Enjoy life now... it has an expiration date.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Visiting some wonderful new blogs...

In responding to comments left on my blog I've recently found some wonderful new art blogs that, if you haven't visited yet, I think you'll find very interesting and helpful.

1. http://sketchesbyfiz.blogspot.com/ is a blog by Felicity Grace. I found it recently and immediately fell in love with her colored pencil technique. She is an awesome artist, and when I asked a couple of questions about her portraiture technique she was kind enough to do a mini tutorial and posted a series of WIPs with lots of great information. The two portrait images above (posted here courtesy of Felicity) are the first and the last WIPs. To see the complete series, here's the post:

2. Teresa Mallen left a comment on my blog and I'm so glad I followed the link to her blog and website! Not only does she have some gorgeous art on display (the beautiful crocuses above is one example from the gallery on her website - posted courtesy of Teresa), she also has lots of information for colored pencil artists such as tips, tricks, resources...... AND...... a free e-zine you can sign up for to share tips and techniques, and receive critiques on your work! Thank you, Teresa for graciously sharing your knowledge! Here's the link for Teresa's blog: http://www.teresamallenstudio.blogspot.com/ and here's the link for her website: http://www.teresamallenstudio.com/

3. The United Kingdom Colored Pencil Society (UKCPS) has a great site, some informative step by step demos, and other tips and hints. I particularly like Graham Brace's colored pencil landscapes so I was thrilled to find a demo by him. Don't miss 'em! UKCPS website: http://www.ukcps.co.uk/Welcome.htm, and the step by step demos: http://www.ukcps.co.uk/steps.htm

Have fun browsing........... and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guess what I got for Christmas?!?!

A daughter!

Just before Christmas, my son, Philip, and his girlfriend, Rhonda, became engaged! I'm thrilled! Rhonda is a lovely girl, both inside and out. She's kind, sweet, loving, generous, and even has a great sense of humor. Philip... you made a great choice! Rhonda... we've loved you almost since the first time we met you. We hope you enjoy being part of our family as much as we enjoy having you in it. Congratulations to both of you!

You know, it occurs to me that this engagement has other benefits too... as the mother of two sons and wife to the hubby, I've been the lone female in my family for almost three decades. Finally, I have some serious backup during holidays in this male dominated home! Yes! LOL!

Today is recovery day from the holidays. I'm pleasantly tired - even a bit lethargic - but it's okay. The holidays were wonderful, and as usual, I cooked too much, stayed up too late and just generally wore myself out. But I don't regret a minute of it. There are few blessings greater than a loving family all together for the holidays.

Posting a couple of pics. The top pic is Philip and Rhonda. The bottom pic is two of our five nephews who love to come over and snuggle up on the sofa with blankets to watch a movie. Little Eric (Eric on the left, Ellis on the right), has difficulty pronouncing some letters and calls it "watching a woobie"! Sometimes I wish my boys were little again - instead we just borrow the nephews for a while.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tomato Soup Christmas

Until I can make it back to the art table (Christmas preparations and band activities have been keeping me busy) to complete the portrait of Levi, here's my newspaper column for December.

Susan studied the cans of soup. Shoppers skirted around her, their carts bulging with holiday fare. Christmas carols played steadily and colorful decorations gave the store a festive air. Chicken Noodle? Split Pea and Ham? Tomato? Not exactly a Christmas feast, but it was cheap. She chose Tomato and placed it in the shopping basket. She browsed, her steps slow, unhurried, while other shoppers hastened to finish.

John quietly observed her. He guessed her to be in her late twenties. He’d seen her a time or two around the small town in which he’d operated a grocery store for almost thirty years. Over the years he’d learned to pick out a shoplifter. Something in their eyes, their attitude, their movements. Yet this girl didn’t set off alarm bells in his head. Her regular visits to the store for the past few days had caught his attention. He knew most customers by name, knew their families and where they lived. He also knew that most customers don’t come in several days in a row for long periods of time. How long had she been in here today? An hour? Two hours?

Susan moved slowly with her basket. It contained a can of soup, an apple and a couple of marked down items. She bought just a few things at a time. Gave her a good excuse to return. After working her morning shift at the grill, she’d read late into the afternoon at the local library before heading to the grocery store. Put off the inevitable as long as possible.

John was thoughtful. As he greeted customers and checked the shelves, he watched the girl. He saw no signs of furtive movement, no quick glances around - those telltale signs that meant trouble. Instead she bore a solemn, stoic look. Vulnerable, but determined. A few fact finding phone calls might be in order he decided.

Herb hung up the phone, sipped his coffee and considered the phone call. John was a good man, though he could be a bit abrupt at times. Some shoppers who frequented his small grocery store didn’t seem to know quite how to take him. But John put in long hours at the store and always gave the local churches and civic groups a generous discount when they bought groceries for fund raising events. Herb reached for his heavy coat - evening was coming and the temperature was dropping fast. It was only two days before Christmas. There was even talk of a white Christmas. Wouldn’t that be nice, he mused as he cranked up the gas delivery truck.

"Excuse me, young lady."

Susan, startled, looked up at what she assumed to be the store owner. She’d noticed him coming and going from the little office toward the front of the store. She’d also noticed him watching her. Her chin went up. She hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no law against taking your time buying groceries was there? Yet she felt a tremor of nerves as she faced him. This Christmas was difficult enough as it was, she didn’t need any more problems.

"How about coming into the office for a minute?" he asked.

Susan assessed his intent. He sounded reasonable. He was an older man, easily old enough to be her father, possibly even her grandfather. Something in her was tired of fighting, yet she was ready to defend herself if need be.

The office was small, cluttered, with piles of paper everywhere and notices hurriedly tacked on a bulletin board. An adding machine sat on the desk, alongside a well worn phone. He motioned her to sit and closed the office door.

Seated behind the desk, he steepled his fingers as he chose his words.

"Susan" right?

"Yes," she replied, immediately on guard. How did he know her name? Tension tightened in her. She said nothing, just waited.

"I hope you don’t mind but I made a few phone calls.... about you. I’ve noticed you in the store a lot this week, and, well, especially at this time of the year, you can’t be too careful."

She flushed. "I haven’t done anything wrong" she blurted.

"I know," he replied, "I’m not accusing you of anything."

"Susan," he paused, "We all go through tough times in our lives. I’ve been there myself. I’d like to help. Is that your Civic outside?"

She nodded, thinking of the old car with the peeling paint job.

"I thought so. I know most of my customer’s cars. I know you’re new here so I’d like to welcome you to our little town and wish you a Merry Christmas."

Susan stared at him. A Merry Christmas? People in her circumstance didn’t have a Merry Christmas - they just survived.

"It’s alright to go home now, Susan."

He stood up, opened the door.

That was it? She rose, wondering if he was crazy or if she was.

Lights were being turned out, the store was closing. Another night to face she thought, walking dispiritedly toward her old car. As she drew closer she saw odd shapes in the back seat. Both alarmed and curious, her steps quickened. The back seat was loaded down with groceries. A ham stuck out of one bag; fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, cookies, bread and various packages peeped out of others. She gazed in disbelief. A horn tooted. It was the man from the store. He waved and smiled as he drove off.

Overwhelmed by the gift, she bit her lip. The unexpected kindness brought her closer to tears than her recent hardships had. At least she had good food, she thought.

A few minutes later she pulled into the driveway of the tiny house she’d rented. Few jobs were available, and it took most of what she made in her part time job just to pay the rent and electricity. She dreaded the cold worst of all. Her little electric heater barely made a dent in the cold, but the expense of filling up the gas drum and turning on the heat was more than she could handle right now. So, when not working she’d resorted to spending as much time as possible in the grocery store, library, convenience store... anywhere it was warm.

