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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fun With the Spread



Click on the image to take a closer look.

On the left you see what one of my kids astutely pointed out was a coloring-book page I created for myself. Lots of little Sharpie-drawn designs made vibrant with some of my Pitt brush pens.
On the right is a gouache-and-ink drawing of our new dog, Roscoe, which I made while he was nuzzled near me. He's a love. Cuddling is second only to eating on his list of favorite things.

I regret that this image of Roscoe doesn't do justice to his commanding cuteness, but I do not regret painting it. There will be many more Roscoe portraits to come, I'm sure. He's a funny little subject, because he can look like a bat (lying upside down, his ears go all pointy); and he can get a kind of mean, junkyard dog aspect to his face. And then he can look like the sweetest, most earnest creature you've ever met. Especially if he's begging.

If you are a sketchbook sort, I would encourage you to try making a spread like this where the connections between the two sides are not immediately evident. Actually, all I see right now are how these two pages are connected. I see Roscoe's personality in the cheeriness of my surface pattern and colors. And I see the busyness of the surface pattern in the way Roscoe approaches life. When I was finished with the spread, the first thing that occurred to me was, "What if the left page is how Roscoe dreams?" Which is silly, but who knows?

And of course I designed the colors to have a little conversation back and forth.

Incidentally, close observers will notice that the "spread" doesn't really look organically connected here. That's because I had to scan the pages separately to accommodate the size of my book. But I tiled them back together because I wanted you to have the "spread" experience.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Doggie True



As always, click on the picture to enlarge it for a better look.

Over the weekend, I decided to take Pearl to the Paws-for-a-Cause fund-raiser out at the Polo Fields in Hunting Valley. The girl doesn't get many opportunities to commune with her own kind. Then again, with her bearlike stature, she doesn't have many that truly ARE her own kind.

She was all excited at first, pulling on the leash, unable to contain her enthusiasm for DOGS! All those DOGS! The warmth of the sun slowed her a bit, and soon she seemed to realize no one was going to pull the feast out from under her, so she began to relax.

About as soon as we got there, Pearl was greeted by an eager young couple with yearn in their eyes. "Oh, but she's yours, isn't she?" they asked. Throughout the Paws event, dogs who needed new homes announced themselves with yellow scarves. No yellow scarf for Pearlie. The couple has been looking for a Newfoundland to adopt. The breed is hard enough to find even when you want to buy one; finding an adoptable Newfie must be an exercise in frustration.

Over the course of the afternoon, we met a pair of miniature dachshunds (one of whom seemed to have some albinism in his genes); a veritable racing team of sleek, earnest representatives of the local Greyhound Rescue operation; bulldogs of all stripes and spots, including the irresistible Norman, above. We also met Maya, another black Newfoundland, who looked like she could be Pearlie's mom.

By the end of the afternoon, we were happily tired out. I retreated with my human companions and my Doggie True, Pearl, with lots of happy brain chemicals coursing through my veins -- as they always do when I've been in the company of animals.

I did this spread in my summer visual journal, where the larger page size and a spirit of experimentation is giving me lots of opportunities for fun.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Of six-packs and dimples



Drawing and painting are good ways to shake up what you think of as beautiful.
In life drawing, for instance -- otherwise known as "drawing nekkid people" -- you often find that you lose what you used to think of as an aversion to imperfections of the human form. Yes, it's cool to study a perfectly honed body, especially in men, whose musculature, in its fittest form, takes on qualities of architecture. But it is also pleasurable to study the unexpected slopes and bulges of a not-so toned body.

Putting it much more crudely, I like to draw fat people.
A friend wondered whether this was because the more amorphous a body is, the less you have to worry about with accuracy. I see the point, but, no I don't think that's it. For me it just comes down to "more interesting to look at," in the same way the rolling landscapes of mid-Pennsylvania are a visual improvement over western Ohio.

That said, I'd rather try to buy clothes for western Ohio than for middle Pennsylvania. But I digress.

The illustration here is an early version of a yet-to-be-fixed sideshow banner project from school. These banners were hastily painted jobs done in fairly "flat" styles (not a lot of effort toward building the illusion of dimension). Garish colors drew the eyes of midway strollers. You can find actual sideshow banners for sale on the internet, and lots of artists have played with doing modern-day versions. In my project here, I got a little carried away with the idea of "crude" in my hand-lettering. (The real posters tended to have some crude hand-lettering but it was, um, less crude.) And it was pointed out in critique that the chaise looks like it's floating, in part because of the sky-blue color of the background and mostly because I didn't do shadowing or shifting of hue at what would be the floor. I could "fix" that, too, but I actually like it.

