In December I started an art project based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel REBECCA. I don’t know when I’ll finish it. It’s more like a book than an art project in that way: I can finish a painting in a day or two, but a book takes years, and it’s always an open question whether I’ll be able to finish a book at all. These paintings are like that.
Unlike a book manuscript, there’s no way to save earlier drafts. Most of the art I’ve made for this series is gone already; these photos are all I have to remember what I’ve done so far. I decided I ought to document it before I forget where I’ve been and what my intentions were.
Last fall I discovered cold wax medium, a soft, waxy paste that mixes with oil paint to change the texture and make it spreadable, like cake icing. Cold wax painters build up layers and scrape them back, as the paint hardens gradually to the consistency of a wax candle but remains pliable. I thought that was interesting, but I wasn’t sure what I would do with it.
Then I went to a cold wax painting demonstration where the artist mentioned that she layers collage papers into her abstract cold wax paintings. I knew immediately what I wanted to do: I wanted to paint on book pages.
I wanted to paint on my book pages.
But the prospect of layering oil paint over the words I’d written seemed too…fraught. What was I saying, exactly? What would it mean to look back over twenty years of work, rip pages out of books, obliterate them with paint, and scrape them back to reveal what was left? What would be left? What would I be trying to say about my own life’s work?
Better to start with someone else’s book, I thought.
I had a galley of Courtney Maum’s wonderful novel COSTALEGRE floating around my office. Surely Courtney wouldn’t mind if I used her book as an art experiment. Her book IS an art experiment: it’s an absolutely gorgeous, vividly imagined telling of the time Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen, spent in Mexico. It was a novel about painting.
So I painted on it.
My new art class is live on Skillshare now. Use this link to check out the class and get 2 months free to explore everything they have to offer.
Do you love New York? So do I! It’s my favorite spot for urban sketching, travel sketching, and kind of exploring and art-making.
In this class, we’re going to focus on the one skill you really need to paint a city like New York: Perspective.
We’ll use Manhattan for our laboratory to look at the fundamentals of perspective.
We’ll work out how to identify your horizon line and your vanishing point.
We’ll see how all the lines in an image converge to that vanishing point.
We’ll start a drawing by putting down some perspective lines to help guide us.
And then, with those guidelines in place, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can create an accurate drawing.
When you get this piece right, you can be really free and loose with your drawing and painting.
This is easy to learn and fun to practice. Join me!
I’ve been talking to a lot of book clubs lately (y’all are figuring out Zoom! Yay!), and something that keeps coming up are all those weird bits of research that either don’t make it into the books at all, or that end up in the book as one tossed-off line, when really there’s a whole crazy story to tell.
So here’s one of those crazy stories, in collage form: during WWI, we collected peach pits to use as charcoal filters in gas masks for our soldiers fighting overseas. The government paid farmers $7.50 a ton for any peach pits they could load on a train. “It is urged as a patriotic duty that all farmers turn in every available peach pit,” this article reads.
But it wasn’t just farmers–we were all expected to save our peach pits, apricot pits, and walnut shells to be made into gas mask filters. It was a service activity that kids could do–they’d go door-to-door with wagons and collect from neighbors, or set up outside a market with buckets to collect whatever fruit pits people could donate.
“The Army Wants Your Peach Pits,” read headlines nationwide in August 1918. This was precisely when the fighting in France was at its worst. The pits went to a factory in San Francisco, where they were made into carbon filters. It took 200 pits to make a single carbon filter for a soldier to survive one gas attack.
Ah, Italy! I was there exactly one year ago, and I wish I was there right now! At least we can dream.
My new Skillshare class is all about simplifying a classic Italian village scene. Go here to preview the class and get 2 months free on Skillshare, which is more than enough time to travel the world (virtually, anyway) and improve your sketchbook skills!
First, we’ll focus on getting the major shapes in place by measuring how they fit into the frame and how they fit next to each other.
Second, we’re going to use wet-into-wet watercolor techniques to capture the feeling of stone and tile without actually drawing every single stone and every single tile.
Third, we’re going to use wet over dry techniques to add in shadows and a few bright colors and other details.
The idea is to get the major shapes and the light and shadows right, and then to simplify everything else.
Learn these simple tricks, and you can paint all of Italy with a pen, watercolor, and a sketchbook. Just be sure to bring me along!
My new Skillshare class is called How to Paint a Chicken. Guess what it’s about???
For about ten years I raised chickens in my backyard. I can tell you from experience that chickens are wonderful subjects to paint!
My style is to paint them against a simple, neutral backdrop, as if they are sitting for a formal portrait. With this style they look almost like members of the family, and you can capture their unique personalities. (Yes, chickens have personalities!)
