Thursday, December 29, 2016

Colored Pencil Portrait - Nadya

8x10 inches, colored pencil on tan notebook paper

I completed this portrait of Nadya, a woman I have never met, but is a fellow member of Julia Kay's Portrait Party, before Christmas. I like it well enough, though I wish I had done a better job of differentiating the dark tones of her shirt from the dark background.  I kept layering, and I may have gone one step too far.  Still, I think it captures her graceful appearance.

I turn sixty-six today, and am grateful to be relatively healthy and able to pursue my interests, such a local history and my art.  I look my age, which is startling every morning when I stand in front of the bathroom mirror to brush my teeth.  I have unruly salt and pepper hair, smile and frown lines galore, and a rounder figure than I care to think about very deeply.  Still, in my mind, I am more like, say, forty-five.  There is a disconnect between how I think of myself, and how I see myself in the mirror, and indeed how younger people treat me.  This sort of thing hit home at the annual family get-together at Christmas time.  I now am the oldest person in the room, except for my husband and brother-in-law, who only are older by three months.  I occupy the position my grandmother once held, a little more dressed up than the younger relatives, a little overwhelmed by overly excited little ones, a little tired and ready to head back home to rest. 

I have never liked the timing of my birthday, falling as it does between Christmas and New Year.  I always resented it a little when birthday presents came in Christmas wrapping paper, and always had to do with winter clothing.  This time of year everyone is busy, and a little over-fed, so a birthday like mine gets little notice. Of course these days people think it's silly for a retired gray haired woman to even pay much attention to birthdays.  Nevertheless, I took myself out for an Egg McMuffin this morning, and tonight we're planning to get a nice meal out, possibly featuring a martini.  My dear aunt sent me a pretty birthday card (such a rare thing these days), some long time friends and left a happy birthday song on voicemail, and my Facebook friends have been checking in with greetings, so the day has not gone unnoticed.

It's good to find the sunshine wherever you can.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Edwina for JKPP

9x12 inches, colored pencil on tan notebook paper
Edwina, for Julia Kay's Portrait Party

I am not a huge fan of the annual Christmas rush, and also not fond of snow or cold weather, except that winter allows a retreat into my upstairs studio and has given me a chance to work on colored pencil portraits.  They seem to be getting more and more detailed, as this one of a woman whose illustrations I have admired for ages, shows.  I was almost equally challenged by her soulful face and by all those tiny highlights in her "big furry hat."  Sorry, I've been watching Stephen Colbert.  

Anyway, what I have discovered in diving into these nearly monochromatic drawings, is that I love the process of developing the image, deepening the dark values, adding the lights that add to an illusion of depth.  I feel as if I know the person, though I have never met her in real life.  

All these drawings are in a bound sketchbook.  Sometimes I put an old mat over the image to see what it might look like framed, but basically I just keep them to look at, trying in each one to develop the process more fully each time.

 Why I am staying inside.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Pepe For Julia Kay Portrait Party

8x10 inches colored pencil on toned paper

I love working on toned paper.  I have a spiral bound tan paper notebook that I used for practice pieces, and portraits for an online group in which I occasionally participate.  This drawing was completed in colored pencil for that group. It was an excellent reference photo, with dramatic shadows and a full range of values.  Apart from that I have felt a little high strung lately, and I enjoyed his peaceful look. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

(Somewhat) Loose Moose

11x15 inches, acrylic and crayon - "Loose Moose"

The last few weeks I have been watching YouTube video demonstrations by artist Robert Joyner, a man I met at Dillmans a few years ago. Joyner has a friendly and low key personality, and a loose and energetic style of painting that appeals to me very much. He teaches classes, and has a series of "how to" videos that he recently began providing for free. Free - that is pretty much a dream come true for me.

At any rate, I decided to paint over a failed abstract, and attempt a looser style than usual, using larger than my usual brushes, not much concern for realistic color, more layers, some scribbled crayon work.  While I thought I was looser while working on this guy, once he was finished, I didn't think he looked especially loose.  Still.  I like him well enough.

