this week's instructor is Liz Steel. While the tutorial is about sketching in situ out in the world, and while Liz is an architect, so you would think her focus would be on buildings, she has a mini obsession, which is taking daily tea and sketching the teacup, whether her own or belonging to whichever tea shop she habituates.

(Here's one I painted a few years back, inspired by one of my mom's collection and remembering the "tea for 30" parties she used to host.)

I always wonder about people who sketch their food and drink, because they do a beautiful job of both the drawing and the painting, but all I can think about is, Aren't those fried eggs getting rubbery? Isn't that toast stone cold and soggy by the time you eat it? I still haven't had that question answered, but I did get a glimpse into Liz's process: She pours the first cup of tea, quickly does her base drawing (including the tea at the proper level in the cup), then drinks the tea down. She finishes her drawing, pours a second cup of tea, paints the tea first to get the right level and shade, and then drinks the tea as she goes along with painting the rest of the cup. And when she's finished, she pours a third cup and enjoys it while the paint dries so she can close her sketchbook.

It was about lunchtime when I finished this part of the tutorial. Yesterday, at the market, I stopped in the beans and soup aisle to get some small red beans for tonight's dinner; and while there, I gave in to nostalgia and bought two packets of soy-sauce-flavored Top Ramen, 88 cents for two. My ex-husband and I lived on that stuff the first couple of years we were married and on a budget, and I don't think I've had it since. So today, I cooked up a packet in two cups of boiling water.

It was, however, going to be too hot to eat for about 10 minutes, so I grabbed my sketchbook and pen and made a quick drawing; then I ate the sufficiently cooled-off ramen, careful to leave a few mouthfuls at the bottom of the bowl so I could mix just the right colors, and then I painted it. Not quite as elegant as Liz's teacups, but yummy, and fun to immortalize.

19 December 2018

Quick urban sketches

These are a few sketches I made recently, two last week, one today. I'm trying to pull out my sketchbook, instead of my novel, when I'm in a situation where I have to wait for something.

These first two are at UCLA, and are fast, continuous-line sketches, necessary to catch students at breakfast before they moved or left. I'm still enjoying the way continuous-line makes you consider how to capture the main shapes without getting lost in the details.

This one I did at the car dealership today while waiting for an oil change. I thought it would be a more extensive servicing, since I've been driving my "new" Jeep Renegade for almost 7,000 miles now, but aside from some top-up of liquids, it was nothing more than oil and filter. So this drawing was smaller and less inclusive of the general view than I had planned when I sat down, but I still feel like I captured a moment. I was sitting in the waiting area, back behind the main floor and at an angle to the receptionist's desk. I loved that directly behind this rather mundane set-up of a desk with all the electronics necessary to her job, you could see a lime green Rubicon parked in the room. So I painted the things that were interesting—the girl, the Jeep—and left the many many office machines as caricatures.

11 December 2018

Still Life

I decided yesterday that today I would paint a "real" painting, that is, using actual watercolor paper instead of working in my sketchbook, and with a subject from life. As it happens, I was at the market while having these thoughts, so I picked up a few pieces of fruit that only show themselves around December so I could arrange a still life. I had just been watching Brenda Swenson's contour drawing lesson on YouTube, which featured a few persimmons, and I have always liked her negative paintings of pomegranates as well, so I combined those and added in a lovely pale yellow pear.

I did this as a mostly continuous line drawing while on the fruit; but once I started doing the leaf pattern on the plate, things got tricky, and I ended up lifting my pen quite a bit. Still, the overall drawing has the wonky feeling of continuous contour.

Today I decided to break out the "good" paints as well; I used my designer collection of Paul Jackson paints made by DaVinci. The features I like best about them are their creaminess and intensity of color; and some of them granulate really beautifully as well. I've noticed that they do take a little longer to dry than those in my other paint palette, which is weird, because more than half of those are M. Graham, which have honey in their ingredients list and therefore should stay damp longer. I'll have to ask Paul about that.

Black uniball pen on 140 lb. Fluid watercolor paper, Jackson watercolors, Escoda paintbrushes.

09 December 2018

Facebook header

I wanted something doodly to do while waiting on hold with the phone company the other day, so I made myself another Facebook header. I apparently made it a little deeper than the other one, which fit perfectly, because a tiny bit of this one is being cut off. This is quite similar to the Yule card I made for one of my Sketchbook Skool recipients, because I ended up liking the theme of Yule symbols from nature, but I just realized I forgot the most important one—the Yule log! Oh, well...

Uniball Vision fine-tip black pen, watercolor.

I wonder if there is a market out there for custom-illustrated Facebook page "covers" for people and businesses?

05 December 2018

Yule cards

One of the artifacts of the Sketchbook Skool experience (that is even more popular since SketchKon brought some of us together) is that they organized a holiday card exchange, wherein you get five or six names to whom you send cards for the holidays, and receive some in return. You aren't supposed to share them until after people have received them, but all mine have been mailed, and none of those people follow my blog (so far as I am aware), so I'm going to go ahead and post them.

