Seattle - Part 2

Well, dearest readers, I have way more visual content than I have time to post it or write about it. It's a good thing. Life is happening and I alternate between making it happen and holding on as it does.

Studio time does not currently exist. What does exist is the urban sketching during trips and building department visits, and figure drawing sessions once in a while. Live-in-the-moment kind of things. 

And so, more of Seattle today. This, for example, is the sketch I made at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Beautiful place, even if I don't care for coffee that much. 


Then there was the Chihuly museum and garden. I didn't know about David Chihuly until my Seattle native coworker enlightened me. What a place! 

chihuly ceiling

I spent some time sketching in the chapel.


...And during lunch at the adjacent cafe with a Steve Jobs-lookalike server and accordions hanging from the ceiling:

The sketch...

The sketch...

...and the photo

...and the photo

This last sketch was at the end of the last day, when we finally made it back to the waterfront and the ferris wheel:

Among other things, I visited the enviable studio of Alicia Tormey, an encaustics artist I've been following for years. I left with a tiny little painting that I basically begged and whined for her to sell to me. 


And, of course, the Space Needle, which was going through a major remodel (bonus points in my case, as I love seeing things getting built) 

There you go. A very concise version of a great trip. I'd love to go back soon - maybe it will even rain for me a little? :)

Seattle - part 1

Here's another good thing about having a full time job - I can now sort of afford to travel once in a while. At least once a year. And judging by my bucket list of places to visit, I will run out of years before I run out of I really need to pick up the pace!

A fair number of places on the list are in the U.S. - like Seattle. This trip just sort of happened, after my husband saw an airfare sale from Southwest airlines. So we consulted the bucket list and cross-referenced it against the destinations on sale and that's how we got Seattle.

Pioneer Square.

Pioneer Square.

Coming out the airport and riding the light rail to the city, Seattle felt very much underwhelming. But over the long weekend we spent there, it grew on me. We caught three days of "sucker weather" - sunshine and blue skies, which, according to my Seattle-native colleague, is the kind of weather that makes people move to Seattle and then immediately goes bad after they do.

I got to test drive my extremely compact sketching kit, including the brand new #14 Da Vinci travel sable brush.

Sketching at the Starbucks Reserve in Seattle.

Sketching at the Starbucks Reserve in Seattle.

My current ultra-compact travel palette is shown below. There is no complicated method to my choice of colors here...this is just what I felt like at the time I assembled the palette. The favorites:

  • W&N French Ultramarine
  • W&N Quinacridone Gold
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Sienna

Plus the moody dark blues from Daniel Smith, a brilliant vermillion from Schmincke and a fun cobalt teal from Utrecht. The Indian yellow (included in the photo) didn't make it. All of this fits into an Altoids tin.

I was a little worried that the TSA would make me pull out my paints and explain that they are not drugs...But they didn't. Instead, they pulled out a pocket knife out of the depths of my bag. I have a habit of bringing pocket knives to airports...During the trip to Ukraine last year, my pocket knife made it all the way to Istanbul, where it was finally discovered at the security checkpoint and confiscated. It was a good one, too...

Anyway, the trip. I like to take it easy if I can and balance the must-see destinations with random stuff you just walk into. One of my friends recommended that we visit the Fremont neighborhood (not to be confused with Fremont near San Francisco). There were a few things I wanted to see, like the Troll Under the Bridge and the surrealistic and absurd in this context statue of Lenin. And then I just found myself in an antiques store, right next to the center of the universe:

center of the universe.jpg

The store turned out to have a nice collection of vinyls and I left with several of them. Pretty soon after that, we stopped at a Starbucks, which interested me mostly for the promise of a bathroom but actually had a very nice second floor seating area with windows onto the Fremont bridge. Which I, of course, had to sketch.

Fremont Bridge.

Fremont Bridge.

I learned from a shoe sales guy that there was a curious restaurant called "Pink Door." This restaurant, he said, had live entertainment in the evening. And good seafood. What else is there to want in a restaurant? Dinner was decided.

As it turned out, the pink door was the only marker of the entry into this restaurant. There was no sign above the door. Just an old light pink door. You open it and voila, you're in the restaurant.

The food was superb. We sat at the bar, as all the tables were taken, and enjoyed our seafood with local drinks. The promised live entertainment came, and it was a performance by an aerial gymnast. Additional live entertainment was supplied by our neighbors at the bar - a recently divorced lawyer and her brand new friend who owns an art gallery.

The bar at the Pink Door restaurant.

The bar at the Pink Door restaurant.

I sketched while I waited for the dinner and then added paint later that night. I couldn't sleep that night, because...sleepless in Seattle? :)


After a few years of my posts becoming less and less frequent, I feel the need to explain myself. If you're in the sacred exclusive circle of people I keep in touch with, you probably know what's up. Or, alternatively, you haven't noticed anything fishy at all. But still, here's an update.