She turned the key, braced for the unrelenting cold... and felt ....a gentle rush of warm air. Surprised, confused, she looked around. On the floor lay a notice. It must have been wedged in the door. It was a bill from the gas company for a full tank of propane. It was stamped "Paid in Full" and under that was written "Merry Christmas."

Herb parked the truck in the company parking lot. He’d rather enjoyed playing Secret Santa again. It wasn’t the first time. Quietly, over the years, John had made quite a few folks’ Christmas a little more merry. That, he thought, was indeed the True Spirit of Christmas.

** This story is a fictionalized account; however, it is based on true events. It is written in memory and honor of Remus Teachey, who, unknown to most folks, brightened the lives of many people in the Pink Hill community- not just at Christmas, but throughout the entire year. I was told of these events years ago by a close friend of his, and Remus never knew that I learned of his quiet good deeds. (Permission to relate these events granted by Gaynelle Teachey).

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:39-41

Copyright 2008 by Teresa Houston. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Poster Day

The portrait of Levi is on hold for the moment. On Thursday I spent the day with a good friend who moved to Texas a few years ago but was in NC to visit her family for the holidays. We had a great day, including lunch, and - our favorite - bookstore time! How nice to catch up with each others lives over a stack of books while sipping Pumpkin Spice Latte! Yum! Wish you didn't live so far away D!

Yesterday ended up being Poster Day. One of the guys in the hubby's band asked me to make two posters to go on the side of a car. His daughter is riding in a Christmas Parade, and every vehicle is to have a sign on each side listing the business sponsor and the rider's name. Each poster measures 22" x 28". Requirements were that the lettering be of a certain size and the poster is to have a Christmas theme, yet be fairly simple so that it's easily read. After mulling over a few ways to make this poster, I ended up with my old standby for large art (I used to paint wall murals)... good old acrylics.

Since this is a quickie... done on discount store poster paper and needed only for a few hours, I didn't bother sketching anything. I drew a horizon line separating snow from sky and just painted everything else in. Was lots of fun. I'm much more relaxed when I'm painting large... I don't sweat the details and just go with the flow.

Sure hope they have good weather for the parade!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Levi - WIP #3

Here's the latest on little Levi. I've spent a lot of time on the background - too much, actually, since it seems like the focus of the picture should get the most time and attention. I've read/heard quite a few artists who advocate getting the background in first. Well, that doesn't seem to be working too well for me! After trying both working methods, for me it's easier to get the main subject in then decide on how the background will best enhance the subject. What happened with this painting... I did mostly the steps first and they seem too powerful. Choice: either lighten them up or darken the spaces in between the steps to make them recede into the background. I decided to do both. Not sure if the background is still too dominant? Or do the darks serve to set Levi off?

Constructive criticism welcome (Feel free!! LOL!)

Monday, December 1, 2008

After Thanksgiving

It's sunny today, but not the kind of day to be outside. The wind is more of a strong March wind than a November wind. It blows in forceful gusts, rattling the outside of the house and pushing its way into cracks and crevices around doors and windows. Still, inside the house it's warm and cozy. And I still feel warm and cozy from the holiday. Thanksgiving was a feast, not just of food, but of family, friends and fun. How my heart swelled when my two grown sons walked in through the front door. It's such a joy to see them- their eyes sparkling health and love, tall and strong with youth's good looks. A few days before the holiday, I couldn't help but think of the parents who lost a son or daughter in the war. Their child will never again walk through the door at Thanksgiving. My heart goes out to them. I wish them solace and comfort. And I renewed once again my vow to live each day as fully as possible. To not let the little irritations and disappointments of life crowd out the full and beautiful blessings that still abound.

We celebrated Thanksgiving joyfully. In our small home we really didn't have enough space for all of the company we had. But it was okay. We made do. We had food, laughter and fun in plentiful supply. So thankful were we to be surrounded by those we love that we paid no attention to the little inconveniences - and it turned out to be one of the best Thanksgivings ever. I guess it's taken me this long to learn how to live, how to deeply appreciate and savor the things that really matter, how to be thankful.

Yes, it was a good Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Levi - WIP #2

More work done on Levi (first WIP posted underneath second WIP).

Apparently I'm leaving the fun stuff (you know, the face and the fingers) for last.... gotta get those pencils warmed up before I tackle those! Constructive criticism welcome.

Oh........... Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

English street scene

An art card that went to Darlene in Canada. 4 x 6 - watercolor and colored pencil on Arches Hot Press.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Photos are here!

Okay, got everything set up with this substitute camera. Here are the shots I took on Monday (post titled "Magical Minute) whilst out wandering around in the garden in early morning sub freezing weather! All pics are of our blueberry bushes (I love the first photo where you can actually see the frost on the leaves... which I decided to use for my heading), except for the last pic which is a Bradford Pear and was taken at sunset one evening. Isn't nature simply beautiful?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Levi - A Beginning

This WIP is a portrait (colored pencil on Stonehenge) of a friend's grandson. This friend advertised in a little local magazine I used to publish, and this photo was used in one of her ads for her shoe store (see his adorable little blue Crocs?). As soon as I saw the photo I wanted to paint it. I loved the natural pose, the light and shadow patterns on both Levi and the steps..... and who could resist those baby blues? He even has a scrape on his little knee... just like my boys used to many years ago.

I'm posting what I've done so far. I usually do the preliminary drawing in graphite but decided this time I'd try doing the drawing using a light umber CP. Not sure that I really have much preference either way. I've never had a problem getting CP to cover the graphite. I've gone over the drawing in most places using some variation of the final color. I've done a little work on his face and on the wooden steps behind him. The scan makes the steps look much darker and heavier than they actually are, but even so, I may have to tone them down. We'll see.

I've already changed the angle of his left cheek several times. The last time I did a portrait of a young child he seemed to look older in the portrait than in the photo. Wondering why, I pulled out my copy of "Drawing People" by Barbara Bradley (excellent book!!) and re-read the section on drawing children. The problem immediately jumped out at me: I hadn't given enough curve to his cheeks. Youngsters are chubby - and chubby is represented by rounded curves. I hadn't given enough curve to his cheek, and the slimmer cheekline made him look a couple of years older. So this time I'm trying to watch out for that and keep that cute chubby toddler look.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Magical minute

This morning, quite early, I purposed to capture the rich fall colors of the blueberry bushes in the glow of the early morning sun. The bushes are now bare of berries, but to me they're more beautiful in fall than any other time. The foliage has turned to deep, saturated reds, browns and burgundies, with just a few hints of green on the sheltered side of the bushes.

After coffee I opened the blinds and saw....... frost! Thick, glorious sparkling frost that lay like a shimmering veil across fields, trees and fading garden plants. It sparkled in the morning sun, making the blueberry bushes radiant. Not about to miss this moment, I grabbed a hoodie and my camera and headed outside. The air was cold, brisk, exhilarating. Everything sparkled. Almost as good as snow, I thought. I walked around the bushes to shoot from various angles, my shoes crunching in the frozen grass; then stood still to get some close up shots. That's when I heard it. In the quiet of the morning, I heard a soft drip. Then another. Then another. It was the sound of frost melting in the pale sunshine. By sheer chance I happened to be there at this time. I stood, unmoving, looking and listening. I was awake, I was aware. It was a fleeting moment - like so many of life's moments. Ordinary, yet special. A few more photos around the garden, and when I returned to the blueberry bushes the shimmering veil was gone. But I had seen it; I had heard it. One of those magical minutes in life.

** Will post photos later. Lost my digital camera few weeks ago, and a family member was kind enough to donate one to me, but am not set up to upload photos yet.

An Autumn Award!