Monday, October 31, 2016

More Loose Drippy Trees

acrylic on paper, 12x12 inches

More drippy trees.  This one is much smaller than the previous one, and I am enjoying playing with different color combinations.  

The other thing I've been experimenting with is putting on a finishing coat of cold wax medium, which I apply pretty much as I do when I (rarely) wax the car.  I apply a thin top coat, let it dry, then buff it with a cloth.  The result punches up the colors a bit, and has a nice satin shine.  The only drawback I can see is that I can never paint over the top of the waxy finish.  I think I'm OK with that, though.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shadow Trees

I generally draw and paint either from direct observation or with a photograph as reference, but I had a desire to try a technique for working from imagination that I have seen Robert Burridge demonstrate.  He sometimes flings wet and juicy acrylic paint at his paper, lets it drip, then uses negative painting to simplify and define shapes. 

That's what I have done here.  It's hard to tell from the photo, but there are layers and layers of colors in the trees - transparent greens and blues, scarlets, purples.  Along the way I sometimes stopped to add little sky holes, or break up wet paint with splashes of rubbing alcohol.  It was very messy. 

Burridge has a demonstration video where he uses an opaque yellow to paint around the tree shapes.  I wouldn't choose yellow as a first choice, but I decided to give it a go, and was happy with the results.

I suspect I'd need to do lots of these to become more comfortable with the process and with creating convincing tree shapes.  But for now, this has gone a long way toward getting me out of my recent creative funk.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Enjoying October

I have always loved October.  It is a relief to be able to return to jeans and flannel shirts.  I like my cool bedroom and morning that doesn't come too soon.  I am happy to ditch the played out summer flowers for asters and mums.  It is often sunny and relatively warm, and the trees turn into bouquets of color.  Oh, and apples.  I can buy fresh Macintosh apples and make apple crisp. 

In October we traditionally drive the convertible up the Mississippi and stay over a night somewhere.  Sometimes its one of the little river towns, but this time we returned to the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, mercifully far enough from railroad tracks to allow for a good night's sleep.  This year, as last, we scored a  couple warm and pretty days, and reveled in Wisconsin back road beauty.

This is also the second year I am leading twilight tours for the Rock County Historical Society, the only ones that I dress up for.  A friend who has a sign business made me a sign as a gift, though he made a "typo" spelling cemetery.  Ah well, people know the tour is on, and the gift of the sign was a sweet thing.  Mama always said I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, and she was right.  People are pouring into the tours, and we get a laugh over the sign.

Now go out and enjoy these days before it gets cold.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Today I finally stashed all the materials I brought home from my August workshop in Michigan, and tried to fine tune this oil painting of a traffic signal.  I took a photo of the stop and go light a couple Saturdays ago, attracted, perhaps, by the bright September sky and the geometric shapes and intense colors.  Looking at the painting, which looks best if viewed through squinty eyes, I'm not sure it was a great subject to paint, but at least I got going with working in the studio, after several weeks of real hesitation.  What is that?  What makes a person be full of ideas and enthusiasm and suddenly seize up and stop working?  I've been blaming it on my unhappiness with the workshop, and an end of summer desire to be outside.  Maybe that's all it is. Maybe this painting is some sort of message from the universe to think carefully, proceed with caution, but not stop.  I don't know.

I did have a nice day last weekend in Madison at the state day for the Wisconsin Regional Artists Program. I had a small painting accepted to the show, and also received a cash award. Can't complain about any of that. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Back Again

The end of summer, a sad time, and exciting as well.  The summer flowers in my yard all have started looking ratty. I had to pull out the impatiens, not because of frost, but because we had so much rain and humidity that they either rotted or some bug or fungus got them.  But the mums I popped in to replace them look fine.

