What’s New

Sketching in Sepia


I love to draw and paint in ink using these portable, very affordable ink wash pens like the Pentel Color Brush Pen–so I made a class about it!

You can take this class on Skillshare, which is a Netflix-style membership platform where you subscribe and take all the classes you want to. I have over 30 classes on Skillshare. Go here to see the class on Skillshare.

Or you can take it on Udemy, where you only sign up for the classes you want to take. For this class, I bundled it with my class on creative color mixing, so you get two classes in one. Go here to see the class on Udemy.

This class is for anyone who wants to play around with ink (or sepia watercolor), anybody getting ready for Inktober, or anyone who wants to sharpen up the values and drama in their art.

In this class, we’re going to work with just one color to truly explore value. By setting aside color and working on exploring a full range of light and dark in our work, we can create art that makes a strong visual and emotional impact.

I’ll be demonstrating the wonderfully portable and affordable Pentel Color Brush Pen in sepia. You can take the class using ink or watercolor, and I’ll demonstrate each of those.

We’ll study the value scale, then we’ll do a simple warmup exercise painting a piece of fruit.

After that, we’ll dive in to a classic Italian village scene, painted in sepia like the old masters used to do.

In this class you’ll learn:

  • The benefits of painting with just one color
  • How to identify values using a value scale
  • How to paint from dark to light in sepia ink or watercolor
  • How to soften or sharpen your edges
  • How to add finishing details and adjust your values to make your painting pop
  • How to apply these techniques to full-color paintings and sketching on location.

These are simple techniques that can really elevate your art practice. Follow along and create dramatic, vivid art that jumps off the page!

 

The Joys of Tiny Thumbnail Sketches

I used to think thumbnails were so annoying — like, why waste time making a bunch of tiny drawings when you could jump right into one big painting? But now I think they’re ridiculously fun all by themselves. Why spend forever on one big painting when you can divide the page up, make six different little scenes, paint all six of them all at once, and call it done? Here’s a whole day at the beach, all at once.

And if you want to try this along with me, here’s the reference photo:

(also, if you’d like to know what art supplies I use, here’s a good list)

six small photos of the beach

Sketch Amsterdam in Ink and Watercolor

I taught a live virtual workshop with Etchr Studio on my approach to travel sketching, using bold, black ink and vivid watercolor. I chose Amsterdam as a subject for this class because it’s such a gorgeous city for urban sketching, with fabulous historic architecture and wonderful reflections from the canals. It’s available for you to watch anytime and it’s very affordable! Go here to find out more.

You can also watch a free demo here, and listen to a podcast interview I did with Etchr about art-making here.

Come to Amsterdam with me!

 

ink and watercolor sketch of canal houses in Amsterdam with a canal boat in front.

Let’s go to Amsterdam! (well, virtually, anyway.) I’ll be teaching a workshop on this style of sketching–with lots of dramatic black ink and vivid colors–with Etchr on August 29. Amsterdam is a fabulous city for urban sketching, with its distinctive architecture and gorgeous canals. If you’re looking forward to traveling with a sketchbook again, join me for a little practice!

Register here and I’ll see you in Amsterdam!

On People and Stories and Drawing

I’ve always shied away from getting people into my drawings and paintings. For years almost everything I did looked like this:

Drawings of buildings and streets in Italy

No people. Entirely depopulated streets and towns, as if all the citizens had been raptured or abducted by aliens.

Sometimes I’d drop just one little figure in, for scale.

street scenes in Mexico and New York painted in gouache with one figure walking down the street

But really, they were still drawings of buildings, with a couple little lumpy shapes to show that people do exist in cities.

But of course, if you’re into urban sketching, you can’t ignore the people forever. Over time (and with the help of some terrific teachers, such as James Richards) I started to be more deliberate about populating my sketches with people.

Still, these figures are accessories, like the street trees and lampposts and picnic umbrellas, meant to convey the sense of a lively street. They’re not about any one person doing any one thing–they’re about people collectively, like a flock of birds. And that’s great–I love these pictures. (I love all the pictures I’ve posted here–none of this is a criticism of my own art at all, just an observation about what I tend to focus on and what I don’t focus on.)

But lately I’ve been admiring the work of artists like Jenny Kroik, whose illustrations tell such a story about the city she lives in. I also admire her gouache technique, so I started making little studies of her paintings (“study” is an artsy word for “copy”) in my sketchbook, to figure out how she does it.

I was mostly working on technique but what occurred to me is that if you really want to tell a story in your sketchbook, you need to have people acting out that story.

This is hilarious, that I would only think about this now. I’ve been a full-time, professional writer for 20 years. I’ve written books about earthworms, cut flowers, poisonous plants, and I’ve written a bunch of novels. What I always tell people is, “That wasn’t really a book about earthworms. It was a book about people who study earthworms. Stories have people in them. If I’d left out the people and only written about worms, I wouldn’t have had a story. There’s no book in that.”

So I was thinking about this, and looking at Jenny Kroik’s interesting illustrations of interesting New Yorkers doing interesting things, and kind of envying her interesting art practice, and then I thought, “Wait a minute. I live in Portland. This place is interesting. Come to think of it, every place is interesting in its own way.”

And at that moment, Portland was having an interesting event: an epic snowstorm. I could see from my window that Portlanders were out in the snow, doing whatever Portlanders do. So I grabbed my camera (not my sketchbook, c’mon, it’s cold outside) and decided to go looking for stories. Here’s what I found:

Portlanders and their beverages, hours before the next wallop was predicted to hit and possibly knock out power: One last coffee run, and a trudge to the liquor store.

Kids carrying around enormous chunks of ice, for probably the first time in their lives, and somebody making the all-important Trader Joe’s run.

