Sketching Dinner at Zaki’s Kabob House

Jerusalem Lemonade and Lentil Soup, ink & watercolor

Jerusalem Lemonade and Lentil Soup, ink & watercolor

Last Tuesday night we met at Zaki’s Kabob House in Albany for some delicious Mediterranean food and sketching. It was a cold rainy night but the restaurant was busy. Sonia had called ahead to confirm it would be OK for us to spend the evening there sketching. We were further encouraged by the bumper sticker on the door that said “Make Art Not War.”

Condiments & Empty Bread Basket

Condiments & Empty Bread Basket

If you wonder why this sketch has a note saying “Paste Menu Here,” it’s because when I said I’d ruined the composition (pre-watercolor) by adding that glass on the right, Cathy said, “Just paste a piece of the menu over that spot.” I solved the problem by just not painting the glass and leaving the note instead.

Sonia and I painted at the table but Cathy didn’t like the dim restaurant lighting for painting so made many more sketches instead. I was happy that my colors turned out well despite not quite being able to see them while  working.

Diners at Zakis

Diners at Zakis

Usually when we’re sketching in cafes we are unable to avoid eavesdropping on nearby conversations, always a source of amusement or amazement at what people say in public. But shortly after we sat down, Ellen, a member of our plein air painting group, arrived to join her realtor for dinner at the next table. After some introductions, and passing around of sketchbooks (including an invitation by the realtor to show them in their office “gallery” which we declined), we returned to sketching while they dined and chatted.

It was odd eavesdropping on someone we knew. Cathy appreciated it though, since they were talking about sofabed shopping, and Cathy is in the market for one too.

Teensy Bouquet of Tiny Winter Flowers

Tiny Bouquet, ink and watercolor, 9x6"

I was surprised to find a variety of colorful teensy flowers growing along the sidewalks on my walk this afternoon in the cool misty weather. It felt so great to be out walking without the icy cold and then pouring rain of the past week and the bright colors were a great bonus.

I felt a little sheepish about picking flowers that didn’t belong to me, but the they were so tiny and since I only took a sprig or two a few inches in length I didn’t think anyone would mind. Some might even have been volunteers (aka weeds?).

When I got home I stuck them in this little glass container some pricey French yogurt had come in (that I bought for the container). Then I got back to working on my website. When I’d finished it was bedtime but I knew these flowers probably wouldn’t last until tomorrow. And I really needed a little fun so I put on a CD and so enjoyed drawing them and painting them.

If you’d like to take a look at my rebuilt website, I’d love your feedback. Although it’s now cleaner and easier to update, I’m disappointed in a couple of features that really bug me. I’ll either get over my perfectionism or sometime later I’ll rebuild it again.

The problem with technology is that by the time you’ve researched the best gizmo, bought it and learned to use it, it’s already obsolete. Aren’t you glad that not everything in life is like that?

Sketching with Mariah in a Too Busy Week

Sketching Fruit with Mariah after Tacos

Sketching Fruit with Mariah, ink & watercolor

This afternoon I went for a hike with Jessica and Mariah in perfect autumn weather and then J made tacos for dinner. After dinner Mariah (age 10) plopped her sketchbook, watercolor pencils, and Niji waterbrush on the table, pulled the bowl of fruit over in front of us and said “Let’s sketch.” How could I resist!

Mariah’s sketchbooks are such treasures. When we first started sketching together a couple years ago she preferred drawing from her imagination but now avidly draws what she sees too. Watching her abilities and understanding of what she sees grow is such a pleasure. Especially since she’s around the age when many girls stop drawing when they realize they can’t do it perfectly.

I also really admire how she has many pages of “just practicing” as she called them in her sketchbook (pages someone else might tear out thinking they were “failed” drawings).  She doesn’t fear leaving them there or “wasting” the page. They’re just practice. Sometimes there are three pages in a row like that. No big deal. Such wisdom. I wanted to post her fruit sketch too but she turned the page while it was wet and it got all blurry. She just couldn’t wait to start the next sketch: the box of taco shells she said she really wanted to draw but didn’t know why.

I’ve managed to squeeze in a few other nothing-special sketches in the middle of a two-week, too-busy period (work, family, life!) and here they are:

Subway Ladies

Subway Ladies, ink and watercolor

Friday night my watercolor group came over and we painted together. I did a couple quick sketches of them while we sat around the table. Judith had a new shorter haircut.

Judith, ink in Niji waterbrush

Judith, ink in Niji waterbrush

Sharon worked in water-soluble oils instead of watercolor and somehow got yellow paint on the wall that wouldn’t come off until I tried my Magic Eraser and it came right off.

Sharon, ink in Niji waterbrush

Sharon, ink in Niji waterbrush

We were all so tired after a long week but it was great to get together and paint. By request, I demonstrated how to get a good “bead” of juicy paint when making a flat wash and everyone took turns doing a few rows of the wash down the page. Together we created a really nice even page of purple.

A few more days of craziness and things start settling down again. Can’t wait!

Attack of the Insidious Shoulds

Attack of the Shoulds #1, Mixed media

Attack of the Shoulds #1, Mixed media

Sunday I got into one of those funks where no matter what I was doing I felt like I should be doing something else. It was a beautiful day: I should be out painting plein air. But there were paintings in progress in the studio that were calling to me. And then there were shoulds about the medium to use: I should be painting in oil, no acrylic, no watercolor…I was driving myself nuts!