Dolly Dimples was a real Coney Island sideshow fat lady back in the day. She was said to have been famous for her beautiful face. I didn't make much of an attempt to capture her likeness. I enjoyed the idea that she might be sexily sprawled out on a chaise, exhibiting her abundance.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Letter to the Bored Kid



Dear Kid -
Are you a boy or a girl? I can't tell from here. I can't see you.
But that's OK. What I know is that summer is coming, and you are a person who gets bored sometimes even when it's not summer. I want to help because I remember being a bored kid, too. Not like my cousin Meghan, who was always active and loved horses and seemed to have a million cool things going on. (That's part of why I liked visiting her in the summer. I was in awe.)

Adults became frustrated when I would complain about being bored. "Go out and play!" my mother would say.

Easy for her. She didn't understand that Lynn was on vacation with her family and we'd already explored the dump across the railroad tracks earlier in the week and I didn't care if ever saw my Hula Hoop again -- that's how much I had practiced. There was nothing to do!

It seems strange to remember that time, when I look back at it, because now I am almost never bored. I say "almost" because I admit that every so often I am trapped in a conversation with someone who isn't all that interesting, and all I wish to do is get away. I used to also be bored at church and in meetings (grownups often go to boring meetings), but now I always have a sketchbook with me, and I'm never bored when I draw, and I would happily draw in church or at a meeting.

I cannot promise you that you will never be bored again, or even that your parents will let you draw in church, if you go to church. But when I look back on the time when boredom seemed to crawl out from under my bed like some oozy, yawning slug, I think of all the things I could've done to make myself unbored. It makes me a little sad now, since these days my biggest problem is finding time to do all the stuff I want to do.

Anyway, YOU have time. You'll have even more of it in a few weeks. So I thought I'd give you some things to think about if you feel bored.

1. Take something you already like to do, and make an EPIC PLAN. If you like to draw (I like to draw, so I tend to use that as an example a lot), decide you are going to make a massive, highly detailed, wonderfully colored drawing that will take weeks to finish. If you like to build things with popsicle sticks or Legos or wood or straws, design something bigger and better than you've ever built. If you take flute lessons, see if you can invent your own tune for the flute. If you play a sport, invent a tournament for you and some friends. You don't even need the standard number of players. Create a trophy or prize for the winner. The point is, make it big.

2. Now, start working on that epic plan immediately. Do not hesitate. Making the plan was itself an anti-boredom device. Seeing the plan grow into something real is another one.

3. Start a notebook and be a reporter. If you are a girl, it's possible that someone has given you a gift of a "diary" or a journal. It is also possible that you don't really know what to write in it, because, after all, you are bored and have a boring life, right? (That's actually not correct, but that's how you feel, and that's what matters at the moment.)

Instead of trying to write just about yourself in your notebook, use it as a tool for learning about things that matter to you. Tell people you're planning a book (maybe you are, maybe you aren't) and you need to interview them. Tell them that it's your "anti-boredom book," and that you want to find out interesting things. Make a list of questions. Maybe you can start out with "What do you do when you're bored?" When you have a list, find your person and start asking. It's OK, because most people like to talk about themselves.

Write down their answers. Then, later, you can write your thoughts about what they said, if you feel like it. Or not. But I guarantee that when you ask people about their lives, you find out all kinds of interesting things. Then maybe write a book, when you get some good material. Or create a fake newspaper. Or, if you hear something astonishing that inspires you -- "Well, I collect butterflies that have blue on them, and give them French names" -- you can put down your notebook and try someone else's idea of a non-boring thing.

The point is to stop thinking the same old boring thoughts ("I'm so bored I'm so bored I'm so bored") and discover the power of asking questions.

**Hint: Start with grownups, because they'll be flattered that you're interested in them, and they will think it's charming that you're asking. You'll get confidence in your interviewing skills, and then you can move on to more difficult subjects -- like other kids. Other kids will think it's cool that you're writing a book. Which you may or may not be doing, but you can decide that later.

