Friday, September 30, 2011

Tutorial: Neocolor II

I'm very excited to be Julie Fei-Fan Balzer's guest blogger over at Balzer Designs today.  I've been participating in Julie's 'Art Journal Every Day' challenge for several months now and it's been wonderful to soak up all the tips, tricks and tutorials that Julie and her other participants have been sharing.  Julie is a highly accomplished artist and a beautiful and generous person, so when she asked me to share some of my own tips on using Neocolor II's, naturally I was thrilled and honored.

So hop on over to her blog and take a look at my tutorial on using these luscious little sticks of vibrancy.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Working With Watercolor Pencil

I've been working my way through Cathy Johnson's Watercolor Pencil class and I must say, it's been truly wonderful.  Cathy is a master at her art and a wonderful teacher.  This mini-class has helped me peel pack the layers of my style and step into a new way of creating.  I wish I had Cathy's eye for capturing the beauty around her, but I like to think of myself as a work in progress.

Yesterday, I picked some leaves off one of our trees and went for it.  I've always struggled with 'en plein air' because I don't think my 'artist's eye' focuses on the subject in the right way, but they tell me it's one of those things you just have to practice.  Many of my sketchbook pages produced in response to Cathy's class are not for public consumption, however, there have been a couple that I've been quite happy with, and this is one of them.

This was done with ink and watercolor pencil.  I spent a lot of time working on the color and shading and found one of the most challenging parts to be the background.  I just couldn't get the right depth here and ended up reaching for my Angora Watercolor Paints. (Is that cheating??). 

Mastering watercolor pencils has been an elusive challenge for me, but I've learnt so much about the tools and how to use them.  Importantly, I've learnt about enhancing with the pencils and using them to introduce a dimension of detail and shading not otherwise achieved with normal wc least for me.

Another of my learning pursuits has been to draw on the grace and talent of the wonderful Pat Elliot.  I've mentioned Pat before, and many of you may know that I consider her a mentor.  Her art is stunning, it has a delicacy and an elegance I've only seen in a few people.  She is so generous and always willing to offer me  advice and tips along the way. You'll be pleased to know that Pat also offers some tutorials on her blog.  Pat has been helping me master some of the color and shading techniques that help make her work simply stunning.  I can't say I am able to achieve the same depth and beauty as Pat, or Cathy for that matter, but I have certainly seen a change in my own work and am very grateful to both of them for sharing their talents.

However, this doesn't mean I intend to abandon my own personal style, my luscious love of color, and my wild process of creating my sketchbook pages.  This is my style, my passion and my love; but it does mean I am adding a new dimension to my skills which I hope will improve me as an artist, and it's been so much fun stepping out of my comfort zone, trying new styles and subjects and challenging myself along the way.

Don't you just love the art of learning??

Thanks for checking in. xx

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Sketchbook Project 2012: Surfing


I'm loving the Art House Co-Op's 2012 Sketchbook Project.  I've been plugging away at this little book for some months now and it's been interesting to see my own style and process evolve throughout that time.  My theme "A Path Through The Trees" has been a great way for me to explore not only my interpretation of this journey, but ways to capture scenes that offer insights into where this path may lead.

My sketchbook is almost finished, just a few bits and pieces to complete then it's off to Boston to be included in this wonderful world tour.  It's even going to my home town of Melbourne, Australia.  In honor of that journey, I wanted to include a page that is inspired by, and dedicated to, Australia's Indigenous population.  The Australian Aborigines have the most beautiful and elegant way of telling this history through dot painting.  Some of Australia's Aboriginal artists are among the most revered artists in the world. I grew up surrounded by all of this and to me it is one of those cultural icons of Australia that is both under appreciated and poorly understood.

Australia is an island nation who's energy is drawn from the searing red desert of the outback to the glittering blue waves of the ocean.  Surfing and swimming are our national pass-times and most Australian's grow up within some measure of proximity to the water. We all end up with a love for the ocean and yearning for the Australian bush.  I am no different.  These are the things I miss most about my homeland.

So to capture all of this, I created this page. It is inspired by the gum trees of Australia which hug many of her coastlines.  I remember many childhood summers trekking from our camp site in Torquay Victoria, through the bush and out onto the beach.  The vast white sands and the pounding surf dotted with many surfers was always something to behold.