In this class I demonstrate four chicken portraits using ink, watercolor, and gouache. You can do all four in either watercolor or gouache, or try both.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
How to take good photographs of chickens (or other birds!)
How to quickly sketch in the features by measuring proportions
How to mix colors so that you’re showing light and shadow
How to use brushstrokes to suggest feather patterns
How to mix a neutral background and make sure it blends with the rest of your portrait.
This is all about making quick, simple, charming portraits. And of course, if you’d like to paint another type of bird, please do! Ducks, geese, parrots—everyone’s welcome!
This class is happening on Skillshare now! Sign up with this link and get 2 months free: https://skl.sh/3gyfU0r
OK, we’re not actually GOING to France. But you can practice being in France with your sketchbook!
Take this class on Skillshare now, and get 2 months free with this link: https://skl.sh/3hXKhyN
Join me on a travel sketching adventure in the beautiful village of Cambos-Les-Bains, France! We’re going to paint a scene that addresses one of the biggest challenges of travel sketching: how to give a scene depth, so that you feel that you’re stepping into the picture.
You’ll learn how to handle perspective in a scene like this, where the road is winding and sloping.
You’ll also try different types of lines to make these buildings feel real—even when we’re just doing a quick travel sketch.
Finally, you’ll see how to use strong light and strong shadows to give the scene depth and capture a particular moment in time.
I’ll share my photos for you to work with, or you’re welcome to try out these techniques on photos from your own travels!
Have you finished a first draft? Congratulations! Now the fun begins.
Every writer knows that editing is the most important part of the writing process. This is where all the really important, meaningful work happens.
It’s where you have the most control, and the ability to really carry out your intentions and make this into the kind of book you set out to write in the first place.
In this class I’m going to give you a toolbox for approaching every edit, and every revision, of your book, including:
- What you can do in the early stages of editing
- What’s better to leave for the final stages
- How to handle the edits you get back from your editor
- What happens in the copyediting and proofreading stages
This class is for anyone who has finished a first draft, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, memoir, an essay collection, a how-to guide—no matter what kind of book you’re writing, a top-notch edit will get it ready for publication.
Are you ready to start writing your book? My new class is live on Skillshare. Get 2 months free with this link: https://skl.sh/3h13nDx
The act of sitting down in front of a blank page takes a certain amount of courage.
It’s a long road with plenty of uncertainty ahead. But you can make a plan to get it done.
This class is for anyone beginning a new book project, whether it’s your first book or your fourteenth, and whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.
I’m going to show you what I do to write a well-structured, well-thought out, and well-written first draft—and all of these techniques work just as well for rewrites. So even if you already have a first draft, or even just a half-start at a new book, and you’re realizing that what you need to do is to start over and approach it from a new direction, using everything you learned in those early attempts—this class is for you.
HERE IT IS! I’ve been promising to do this class on color mixing and the color wheel for a while now, and now it’s done.
Here’s what it’s about: As an artist, you’re probably familiar with the color wheel, with the three primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, and the secondary colors of orange, purple, and green.
But—have you ever looked at a color printer cartridge and noticed that printers don’t use ink in red, yellow, and blue?
Most printed material, including books, newspapers, and magazines, are printed with a different color scheme. This class looks at how the visible light spectrum really works, and explores a new version of the color wheel that was invented over a hundred years ago, but is still mostly ignored by artists.
We’ll look at new ways to mix colors, and explore fresh ideas for building your own palette. I’m going to do my demonstrations in watercolor, but this works in any medium, including gouache, acrylic, or oil paints.
This class is available on Skillshare, and you can get 2 months free to take as many classes as you like with this link: https://skl.sh/2TMN2bv
The question I get asked most often is how I do my research. It’s a tricky question to answer–every book is different, every research question is different, every source is different.
But I did my best to boil it down into one half-hour class. Watch this class on Skillshare, and get 2 months free with this link: https://skl.sh/3cYTfsK.
Whether you’re writing fiction, nonfiction, reported journalism, essays, or memoir, you’re probably going to have to do some amount of research.
We’ll look at how to use scientific and academic sources, and how to track down experts in any field. We’ll look at historical sources, like old newspapers and archives. We’ll talk about genealogical resources, like Census records and other public documents. I’ll show you how I conduct interviews, and when I hire expert help. I’ll tell you how to spot faulty information and keep it out of your work.
Finally, I’ll teach you to be a skeptic! How do you know what you know? How do you verify your facts?
Whatever kind of writing project you’re embarking on, this class will help you up your research game.