Ever a story... waiting to be told

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Depends On How You Look At Things

This piece was a complete joy to draw. It's a cute house, with pretty landscaping, AND the client sent me her own envelope to draw on. It's from 1969, with a postage stamp depicting the first moon walk, and an ink stamp declaring, "First Day of Issue". How cool is that?

It's hard for you to really get the sense that this is an old envelope, with frayed edges and a real postage stamp in the corner, because you're viewing it secondhand, through your computer screen. It's not even appearing in it's true size for you. I love being able to share my artwork online, but I do regret that we never really see each other's work as it truly is. The experience of standing in the same room with that very piece of artwork just can't be replaced by any type of online image.  
I was in San Francisco this summer and happened to wander into an art gallery featuring a special exhibition of Salvador Dali originals. I have looked at his work often, on websites, but to stand in that gallery, surrounded by Dali's creative outpourings, drawn with his own hand, seeing them large as life... was an incredibly moving moment for me. I had a similar experience a few days later, when I stumbled into Daniel Merriam's gallery in Sausalito.  
Adagio hanging in the ADC gallery, Cincinnati
I guess that why I like to enter shows and exhibitions as much as possible: for the opportunity to have my work viewed in person, and also for the opportunity to go see other artists' work in person. I was particularly impressed with the artwork at the Viewpoint show in Cincinnati this year. It's my first time being part of this exhibition, and I was so humbled and a wee bit intimidated to have my Adagio hanging there amidst all that amazing artwork. It was also very gratifying to send Understudy all the way to Quebec for the Pencil Art Society Exhibition, although I didn't get to go see the show in person. 
There is a downside to sending your work to all these exhibitions, however. Shipping artwork is outrageously expensive, and there is sometimes damage to the work, like chips in the frame, or tears in the paper backing. And there is the anxiety of waiting for your babies to come safely back home again.
Pencil Art Society Exhibition in Quebec
My piece from this last CPSA show came back with a four-inch label right on the glass (museum acrylic), leaving residue that took me almost an hour to remove. The other drawback to having one's work hanging in a lengthy exhibition, is that you can't display it yourself. I had somebody ask me when they might be able to see the original Adagio, because every time they visited the gallery, it was away at a show!  
But I still think the pros outweigh the cons, and I'll continue to send work to as many shows as I can manage. 
Of course, the giant redwood forest was like stepping INSIDE a painting!
Absolutely Breathtaking!
How about yourself? What are your feelings about entering exhibitions? Why do you do it? 
And what have  your experiences been with viewing artwork in person, rather than online?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Flights of Fancy

6 x 8 Graphite in Journal
"The key to creativity is to identify your own peculiar talent, 
and then to settle down to work with it for a good long time."
-D. Shekerjian

I've been doing more traveling this summer than I ever have before... lots of airplane rides, and lots of airport sitting, but lots of great experiences too!  I've been to both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans within the span of a couple months. That's quite a feat for an Ohioan! 
The only drawing materials I brought along were a 6 x 8 moleskine journal and a few pencils. Now I'm hooked on that little journal. It's going to replace my field book and go with me everywhere I go. It even fits in my purse. I'm also determined that every drawing in this journal is going to be an exploration of some sort. It will be a 'safe' place where I can let my imagination go where it will, not caring what the final results will be, or whether the drawing will ever serve any other purpose than an enjoyable way to spend my time. 
When I started this drawing, I was thinking it would be an abstract study of forms and shapes, with a basic composition comprised of large areas of dark, medium, and light. I started with a few basic lines as a plan, and began to let the pencil wander at will. The image that developed began to look suspiciously like a bird, so I went with it, but not too seriously. If it didn't turn into a bird, that was okay too. But it DID turn into a bird, and the expression on it's face just begged to be parading down the avenue, so I complied with it's request. 
I don't know how to explain what sometimes happens when I begin to draw with that kind of mindset. I just let it flow, and watch what emerges, and then build on what's already there. 
For the next drawing, I was intent on creating some extreme 3D effects, where one object is way below another. There was no conscious decision to make any particular object that one could actually identify by name. Yet, it seems to tell a story of some sort Perhaps several different stories, depending on the viewer?
6 x 8 Graphite in Journal
My Flights of Fancy notebook is closed up and tucked away for the moment, however. I have a really cute house portrait to draw on an antique envelope, which I've promised the client to have finished by the end of the month, and I also have my new CP piece that I want to get going on. Besides those two projects, I need to make a new lesson for my students before Monday night!
No Flights of Fancy for a few days, at least! (Unless the urge is just too irresistible...)

