Ever a story... waiting to be told

Monday, March 2, 2015

New Finished Work

15 x 20 Colored Pencil

"Color is a power which directly influences the soul. 
Color is the keyboard, 
the eyes are the hammers, 
the soul is the piano with many strings. 
The artist is the hand which plays, 
touching one key or another, 
to cause vibrations in the soul."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Little Things

"Wherever you go, you take yourself with you." Neil Gaiman

I'm working on these piano keys today, and it occurs to me (once again) how each of our personalities are so perfectly reflected in the way we make our art.
Each artist has their own approach and their own philosophies, that they apply toward everything in their life... and nowhere does that come through more clearly, than in their artwork.
With all the social media and clubs and workshops we join... we tend to spend too much time and concentration on others... we examine what they're doing, how they do it, what materials they use, what subjects they portray. We look at old masters and popular artists, and we think perhaps their way is the best way. We look at winners of awards, and artworks that have sold, and we are subconsciously influenced about what kind of art is the best kind and what kind of art we should make. How often, do we just spend time looking deep into ourselves, our uniqueness, and listening to our own inner voice?
Something that works for one artist may not, and probably WILL not, work for another artist. Something that works for a hundred other artists, may not work for yourself.
When I work on a drawing... I have to devote a certain amount of time and concentration to each little millimeter of that paper. I have to build each detail, layer by layer, smoothing and blending and helping each new piece to fit comfortably with the rest of the composition. The more time it takes, the more satisfied I am with the results. That's how I approach everything I do, not just my art. That's my personality.
My ideas for new pieces evolve in that same way. I have to do it slowly, over much time. I keep a mental file of  seed ideas, that find their way into my thoughts and take root there. I just let them process for as long as they seem to need it. Some grow and flourish, and others do not. It doesn't work for me to try and rush them along into fruition. They'll each let me know when they are ready. But I have to be careful not let a big ol' sunflower* get planted over them, and choke them out. When one of my seed ideas really starts to grow, I will start a computer file and start jotting notes, playing around with sketches, and taking reference photos. When it's ready to become my next project,  I'll know it.
I think it's really important that we don't let ourselves get bombarded all day long with news and the talk of the day going on all around us. Tune it all out as often as possible and nourish your own thoughts and ideas... not forcing them,  but giving them room to grow and blossom. (Sermon over)
Next time I post, it will be to reveal the finished piece!
*(Sorry, Sis, if you're reading this. I really HAVE gotten over the time you planted your sunflower seeds over top of my little snapdragons. I never even think about now. It just made the perfect metaphor today...)

Friday, February 13, 2015

What's On YOUR walls?

(It's coming along, and I'm happy to say I'm sticking to my resolve and being very thoughtful about my color choices, letting the colors help shape the composition)
You're an artist. You've made tons of artwork. How much of that artwork is on permanent display in your own home? 
If you are like me.... very little of it! And you might be surprised at which pieces that I keep on my walls. 
Of course, there are several photos of family members around the house. But the actual artwork hanging in my home is minimal!
In my living room, I have some art that was printed onto distressed wood. I like the colors and theme. All three are by Suzanne Nicoll. 
There is a Norman Rockwell calendar in my kitchen. He's one of my idols, of course. 
Then in my upstairs hallway, there are three black and white photos that I really love. I don't even know the photographer's name. 
In my studio, I have an MC Escher print that I love. He is one of my all-time favorite artists, and seeing his work there when I walk into the room always fills me with fresh inspiration.
I hope to get prints from a few more of my favorite artists for this room, too. I don't like having my own work on my studio walls, for some reason.
Next door, in the dining room, I've got two of my own pieces. Neither of them represents my best work. I just like them! 

The mitten drawing makes me smile when I look at it. It brings to mind all kinds of stories and memories... nothing really specific, but just a  a good solid reminder of precious times come and gone, and more precious times to come. 
The Sanguine drawing is one of my favorites because it was created in such an expressive, meditative state of mind. I truly just let that one flow out of me, not knowing what was going to appear next on the paper. 

The rock drawing is upstairs in the bedroom, because the colors match so nicely, and I find it soothing. (I think I want to change the frame one of these days, though. The black is too harsh for that room)

The front hallway is the one spot in the house where I rotate my newer pieces, just for the fun of it. I change it out every couple of weeks.
It might seem strange to some, that I'm not displaying those pieces that won awards, or the pieces that I've sold the most prints of. To me, in my own home, accolades from others don't matter. What matters is how the things I look at every day affect me, and what they make me think about when I walk past them. 
How about you? What's on YOUR walls?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Making Music