So I sat myself down at the drawing table and just started writing  in my sketchbook journal all the shoulds I was hearing in my mind (but who was saying them–aren’t I the only one in there?). When all else fails I default to flowers. I picked a hibiscus, stuck it in a little bottle and started sketching. I got it wrong. I drew with a pen dipped in ink, I added wax crayon, watercolor crayon, rubbed it with a paper towel, rubber stamps, more ink, more crayon, and just kept angrily abusing the page, trying to dump the shoulds.

Attack of the Shoulds #2, Ink and watercolor

Attack of the Shoulds #2, Ink and watercolor

I wrote on the page: “Accept that it is all impossible.It will be wrong. It will be bad. It is pointless. And do it anyway. Because you can. And doing it badly is better than not doing it. Break the cycle. Stop the nonsense!” When there was nothing more to do the first page spread I started on the next, feeling freer. I tackled the hibiscus again, and did #2 above.

Attack of the Shoulds #3, watercolor and ink

Attack of the Shoulds #3, watercolor and ink

For #3 above, I sketched with pencil, added watercolor and then outlined everything afterwards with a Pitt Sepia F pen.

Attack of the Shoulds #4, ink & watercolor

Attack of the Shoulds #4, ink & watercolor

It was almost time to go to a dinner party but I squeezed in one more, which I mucked up a bit with too heavy outlining so added some fun scribbly white pen. The good news is that I did break the cycle, got over the shoulds and got back to having fun in the studio today.

Painting a Still Life Using The Carder Method”

Still Life with Tangelo, oil on gessobord, 12x12"

Still Life with Tangelo, oil on gessobord, 12x12"

Inspired by Casey’s success with the Carder Method and frustrated with my own slow progress at oil painting, I bought the Carder Method video and  Color Checker tool. Below are step by step photos of my using the method to paint this still life, a brief review of the Carder Method and photos of my studio set up for working with it.

The Carder Method is designed to eliminate many of the problems that can make painting difficult. By creating an carefully lit, controlled environment, a painter can focus on learning to clearly see color and value differences while eliminating problems caused by variables such as changing light.

Click “Continue Reading” to see photos and read more…. Read More

What’s the Point?

Juicer #2, watercolor on hotpress, 6x4

Juicer #2, watercolor on hotpress, 6x4

I spent hours and hours standing at the easel this weekend, determined to once again try to paint a portrait of a little boy whose photograph I took a couple years ago at the San Francisco Museum of Art. After many hours and sore feet, below is how the painting turned out:

Canvas painted over with white paint

Canvas painted over with white paint

It had a few promising phases but I just couldn’t “execute” any of them to completion. At the end of the day I gave up and saved the lovely linen canvas to reuse by painting it over with white paint.

Tonight I decided to do something in watercolor just to try to have a little fun.  When I went looking for a subject to paint everything seemed tired and insipid. I think I’ve seen one too many meaningless little still lifes with a clove of garlic, a lemon slice, or an apple.  I started wondering, “What’s the point?” so the pointy juicer seemed a perfect subject.

I wasn’t happy with the first (overworked) version below, so I tried it again and the second version is at the top of the post. I didn’t have an orange to juice so I made pretend orange juice with watercolor paint.

What's the Point? watercolor on hotpress paper, 6x4"

What's the Point? watercolor on hotpress paper, 6x4"

Since I’ve been in a stuck place for a couple weeks I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of artwork would bring back my creative juices. Just making pretty pictures, developing good enough technique to be able to make classical still lifes or impressionist landscapes or traditional portraits isn’t it. So I made a list of what I do enjoy:

  1. going out sketching with ink, watercolor and sketchbook
  2. painting subjects with emotional content (like the two autobiographical series I’m planning)
  3. painting large, getting lost in the painting, having unexpected things appear and running with them
  4. drawing complicated subjects or painting details in watercolor
  5. painting my crazy dreams
  6. creative thinking to come up with concepts and images based on one-word challenges like Illustration Friday offers
  7. painting without a lot of planning, just jumping in and seeing what happen

I was  stuck on #2 because I was envisioning working with large canvases (30×40″) but thinking about the cost of the canvases and the paint to cover them, and where I’d hang them or store them if I actually made as many in the series as I intend…. and then as I was writing about this in my journal I realized the solution:

Just start! Go for it! Go wild! Play! Forget about the product and enjoy the process. So I’m going to START with the bigger of the canvases I have on hand and just keep going from there.  And I’m going to get out and sketch more.

Painting Camellias with Mariah

Camelia #3, Watercolor on paper, 4x6"

Camellia #3, Watercolor on paper, 4x6"

Last night my step-granddaughter Mariah, a brilliant, almost 10 year-old artist with an enviable  sense of design and assurance and confidence in her work came over for a visit while her parents went out to dinner. Even though she she was sick, she was still up for doing some drawing and painting.

We picked a few camellias from my tree and got to work (or was it play?) drawing. She wanted to use acrylics; I fooled around with gouache and watercolor. Here’s her painting:

Mariah's Camelias, acrylic on paper, 8x8"

Mariah's Camellias, Acrylic & graphite on paper, 8x8"

And here are the two I did last night. (The one at the top top of this post I did this morning, with the flowers beside the window. I wasn’t ready to stop painting these pretty flowers, the first of the flowers to bloom in my garden.)

Camelia #2, watercolor on paper, 6x4"

Camellia #2, Watercolor & ink on paper, 6x4"

Camelia #1, Gouache on paper, 6x4"

Camellia #1, Gouache and graphite on paper, 4x6"

I really don’t like the way using white with gouache looks so chaulky.  I much prefer the clear lights in watercolor that you get by leaving areas white or only lightly glazed with color.

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