At the end of August I drove to Michigan for a much anticipated artist workshop.  It turned out to be something of a disappointment to me.  I still admire the artist's work, but her style of teaching was not one I liked.  To my mind she was ultra critical and negative, and at one point I wrote in my notes "I do not feel safe."  That would be emotionally safe, since she was prone to suddenly calling on class members out of the blue, and then showing them up to either be not paying sufficient attention or able to discern what it was she was after.  I did enjoy her demonstrations, and getting to see her work up close.  I made a new friend. I learned to use a GPS.  There were good things, but since I came home I have spent essentially zero time in the studio - which must change.

Just a few days after I got back from the week long workshop, we flew to Montana, rented a car, and spent five days at Yellowstone National Park.  This was the first time we got to use our senior passes, bought for $10 at an office in Madison a year or so ago.  Neither of us had been there since we were children, so we were happy and anxious to revisit the iconic park.  The weather was interesting, sometimes very warm, sometimes freezing, mostly according to elevation.  I wore shorts and sleeveless tops, and jeans, wool socks and multiple shirts, all in one trip.  The scenery was stunning, and we enjoyed out stay at the Old Faithful Inn Show Lodge.  The only thing I missed seeing, that I remembered from childhood was bears.  No bears.  But we saw lots of bison, elk and deer, so I was happy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Seen and Not Heard

Seen and Not Heard
8x8 inches, oil on canvas board

It's midsummer, and it is hot and humid here in southern Wisconsin.  I go outside in the morning before it really gets steamy, visit downtown haunts, or photograph out at the cemetery for my Find a Grave work, but in the afternoon I've been staying inside where it's cooler.  I've been doing some reading, and writing and editing my next cemetery walk, and some working on my art.

I started this little painting almost a month ago, after talking to a gallery friend up north who says one of her clients want small paintings of children.  That alone wouldn't motivate me to paint a particular subject, but I had a small black and white found photo that I wanted to try. This is the result.  

This little painting has a layer of texture that I added using a stencil before I ever began the actual painting.  I had an idea it might suggest wallpaper in the background. It doesn't, though the texture i subtle enough it doesn't detract, either.  I put down the first layers quickly, and then waited and waited for he paint to dry enough so that I could lay down transparent glazes on her skin tones.  Also I was at the point where I liked the image well enough so that I was frightened to mess up what I already had.  

No guts, no glory - or something.  Anyway, I finally did all the warm and cool glazes and am satisfied that she is finally finished.  

We'll see when I can find a good time to drive her up north.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Meredith, New Portrait

My art making lately has been quite solitary.  I occasionally enter pieces in shows, sometimes get together with other art-minded people at an area senior center, rarely take a workshop, but more and more I spend time alone in my little studio, trying out things that interest me.  For several years I have been part of an online group (on Flickr and Facebook) called Julia Kay's Portrait Party. In that group people submit photographs of themselves, and others draw or paint or otherwise interpret from the photos. Then they share the results with the group. 

Sometimes I draw portraits with colored pencil or graphite, occasionally I do an acrylic painting, and other times, like this time, I trot out my watercolors.  I hadn't done a watercolor portrait in over a year, and it felt good trying to create a believable flesh tone, and hair that seems curly. I like the results here, though the portrait is somewhat idealized.  Meredith has some character lines on her face, but I did not emphasize them.  What spoke to me in her photo was her warm smile and kind eyes, so that's what I concentrated on. 

Pretty often artists in this group over emphasize lines and creases, making the person in the portrait look more severe than necessary. I'm not sure why that bothers me so much - perhaps a reflection of how ambivalent I am about my own lines and wrinkles. 

Anyway, here is Meredith.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Community Figure Drawing

I knew it had been while since I posted, but I'm shocked to see how long it has actually been, especially since I have been drawing, painting, making collages and all sorts of things. 

Community Figure Drawing at UW Whitewater is a program that has been going year round for at least twenty years, although I've only been attending about five summers.  A few weeks back the director of the program emailed to say that regular attendees were being invited to submit direct observation drawing for a gallery show on campus, a show that turned out to be very nice. I was a little nervous that my gesture drawing , done quickly on loose paper, unframed, might look a little like something put up on the refrigerator with magnets, but no.  They looked fine.