WIP - 15x20 Colored Pencil
-For me, the drawing part of art-making is the easy part. 
The color-choosing part is the hard part! 
So many times, I've created a drawing that I'm really pleased with, and then the colors that I put together just don't quite convey what I want to express. 
With this piece, I am determined to get the colors right. I spent a couple of hours just experimenting with different combinations for the sheet music pages, to make them have that antique parchment tone. During this process I realized some important things about colored pencils:
1. The manufacturer's name for the color might create a bias in your thinking. Don't even read them.  for example, I thought that colors with "gold" in their name, would be a good choice, but they didn't look right at all. They were too yellowish.
2. All those carefully prepared color charts, organized by shade and value, that you spent hours making... might also create a bias in your thinking. Just because a color is listed with your 'yellow-greens', doesn't mean that it won't help to create an effective burnished bronze look, when combined with another color. 
3. A color might seem right when I look at it in isolation, but when it's layered with different colors of different values, it might ruin the mix. So I had to be willing to give up on some of the colors that I thought I was going to use. I had to find a combination of different values that all fit together to create one overall hue for the sheet music.
I was surprised at the combination that I finally chose! 
Caran D'Ache Buff Titanium
Caran D'Ache Naples Ochre
Prismacolor Eggshell
Derwent Lichen Green
Prismacolor Black Grape
Caran D'Ache Umber
Now if I can just come up with equally effective color combinations for the piano keyboard, and the houses.... that will be the next challenge!
Do other artists have the same struggle with choosing their colors? Is that why many artists keep the same basic palette? Or is it harder with colored  pencil, because the color-mixing is done right on the artwork, rather than on the side? 
PS - I was sitting at the gallery for several hours this weekend, so I finished another little drawing in my moleskine journal.  It was exciting, too, seeing people's reactions to the new piece, "Out Of Season".  (I haven't hung anything new in such a long time!) I also sold an original pen and ink piece, and a print of Souvenirs, and I was invited to show my work in a coffee shop downtown. It was a good day, despite the annoying head cold that I've been trying to ignore. I didn't sneeze on too many people, luckily, just a few...  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ebony, Ivory, Paper and Stone

Graphite Study for new CP piece
I like making art that challenges the brain, both my own brain, and the viewer's brain, too. 
Our brains don't just focus on one idea at a time. We are constantly processing a mixture of different thoughts and feelings, in both our conscious and subconscious minds. Sometimes we find connections between them, and they suddenly fit together in new and interesting ways. That's what happened with this piece, for me.  
 I started with the idea that I wanted to draw some of my favorite old, brick houses. I just can't get enough of them,  particularly the old-world Italianate style of architecture, found in Cincinnati.
I wanted a tall tower in this piece, and I've always loved the tower on this old, abandoned paper factory in Middletown.  The place is said to be haunted, and I'm inclined to believe it. It's located in a desolate area, down a hill,  beyond the railroad tracks. Even though it was right on the edge of town, there wasn't a soul in sight, the day I went there. Part of me wanted to take some time to really explore the building, but the wiser part of me said, 'just snap a couple pictures and get the heck out of here.' That's what I did! (I got my little white Jetta in the picture too)
The keyboard showed up in the drawing on a sudden spark of inspiration. My piano is in the room next to my studio, so I walk past it all the time.  I've noticed recently that the keys are a perfect example of something I read in a book on perspective drawing. I'm really fascinated by all the math and principles of perspective, so naturally, I wanted to draw the piano keyboard, and put those new techniques that I read about into practice. The keyboard created a nice middleground for the piece.
Perspective Drawing Handbook by Joseph D'Amelio
Compositionally, now I had a lot of right angles and straight lines, and felt that I needed to create a comfortable balance by bringing in some rounded forms and fluid, curving lines.  Easy enough. My pencil just naturally began to draw another of my passions: trees. I let the trees shape the composition, creating movement, and paths for the eye to travel through the scene, and also to give it the depth it needed.
As I worked, I realized that the keyboard seemed too intrusive, all alone, among all those trees and buildings. So I brought in part of the piano wood, and tucked it between the houses to unite the subjects, and give them a sense of belonging together.
In Harmony. (aha!)
I decided that there should be music playing, so I drew the sheet music through the trees in a long, flowing phrase.
How did I shape the sheet music to flow like that? I made a model, in a darkened room, and aimed a clamp-light on it for some dramatic lighting.
The title of this piece will probably be "Harmony", but it's still too early in the process to know for sure.
My next step will be to explore different color combinations and figure out the palette that I want to use. 
It's SUCH a relief and joy to be back with my colored pencil work, after all that time I spent on house portraits the past few months. 
Can you tell I'm a little excited about this piece? 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Finished Works

Out Of Season
18 x 18 Colored Pencil
I haven't posted a new colored pencil piece since last summer! 
You already know the story behind this piece, and you're probably tired of seeing it, so I'll just post the abbreviated version today, explaining my thoughts:  It's a reflection on the passage of time. Corn is a natural resource, necessary for humanity's well-being and survival on the earth. This corn has missed the harvest, so we get to watch it age and take on new, richer colors and forms. Same goes for the architecture and craftsmanship of the brick house, as it bows to the passage of time. No longer of use, but still beautiful as it gets more weathered and worn.

