Friday, May 30, 2014

13 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Art Journaling

They say experience is the best teacher, but I think mistakes are a top contender for the best teacher spot, and maybe, when you get down to it, they're the same thing.

Still, it can help to know, to be warned, ahead of time about some of the things you're going to come up against when you start on this artistic journey known as Art Journaling.

The following items are the things that immediately bubbled up when I started thinking about what I've learned on my journey.

13 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Art Journaling

1. Begin. Today. Now.
All you really need to begin is a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. An open mind is very helpful as well as an eagerness to learn. Do not over think. Do not make this complicated. It's not.

What are you waiting for? Go! Get busy!

2. The more you sketch the more you'll learn, the faster you'll sketch, the less fearful you'll become and the result of this continued practice will be a much more enjoyable experience.
Bottom line—you have to learn the skills first and the only way to do that is to begin and to keep pushing through every so-called failure. Perhaps you're the rare individual who enjoys the learning process. Most of us don't. We want to be an expert the first time we make a mark on the page.

3. A blank page isn't something to fear.
Chances are good you have at least 25 more chances. These chances are known as pages. If you don't get it right on the first one, you still have 24 more chances.

Bengal tiger on the loose, a rabid raccoon, now those are something to fear!

4. Accept that you will make mistakes.
It's how we learn and usually, it's the lessons we make from mistakes that stick with us far longer than the lessons we learn from succeeding.

And the good news? Journaling mistakes are seldom fatal!

5. Don't let the fear of making mistakes paralyze you.
Everybody makes mistakes, even so called experts or pros. No matter how long you sketch, no matter how many journals you fill, no matter how good you get, there will be mistakes. Rather than fear them, embrace mistakes for the learning opportunities they are.

Don't sulk about making them either. It's not pretty.

6. It's okay to turn the page and holler out, "Next!" when the page has gone south.
It happens to all of us. There are gonna be days when every line goes wonky, every pigment turns to mud, perspective leaves the building and proportions just don't work. Finish the page anyway (you might just surprise yourself!) and then begin again. See number 4.

7. Make art journaling fun. 
If it's not fun, why would we continue doing it? Art journaling is suppose to be fun and if it's not, evaluate why it's not. Chances are good it will have something to do with unrealistic expectations. Hmmm, what could those be? See Number 11. Remember, we learn quicker when it's fun.

As my brother says, "If it ain't fun, we ain't doing it!"

8. Never, ever, Ever, EVER, NEVER compare your work to someone else's work!
This is a biggie. There are few things more demotivating than comparing your work to someone else's and to think your work coming up lacking. And no matter how long you sketch, if you look around long enough you will always be able to find someone else with work you like better than your own.

9. If you must compare, compare the sketch you created today with the one you did yesterday, last week or last month. 
Use comparison to see how much you've grown, how your skills have strengthened, and what still needs strengthening.

10. Everyone started at the same place—the beginning. 
No one got a free pass from learning the skills and techniques of how to sketch. No one came out of the womb with a pencil in one hand and paper in the other. So every time you're tempted to use the excuse, "I'll never be as good as so-and-so," sit yourself back down and start sketching again.

11. Sketching is an evolution of skills but seldom a revolution.
Yes, I know, you want to know how to do it TODAY and you want to do it PERFECTLY. Ain't gonna happen. This is another biggie—give yourself permission to make mistakes, learn, fail, and to not like every page. We create so-so sketches. Sometimes, they're down right awful (to us). It's okay, that's what the next page is for. And the one after that.

12. Not every page is gonna be "all that." They can't all be masterpieces.
Is every endeavor you undertake marvelously, brilliantly done? No? Mine either. Don't put this kind of pressure on yourself, it will kill the fun. See number 7. And if your inner critic opens his or her mouth, kindly tell them it's not their day to complain and next month's not looking good either.

It's okay to have an off day...or month. See number 6 and 11.

13. Challenge yourself…to sketch something you think is beyond your current skills.
Even if you think you can't, you may just surprise yourself. And it's how we learn, how we get better. And if you fail (gasp!), count it as a success anyway—because you had the courage to try.