The attendance at these session varies,  Last week was free and the place was packed, around twenty people.  This week the regular summer price of $10 for three hours began, and only four people attended, which is disappointing. I only stay two hours, since I like to leave and drive while there is still some daylight, what happens when a person has older eyes I guess.

Anyway, I worked smaller last night, and experimented with using neocolor crayons, which make less of a mess on my hands.  I layered gesture drawing right on top of one another, and ended up liking that effect fairly well.  I used a plain old pencil for the longer poses.  Examples follow.

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Work in Progress

The larger painting, of a girl on horseback, is new, and I can't decide whether to fiddle more with it or not.  My original intention was to paint something quite flat and simple.  I experimented with drawing first in red paint and letting that show a bit, then really simplifying both figures.  Neither ended up as stylized as I hoped, but when the girl had less of a face I was very uncomfortable. I used an old snapshot of my youngest sister as a point of departure, but I didn't want the final painting to be a portrait of a specific person, but rather a more generalized image.  Poor thing - her face has been painted over several times.  I think she'll just have to hang out in the studio until I decide what to do next.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Complaining Cow

8x10 inches
pastel on paper

Who knows where this came from?  Maybe just from a desire to play. I know I want to do a whole series of small cow portraits in acrylic, and that it generally works better if I do some warm up drawing first. But this bawling cow just got away from me. 

Maybe she is my alter ego - complaining loudly to nobody in particular: No more robo telephone calls!  No more ripped up streets!  No more nincompoops!  Enough with the gloomy cold weather, already! 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sketchbook - Mary, Riding

8x10 inches
graphite, colored pencil in sketchbook

My voice is slowly returning, a little stronger every day.  In general I feel a bit better each day, though I'm appalled at how how this bronchitis has held on.  

I've been doodling and noodling in my sketchbooks, and tried a little more formal one from a snapshot of my late sister Mary, from the 1970's.  I didn't take this picture - I think Mother sent it to me. I was away at school, and my youngest sister was turning into a lovely young woman. 

Life took a hard turn for her not long after this.  Our father became sick with cancer, and the world revolved around him for about five years.  Then she got very sick too, spending weeks at UW hospital in Madison.  She never really recovered her health.  Mother used to say she had twenty good years, and twenty not so good years.  

But the photo is drawing is based on shows a healthy and apparently happy girl, looking forward with hope.  I may want to try some different versions of this, maybe a larger painting that is less a specific portrait, and more a general image of a happy girl.  

Working on it made me happy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Steady Gaze
8x10 inches, acrylic

Oh good grief, I have been so sick sick we got home from Mexico.  Bronchitis, that led to such violent coughing that I lost my voice.  It's only now that my vocal cords are starting to work again.  The sound ain't pretty, but I can make myself understood, and the coughing is slowing subsiding.

So, yesterday I felt good enough to go to the studio and get out the acrylic paint.  My goal was to paint much looser than usual, something a little wild and colorful.  I rather like this lady, though I think I can push the loose and abstract look even more.  

Time will tell.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tarahumara Woman

I see that I never posted any more photos from our February trip to Costa Rica.  I certainly meant to, but then the hard drive on my computer died, and then the repaired machine had to be returned to the shop to fix my iPhoto program and email.  And then we had another trip.

This time we spent eight days on a group escorted trip to central Mexico, including a train trip through Copper Canyon.  It was a beautiful journey, full of stunning scenery, and I learned more about parts of the country I had never seen before. 

This photo is of a young Tarahumara woman at Copper Canyon, weaving a pine needle basket. 

The only unfortunate part of the trip was that I somehow caught a really awful cold that settled in my chest.  The 8,000 + altitude and wood smoke everywhere didn't help my breathing at all.  I'm afraid I didn't enjoy the experience as much as I wanted because I felt so lousy.  Now my husband has caught the same bug.

