Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Inking Distractions

Holed up with a nasty cold. Mostly over it by now at least. Constantly sneezing and feeling generally miserable has made it hard to concentrate on Work.

So, bit of a self-distraction to play with this sidelong personal project. What these little drawings are for, I'll keep as a surprise for now, since I'm still not certain I'll be able to find a printer suitable to my needs for this one just yet. We'll see. Meanwhile, inking's always good fun for me.

(Skeletal snake and birds in that second one a bit of Socar Myles inspiration.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009


10x15 inches
Prints, details, and original available -click here-

It is said that to be touched by the moon's rays in slumber is to court lunacy. I look up at the moon on a still night, and feel that spiderweb trailing of silver light across my face. No heat like the caress of the sun. No sign of that ghostly trailing of light except what my imagination fills. A peace steals across the room, the stillness of meditation, of delving down within.

Cast off the masks, the faces for the daylight. Second skins. This face is for happiness. This face is for responsibility. This for necessity, for presentation, for expectation.

One by one, set the masks aside, like sentimental necklaces tucked into a jewelry box, each one a present gifted by a time, a person, a place, a need. Remembered and hoarded. Until suddenly the box is overflowing. The garnets glitter seductively, the jade beckons with a mossy caress of comfort.

In the moonlight that pierces through the window, they suddenly look like plastic and glass nestled in the velvet.

Which face was real? A bare face is a forgotten sensation now. Naked and vulnerable.

Turn aside, move to the silvered panes. Tilt the face up to bathe in that primal light of the moon, to let the silver fingers trail across brow and nose and lip. More delicate than a cobweb. More intimate than the touch of the dearest lover. She lays a silver mask with her silver threads. The only mask that matters.

Open the eyes. It's invisible in the night. It melts in the sunlight, and leaves in its wake


* * *
Walk-through for this painting:
Concept (Sketching)
Day 1 of Painting (Background and Setting)
Day 2 of Painting (Main Figure)
Day 3 of Painting (Finishing up the details)

Progression of a Painting: Moonbathing (part 4)

Part 1: Concept
Part 2: Painting the Background and Setting
Part 3: Painting the Main Figure

And here we come now with Part 4: Finishing up the Details!
Final installment, continuing from where yesterday's post left off...

10x15 inches
Strathmore lightweight illustration board
Colors used in part 3:
Winsor & Newton pan watercolors: Burnt Umber, Payne's Gray, Ultramarine Violet, Lemon Yellow, Reddish Brown, Naples Yellow
a few Kremer Pigments: Elderflower Purple, Stinging Nettle Yellow

* * *

Step 13 - Upper Tree Trunk
I finish painting the tree trunk. The upper portions are more exposed to the light source, and so would be more bleached of their "natural daylight" color (i.e. brown). And so basically I'm repeating steps 9-11 in these areas, except limiting my palette to just purple tones, making it more monochromatic with the sky.

* * *

Step 14 - Closer to the moon
For the branches that fade into the ghostly light of the moon, I use Stinging Nettle Yellow to paint those in. I'm careful to maintain those white arcs of "light" I've created while laying in the background even now, by avoiding painting directly on them. Essentially I treat them as a hard edge.

* * *

Step 15 -
Masks & Nails
Starting in on the final details now.

For the nails I use a no 0 round and paint them in with Payne's Grey. I leave the nail heads white, and lift a little around them to just soften the brightness a bit and help them blend in more naturally.

The shadows on the masks are painted in with Ultramarine Violet.

* * *

Step 16 - Finishing off the Masks
I finish off the details in the masks by adding the last touches of shading and highlights to them. I'm using a mixture of pretty much whatever is on my palette at this point -- which is purples, Payne's Grey, Burnt Umber, bits of random yellows, some of what was left over from the previous painting I worked on.... My palette doesn't ever really get cleaned out unless I want a really pure or pale color and I don't want it to be dirty. Then I'll scrub it clean. Otherwise, I like it to be a mess like this for picking out random neutral tones.

The ribbons on the masks are painted in with a mixture of Reddish Brown and Naples Yellow.