The theme was supposed to be JOY, and though that word is a good one, when it comes to religious overtones it has a bad vibe for me. Back when I was a juvenile fundamentalist, some masochistic individual in my parents' church decided that JOY was an acronym for "Jesus-Others-Yourself." That hierarchy haunted me for many unproductive and self-effacing years. So when it came up for this prompt, I decided to turn joy into joyous, and follow it up with yule, with which no one seems to have a problem even though it's pagan and not Christian, mainly because all it brings to mind is a nice cozy fire. (The "yule" was also prompted by my first idea for a card, which was, naturally, a pun.)

These card "designs" were a good exercise in lack of planning for me. Some people got really elaborate, but I decided that I would allow these to be spontaneous and unique, and I would do them as and when I found time. I did prioritize the three that were going out of state, and did the ones closer to home a little later.

Here is one that I couldn't resist for my new penpal in Australia:

This one below went to Salzburg, Austria (each of those trees was made with one continuous pen line)...

And this one to Victoria BC, Canada.

This one went to Tacoma, Washington...

This one to Marietta, Georgia...

And this one, fulfilling the obvious cliché, to Los Gatos, California!

I hope all the recipients enjoyed them as much as I did making them. I did fancy envelopes too, but neglected to scan them, because they featured people's full names and addresses and I didn't think that would be appropriate. But they know who they are!

01 December 2018

Urban signage

I decided to take a break from working on my next lecture for class yesterday afternoon and head to the Encino-Tarzana branch of the Los Angeles Public Library to look it over. I usually go to the West Valley Regional Branch, but I stopped there on Tuesday to check out something to read and was underwhelmed by their offerings.

I also had an ulterior motive in mind; usually, libraries are good places to practice your urban sketching of people, because they are so focused on whatever they are doing—reading, working at the computer, or just looking fixedly at their phones—that they are easy to draw, staying in one position for prolonged periods, and sufficiently engaged that they don't notice you staring at them as people sometimes do in a café. So I brought along my Moleskine and a uniball.

Alas, it was not to be: The moment I walked in, I was approached by a woman who used to be a regular patron at Burbank and who recognized me from there; she wanted to reassure herself that she wasn't going crazy and that I did indeed work at Burbank. I mumbled that I used to, and tried to disengage, but she kept the conversation going with observations about the paltry nature of LAPL's branches, the superiority of the Burbank Public Library, etc., and then tried to ascertain why I was there—did I live nearby? I wasn't going to answer THAT, so I politely excused myself and headed over to the teen section for refuge.

I decided, as I usually do when visiting a teen section at an unknown library, to take photos, in case I want to share them with students later on. I took three of the collection, and then turned to the seating/computer section to take one more, but was informed loudly by a man sitting in the section that he didn't consent to me taking his photo. I explained that I wasn't even looking at him, I just wanted a photo of the space, so he looked down and covered his face with both hands, I snapped the photo, and I thought everything was good.

When I left the library 20 minutes later, the man followed me out to my car to tell me that it wasn't cool for me to take pictures of him without asking his permission. I explained that it was a public place so he should have every expectation of his likeness being saved, by security cameras if by nothing else, and he retaliated by whipping a pencil and piece of paper from his pocket to write down my license plate number. Yeah, good luck with that. I guess quitting my library job still wasn't sufficient to get away from the "eccentric" people who apparently inhabit every branch in Los Angeles.

Anyway, I still wanted to sketch, so I paid careful attention on the way home and spotted this vintage liquor store sign. I found a parking place in a large lot across the street and managed to do 95 percent of the drawing before someone decided to sit behind me and honk their horn to let me know they were expecting me to move and give them my space, even though I had given no sign of leaving. I didn't; and they eventually gave up and went away, not without roundly cursing me out through their window. Sometimes it seems like a high price to pay to get in a little sketching that is intended to be relaxing and creative!

Here is the sign, positively larded with neon. It must be a fun one after dark.
Uniball, Moleskine journal.

25 November 2018

Virtual meet-up

Some of the people who came to SketchKon proposed a virtual "meet-up" tonight between 4-6 Pacific time (most of them are back east or central, so later for them) to try our hands at painting Pasadena City Hall again, this time from photos. I decided I was game, and found a photo from high up in the Westin Hotel when we were there for the weekend. Here is the photo:

I decided to stick with my current theme of continuous-line contour, which means drawing everything you can without lifting the pen from the paper. It makes for some interesting empty spaces in whatever drawing you are doing—City Hall looks like a castle in the sky. I made the contour drawing, and then tried to capture those yummy sunset colors from the photo.

I am enjoying revisiting continuous line contour—it lets you be free to be wonky without worrying too much about perspective (or anything else). This was fun, we'll have to do it again!