This was done using my treasured Neocolor II's on black gesso. I applied the acrylic paint over the top with the flat end of a skewer.  One dip in the paint, one dot.  It's a very meditative process, that has little structure beyond the sweep of the water.  The colors evolved on their own, as did the shapes.  It's a crude representation of a very ancient art form, but one that was done with reverence and respect.

If you'd like to learn more about using Neocolor II's, hop on over to Balzer Designs this coming Friday. I will be Julie Fei-Fan Balzer's guest blogger and I'll be giving some tips on using these luscious little sticks of color.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Friday, September 23, 2011

Harvest Abundance

It's been quite the month of challenges for me.  I've been working through the Sketchbook Challenge's September theme "Unfurling", while at the same time trying to immerse myself in art classes and books.  Needless to say it's all affected the way I work and I still feel like I'm unfurling layers and discovering new artistic experiences. I'm also finding great inspiration in other blogs such as Artists in Blogland.

With Fall officially now in place in the mid-west, so is harvest.  I love the yields of harvest, especially from the gardens of my good friends and neighbors.  Every other day there is a bag of fresh vegies on my door step.  Corn, squash, tomatoes, apples...the list is endless.   I make lashings of soups and promptly deliver little pots of it back to my generous neighbors and friends.

Iowa is famous for corn and of course corn is one of my favorite vegetables. I love that feeling of unfurling the golden glory of an ear of corn fresh from the stalk. I love it steamed with lashings of butter and salt and pepper. It's one of the great gifts of Iowa and nothing says Fall to me more than a fresh juicy corn on the cob, a bowl of vege soup and hot buttered toast on a crisp autumn day.

I've tried growing veges myself but I've realized that some people have 'IT' and others don't.  I don't.  My vege garden continually fails, perhaps because I'm so preoccupied with painting instead of weeding. Either way, I appreciate the efforts of a good vege garden and am always a willing recipient of the generosity of my friends.

This piece was done in a combination of watercolor paints and watercolor pencils, highlighted with black and white ink.  The shading is a new way of working for me.  At times I felt constrained and impatient, but once I relaxed and gave myself over to the process I found I actually enjoyed it.  (My hubby thinks it looks the same as all my other work, but to me it's different.)

Thanks for checking in. xx

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I can't stay in denial forever.  It's no secret that I'm a summer girl, but I cave in to the beauty of Autumn so easily once I see the glorious colors of the leaves.  I've been immersing myself in learning this past week.  Well, always, but I've been doing some formal classes and am trying to expand myself as an artist.  It's a challenging time when one opens their mind to new ways of doing things.

It's not that I want to necessarily change my style, it's unique, but there is always room for improvement.  Particularly where sketching and drawing are concerned.  Right now I've got a fascination with shading and light and dry media.  I have been working on Cathy Johnson's mini-class "Watercolor Pencils".  I'm about half way through, it's been wonderful and I've learnt a lot so far.  But I can't say that I've improved much, but I'm having fun.  Dry media has always felt underwhelming to me, but it's wonderfully effective in sketchbooks.  It's something I want to get better at, just for my own personal process of journaling.

The difficult part when taking classes is that the instructors are usually masters at their art.  Their work is spectacular and inspiring, but at the same time, intimidating.  Which is what I'm finding right now. These instructors make it all look so easy and their results are always brilliant, but then again most of them have been at it a long time.  But looking at my own results makes me feel a little dispirited.  They tell you not to compare, not to copy, not to feel overwhelmed.  But you have to compare, how else do you learn. I also think you have to copy to try to get a sense of how certain things are done, particularly when you're working on something like shading. That's how children learn, it's also how we learn just about everything else from dancing to cooking.  Trying things out, experimenting with technique, stepping outside your comfort zone, peeling back the layers of your own skills--eventually it will all evolve.

Either way, I'm in that particularly vulnerable stage of learning--questioning my abilities as an artists, hating everything I produce, feeling like I am drawing with my feet. And my work has been reflecting my state, which means I haven't wanted to share much of it. Maybe it's because of my need to work with vibrant color, or that what comes out on the page is not what I intended.  I guess it doesn't matter, it's all part of the process, and my art journey, like everything else, waxes and wanes as I travel along.

