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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.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Abstracts????? Me?????

I am a great fan of Tracy Verdugo's.  I've never taken one of her classes and I don't really think her art is for me, but I love her style, enthusiasm, and warmth, and she's a dedicated and wonderful teacher.  I'm on her mailing list and when she offered a free series of 4 videos on abstract approaches, I jumped right in!

The first two videos were about different ways of creating contrast.  I determined to give it a try, as the exercise in contrast intrigued me and, of course, it's applicable to art other than abstracts.

I decided to work on three at once, and thought that if they turned out I'd enter them as a "series of 3" in our art club's Small Works show this month.

It was scary, but there was only one thing to do - start!  And so I did, with charcoal, then acrylic inks.  The next day I did more.  Then the third day I took them with me to a working art group I attend once a week.  I really didn't know what to do next and my friend, Lucia, suggested that they might be done.  But that wouldn't do because I had three hours to do art and hadn't brought any other projects.  So I just continued, somehow...

Then someone asked me what the title of the series was.  Stumped again!  The inquirer pointed out that someone had once told her that titles are important.  So, I said "they look like octopus calligraphy to me."  Hence, they are "Octopus Calligraphy 1," "Octopus Calligraphy 2," and "Octopus Calligraphy 3."

Although they're "done," I haven't decided yet how to crop them or how to frame or mount them.  I think they're pretty, but don't know if there's more to them than that.  They were fun to do, and my thanks go out to Tracy for her generosity in sharing her techniques.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

More Cats and Flowers

Lily daydreaming

I've been working on more cats and flowers for my series of nine for a show in early December.  If there's one thing I'd change, I think I would have planned the colors over the whole nine pieces before I started.  As it is, the colors in each piece are good, but I'm having some trouble finding a good way to arrange them.   So now that I have seven finished I will pay attention to planning the background colors for the final two.  Perhaps I can pull it together with those last two.

Lily - looking a little stunned

Camellia all wide-eyed

Heather feeling a little cranky

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Apps and Art?

Last month, Steven Memering gave the program at Placerville Art Association's general meeting,  His topic was using apps to enhance your painting process.  This was a new subject to me.  But now it's come up again.  Tracy Verdugo, an Australian artist I greatly admire, offered a free on-line mini class in anticipation of her upcoming class "Abstract Mojo."  The mini class included two projects, each presented in two parts.  Much to my surprise, the first half of the second project was about using apps to enhance your photos as inspiration for your paintings.

There are two very accomplished painters in our group, Randy Honerlah and Ron Hall who make use of apps.  It's never a process that appealed to me.  In fact, I have to admit that part of me considers it cheating.

In Steve's presentation we did explore whether or not using these tools is, in fact, cheating and I must admit that I changed my mind.  I certainly don't consider using store-bought paints - rather than preparing my own - to be cheating.  So why should using today's technology be cheating.  Times change, and art moves on.

It seems that Steve mostly using the apps to explore composition and color alternatives.  I think Randy using the computer to deconstruct photos.  And Tracy seems to use it to explore abstracting forms and pushing color.  All valid.  And I must admit that watching Tracy working with colors was intriguing.

However, at least for the forseeable future, apps to enhance my painting process are not in my future.  I still like to good old-fashioned hands on mind twisting approach.  But it's great to learn about new approaches.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Not Much Happened this Week

I was sick for five days this week and so nothing much got done in the way of art.  But I was able to do the drawings for two more of the cat pieces.

And then this weekend I was able to finish a painting from one of the drawings, so now I have five of the nine cats finished.  This one, "Rose," was quite a struggle.  The cat was difficult, especially the colors in the fur.  And the rose was a challenge as well.  I knew I wouldn't be able to paint the rose in a lot of detail, so I opted for a simple rendition and I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.  Oh, except that I still can't find an opaque white pen that works for me - this is a real problem!

Even though I didn't get a lot of art done this week, I did do a lot of thinking about what I want to work on next year.

I can't remember whether I've already written about the Fearless Academy, so if I'm repeating myself, please forgive me!  Fearless Academy is a coaching group led by Nikol Peterman.  It is a year long program, and Nikol is aiming to help us "creatives" get clear about our style, voice, and audience and also increase our following and income.