This is in no way an exhaustive list so I'd like to know what you would tell yourself if you could travel back in time…please leave your thoughts in the comments and I'll add them to the list!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Keeping A Sketch From Becoming A Painting

Baby Blue Heron
Watercolor and lots and lots of ink
Stillman and Birn Zeta Sketchbook
5.5 x 8.5 inches
My brother went down to the Venice Rookery over the weekend and came home with some fabulous shots. This one of the baby Blue Heron just captured my heart. I decided on the spur of the moment—did you know moment's had spurs?—to create a sketch out of this cute, little bugger.

I had originally planned to sketch the bird much bigger with a lot less nest showing. How I managed to wind up with a small bird and lots of nest showing beats me, but I did it.

Beginning with the bird, I sketch him out in pencil and then added general outlines of the nest without a lot of detail (my first miscalculation). Since the background is all suggested shapes, I didn't draw anything back there.

Next, I painted the bird. Since he was my COI (center of interest), I knew if I messed him up the rest of the sketch wouldn't matter.

With the main sections of the bird painted (details to be added last), I moved on to the background. It was easy to do by just mingling colors.

Then it was time to do the nest.

If I had drawn in even a partial bit of the nest, I think I would have realized the chore I had set for myself. But I didn't.

I was using a waterbrush and those do NOT have a fine tips and so don't do fine details easily. Choosing to save my sanity, I grabbed a traditional brush to tackle those finer details.

In short order, I realized my sanity was still in question because if I continued to sketch the nest with a brush, I would have HOURS invested in this page.

Not ideal and not what I was going for. It's a sketch for goodness sake!

Rather than lavish hours on a sketch, I went to the studio and gathered up markers and pens in colors that would harmonize with the colors in the image. Then I went to work.
Some of the tools I used in the creation of the page
On the right page, you can see a few of the tools I used. Pens, markers, and two brushes.

All told I have about two hours in this and I'm itching to go back in and make a few more "adjustments."

If I had continued to work in just paint, I'm guessing I'd still be working on it and you might have seen it tomorrow.

Editing "Perfect Images"
As you can see, the photo is a pretty darn good one and who am I to fool around with a great image?

The artist with a creative license!

I edited the photo to make a more compact sketch. I moved the baby to the edge of the nest and moved the support underneath him so it didn't look lopsided. I also simplified the nest details greatly and it's still very busy.

When I set out to sketch, I generally have a goal in mind of being quick, of capturing the essence of a place, thing, etc. However, I do occasionally get into something that can't be "created" as quickly as I'd like. At least, not by me.

That's when I change up my method of working. I'm not a big pen and ink artist. I like it, but it's rare for me to work this way.

Realizing I was going to have to make a choice of abandoning my goal of quick or change my method of creating, I opted for the latter.

Is there anything wrong with spending several hours on a sketch/page? No.

Why was it a problem? It's not, but because I wanted this to be a quick sketch and not a painting I had to make a choice.

The longer I work on something, the more detail I tend to put into something and the greater chance I have of overworking the piece and regretting the hours I invested. 

There is a constant decision process going on when we create. The more aware we become of our choices, the more freedom we have when we're in the flow. Realizing we have more than one way to create goes a long way towards helping us to tackle subject matter that we would otherwise avoid.

Do you vary your approach and/or the tools when you're sketching? How so?

Many thanks to my brother, Mark, for access to the great photos!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Do You Suffer From Attention Splatter?!

I do! Big time. You may have also heard it referred to as Shiny New Object Syndrome—you're distracted from whatever you're doing every time something new, shiny, different, fun, challenging, fill in the blank, comes along...and you're gone in pursuit. 

Yeah. That. 

Attention splatter is when your attention is splatter over EVERYTHING in your life with little or no focus on any one area unless it's a crisis. We discussed how to get and keep focus here, here and here on the blog.
Attention Splatter
If you've been reading the blog, you may have some idea that I have a rather large number of irons in the fire at the moment.

You would be correct in that assessment.

Some of those irons include planning an artist's sketching holiday at the beach in 2015, a trip to Acadia National Park this summer, interactive Imaginary Trip classes, overhauling 2 web sites, creating a couple of logos and building Independent Learning classes—just to name the highlights.