How nice to receive this adorable "Autumn Friends Award" from Rosie at Corners of my Mind blog... thank you so much Rosie!

It's a sweet, easy little award... no lists to write or anything, so in the spirit of friendship, and as requested, I'll pass the award on to three fellow bloggers....


Friday, November 14, 2008

A lovely rainy Friday!

I love a chilly rainy day! When I actually give voice to thoughts like that I usually get strange looks from folks who appear to be wondering if I've lost my marbles. Chalk it up to growing up in England.... rain doesn't bother me in the least. On a rainy day the house feels so cozy, and indoor activities like cooking, knitting, reading and movie watching are even more pleasurable.... especially when accompanied by hot chocolate or hot tea with honey.

After a busy week, today will be spent finishing my monthly newspaper article. I do have a new art card to post... this one went to Shelley in France. This 4x6 card depicts New England in the fall and is done in watercolor and colored pencil. It was lots of fun to do.... I LOVE New England and using those juicy fall colors was a great pleasure!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Knit Your Bit" ... A World War II Knitting Project

I've just started a World War II knitting project. Yes, you read that right!
Actually, it's for veterans of World War II (and you thought I was losing my marbles didn't you? Actually, sometimes I wonder myself....). I came across it last week and knew immediately I would participate.

It's a project sponsored by The National World War II Museum (http://www.nationalww2museum.org/calendar/knit-your-bit.html) and asks willing volunteers to knit scarves for WWII vets. We're rapidly losing our aging WWII vets, (some estimates place the loss at a 1,000 per day nationally) and many of the remaining vets are fighting serious health problems. The scarves are a gesture to remind the vets that someone out there still cares, still honors the huge sacrifice they made. If you'd like to knit along, visit the website (link above) for the scarf patterns. There are three you can choose from. The site is really interesting and features vintage pictures of young schoolkids knitting for victory along with slogans such as "The Navy needs men, but it also needs knitters!".

**P.S. Crochet patterns are also available for the scarves

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

In Honor of Fall....

I've redone my blog! This color scheme seems very "fallish" and cozy - sometimes a change is good!

It's been a busy couple of weeks. We've had sickness in the family and since I was blessed with good health I sort of ended up as caregiver. So, there's not been much productivity in the art department lately - or much blogging. But that's the way it is sometimes. Thankfully, everyone is either back in good health or looks to be well on the mend. You know there's nothing like a bout of severe illness to drastically rearrange schedules. Good health... what a blessing it is, and how guilty I am of often taking it for granted. I remember reading a prayer sometime back that went something like this: "Lord, thank you for all the blessings you've bestowed upon me. I ask you for one more thing: a grateful heart." A grateful heart... appropriate since Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Speaking of Thanksgiving ... both of my boys are coming home for the holidays - yay!! - (they're 26 and 29, and both live about two hours away from me) and the youngest son is bringing his steady girlfriend. What a joy she is . . . beautiful, smart, funny and has a loving, generous heart. There's been talk of her "joining the family" and we'd be very happy to claim her!

'Course, lots of company means lots of cooking! Oh boy! An excuse to pull out my favorite recipes, don my antique apron I bought in an antique store (don't laugh..... you'd be surprised how fun and practical it is) and cook up a storm. Youngest son has requested sweet potato pie, his girlfriend has requested pecan pie and oldest son usually goes for sweet potato bread. I'll eat about anything sweet and the hubby loves fresh greens. A few years ago we started brining our turkey and it is so juicy and delicous that we haven't cooked a turkey since without having brined it. It's a little more trouble than just popping it into the oven . . . but well worth the effort. If you'd like to try it, here's the recipe. You'll need to plan ahead. The turkey must be thawed out before brining, it needs to brine for about 6-8 hours (I usually let it sit overnight) then it needs to sit in a refrigerator for at least 8 hours to "equalize".

How to brine a turkey:

• For a 12-14 lb turkey, make a brine by dissolving 2 cups table salt in 2 gallons of water.
• Rinse thawed turkey thoroughly - remove giblets, neck, etc and reserve for gravy. If the legs are tied or wired, remove the tie.
• Place turkey in brine and refrigerate; or if using a cooler, set cooler in cool place for 6-8 hours.
• Remove turkey from brine; discard brine; rinse turkey well under cool running water. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels.
• Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting pan that has the slotted, removable top (using the slotted top allows the excess water to drip down and away from the turkey).
• Refrigerate, uncovered, for 8 to 24 hours (this allows residual moisture left in the skin to evaporate). Read the "Helpful Hints" below before you begin!

Helpful Hints:

• We use a cooler to brine the turkey - it stays cold this way and saves room in the
refrigerator. Wash cooler and rinse turkey. Place turkey in cooler.
• It’s easier to dissolve the salt if you boil it first. How I do it: place turkey in the cooler. Measure one cup salt into a small boiler with enough water to cover it well. Bring the salt to a boil. When the salt boils it won’t dissolve but will become very coarse and gritty. Once the salt feels gritty when stirred, pour the salt water mix into a gallon pitcher and fill the pitcher the rest of the way with cool water and some ice cubes. Stir well until the salt has dissolved. Makes 1 gallon of brine. Pour this over the turkey and then make another gallon of brine (or as many as needed to cover the turkey - how much brine you need depends on how big your turkey is and the size of the cooler you use - try to use a cooler that’s not too much bigger than the turkey).
• Cook the turkey using a turkey roasting bag - (rub butter all over the turkey skin before
placing in the bag) - keeps the meat moist and since all the juice is captured in the bag you can use the juice for gravy, soup, etc.

Makes the most delicious turkey you've ever tasted!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Newspaper column for October 2008

The Life of a Band Wife: Two Tales from the Road

When you’re married to a band member and spend most weekends traveling you gain new experiences and meet a lot of people. Some gigs we play regularly and become well acquainted with the folks who attend, creating many fond memories. Of course, the band members get to know each other pretty well too; in fact, after several years of being on the road together the band has become more like an extended family than a business entity. We’ve celebrated the joyous occasions in each other lives, mourned the sad events, and shared many laughs over humorous incidents.

Of all the memories built up over the years, it is the sad ones and the humorous ones that seem to remain the clearest in our minds. The humorous memories are recounted often, accompanied by gales of laughter during the many hours spent on the road. Two of those memories I’d like to share with you.

The first one concerns Howard. Howard was a regular at one of our monthly dances and he was..... well..... a little different. I never asked any questions about Howard’s condition, I just knew that although he wasn’t like the rest of us, he had a beautiful soul and a joyful, childlike heart. There was no eloquence in his speech, nor grace in his movements, but he loved to dance and was genuinely delighted to receive a hug and an invitation to the dance floor. He liked all the dances, fast and slow, and it was during one of the fast dances that his now famous little mishap occurred. It was delightful mishap, as mishaps go, one of those amusing incidents that makes you smile every time you think of it. You see, Howard wore dentures (I’d guess he was in his middle sixties) and he had a habit, when dancing, of pushing his upper teeth out a little, wiggling them back and forth a few times, and then popping them back in place again. He’d do this several times during a dance - when you saw Howard dancing, you knew his teeth were dancing too. One night during a lively tune, Howard pushed his teeth out a little too far. To the surprise, consternation and amusement of his fellow dancers, all of a sudden one set of upper teeth became airborne, and upon landing, skittered across the floor in between several dancers. Howard took off in hot pursuit of his teeth, and upon reaching the errant chompers, scooped them up, gave them a quick wipe on his sleeve and, grinning, popped them back into their rightful gummy place. He shuffled back to his group of dancers, who, wide eyed and mouths agape with various expressions of surprise, delight and disbelief at the incident, moved aside to welcome him back to the group. Howard has now passed on, but I think of him often: his love of life, his childlike joy... and his wandering dentures.