* * *

Step 17 -
Okay, back to the hair now which I had postponed earlier. After completing the rest of the piece, I can get a better idea of what overall color schemes are and determine what would work best. In this case, white is actually looking pretty good. So just to finish it off, I go back and add a few more shadows with Elderflower Purple, and define some strands with Stinging Nettle Yellow, and on the tips of those little trailing tendrils, clean them up a bit with a white gel pen.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Progression of a Painting: Moonbathing (part 3)

Part 1: Progression of a Concept
Part 2: Progression of a Painting

Continuing from where yesterday's post left off...

10x15 inches
Strathmore lightweight illustration board
Colors used in Part 3:
Winsor & Newton pan watercolors: Burnt Umber, Payne's Gray, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Violet, Lemon Yellow, Alizarin Crimson
a few Kremer Pigments: Elderflower Purple, Stinging Nettle Yellow

Step 6 - ShadowsI start to fill in the shadows along the tree trunk in the hollow, under the masks, and under her feet with Ultramarine Violet, Payne's Grey, and Burnt Umber mixtures. In the eye holes of the masks, I try to match the color or the sky behind them.

For the shadows on her body and clothing, I use Elderflower Purple. Keeping the shadows mostly to her core so that the edges can be limned by the moonlight and be more dramatic.

* * *

Step 7 - Skintones
I mix Alizarin Crimson and Lemon Yellow for a very diluted wash across her skin I keep this very pale. The colors need to be kept kind of muted to maintain a bleached-by-moonlight appearance. Too much color gives it a natural daylight look and would destroy the effect of the lighting.

I darken the flesh shadows with some more Elderflower Purple.

For her mask, I paint in the details with a size 0 round with Burnt Umber, and Stinging Nettle Yellow.

* * *

Step 8 - More Shadows
The shadows on her body aren't looking quite dark enough, so I revisit that with a swipe of Elderflower Purple down the core of her body, and edge the shadows with some Stinging Nettle Yellow along the left and the to edges of her skirts. Also add some more shadows to her skirts with washes of Burnt Umber, Elderflower Purple, and Stinging Nettle Yellow.

Cleaning up the White Skirts

When painting in the background, it's sometimes hard to keep from getting a little sloppy. But I prefer to fix this by lifting and blending than to preemptively do something about it like applying masking fluid. First of all, using that much masking fluid to cover up all foreground elements all time time would use up a lot of masking fluid. Secondly, masking fluid leaves hard edges that are harder to resolve than stray brush strokes.

When I first started with watercolors, I hadn't figured out yet how to do large swathes of background in even gradients, while maintaining clean foreground areas (see Step 1 of the previous post), and I did in fact use up a lot of masking fluid. But learning to paint around areas in the long run is much more effective.

At any rate, when I DO make "oops"'s and have stray bits of color wander where it's not wanted, it's easy enough to fix. If the forground element consists of a bright color, usually this will cover up the strokes. If the foreground element is a light tone (or white as it is here), I do one of two things:

1) Take a stiff bristled brush and wet it with clean water. Then I gently scrub parallel to the edge. This lifts the paint and softens the edge as well.

2) Pull out the trusty white gel pen (or white gouache works too) and dab in a bit to cover up what's not wanted.

* * *

Step 9 - Tree Trunk base layer
I'm still not quite sure what color to make her hair at this point, so rather than agonize over that, I'm switching to the background for a bit.

I use various mixtures of Burnt Umber, Payne's Gray, and Ultramarine Violet on the tree trunk. I tend to work in small patches at a time, so basically this and the next couple steps is repeated all the way up the tree trunk.

* * *

Step 10 - Bark Details
I mix Burnt Umber and Prussian Blue and with a size 0 round brush paint in a spiderwebwork of bark texture. Shadowy branches on the right were a bit of a mistake at first. I wanted some loose twigs, and tried to blur those with the background for distance effect, but the background colors proved to be too susceptible to lifting. I ended up dotting in more clumpy leaves there to cover up the botched lifting, using as little water as possible to prevent more unwanted lifting. (See? I do make mistakes, but "mistakes" are just complications you have to work with and turn to your advantage when it comes to watercolors.)