3. Move around. People who like sports already know this, but the rest of us have to learn it the hard way. If you keep your body still for too long, it's like opening up a cap on your head and draining out all the energy and interest. You don't have to go outside and run around. You just have to stop being still. You can decide you want to organize your books or art supplies. You can toss toys to your cat. I used to do somersaults up the steps of our house, but because I am now an adult, I cannot recommend that. (But I did it all the time.) The point is, energy makes energy.

4. Be an active fan. This is best done with a friend. Pick one of your favorite TV shows or cartoons or video games, then -- with your friend -- make a list of things you would do if you were running the the show. What would happen to the hero? Where would the characters take a road trip? What new characters would you introduce? How would you pay back the villain for being a bad person?

5. Do something that's "too young" for you. Remember something you enjoyed doing at a younger age. Now pretend it doesn't matter that you've outgrown it. Make mud pies. Make paper clothes for your Barbies. My daughter was bored at a restaurant a few weeks ago so she took one of the coloring books and some crayons set out for little kids, and started coloring Elmo from "Sesame Street." She's 19. She was not bored. Did anyone think it was weird? We don't know. And she didn't care. That's one of the reasons that, even though she is my daughter, she is also one of my heroes.

6. Find a friend and invent a language for the two of you. This is fun, and you can use notebooks to keep track of your invented words. It's also fun to learn an existing language with a friend. In 5th grade, Martha Brown and I taught ourselves the American Sign Language alphabet by watching a show on TV. Now you could do that using the internet. We used to sign to each other in school -- though we were better at signing ourselves than reading each other's signs.

7. When all else fails, do even a boring thing. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Doing something is definitely better than watching TV you don't care about. (Though I think watching TV can be fun, too.) Most importantly, doing SOMETHING can put you out in the world, where you bump into a friend or two. Maybe each of you, by yourself, is bored. So you decide to walk her dog (BOR-RINNGGGG!). But while you are walking her dog, three excellent things happen. First, the dog becomes tail-wagging grateful. Second, your friend's mother is so grateful that she, too, would wag her tail if she had one. Third, while you're walking her dog, the two of you come up with an idea for something interesting to do together. Why? Because you're moving and talking. Energy makes energy.


So that's it for now. I might think of other things to do later. I didn't really tell you to start drawing more, though of course that's my idea of the best thing to do. But if you are a kid and you have good ideas for handling boredom, or even if you are an adult who has thoughts, I would like to read them. And that would be something to do that could make you not-bored, at least for a few minutes.

Best Regards,
Karen at Pen in Hand

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Peek Inside My New Large Visual Journal

A few weeks ago, I was perusing things over at Roz's place, and signed up for a free online workshop she was doing with the Strathmore Artist Studio people. I love Roz's creative approaches to her visual journals, and I knew she'd have some good ideas.

I ordered a couple of the Strathmore journals in different paper types. I played with each when they arrived. Then I took one to the zoo last week -- and promptly mislaid it before I made the first drawing. Alas, the paper in that one was far superior to the other, and I couldn't quickly replace it. But I wanted to get going with some large sketchbook stuff, so I headed over to my local art supplies store and found a reasonable substitute by Canson.

I've also been watching a second visual-journal workshop there by Linda Blinn, and have been enjoying both of them so much that it's almost all I can think about. Anyway, I thought I'd catch you up on what I've done so far, which includes:

1. Using a print-out of an illustrated piece I did for an online magazine to customize my cover. I've been doing this with my smaller books, too, though usually I wait till the journal is done, then pick something inside that book, copy it and adhere it with PVA bookbinding glue. This time I used an older image and created the cover immediately. First, the image is one of my faves, and second, I like to take a book out in the world that looks like it actually belongs to someone.
2. Playing with trimming pages to reveal bits of the next page.
3. Designing spreads, which cross an kind of ugly ring-binding gutter, without getting hung up on the ugly ring-binding gutter. I don't love ring-bound journals and sketchbooks, but I do love how they lay flat, and how they tend to come with lovely paper that's versatile enough for wet and dry media, and even for things like acrylics and heavier collage.

All right. Peruse my pages, if you like, and definitely visit Roz and the Strathmore Artist Studio folks for lots of cool ideas.



The cover of my 9-by-12 Canson all-media sketchbook after customization.


Page One is actually trimmed to about 6 inches wide to let the design from the first full spread show through on the right. I painted the first page with tinted gesso, and I'll be writing on that page later. If I wanted to, I could use the inside of the front cover, too. Maybe a Table of Contents page?