24 November 2018

Back to basics

For some reason I am having a hard time jumpstarting my drawing and painting habits lately, so today, following the example of some people from SketchKon who are newly enthralled with Brenda Swenson's continuous-line pen drawings, I decided to go back to basics. I took myself out to breakfast after my chiropractor appointment this morning, and did a couple of china-and-cutlery drawings while waiting for the food to come, and then drew my English muffin
with jam.

When I got home, I watercolored them, and then decided to try an experiment in a completely different style from my usual. This drawing is also continuous line—I didn't lift the pen once—but the doodley nature of it makes it easier to hide the crossovers and weird places where you get stuck and have to back up on a line to get to the next bit. This one was big fun—I think I'll try some more!

Thanksgiving recipe

This is my new go-to vegetable recipe for big gatherings, so I decided to turn it into art:

It again proved popular this year, except for the mushroom-haters in my family. But even they have to agree that it's better than the infamous mushroom-soup-canned-beans-french-fried-onions sacrilege. I hear the howls of outrage from all of you who love that, but I'll bet it's all just a nostalgia thing and if you tasted my haricots verts you would give it up forever!

Uniball pen, watercolor, all done with the scent of carmelizing onions pervading the room!

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!

21 June 2018

Proof of skill

I took advantage of the fact that today, the Summer Solstice, is the longest day of the year, and started a fairly complicated painting out on my patio at about 7:15, knowing that it wouldn't be fully dark until 8:30 or so. I still ran out of light for the last few bits, but I was just tweaking things by then.

I've painted most things of interest in my back yard; I'm getting tired of still life set-ups and coffee mugs; so I shuffled through a stack of papers on my desk to see what I could find for a reference photo. (I couldn't print anything out because my printer is kaput and I haven't yet bought a new one.) I came across a reference photo that I printed out and used about six or seven years ago, to paint a gift for a friend. She is an avid gardener, so I chose a cottage garden scene.

I thought that I had simply done a complete pencil drawing for that painting before I began it, but upon looking closely at the reference photo today, I realized that I had actually done a scribble-and-trace job on it. That's where you cover the back of your printout with graphite by running your pencil back and forth, up and down, until it's pretty solid, and then you lay your reference photo on top of your blank watercolor paper and trace around the details of the photo, which transfers the graphite to your paper. What I'm saying is, six years ago, I didn't trust myself to draw something and get it right, I had to do a tracing.

Not only that, but I simplified the painting further by cropping out some of the foreground, changing the steps and sidewalk, and leaving out that fancy white mailbox and the big pot planter on the step. Here it is:

Today, I painted the entire picture without using a pencil at all. I started in front with the poppies and worked my way backwards until I had painted everything. And although there are elements of it that certainly could have been painted better (impatience with drying always being my downfall), the location and proportion of everything in it is almost exactly that of the reference photo. The front door is a little misshapen, and should be about a quarter inch to the right, but everything else is dead on. And including the extra elements (mailbox, planter) actually made this one more detailed, though less precise and tidy.

Even though this isn't the greatest painting, I was really pleased that I could go from eye to paper without drawing, let alone tracing. And I liked my choices for more vibrant color. Progress!


20 June 2018

Negative painting

I always think "negative painting" is such a misleading term, because there's nothing negative about painting! For the uninitiated, it just means that you paint light foreground and then fill in dark background behind it, usually in layers (though in this case not), so that the light and white things are highlighted by the dark.

This didn't start out as a negative painting, but capturing flowers that are as white as gardenias are is a challenge, and as I went along, I realized that it was the green leaves and the rose bowl behind the flowers that would show up their details. When I finished, I pondered it for a few minutes, and decided to go with my humble and rather inept version of a Sarah Yeoman bouquet in which the dark background makes the flowers pop. I probably should have gone and looked at hers again before trying it—hers are amazing wet blended drippy blocks of color, while mine was definitely on the dry and scrubby side. Still, I'm working on sketchbook paper in a limited space, and it's the first time I tried this (at least without line of any kind), so I won't judge it too harshly. But I would like to try this one again, on good paper, and see what I could do.


Some rather lame attempts

I tried doing another book. It wasn't a success. It could have been; I could have changed to my reading glasses so that I could see better how to paint the letters in the dim light before the sun went down, but I was in a hurry to get 'er done and get some dinner, so I slopped on through. I cheated on this one by going back in with Photoshop and fixing the letters, at least to the point where they were readable.

The next day I decided to paint this big cup I have that I use for soup when it's the kind you can drink. It's colorful ceramic, and I did pretty well at capturing all its details, but then was impatient (sun going down again) and didn't let it dry properly before trying to put some shadows into it, and it turned out a smeared mess. It did occur to me, as a result of this, that I could paint all the shadows on the cup first, and after those dried, paint the cup over the top, so I'm going to try that. Sometime.

I guess the lessons learned here are: Don't rush. Think things through. Wear your good glasses! Every day can't be a winner. These two were not, but I learned some things. #30x30DirectWatercolor2018.