* * *

Step 11 - Highlight Textures
Lift highlights out from the bark texture by rubbing with clean water and a size 0 round. Neat thing about the layered colors is that when lifting now I sometimes get a more bluish tone in the highlights which is the Prussian Blue, because Prussian Blue is more resistant to lifting than Burnt Umber is.

* * *

Step 12 - Continuing Up the Trunk
I start moving up the trunk, basically repeating steps 9-11. Lay in a base coat, texture, lift highlights.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Progression of a Painting: Moonbathing (part 2)

(Part 1 with the initial sketches and concepts here.)

* * *
Note: This isn't meant to be a tutorial so much as a walk-through of my process. When writing instructional tutorials I try to be a bit more purposeful and conscious of choices made. Though in truth my process is usually much more chaotic and consists of decisions made on the fly.

Chaos doesn't generally make for very good instruction though, so while I try to define a process in
Dreamscapes that is logical and easy to follow, I think simultaneously that "simplification" raises an illusion about creating art that makes things more daunting in a way.

I wanted to show here that it is not always so thought out. Every choice about color and composition doesn't have to be made before you start (though with watercolors, you do have to have at least a general idea in mind). And that accidents and decisions made on the fly are a part of the whole process. A part of the fun of creating art in fact.

* * *

10x15 inches
Strathmore lightweight illustration board
Winsor & Newton pan watercolors: Burnt Umber, Payne's Gray, Reddish Brown, Lemon Yellow
a few
Kremer Pigments: Elderflower Purple, Stinging Nettle Yellow

Step 1

Laying in the Background

I start off with the lower background, working from the ground up.

Courtesy of my friend Sophie Klesen, I have in my posession some lovely paints from Kremer Pigments Inc. Their colors are historical pigments, and have a fascinating way of separating and creating unexpected variations of tone, especially when some kind of texturing is applied to the wet paint.

At any rate, I've fallen in love with this Elderflower Purple. I've been looking for an excuse to use a lot of it.

I painted the the lower area in with many thin glazes, alternating the purple with some mixes of Burnt Umber and Payne's Grey as well. At one point I realized that the purple lifted exceedingly easy. And I know that Burnt Umber and Payne's Grey are generally more permanent. So as I started on the left lower corner, I painted the lower layers with the greys and browns and reserved the upper layers for the Elderflower Purple, and I found this made creating a smooth background much easier.

Determining the ordering of layering is something that you figure out as you experiment and actually work with colors, as every pigment has its own qualities and lifts easier or harder or behaves differently when splattered with salt or rubbing alcohol.

Step 2

Background Skies

Moving upwards, continuing the slow layered glazes up into the sky. Now though I'm splattering it as I go with rubbing alcohol to create a starry texture.

I'm using a no 10 round brush for most of this, blending out small patches as I go so that it creates a seamless background. You can notice there's color shifts in the upper sky of what seems like blue and purple varations. Here's one of the things I love about these Kremer pigments -- that's all from the one Elderflower Purple color. It just...varies by itself.

And if you look closely at the rubbing alcohol splatters, it looks more like Cerulean Blue in the center, with Magenta outlines. Pretty neat stuff. :) Can't wait for Sophie to send me more colors from Germany at the end of May.

Anyway, lots of splattering and glazing, and a Lemon Yellow nimbus around the moon, and her head, blending into the white surrounds with water and dabbing with paper towels.

Step 3


I keep darkening the background with more glazes. This kinda just keeps going until it feels done. Watercolors dry pretty fast, though not instantly. So sometimes after working in a wash say in the upper corner, I'll want to continue layering there but it's currently wet. So I'll switch to another layer at the lower corners instead and then switch back to the top after it has had a chance to dry. I jump all over a painting like this, working wherever is currently convenient. There's no need to stay locked to one element of the piece at a time.

Now for some more Kremer fun, I pull out the Stinging Nettle yellow, which sometimes surprises me with little bits of crimson in unexpected places. But I use that to fill in the moonbeams, blending it softly into surroundings. Leaving the moon itself with the white of the paper.

Step 4

Need More Moonbeams!

At this point, I sat back and decided that I didn't like the symmetrical moonbeams just on her outstretched hands. The background was looking too BoringBlue. Considered for a while, then decided to add more moonbeams off to the right side. Sketched in very faint guidelines in pencil, then proceeded to paint those in with more Elderflower Purple and Stinging Nettle.

