Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More Sketchbook Project 2012

I spent most of last weekend thinking about all those on the East Coast of the USA enduring the anger of Hurricane Irene.  I am always astounded at the force of these massive storms, particularly the waves and tidal surges they produce.  Coming from an Island Nation where cyclones are a regular part of summer, I grew up with a deep love and very healthy respect for the ocean and its power.  So the ocean seemed a fitting subject for one of the few remaining spreads left to complete in my sketchbook for the Art House Co-Op's 2012 Sketchbook Project.  My theme, "A Path Through the Trees" has led me to some wonderful places, and on a number of occasions, it's let me to the ocean.

I saw a scene similar to this one in some stained glass many years ago. I can't take credit for the raw thought of this piece because that image stayed with me as one of the most beautiful scenes I'd ever seen reproduced in glass. So, with stained glass in mind I attempted to reproduce the energy of the wave as it rolled toward the shore. I especially love the glistening surface of the water as it gathers into a force that is both beautiful and mighty. For this piece I used my beloved Neocolor II's for the water and acrylic paint for the sunset, I very lightly sponged on metallic pearl and gold acrylic paint to represent the spray from the wave.  I love the contrast between the crayon and the paint, but be careful as you apply it, if too much paint is used over the crayons then they will react to the liquid...which is what they're designed to do.

Given my love of water-soluble mediums and my recent curiosity about watercolor pencils (here), I finally purchased a small set of Derwent Inktense Watercolor Pencils. But when I opened the box I was frozen with fear...I really had no idea what to do with them?  So, I took the most logical and exciting of steps and signed up for Cathy Johnson's online mini-class on "Watercolor Pencils".  I'm so excited about this and can't wait to get started.  Cathy is a wonderful artist and author with a wealth of talent and experience.  Her work is just beautiful and I suggest you check out her blog "Artist's Journal Workshop" and the many online classes she offers. 

Ocean Treasure is also this weeks theme for Inspiration Avenue's weekly challenge.  It's a wonderful blog site filled with inspiration for all forms of creative expression. I still have a couple of spreads left to complete in my sketchbook.  If you're participating in The Sketchbook Project 2012, then I'd love to see your pages.  Leave a comment with a link to your blog or Flickr site that shows your pages and I'll post highlights from some of your sketchbooks in the coming weeks...if that's ok?

Thanks for checking in. xx

Monday, August 29, 2011

Everyday Objects: Letters and Numbers

As August draws to a close, so does the theme "Everyday Objects" which I've been working on for The Sketchbook Challenge.  It's been a very rewarding process, and one that has been a huge learning curve for me.  I felt I needed to stretch myself as far as subject matter goes, as I often stay too confined in my comfort zone, so to step out and try new subjects and new ways of drawing has been a wonderful experience.  I spent a lot of this month working on drawing objects that required discipline in shading and perspective.  Two things that to many artists, come easily, but to me are really heard.

I've found myself pressing some of the wonderful artists around me for advice.  I figure that if they're willing to look at my work, then maybe they'd be willing to give me some advice on how I can improve.  Mentors and Heroes are a critical part of my learning and I have some wonderful people who fill these roles, whether they realize it or not.  Of course art is subjective, but it's always good to get some little pearls of wisdom that can help improve ones own technique, which in turn improve style and process.  I plan to share some of those pearls in upcoming posts, along with some of my own tutorials and workshops. 

So, looking around my house for inspiration this month I found myself drawn once again to color, and what is more colorful than a fridge full of magnetic letters and numbers?  My 2yo loves to play with these things and I find them in the strangest places.  Several times everyday I collect them all up from around the house and put them back on the fridge, only to find them littered around the floor 5 minutes later.

As you can see, I still need lots of practice with perspective.  The numbers and letters are supposed to be the same size, but it was a lot harder than it looked, the dimensions are also questionable, given the 3D nature of these objects, but overall it was fun.  This page was done using my Koi Watercolor Travel Sketch Box, Pigma Micron black marker, and the writing was done in gold gel pen.  I've really enjoyed this theme, and apart from the pages I've shown on my blog and in Flickr, I've also done a bunch of everyday objects in another sketchbook that I prefer to keep private. I can't wait to find out what the September theme is.  Watch this space!