It's winding to a close soon.  It's been a lot of work, but well worth it.  During the course of this week I've decided that next year I'm going to focus on my illustrated book, "Milkweed Manor."  It will be difficult to focus, and for that reason I'm allowing myself to stray a bit.  My first priority will be the book, but I will work on other things from time to time.  This kind of focus will be new for me, so we'll see how it goes.  It's a little scary, but also very exciting!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Series of Three

Our local art club, Placerville Art Association, is having its first ever Small Works show in December.  There are three categories in the show - Series of 9, Series of 3, and Individual Work.  This will be my entry in the Series of 3 categories.  I'm not sure yet what the title will be.  The design inspiration was traditional quilt block with animals in their names.

This one is Flying Geese.  My process for all three was the same.  They're on 12" x 12" cradled board which I sealed with spray primer.  I began by cutting out all the quilt block pieces from a Sudance catalog (women's jewelry and clothing collection from Robert Redford's company).  One thing I've admired about this catalog is how beautiful the images are and how harmonious the color palette is throughout.  So I knew that as long as I stuck to the catalog for my pieces the color schemes would be consistent.

I painted the edges and outside margin of the board a coordinating pale blue, then laid out a grid with light pencil to guide my placement of the pieces.  I used Liquitex Matt Gel Medium as my adhesive, and carefully glued all the pieces in place.  It was a bit tricky because the pieces were cut precisely to size, but the paper stretches a bit when it gets wet.  So I began at the outside edges and worked inward.

Next I applied a thin wash of the same pale blue acrylic I used around the edges.  I painted the wash on and immediately pulled most of it back up with a damp paper towel.  The wash toned down the differences in the collage pieces and, I think, gave an old and worn look.  With graphite pencil, I drew in all the little stitches that would be in a real quilt.

Then I turned to the ink drawings of the animals.  I first drew them on copy paper.  Then I taped the copy paper under a piece of deli paper and did the ink work with Daler-Rowney acrylic ink, using Burnt Umber and Sepia.  I let them dry overnight.  And I sprayed them with fixative before I applied them with the matt gel.  But still, the ink smeared!  I was so surprised - acrylic ink and fixative and yet it smeared.  The only way I could find to minimize the smearing was to work quickly and as lightly as I could.  It never occurred to me to test this combination. 

The smearing was worst on the bear which was also the first piece I did.  But in the end, I didn't mind it.

The ink work, the quilt block name, and a few random dabs of red and turquoise acrylic were the final touches.  I stamped the letters on deli paper then glued it on.  Fortunately, the ink in the ink pad didn't smear.

I did the inkwork swirls, branches, and leaves with the Daler Rowney ink and a crow quill pen.  Wary of smearing, I let it dry overnight and sprayed it with fixative before I added three coats of varnish.  I was concerned about the ink smearing with the varnish but, amazingly, it smeared much less.  So somehow the ink on the deli paper was a worse combination than the same ink on the dried acrylic gel.

I really like these pieces.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The First of Nine

My enthusiasm for painting in series got the best of me a few weeks back and I proposed a "Small Works" show to the board of my local art group, the Placerville Arts Association.  They approved, and the show is set for the week of December 10.  There will be three categories, series of 9, series of 3, and individual works.  I have committed to both a series of 9 and a series of 3.  But I was shocked when I counted up how many weeks there are between now and December 10.  I'll be completing a little more than one painting a week to make the deadline.

My series of 9 will be "A Feline's Guide to Floral Fantasy," in other words cats and flowers.  I found nine girls' names that are also names of flowers, and that list provides me both the names of my cats and the flowers that I'll depict.  I decided on acrylic.  And all the paintings are 8" x 8".

This is the first one, and it was very difficult for me to paint.

The difficulty was the paint drying soooo quickly.  I think it was because I prepared the board differently than I usually do.  I cut these boards from a larger piece of 1/4" thick MDF (medium density fiberboard) that I bought at Home Depot.  Usually I simply spray them with white spray wood primer.  But this time I added a coat of gesso over the primer.

The gesso was so absorbent and was fighting me all the way.  So for the next piece I'm going to use primer only and also I'll sand the primer super smooth before I begin painting.  Hopefully that will work a lot better!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Difficult Project

I've been working on my free downloadable art piece for my October newsletter.  (If you'd like to subscribe, just e-mail me at  In addition to the free downloadable art, the newsletter contains a discount coupon for my Etsy shop, thefoxesgarden, and behind-the-scenes, in-the-spotlight, and in-the-pipeline articles.  I don't share your information with anyone, and you can unsubscribe at any time.)  I began with the drawing, which I was happy with pretty quickly.