Our second tale involves Danny Baker. Danny is our bass player and one of four vocalists in the band. He’s solid and dependable, not loud and showy. A big strapping guy, Danny does his share when it comes to unloading and setting up the heavy equipment required for the band. After the hard and tedious work of setting up is done, Danny and the other band members change into their "good clothes" just before the show starts.

One night, the band had not been playing long - it was still early in the first set - and everything was going as planned when I suddenly heard a loud, quick "WOO!" come from one of the mikes. Definitely not part of the song. Curious, I looked up just in time to see Danny jump a little and yell "OWW!". It was actually more of a pained yelp. What in the world was going on? Without warning, Danny suddenly leapt off the stage and made rapid tracks to the men’s room. The other band members watched in surprise and wonder as Danny disappeared into the crowd. They obviously had no more clue than I did as to what was going on. A few minutes later, Danny emerged and took his place on stage again. I looked at him closely. He appeared all right, if slightly uncomfortable. For the remainder of the set things went normally and there were no more outbursts from Danny. Trying to imagine possible causes for Danny’s unusual behavior, I could hardly wait to hear the explanation. On the first break I got the scoop: Danny’s wife, Brenda, had done the laundry that day and since it was nice weather she hung the clothes on the outside line to dry. When Danny picked up his folded pants to pack them for the trip, little did he know that he would not be alone inside his pants. There was a wasp inside them. When it came time to start the show, he’d put the pants on, blissfully unaware of the uncomfortable turn of events that was about to happen. The wasp couldn’t find his way out, and trapped, you know what happened next. When the first sting occurred, it elicited the first surprised "WOO!". The second sting was accompanied by an even louder "OWW!", then followed by Danny’s rapid exit to find out what the devil was going on. Reminded me of the song "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" where Harv thought he had a weed eater loose in his Fruit of the Looms.

In the band room we found out the cause of the commotion and alternated between helpless laughter and offering giggling consolation to poor Danny who found it considerably less funny than we did. To add insult to injury, we discovered that the cantankerous little wasp had zinged Danny one more time before he made it to the bathroom to shuck those troublesome britches. These days, Danny is back to his normal low key self; however, I think he does check his clothes before putting them on if they’ve been dried on the outside line.

* Danny Baker, good sport that he is, has read this article and given permission to divulge the painful details. Thank you, Danny!

** The story of Howard is true, however, the name has been changed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A couple more art cards

Here's two more of my art cards (both done in colored pencil). The bottom card is of a castle in France - a country I'd really like to visit. I was actually scheduled to go to France as part of a student exchange when I lived in England but missed that trip. My French teacher, Monsieur Carre, had written to his former students in France and paired them up as pen pals with his students in England. The idea was that we would write to our pen pal in France using only French to improve our grasp of the language and they in turn would write to us in English. One summer, arrangements were made for us to spend six weeks with our pen pal's family in France. That was the summer my family moved to the US. Alas, we moved a couple of months before the scheduled trip to France. So, for the moment I'm being patient with promises to myself that "one day" I'll make that long awaited trip.

The top card (mushroom) doesn't really look like a Vacation Dream Card, but it is. It's a reminder of my childhood rambles around the English countryside where I grew up. I was always fascinated by the variety of mushrooms I saw. The fact that some of them were poisonous and forbidden to touch only made them more mysterious, mythical. Sometimes I half expected a tiny sprite-like figure to emerge from underneath their colorful little canopies. Too many childhood stories? Perhaps. But it was a pleasant indulgence nonetheless. Of all of the mushrooms, the puff balls and the red and white capped were my favorite fungi. I have no idea what the proper name is for the puff ball mushrooms, but we called them puff balls because if you stepped on one, it puffed out a thick cloud of brown smoke. We always avoided letting the brown smoke drift onto us... who knew whether it might have magical properties and what the consequences might be? The red and white capped mushrooms seemed far more innocent. They were so pretty that one could only imagine pleasant stories around such a colorful little forest dweller. Ah, the innocence of childhood. Though I wouldn't wish those days back again (I quite enjoy my life as it is for the most part) I would dearly love to walk the English countryside again, exploring the forest and enjoying the quiet beauty of nature.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fall Apple Cake

Crunchy leaves and Fall's delicious chilly mornings got you in a baking fever? Me too! Here's a family favorite you might like to try. This cake is better if you plan ahead so that it can sit for a day or two before cutting. The sitting time allows the flavors to blend and deepen to produce quite a memorable flavor. If you don't have a particularly sweet tooth you might want to omit the finishing glaze (I gleefully drizzle it over the cake all the while wondering how long the cake will sit before I dive into it). Enjoy!

Fall Apple Cake

2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk (I use whole buttermilk)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup pecans, chopped
1-1/2 cups apples, peeled and finely cubed (I use 2 Granny Smith apples)

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

- Cream sugar and oil.

- Slowly add eggs, blending after each addition.

- Combine flour and next 7 ingredients.

- Add flour mixture to egg and oil mixture. Add apples and pecans and stir well.

- Bake in greased and floured 10-inch tube pan for approximately 40 minutes (depending on your oven and your pan) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost - but not completely - clean. I like to take the cake out when just a tiny bit of cake sticks to the toothpick... keeps it from overbaking and becoming dry.

- While cake is still warm and in the pan, punch holes in the top of the cake (if you have them, use one of those little wooden grill skewers so the holes go all the way down to the bottom) and pour some of the warm glaze over it. Then turn cake out onto a plate and pour the rest of the glaze over the cake. Cover and let sit for a day or two - if you can!

1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 stick margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring sugar, milk and margarine to a medium to high boil - boil for three minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Let cool a little and spoon onto cake when the glaze is just nice and warm.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Monthly Newspaper Column

* I'm posting my monthly newspaper column on my blog again as I did last month. This month I owe a special Thank You to Rosie at Corners of My Mind blog who graciously allowed me to make reference to, and use part of the information from her delightful post of Thursday, September 18, 2008: "A Walk at Baslow". Thank you Rosie!!

The Traveling Front Porch

This morning, after a welcome dose of invigorating coffee, I went with a new friend for a leisurely walk in Derbyshire, England. It was cool and misty, so with jackets on we set off down the path to Chatsworth Park, crossing a picturesque little stone bridge under which flowed the gray waters of the Derwent River. We walked alongside neat rows of thatched cottages, passed through the revolving “kissing” gate, and walked down worn paths that to this day retain some of their original cobblestones. At this time of year in England, cool autumnal breezes bid summer goodbye and the trees are resplendent in burgundies, reds and golds. We continued walking until we could see the roofline of stately Chatsworth House, visible just beyond the tree line. Chatsworth is a beautiful English country house often used in period movies such as “Pride and Prejudice”, in which it became Pemberley, home of the dashing “Mr. Darcy”.

After this pleasant morning stroll, I hopped over to New Mexico to see Jo’s latest pastel painting; stopped by Oxford, NC, to see Lin’s newest watercolor masterpiece, checked in with Jeanne in California (who has a husband, four dogs and would rather do colored pencil art than housework. Hmm..... not a bad idea!) and enjoyed a brief visit to the Blue Ridge mountains where Ann’s fresh pastels and soft colored pencil art brings back warm memories of wonderful vacations.