Thanks for checking in. xx

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heart & Soul

After years of marriage, kids, stresses and struggles, I'm always amazed at how the little things seem to have the biggest positive impact.  For the first time in years my hubby and I went out on a bike ride through the soft trails of the cedar valley...just him and I.  Well, not really just the two of us, there were about 20 other riders.  It was a weekly group ride that is organized by CVAST and Bike Tech.  Two amazing organizations in Cedar Falls who are dedicated to getting bums on bikes and out into the beautiful forests of the Cedar Valley area of Iowa. Both my husband and I are outdoor junkies, in fact he has made his career in bicycles.  So to find ourselves with two hours of 'no kids' for the first time in about 3 years was a gift not to be squandered on romantic candle lit dinners, or movies.  Instead, we jumped on our bikes and joined the group ride. 

We stayed in the back of the pack, just us, lagging behind the rest of the group.  Laughing, joking, smiling, connecting...again.  It was like a giddy first date for us.  We've been married almost a decade and after enduring the crushing stress of a micro-preemie, and plenty of ups and downs, we've managed to keep each other first in our hearts...along with our kids.  To us, our marriage is a marriage of soulful love, not just a marriage of parenting and obligation.  So to unexpectedly find ourselves without kids and free to do something with each other, that love connection came bursting forth.  You see, we met in the outdoors, we courted in the outdoors, and we even married in the outdoors.  So heading out doors was what we chose to do.

What made the experience special was the way he would sneak a look at me as we were riding along, the sparkle I could see in his eyes , the smile on his face, and the playful 'new love' banter we both found ourselves engaged in.  It's was so special and I can't tell you how grateful I am for having him in my life.  I really am the person I want to be because he loves me.

So the next day, still buzzing from the experience, I opened my sketchbook and let it all pour out.  I filled the pages with the colors that felt right for the moment.  Bright, vibrant, hot.  I continued my doodling attempts that I've been doing since last week because I still feel unstructured and wanted to just move the pen over the page, focusing on the micro segments of the faces rather than creating a big picture. I went back to my Koi Watercolors because I needed vibrancy of color and I used several different sizes of the Pigma Micron black pens and just a small smear of white gel highlights. Isn't that what art journaling is really all about?  Artful expressing of the moments in our lives that warrant capture and interpretation? 

When it was done I couldn't find the right words for this page.  They just got in the way, and the picture said it all for me. The tear on the cheek of the woman is one of overwhelming gratitude and the sense of being truly loved. Just how I feel.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Monday, August 22, 2011

Everyday Objects: Forks

My son turned two two this month, I have a birthday coming up next week, and we have a number of very special friends who have birthdays this month.  That means August is quite the month of celebration around our house.  Coupled with the sparkling warm days of summer it means lots of bbq's, cake, and ice-cream. 

I've never considered myself very good at drawing objects, so whenever I see something and try to sketch it, my inner critique reminds me that it's an impossible and pointless exercise.  But silencing that inner critic is one of the biggest hurdles any artist has to overcome.  Sometimes I think with all our blogging, facebooking, and posting in flicker, the voice of that critic has become louder and louder.  Crippling fear of showing something that is sub-standard, or not a good as what other people show can be debilitating to the artist.  I find myself looking at other blogs and postings in FB and sometimes feel like a 'hack' because the work of other artists is so beautiful and often reflects such skill and artistic gift.  Mine, on the other hand, feel like the scribbles and scrawls of a preschooler. But I get so much encouragement and support that I'm energized to keep trying.

But really, it's not about comparison with other artists, it's about sharing and learning. It's about being proud of our own skill and style, and having the courage to share our art journeys and continue the learning.  I've said it before, that's why I'm taking the Sketchbook learn and improve my skills.  So for this one, I'm continuing the August theme for The Sketchbook Challenge. I was sitting at my kitchen bench over the weekend trying to find inspiration when right in front of me were some colorful party napkins with some cake forks sitting on them.  PERFECT....I said to myself.  I scribbled them into my sketchbook and realized that for the life of me, I couldn't get them to look like forks.  They are out of proportion and warped.  But the napkins were fun.  So I persevered nonetheless, despite not being at all thrilled with the end result.  Once the color started going on, everything changed. That wonderful feeling of creating art came flooding back, the critic was squashed and I was happily engaged in my favorite passion...which is the entire purpose for me.

I have to remind myself that it's just my sketchbook, not a piece for a gallery exhibition or an art book. It's part of my learning journey and everytime I do something like this, as well as filling up my heart and soul with art, I refining my skill and style as an artist. For me, that's what it's all about.

Thanks for checking in.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Island Walk

Last week I visited Blick's in Iowa City, it's one of my happy places. I can easily spend hours in there and of course did so on this occasion.  I was stalking the watercolor isle when I noticed they had Angora watercolor pan sets.  I've heard about these, but haven't tried them.  They were super cheap (about $15 for a pan set of 36 colors.)  They're student grade so the quality isn't whiz-bang, but the colors looked inviting so I thought I'd give them a try.