The first spread is a SeussianSandstrom bird. The inspiration came directly from thinking about what I could design that would look cool from Page One before you saw the full spread. She makes me happy. Note: Her foreground foot actually has plenty of space, and then some to spare. This is just an example of bad photography. Unfortunately, these big journal spreads don't fit on my scanner.



And this is the second full spread. You saw half of it in my previous post. The right side depicts an all-in-one tool I found at an antique shop. I used old doilies my mother had bought now many years ago, which I never threw away, to get some paint patterning.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Geauga County



The call of the countryside probably wouldn't strike if I'd grown up in Manhattan or L.A. Geography shapes us. It made me -- alas? -- a suburbanite. But it put me close enough to horse barns and village squares to implant a yearning for them.

Yesterday I headed out in the car, thinking to draw and maybe find myself an old typewriter at an antiques store. I need one for a project. Didn't find it, but I found other things, including two early 20th century photographic portraits. I bought them for a dollar so I could daydream and draw about who these people were.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Come to the zoo with me!



Cleveland Metroparks Zoo does a nice job of making making you feel less queasy about the whole animals-in-captivity thing. Renovations and improvements have been abundant in recent years. And the zoo just opened its African elephant exhibit, bringing a 5-elephant collection to its $25 million habitat.

So of course I had to go on Mother's Day. And of course I had to draw all kinds of animals, including the sweet wallaby mother and her baby.

And I had to turn it into a Sketchbook Cleveland installment for Ohio Authority, the online magazine. You can read more there.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Drawn & Quartered III






At top left: The lovely Cat Lady model, whose real name I confess I do not know, strikes a pose at Wall Eye Gallery. Top right: My portrait of her from the "long pose" event. In the middle: My dear Kate, left, and the organizational guru of D&Q, Deb Steytler, trying to bring festivities under order. Note the cool art by D&Q participants in the background. Also note the name of one of the participating artist groups on the T-shirt of the human back in the foreground. At bottom: Some guy I don't know draws during one of the numerous short-pose events.

When I first heard of Drawn & Quartered, a night of competitive team drawing, I was aghast. This sounded like a horrible intrusion of (eek! gasp!) sports sensibilities into the hitherto sublime world of drawing, which I treasure like religion. Never would I be part of such a thing!

So then the Northern Ohio Illustrators Society was talking about this year's event, and I figured, oh, what the hell, and signed up as part of the NOIS drawing team.

NOIS didn't win, but I sure did have fun. The long pose event, in which I participated, lasted about 90 minutes, with a few 1 0-minute breaks thrown in for good measure. My drawing would seem not to reflect an investment of that amount of time, but I have to say it: I'm slow. There were folks who did pastel paintings, gorgeous water-media portraits of Cat Lady and giant things with Conte crayon or charcoal. Still, I was pleased with the likeness that I achieved while blocking out the truly raucous noise of the environs with head phones and embarrassing music from my iPod.

Also, while the prospect of being publicly judged for one's drawing (through the raising of paddles with numbers on them, a la the Olympics) sounded like one of my most horrifying nightmares come true, I must say the judges were full of of fun and largely kind.

So would I do it again? But of course!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Stoli and Strathmore



There at the Literary Cafe in Tremont on Friday nights, artist Tim Herron organizes a group for drinkin' and drawin'. I'd heard tell of this, but never participated till last night, when my friend Joan agreed to be the model for a three-hour festival of of alcohol and Conte crayons and such.

It might be important to note that Joan was not wearing a Mardi Gras wig. After getting a pleasing likeness of her profile at the Literary, I came home and attacked the piece with color. Sometimes I cannot help myself, and I have a tendency (as you'll see here) of going kinda nuts when I break out the acrylic medium and mix it with watercolor. This technique allows one to lay down transparent layers of color, sealing in each and therefore protecting it during the re-wetting process. My application of it with Joan is certainly ham-handed, and made me glad I held back from such nonsense where her face was concerned.

The point, though, is that it was all so much fun, and I will definitely return to the Friday night festivities, knowing that a little Stoli on the rocks does not harm the sketching process. Nope. Not at all.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011



What if animals are God's way of clearing his throat and saying, "Uh ... HELLO THERE..."?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Self-Critique and Sharing Lessons



Perhaps you have always wanted to create an illustration with polymer clay. Perhaps you have not, but you're such an arts and crafts geek that you'll find this fascinating. In any case, I've always been a fan of artist Paula Pindroh, aka "Polymer Paula," who used to do illustrations for us occasionally when I worked at the Plain Dealer. I started to wonder what my own brains and hands would turn out if I tried my hand at clay illustrations.