Do I have access to a Lear jet? Ha! Not likely. Nor do I have a Star Trek style transporter to instantly beam me from place to place. What I do have is a computer and a blog list. Blogs where friends, family, neighbors and strangers (who sometimes turn out to be friends you haven’t met yet) can drop in (almost instantly) to talk and share their lives. If you’re not familiar with blogs and blogging, here’s a quick primer:

“Blog” is a contraction of the term “web log” and is variously defined as:

- an online personal diary

- a news outlet

- your memo to the world

- a journal that is available on the web

A blog is basically a website that’s updated regularly. The newest information shows up at the top of the page so you read the most recent post first and as you scroll down the page you read the older posts. A “post” is an entry on the blog. A blog usually includes text, photos, and links to other blogs and websites. A blog can be themed around a particular subject (such as a hobby, an occupation, a sport, politics, news, etc) or just simply be a casual collection of a person’s thoughts and observations. The activity of updating a blog is “blogging”, and someone who keeps a blog is a “blogger.” Bloggers usually have a “Blog List” - a list in the sidebar on their own blog that has links to other blogs they like to read - you can click on the links to go to those blogs. One of the nicest features of blogs is the “Comments” feature. When you visit a blog there’s a place where you can leave comments to the blogger (“I like your art work”, “Where did you find that lovely poem?” “How did you get that particular effect in your painting?” etc) and usually the blogger will respond to you. Then you can respond back to them. If there’s an area of mutual interest you might end up getting to know this person and a neat thing happens....you make a new friend .... and most of the the time you’ve never met them!

Earlier this year I participated in a Virtual Sketch Date. A lady named Rose, from Texas, was the originator of this project and it’s basically a group of artists - some professional, some amateur - who select one photograph each month and everyone draws/paints that image. It’s amazing to see the widely different interpretations of the same image by different artists. Everyone completes their sketch and on the appointed date they upload it to their blog. It’s lots of fun visiting from blog to blog to see the results. At that time I was new to blogs and blogging, so I didn’t have a blog... and, honestly, didn’t think I wanted one. Sure, it was fun, interesting and even educational, but I just didn’t have time for a blog. Rose encouraged me to start my own blog, pointing out their advantages, especially if you’re an artist: most art bloggers are very generous about sharing their tips and techniques, some even post art demos so you can see art being made step by step; you get feedback on your own art; you get inspiration - visiting art blogs is like going to an art gallery! - and you also get encouragement as you read of other’s art struggles that often parallel your own. I’ve been reading blogs for almost a year now and had my own blog since May 2008. Most of the blogs I subscribe to are art blogs, but there are a few non-art blogs on my list that are interesting, informative and a delight to visit .... like Rosie’s blog. Rosie lives in Stoke on Trent, in England, and it was her post about her early morning walk in Derbyshire that I enjoyed so much and described to you at the beginning of this article. Her interesting narrative and accompanying photos almost make you feel like you’re there too... sort of like taking a walk with a friend.

For years now I’ve thought it a sad thing that the time honored tradition of sitting on the front porch with family, friends, neighbors or “new folks” has pretty much died out. I see new homes being built and most of them have a generous front porch with inviting rocking chairs and colorful plants. But the comfy rockers are usually empty.... neighbors and friends are nowhere to be seen.

Before I left Rosie’s blog, I left a comment thanking her for sharing her morning walk. As I clicked to go to the next blog, I realized that the tradition of visiting and sharing on the front porch has not completely died out after all. In part, at least, it’s just taken a different form... we now visit through blogs. Of course a blog doesn’t take the place of in-person visiting, however, it does have its own particular advantages, one being that it’s a neat way to make new friends from all over the world- friends that you’d probably never have met otherwise.

So, make yourself a cup of coffee, find a blog or two that you like and start reading.... there’s a comfy chair on front porch waiting for you!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Irish Cottage card

Another art card... this one went to Mary in Ohio (and I actually remembered to sign this one... aren't you proud? :-)

Ireland is close to the top of my "Places I Most Want to Visit" list. I'd love to set up in a field near one of these old thatched roof cottages and paint on location. One day!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More art cards...and a delightful poem!

So far I've received confirmation of receipt on 4 out of 6 Vacation Dream cards that I've mailed. Sure hope the two that are AWOL at the moment are not lost in the mail! Here's two more of my art cards: the log cabin in the snow went to Kitty in the Netherlands and the hot air balloon went to Joan in New York. Both cards were such fun to paint. The log cabin is watercolor and gouache, the hot air balloon is watercolor. I see now that I forgot to sign both of these cards after I finished painting them... oops!

While we're here, I'd also like to share a little poem with you. Someone emailed it to me and I really liked it; so, for your enjoyment, here it is...........

The Law the Lawyers Know About

The law the lawyers know about
Is property and land;
But why the leaves are on the trees,
And why the wind disturbs the seas,
Why honey is the food of bees,
Why horses have such tender knees,
Why winters come and rivers freeze,
Why Faith is more than what one sees,
And Hope survives the worst disease,
And Charity is more than these,
They do not understand.

Hilary Douglas Clark Peplar, English, 1878-1951

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Art Card...

Woo Hoo! My art cards are beginning to arrive at their destinations so I can finally begin posting them. This card is the first art card I've ever done. It's 4"x6", colored pencil and was done from a reference photo I took on a vacation to Ocracoke Island summer before last. On that vacation I kayaked for the first time -- and loved it! What a great feeling of freedom to paddle out over the lapping waves while the gulls circled overhead in the warm spring sunshine. We paddled out of Silver Lake just around the corner to Springer's Point - a secluded little point with a maritime forest. The beach, like Ocracoke's other beaches, is part of the National Seashore and is completely unspoilt - and quietly beautiful.
This card was sent to a gentleman named Joe who lives in Florida. There are 25 people taking part in this art exchange and they live in various states in the US and several different countries: Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, India, Thailand and France.
This is the first posting..... more to come!
P.S. The photo you see of me on the blog (in the red kayak) was taken on this trip.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A caboose from Jeanne!

I'm back! Actually, I haven't been anywhere. Been busy creating art ... all of which was for the Vacation Dreams project, so after the cards arrive at their new home I can then post them here on my blog and you can see what I've been up to. I mailed off 6 cards to recipients as far away as Canada and the Netherlands, plus various states here in the US. This is such a fun project! I've loved the small size (4" x 6") that enables you to complete them fairly quickly which means you can try out all different kinds of subjects and techniques. I'll be working on another card today - a street scene - which is something different for me. This card is being done in watercolor.

I'm also posting here the latest card I've received from the project sponsor herself, Jeanne Grant. Jeanne found out I love cabooses and this week I was thrilled to get a beautiful card from her of an old fashioned red caboose! Thanks, Jeanne... it's one of my favorites!

The hubby's band is playing this weekend, so it will be busy for us. Hope your weekend is relaxing and fun!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Oh the value of those little 4" x 6" inch cards.....

We're talking about the WetCanvas Vacation Dreams project (see post dated July 25 for details). This is my first project of this type and so far it's been a ton of fun... but, happily, it's also been a wonderful learning experience.... and I have lots more cards yet to make! Besides the obvious benefits of receiving keepsake original art from around the world, there's also the fun of doing lots of little mini paintings. Plus, having a deadline helps keep me motivated and on track.

What have I learned so far that has me raving about this project? Read on....

- Because there's so much latitude in subject choice I'm finding out exactly what subjects hold my interest long enough for me to complete a painting. Some of my choices have surprised me. I'd always envisioned myself painting fresh landscapes with clear colors, lots of blues and greens (a la Maine, England, Ireland, etc). While I still love those subjects, I've also been strongly drawn to portraiture, some architectural themes, desert themes, and "macro" style pictures.

- Doing lots of little paintings gives me a wonderful freedom to fail. This frees my "inner painter" from my "inner critic" and for me, these two often work in opposition to each other. After all, it's only a little piece of paper that measures a mere 4" x 6" ... so what if it comes out horribly? Trash it and start a new one! No problem, no pressure! This freedom has been part of what has helped me to choose subjects I might not have chosen if I were doing a larger painting.