I also put together a little coffee-table book about my house portraits, with pictures of several drawings, and an explanation of how I go about creating a custom house portrait from clients' photos. I thought I would display the book at the gallery, to show visitors who might be interested in having a house portrait.
You can browse the book, entitled "Homework" on Solentro.com.  I haven't received my copy yet, so I'm hoping the print quality is good. The prices start at $30, which seems like a lot, to me, but what do I know?

Ready for something new to ponder? I read a news article recently, speculating about what the next big art movement might be. I found it very exciting, especially for those of us who love our pencils and pens! It was written by a gallery owner and art consultant, Michelle Gaugy, who seems to think that works of drawing and draftsmanship are the next big art movement! I'm all for that! But it's such a mystery the way certain styles come into vogue,  I'm not sure anybody can really predict the next popular trends in art, music, films, or anything else.  (And I'm not going to change the type of art that I like to create in an attempt to fit in with any so-called trends) What do you think? What WILL the next art movement will be? 
I just hope people continue to appreciate the arts, in any style!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Being Of Value

11x14 House Portrait
(Aka TREE Portrait?)
Christmas is past, but I'm still churning out house portraits for people. I had two requests before Christmas that I had to decline, telling them I wouldn't be able to complete them in time. Even though they were aware that I couldn't get them done for Christmas, both clients still wanted to order the house portraits. (I made gift vouchers for them to let the recipients know that the portrait was in the works) 
I learned something very valuable from this experience: Apparently some people are willing to WAIT for me to draw their house portrait. Hmmmm......  maybe I don't need to put my own CP work on hold every time a house portrait commission comes in! Maybe it would be okay to tell a client that I am finishing up another project, and their portrait will be next in line?
Speaking of my own projects... this crumpled house of mine is really becoming a challenge. The graphite drawing was so easy to shape and contour with dramatic value contrast. But the colored version, with each tiny, little brick being a different color... is kind of a challenge to get the right value contrasts for all those dips and folds.
18x18 WIP in Colored Pencil

I decided I needed to give some serious consideration to establishing value contrast on this piece.
I only had a cardboard gray scale/value finder in black-and-white. I like using it, and it comes in handy, but this project required something more.

A long time ago, I once had one of those little squares of red transparent film, which somebody told me I needed, but I could never figure out how to use. I thought I was supposed to lay the little three-inch square on top of my drawing, and I couldn't see how that was going to help me see the value contrast in the composition as a whole, so  I threw it away.
Recently, I saw a post on Crankybird Studio which very thoroughly demonstrated how to use the red film to see the whole composition and assess the values therein.  I finally understood that I could hold the filter up to my EYE! (you can roll your eyes and shake your head at me, I know you want to, and I deserve it). 
I googled it, and discovered these red-lensed glasses,
especially made for seeing value contrast!
And incredibly stylish too!
They also have blue filters for the same purpose, which I might try next. I still have a long way to go in bringing out that contrast...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I've been playing again.
This is one of my older graphite studies, and  I made up my own words of wisdom this time.
Just a  little inspiration to take us into 2015!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Twas The Post Before Christmas

WIP 18x18 Colored Pencil
Twas the post before Christmas, and all through this house
The bricks are crumbling, and curving about.

The cornstalks are watching the chimney with care,
In hopes it will stay in its place up there!

I'm loving this project, and working away...
The perfect escape on a cold winter's day!

The last of the eight Christmas house portraits 
Rapid as eagles the FedEx guys flew,
They delivered house portraits to where they were due.

To Michigan first, and Ohio's way,
And then way up north to Canada, eh?

Arkansas, Indy, Illinois, too...
Texas and Maryland, then they were through!

I shipped out eight portraits! Oh boy, did I work!
I filled all my orders (I wasn't a jerk.)

On Christmas morning, under their trees, 
People will open their gift and be pleased.

As I drew, I hoped, with each line and measure,
I was selling someone a gift to be treasured.