But it went downhill from there!  I was not feeling confident in my ability to paint.  So I made the - bad - choice of starting with colored pencils.  But since I was working on Strathmore Mixed Media paper which has some texture to it, it was impossible for me to get good darks.  So then I added acrylic washes, and had trouble with getting those smooth.

It finally occurred to me that the problem was the surface.  Because of the textured paper, part had colored pencil and part did not.  So the wash wouldn't go on smooth.  I sprayed the piece with workable fixatif then applied a layer of Liquitex Matte Medium.  At that point, the washes went on much more easily.

I continued to have trouble getting the piece dark enough.  The "finished" piece is above, but I may add another wash to darken it more.  We'll see.  

All in all, a cute design, but not very well executed.  Disappointing.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Productivity Problems?

It feels like I haven't been very productive this week.  Actually, I made 5 needle felted reindeer (little ones) so that should qualify as good productivity.  But it doesn't feel like it.  The reindeer are all  finished, but here are four of them showing the different stages in their creation.

I've also spent a lot of time straightening my studio.  I became aware of both stuff that didn't belong and stuff that belonged but wasn't there.  In the latter category the prominent item was a place to relax.  I thought it would be nice to have a small recliner, but where to put it?  All the space was packed.  But I found one on that I liked and that was small enough for the room, so I determined to clear the space for it.

I got rid of some stuff, specifically I put some stuff in deep storage, threw some other stuff in a box for the thrift store and threw some stuff out.  I was able to make room in the closet for a cabinet that had been in the room and once that was done I had room for the recliner.  I still have a ways to go, but should finish tomorrow when I complete another cabinet for in the closet that should provide a home for the rest of the stray stuff.  

Here's a photo of the studio as it is now.  That chair is really comfy!  I think it was time well spent even though it took time away from actually creating art.  The space is more inviting now and easier to work in...

Saturday, September 8, 2018


It hasn't been a very productive week for me, at least not in the way I intended.  I got sidetracked cleaning the studio.  It didn't really need it that badly, but I suddenly became aware of several clusters of stuff that was just wasting space, so I tackled it.

But I did manage to finish needle felting the second rat, Dawn, on the left.  Aurora is on the right.  The next step is to make their clothes.  They are woodland nymphs.  I bought three vintage silk scarves on Etsy, one peach, one pink, and one butter yellow.  I'm not really sure that the yellow one is silk but I sure hope it is because it matters for the design I have in mind.  We'll see how it works.

I barely started the clothes.  The white thing you see on Aurora is my first attempt at a pattern piece for the front of the dress.  I use paper towels because they drape fairly well on the little creatures.

Dawn is reassuring Aurora who is a bit worried about wearing a paper towel!  "It'll be OK, sweetie!"

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Happy Accident

I always figure you can't go wrong with a bird, and it proved to be true yet again with this little painting/collage.

The collage part is very simple - just tiling the surface with pieces of color-coordinated images then adding a piece of an old book page that I punched along one side with a Fiskars edge punch then ripped the rest.

The branch, leaves, and berries are cut from pieces of magazine pages, but I painted the bird with acrylics.

But here's the fun part!  I noticed that one of the leaves somehow had a little raggedy-edge hole and the white of the book page was showing through.  I didn't like that at all!  But what to do?  I decided to get out my X-acto knife and try to scratch veins in the leaves and, guess what?  It worked?  I think it adds a lot of character to the piece and it all came about through a happy accident.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Continuing to Develop the Collage Technique

I've made two more collages, continuing to work with the method I'm developing that begins with copyright free photos.  I'm working on this method to teach a collage workshop with very simple accessible techniques.  But also, I'm enjoying making these as exercises in creativity.

This one with the cat I call "The Poet's Dream."

Here's a photo of what it looked like with only the collage phase done.  I almost gave up on it at this point.  The cat seemed to disappear and the edge between the gray and white parts was just too harsh.  I wasn't at all sure that I could solve these problems with just colored pencil and I didn't want to use any paint because that would make the technique more difficult for beginning students.

But I just kept working away at it and eventually it came together.  I used a couple of different techniques to soften the gray/white edges, all centered around darkening the white and lightening the gray.