I've enjoyed sharing my journey through art world and parenthood here. I loved helping other artists learn more about watercolor. And I'm sure I will be continuing to do so...just not in the same way.

After I re-entered AEC (architecture-engineering-construction) industry almost three years ago, I felt an instant sense of belonging. Sure, painting is fun and my art career is shaping up nicely - but I also really enjoy the many facets of the architecture profession. I get a real kick out of figuring stuff out. And I know art and architecture aren't mutually exclusive - but the time and intensity needed to keep the art career moving forward is not something I currently have...

In front of the Seattle Public Library by Rem Koolhaas.

In front of the Seattle Public Library by Rem Koolhaas.

I am focusing on architecture, again, and the art is being pushed to the margins. It makes me sad and frustrated a bit but it was a necessary move. Once I accepted that I can't keep up the pace I had before the full time architecture job, my frustration went down several notches. I'd like to think it's one of those "it's time for this and time for that" situations. It's time to get my architect's license and it's time to be a fully independent human. Masterpieces of contemporary art will either have to wait or happen in-between the lines.

This is not a goodbye. It's a pivot. I will keep creating but I will also have to redefine myself as an artist...whatever that means. I used to think I'd create larger and larger pieces, but in the last few years, I turn to my sketchbooks more and more. I had visions of complex, abstracted cityscapes but when I'm looking for a release, I paint people. I come back to people. Go figure.

Katia. Le Pen and watercolor in a Handbook sketchbook.

Katia. Le Pen and watercolor in a Handbook sketchbook.

Keep an eye out for more sketches, then! And if you feel like sticking around, let's see where else my journey takes me.

Until next time,


Ukraine trip part 3 - Lviv

Lviv, Lwow, Lvov, Leopolis. The coolest city in Ukraine, no contest. It is the cultural capital of Ukraine, due to its breathtaking architecture, healthy emphasis on the arts, delicious food and adoration of all things Ukrainian. In a country with a history of conflicted identity, Lviv is proud to be Ukrainian.


I sketched and painted Lviv a few times (not enough!)...The experimental Yupo piece above was part of a 20x20 show at a Sacramento gallery.

Coming back to Lviv was wonderful...We caught the perfect weather and, although very short, our visit felt like a rich experience.

We came by train, from Khmelnitskiy. It's only a couple of hours' ride and I took the opportunity to introduce my husband to the standard travel choice of most Ukrainians - "platzkart", or 2nd class. This is basically an open train compartment, with two lower bunks, two upper bunks and one more lower and upper across the aisle. Your feet stick out into the aisle. 


Another super traditional thing about this train ride - the mandatory hot tea in a glass with metal holder. Apparently, these things have been around since the late 18th century.


They are, of course, also highly sketchable :)

Once we got to Lviv, we had an airbnb place waiting for us. A loft in a tower, at the end of four or five stories of a spiral staircase. 


And the best thing about it? The view...

The view onto the city in the morning.

The view onto the city in the morning.

The view at night...

The view at night...

The view inside the 17th century Bernardine church seen in the previous photo.

The view inside the 17th century Bernardine church seen in the previous photo.

..And the view into the inner courtyard.

..And the view into the inner courtyard.

We stayed close to the apartment - which is in the old town - which is where I wanted to be anyway. There's the Rynok square, the main tourist hangout with the city hall and the bell tower in the middle. The square is surrounded by something like fifty historical buildings, each unique but playing nicely with its quirky neighbors.

Among the new places, I got to visit the House of Legends - a multistory restaurant / museum of local urban legends. We dined on the rooftop and I scored a goal, shooting a coin into the chimney sweep's hat (this is supposed to bring you tons of luck).

The Chimney Sweep monument.

The Chimney Sweep monument.

Another stop was the Fedorov square, which his the location of a long-standing book flea market. I was limited by the size of my luggage, exchanged money on hand and also a little bit of common sense - otherwise, I would have bought a lot of paper. And vinyl.

Here, I am holding the first issue of my favorite childhood magazine. Mr Ivan Fedorov, the first printer of a text in Church Slavonic, is looking over approvingly from the distance.

Here, I am holding the first issue of my favorite childhood magazine. Mr Ivan Fedorov, the first printer of a text in Church Slavonic, is looking over approvingly from the distance.

Also, I painted this guy before - in my Unity series.

Also, I painted this guy before - in my Unity series.

And this place - St Olga's Cathedral - is my favorite painting out of the series. I waved at it as we were passing by.

And this place - St Olga's Cathedral - is my favorite painting out of the series. I waved at it as we were passing by.


We missed the festival of street music by a week or so but, this being Lviv, music happened on the street anyway. We just kind of wandered into this Ukrainian girls choir performance at the Rynok square.


