Ever a story... waiting to be told

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Twas The Post Before Christmas

WIP 18x18 Colored Pencil
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
The bricks were bending, and curving around.

The cornstalks surrounded the chimney with care,
In hopes it would stay at it's place up there!

The windows were nestled all snug in the bricks,
The old house falls and won't ever be fixed.

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

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

The drawing I made will hang in their home.
They'll smile with pride o'er their beloved abode.

When I drew them, I knew, with each line and measure,
I was making for them 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!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Play a Game!

One might argue that there is very little creativity involved in drawing house portraits. Some will say that it is merely a matter of reproducing, onto the paper, what you see in a photo.  However, after about 30 house portraits, I can tell you that it has never been simply a matter of reproducing what I see in the photo. Creating a house portrait for somebody is about being a magician of sorts. 
You must shift time, to other years and other seasons.
You must redesign architecture.
You must rearrange landscaping.
You must create new elements out of thin air.
And most of all, you must listen to what your client tells you about their home and why they love it enough to want a portrait drawn. 
The client asked that I draw the side and back of the house. The house is tucked into a grove of trees and very difficult to even see from the road, but that's the view they most often see when coming down the road. Also, the family usually gathered on the back deck and spent most of their family time in the back yard. 
They loved the first drawing I sent them, but they had a few things that they hoped I might be able to change. I made six changes and they approved the second draft. 
Here's the game: 
Can you see what I changed? 
First draft
Second Draft
The client loved the style and mood of the first drawing... but it wasn't quite 'home' to them yet, I could tell. They were hoping to see more of the back patio, where they had shared such good memories.  And they were hoping that the apple tree, which had been cut down years ago, might still be in the picture.  They told me a story about the little parking area, marked off with railroad ties, at the right of the house. Their father had widened the area one year, to make room for all the kids and their growing families when they came to visit. That told me how important those gatherings were! If this drawing was to reflect the true character of this "Home", then it was going to have to feature the patio and the parking area more prominently. 
I've studied plenty of books on perspective and architectural drawing, and I was able to pull off those changes pretty easily. An architect would shake his or her head at the way I so boldly extended the end of the house to show the patio doors, and the way that I moved the chimney to a more visible spot, and the way I widened the windows and raised the roof pitch... but those things make it a prettier home, and in the homeowner's eyes... that's how it really seems every time they remember this house.
Today I'm working on tinting with colored pencil. This piece must be shipped next week, then two more portraits to draw before you-know-what! 
Not biting my nails.... not just yet...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Couple of Milestones

"Best of Show" Award - Arts Council of West Chester Liberty
This has been a week of milestones for me:
1. The biggest milestone this week/month/year/life....
I won the Best of Show Award for my piece "Adagio" (the ballet shoes).
I was really surprised to hear my name announced, and didn't quite know what to do. I hope I didn't make too much a fool of myself! I was kind of dazed, and just gushed thank-you's to everybody within earshot. What is the proper follow-up when you receive an award at an exhibition? Should I mail thank-yous to the show coordinators for putting on such a beautiful exhibition, and say how honored I am? I want to make sure they know how grateful I am!
The show is up until the end of January, at the Miami University branch campus in West Chester, Ohio, sponsored by The Arts Council of West Chester Liberty.
11x14 Pen Drawing, tinted with CP
2. Here's another milestone of a sort: I drew my first farm scene!
It's a commission piece for a young woman in New York state, to give to her boyfriend as a Christmas gift. It's his family's farm, and he is graduating from college and moving elsewhere. I had only separate photos of the house, the truck, the sign, and the barns. It was a challenge to pull them all together into one composition. (I had to use my artistic license to rearrange their farm just a bit.)
I spent a lot of time researching Ford pickup trucks, too! The funny thing is... now I'm getting Ford ads in all those social media sidebars, where I used to get ads for cute clothes and art supplies! And just this morning, I had two spam emails from Ford waiting in my inbox.
Also (this alarms me) I'm suddenly noticing pickup trucks on the road, everywhere I go, and I can recognize a 1996 F150 at a glance. (Rest assured, I will not be buying a pickup truck any time soon)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Out Of Season

WIP 18x18 Colored Pencil 
I really feel like I'm making progress on this piece now, and I'm getting more and more excited about it! The corn husks are right up my alley, with their bends and ridges and earthy colors. And then there is the irresistible challenge of those silky strands and the fluffy brown tassels. Just my kind of subject!
 But there is a deeper reason why I like drawing the corn (you guessed that, didn't you?)
Corn is one of those things that gets prettier when it gets older. I kind of like that concept more and more these days.... Also, corn is a natural resource, a basic staple, necessary for humanity's well-being and our very survival on the earth. People have been planting and harvesting corn since ancient times. I want to honor and celebrate that. 
Same goes for the beautifully crafted, brick house, as it bows to the passage of time and gracefully erodes into the earth from which it came. So the decaying house and the unharvested corn are kindred spirits, each bringing comfort and companionship to the other. 

P.S. - In case you're wondering...
YES! I've started writing a book, and NO! I won't disclose anything about it.
Not to a single soul. Not until the last page has been completed.
(...it's not that I'm being territorial, it's just that every time I share my book ideas, I end up not following through. And I really, really want to complete this one!)

Now back to those commission house portraits for a few days. The colder weather is reminding me that I've got to get those out to the clients pretty soon.
Fall is winding down already. Are we ready for another winter? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Countdown: Starting Now!