"A true artist takes no notice whatsoever of the public.  
The public are to him nonexistent."
Oscar Wilde

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On The Rocks

Ink Drawing on 5" River Stone
I defaced another beautiful river stone last week... and decided to do an experiment. 
I made a little display at the gallery to see what kind of reaction they might get. It turns out they were a big hit! I invited people to go ahead and pick them up, feel the cool, smooth weight of the stone in their hands, and turn them round to see how the designs flow around the shape of the rock. 
Their comments were so interesting to hear!
"How did you do this?"
"At first, I thought that's what the rock was like when you found it."
"It looks so natural."
"I love the patches of giraffe skin."
"Oh Wow! Look Honey!"
"It feels so good to just hold in your hand."
"HOW did you do this?"
"Will these stand up to rain and weather outside?"
"What ARE they?"
"These would be so pretty as a centerpiece with some candlesticks."
"How much are these?"
"How did you DO this?"
"It looks like a snake... sort of..."
"My mom would love one of these."
"It reminds me of The Hobbit."
"I like how the design follows the shape of the rock."
"This would be so nice to have on my desk at work."
"How DID you do this?"
"Will you make more? You should make more."

Of course, nobody actually bought one... 
But I didn't have them priced yet, either. I asked a few people what price they would expect to see on such an item, and I got a range of answers between $30 and $75. The whole game of pricing artwork has always baffled me, and always will. They are original works, one-of-a-kind, and each took about eight hours to complete. But they aren't viewed in the same way as a painting on canvas, for some reason. They are seen as more of a craft item, per se. Isn't that funny how we seem to label and categorize things in our minds that way?  
How would you price them? I'm curious to hear your thoughts!
I will keep drawing my rocks from time to time, when the mood strikes me, mostly because they are an enticing diversion from drawing at my desk. When I make my rocks, I have to be sitting out back on the porch, in a soft, cushioned chair, and listening to music. It's the whole mood and atmosphere of the experience that makes them special to me. Hopefully September will provide several beautiful days for doing just that! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Graphite Study

Preliminary Graphite Study for the Next Piece
I've been proceeding cautiously with this idea... really trying to get a feel for the contours and shadows of that fabric, before I move on to the colored pencil version. The more I study it, the more I start to see the subtle variations in the shadows as it curves and when the light hits it. This step is really important... because, here's the thing: that fabric is NOT going to actually be fabric when all is said and done! I won't try to explain what my intentions are, because I'm not sure it's even going to work out the way I envision it. I'm going to play with this idea that I've been so obsessed with, and see what happens first. 
Enrollment in my weekly colored pencil class is growing! And of course, as with any venture of mine, I've been reflecting about it....
First: It doesn't seem to bother any of my adult students, that I don't have an art degree, and my own instruction has come from a number of classes and workshops over the past several years, as well as extensive reading and lots of practice (therein lies the key: practice). 
With that kind of background, a person might be tempted to say that they are a Self-Taught artist, but that would be redundant. Even the artist who receives his degree after ten years of studying at the Royal Academy, is still a self-taught artist, with a lovely list of credentials. I think that all learning is essentially Self-Taught. There is no other way to learn. When I was teaching school, I had a poster with the Chinese proverb, "Teachers can open the door, but you must enter by yourself." Meaning that, your brain has to actively bring in new information, process its meaning, and assimilate that information with what you already know to make it part of your working knowledge. That information can be from any source, either spoken, read, or discovered through your own experience. The main thing is that you internalize it, and make it your own. 
Secondly: I really admire the people in my little class. They are all busy, all parents, with responsibilities at home and work, but they are finding whatever time they can, to pursue their own interests too. They are shining examples of those "lifelong learners" that schoolteachers are always encouraging and promoting. Maybe instead of saying we are "Self-Taught", we should say we are "Self-Teaching," meaning that we are continually seeking new knowledge and exploring new possibilities. In my desire to be a lifelong learner, myself, I started looking for a nearby course in art history or art theory that I might be able to attend. Sadly, no such course exists, unless you are a registered college student, enrolled in a particular program of study, which I am not. 
To my way of thinking, education is not merely a means to an end, endured (and paid for) just for the sake of a title, or a certificate, or a new credential after our name. I know those things are very necessary, yes, but the experience of learning, itself, is so very valuable, regardless of what it might or might not lead to down the road. It seems to me that the process of learning IS the destination.