This is just a very small, curated collection of images I brought home with me. I love the photo above, taken from the top of the House of Legends. I didn't think of it at the time, but this East-West pointing wind compass illustrates the historical predicament of my home country. Stuck between Russia and Poland, Ukraine has been a favorite site of many wars between the East and the West.

Ukrainians are not belligerent people. More like, conflict-avoidant - it takes a lot to tick us off. Which, I guess, attracts all sorts of conquerors thinking we're an easy win. It is really a mistake on their part...historically, Ukraine grew all kinds of rebels and militias in response to the bullying neighbors. 

At the same time, the Ukrainian national identity has also been a site of conflict, particularly after its independence in 1991: do we associate more with the former soviet countries and their mentality or do we jump head first into the Western culture? 

Anyway...I enjoyed the trip thoroughly. Hopefully, a longer stay next time. So much to see, so many things to sketch!

Highlights of my trip to Ukraine - Part 2

I grew up in a small city of Khmelnitsky in Western Ukraine. There isn't much that's exciting about it - it's a regional center, it has a river running through it and its main industry is shopping. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990s, jobs were scarce and local money quickly lost their value. The economy was in ruins. So a lot of people tried to make ends meet by reselling things, often brought in from a neighboring country. It was not uncommon to see a former white collar worker peddling Turkish bed linen or Polish shoes. Several marketplaces sprung up around the city and one of them grew to enormous proportions. This is now the 'tolkuchka' or 'tucha' - third largest marketplace in Europe (the nicknames refer to how crowded and cramped it gets and how you get pushed around when you're shopping). 

There are, of course, good things in Khmelnitskyy, like this little art gallery we wandered into.

There are, of course, good things in Khmelnitskyy, like this little art gallery we wandered into.

Symphonic rock at a Ukrainian music venue.

Symphonic rock at a Ukrainian music venue.

There is a concert hall. A friend took us to a symphonic rock concert there. The music was okay, but sitting in the second row from the stage and watching the action with a sketchbook in my hand was fantastic.

So that's a little bit about my town. Let's say I was not sad to leave when I moved away to architecture school in Odessa (which is all the way on the other side of the country). But there is one thing this place has that I can't find anywhere else.

Enter Lara. Psychology professor, artist, writer, the most constant thing in my life (other than, arguably, my parents). My best friend. 

Lara in her kitchen. She bravely sat for me, while also talking up a storm :)

Lara in her kitchen. She bravely sat for me, while also talking up a storm :)

We met at the art school. She was 13, I was 12, and four hours a day three days a week we were together. We share love for art, creativity, humor and reading. She is way better at understanding the mysteries of human interaction. I am better at...math? She likes cats, I'm a dog person. She likes pastels, I am into watercolor. 

Where it all began: me with my friend Larisa, aka Lara, next to the building of our art school.

Where it all began: me with my friend Larisa, aka Lara, next to the building of our art school.

Lara is one of the main reasons I wanted to go back to Ukraine. We kept in touch through the 13 years I've been gone - good ol' snail mail at first, emails which she could only read at her university library computer, endless iterations of messengers and social networks. I would call her with a long distance call card and promise I would definitely come. Next year. 

And then I wouldn't keep that promise because transatlantic travel is expensive and children are little. 

So this time was surreal for both of us. I couldn't believe I did it, she couldn't believe I was really there, breathing the same air. It was amazing. We both worried that somehow, through distance and time apart, we became different people and those people would not connect. But we did connect - it was as if we only saw each other last week. 

Good friends like this are a treasure - I hope you have one, too. And if you don't, find one and build that relationship. It really can be something that sustains you and holds your head above the water when times are tough. Also, it's extra nice having a shrink for your best friend ;). Highly recommended for you creative types. 

Highlights of my trip to Ukraine - Part 1

This October will mark 14 years since my family and I crossed the ocean for the first time and moved to the United States. It is not an easy thing to leave a life you built and start again, from scratch, in the unknown. And the older I get, the more respect and awe I feel for the immigrants who risk everything in hopes of a better life for their children. It's a big deal.

The beautiful roof structure of the San Francisco International airport.

The beautiful roof structure of the San Francisco International airport.

I was not happy to leave Ukraine and move who-knows-where when I was 22. It made no sense to me, and it was scary and it was stressful. I kept on a brave face but I felt like I was kidnapped and brought to this foreign country against my will. I was not forced into anything, of course, but at that point in my life, I just didn't know I had other options.

So, for the last 13 years, I've wanted to return. The significance and meaning of this return morphed over the years into something mystical. A pilgrimage. A return of the Jedi. A prodigal daughter homecoming.

And then, this May, I did it. My husband tagged along and I'm sure if was very different for him. For me, it was surreal. After such a long time, you begin to wonder if everything you knew from the life before even exists.