What you see above on the right represents my second attempt. My first, being simpler, was also a bit more successful, but I don't have it on hand right now to show you. Still, there are things I like a lot about this process, and even things I like about the lizard. So I thought I'd go through what I learned -- for my own benefit, mostly, but also for yours, if you care to read farther.

I started by getting a lot of lizard references off the Web, and mashing them up with backgrounds in Photoshop. I ended up using the warp tool to distort my lizard after I'd put him in this environment. Then I used my PS mashup for a drawing in my sketchbook, where I tweaked the composition and played with color. The drawing on the left is, obviously, that "study." (It's such a high-falutin' word for such a bit of play, isn't it?)

Now it is true that my experience with Sculpey is almost nil, but I figured I could make a solid plate or square of clay onto which the rest of the illustration would be built. I did that with the terra cotta clay, which you see here. That was nice because the terra cotta Sculpey comes in big packages, so I didn't have to buy a bazillion of those little squares for the background. I used the Sculpey pasta machine to make flats of clay, but I still had to piece them together, which I did on a piece of parchment. Then I took tracing paper onto which I had drawn my square, laid it over the clay, and used an X-acto to cut out the flat of terra cotta clay. I took pains to make this section as even in thickness as possible, and I think this is an important thing. It's probably about an eighth of an inch thick, at most; next time I might make it a little thicker.

OK, as you can see, I changed a bit of the design after doing my sketchbook version. I thought the bright pink sky, though it appeals to my sense of wild color, was way too bright and came forward too much, so I dialed it back in the clay version. I thought it would be cool to try a couple different colors for the sky, but next time, I'll go with flat color on something like this, where I want it to recede. Don't love the way the sky turned out. Also, while I know that showing a sun up in that position is sort of third-grade, I felt that I needed it designwise. The sun position in the sketch is problematic for getting across a lizard in the full heat of day.

Had some real trouble getting nice, neat sides in areas where I was using cut-out piece of clay flattened with the pasta machine. It's worth it to take time and use a tool for rounding out those sides. It also helped when I starting angling the knife inward, almost beveling the clay.

Another major lesson: Constant handwashing will really help the results. There were a number of places here where I ended up transfering stains from one color onto another. Some are covered up, some not. I got a clue about halfway through the project that I couldn't just try to be careful with handling the clay.

If I were doing this again, I'd go for a much cleaner design. For instance, the yellow almost-stripes on the lizard body were created by blending the yellow with the blue body color. When you do that, some interesting things happen. But I think the lizard would look better with more controlled shapes on those stripes. I'd also have recreated the really clean shadow shape you see in the sketch, using a darker version of the terra cotta, rather than that sort of cheesy black line I've got going there now. That needed to happen before I laid down the lizard itself, but I tried to sneak it in afterward.

Next time I'll also rely a lot more on dimensional, hand-formed shapes. I ended up liking what was happening with that rear leg that's in the foreground, for instance -- how it rises up off the surface. That gives the piece more character, and eliminates the problem with the cut edges.

So I'll mention now that the lizard is a gift for someone who has historically been pretty generous about appreciating even my rather failed efforts. I put it in a shadow box frame, and decided to give it -- humble as it is -- because the making of it was a nice experience anyway. And I'm glad to share the success/failure info here, too, both for me, as I said, and for you.

Now go knead something!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Are we many? Or just one?


India ink on Fabriano sketchbook spread pre-stained with Dr. Martin's inks and metallic fabric paint, and pasted with paper bag.

One day he woke up and saw, lying across from him on the patch of morning light, his own twin.

He stared for the longest time, unsure of what he beheld. The double stared back, and after a long moment, opened his mouth as if to speak.

The original, unsure if he was dreaming, waited to see what would happen. Nothing did. As the silence bloomed between them, he began to understand the full strangeness of the matter. He had not suddenly been given a double. No. Somehow, the world had collapsed on itself, bent inward, then extended until the normal rules ceased to apply.

"You are not my twin," he finally said. "You are me."

The double nodded, and then they both stretched out in a luxury of rearrangement. But as the original grew content with his thoughts, and considered returning to his spot behind his own closed eyelids, the double said, "Tomorrow there will be others."