Ever a story... waiting to be told

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lessons Learned

Colored Pencil Lesson #5 - Lake Shore
I should have predicted this... I am now completely obsessed with creating a series of tutorial lessons for beginning colored pencils. I'm barely keeping ahead of my students, which is a good motivation to keep me on task with this project for awhile. I'm keeping an eye on the calendar, and the deadlines for a couple of commissions that I promised. I'll get to them, and they will be delivered on time, I'm confident. But for the next few weeks, I'm playing teacher again; writing my lesson plans and preparing materials, and thoroughly enjoying it.
I'm using only prismacolor pencils, cheap bristol vellum paper, an electric eraser and shield, a colorless blending pencil, and Gamsol solvent. That's it.  I am not introducing an overwhelming myriad of different tools and methods, like most other instruction books seem to do. My goal is to keep things simple, and achievable, and helping the beginning artist to feel successful right away.  My students are all adults who have put their artistic instincts on hold while working and raising children. I want to help them to easily make room for art and creativity in their busy lives, and in a way that brings them great satisfaction and enjoyment.
The other thing that I want to do differently from most instruction books, is to teach some basic drawing skills! I think the very act of drawing the image often gets ignored. In this tutorial, the student is invited to actually create his/her OWN outline drawing of the rocks, with some written guidelines and advice from me.

There will be about eight lessons to this series. I have each one in a folder, containing my original drawing, a few copies of the instructions, and some drawing paper. There is also a black line outline of my drawing for students to trace easily.  When we sit down to the lesson together, I demonstrate each step on my own paper, and the student does the same on his/her paper. The lesson lasts about two hours, then the student completes the project at home.
If necessary, I can even send the student home with the pencils needed for the particular lesson. 
I'm thinking that an 8-week course is about right. During the last two weeks, I'll encourage students to start preparing their own rough draft drawing, at home, of any subject they like, either from their imagination, or their own reference photo.  I'll help them fine tune the drawing and get it ready to transfer to their colored pencil version. After that, they're on their own! Official graduates of the KT Colored Pencil School!
I should make some some special diplomas too! 

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

Hop To It!

Colored Pencil Tutorial - Having fun making these things, and writing the step-by-step instructions, with photos.
There is a very exciting Blog Hop going on among the blogger artists!
I was asked a while back, by a few people, if they could tag me as a stop along the hop. I declined  at first, because I was up to my eyeballs in preparations for our local CP chapter show, which I am chairing this year. But I followed the blog hop, from artist to artist, and read about their creative processes and saw photos of their work and their studios... and I couldn't resist joining the fun, now that my responsibilities with the show are pretty much finished.
In this post, I'm going to send you blog hopping! Get your hopping shoes on, you're going to enjoy these blogs. I apologize if I've forgotten to mention someone from the blog hop, please let me know and I will correct my oversight! These people are only some of the blog hopping artists that you will find as you follow the hopping trail!
David Teter paints landscapes, seascapes and city scenes in both oil and watercolor. His work often features buildings and industrial scenes, with strong lines and contrasts. His paintings always convey a dramatic sense of atmosphere, and he uses light and shadow so effectively. David writes informative, helpful posts about his techniques, which I know you will enjoy.
Debbie Nolan puts together the most beautiful posts, combining beautiful photography, painting, and drawing to tell a story or create a special feeling each day. Her posts are incredibly uplifting and inspiring every time I visit!
Wendy Barrett paints and draws with remarkable detail and artistic technique. I admire her dedication to her art, and the way that she is constantly challenging herself to draw and paint all kinds of subjects, as well as writing a book. Her passion and energy are inspiring!
Celia Blanco paints gorgeous watercolor pieces, bursting with color and excitement. She truly has a gift for setting just the right combinations together to make her subjects glow. I like her style, and I'm always delighted with each new post. Recently she's been out and about doing sketches of the area, and it's been fun to get a glimpse of her neighborhood and how she portrays it in her beautiful sketches.
Julie Ford Oliver and Libby Fife are wonderful painters, and excellent writers, each with a unique style all their own. I like to read their posts, where they experiment with new techniques, and they also share insights  about the philosophy of making art and being an artist.
Hilda Muxo is one of the most generous bloggers you'll ever come across. She does so many portraits and paintings as special gifts for others. I find her generosity to be an inspiration, as well as her incredibly lovely artwork.
Lisa Graham and Martine Allison each paint with their own enchanting, unique style that I find so appealing and artistic. I have never seen another artist express emotions and stories so beautifully and with such creativity as these two. I can't describe it with my limited words, you'll just have to take a look and see what I mean!
Mrs. Wryly creates her 'art' through the written word. She writes posts about her life that make me smile, laugh, cry, and nod in agreement. Most of you enjoy good writing as much as I do, and I'm sure you'll appreciate her posts!
In my next post, I'll answer the questions that I'm most often asked regarding my work.
For now, I'll leave you with the latest house portrait. It's a nice old house in Rochester, New York, built in 1908 and still used today!
Micron Pen drawing on 1900 envelope
Same drawing as above -  tinted with colored pencil

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Tutorial

"Merriment" 7" x 6" Colored Pencil

 No, I'm not one of those people who starts playing Christmas music on the day after Halloween, I swear. I'm actually the person who waits until after Thanksgiving to listen to the first carol of the season, and I never put the tree up, or do any decorating, until at least the second week of December. This little drawing is a new tutorial that I made for my students. 
The more I work with them, the more I realize what kind of learning experiences they need next.  Sometimes I misjudge whether or not a particular activity is going to be successful. I want every session to make them feel like they've grown in their confidence and skill as colored pencil artists. So far, some of my lessons have worked beautifully, but there have been some activities that caused them a little bit of frustration, I think.  The only thing I can do afterward is to reflect on what did and did not work well, and adjust the following week's lesson accordingly. 
The little tutorials that I'm making now, are going to be small-sized projects that the students can get a good start on during class time, and then finish at home, or bring back to finish the next week. I thought they could use this holly drawing for their family Christmas card, if they wanted to. 
I'm not going to post the whole tutorial, but here are a couple of pages.
(Page 1 of 6) Listing the pencils needed and the skills learned in this drawing: Blending values from light to dark, spherical shapes, shiny surfaces, burnishing with white, creating highlights, exploring greens and reds. 

Page 3 of 6, showing some helpful tips and tricks.
I'll see how this lesson goes and then I'll design the next tutorial so that it builds on the skills learned here. My only fear is that I won't be able to turn out new lessons fast enough. I don't want to spend all my time writing tutorials. If I do run out of my own original tutorials I could bring in some from other colored pencil artists, I suppose, but I really don't want to do that. This is my class, under my instruction, and I want to be the one to plan each lesson for them.  
I suppose if I needed to, we could have a session where we create random objects from our imaginations... I kind of like that idea, now that I think of it! 

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.

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".