We flew out of San Francisco and into Istanbul, with a long layover there and then an early morning flight to Kiev. A similar arrangement on the way back - except, we had a few more hours of daylight to go glance at the Blue Mosque and the outside of Hagia Sophia. I did not have the time to sketch any of that. But during the first layover, I sketched a funky chandelier made out of a car tire and some rope. That's something, right? :)

A funky chandelier at a Turkish restaurant

A funky chandelier at a Turkish restaurant

On the whole, I expected to sketch so much more than I actually did. The trip was 10 days from leaving our house to arriving back to it, with a day and a half spent just on sitting in an airplane. Sure, you can also sketch while on the plane. And I did. Once:

Nunavut - Canadian Arctic Archipelago, apparently.

Nunavut - Canadian Arctic Archipelago, apparently.

This looked like Greenland to me...but it turns out, it's a Canadian territory by the name of Nunavut. Live and learn!

Sketching at Istanbul airport. I made the drawing on the plane and then applied water to it on the ground (Drawing made with water-soluble LePen).

Sketching at Istanbul airport. I made the drawing on the plane and then applied water to it on the ground (Drawing made with water-soluble LePen).

After Istanbul, we spent a day in Kiev and took a train to my hometown of Khmelnitskyy. I stayed with my best friend...this was also so strange and so wonderful. We met in art school, when I was 11 or 12 and have kept in touch ever since. She is now a psychology professor, married to another psychology professor. She kept trying to feed me. Everything. At once. Apparently, Ukrainian love is expressed with food!

Maidan, the main square of Kiev.

Maidan, the main square of Kiev.

Ah, and the food. I have never been big on household tasks, including cooking, so I visit my mom if I feel the craving for some yummy Eastern European food. But having unrestricted access to cherry strudels and potato pancakes and Ukrainian cheesecake was amazing. 

Strudels and tea at Lvivski Plyatski in Khmelnitskyy.

Strudels and tea at Lvivski Plyatski in Khmelnitskyy.

One of the little cafes we visited in Ukraine was also a language club. Which is kind of a perfect combination of uses - study the irregular verbs all you like, while sipping coffee or a special "healthy smoothie" and nibbling on a "zapekanka" - Ukrainian cheesecake. Or strudel. More strudels in my life, please :D

Cafe Ola - a cafe and a language club.

Cafe Ola - a cafe and a language club.

Some people, undoubtedly discussing important linguistic matters while I sketched them. 

Some people, undoubtedly discussing important linguistic matters while I sketched them. 

Julia Kay's Portrait Party, round 2

What is Julia Kay's Portrait Party, you ask? Well, you could go to the source and read all about it, but I'll give you a synopsis: it's a group on, made up of artists all over the world, who paint/draw/sculpt/create likenesses of other members of the same group. We share images of ourselves with each other and anyone can pick anyone else and make a piece of art (or a simple doodle) out of it. In short, it's a blast.

A while ago, I began participating in the group and a lot of my paintings of other artists were also part of my self-imposed a-portrait-a-day challenge. About half of all of the portraits I had in my solo show, FACES, were Julia Kay's Portrait Party portraits.

So, life went on and I occupied myself with other things. The Party also went on, new artists joined and left, members met in real life, held exhibitions and live portrait events, Julia wrote a book. And recently, I started feeling the itch again. The result are these portraits, done in a sketchbook or on a random piece of cardboard, with pen, watercolor, and in one case - white-out.

Claudia for JKPP

Philip for JKPP

Jan for JKPP

Julia Kay for JKPP

Teresa for JKPP

A painting, and also some thoughts on the year past

First things first - I'd love to share with you another one of my floral paintings on Yupo. Take it as my visual New Year gift to you if you want. Enjoy it, breathe it in, feel it. This one is called "Reverence" - because, as I was painting it, the white flower was almost nodding at me, in an old-fashioned greeting and sign of honoring the other person. And I, in turn, was filled with awe and reverence for the simple beauty I was experiencing.

"Reverence" - watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Click on the image to learn more.

"Reverence" - watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Click on the image to learn more.

Now, on to some reflections on the year 2016. This end of the year summary post is actually one of my favorite kinds to write. I like thinking in broad terms and I always discover something good I forgot to acknowledge! 