Step 5

Stars and Shadows

Trusty white gel pen, dotted in the stars. I'm not really a stickler for purist watercoloring. If it works, do it.

Also, shadowy tendrils of hair on her with various mixtures of Payne's Grey, Burnt Umber, and Elderflower Purple.

So here's my stopping point for today. Some book layouts are calling to me so for the moment Moonbathing has to be set on the back burner. More will be forthcoming over the next few days!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Progression of a concept: Moonbathing (part 1)

Another chapter of Dreamscapes II completed, so now I'm at the halfway point. Right on schedule for sending in to my editor at the end of this month. Going to let it sit for a while and review one last time before mailing in next week. Meanwhile though that leaves me free for my own devices once again. At least, for one week. Plenty of time for another piece!

Had this idea a month ago. Flash of an image as I was lounging in bed reading Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor (which my flamenco partner claims is her Favorite Book Ever) before turning in for the night. Hopped out of bed over to my desk to snatch up my sketchpad and pencils and jumped back in before the warmth could leave my cozy little spot.

Hurriedly scribbled down a thumbnail to get the essence of the piece. Scrawled notes on the sidelines to remind myself that the tree limbs would fade into the night sky like phantom branches. Little details like that which I would probably otherwise forget come morning with the sunlight to burn off the haze of sleep and Ideas-From-The-Night-Before (which from experience always seem a lot more brilliant at the moment then they do upon more sober and wakeful reflection afterwards).

Next day I tried a few sketches, but wasn't able to get the figure to work for me. It stubbornly refused to synch up with the image that had flashed in my head the night before. Ultimately set it aside for the time being. I've found over time that it's sometimes just better to quit banging my head against a piece that isn't working. Leave the sketches. Work on something else. Then when I'm flipping through my sketchbook for ideas and least expecting it, that sketch will suddenly find its place and work.

Well it almost played out like that this time. I was flipping through my sketchbook silently bemoaning the fact that I was having trouble with motivation these days. An affliction that usually did not plague me. In fact I had a conversation with James Browne earlier in the day about just how fickle the muse was at times. She comes, she goes as she pleases.

I came across the thumbnail and the two initial attempts, and again was intrigued by the prospect, enough to try for a third sketch. And suddenly it was there. Like Athena, she sprang full fledged from my brain, complete with a title. It's funny how inspiration just strikes like that. I can agonize over some sketch and pose for an hour, give up on it and start anew only to have The One within 5 minutes. A fresh viewpoint is sometimes all that's needed to be injected into a piece.

So here she is, ready to be painted.

"Moonbathing" work in progress sketch

A grey-green cup of jade

"Jade Hills"
8x14 inches

And many a night it seems
That all the valley fills
With those fantastic dreams.
They overflow the hills,
So passionate is a shade,
Like wine that fills to the top
A grey-green cup of jade,
Or maybe an agate cup.
-- William Butler Yeats, "The Dreaming of Bones"

Painted as a commissioned piece for someone who was fond of my backgrounds. As I was posting it though, that little bit from Yeats' "The Dreaming of Bones" came to mind that I had read in college. It's written in the fashion of a Japanese Noh play. Very stylized and symbolic. But it's a haunting tale that draws upon the story of Diarmuid and Devorgilla, who for love of one another forsake their country; he brings a foreign army across the sea to fight his own people. And so the two lovers are cursed, as are their ghosts centuries later, doomed as dreaming bones.

But that segment in the opening part of the play/poem always resonated with me. I loved the image of: "A grey-green cup of jade."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

dA prints of ink drawings

"From Sea Foam"
Medium: Ink
Size: 7x11 inches

Since I don't offer my ink drawings as prints from Shadowscapes, I've decided to add availability of them through deviantArt. As well as some miscellaneous others that are not sold as prints on Shadowscapes. Mostly it's the recent ink drawings of the past several months.