My next choice will be to maybe find an online course in art history or art theory. 
If you know of one, could you share it with me?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Little Gray House

I've missed drawing on my little envelopes! For some reason, it's more fun to draw a house portrait on one of these, than it is to draw it on plain old paper. I love to nestle the home into the markings on the envelope as if it belonged there all along. And this little house really does seem to belong there! The client didn't want a lot of background trees, or foreground drawing. He wanted the original envelope markings to show through. I do like the effect that it creates this way, and how the house really emerges from the few little trees in the background.  
My invention for when the vanishing point is way over there.
A lot of people ask me how I can tolerate drawing all those lines and getting them all lined up with proper perspective... and honestly, I find that to be the easiest part about drawing! It's just a matter of measuring carefully, checking and rechecking your numbers, and aligning each little line with every other line on the paper. I like doing that, and knowing that when it's right, it's right. Period.
But the other part that I enjoy is the free, creative part when I draw the trees and landscaping around the houses in my portraits. It's more daring and requires a different kind of thinking, to let your pen render what you see in your mind's eye. There is no definitive point to arrive at. You have to make your own decision as to whether it seems 'right' or not. I like compositions that allow me to use both types of thinking, the very analytical as well as the freely improvisational. 
When I started this post an hour ago, I had just sent the photo to my client for approval.  I've been chewing my fingernails ever since... and I'm suddenly very aware of all the weak areas in this drawing, where I could have, should have, done a better job. (Please tell me that you do that too, it's not just me?)  
Much to my relief,  I just now got a message saying how much they like it, and arranging for delivery.  
Oh, but now that the project is complete,  I'm going to need a new excuse to get out of helping with the painting-of-the-basement project this afternoon...
This house is sparking my imagination now. I'm thinking I might draw it again, on another envelope, and 'experiment' with it a little bit.  Not for the client, but just for a new piece to hang in the gallery.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


What do you do when you have a wait-list full of intriguing projects that you want to dig in to? How do you decide which to focus on? While I've been drawing my house portraits for people, I've been planning a few other projects in my mind that I might want to do next. This latest house portrait is the third home that I've drawn for this family. It's my largest, most complicated house portrait up to this point, and it took much longer than usual, to figure out the angles and roof lines.
The trees in front are actually twice the size shown here, and they block much of the house, so the client and I agreed to shrink them to a younger day, so that the beautiful architecture of their home could be seen. Finding out what was behind those trees required lots of communication with the client and lots of extra photos to be sent. But it all turned out, and hopefully will arrive at their home in time for his wife's birthday! In the meantime, I'm cleaning off my drawing desk and preparing to draw a new commissioned house portrait, from a client here in Cincinnati, that I had to put on my 'Wait List' for a while. They were very understanding about that, luckily. It's the first time I've had to Wait-List somebody! They have a vintage Cincinnati home, and I'm excited to be drawing it on one of the antique envelopes!
But after that... I have a wait-list of my own! My inspirations and ideas for new pieces are piling up in my head, and in my field book, and on my dining room table! What do you do when you have a wait-list full of intriguing projects that you want to dig in to? How do you decide which to focus on?
Possibility #1: I want to finish this rock drawing. (The sides and bottom are still blank) I'm using the Pitt brush tip markers on a smooth 5" river stone.  I don't know what I'll do with these rock art pieces, but I love creating them. I love the abstractness, and the fluidity of the pens against the earthy cool feel of the stone. There is just a great sense of contentment and satisfaction in them. 
Possibility #2: I started this while sitting at the gallery, but haven't finished. The man has been into the gallery a few times. I happened to see him sitting in the main hallway on a bench, with a folded newspaper and coffee cup at his feet, with such a pensive expression... I asked if I could take his picture and he seemed pleased to agree. I want to do something with this cowboy... but not sure if the brick wall fading into the storm clouds, with bare desert trees off in the distance, is quite what I want to express. I had something else in mind for his story, but haven't put it to paper yet. 
Possibility #3: I've had this idea gnawing at me for a while now, and it won't let up... It's a colored pencil piece, involving ears of corn, a handkerchief, and an old brick building. And that's all I'm gonna say about it right now, because if I tried to explain it further, you would think I had gone off the deep end (again). But I've already taken several reference photos in preparation, and have the idea pretty clear in my mind, just not set to paper yet.
Tell me what you do when you have more than one enticing new project begging your undivided attention.  I'm thinking of flipping a coin! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