Alright, so, some exciting things happened last year:

  • I went and got a job. There are many sides to this, both good and not very, but overall, I feel that it was a good decision. Architecture is the right fit for me and doing it full time allows me to do what I love while growing my skills and expertise exponentially. And it comes with a paycheck ;)
  • On the other hand, my husband quit his job. And just as I was gingerly enjoying being the other parent (the one who goes to work and doesn't do anything around the house), he bought a retro video games store ,What can I say, the other-parent thing was good while it lasted ;)
  • For the first time ever, I got published in a book. Two glorious spreads in "The Art of Crayon." Pretty happy about that!
  • Along the same lines, I saw a magazine publication with my editorial illustrations and a nice interview write-up about the artist come to life in 2016.
  • Two covers of the English Teaching Forum. Also kind of cool :) A subscriber from Equador reached out to me after seeing the art on the cover. Little moments like that are the best part of putting your art out there.
  • Jung Katz published an interview with me. If people keep doing it, I'm going to have to start a binder or something :)
  • I led a paint night for a local non-profit. It was fun, and my limited experience with acrylics was enough to make it a success!
  • I participated in a couple of local art shows and several life drawing sessions. Definitely something I want more of this year.
  • I learned something new. That's actually the understatement of the year. I learned a ton of stuff related to my architectural work - but I also took a guitar class. I'm signing up for the next session, so look out there ;)
  • I went to see Iron and Wine at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery. If none of this made sense to you - don't worry about it. If it did, you know it was awesome! More live music in 2017, please.
  • My girls started preschool. It was a tiny bit scary, like any change involving my kids, but everyone adjusted just fine. The highlight of 2017 will be Katia entering kindergarten. Oy.
  • We saw the ocean and snow and mountains and vineyards and orchards. I'd like to do more of that this year.
  • Katia broke her arm. The year before, it was her leg. I wonder what next...
  • I had an ice cream sandwich for the first ever. I'm not talking about Klondike bars. I'm talking about two soft, fresh oatmeal cookies with a scoop of yummy ice cream in the middle. There is no way back.

So there, highlights of my 2016, in no particular order. No resolutions for the new year - I don't like those. I will sit down and make a SMART goal or two in the next couple of weeks. What are yours resolutions or goals? How was the past year for you? If it was good, may 2017 be even better. If it was bad - hey, there's no way but up! Happy New Year!

How learning watercolor is like learning guitar

I recently began taking an evening guitar class. I signed up on a whim, though I've always wanted to know how to play guitar. As the start date got closer and closer, I thought about cancelling. I felt apprehensive about doing something I was a newbie at, in a room full of people who must have been better than me. I worried about not being good at it. I didn't want to look like an idiot!

Quick sketch from a Renaissance Faire.

Fast forward several weeks, and I can sort of play a song, and I know what a key is and how to use a capo. This is light years away from where I started!

Why am I telling you this? Well, I couldn't help but think that learning guitar is very much like learning watercolor. It felt awkward to be a student and it gave me such appreciation and compassion for those of you who are trying to learn any new skill, and the tricky art of watercolor painting in particular. It's hard. It takes courage and persistence

So here are some morsels of wisdom to help you through a painting class or your own practice:

1. Don't expect a masterpiece.

Seriously. If you're taking your first couple of classes, be kind to yourself and lower your expectations. You will learn amazing things and have beautiful ah-ha moments but you won't paint like your instructor just yet.

2. Practice a lot.

This is the one thing that will make you better. And it also the one true barometer of your passion for this new thing you're learning. 

Another sketch from the same Renaissance Faire. I recorded a bit of it, see here.

3. Keep doing it even when you are bad at it.

Everyone gets discouraged when what they are doing doesn't turn out well. My guitar sessions would drive me crazy if I were an outside observer. They do not sound like I know what I'm doing (I don't) or the way you imagine a talented friend softly strumming while you are relaxing to the soothing sounds. Same thing with painting. Most of what you're doing at first looks bad. You don't have to show it to anyone but you have to keep doing it.

This one is an earlier sketch. I cringe when I look at the linework here. The 'hairiness" of the line often comes from hesitation and fear of making a mistake, and then you inevitably make a mistake, and then you try to correct it. Which, overall, ends up looking bad. The solution is accepting your mistakes and letting them be. Which translates into confidence, which looks like a nice, clean line. Theoretically speaking ;)

4. Embrace discomfort.

I am a proud owner of three left fingertip calluses, and a developing pinky callus. Those are achieved by pressing the strings against the fret (which, while your fingertips are still soft and sensitive, hurts). When it comes to learning watercolor, the discomfort is mostly in your head. Any progress, however, demands that you get uncomfortable. Are you used to coloring within the lines? Let the paint bleed all over them. Are you scared of painting wet-into-wet? Bite the bullet and do it at your next painting session.


L'aquarelle with Le Pen

Well, peeps, time is slipping right through my fingers, and it's already, technically, fall. Which, of course, you couldn't tell if you were judging by our 100 F Sacramento weather. So, here's some visual memories about the summer and an update on my so very professional life.

This curiously shaped fruit caught my eye in my parents' garden, on a hot summer afternoon. Watercolor, Le Pen in Pentalic sketchbook.

I distinctly remember feeling, back in the beginning of the year, that there was no way I would have any less time to paint when I traded full time motherhood for a full time job outside the home. Boy was I wrong. 