So my daughter picked up this autumn leaf on her way to school the other day and we both marveled at the colors.  I set my sights on painting it in my watercolor journal but decided instead to have my first crack at watercolor pencils.  This was done in a Moleskine Sketchbook which is not one of my favorites. I don't like the color of the paper because I think it influences the picture too much. At first I was focused on the colors, trying to get them right, then I realized that the real beauty in the leaf was in its contrasts--light,shading, and movement. I happily discovered that watercolor pencils lent themselves very well to this subject even if the colors were more subtle and delicate than I'm used to.

One thing I have learnt from Cathy is that sketching is something not necessarily to be rushed. If you give yourself over to the gentle process of sketching, you'll be able to immerse yourself in each element of the subject and see it in a different way...through the artist's eye.

Thanks so much for checking in. xx

Friday, September 16, 2011


I'm crazy busy with deadlines right now and instead of working on my class schedules, I'm painting in my journal.  What's the matter with me??? It's just that for the past few days the weather has been nothing short of stunning, and I find myself sneaking outside at every opportunity to capture the last fading rays of sunshine before the upper mid-west plunges into the soft glow of autumn.

Summer is by far my favorite time of year, although I must admit, this summer has been uncomfortably hot and humid.  However, since moving to the mid-west, my perception of autumn has been changed forever.  Never have I seen such gorgeous colors and light.  But I'm not ready for autumn, I still need to feel the sun on my face. Soon, I will plunge happily into autumn's cozy ambiance and without a doubt, my artful expression will reflect all the jewels she has to offer.  But for now I stay with summer.

So this page is an unfurling celebration of the last days of summer as it fades away. Already the sun is lower in the sky, the evenings are cooler and the morning mist across the fields are lingering. But the sun is still warm and the flowers continue to bloom.

I found this beautiful flower in a bed of wildflowers by my walnut tree. Brilliant in her color and steadfast in her worship. All around her was wilting, and only she remained strong.  I wanted to pick her but instead I painted her. One of natures true and changing beauties. It won't be long before the ground will be covered in leaves and  the chorus of bright warmth will be a distant memory.  But not yet...not yet!

Thanks for checking in.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Sleepy Owl

Last night my 5yo and I sat at the kitchen table after dinner and worked in our art journals.  She has her very own sketchbook which she treasures like a jewel. It's wonderful to watch her sit in the big white arm chair in our lounge and scribble away feverishly, or sprawled out on the floor with her crayons.

Her sketching habit came from two sources; necessity, after spending hours in hospital rooms and doctors offices with her baby brother, and reading.  You see she is a prolific and gifted reader, and has been since a very young age.  With such a ferocious appetite for books we've spent many many hours in libraries. One of the things we enjoy most is choosing books based on how beautiful the illustrations are.  We would read the book then pour over the pictures, chatting about the beautiful colors and the funny way the artist would draw things.

One day I looked over her shoulder as she was sketching and noticed she was trying to copy some of the pictures out of one of her books.  I grabbed my art journal and watercolors and sat down with her.  From that moment on she was hooked on art journaling. Now we have so much fun copying illustrations from children's books, changing them, exploring them and even writing about them.  She chooses the page, and off we go. At first she was very literal, trying to copy a picture EXACTLY...right down to the exact colors.  But now, I'm helping her understand that its OK for our pictures to look different from the originals, in fact it's better that way. Now we play a game where we think of ways to make our pictures look different from the one in the book. She thinks she's far better than most of the illustrators we copy, and I agree with her.  She certainly has her own little style and her own very definite ideas about the way things should be. I love it.

It's been a wonderful way for both of us to develop our art technique somewhat, trying to work in a style we wouldn't normally own.  Of course these pictures remain firmly within the pages of our journals. They're mostly unrecognizable when compared to the originals, and we make notes about the books they came from with full credit to authors and illustrators.  I talk to her about how important it is to give credit where credit is due. It's lots of fun.

In the spirit of this, this is the page I did last night from one of her library books.  It's a strikingly beautiful book call "The Sleepy Owl", written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister. He has a fabulously loose style of watercolor painting where everything bleeds into everything else.  Quite different from my own usual style, but lots of fun. The challenge in this case was to change the colors of the owl and draw him awake instead of asleep.  She wouldn't let me show her picture, when I asked her she said "Mom, it's my secret journal". But take my word for it, her picture came out much better than mine.

Thanks for checking in. xx