I attended the Colored Pencil Society's annual convention and exhibition for four days last week. It was in Daytona Beach, and it was actually sunny... and hot! That's especially noteworthy, because all the other times I've even been to Florida, it's been cold and rainy the whole time. On this trip, I actually spent several glorious hours on the beach! I rented one of the big umbrella stations, with a lounge chair, for a couple hours each day, and just watched the waves. 
A few times I ventured into the surf, and I was quite impressed with the power that a single wave can have! I never went any deeper than mid-thighs... but one day, they were so high that I was literally knocked down, no matter how hard I tried to stay standing.  Even the undertow coming back off the beach was fast and strong. 
I didn't take many pictures, because they just didn't capture what my senses were experiencing.  Instead I observed and made mental notes. However, I did take several shots of the patterns that the waves left in the sand! It looked like the exact pattern you see in woodgrain, and probably in many other organic structures. 
Graphite, 5x7 Moleskine Journal
The only drawing tools I brought along were a mechanical pencil and a moleskin journal. I started a drawing Thursday morning, on the airplane, worked on it while lounging on the beach, and finished it on the airplane, around midnight Sunday night, right before I landed back home. It's just a study, really, so don't attach any significant meaning to what I drew. I was practicing drawing my own fingers, and that got me thinking about how a finger coincides with the Golden Ratio (3:5:8).  So then I tried to build the Golden Curve, using rectangles and squares and bisecting lines, all with that same ratio. It worked! I decided to build a composition around it, following the shape of the spiral. I was also experimenting with forms and shapes and areas of contrasting values at the same time.  There is no particular meaning or story to this drawing, it was just an exercise. However, if I do decide to title it... I'm thinking "Emergence" is befitting for some reason?
I met so many fantastic artists at the convention, I laughed a lot, and learned a lot.
I also was able to test all different brands and types of pencils, both CP and graphite, and I think I tested every pencil in the place! I exercised great restraint in not buying everything I liked... but I just HAD to come home with a full set of Caran D'Ache Luminance Pencils!! They are so rich and creamy, and the rep from the company explained to me how they're made. A single pencil costs twice as much as a Prismacolor pencil, but I really do think the quality is far better. (I haven't used them very much yet, so I'm reserving final judgement.)
But today, we're back to the reality of completing a house portrait, with a deadline looming in... (gulp)... 10 days! And two more house portraits waiting their turn.
Daytona was a wonderful experience all the way round. But you know what? It feels good to be back at my desk, doing my thing. :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Work!

"Detention" 14 x 19 Colored Pencil
It's always been said that every artist must paint her own self-portrait, as a rite of passage, I suppose.  I have never painted my own likeness. But I think that every piece I create is my self-portrait, in  a way. This one especially reflects "me."  Probably more so than if I'd painted a posed image of my own face and called it a self-portrait. 
The boy in the drawing was my student in the last year I taught third grade. He's a lot like me in many ways. 
I was that creative little kid that people would look at and scratch their heads about. I wasn't disruptive, I wasn't outwardly rebellious... but I had my own ideas about things, and sometimes pushed the limits of what was customary and expected. In kindergarten, when everybody else brought their seashells and Slinkies for Show-and-Tell, I had to bring my great big wooden dollhouse, or my goldfish bowl. (I hope I remembered to thank my mom for hauling all that stuff to school for me). I would also have bouts of homesickness and start to cry just a little, whereupon I would be invited to sit under the teachers desk, staring at her knees until I felt better. Why that should make a child feel better, I don't know. But it worked. I taught myself to read in kindergarten, and each year after that, I was the only kid in class who had to go up to the next grade for reading time, which I didn't like at all. I was just a little bit different from everybody else, and "fitting in" was always difficult for me.  
The school days that I liked best were those when I could express myself in some way. Be it in the choir, band, art, writing, or any special assignments where I could let my imagination have free reign. I think most of you reading this blog can say the same about your own school days. That's why we find such fulfillment in our art, and why we feel the need to lose ourselves for a while each day, into some type of expressive, creative activity. We have a strong affiliation with all of the arts. We sing, we play instruments, we dance, we write...  and we need to do those things as much as we need to breathe. 
I like this line from the novel Mother Earth, Father Sky. It was spoken by a wise old man who carved mystical animals and people out of whale bones. 

"I felt my head and heart would burst, if I could not release with my hands what my eyes had stored".