An unplowed side street getting turned into an impromptu dog park. A walk (with trekking poles, just in case) while FaceTiming with incredulous relatives who have never seen Portland like this.

It’s intimidating to put people front and center. I did a lot more in the way of preliminary sketches for these than I would normally do. Something I learned from Marc Taro Holmes: It’s perfectly fine to do seven or eight pencil sketches of a person and just pick one to ink and finish. Studio artists do this all the time: they’ll work up a lot of sketches before committing to a big painting. But I tend to forget that even within a sketchbook, a sketch can have sketches. (This in spite of every teacher who has ever taught me to make thumbnails, including Shari Blaukopf.)

Anyway, this is what I got out of Portland’s snowstorm and a lot of idle time to think about art: Where there are people, there are stories. Those stories might be small–a woman trudging through ice to get to Trader Joe’s–but isn’t that what cities and towns and villages are made up of?  A million small stories that somehow come together to tell us something about the place?

Plus pretty buildings and trees and streets and lampposts, of course.

What Does the New Normal Look Like?

 

First I want to say this: Not everybody had a chance to rest up and re-think their priorities during the pandemic. Lots of people worked harder than ever. Lots of people scrambled to keep their families safe, dealt with an impossible school situation for their kids, and faced all kinds of losses and hardships.

But…some people got some rest, or experienced real idleness for the first time in years, or found themselves unencumbered by the demands of their old lives–flying across the country for meetings, sitting in a car for an hour commute every day, juggling three part-time jobs–and had a little time to think about what they’d really like their lives to look like, if they were in charge of deciding that.

And now…it kind of feels like it’s time to decide.

Offices are opening back up. People are flying on planes. Conferences and conventions are tentatively back on the calendar.

Which puts us in a weird position. Do we ramp our lives back up?

Or…now that so many activities were forcefully evicted from our lives, do we re-evaluate each returning thing, each resumption of an old activity, and decide on a case-by-case basis whether it’s allowed back in or not?

I don’t have the answer, but it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about. I’m contemplating a big new project, but I keep ruminating over all the trappings of this particular type of big new project: the deadlines, the expectations, the emails, the travel, the scheduling, the other people who will have to get involved…and I wonder, “Do I want to invite all that back in?”

Or do I want to completely redefine the terms of how a project like this gets done, knowing that I’ll have to explain to everyone involved (including myself, I will need many pep talks) that yes, I’m doing this thing, but no, I won’t be doing it that way. I won’t be doing that part. I won’t be doing it that quickly.

Is that even possible? I don’t know.

I do know this: For twenty years, I’ve thought of myself as a self-employed person because I don’t work at a place and get a paycheck on Friday. But just now it occurs to me that if I haven’t been defining the terms of my projects–if I’ve allowed the expectations and deadlines to be set by editors, publicists, journalists, event organizers, social media platforms–have I ever been truly self-employed?

What does it look like if I just call the shots, and decide for myself what it takes to be moderately scheduled and well-rested, and turn everything else away, without excuses or apologies? WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK????

Mixed Media Still Life

You have a couple of choices about how to take this class!

Skillshare is a Netflix-style platform where you can take all the classes you want for a monthly membership. This link gives you a free trial to take the class on Skillshare.

On Udemy, you only sign up for the classes you want to take. I’ve bundled this class with two others: Painting the Farmer’s Market and Real Life Still Life. You’ll get three different approaches to drawing and painting “found” still lifes, all in one class. Go here to join the class on Udemy.

Here’s a bit more information about the class:

One of the best ways to learn to draw and paint is to do a still life. You get to work on shapes, proportion, composition, values (meaning light and dark), and color.

Best of all, it’ll help you develop your own style.

For this class, we’ll paint a beautiful arrangement of pumpkins on a porch.

A project like this is so much fun to do in mixed media, where you build up layers with different materials. You get rich textures and interesting contrast by combining watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, pastel, paint pens, markers, and/or ink.

Use whatever art supplies you have to create a lively, interesting style that’ll be uniquely yours.

Use Zoom to Automatically Transcribe Interviews

screen shot of zoom chat with captioning on

I do interviews for a living. Maybe you do, too: maybe you’re a reporter or a writer or a blogger or someone who has to ask people questions and write down their answers.

We all dream of some automated transcription service that would allow us to focus on the conversation and put our notes aside. And there are automated transcription apps and services out there, usually for a small fee, but that’s just one more thing to sign up for and figure out.

But did you know that Zoom offers live automatic captioning, and that it’s quite good? All you have to do is turn it on.

Then have your conversation. If your interviewee mentions something very specific that you need to get right, like a technical term or someone’s name, be sure to check the spelling or ask them to repeat it so you know the captioning picked it up correctly.

Before the call ends, download the transcript. (It’s usually saved to a Zoom folder on your computer.) In fact, I usually save the transcript once or twice during the call, just in case we get disconnected before I have a chance to grab it, and then I download the whole thing at the end.

That’s it! No more note-taking.

 

Develop Your Internal Tutor

I just picked up this book at Powell’s. In the introduction is the most extraordinary passage–it could apply to any creative pursuit, so I’m sharing it here:

“Develop an internal tutor. When you begin drawing, often you’ll find you’re accompanied by an internal critic, pointing out your mistakes and making you question your drawing. This can be more restricting than a lack of ability. You need time to look and draw without internal criticism. Instead, try to develop an internal tutor, allowing you to stand back and look objectively at your drawing, picking out its best qualities and what can be improved upon.”

Imagine–an inner tutor! A voice inside your head that can give you a friendly nudge, encourage you to sharpen a detail or rethink the direction of a line.  What a helpful and handy voice to have on board!

Everyone wants to silence their internal critic. But have you ever thought of cultivating an internal tutor?