- I've noticed my painting habits changing as I continue making cards. It's a "tight focus" thing versus a "big picture" thing. I used to get so involved in one little area, trying to achieve perfection before I moved on, that I'd frequently get that part too dark, too detailed, too saturated, too whatever, and then have to go back and adjust it to blend in with the rest of the picture. Today, as I was working on one of the cards, I noticed I was steadily moving around the picture. A little here, a little there so that the entire picture was being completed in a much more balanced way. I also noticed that working this way I did very little correcting, erasing or re-coloring.

- I'm learning to walk away from the picture. It's easy for me to get lost in a painting. It's so totally absorbing, so fascinating that I lose track of time... and sometimes lose perspective as well. I've noticed that when I take a break, even if it's only 10 or 15 minutes, when I return I see the picture afresh and spot things that I didn't see when I'd been hovering over it like a protective mother hen for two hours.

- My confidence is picking up with every card I complete. I've tried to keep in mind past mistakes that I don't want to repeat, and successes that I do want to repeat. When I look at a reference photo now I find that, with each new experience under my belt, it's becoming easier to visualize the photo as a painting.... with the color and compositional changes it might need to make it a more interesting picture.

- I'm just flat out enjoying switching between, and sometimes mixing, colored pencil and watercolor. I'm experimenting to my heart's delight.... after all, it's only a 4x6 piece of paper, so what if it comes out horribly................. and well, we've already covered this!

- Last, but not least, I've learned that there are lots of really nice people out there who are willing to share painting tips and encourage each other along the way. A sincere "Thank You" to Jeanne Grant who nudged me into this first WC project and who has inspired me with all of her colorful cards. Thanks, Jeanne, it's been a lot of fun already!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Sewing Box

Well, it's been one of those kind of weeks. Although I don't like to wish my life away, I'm glad the week is over and the weekend is here. Plus, the hubby's band is not playing this weekend so we've got a weekend at home (Woo Hoo!). I did get my column written (I write a monthly column for a little rural newspaper in a neighboring town) and have decided to post it here on the blog. I'm working on a Vacation Dream card tonight and will be mailing some of those out..... probably next week.

So, until we get back to art, we're writing. Here's my latest column:

The Sewing Box

At our house sewing repairs crop up regularly. The hubby is forever tearing holes in his pants pockets or has a shirt that needs a button sewing on. Such tasks bring my old sewing box off the shelf and into service.

When you’ve owned and used an item for almost forty years you’ve seen it so many times that you really don’t see it anymore. Last week, I settled down at the kitchen table with my sewing box to repair a pair of work pants. Bright sunlight streaming in through double windows make the kitchen a favorite spot for hand sewing. Needle threaded, I started the repair. As I stitched in and out, working in a smooth rhythm, I could feel myself relaxing. I glanced over at my sewing box. The light made the faded colors seem a little livelier. Around the edges of the box the fabric folded over from the outside to the inside and here the original colors could still be seen. My Mom bought the sewing box for me from Jessop’s, a fine department store in Notttingham, England, before we moved to the U.S. Oval shaped and covered with a yellow/mustard fabric in a stylized floral pattern, it plainly stated "early 1970’s". I remember the thrill of becoming the owning of a "proper" sewing box. It had a lift out top tray with divided sections for the various sewing notions and a roomy bottom layer large enough to store scissors and a quite a few spools of thread. I was a bit ambivalent about the fabric color and bold pattern, but, nevertheless it was mine to use and cherish and I did.

As I continued making stitches, my attention kept returning to the sewing box. I thought of its contents: assorted colors of thread, beeswax to help the thread sew smoothly, a seam ripper, buttons, pins, tailor’s chalk, other odds and ends - and needles. Lots of needles. Fine needles for delicate sewing and sturdy short needles for quilting. Large needles for repairs on tough fabrics. Curved needles for crafts and huge needles with tips smoothly rounded for sewing together the individually knitted pieces of a sweater. And embroidery needles. Who in the world uses embroidery needles these days I wondered? I realized with a start that my sewing box said as much about me as it did about the era in which it was purchased. Mind drifting, I was once again sitting in sewing class. High school. England. In that time, all girls learned to sew. A young lady was not considered to have a well-rounded education without a working knowledge of basic and decorative sewing skills. Of course, girls also took the usual academic subjects, but the "domestic arts" classes of cookery and sewing were a treat. I loved the feel of the fine new fabric under my fingers and the satisfaction of a job well done when a garment turned out nicely. I thought about the variety of stitches we learned: blanket stitch to finish raw edges, hidden French seams for garment strength and neatness, smocking for charming children’s dresses or sundresses, backstitching for strong repairs (what I was doing at that very moment) and embroidery stitches with enticing names like satin stitch, French knot, stem stitch, and chain stitch. In addition to sewing at school, my Mom is, and has been for years, a skilled seamstress. As a youngster it was fun to use scraps from her latest project to make clothes and adornments for my doll. Besides keeping my sewing box all these years, I also kept my doll. "Jane" is now 46 years old, although unlike me, she hasn’t aged a day and looks almost as fresh and pretty as the Christmas morning Santa left her for me. She sits on top of the filing cabinet in my office/studio, wearing a faded dress. Around the hem of the dress is a narrow ribbon trim held there by the clumsy, loving stitches of a young girl learning to sew.

As I sat stitching and reminiscing, I wondered how many of today’s young girls acquired the home skills that my generation did. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a lot. And I guess these days there’s not much incentive to learn to sew.... it’s just easier to discard a garment in need of repair. Do young girls today even own a sewing box?

In some ways I envy today’s generation; especially the ease with which they handle technology. Yet, while I envy them on one hand, I feel sorry for them on the other hand. Kids grow up entirely too fast these days. Slow growth is better. Something is missing. I can’t imagine many of today’s kids playing a game of marbles, enthusiastically constructing their own makeshift club hideaway or knitting a scarf. Things we did as kids. But those kinds of activities bring wonderful benefits. Like time to think. Time to be creative. Time to dream. Time. The quiet, slower activities of my generation and generations past gave the gift of time.

I finished the repair and folded the pants. Once again, they were ready to wear. I saved a few dollars by repairing instead of replacing and felt refreshed by the lull in my day. While my fingers were busy, my mind was relaxed. A most content state. A few minutes with the sewing box had not only restored the pants - it had restored me.

Copyright 2008 by Teresa Houston. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without written consent of the author.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Latest CP work...

Top: Reference image

Bottom: Watercolor and Colored Pencil Portrait

Okay... something I've worked on that I can post!

As you know, I've been working on cards for the WC Vacation Dreams project and those works don't get posted until they reach the recipient. Since I've haven't mailed any yet, none of them have reached their destination (imagine that!) I plan to batch mail when I get a bunch completed.

The work I'm posting today started out as one of those cards, since it's a portrait of a little boy in Basque, Spain (image from the Reference Image Library at WC.... thank you Minoux!) who appears to be dressed in costume. Perhaps he's part of a festival?

When I saw the photo I thought he was just adorable and had to draw him. What started as a Vacation Card turned into a mini course in CP portraiture. I thoroughly enjoyed painting this portrait and feel like I learned a lot. I underpainted the boy's scarf, hat and shirt and the tree and greenery in watercolor as an experiment to see if laying down an application of color in non-critical areas would make the CP process a little faster. I'm happy to report that it did. His face was worked entirely in colored pencil. I left the background/greenery loose because I wanted to focus attention on the boy.