Custom House Portrait 11 x14
Is seven too many house portraits to complete before Christmas? 
Let me think.... YES! 
I have been inundated with house portrait requests, all of them through my Etsy shop. I think the turning of the calendar to November has set people to thinking about Christmas gifts suddenly. I had to turn down the last two people. I'm just hoping that five is not too many to undertake! 
Funny thing about these house portraits...
When I first started doing house portraits, I was more concerned about getting the perspective right, and controlling the ink pen. But all of that is getting easier... and I find that I'm starting to think more about the people who live in each house, and the things that they have told me about their home. I find myself making up stories in my mind about these houses and their inhabitants. I try to give each house a personality that's different from all the other house portraits. I've turned what might be a dry, mechanical rendering into an imaginative experience for myself. 
Some day I want to put them all into a book, with a little story about each house, maybe fictional, maybe purely factual, maybe a little of both. I've drawn almost 30 house portraits, I think, but I don't know if I have high resolution images of every one.  I'll have to start being more conscientious about that, I guess.
And of course, there is this question... Would I need to get permission from each client to include their house in the book, if I don't publish their name, or the location of the home? 
(They can never be easy, these grand ideas of mine.... can they?)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just Me and My Pencils

I have that whole set of brand new Caran D'Ache Luminance pencils, and I've barely touched them. I know my good old Prismacolor pencils like the back of my hand, literally, and I feel most comfortable with them. But I've been getting to know the Luminance pencils over the past couple days. I think they'll come in handy. (no pun)
Here's what I've discovered so far:
Unique Colors: The Luminance set has an incredible array of earthy colors, and beautiful gradation of values for some colors. I especially like the Olive Browns, so far.
Blendability: The Luminance blends nicely, very smooth and creamy, but not in the same class as Prismacolor. I think the binding agents in Luminance are a little bit harder than Prismacolors. With Luminance, It takes more layers to get to the point where I could push the wax around to blend.  
Coverage: A base layer with Luminance doesn't seem to go down as evenly as Prismacolor, and the sound of the Luminance pencil against the paper is very scratchy, compared with the silky swish of Prismacolor.
Combining the Two Brands: I like to lay down the base layer with a Prismacolor pencil, then use the Luminance colors for the layers on top. 
I think that each brand has special qualities that the other doesn't have, and bringing them both together is giving me a richness and depth that I'm really excited about! 
Casing: This is the biggest deterrent for me, and the reason I don't like to reach for the Luminance pencils! The natural cedar casing is pretty, yes, but it has a little bit rougher, fatter feel in my hand, compared to the sleek, shiny Prismacolors. Also, every Luminance pencil looks the same, so you have to look at the end of the pencil to know what color it is. 
So far, I'm using about ten Luminance colors for this piece, along with my usual palette of about twenty Prismacolors and a handful of Pablo pencils (also made by Caran D'Ache). 
I used an OMS solvent to blend the background, in deep rich purples and cool grays. 
The electric eraser is getting used as a drawing tool, just as much as the pencils, on this piece. I'm using it create the soft fluff of the silky corn hairs, and also to accentuate the ridges along the husks. Don't ever think that erasers are for removing mistakes... In my way of thinking, erasers are for adding texture and character to one's work! 
I'm giving myself a couple more days of pure, just-for-me drawing, then I've got two house portraits waiting with deadlines at the end of November.  

*House Portraits are fun too, in a different sort of way, and I can finish one within about a week, nowadays (I'm getting more streamlined and efficient with that whole process).

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Imagine So...

Graphite Study for current CP piece
“Where do you get your ideas for your artwork?”

I get asked that question often.
The easy answer is that I was driving by this abandoned house one day, found it to be very appealing and intriguing, snapped a few pictures, then decided to draw it. I didn’t like it’s real-world surroundings, so I placed it into a scene that I liked.
But that’s not really true. That’s not even a fraction of the story of where I get my ideas…
The idea to draw that house, in that particular way, at this particular time… probably started the day that I was born.
My “ideas” for drawings don’t come from a single spark of inspiration. Every experience, every thought, every flicker of emotion that has ever entered my mind, has impacted the ‘idea’ for that drawing. It’s an ongoing process, ever-growing and ever-changing, if we let it take it’s natural course. Like the water cycle on the earth: in the way that each tiny stream and rivulet leads to another and another… coming together into larger tributaries, and finally into an ocean of ebbing and flowing energy.  So do our thoughts. Each notion that crosses our mind has infinite possibilities. If we give our mind freedom to let those thoughts move around and blend with others in different ways… that’s where creativity occurs.
"Back To The Wood" 6x8 graphite in Moleskine journal
It’s a scary type of letting-go. It requires a degree of courage,  to allow incoming information to roam around freely in our mind, each new thought finding it’s own way among the many beliefs and convictions that we’ve formed over the years.  If we try to simplify, label and categorize too much of what we see and hear, we quickly eliminate any potential for insightful ideas to thrive. We wonder why children have so much imagination… it’s because they haven’t yet learned to put judgments and boundaries on the thoughts that come in to their minds. 
Creativity comes from acknowledging all that’s inside of you, every bit of knowledge, every emotion, every memory…  and allowing them all to come together and express themselves when they are ready. And they will, if you let them.
Too often we are focused solely on the final product: The score of the game, the end result, the degree conferred. But the most important part was the process that occurred along the way.  Every step we’ve taken along the way, every path we’ve explored, those are the treasures and rewards.

Each one of my finished pieces could serve as a journal of a particular span of time in my life.  When I begin a new drawing, I enter into the project with the understanding that it will be many hours, days, weeks, and months before that piece will be finished. And I like that. I like the process. I like watching the shapes and forms and colors slowly evolve and take on a life of their own… an essence that is so closely intertwined with my own.

Footnote: The "Back To The Wood" drawing started out with an ancient symbol as the basis for the composition. Let me know if you see it! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Special House

 It's a nice old house in Rochester, New York, built in 1908 and still used today!
Micron Pen drawing on 1900 envelope
And my Dad grew up in this house!