Along those lines as well, I'm still on the hunt for a good printer for Inklings II. It's been several months of wrangling. Unfortunately the printer who did the first Inklings for me went out of business. So it's left me in the lurch in getting reprints of it, and in getting this second volume off the ground. Was aiming to have some in time for Comic-con (mid-July), and in January that seemed like "Plenty of Time!!!" And then the months creep by and I'm still stuck at Square One.*hair-tearing moment*

I've been sending in price quote and sample requests to numerous printers. And while the prices have all been good, the quality alas has fallen far short of what I was hoping for. After chatting with my old printer a bit the other day though (probably something I should have done a while ago), I found out the reason why was because most of the print-on-demand companies are optimized for text printing. Since that's the bulk of what they do. They're not so good when it comes to the quality of grayscale printing.

I'm crossing my fingers though that the current company I'm having conversations with will be able to print with the same quality of Inklings I. Waiting for their samples later this week with baited breath, and then hopefully I can get past this roadblock.

Meanwhile...sweating through this sudden heatwave. Poor freezer's icemaker can't keep up with me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Time Warp to 1988

In an attempt to get me to stop using her house as my extra storage space, and arguing the fact that I had now been living in my own house for over 2 years, my mother settled two large boxes of "Old Stuff" into my trunk the last time I was visiting. She said it was a box of my love letters that she wasn't going to toss. I think she was being facetious.

After driving around with said Old Stuff for a week and having it rattle around every time I took a sharp turn or raced through a yellow traffic light, I finally got around to sifting through it all last week during my Hunt for Prismacolors and Discarded Art Supplies.

No love letters. But I was surprised to come across something that I had thought long junked...some old tarot cards I had started to draw. There's no date on these, but I think it must have been around 1988. I have some vague recollection of learning about this thing called the Tarot in junior high, and being fascinated by it. I was determined to make my own deck (I never got further than 7 cards + 1 sketch). I was always that kind of kid who would see something and rather than want to buy it, instantly start to deconstruct it in my mind to figure out how to want to make my own.

At any rate, I thought I'd share some of these very early attempts. For Laughs, for Mockery, for Encouragement to fellow artists who often find themselves discouraged looking at the finished products of professional artists and wondering from whence they spring (yes, practice does bring about evolving skill!), for that bit of Nostalgia at seeing the seedlings of what eventually led to the project I finished this year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Winding Wall

"Winding Wall"
size: 7x11 inches
medium: ink

Another ink thanks to John Shannon's photos of Yorkshire Dales in the UK. I loved the way this wall wended a path along the hillsides, weaving through the oaks.

This piece is a bit of a combination of my recent experiments and my usual work. The melding is more noticeable if you take a look at the detail shots for closeups on some of the texture in the trees and shadows. Toying around with ideas of how I can work this type of texture with color as well (not for this piece in particular, but in general).

Although, playtime is over, gotta get back to working on another Dreamscapes chapter before the end of this month. Self-made deadlines. Promised myself I'd start up again on the 15th.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beyond the Hedge

"Beyond the Hedge"
14x19 inches
Prints, details, and original available -click here-

There are hedges and fences and walls all around. The world is parceled out into packages hemmed in by imaginary and real boundaries – the rules of respectability, acceptability, ownership, and reality. Towering brambles behind which are what-if’s and maybe’s.

I drive along a side road near where I grew up. A twenty foot sound barrier has sprung up along the right side in the intervening years; separating the snarling I-280 rush hour noise from the neat little houses along the stretch.

I walk with my husband after dinner at night, and from the backyard garden of one house, a fountain plays. The enticing musicality beckons temptingly, “Come peek in!” Ah, but the walls are too tall! And the fences too diligently mended and sealed to afford even a tiny glimpse. I stare at the wooden obstruction in frustration and wonder if this was how Rapunzel’s father felt when his wife demanded that he scale the fence for those wondrous radishes.

I wander through the tangle of Sausal Creek. The blackberry bushes tower with their full summer growth; fed by a stormy and wet spring. The berries have been picked clean from all of the nearby branches, but there – tucked away amidst the thorniest hardest-to-reach spot – that one there is the most luscious berry of all! I pull back from the hedge suddenly as the gleam of little eyes catch a wayward beam of sunlight. Did I imagine that?