I had some problems with this portrait. A couple of areas I worked, reworked, then reworked some more. I'm surprised I didn't make a hole all the way through the paper (used Stonehenge, BTW... some tough paper, that). I'm really trying to get out of this reworking thing that I do but at least I am beginning to understand my own creative process. I've learned that I need to visualize how I want it to look before even pick up a colored pencil. For me, trying to paint without knowing what I want to achieve is like trying to get somewhere I've never been without a map. Yep, a lot of wrong turns and missed turns (i.e. work and rework). I've also learned that when I'm painting I need to "be there now". Painting takes intense focus- the minute my mind starts straying while I'm painting you can pretty well bet it's going to be an area that will have to be reworked.

Overall, I was fairly pleased with this portrait, although after I scanned it I saw a couple of areas I'd like to touch up (read "rework"!) and areas where I strayed from the reference. It's amazing how scanning the work and placing it alongside the original image on your computer screen seems to highlight the problem areas that were previously hard to spot.

I think for the next few paint sessions I'll be in watercolor and completing more Vacation Cards. Although I do sort of have my next portrait in mind!

As an aside, yesterday I froze 22 quarts of tomato gravy (uncooked that would equal about 30-35 quarts of tomatoes that were prepared). Right now I don't even want to look at a tomato. My hubby calculated that we could have tomato gravy with breakfast almost every other week for the next year! He then proposed that we have another "day in tomatoes" so we could have tomato gravy every week. After a less-than-enthusiastic look from me the idea was abandoned. For those of you who are wondering what the heck tomato gravy is... well, it's a regional Southern specialty. Basically, it's a seasoned tomato sauce that a lot of folks like to spoon over rice, scrambled eggs... whatever. I'm not a fan of tomato gravy.... I'm just the person who makes it and serves it!

More Goodies From the Mailbox!

What fun! More WC Vacation Cards have arrived!
At top: "Floating Down the Bella Coola 1" from Joe in Florida
Center: Snorkeling in Cabo San Lucas from Joan in New York
Bottom: "Soupfish" from Bonnie in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Thanks to all of you... they're beautiful!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Received My First Ever Project Card!

Woo Hoo! Look what came in the mail! I joined a WC project "Vacation Dreams" (see post for July 25) and received my first card. How exciting it was to open the envelope knowing there was a piece of original art from someone in another state! The beautiful watercolor scene is of a natural bridge in Aruba. Thank you, Mary... I love it!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Yep... still here!

(above) Skin Tone Bar, (below) Smooth Bristol swatch
I got an email today from a blog friend who inquired if I was "still there" or had I gotten lost in the berry bushes? Hmmm.... well, since the title of this blog does include blueberries here's the rundown on the berry situation: On Saturday, since the hubby's band was not playing (a "free" Saturday! Woo Hoo!) I got up bright and early, 5:45 am to be precise, and began picking blueberries at 6:30 a.m. Figured I'd beat the heat. I figured wrong. Instead of being finished at around 10:30 as I hoped, I was still picking at close to 1 p.m. And it was miserably hot by then. Long story short- I hope that was the last major pick of the season. As far as I'm concerned the birds, deer and all other hungry critters can HAVE the blueberries!!

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's forget about nearly 100 degree heat, spiders, wasps and scratchy branches to concentrate on art!

Yes, I have been working at my little art table. I've completed two cards for the WC project Vacation Dreams and started on the third. Since the third card will be a mini portrait I studied Ann Kullberg's book "Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step" and, as the book recommended, made a skin tone bar. The idea behind this skin tone bar is that it gives you practically every shade of skin you'll need (or close to it - just modify as needed). I also made a couple of "value viewers" which are just a piece of white cardboard with a hole punched in the middle. You lay one value viewer on the reference photo you're using in the spot where you're deciding what colors to use, and lay the other value viewer on the skin tone bar and then move it around until you get a close match for your reference photo. You then know what colors you need to achieve that particular shade of skin. Now this may sound very quick and simple; it is simple, but it's certainly not quick. There are two layers of base color (first layer is cream, second layer is light peach) that represent the lightest of skin tones. Then all the other colors are added, layer by layer. Well, there are 21 -yes, twenty-one! - additional colors. That means 23 total layers on part of the skin tone bar. Yep, that's what I thought too. But I persevered, sitting at my art table dutifully making light vertical strokes while talking on the phone, watching the birds, eating a banana, getting a year older. Well, perhaps the last one is a slight exaggeration.

It was definitely slow going, but I did learn a lot. I learned:
  • Ann Kullberg has the patience of Job

  • I will most likely have a crippling case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in my right wrist if I do many portraits with a lot of skin that is in the shade (i.e. requiring most of those 23 layers). Consequently, all of my portraits will be of people in bright sunshine only. Just kidding.

  • I love my electric pencil sharpener. Yes I do. Save that wrist for the layers.

  • Though initially skeptical, I found out you really can put 23 layers of colored pencil (using light to medium pressure) on Stonehenge paper. Impressive paper.

  • Though even more skeptical, I found out that if you use VERY light pressure, you can also put 23 layers on Smooth Bristol. Honestly. See swatch above.

  • I love the even smoothness of CP on Smooth Bristol.

  • I now understand why Ann Kullberg recommends using a scumbling/"brillo pad" technique (light, smooth overlapping circular strokes) to get a nice even finish for skin. Even though I was careful to be as consistent as possible with my vertical strokes they were still visible in the skin tone bar. This may not necessarily be a bad thing (I think the consistency is more important than the stroke style) but for the times when do you want a super smooth look the scumbling works better than the vertical strokes.

  • Despite the s-l-o-w, S--L--O--W rate of application and the many layers it can require, I love colored pencil. I love its immediacy.... no mixing, no wetting, no washing brushes.... just pick up and "paint". Brilliantly simple!

  • Since I also still love watercolor I'd like to try combining the two and see how that works. Seems like an underpainting of watercolor would definitely speed things along. Then use colored pencil for all of the details that I dearly love.

Last, but not least..... if you've sent an email to me via my gmail address (on the blog) and have not received a reply - I just found out today that the replies I've sent out the last week or so did not go through. I'm not sure what the problem is, nor how to fix it, but I'll be trying to get it worked out. I have replied to all incoming emails so if you did not receive a reply please email me again and let me know - I'll send you a reply using an alternate email address. Thanks!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fruits of our labors.... literally!

Been another busy week. July is the busiest month in summer for us.... that's when the blueberries are ripening as fast as we can pick them. Yesterday we (me and the hubby) picked berries for over three hours, then I spent another hour and a half sorting and freezing the berries. Pictured above: the yield from yesterday's pick which ended up being 13 very full quarts in the freezer. A good afternoon's work. The hubby was busy calculating how many pies you can make with that amount of blueberries... a lot!

On the art front - yes, I have been productive this week - but can't post anything! I'm doing ATC's (Artist Trading Cards or Art Trade Cards?) for a WetCanvas project but can't post them online until they've been mailed and received by the recipient. The project is called Vacation Dreams and you do cards (I'm doing 4"x6") with a theme of places you've visited or would like to visit. So far I've done Ocracoke Island (been there several times... absolutely love it) and France (on my "would love to see one day" list). It's a lot of fun and is a great opportunity to try out new techniques. I used a layering technique on the first card, and I'm using solvents for a more painterly look on the second card. Since I'm using a new medium (colored pencil) the practice is also much needed and very welcome. Will post the cards when they've arrived at their new homes.
Have a good weekend!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Swatches 2

Another little CP experiment...

I want to know what colored pencils are capable of. I also want to know, before I start on a project, how to achieve a particular effect. Hence the experiments. Yes I do plan, at some point, to produce something besides these slightly-off kilter little swatches! But when I'm working on a new piece and mentally juggling things like composition, values, color choices, etc., I don't want to have to stop and do a trial and error thing to get the look I want. So I figure the more I play with colored pencil the easier it will be when I actually begin a new piece. At least I'm hoping it will work that way. For the beginner (me!) these two swatches provide mini lessons in underpainting, burnishing with color, and using solvents.