The truth is, I don't necessarily have less time, but, rather, less energy. How is this possible? Did I sell the sacred nap hour-and-a-halves for lunch hours? And when does the intense drive to not do anything unless prompted by the kids when I get home from work end? 

The only thing that works now is going somewhere with the sole purpose of making some art, like figure drawing sessions or plein air paintouts. Maybe I need another self-imposed art project deadline?

A coworker of mine brought this big basket of fragrant lemons to the office. I took the basket outside in the sun and sketched it over lunch!

Meanwhile, even with my lackluster participation in the art world, things are happening. I recently participated in an Art X Architects show at the Sparrow Gallery here in Sacramento. My art made it onto the covers of publications and the pages of an online magazine. I debuted as a contributor to a actual real book that I can even hold in my hands (The Art of Crayon, link below). There has been at least three interviews with me published in the last year. The ball is, inexplicably, rolling, even though I'm very busy working on a different ball altogether. 

( I'm thinking about the dung beetles :D. Are you?)

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I like being back on track to an architect's license. I like being able to provide for my family and grow in my career as an architect. It has been a very steep and exciting learning curve these past several months.

(The dung beetle, stubbornly pushing the ball up the steep hill)

And, the very shortage of art-making time tends to activate my creative hunger. It's good to take a step back and evaluate my goals in art, not driven by the necessity of making money. I get new ideas that I want to explore...I just don't know when. Maybe it's time to write the "How to Paint with Kids And a Full-Time Job" blog post!

Until then, do check out The Art of Crayon book. It's beautiful.

Into Light

Today, yet another variation on the tulip tree theme. The technique in this one was:

1. Wet the whole surface (even though, because it is yupo, it doesn't stay uniformly wet. Water pools in some areas and leaves others practically dry).

2. Apply liberal amounts of watercolor paint. Here, I used quinacridone red, cobalt turquoise, quinacridone gold, and phtalo blue (See more information on the colors on my palette here).

3. Wipe most of the wet paint away with a "thirsty" brush. 

"Into Light." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Click on the image to learn more.

"Into Light." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Click on the image to learn more.

What's a "thirsty" brush, you ask? It's any brush you want, but it has to be:

1. Dipped in water and

2. Squeezed out, either using your fingers, a rag or a paper towel. 

Basically, it's a brush that is not dry, but is primed with water. It is perfect for picking up the paint you might not want on your painting. I like to use round brush for that but any shape you prefer is fine, too.

The closeup above shows how much paint there was initially. This is a spot which I left alone after putting paint down.

Closeup below: areas where I wiped the paint off still have ghosted traces of the colors that were applied. I really like this effect in Yupo.

Water Lily, a quick lesson in color and values.

This one is quite possible one of the more restrained color palettes I've ever used in a painting. I am typically drawn to complementary color schemes, in one way or another. Here, everything is, well, analogous.

(Quick Color Theory 101: complementary colors are those you find directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Analogous colors are neighbors on the color wheel).

"Water Lily." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Click the image to find out more.

"Water Lily." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Click the image to find out more.

Most of the weight in this little painting is being carried by value contrast. The white of the flower, interrupted only here and there by subtle echoes of the background colors, is the main character. It is clearly in the spotlight.

(Quick Values 101: "Value" in a painting has to do with how light or dark a shape is. Value contrast happens when there is a big difference in lightness/darkness of adjacent shapes: light shape on dark background or dark shape on light background are two clear instances of value contrast).

Here's this painting in black and white:

Removing color makes it a lot easier to see what is light and what is dark. Ancient technique of underpainting in grayscale or sepia takes advantage of this. We artists tend to get overexcited when we get to play with color and often forget about values.

A couple of details:

My favorite "invasion effect" happening where the petals of the lily meet the dark waters of the background. The yellow area has hard edges by contrast.

My favorite "invasion effect" happening where the petals of the lily meet the dark waters of the background. The yellow area has hard edges by contrast.

Really like this closeup. The white of the paper is shining through the transparent washes.

Really like this closeup. The white of the paper is shining through the transparent washes.

Kindness, a surprise

I can't decide if people in general are good or bad. I typically assume they are inherently good but I am also genuinely surprised when they treat me with kindness. It's a paradox that I'm sure makes perfect sense to a psychologist. Or a philosopher.

Why try to determine their goodness or badness anyway? Why draw the line between the good guys and the bad ones? Is it because you aren't sure which one you are? Maybe that's why children are so interested in figuring this out. Maybe you just need to know on which side of the line you belong.

It is rarely that simple, of course. Lines get blurred, good guys do bad things, bad guys turn out to have a soft side. And yet, somewhere on a very basic level, you choose a side. 

Me, for example. I think I'm a people optimist. 

"Cactus Optimist." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo.  Click here to learn more.

"Cactus Optimist." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo. Click here to learn more.

Now, about cacti.