That doesn't take in account things like grocery shopping, going to the bank, dry cleaners and hairdressers, eating, cleaning, doing laundry and all those daily maintenance things necessary to keep a life from derailing.

You may think that I have a handle on them as well.

You would be incorrect in that assessment.


Up until lately, I thought attention splatter looked a little like the graphic above. I thought there had to be some semblance of order even if there was chaos.

Umm. Well, no, not really. I've found that the inside of my brain looks a whole like this:
The Way The Inside of My Brain Really Looks
Oddly enough, this isn't so much a complaint as it is a realization that despite my determination to keep on track this year with my attention to my projects and goals, life has thrown several challenges and opportunities my way that have made focus a challenge.

You may relate.

Last Monday, when I found myself with a couple of "free" hours that were not already slated to be used on a specific project, I found myself with absolutely no idea what to do first, where to start!

Panic started to build!

I wasted a good half hour before I threw my hands up in disgust and jumped into the first project I laid hands on…and gosh, what do you know, things turned out just fine.

But that's not how I want to "run" my life. Or my mind. It gets old after a while. And what I've found is that has been working best for me is to simply stop, take a deep breath and to start writing.

Write it ALL down. And I do mean everything. Every blessed and not-so-blessed thing.

All the stuff I want to do, have to do, think I want to do, should do, would do if I could and so on until I get it down on the page and out of my head.

It makes space. It calms the "noise" of all those thoughts competing for attention, clamoring to be the loudest, crashing into each other and causing a mind-numbing roar.

Whether I write it down by hand or type it out on the computer, it seems to have the same effect, but I do find handwriting to have a more last impact. Probably because it takes longer. If I use my computer, I still print it out so that I can see "the big picture" of ALL of my brain clutter.

Once I have it listed out, I can often cross things off the list because they're past their freshness date. Some are no longer relevant and some are things that seemed like a good idea in the moment, but once I hold them up in the light of day, I realize they're not so hot.

I can usually see "themes" in the items left. Some are urgent and get highlighted with a pretty-colored highlighter. Some things can be relegated to the "Someday" file. Others are just the many steps to all the projects I have going on and need to be put in order with any necessary dates applied.

Once I have some sort of a plan, a way to approach the piles, I generally feel calmer. And that's a good thing because I don't like waking up at 4:37 AM wondering if I forgot to do some major task. It irks me because it doesn't have to be that way. Keeping focus is a lot like losing or maintaining weight—we all know what to do. It just comes down to whether we're doing it or not.

If planting myself in a chair to write down the noise will stop the panic, then yeah, that's what I'm gonna do.

When I compare my recent lists to those I created at the beginning of the year, I see I've made progress even though it doesn't feel like it. I've marked a considerable number of things off my list. I've also added a bunch more because I chose to take advantage of opportunities that showed up with expiration dates.

But probably the biggest thing I realized when I saw that attention splatter is not pretty or neat is that I've realized I'm normal. Everyone I know has a similar splatter in their lives.

It's okay to have all of this going on. In fact, I figure I'm lucky to have so much going on!

We demonize our lives and ourselves because they don't look like something out of a life-managment textbook.

Do you know anyone who has that kind of life?

No? Me either. And really, as busy, chaotic, crazy, messy and overwhelming as my life can get, I'm really not sure that I'd change a thing even if I could.


I'd take the calories out of chocolate. ; •)~

How are you doing with your attention and focus to your life this year?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Puffin Practice

Nearly Live Practice
of Sketching Puffins
Watercolor and Ink
Stillman and Birn Zeta Bound Sketchbook
5.5 x 8.5 inches
I am planning a trip to Acadia National Park towards the end of this summer and I have always, always, Always, ALWAYS wanted to see puffins in the wild.

When I stumbled across a couple of puffin cams here and here, it seemed like a good idea to get in some practice. The cams are not live yet, but they have several videos of the highlights and it's just like sketching from real life.

Just as I started to get a pose down, the bird would move or fly away. Sometimes, the video would change to a completely different location.


