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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Why It's Important to Save Old Wood

I'm sort of kidding about this, but sort of not. I have several boxes in the shop filled with pieces of wood that I've salvaged from things like old planter boxes and even the duck house that I demolished a couple of years ago to make room for a new one.

But my prize is a piece of wood that a friend gave me about 5 or 6 years ago. He said it was from an old building. It was wide - nearly 12" which you know is wide if you've tried to buy wood lately - and nice and flat. But the best part was the old off-white paint that was peeling here and there.



Delightfully, I was able to use it to make a frame for this collage. I think it's the perfect fit for the deer. It has a "farmhouse Christmas" look. Oh, and even more delightfully, I still have some of the wood left for another project!

For all intents and purposes, my days of buying frames are over! Of course that's nice because frames are expensive. But, more than that, I just don't like finishing a piece just the way I want it and then searching available moldings that sprung from someone else's imagination that will work for my piece. It's usually "sort of" work than "really" work - at least in my mind. I'd rather just have no frame, or a "painted frame" as part of the piece itself, like last week's post.

This works for me because I work mainly in acrylic which doesn't require glass to protect it. But even watercolor can do without glass as long as I spray it with fixative, adhere it to a wood panel, and varnish it. The only medium that wouldn't work - at least that I can think of - is pastel.


A few words about this collage. I did it as one of three examples for a class that I was planning but never taught. I wanted to develop a way for people who didn't have (or didn't think they had) drawing skills but still wanted a realistic image as a collage element.

The deer is a copyright free image that I found on the internet. I used a photo editor to remove the color and lighten the exposure, then applied colored pencil over it - kind of like a coloring book! Then I sprayed the paper with fixative and was able to proceed with the collage, adding other elements, washes of color, and decorative details. It was really fun. I should do a video on it (note to self!)

Saturday, November 30, 2019

One of My Favorite Pieces, and Why


I created this piece a few months ago. It never got a title, but I intended it to be the diploma given to the pair Reynard the Fox and Phillipa the owl on the occasion of their graduation from first form shaman school. Reynard is the future shaman and Phillipa his future familiar. These are actual characters in my book Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor, (which you can find on amazon.com or on lulu.com/shop by searching either the title or my name - or follow the link to the right) but they are much older by the time that story begins.


The text is in Theban script, first published in 1518 by Johannes Trithemius in his Polygraphia where he attributed it to Honorius of Thebes. Sometimes it's referred to as a 'witches' script,' but I just like the look of it. It's an alphabet, so to use it you transcribe the letters in whatever language you're writing in. Here, I used the script to record the details of the diploma.



In collage, I really like the look of script that the viewer probably can't read. Sometimes - like here - the script has actual meaning relevant to the piece (in which case I should probably record the meaning on the back). Other times, the meaning is not relevant to the piece - like the ancient Greek text I tore from one of my books and used in the collage background. I most often use relevant script as a starring elements in the collage, while irrelevant script is usually just there for visual texture.



The three major elements of this collage are the fox drawing, the owl drawing, and the diploma text. I completed a few layers of background collage before I added any of the main elements. Once they were glued on and the glue was dry (actually, not glue, but Liquitex matte gel medium) I colored the fox and owl with acrylic washes. Then I added more collage, more washes (sometimes including washes of white gesso to push things back, detail pencil work, and, finally, the glass cabochons.

Speaking of the glass cabochons, actually using the big cut glass piece on top was a real challenging decision. I've had it for a few years and I can't get another. So I had to assure myself that the piece was worthy of it and, after some thought, it passed that test.

So what do I like about this piece?

Well, first the concept because the meaning is special to me, being connected to my book and starring one of my very favorite animals, a fox.

Second, I really like the drawings of the fox and owl.

I'm very fond of the pale colors and the palette itself. This is a piece with colors I don't use on a regular basis.

I like the spiritual feeling of it,

and the composition of values.