I still remember the first time I saw a spectacular bloom on an evil-looking cactus. I had no idea those things were anything but ugly and dangerous. I saw it while walking past a neighbor's front yard and I had to stop and just stare at it. It was beautiful, it had a tender pinkish color and it was surrounded by buds that promised even more gorgeousness in the next several days. They stayed blooming for weeks. 

Sure, it was the same ugly untouchable cactus after its blooming season was over but ever since then, I paid a second of attention to it when I passed it. This bad guy had a secret, and it was a good one. I became a cactus optimist.

But hey, cacti are easy. People though...people surprise me with kindness. Does that mean I actually believe they are mean? Or perhaps it is my beliefs about myself that is muddling the water here...Do I secretly believe that I am not worth a kindness?

Hmm...Psychologist, like I said. I need one :)


P.S. This painting is actually a variation on a theme: here's the same thing six years ago.

Decadence, or too much of a good thing

Here's a curious thing: my mind firmly associates the word "decadence" with delicious dark chocolate and lava cakes. Variations of word "indulge" and "crave" usually accompany these visions. Thanks, people who write marketing copy and create ads.

From Merriam - Webster online dictionary:

Decadent adjective dec·a·dent \ˈde-kə-dənt also di-ˈkā-\

  1.  :  marked by decay or decline

  2. :  of, relating to, or having the characteristics of the decadents

  3. :  characterized by or appealing to self-indulgence <decadent pleasures>

"Decadence," 6x6" watercolor and metal leaf on Yupo mounted on board. Click the image to learn more.

"Decadence," 6x6" watercolor and metal leaf on Yupo mounted on board. Click the image to learn more.

So...why am talking about decadence anyway? Well, this painting here has a certain rich and deep flavor...An opulence, a chocolatiness. It is like a full-bodied red wine with notes of blackberry that lingers on your tongue. Or an intoxicating sweet aroma of exotic flowers after dark.

It is like reading poetry


out loud,

to a lover.

It is so good it must be bad for you. Go ahead now, click on these close-up details. I zoomed in on the most deliciously decadent parts.

Indulge your visual senses, you know you want to ;)

Into Shadows

...And now, back to yupo and the wonderfully luscious color! This painting was based on an impression of tulip tree flowers, with clear blue California spring sky peeking through. We had this beautiful dwarf tulip tree in front of the kitchen window of our previous house. The flowers were a lovely shade of pink but in the shadows, they took on darker, meatier tones. That, and the irregular, unique shapes of the clusters caught my attention.

"Into Shadows." 6x6" watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. Original painting sold. Click here to view print choices.

It's a curious color scheme and an interesting technique. I started very wet, with the breezy blue and luminous yellow and then...did a kind of a watercolor impasto: put the purples and magentas down in a very thick consistency. This produces the "invasion effect" (I just came up with that term), where the areas of greater wetness "invade" the less water-saturated ones.

I reeeeeally like the organic textures this gives me. Yum! And by the way, this technique is a big secret, know, only share it with your best friends :)

In other news, I recently did some printmaking (blog post coming) and I'm looking for a "day job" in architecture. So if you know any architects in Sacramento, please beg them to hire me as an intern :) .

And that's all for now,


Some Sketches for Creative Live's "28 to make"

If you are following me on Instagram (you should), you may have noticed some sketchy stuff going on lately. I sketch often, so it was really a no-brainer when I received an email invitation from Creative Live to sketch some more. Of course I would like to!

Prompt 1: Draw your beverage.

This first sketch was easy, because pretty much at any time, I have a cup of tea going. Especially when I'm feeling flu-ish and cold-ish, which is a lot in the last couple of months. Hence, my cup of tea with a slice of lemon floating just below the surface. In my favorite mug with detail of "A Slice of Earth" printed on it (you can get one for yourself here)

Prompt 2 - Draw a houseplant.

Next one was a bit of a challenge. Your regular houseplants without flowers do not excite me in the slightest. And I only have two of them, both miraculously surviving orchid plants. Which are not currently blooming. So I spiced things up with an orange LePen and played with a cropped composition. The weird worm-like roots spilling out of the pot helped, too :)

Prompt 3 - Draw some album art.

This one needs some explaining. When I think about album art, I think of my dad's vinyl collection (all left in Ukraine when we moved to the U.S., along with our books). And among the Pink Floyds and the Beatles, there were audio productions of children's stories, and among those, my favorite was this 1976 radioplay/musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland by Vladimir Vysotskiy. I listened to this at night, before falling asleep. And I loved the gatefold sleeve it came with.

Here's also my album art sketch of one of my favorite music records:

Finally, the last prompt I did was 'draw what's inside your bag.'