The there was quite a bit of work to bring out the cat.  I added a bit more collage - all small bits - and in the end I think it works well.

I call this one "The Night of Magic."  I had the vision of adding all the swirls around the antlers from the beginning, but it took a bit of work to get to the place where I could add them.

Here's what it looked like after the collage layer.  As you can see, there was a lot of colored pencil work, particularly darkening the sky and bringing out the deer.  It was all fun, but the best part was those swirls.  By the way, I really like how opaque the white pencil is.  I used Prismacolor.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


This week I began working on my next needle felting project - a pair of rats.  I think rats deserve respect, and I'm trying to help with that by portraying them as sweet as they really are!

My plan had been to make both of them at once, but I ran out of a critical piece, 22 gauge white cotton covered stem wire.  The only place I found them sold them in a batch of 240, so now I should have a lifetime supply.  I did have enough, though, to make one rat and I used them for the hands and feet trying out a new technique that I dreamed up and I think it worked out pretty well.

So meet Aurora, the first of the sisters.  Her little sister, whose name I have.  n't decided on yet, should be along some time this week since I now have all the supplies.

Here's little Aurora standing on a shelf in the studio.  She likes all the pretty colors of the paint jars hanging in the wall rack behind her.

My original thought was to costume the rats in Halloween costumes, but now I'm no longer completely sold on that plan.  Although it would be cute, the girls would be relegated to Halloween decorations.  I think I'd prefer a more year-round use.  So I'm thinking of fairy princesses or forest nymphs.

I'll make that decision once the other rat appears!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Developing a New Collage Technique

I would like to teach workshops on collage but the technique I usually use depends on drawing and painting.  Since so many people believe that they can't draw, I've been working on techniques that don't require drawing but do include nice animal images.

I decided to start with photographs, so I took a few photos of my chicken, Maisie, and my sister's dog, Sunny.  I loaded the photos onto my laptop then used an on-line free, minimal, but very useful version of Photoshop, to lighten the exposure as much as possible and dramatically increase the saturation.  I printed the image on my ink jet printer then sprayed it with workable fixatif to set the ink and allow me to use it in collage.

The first phase of the piece was constructing the collage background, including the image of Maisie that I ripped from the sheet I printed her on.  In this photo, I've also begun a bit of the colored pencil work.

The longest part of the process was go build up Maisie's image with colored pencil.  I left the highly saturated parts of Maisie's plumage as it was from the manipulated photo for the highlights.  Most of my colored pencil work was on the darker parts of the plumage as well as the details of the face.  So, essentially what I did was to reduce the original photo to light saturated colors, then work back up with colored pencil to achieve something close to, but more dramatic and colorful than, the original photo as I snapped it.

As always, for me, the most fun parts are towards the end when I add decorative elements.  So I drew in some bugs and added colored pencil motifs in the background.

Then I continued until I probably had done too much.  Finally, I couldn't resist getting out my alphabet stamps and adding some text "these bugs are so annoying - I think I will eat them."

Here's the one I did of Sunny.

I think this technique would work for people who aren't comfortable with drawing or painting.  It just involves collage with paper bits and colored pencil work.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Third Illustration - Vicious

I finished the third of my illustrations for my book "Milkweed Manor."  This is vicious, the weasel assistant to Reynard who is a fox and a shaman.  Seeking help for the sick mouse children in the village, one of the badger boys, accompanied by a crow, hiked deep into the woods to find the shaman.  As they approach, Vicious confronts them from a window of the shaman's compound.

As with the earlier illustrations, this is pencil with watercolor washes.  This is a combination of media that I'm comfortable with and I like the old-fashioned, tinted drawing look.  These take quite a while to do and this one was especially challenging working around the filaments of the spider web.

At this point, I'm simply illustrating passages at random.  Once I have about a dozen I'll probably switch to working on layout with place holders for illustrations that aren't done yet.  This is a fun process, but has some frustrations.  I find it impossible to concentrate just on these illustrations.  Other projects seem to call to me in voices that won't be silenced.  So this set of illustrations will inevitably take quite a while to finish.  I'm venturing into unknown territory with the layout!  But fun!