Unfortunately, they have confirmed what I always get what you pay for.  After playing around with them on a number of different papers I gave them a shot in my Strathmore watercolor journal.  Void of any inspiration for a subject, I simply started washing the color onto the page.  Unlike my Van Gogh's or my Koi's, I found I needed to load and reload the brush to get even the slightest hint of vibrancy.

The colors are rather opaque and very underwhelming, but there is a nice selection.  So in the spirit of going with the flow I kept layering.  To my surprise I was rather pleased with the results.  They're not what I'm used to in terms of intensity, but they may have their purpose in a different way. They're delicate and rich and behave very well with pen over the top.  Given their price, I think they will be great for that experimental journal where I sometimes just like to play around, test out color combinations, doodle and explore with no real purpose in mind.  They are also very light weight and would be great for outdoor expeditions.

This piece is just a bunch of doodles that evolved from applying the paint onto the page. The colors were so soft and muted that I continued the layering inside the patterns and bought out as much highlighting as I could.  I wasn't happy with this process at first but was quite enthralled once I got going.  The paint mutes the pen if applied over the top, but it was easy to go over the lines once it was done. In fact, this technique was very meditative and as I said, proved wonderful for experimenting with patterns and colors. If you're lite on the cash and need something to play with, give them a try.


Thanks for checking in. xx

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Sketchbook Project 2012

In my last post I posed the question; watercolor paint versus watercolor pencil? I had some wonderful thought provoking responses and several readers mentioned that they prefer the water soluble crayons to the pencils.  That's certainly been my choice in the past, but I've now been convinced that the pencils may in fact give me the fine detail capability I am looking for with some pages. Lots of people say they use the paints and the pencils together and this makes a lot of sense to me.  I can't wait to try them...Stay tuned!

In the meantime I've been finishing off more pages in my sketchbook for the Art House Co-Op's Sketchbook Project 2012.  My theme, "A Path Through the Trees" is like a journey, exploring where the path leads.  One of the destinations is a garden...of course...I had to find a way to put flowers into my book. I've done several pages to represent a garden and this is my latest installment.  "Blazing".

For this one I used my treasured Neocolor II water soluble crayons and acrylic paint.  I love the contrast of the vibrant, creamy, matte crayon against the muted, shimmery metallic background.  This is a simple explosion of color that always gets my heart pumping. It feels like the flower is going to pop out of the page. 

However, when I look at it, it seems unfinished. I keep going back to it trying to decide what else it needs. But my husband looked through the book the other day and chose this as his favorite. It's also the one my 5yo daughter likes best, probably because of the bright bold colors.  I love diversity in taste, there are other pages that I thought they would prefer, pages I'd put so much more effort into, but this is they both liked, so I left it as it was...for now.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Monday, August 15, 2011

Watercolor: Paint or Pencil?

With my focus recently on stretching myself to consider new subjects for my journal pages, today I found myself wondering back to flowers.  Sometimes I just need a little hit of the floral influence and I feel connected again. These were done very quickly, you can probably tell.  I scribbled them on the page and then splashed the paint around.  I drew in the highlights a bit later. 

I'm thrilled at the way my Koi watercolors have been behaving, but recently on Facebook there has been a lot of discussion on "Watercolors versus Watercolor Pencils". I belong to a group on FB called 'Artists Journal Workshop'.  It's administered by the very talented and extremely friendly Cathy Johnson. This group is named after her wonderful book 'Artists Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life In Pictures'.  In fact, Cathy posted a great little video on her blog last week that addresses just this question.

I haven't tried watercolor pencils, but I am a HUGE fan of the Neocolor II water soluble crayons. Watercolor pencils are supposed to be more portable and allow for finer detail.  I've always been skeptical about the intensity, but I think the products have come a long way in recent years and lots of people swear by them, including Effy Wild of Wild Precious Studio. Effy is another of my many inspirations when it comes to art and the artistic life, she hosts a number of free online workshops and they are a great place to try new things. 

I'd be interested to know what you think.  Have you, or do you use watercolor pencils?  What brand do you like? Do you have any tips for getting the best out of them?

Thanks for checking in. xx

Friday, August 12, 2011

Everyday Objects: Vegemite

Most of you probably don't even know what Vegemite is! But if you're Australian, or know an Australian then you'll at least have heard of it.  It's a yeast extract that is used as a spread for toast or sandwiches (to name a few).  It has it's origins way back in English Colonial days.  Vegemite has a glorious history that I'm sure if you "Google" it, it will enthrall you.

