Saul’s and The Actual Cafe: Sketches

Saul's Valentines Day Dinner, ink & colored pencil, 5x9.5"

Pickle Eater Wearing Cape Behind Susan Sketching, ink & colored pencil, 5x9.5"

By the date on this sketch at Saul’s Deli you can see how behind I am in posting. I have just a bit more organizing to do in the studio. Once that’s done I will share pictures of the studio and then can not only catch up on posting but also on sketching and painting.

Actual Cafe: Bike Hangs From Ceiling, Ink & watercolor, 8x5"

Actual Cafe: Bike Hangs From Ceiling, Ink & watercolor, 8x5"

We had a great Tuesday sketch night at the Actual Cafe in Oakland. It’s an interesting place with a huge mural on the wall, a lending library, bicycles hanging from the ceiling, and regularly scheduled art events. They host bingo games to benefit non-profits and, being a bike-friendly establishment, use an old bike rigged up to spin a bingo cage and send bingo balls down the chute.

And now off to the studio.

Time Is Like Toothpaste (Or Paint); A Tube of Birthday

Tube of Birthday, Ink and colored pencil, 12x9"

Tube of Birthday, Ink and colored pencil, 12x9"

I have a very tenuous grasp on time. I always think I can do more in the allotted time than is possible and then I end up rushing to avoid being late (usually unsuccessfully). This “time grandiosity” I suffer from also means I start the day, a weekend, or in the case of the drawing above, my birthday vacation, with a sense of infinite time. And then suddenly the time is gone and I’m shocked and dismayed.

I always thought of time as passing on its own until I read this article at the beginning of my birthday vacation, How to Actively Take Control of Your Time, which compares time to a tube of toothpaste.

Unlike a stream running or sand falling in an hourglass, toothpaste does not simply come out of a tube on its own – we force it out and use it up…Time does not fly by – rather, we push minutes, hours and days out of our finite toothpaste tube of life.  ~ Sid Savara

So at the beginning of my vacation (back in June) I drew the tube of paint (seemed more appropriate than toothpaste) and marked off what I did each day. I paid attention to the choices I was making about how I squeezed out that day’s “paint.”

What about you? Do you choose how you squeeze out the hours of your life or do you feel like time is squirting by on its own?

Spell to Undo: Janas (Fake) Journal

Undo Spell, Fake Journal; ink, colored pencil

Undo Spell, Fake Journal; ink, colored pencil

For those embarrassing moments: an UNDO spell that’s just as easy as clicking the back ← button. This spell is similar to the “Rewind” spell, only quicker.

Next time you need a “Do over” or an “Undo” just cast this handy spell. The directions are written in gold ink at the bottom of the Journal of Spells & Unspells right-hand page. I discovered this written language after meeting an amazing, eccentric, local artist named Bebe who traveled the world making life masks of people she met and whose home and car are covered in her imagined blue writing, pictured below (click images to enlarge).

Bebe's House

Bebe's House

Bebe and her car in front of her house

Bebe waving good-bye

Car front

Car front (Good thing she walks instead of driving!)

Car side

Car side

I first met Bebe when I was about to walk past her but instead stopped to tell her how beautiful I thought she was, struck by her white braids, colorful clothes and Cleopatra eyes. Months later Barbara and I were walking in Kensington and we  stumbled upon her house. She saw us looking, came out to say hello and invited us in, regaling with us with stories of her travels and fascinating life. Nearing 90 she said she walks three hours every day, does her art and meditates daily.

Janas (Fake) Journal: Spell for Art Making

Play Your Art Instrument, gel pen and colored pencil

Play Your Art Instrument, gel pens and colored pencil

I heard an interview with musician Bobby McFerrin on NPR yesterday and he said something about work, play and creativity that really struck me. He was talking about having always just wanted to be a working musician (rather than a famous celebrity). Then he stopped to correct himself about the word “work” vs. the importance of “play”:

“When we’re doing our lessons, the teacher doesn’t say, ‘Ready, set, work.’ They say, ‘Ready, set, play,’ and I always took that word seriously.”

When I heard his spontaneous and inspired music, I understood exactly. Without the spirit of play, art becomes work, serious work. And serious isn’t fun. You rarely see the adjective serious describing something you want. It usually appears before words like illness, accident,  mistake, and problem.

Of course there are serious artists who make serious work. I watched a series about artists on PBS called “Art:21.” The producers must have told all the artists to refer to their paintings, sculptures, prints as “work”  (e.g. “I made this work last year…” or “This work is about…” or “When I am making work…”). It just sounded so pretentious, self-important and overly serious.

So now, when I find myself working hard (and enjoying it less) whether in the studio, the sketchbook or life in general, I will remember the spell for joyful art making and apply it once again.

If you want to try the spell too, all you have to do is open your mind, heart, spirit, eyes, arms and PLAY!

(For more information about International Fake Journal Month click here).

Sketchercizing My Errands

Walking with my dust mop, ink & colored pencil

Walking with my dust mop, ink & colored pencil

I needed a new dust mop, a tube of silicon adhesive and some exercise, so I put them together and walked to Pastime Hardware, a large family-owned hardware store that has everything, including  their famously helpful employees.

The sketch above actually closely resembles me when I’m out walking, with my green backpack  that is so comfy, even when loaded with junk, my nifty purple cap, and old green shorts.

On the way to the store I called my mom on my iPhone, getting that task done as well. As she told me tales of her adventures with her new, and first computer, I stopped to draw some cacti I spotted along the way.

Cacti, ink and watercolor

Cacti, ink and watercolor

My last stop was at the video store to pick up a copy of Local Color which never came out in theaters in Northern California and is finally available on DVD. Then I walked home with the mop over my shoulder feeling like I should be whistling a little tune.

Hannah’s Reflection Revised

Hannah's reflection, oil on Gessobord 12x16"

Hannah's Reflection, oil on Gessobord 12x16"

After I posted this painting a few weeks ago I realized I’d left off the foamy bubbles on top of the water. Last weekend I worked on the painting some more, at first planning to just add the bubbles but ended up adding a whole new layer of paint. I gave Hannah another haircut and slimmed down her dress a bit. I felt a little afraid to go back in and start messing with things, but told myself to just have fun and see what happens.

I don’t think I quite got the essence of the foam, it looks more like rose petals floating on the surface, but I decided I liked that idea and left it alone.

I’m wondering if there is a problem with the grasses behind the rust colored reeds on the middle right that sort of point towards her head. Should that patch of yellow-green grasses have less texture, be cooler and more blurry so that they recede more? I think so.

Here’s what it looked like before in the original post:

Hannah's Reflection, Oil on Gessobord, 16x12

Hannah's Reflection, Oil on Gessobord, 16x12

I’m trying to get over the idea that paintings need to be completed in one painting session or in one day. Alla prima and plein air painting is great,  but so is letting layers dry and adding more more until the painting says it’s done. Sometimes it forgets to say “When” though, and then it’s overdone.

I have the same trouble with steaming vegetables. I lose my concentration and before I know it my broccoli has turned to mush. So is the revision mushy broccoli or an improvement? Do you think I should soften those grasses or move on?

Thinking about painting and broccoli reminds me of this poster I made a long time ago:

Listen to Your Broccoli, Colored Pencil, 24x18"

"Listen to Your Broccoli and It Will Tell You How to Eat It," Colored Pencil, 24x18"

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