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Divinity of Bears - a Collage Start to Finish

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I did manage to finish my bears collage and thought you might be interested to follow along with the process.  Drawing the bears was my first step and I added quite a bit of detail as I prefer to begin modeling the form and creating the texture at this first stage.  The only pencil I used were HB and 2B.  I've found that proceeding to softer pencils can yield a drawing that smears at the next stage, although one could always mitigate this by spraying the drawings with workable fixative.

A while ago I found these digital downloads of antique star maps on Etsy and purchased them.  They're great to use because no book is destroyed and also I can use the images over and over again.  For these, I manipulated them in Photoshop to remove the antique golden hue.  I knew I would use them under blues and with that golden color the result would have been green instead of blue.

So here's the first layer of the collage.

For the blue pieces, I used stencils of my own design that I cut on my Cricut machine.  I stenciled onto white tissue paper with white gesso, then, when the gesso was dry, washed over them with blue watercolor.  The gesso resists the watercolor so the design stays white.  Strangely enough, the Liquitex Mat Gel Medium that I use as an adhesive for the collage doesn't disturb the watercolor once it's thoroughly dry.  

As you can see, I used a variety of book pages for the bottom part.  The purpose of these pieces is to simply add texture, although I like the circular images in the lower left.  They're from an astrology book and fit the overall theme of the piece quite well.

Then I worked quite a bit on the background, adding thin washes of Golden fluid acrylics and more collage elements.  Finally I glued the bear drawing in place.

Here's the detail around the large drawing of a bear head.  I like the bit just to his right.  It suggests to me a reflective lake, its sandy shore, and deep foliage behind it. I don't plan these effects, but if I see them emerge I may very well decide to go with the suggestion.

Here's the full bear, walking peacefully along the bottom of the design.  The theme of this piece is the spirituality of bears - that they are both creatures firmly attached to the earth (the walk plantigrade and den in the earth) yet also walk among the stars.

The little dark piece of collage behind her front paws I found particularly interesting.  I has several mystical - I think astrological - symbols on it.  

And here's the cub - in the sky, nestled behind a shape that vaguely resembles a cloud, and with another one of those circles from the astrology book tucked behind her head resembling a halo.  Think I'll go with those!

Then I added color to the bears with washes of fluid acrylic, as well as pain-staking teeny stroke of the fluid acrylic for the texture of the fur and modeling of the forms.  More work on the background, including blending the margins of torn paper around the bears into the background.  

The collage piece I liked so much behind the full bear's front paws pretty much disappeared behind darker and darker washes that I felt I had to add to "ground" the piece.  But I used a lined brush and white acrylic ink to paint those symbols on deli paper.  Then I tore them out and added them as collage pieces.  I like working this way with deli paper because it pretty much disappears with the adhesive.

At about this stage, I noticed a BIG problem.  The support was coming apart.  I had relied on wood glue to attach the 1/4" thick MDF (medium density fiberboard) to the pine frame behind the edges.  So I learned a few lessons:

1.  Never use MDF with the slick white coating on the back (it was all I could get at the time) because the glue doesn't stick to it very well.

2.  Never rely on just the glue - also use screws or nails.

3.  And, consider using 1/2" MDF, instead of pine, for the strips around the edges.  When I first build this support I sanded the edges of the MDF and pine absolutely flush, but over a surprisingly short period of time, the pink shrank and the edges were no longer flush.

I had to add screws from the front, counter-sinking them so that the screw heads could be covered.  These are the round white dots around the edges.  At this point, I wasn't sure how I would cover them, and also wasn't sure how I would deal with the edges.  Sanding them again I didn't think was a good option because of the sawdust getting all over the piece and settling into the fine texture of the collage.

Finished!  More, more, more, until I thought it was done.  More collage, more washes, more fooling with the bears.  And more decisions to make.  I covered the screws with beautiful vintage glass stars (hard to part with them).  For the edges, no long flush, I used a palette knife to spread them with coarse molding paste - rather like frosting on a cake.  And then I added a rim of that same paste along the very edge of the front.  I painted the paste with blues and greens then added a bit of Daniel Smith Pearlescent Shimmer acrylic along the raised edge.

The one thing that I would have liked to do more of on this piece was to add text.  I'm having a hard time finding a good way of doing this.  My uniball white pen turned out not to be water resistant,  My posca acrylic paint pens gave too thick a line.  Alphabet stamps seemed too coarse.  So this is a question I'll have to work on in the future.