I am at an awkward stage in life, between a diaper bag and ...who knows what. I have a gym bag, a going-to-the-library book bag, a camera bag, a plein air bag. But I don't have a go-to purse that would contain all of my essentials. Usually, I just bring my wallet and my keys, and if there's a chance that I might be able to steal some sketching time, I bring a sketchbook. So...I sketched my keys.

Compare and contrast this to my keys in early 2010:

No house key, because we were living at a friend's house back then, while shopping for our own house in the high desert. The little key was probably for a safe with important documents that I didn't want to get lost in the move. And of course, my American Institute of Architects membership card, proclaiming undying love for architecture (which is a topic for a whole 'nother blog post). Until then,



This painting is part of a mini-series of abstracted white tulips that was born out of simple, everyday beauty that made me stop breathing for a bit.

I had a bouquet of these flowers for a week or two, and with every passing day, they transformed. From tightly closed buds to shy, one-eyed teasers, to graceful crowns and then, fantastically contorted white birds, until finally, their papery petals fell down.

Their white bodies caught afternoon light and became stark against the shadows, luminous in the light, translucent in the many subtle variations of colors that they reflected. Never before have I been so captivated with white things (hmm...maybe that's what the title of the series should be, "White Things?" Sounds so very contemporary and controversial and all kinds of sociopolitically charged).

'Breathe' watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. 6x6." Click the image to learn more and buy.

'Breathe' watercolor on Yupo mounted on board. 6x6." Click the image to learn more and buy.

I was really taken by these flowers. There wasn't any red in the background but somehow, the intense, passionate red paint seemed to me the one and only choice.

I sometimes worry that painting flowers is not classy. Too obvious, too overused in art, like pretty girls. That there should be more angst and more depth and more message to my art. Because I do have enough angst and depth.

But when you look at something and it touches your heart, without any physical contact, it feeds your hunger for beauty and you forget to breathe - how can you not want to share it? This is, then, the message: I saw this beautiful white thing, it filled me with wonder and happiness. Share it with me :)

Scotland, Brechin, High Street.

Yay, I did a Virtual Paintout! Just couldn't miss this one. I'm not even an Anglo-Saxon brand of American and yet the British Isles have always beckoned me, like a misty-eyed siren. Both across La Manche and now, the Atlantic. I know, I know, it's silly and all-to-easy to romanticize the places you've never been to, but come on. Men in skirts? Castles and ruins everywhere? Friendly lake monsters? What's not to feel romantic about? ;)

My favorite music bands? Brits. My favorite beverage? Not coffee.

"High Street." 11 x 13.5" pen and watercolor on hot press watercolor paper. Click for more information.

"High Street." 11 x 13.5" pen and watercolor on hot press watercolor paper. Click for more information.

You'd think I watch the Downton Abbey and read about the Royal Family. No. But I can't wait to see 'Sherlock, the Abominable Bride'!

So, there. I'm an anglophile. I have a soft spot for you British people. I will, one day, be the American tourist on your street. You will tell me by the sketchbook and watercolours, and by the odd mixture of American and Slavic accents. Sit and sketch with me. Until then,


Golden Poppy, watercolor on Yupo

Well, unlike many of my online artist friends, I didn't do the January edition of the 30-Paintings-in-30-days challenge (too much on my plate). But I will indulge you in a series of posts with my last series. 30 days is about how long it took me, too!

If you had an opportunity to see these at the Blue Line in Roseville, thank you! If not, sit back and enjoy the luscious, fluid and vibrant paintings just as I did creating them. 

   Watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper mounted on board. 6x6." Click on the image to learn more.


Watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper mounted on board. 6x6." Click on the image to learn more.

This one is a California (Golden) Poppy. I like the level of abstraction I was able to achieve here and I'm still swooning over the yellow paint that spread into the dark areas. 

Golden poppies were an exciting discovery for me 12 years ago, when I moved to Sacramento, California, from Ukraine. I have never seen them before or thought that flowers could have this wonderful, rich orange color. Poppies in Ukraine are red. And they have a different shape. And when they dry up, you can harvest them for poppy seeds or use their seed pods as rattles.

So, anyway, California poppies still feel a bit exotic to me. Even after 12 years. Maybe that's why I painted quite a few this time around. More to follow :)

Starbucks on a Sunday

I have very few "rituals," as they are known now (formerly "habits" ;) ) One of them is drinking tea first thing in the morning, with toast and, ideally, some reading. This has become harder and harder to accomplish after I started a family. I'm a proper introvert, I have to have alone time. If I don't, I become cranky and crabby and innocent bystanders suffer.

So I decided to make more room in my days for alone time. I get up before everyone and have my breakfast in peace, jog, work, think. One of these mornings, I jogged to the nearest coffee shop (which turned out to be a Starbucks, of course) and sketched. It was pure bliss!

If you're an artist, you may be wondering what is this light blue line that bleeds a mixes with paint. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce to you Le Pen. I love them.