Follow the rabbit down the hole. Chase the fox beyond wall. Pierce through to the enchanted heart of the keep where Briar Rose sleeps for her hundred years, and place the kiss upon those expectant lips.

Not missing city life

An evening out with my girlfriends in San Francisco. We're there to watch Eve's Elixir, a contemporary dance event featuring fusions of various traditional ethnic dance forms with a more modern aesthetic and influence. It's showing at Cowell Theater, at Fort Mason. We get lost looking for it, as there are no visible signs along the way. A surly ranger points us in the general direction, and at last we find the right area.

Park the car and hurry along because the show starts in ten minutes. I decide to leave my coat in the trunk because it seems mild enough. It's a decision I regret five minutes later as we pass between the old warehouses and towards the waterfront. The cold tears through the windtunnel of the buildings, and suddenly my warm scarf is not nearly warm enough.

There's a shivering line of well dressed people at the front of the theater, which looks to be an old warehouse that stretches out along a pier. We join in the teeth-chattering to pick up our tickets. After a while, I pull out my sketchbook, and though my fingers are numb, it's a good distraction from the discomfort to scribble a bit as we wait. Almost enough for me to forget the chill that slices through my skirts.

The odd thing about SF is that when you live there, you can't imagine ever wanting to live anyplace else. Nightlife, great restaurants at every corner interspersed with cafes, Golden Gate Park, colorful shopping neighborhoods....

Minor inconveniences are easy to dismiss when you're living in the midst of it. Basking in the golden haze of San Francisco fog that apparently creeps into your mind.

Driving's a pain. Parking once you get to your destination is worse. Monthly parking spot in Nob Hill? $300.00.
Cable cars...quintessential San Francisco. Fun for a visit. Try living along a cable car route that goes uphill. The driver must ring the bell to warn traffic at the coming intersection since the cable cars can't actually stop at any given spot. Every 15 minutes: rumblerumbleding-a-linga-dingdingdingdingDING!!!!
California weather's lovely! The city has it's own micro-climate though. Even in high summer, lugging around a winter coat because of unexpectedly cutting winds. October's really the only warm nice month. Never gets old to see tourists shivering in their shorts and t-shirts in June and wondering where there nearest overpriced souvenir sweatshirt vendor is.
Great dining, if you don't mind crowds.

At any rate, I'm remembering all the reasons I don't miss living there when Roberta asks me that very question. I answer with a very vehement negative.

At first I missed it terribly. I missed my Trattoria Contadina. I missed walking down to North Beach. I missed Golden Gate Park.

The week I was to move out from my apartment, I walked up the street to the top of Nob Hill, on my way home from a dance class. It was a rare warm day. Sky was still bright, not yet dusk. Powell St. stretched out before me, tumbling all the way down to the marina and into the bay. I crouched down on the sidewalk, catching my breath from the steep trek, stood there a while memorizing the sight, filing it away. Breathed in that always fresh-from-the-sea air.

The longer I live across the bay, the more the faerie glamour fades. I find I like living here in Oakland much more. I find places and things here that are more personable; I find the niches that strangely are at once grander and more intimate than anything a city can ever offer.

I can see the city now in the distance, across a glittering finger of water. Just a few miles away. Can touch it easily when I want to, or let it sit there like a jeweled band on the horizon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Styles and experiments

For those of you attached to my usual work and who might be concerned for the turn my experimentation has taken this past week, have no fear, I'm not relinquishing my signature style anytime soon. I get far too much pleasure from that to give it up in the foreseeable future, and have many ideas lined up to still get around to.

I offer this sneak peek of the current piece as proof that I'm still at it. (It's just the upper third of a larger piece in the works right now). And besides, there's Dreamscapes II I'm hard at work at too.

However, I am finding myself struck by random urges these days to play around with things that have not even occurred to me in years. Digging through the garage I came across markers and watercolor pencils and once-treasured-Prismacolors that I hadn't spared a thought for in a decade. Pulled them out, dusted the boxes off, scattered the spiders (who seemed to have decided that my discards were their treasures), and lugged it all upstairs to my studio.

At any rate, thank you for the encouragement for these little artistic jaunts I've been taking the past few weeks. It has been interesting to hear feedback to this recent work.