And now I'll exclaim with joy and delight...
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and enjoy some special moments with your family and friends this week! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Some Christmas Magic

When I was teaching third grade, I drew graphite portraits of my students as gifts. I didn't do it every year, though. During my last year, I only drew a few. This boy asked me over and over to please draw his picture. I promised I would, and those were my last words to him when we parted three years ago. 
Well, I DID keep my promise, and I DID draw his picture.  Not just a graphite portrait, but a big ol' colored pencil piece that has hung in a couple of shows! 
I don't teach any more, and I didn't know how to get in touch with the boy, or his family. I tried emailing his father at his workplace, but there was no response, so I gave up. I thought maybe I would drop off a print at the school, and ask them to give it to the boy, but I was a little nervous about doing that. 
Saturday, I was sitting at the holiday art show, minding my own business... when I heard a timid little, "Hi," beside me.  
I turned around, and there he was! I couldn't believe it! I hugged him and said, "Come with me!" 
He didn't have much choice, as I grabbed his shoulders, and steered him toward my wall space. I stopped him in front of the drawing, and he stared at it for a long, long moment. He got a huge smile on his face and exclaimed, "No way!" (I think he meant that in a good way)
I hugged him again and looked right into his eyes, "Yes way!" 
I told him that a promise was a promise, and that I had planned to bring the drawing to school for him. But this was far better, for him to walk in and see it in the gallery! 
Detention - 14x19 Colored Pencil
by Katherine Thomas
I asked him to go get his parents, and when they showed up, they were even more excited about it! His father said that I had portrayed his son perfectly. He kept saying, "That's Dylan. That's just SO Dylan!" 
They were really surprised, too, when I took the framed giclee print down from the wall, wrapped it up, and handed it to them. All the while thanking them for coming to the gallery. They were talking excitedly about where they would hang it when they left. 
Dylan, of course, stayed with me for another hour, and he told me about everything that had happened at school in the past three years, and how well he was doing. 
When he had to leave, I made him promise to come back and see me soon.

He said he would. 
It might be another three years before he does...
but he knows that a promise is a promise.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Claiming Your Artwork Online (and having fun with it)

I get so many good ideas from all of my blog friends, I wanted to share one with you. I think you'll like it!
Everyday, I see artwork online, and too often the artist's name is nowhere to be found. It has only happened to me once (that I know of). I ran across one of my drawings in an article on an art instruction site. At the time, I was just flattered that somebody had chosen my work as an example. I didn't really care that my name wasn't there. Still, it might have brought more people to my own website to see more of my work, if my name had been included.  
This morning, I ran across a website where you can 'brand' your images. It lets you easily attach a border, with text, to your images before posting them online! It won't protect your work from theft, or anything too serious, but when people re-pin your images on all their social sites, they usually just click and post, not intending to steal anything, but just sharing something they like with their friends. So now they can share your name WITH your artwork.  How cool is that? Here it is!
Okay, but I wasn't really looking for that kind of website. I was looking for a website that would let me use my own artwork to create nifty graphics. I found a good one! You can put all kinds of text onto your own image, very quickly and easily! 
I used both sites to create this graphic, then posted it on my favorite social media sites. 
I hope you give it a try sometime!
(And now I'm expecting to go find lots of great ideas and awesome artwork on everybody else's blog. Here I come!

(PS- Still working on house portraits. One more to go before Christmas)
(PSS- Wrote a few more pages in the book. Getting into a good routine with it)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Extra Hour

"Hither And Yon"
Graphite in 6 x 8 moleskine journal
I got some much-needed time out of my studio this past week. I left those house portraits on my desk, shut down the computer, grabbed my little moleskine journal and took off for the shores of Lake Erie to have Thanksgiving with my family. 
(iPad case) perfect size
for a moleskine journal and pencils!
No ipad!
This little drawing was a pure flight of fancy that I just let happen at will. I had no plan for how it was going to develop, and each time I picked it up to work on it, new and different textures emerged.  Once home again, I might have called it "finished", but I didn't. I sat down and devoted the all-essential Extra Hour. 
I've always struggled with the question of when to call a piece finished. Somewhere along the way, I've adopted the practice of always putting in at least one extra hour, even after I consider a piece finished. I've made it a habit to tell myself, "It's done. Except for the extra hour." 
Sometimes that extra hour is spent in just staring at the piece very critically, and only adding one or two little marks. Sometimes that extra hour turns into two or three hours of darkening the shadows, or brightening the highlights, or defining the contours more effectively. 
I see the same tendency in my students, too. They will call a piece finished just a little too soon. But sometimes, that extra hour of time can make all the difference in the world. 
Try it yourself with the most recent piece you've 'finished'. Just look at it, very critically, and ask yourself, "If I HAD to spend one more hour on this... what would I do?" 
I know that everybody has a different approach, and some people feel that one more mark might ruin the piece. I understand that. And I won't go back to work on a piece weeks later. For me, the extra hour has to come right away, or not at all. But it's always turned out to be well worth the time.
 Just some food for thought...
Anyway... back in the studio today... I finished the house portrait that I showed you in the last post, AND put in the extra hour this morning. So here's one more to ship off to be placed under somebody's Christmas tree somewhere!
I hope you had a good holiday and a nice weekend, and I hope you give that Extra Hour method a try. I'll be curious to know how it goes!