For me, Vegemite was an integral part of my upbringing and still sits on the breakfast table of nearly every Australian home.  My siblings and I had Vegemite sandwiches in our school lunches every day and today, my own daughter, although American, insists on it.  It's an acquired taste that doesn't sit well with most American palettes, but my husband however, loves it. I now have to compete not only with hungry children, but with him for the last of the Vegemite.  It's difficult to get in the US, but not impossible.  Certainly in rural Iowa it's unheard of, so I buy mine online.  It's crazy expensive compared to what you would pay in Australia, but worth every penny.

A jar of Vegemite is the entry fee  for anyone coming to visit us from Australia.  It's an everyday object in our house and the perfect subject for my next attempt at "The Sketchbook Challenge".

Thanks for checking in. xx

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sea Breeze

Today is my son's 2nd birthday.  He was born 16 weeks premature and has had quite the journey. (You can read about it here.)  Needless to say it is a rather emotional day for me as I reflect on his monumental journey over the past two years through which he has well and truly earned his mantel of "Thomas the Brave".  When I woke this morning it was a markedly cooler day, it seems that finally the stifling heat-wave of the past month that has been consuming much of the upper mid-west, has finally abated.  It's the kind of summer morning that I cherish; cool, sparkly, bright, but with the promise of a warm day ahead.  As I sat outside on what was once my front porch, I was reminded of the last time I visited my beautiful homeland of Australia--it was a few months before Thomas was born.

Several years ago, hubby and I packed up and moved to Queensland for the Southern Hemisphere summer. We had a gloriously tropical summer on the golden beaches of southern Queensland, filled with biking, swimming, and relaxing.  It really is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  I've never walked on beaches as beautiful and these.  The tropics are not for everyone, but I can tell you, they are for me.  The thick juicy air of summer filled with the nector of tropical plants and flowers; abuzz with the chatter of exotic insects and birds; the quiet swish of warm seas lapping the white sands; skies the color of perfect ultramarine.....mmmmmm!

Some years ago I was given an Hibiscus plant for my birthday.  It was a gift designed to remind me of my time in QLD, however, here in the upper mid-west the gesture seemed ironic.  How could this spectacular tropical plant thrive to it's natural glory in a climate that is freezing, bitter and harsh for a large part of the year?  The simple answer is, it didn't. 

I prefer to cherish my memories of this tropical paradise, rather than try to recreate it in a place that doesn't support it.  This morning's beautiful song encouraged me to pour it out of my mind and onto my sketchbook page. To me, that's what art journaling is really all about....expression.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Everyday Objects: Milk Jug

As August slowly moves along, so do my attempts at this months Sketchbook Challenge theme "Everyday Objects".  I must admit I was nervous about this theme to begin with, but now I am finding it loads of fun.  I don't do objects very often, they always turn out 'wonky' in my eyes. But this time I decided to push myself and try to apply my own style to everyday objects. I've been enjoying the August challenge immensely as a result.

This is a picture of my big colorful milk jug that sits on one of the shelves in my kitchen.  I bought it years ago in a clearance sale and just love it.  It was the color that totally captured me, there was a matching salad bowl which I didn't get, but now I wish I'd picked that us as well. I have a rather small but meaningful collection of colorful ceramic pieces in my kitchen, just little things that I've picked up on my various travels.  They brighten up the room and its amazing how many people comment on them.

By the way, I want to thank everyone who has been leaving comments on this blog and also on Facebook.  I'm overwhelmed by the warmth and encouragement I have been receiving. Your generosity and kindness is very much valued.  I've had quite a lot of requests for workshops, which I'd like to say have been on my agenda for sometime.  I'm in the process of putting together a couple of one day live workshops that I'll likely be be running in the Cedar Falls and Iowa City areas sometime in the new year. These include 'Breaking the Rules of Watercolor', 'Art Journaling Life", and "Spectrum's of Color".

I also run a program called "The Wisdom Circle" which is storytelling followed by creative journaling and mandala making. It's an intimate program of stories, myths, and folklore that seek to connect our everyday experiences as women with our creative souls, and then capture them all within the endless circles of mandalas. I am yet to schedule the next program but it will likely be in the new year.  If you are interested in any of these workshops in Iowa, or would like to host them in your area, please feel free to comment on this blog, or email me directly at

Thanks or checking in. xx