Monday, July 7, 2014


Pen and Ink on 3" Riverstone
"Time is a great circle. There is no beginning and no end." 
Quote from Voice of the Eagle 
I find drawing on rocks to be very soothing and satisfying in many ways. It's soothing to hold the cool, heavy stone right in my hand as I draw, and I can easily work anywhere. I sat on my back porch one afternoon, and completed this stone in about four hours. Of course, I had to tweak it the next day. I wouldn't be me if I didn't do that! 
River stones are unique, in that they are formed by the natural flow of the waters around them, and it takes hundreds and thousands of years for them to become so perfectly rounded and smooth.  
I wanted to enhance that slow, continual evolution of the rock with my drawing, too, shaping the design around the stone so that it connects on all sides and flows into itself again and again.
Most of the natural textures I draw have similar characteristics. Trees, branches, leaves, wood grain, stones, bricks, flowers, grasses, or even human hair... there is a randomness of pattern that must be allowed to flourish. In drawing organic textures, I've found that the most beautifully realistic results come about when I yield my own will to what my tools, and the drawing surface, want to do together.  The longer I work, the more I see the subtle dips and peaks and angles and curves that need to be enhanced.
Every pencil, pen and brush has a unique way of performing. Just as every surface has unique properties. Be mindful of the how they are interacting... let them take you along, flowing like a river.  Don't try to change it's course, but add your own voice to the song as you go along together. 
It's sometimes hard to explain why I find certain types of abstract art so appealing... it's the collaboration between the artist and his instruments, expressing something that had never before existed in just that way, and could never be recreated in just that way again. Those stones in the river won't look the same tomorrow... they will have moved, they will be worn just a little smoother on the edges, and they will reflect the day's light in new ways. That's what I find so beautiful about drawing on them and telling their story. 

Monday, June 30, 2014


WIP - Zoomed in on the trees...
A funny thing happened on the way to the forest...
Although I had a very clear idea of the color scheme on the bookshelf, I really had no prior plan for the colors of the trees and sky. But I wanted to start working on that area to establish the areas of light spaces are dark spaces in the piece. I knew that I wanted the trees to be very magical, and very different from the bookshelf, not only using different colors, but different types of lines, shapes and forms. It's a whole different world back there beyond the familiarity of the classroom, after all... Maybe that's why it seemed to a good idea to use a soft buttery cream for the sky, and a collection of blues and grays for the trees.
The decision to twist the trees was probably a subconscious thing, for a couple of different reasons.
1) I'm still trying to come to grips with a comment I overheard at the gallery last month, suggesting that my work was "dark and twisted".  Maybe the wrapping of vines around the tree trunk is my defiant response to that comment, as if to prove that "dark and twisted" does not necessarily convey a macabre surrealism.  And a little bit of fantasy or surrealism does not necessarily constitute a frightening, unwholesome experience.
2) The other subconscious reason might be because twists are formed in a spiral shape, and spirals are one of those natural fractals that adhere to the golden ratio. I love that mathematical element in my art, and I include those little patterns without even being aware of it.
The twists are taking a long time, of course... but that's how I do things! I'm finding it totally satisfying and rewarding to spend a good half hour on a single strand of the vine. Each twisted strand has a slightly different combination of colors and markings. Yet, each tree needs to have uniform contour shading, too. (I'm still working on shaping them)

I've also added a new twist to my work week; I'm teaching a drawing class one evening per week. This is the little puppy we've been working on together for the past two sessions. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Work!

18 x 24 Colored Pencil
I don't know about anybody else, but I always go through a period of lostness as soon as  I finish a piece.  It starts during that final stage, when I'm trying to  decide whether or not it's truly finished. I start to doubt everything about it, from the composition, to the subject matter, to the color of the third brick in the tenth row. Sometimes, I have this overwhelming urge to just throw it in the trash and start over.  I can do better, I think to myself, I SHOULD have done it better.
I'm not one of those artists who can put a piece away for a few weeks, or even days, and then come back to work on it again. Once it's declared finished, that's the end of that particular mental journey. I can't go back.  
 I know that in a few months I'll be able to look at the piece more objectively, without seeing all the little areas that I have misgivings about today.  And even if I come to the conclusion that I'm really not happy with it... I will already be engrossed in a new drawing, with the hope and anticipation that maybe THIS one will be the piece that I'd always hoped to create. 
For me, it's the Working-Toward-A-Goal part that I like best of all, not the I'm-All-Finished-Everybody-Look part.  It's the process, not the presentation, that is most gratifying to me.  I think that Poohbear had it right: "Although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called." (AA Milne) 
Luckily, my lostness is going to dissipate quickly, as I have a commission to draw a pen and ink house portrait. I've already started the rough draft, and it's going pretty well...
The process... I'm savoring the process!