There is no "one" bird on the page. Instead, I used an eye from one bird, a beak or wing from another until I had "most" of the creature showing on the page. I even tried sketching from memory with limited success.

When I couldn't finish a pose, I'd start on some of the different body parts and that's how I managed to come up with a puffin body that's less than an inch and peg-legged—the creature moved before I could even get his feet sketched!

The nerve of some birds. ; •)

When doing this type of sketching I always (attempt to) approach the page with the thought that it will be an adventure and I may or may not have a finished page that I like, let alone love. And that's okay because it's more about what I can learn about my subject matter, strengthening my observation skill as well as my hand and eye coordination.

I gotta tell you, it was amazing fun! And time FLEW by! It was like being there and with the help of technology, I was! Just amazing. Without disturbing or threatening the habitat of these wonderful "little friars," I was able to enjoy sketching them.

There are a number of different cams that spotlight the lives of ospreys, eagles and other birds as well as bears, dogs and all manner of beasties that I intend to take advantage of when I'm wondering what I'm going to sketch or when I don't feel like braving Florida's high humidity and temperatures in the middle of summer.

Getting back to the puffins…they live in the park in the summer months and their summer runs from April to August. They'll have "puffed" before I get there.


I missed them in Alaska too. Apparently, I'm going to have to plan a Puffin Tour at some point if I'm ever going to see the cute little rascals for myself. They live most of their lives on the open sea only coming back to land to breed.

Did you know puffin swim using their wings to propel them through the water much as they do when they fly? Their feet as used as rudders. How cool is that?!

Did I mention that I really want to see puffins in the wild?

What bird or animal do you want to see in the wild with your eyes?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Killing Time Before The Show

Jacaranda Tree across the Hillsborough River
Straz Performing Arts Center
Watercolor and Ink
Stillman & Birn Zeta Bound Sketchbook
I have the opportunity to go and see We Will Rock You, a musical featuring Queen's music. Somehow, we managed to arrive too early, so will my friend Celeste took a call I decided to pull out my sketchbook. 

I wasn't sure how long I'd have to try and capture the gorgeous Jacaranda tree in bloom across the river, but since I had my iPhone with me, I knew I could always take a photo if it became necessary. 

Once I had the bare bones down, I checked on Celeste to see if she was still on the phone. When I realized it was going to be a lengthy call, I pulled out my palette and started slinging (literally) paint—there's a big black smudge under the ticket on the right page!

Close up of page
Despite being a tad messy, it was fun and will always be remembered as the beginning of a super, fun night. The show was a blast. We clapped, sang along and would have danced if there had been room. 

One of the things I often tell folks in the Imaginary Trip classes is that as artists we have to look for and seize those little pockets of time that are unexpected gifts. Seize the moment!

To take advantage of those golden moments, it is necessary to turn loose of perfection and expectations because you never know just how long you're going to have or how things are going to turn out. 

For those few minutes when you're racing the clock and you're watching the image emerge on the page is pure gold and the image is just a bonus. It becomes part of a bigger experience. One that was made richer because of the sketching assuming you don't get caught up in the "is it good enough" mindset. 

The first challenge comes in recognizing those pockets of time. The second challenge is scraping up the courage to sketch in front of people. I had several couples mosey by me while peeking at the page. 

Because I knew my time was severely limited, I hung out a mental "Do Not Disturb" shingle and no one attempted to engage me in conversation. I didn't meet anyone's eyes, I didn't smile at anyone and as such, I was able to focus on the scene. 

The third challenge is knowing your current skill level and how fast you can sketch. If the whole scene is too much to attempt, focus on a less ambitious sketch. There were fountains, row boats, ducks and gorgeous (non-moving) plants in bloom that could easily have been added to the page.

Even if you don't come away with a stellar sketch, give yourself kudos for making the attempt!

Have you sketched on location lately? What was your biggest challenge? And if you haven't, what's holding you back?