I like all the fussy tiny pencil detail, especially around the edge of the colored part, and it was really fun to do. I love that stuff!

And - I like the silver paint I used. I've been convinced for a while now that I didn't have a good silver paint. But I used by Golden fluid silver and found that I liked it. That splotch below the owl and to the left of the fox is a smear of silver. I also splattered silver here and there. And the edge of the piece is a finger smear of silver. ('Finger smear,' you may ask. Yes, I dip the tip of my finger into the paint then run my finger along the edge of the painting.)

That's a long list of things I like. And I guess that's another reason in itself. I like that I like so many things about it!

Doing a piece of collage that I really like sometimes makes me wonder about my decision to focus on writing and illustrating. But focusing doesn't mean doing something exclusively. I treat the week days as my work days so spend that time on writing and illustrating. Often it spills over into the weekends. But if I have another art project that I really want to do, I just work on it on Saturdays and Sundays. It seems to work for me.

I'd love to hear from you, dear readers. Perhaps you can share your favorite piece. I'd love to see it!



Saturday, November 23, 2019

Back to it, and Glad of it!


It's been many months since I last posted. I had committed to focusing on writing and illustrating my book and was into the writing stage. Somehow, I just couldn't figure out what to say about writing! In the past, writing about doing art came naturally, but without an image to write about I was lost. So I took the simple route and gave up!

But now I'm back, and determined to post regularly, once a week. I'm on Facebook more often (links in the right margin). But I plan to go into more depth here. So I hope you'll find your way back to me - as well as following me on Facebook - and enjoy what I have to share. And please know I'm really interested in hearing from you. One-way conversations can be pretty boring!

The image is the cover of my book, Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor. Just last week I finished it and listed it on both www.amazon.com and www.lulu.com/shop. It's a series of 9 stories about the same group of characters - animals living in a forest community behind an old English manor house. It's 46,000 words (about 150 pages) with 34 illustrations. It took me nearly a year, and it's an accomplishment I'm proud of. I'm proud of the story and the illustrations, but also that I was able to stick to it and get it done and out there in the world. The writing was the easiest. The illustrations posed some challenges. But the self-publishing was quite an ordeal - an ordeal that will be less so next time!

As far as the writing goes, joining an on-line writers' support group, the Author Transformation Allance (Facebook) led by Audrey Hughey, was indescribably helpful. Thank goodness I was already in the group when I realized there was so much to know. Audrey and the group were there to support me. Through that group I began to truly realize how much help there is out there if one just reaches out for it.

There's kind of a lot to say about the illustrations,, so I'll save that for another time - or, more likely, many more other times.

Now that I've been through the mechanics of self-publihsing it doesn't seem that mysterious, but at the time it had me stumped time after time. I made so many mistakes and took so much time correcting them. But I'm glad I went through the process. I learned so much and now I can do it again. Many self-published (also called "indie") authors hire out much of the process, including many levels of editing, cover design, book formatting, uploading to the print-on-demand companies (like the Kindle Direct Publishing division of Amazon  or Lulu), marketing, and so on. I made the decision early on to do as much as I could myself. In fact, the only thing I hired out was line editing and, of course, I had five volunteer beta readers to whom I am most grateful. The benefit is having more control over both the process and the timing.  

I've already started on the second book in the series, as well as a Christmas book for next year. Writing and illustrating just feels right, and it's very exciting!

PS To see my book, select the link on the right to my books on Amazon (the top image, the one of my book cover), or go to www.lulu.com/shop and search for Kaaren Poole. For the next month or so, Lulu is the only place the hardback version will be available.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

More Owls


I've been continuing to draw more and more owls - athene noctura.  From these drawings will emerge my character, Athena.  I'll need two versions of her - one as a youth and the other as an adult.

I find it more difficult to draw plumage than fur.  The patterns are so complicated!  But, complicated or not, I'll have to master it.  So, practice, practice, practice!



The little one spreading her wings is my favorite!


Gosh!  What would it be like to have one's eyelids covered with little feathers?!