But we are home now, and are able to rest and drink hot tea.  I'm sure we'll be OK pretty soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Costa Rican Critters

While Costa Rica clearly has plenty of familiar animals, cats and dogs, raccoons, cattle, familiar birds like egrets and pelicans, we also saw quite a few that we'd seen only before in zoos, or in other tropical environments like Jamaica or southern Mexico.

Man with traditional oxcart, historically used to transport coffee.

Iguanas are common. They're vegetarian, and clearly accustomed to humans.

I think this is a caiman.  We saw warning near streams and rivers to stay out of the water because of these reptiles.  They are smaller than alligators or crocodiles.

One river tour we took went looking particularly for crocodiles.  This 80 year old croc is seventeen feet long and weighs an estimated 1, 700 pounds.

We saw several sloths lounging in trees.  This might be a two toed or a three toed sloth, a couldn't see to count. 

For me the most fun was seeing monkeys.  There were white faced monkeys, like this one, black howlers, and tiny squirrel monkeys like those in the picture below this line.  We saw them often, even near one of the resorts where we stayed.  There they made a racket early in the morning, before it heated up, and threw coconuts on the tile roof of the building.

I have a small, inexpensive camera, and we often were walking in a group, so I missed shots of many beautiful creatures - iridescent butterflies, warblers with brilliant flashes of red, brightly colored hummingbirds, green parrots, and toucans with bills like hatchets.  It was a riot of movement, sound and color, and tonic to eyes weary of winter.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Under a Volcano - a Week in Costa Rica

February in Wisconsin wears me out psychologically.  Christmas is long over.  Gray skies and snowdrifts have lost their novelty, and spring isn't particularly close.  I get tired of wool socks and lots of layers of clothing.  I grow really tired of scraping ice off the windshield.

So, since we retired, we have tried to take one or two trips around now, to get a chance to expose our winter white skin to the sun, to smell flowers, and to hear birds.  This month we traveled with UW Whitewater to Costa Rica.

It was great, though the trips there and back were long and tiring.  Still the people were nice, the weather was good, and we saw things we had never seen up close and personal before.

First new experience, volcanoes.  The highland of Costa Rica have six active volcanoes, and we saw two, Poas and Arenal.  We saw Poas first, and noticed first the thinner air, as we had to hike to the crater.  I was also surprised how misty and foggy it was, though I realize now that fog and mist is common in a rain forest.

The crater is filled with rain water and sulpher, which bubbles and spits.  Sometimes it was visible, and sometimes it disappeared into a cloud of mist.

Arenal has the perfect cone of a cartoon volcano, complete with steam venting from the summit.  We stayed at a resort whose widows all faced the tremendous cone.  It was stunningly beautiful, and vaguely threatening.  In 1968 it erupted, killing 88 people.  Currently it is classified as resting.

This was the view from our room.  I loved the giant crotons that served as a privacy hedge.  In the morning the evening flocks of white egrets would fly across this scene, and roost in a tree near the small river that flowed nearby.  That river water was off limits, since it also housed caymen, but we did take advantage of a swimming pool filled with very warm hot spring water.  Heaven on aching knees.

Thing seemed to be blooming everywhere, and there were lots of birds and butterflies to go with the flowers.  I could resist a couple photos of flowers.

In this area we also visited a coffee plantation.  The pictures that follow show coffee cherries, workers sun drying beans, and our guide Jose with samples of coffee. The coffee served everywhere was strong, smooth and flavorful. 

I'll continue with a few more highlights of our eight day trip in a day or two.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Living in a Motor Coach

I'm still working on my autobiographical coloring book.  Drawing this little scene reawakened several memories for me.  First off was the oversized zip up snowsuit, mittens (probably with a piece of yarn connecting them through the arms of the snowsuit), and thin rubber boots that folded inward and were fastened with what looked like a big rubber band and a button.  Those boots did not keep my feet warm.  When I walked, the shiny fabric of the snowsuit made a sound like ZWOOP, ZWOOP, ZWOOP.