In the dark/red square on the left I started out with a layer of Indigo Blue that faded to nothing on the right side. Then did an all over layer of Tuscan Red, followed by an all over layer of Crimson Red. Finally I burnished the whole square with Scarlet Lake. I liked the richness of the dark... and learned that in order to get really smooth color I have to have a sharp pencil that can get into the recesses of the paper (BTW - using Stonehenge).

The second square is about getting even coverage by using a solvent. Parts of the square were colored with Indigo Blue and Grass Green and spot colored with Violet. I then used a small paint brush to apply a tiny amount of Turpenoid Natural. Then another quick layer of Indigo Blue and Chartreuse here and there. I was pleased with the smooth coverage. No paper left showing through. The scan has made it look uniformly dark, but on the actual swatch there are subtle color variations. I wonder if light colors were used if you could almost get a watercolor effect? I'm not sure the Turpenoid Natural is what I need to be using. I noticed that it left a slight oily film (maybe it needs longer to dry?) that smudged if you rubbed your finger across it. But that's what's nice about doing these little experiments... the object is to learn, not to produce a beautiful work - so if it smudges it's no big deal. But it would be a big deal if I'd spent hours on a piece and then ruined it by accidental smudging. Think I'll try some other form of solvent and see if I still get a residue.

Oh, and one more thing: I read somewhere that if you want a really smooth line you can dip your pencil tip into solvent (just a slight amount) and then draw your line. It really works! Made a very smooth, even line with consistent color.

*Swatch experiments in this post, and previous post, from the very informative book, "Painting Light in Colored Pencil" by Cecile Baird.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Left swatch is on watercolor paper. Right swatch is on Stonehenge.

Continuing with colored pencil:

I did "Watering the Flowers" on watercolor paper - mostly because I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out and I was saving my Stonehenge paper for "when I'm good" with CPs. From what I've read, CP artists use a large variety of papers and other surfaces for their art, watercolor paper included. However, a comment by a WetCanvas member encouraging me to use Stongehenge now - while I'm learning - made me curious about how much the paper affects the outcome. So I did a quick little experiment. In the two swatches above I used the same two colors with about the same pressure. Both were burnished with a colorless blender pencil. I was surprised at how much richer and smoother the coverage was on the Stonehenge compared to the watercolor - and how much easier it was to apply. Even though Stonehenge does have a little texture, it doesn't have the tiny "hills and valleys" of the watercolor (cold press). On Stonehenge the pencil glided smoothly over the surface, whereas with the watercolor paper it tended to skip over the valleys leaving tiny specks of paper showing through and making it difficult to achieve smooth even coverage. Good stuff to know- the watercolor paper might still be a good CP choice when you want an uneven texture, but for a smooth finish it's Stonehenge.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Close-to-Final Version of "Watering the Flowers"

After another busy weekend (hubby's band played so Saturday was a LATE night - then we picked and froze 15 quarts of blueberries on Sunday evening - by the time the blueberries were finished I was finished too) I managed to find a few minutes last night to do some fine tuning to "Watering the Flowers". I bought a little battery operated eraser while on a jaunt to an art store this past Friday and what a nifty little gadget this is! Does a wonderful job of removing color without damaging the paper. And, surprisingly, it only cost $6.95.... Woo Hoo!... I love a bargain!

So the eraser was put to work. I was not happy with the little guy's nose or his left facial profile. So I erased the profile line, all of the nose, part of the mouth and some shading here and there that didn't pass muster. Then I carefully redid those parts, taking extra care to note the precise angle and length of line and such things. I'm learning that for me it takes close observation then thoughtful calculation on how to achieve the look I'm after. Even then it doesn't always end up like I envision it. Guess that's one reason art is so endlessly fascinating... the challenge of getting the vision onto the paper. Anyway, I'm posting what I hope is either the final version of this piece or close to it. I'm going to let it sit for a couple of days and see if anything jumps out that needs changing. If not it will soon be on its way to its owner... who doesn't know it's coming.... it's a surprise!

While at the bookstore I also bought a new CP book and I LOVE IT! I had a coupon for 30% off so I used it on this book "Painting Light with Colored Pencil" by Cecile Baird. I had the book on my Amazon Wish List but had never looked through it so I wasn't sure how good it was (I don't think the cover painting does the book justice). Let me tell you.... it's GOOD! Her colored pencil paintings are simply awesome. Beautiful. Wow. What else can I say? And even better, her demos are to the point and very detailed. I plan to do some exercises from the book this week (and the hubby hopes that I'll find time somewhere to bake either a blueberry pie or a blueberry crisp... a reward for the hot, hard work of picking and freezing blueberries!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Update on "Watering the Flowers"

Finally! The child has a mouth! This has certainly been a learning process for me. I learned (after the fact) that this pose - called a 3/4 pose - is considered a difficult one. Ha! Wish I had found out earlier! But I'm still glad I attempted it. I've learned more about the level of my drawing ability (and where it needs improvement) and have thoroughly enjoyed getting better acquainted with colored pencils. To be honest, I never expected to like this medium. I had read that it was a very slow medium and thought that I would lose patience with it. It is a slow medium; but instead of losing patience I found the slower process more relaxing and almost meditative. When I'm working with paint I guess I feel more time pressure because, depending on what effect you're after, you have to keep paint drying times in mind. That doesn't mean I've abandoned watercolor - I still love it - but I think it will be nice to be able to switch between the two mediums and at some point I'll probably combine them.

I'm not sure if I'm going to put in a background or not. I'm debating. Think I'll let it sit awhile and then see how I feel about it. I do want to add some water droplets coming out of the garden hose and I've still got work to do on the flowers and greenery.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Watering the Flowers

Anyone else on a merry-go-round besides me? Phew. What a week! Besides an influx of unexpected company, the blueberries are beckoning. So far I've frozen about 15 quarts - in the next two or three weeks there will be many more quarts put into the freezer. When picking I try to think of luscious blueberry pies and sweet crunchy blueberry crisps... this keeps me going while I'm swatting insects, getting scratched by woody branches and trying to keep cool in July's steamy temps!

On the art front, I purchased a few more colored pencils and have been experimenting with them. I started a portrait (Watering the Flowers) and... it's been interesting. I'm not sure exactly what type of "look" I'm after, so I'm trying to stay open minded and just see how things turn out. I'm working on watercolor paper and don't think I like it for CPs. I'd like to try a smooth Bristol and see what kind of effects I can get with CP.

This is a WIP (Work in Progress) so it's by no means a finished product.

Monday, June 30, 2008

New Book and Cat Eyes in CP

Add "easy portability" to the growing list of things that I like about colored pencils.

My hubby plays in a band most weekends, so this weekend I took along my CPs and paper. While the guys set up the equipment and ran sound checks I was happily coloring away! I recently purchased a new CP book (Realistic Pet Portraits in Colored Pencils by Anne deMille Flood) and am really impressed with it. Aside from the wonderful art work that you expect to see in such a book (some of her pieces are almost photographic!) her instructions are blessedly clear and logical. What a relief! No guessing as to how this or that technique was accomplished, or how she got from one stage to another. As an added bonus - especially for someone new to CPs - she gives a lot of "recipes" for achieving rich colors using several different layers of color. She even advises you on how sharp the pencil point should be, the type of stroke, and how much pressure to use. This book is like a light bulb for someone stumbling around in the dark!

Anyway, I decided in the limited time I had to do a study on cat eyes. In this study I layered CPs for the first time, and though "my eyes" didn't look exactly like the book I thought they were alright for a beginner. I learned a lot just doing this little study.
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