Sunday, January 13, 2019

On to Owls


Continuing working in my sketchbook, I turned to drawing owls, specifically, the Little Owl, or Athene Noctura.  Little Owl is a species of owl that lives in Europe and north Africa.  "Athena" is a Little Owl character in the book I'm writing and illustrating, "Milkweed Manor."  If you'd like to follow my progress, in researching and writing as well as illustrating, I invite you to follow my FaceBook page, Milkweed Manor.


The markings on the owls make them more difficult to draw than the rat. 

In my book, Athena appears as both a juvenile and an adult, so I'll have to draw her with juvenile markings that clearly progress to her adult markings.  It's these kinds of considerations that occur to me as I go.  I'm really glad I have this sketchbook going because without it I think it would be extremely difficult, and maybe impossible, to draw convincing and consistent illustrations of these characters.  I'd like to connect with other writer/illustrators.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Working on Milkweed Manor

Meet Colwyn, the main character in the book I'm writing and illustrating, "Milkweed Manor."

As you can see, Colwyn is a rat, specifically a Norway, or Brown rat.  Colwyn is a member of one of the two most successful mammal species in the world today (the other being humans) and virtually everywhere humans are found, brown rats are also found.

Last spring I wrote the first draft of the book and edited it a few times.  But then I put it aside.  During November I realized that I wanted to work on a long term project and really devote myself to it.  It was difficult to make that decision because it meant giving up on many of the other forms of art I've been doing.  But the way I'm managing that is that I work on Milkweed Manor Mondays through Fridays, then I have the weekend to work on whatever I like.

About three weeks ago I started working in a sketchbook - something new for me.  I felt that it was important to do a lot of drawings of the animals who are my characters.  For my illustrations, I don't just need to draw a rat, but I need to draw Colwyn, a specific and recognizable rat.  So after drawing several rats and noticing the variations in the faces and, less so, the bodies, I will be able to develop the real and recognizable Colwyn.

Here's one of the pages of rat drawings from my sketchbook.  If you'd like to see more and follow my progress more closely, visit and/or follow my Facebook page, Milkweed Manor.




Sunday, December 30, 2018

In Memory of Champion, a.k.a. Champion of the World




I recently - and finally! - completed my portrait of Champion.  Champion was my friends,  Patty's and Larry's, beloved cat.  They got him from a shelter when he was a kitten and lived a happy and full life with them.  He was truly a beloved family member.  Rest in Peace, little Champion.

I began with the drawing of Champion.  Patty had given me several photos of him, and I worked from them.  I struggled to get a good likeness, but when I was satisfied many other projects intervened and it was several months until I got back to him.  During that time I was contemplating what I wanted his portrait to look like.  And in the end, I decided on a combination of motifs and techniques that I use often.

It used to trouble me that I keep using favorite motifs and techniques, but I now realize that it's my style - a good thing!

The concept of this portrait is that Champ has passed on and is now an angel.  Mouse and Bird angels look on from above the arch.  Champ is surrounded by foliage representing the outdoors that he so loved.  A crown of laurel surround him - crowns of laurel being given to heroes in the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome.



I began the background with opaque blues and greens then applied stenciled tissue paper, then transparent washes.  I began Champ with the eyes and nose, then painted in the base color of the laurel wreath.

Continuing, I painted Champ with light washes of transparent acrylic, then added tiny lines of fur and finally more washes.



I then turned to the bird and mouse, painting them both the same way as Champ - washes, details, and more washes.  After applying three coats of varnish, I added the gold dot haloes.  I've learned that varnish dulls the gold paint, so I add the gold on top of the varnish.


 Here's a detail of Champ.  I wrote "I love you" above his head as a constant message from Champ to Patty and Larry, and vice versa.

Here's the detail of the mouse, and, below, the sparrow.

I am very happy with this piece and think it's one of the best I've done.  I asked Champ to help me, and I think he did.  Thank you, Champion.