The other memory was of the trailer we lived in until my younger sister was born.  I have only vague memories of the trailer, and just a handful of photos.  I asked my aunt, my mother's older sister, if the trailer had a bathroom, but she did not remember.  I was too  young to need any plumbing, so I do not recall.  I do remember that when my grandparents build a new house, and we moved into the farm house, they installed indoor plumbing, and the wooden outhouse became a relic of the past.  I believe my parents moved into the trailer right after they were married in 1948. I came along at the end of 1950.

I did an internet search to see if I could find out more about the first place we lived.  I think lots of people lived in trailers after World War II; they weren't just for hauling behind your automobile.  I think I scored with the Atlas Mobile Home Directory site.  Our trailer had a nice streamlined shape, with a curved top, two doors with porthole windows.  This could be it:

I know the interior had what looked like wood paneling, linoleum floors, and lots of built in shelving and drawers.  It was compact at 28 feet in length, and probably about 8 feet in width.  At any rate, it was too small once my sister was born, and we moved into the drafty old stucco farmhouse that was my home until I went away to college.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Autobiography - One Coloring Page at a Time

I've been coloring, but I've also been drawing the past few days.  Actually I had the idea for an autobiographical coloring book while I was coloring something entirely different - maybe a page about Zorro.  It occurred to me that a parent and child might sit down to color together, and if the picture had to do with somebody in the family, a conversation might start about who that person is, what place the picture depicts, what pets (or toys, friends) the person had when they were a child.

So, this is me, with one over several pet crows my father kept for a time.  He loved animals, and we not only had the usual farm animals, cows, cats, dogs, but also occasional wild pets like crows and raccoons, and once foxes. All of the wild pets were freed once they reached maturity and preferred a mate to us and our attention. 

This drawing is of me, my father, and his collie mix farm dog, Shep.  I have pictures f Dad with this dog when he was in high school, so Shep was older than I was.  He was a sweet old softie, and when he died, perhaps the first living thing I remember dying, we wrapped him in a sheet and buried him under an apple tree in the orchard. 

So, this isn't painting or anything I'd take to the gallery, but it's entertaining for me.  I've also been doing a few for friends, trying to see if I can make anything interesting out of other people's photos. 

The jury is still out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Anybody who has wandered through a craft store or a book store, cannot fail to notice all the adult coloring books currently on the market. Apparently there something for everyone,  geometric designs,  flowers, birds and butterflies, textile patterns, tribal designs, cats, you name it.  I was surprised and pleased to win a cat based coloring book at our family white elephant exchange - though I'd hardly call this adult coloring book a white elephant.  At any rate, I have hundreds of good colored pencils that I use infrequently, and they are perfect for coloring intricate designs.  They don't smell as nice a crayolas, but they look beautiful.

I know I colored as a child, lots of cartoon characters, farm animals, probably television characters like Zorro.  I don't know why I was surprised recently when I was looking online for a Janesville Daily Gazette from January, 1916, a hundred years ago, and found a drawing for youngsters to color:

At first I was surprised to find the detailed directions for coloring under the drawing, saying that the walls are gray, the dog black, Betty's dress pink, and so on, but later I realized that many of the contemporary coloring books I have flipped through have colored samples to copy.  I'm not sure why I think this is not only unnecessary, but down right wrong.  I can understand people not being willing or able to draw designs, but surely they can pick their own colors?

Anyway, it occurred to me that I could make some simple drawing of my life, an autobiographical coloring book.  Maybe I'd even make some copies for my small nieces to color - being certain to include lots of family members, and details from the farm.  I think this could be fun for me, if not for the nieces.  Later I could include some simple line drawings from Whitewater, where Dad had a shop and I went to college, some from Janesville where I have lived since I started teaching in the early 1970s. I don't know - maybe it'll end up being a slog and I'll give up.  But then again, maybe not.

I've considered designing other coloring books too.  How about tourist highlights of Door County?  Historic spots in Janesville or Rock County?  I have a feeling by the time I got either of these done the coloring craze will have passed.

Anyway, I tried a sample page for my autobiographical coloring book of my mother and father holding me looking worried - or maybe just nearsighted.