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Waiting for the doctor

Ink in Moleskine sketchbook

Just a quick sketch while waiting in the doctor’s office (after studying all the charts of spines and wrists and skeletons). I was really enjoying drawing and hoping he’d be delayed but he wasn’t and then I had to return to the office. Nobody could focus this afternoon after an all-morning meeting and then a holiday gourmet pizza lunch complete with first visits from two co-workers who are out on maternity leave and their beautiful new babies.

We all took turns holding and rocking these little miracles while we played “Dirty Santa” (Everyone brings a gift, then we all draw numbers and pick gifts in order of our numbers. Each consecutive person can choose to “steal” the gift a previous person has opened until every gift has been opened and everyone has one.)

I brought as a gift Maira Kalman‘s wonderful new book of illustrations in gouache of her every day life and thoughts (always quirky and unique), The Principles of Uncertainty. I love Maira Kalman and highly recommend the book. Last year the hit of the party was my gift of her previous book, the The Elements of Style Illustrated (Strunk & White).

Not much work got done when the party ended at 3:00. Everyone was in a daze from the fun, pizza and desserts (including fudge–hadn’t seen any of that for years!).

Figure Drawing Gouache Life in general People Sketchbook Pages

Learning to Vacation


Ink in Moleskine sketchbook – Peaberry’s Coffee in Oakland’s Rockridge District, land of yuppies with strollers
Click here to enlarge

Today was my first official day of vacation. There’s something about a week off that makes me want to hoard every moment and then I start worrying about it ending before it’s even gotten started. It usually takes me until the very end of vacation to get into the swing of relaxing. I’m so grateful that the physical pain in my back and hip is gone. Tomorrow I’m going celebrate feeling good and being free.

Today I had a wonderful hour and a half of massage and bodywork that my sister treated me to for my birthday and then I took an hour long walk along College Avenue in the Rockridge District of Oakland/Berkeley and had a latte at Peaberry’s Coffee (above) where I listened to the guy in the foreground rant for 20 minutes to a very patient woman about how he brought dessert and cheese to a dinner party where the hosts didn’t put his dessert out and stole the cheese for themselves and never said thank you. Then I drove over to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and exchanged a couple CDs at Amoeba Records. I really like one I brought home today: Rodrigo Y Gabriela–sort of flamenco/rock guitars from Mexico–wonderful!


Ink in moleskine: at Berkeley’s Skateboard Park
Click here to enlarge

Yesterday I rode my bike to REI looking for a Klean Kanteen which is a lightweight stainless steel water bottle to avoid polluting the world with jillions of plastic water bottles and my body with the chemicals in plastic that are now found to be absorbed into the water and the body. They were all out. Riding home I discovered the Berkeley Skate Park (above)– like a whole bunch of concrete ski-slopes, jumps, rails, curbs and swimming pools where skaters try out their tricks (video) without endangering anyone but themselves.

Afterwards I did some figure drawing using a brushpen, adding gouache later to some of the sketches. Here’s a couple of them.


Brush pen in Aquabee sketchbook


Brushpen and goauche on hot press Arches paper

I’m also a little frustrated because I’ve finished all of my work in progress and it’s time to start some new work but I can’t seem to settle on what I want to do next. After a couple days of trying to make myself settle down and get to work in the studio I’ve realized what I really want is to just be outdoors, drawing and painting what I see, rather than working in the studio. So that’s what I’m going to do because it’s my birthday vacation and I get to do whatever I darn please, so there!

Gouache Life in general Painting Still Life

Papaya in Gouache

Papaya in Gouache

Gouache on Arches hot press watercolor paper, 10×7.5″
Click here to enlarge, then click again

I meant to paint in oils this afternoon and I meant to go to bed early tonight and I meant to get some good exercise in today. Oops.

Instead I spent the afternoon with the president of my neighborhood association touring the former private elementary school around the corner from my house that is on the verge of being leased to a new charter high school. I’m feeling very much the Nimby-ite (Not In My Back Yard) because the school will almost literally be in my backyard — on the next block. While the school’s focus is supposed to be all about community service and group hugs, my experience with the nicest of teenagers (including my own who weren’t always all that nice)  is that high school students are noisy, drive like fools, and have lots of trash that rarely ends up in the trash can.

By the time I got home I had to cook dinner and then clean up the huge mess from chopping tons of different veges for a stir fry. When I finished it was 9:00 and I was about to head to bed for a nice early night when I saw this lovely half papaya I bought today calling out to be painted.

“OK, you have one hour” I told myself and then to bed!” Two hours later and here I am uploading the picture. I still have to do my back stretches. But at least I’m happy I painted today because tomorrow it’s back to the office.

Art theory Faces Gouache Painting People Portrait

Girl in Gouache

Girl in gouache

Gouache on hot press watercolor paper, 7×10″
Click here to see large (then click again)

I painted this from a photo I took of a little girl at my niece’s high school graduation. I’m learning a lot from working with gouache–it’s a great way to experiment with seeing values and color temperature which is so important, especially for working with oil paint. I’m also learning that while you can repaint layers with gouache you do eventually get unpleasant paint build-up and it becomes more difficult to blend, as layers beneath get reactivated (unlike acrylics).

One note for anyone who’s interested in working with gouache: Many of the colors are not at all permanent since many artists who use gouache are painting for publication and the work only needs to look good until it’s photographed. When shopping for gouache, make sure the tube of paint has an A or AA permanence rating. Anything below that (B or C) and the paint may fade or change color rapidly (just in case you paint a “keeper”).

Art theory Dreams Gouache Other Art Blogs I Read Painting People

Painting with Gouache

Phone dream

Gouache on hot-pressed watercolor paper, 7″x11″
Click here to enlarge

I’ve been wanting to experiment with painting in gouache (opaque watercolor) and today finally got the chance. I so adore the artwork of Maira Kalman and the painterly, juicy way she uses gouache….which reminds me a lot of the kind of oil painting I want to do–John Sonsini is one of my current favorites…and his work reminds me a lot of Alice Neel, one of my major art heroes, who, at the age of 80, did a wonderful nude self portrait of herself painting herself.

It turns out gouache, at least on the two relatively small pieces I’ve tried so far, actually combines the best of watercolor, acrylics and oils. You can blend easily, paint with bright juicy colors, it dries quickly but not too quickly, you can paint over areas, and it cleans up with water. I had some ancient tubes of Winsor Newton Designer’s Gouache and bought a few new tubes since some of mine had turned to cement. I love it!

I’ve been trying to paint in that juicy, painterly way with acrylics and oils but haven’t succeeded so far. I haven’t worked out the balance between working quickly, free and loose, and still trying to capture a likeness of my subject and getting to detailed and tight. Then there’s the problems associated with the actual media–acrylic dries too fast too do much blending and oil dries so slowly that I keep having to stop and let it dry for a week before continuing.

I’m excited about the possibilities with gouache and enjoyed this first experiment, which was inspired by a dream. I posted the original sketchbook image here.

If you want to see more of Maira Kalman’s art, she’s had a monthly art blog on the New York Times website and the work is stunning. It will be published in a book in October. The NY Times offers a free 2-week subscription, which I took in order to look at the whole year of her art blogs.