Many thanks to Celeste for the invitation and ticket to the show and best of luck to you in DC!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Revisiting A Past Subject With A New Perspective

Farm-Fresh Onion
Watercolor and Gouache
11 x 8.5 inches
Stillman & Birn Zeta Bound Journal
Every once in a great while, I'll revisit a subject I've already painted if I can find a new "take." While I may work in a series upon occasion, it usually is more of a theme-driven series rather than the same exact material over and over.

Here in Florida we get to enjoy farm-fresh produce all year long. There are fruit and vegetable stands set up as permanent businesses and you can just about get your favorite fruit or veggie any time.
Farm-Fresh Onion
Watercolor and Gouache
11 x 8.5 inches
Stillman & Birn Zeta Bound Journal
When I brought this onion into the house the other day, I set it up on top of the dryer in the laundry room because I knew those long, crinkly stems would be irresistible to certain 4-footed members of the household.

The next day as I was tossing clothes into the dryer, I happened to glance up and see the unique perspective of the bottom part of the onion being cut off…eureka!! A new take on an old subject!

As I'd already sketched onions before, I needed something new to capture my interest and make me want to sketch another one.
Watercolor and Gouache
11 x 8.5 inches
Stillman & Birn Zeta Bound Journal
As "they" say, there's nothing new in the world, nothing that hasn't already been done millions of times before, but I disagree. A new perspective, a new palette of pigments, something even a different day of the week and the results are astoundingly different.

As for the thought that's all been done before…yeah, maybe, but not by me, or you, on this day, in this light, with these pigments, with our given life experiences, skills, and challenges that are in constant flux. 

For me, that's what keeps me coming back to the page, to the brush, to put down marks and to see where it takes me, what it reveals.
That's what keeps it fresh and fun, because after all, if it's not fun, why would we even bother?

Do you work in series? Are they subject matter driven or theme driven? How do you maintain your interest level?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Crabby Friends

Florida Stone Crab Claw
Watercolor and Gouache
3.5 x 2 inches
Chris and I recently went over to a friend's house to pick a roll-top desk she had left for him when she passed away. While we were there, her son asked if we'd be interested in going through her art supplies as she had been a lifelong art teacher. 

We stepped out into her garage where it was hotter than Hades and started to look around. I figured it was going to be a short hunt due to the heat, but it was a bit like a treasure hunt. Even though many of the boxes, crates, bins and bags were labeled, you never knew what you'd find inside. 

Oddly enough, one of the very first bins I opened was filled to the top with seashells, starfish, and pieces of coral. (The label suggested watercolor supplies.) With an upcoming workshop taking place at the beach, I knew immediately that the bin of shells would be going home with me. Replacing the lid, I set the bin aside to keep looking. 

It wasn't until I was home that I started to wonder at the serendipity of discovering a box of seashells—a grand plan by the Universe or just lucky happenstance? Digging around in the treasure trove, I discovered the crab claw you see above. There was also a plastic seahorse(?) as well as shells that had been sliced so that you could see the chambers within. 

Because of the claw's faded colors, I couldn't decide if it had been cooked or was natural, so I started doing research and learned the following:
  • The crab is actually called the Florida Stone Crab. I've never heard them called Florida Stone Crabs before.
  • These crabs can be found as far as Connecticut to Belize in the North Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas. 
  • They live 7 to 9 years.
  • Predators of stone crabs include the horse conch, octopus, grouper, sea turtle, cobia and humans.
  • The crabs will easily give up a claw to escape from a predator as they can re-grow the lost appendage. 
Given the amount of chipping and erosion along the edges of the claw, my guess is that it was found on a beach. Perhaps given to a predator or lost during a molt. 

About The Page
Looking closely at the two images, you can see torn tape around the edges of the sketch and a small peek of the other sketches that will be on the page once I get the page finished. The torn tape you see is an experiment to see if it will create a "torn edge" look to the boxes.

As for the rest of the shells in the bin, I could be busy painting shells until the cows come home in, say, 2051. It would definitely take a while and in an odd way, it kinda felt like a nod from our friend saying, "Yeah, I'm still keeping up with you and what you're doing. Now, get busy!"

Wishful, nostalgic thinking, no doubt, but comforting as well.

Many thanks to Minnette Webster—you may be gone, but you'll live forever in the many hearts you touched. Bon voyage!