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

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.

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,


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.

Let's Get Things A Little Bit Messed Up

There's been a lot of monkeywrenching going on here and I have not been able to paint since Friday. Katia, my 3-year-old, broke her leg two weeks ago and is now sporting a pink cast. Ella, the 1-year-old, caught a stomach flu over the weekend, then promptly gave it to Katia. So it's been a rough few days (and nights).

30 Paintings in 30 Days is, therefore, on hold. Instead, I'm posting something I found while going through my old sketchbooks. These are some notes I took while watching a Charles Reid DVD.

And to illustrate these points, a sketch of my living room that I 'messed up" by allowing the red paint from the other page bleed onto it. And how about the not-quite-correct perspective? Lines intersecting where they shouldn't? Embrace it all :)

July Virtual Paintout - Santa Fe (and a little bit about Monterey)

I managed to squeeze in a Virtual Paintout last month. Not the almost-epic, half-sheet street scene like I did the month before, but a small and fast sketchbook spread. It still counts and I'm super proud of myself :) .

Street market in Santa Fe.

This is also supposed to become a video some time soon. As in, I have the footage of me sketching and painting it but I need it to be edited. By someone. If you know anyone, please send them my way.

This month, Virtual Paintout is in Monterey, CA, and there is no way I'm going to miss that! In fact, I may have to make another real life trip there for this purpose! We have already visited Monterey this year. Took all three kids to the aquarium and the beach. I wishfully bring sketchbooks pretty much anywhere we go, but of course, with a 5, 3, and 1-year old around, there is never a time to quietly sit down and sketch. Except, maybe, in the car. Which is what I did :)

Car sketch

Fruit stand. Started this one in the parking lot, added color at home.

And, of course, we took lots of photos. Here are some:

You can tell I am partial to jellyfish. And my kids.

Hang out with your fears

I've been working on my art business a lot lately. Well, as much of a lot as my full-time parenting gig allows me to. There are so many things I am excited about. There is a grand vision for the future. And I want to get there fast, like, right now!

Sketch of my son in his new red wagon.

And it's not going to happen. It will, but definitely not so very fast.

It's been five years since I began, at an empty and sweltering hot middle-of-nowhere swap meet, taking my art as a business. It seems like such a long time and I feel that I should have been so much farther by now.

Yes, I have all kinds of excuses, but they don't help when I'm on my own and comparing myself with someone who, within the same time frame, is three steps ahead of me. They are getting featured everywhere and showing at the gallery I want to be in, while I'm changing diapers and cleaning up messes. It's very frustrating.

I know what you're thinking. Comparing yourself to others is pointless and only makes you feel worse. True. It's just, sometimes, you can't help it.

On the flip side of this, I am completely humbled by all the people (often older, with more life experience) who look up to me. Just yesterday, someone called me 'a real pro.' Who, me?

I guess maybe I am :)

I'm so pro that I can even draw stick figures. This one, for example, is from a book on anxiety I illustrated earlier this year:

Hang out with your fears.

I like this one. It makes me think about my fears (of failure, of missing out, of being a fraud, of not being a good enough mom and wife, of wasting my life) as little fuzzy monsters I can learn to live with.

Ed, Monet and Ira Glass

Recently, a quote really resonated with me:

‘Claude Monet was nearing the height of the reputation he was to win during his lifetime, producing those water lily masterpieces, when he wrote this letter (in 1912) to his dealer and benefactor, Paul Durand-Ruel: “More than ever today, I realize how artificial is the undeserved fame I have won. I keep hoping to do better...” His latest exhibition was about to open in Paris. “I know beforehand that you’ll say my pictures are perfect. I know that when they are shown they will be much admired, but I don’t care because I know they are bad. I’m certain of it.”
— "Watercolor Bold and Free" by L.Goldsmith

The quote was so good I wrote it down in my sketchbook. The cool dude is my baby brother Ed :)

Monet thought his paintings were bad. Monet doubted himself not any less than I do. If you ask me, that's a good thing to know!

But is it a good thing? Talking about your paintings as being 'bad' is bad marketing. Humility doesn't sell very well. If an artist thinks his paintings are bad, what collector will buy them?

And yet we creative souls are particularly sensitive to our own critical voice. Through the nature of our work, we get to deal with it more than most other people. What makes a difference is how we deal with it:

  1. Denial of the inner critic. I don't know if it's just me, but I get suspicious when I see an artist without any self-doubt. It seems fake when an artist believes he is a genius and his work is worth millions. It's almost like a performance...nay, that's probably what it is. And who knows what happens behind the scenes. Is it a genuine victory over the critic or is it a show you put on?
  2. Giving up. This is the option that goes well with depression and insecurity. You pour your heart into your creative work, put it out there, and the viewer/listener/reader doesn't care. They don't buy your painting. 'Of course they don't,' chimes in your inner critic, 'It's bad and you are worthless.' It's incredibly hard to pick yourself up again and pour your heart out again. So you give up.
  3. Accepting it and being motivated by it. You talk to your critic. 'No, my latest piece is not the best thing ever. I made a mistake here. I need to develop this idea more. I can be so much better.' And you know you have it in you to be better, you can see your work five years in the future. You know it will be hard and you will make more 'bad' art but you will get there.

You are in the 'Gap.'

Back to the sketching board

Sketchbooks are essential. There is no way around it. Sketching is like exercise, like meditation, like meditative exercise. Sketching is like yoga.

Pen sketch - part of our backyard. This pile of firewood was calling my name!

This may be why I sketch the same way I exercise...In cycles. Ideally, both would be a daily habit but instead, I do it for a while, burn out, lay low for a while, pick it up again. Every time I start again, it feels great and I wonder why I haven't been doing it. So, right now, I'm in the feeling-great stage of sketching. My illustrations gigs slowed down and I'm not looking to add new ones. The move and remodeling is mostly done. I can breathe a little bit. And sketching...sketching makes me breathe way slow. Nice, relaxed, yoga breaths. Inhale-2-3-4, exhale-2-3-4-5-6. Good.

I want more of it.

I recently read (more or less) three books that push for a daily art practice: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, Daily Painting by Carol Marine, and Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory. All of them deserve a separate review but none offered me a concrete solution. Sure, I'd like to have 30 minutes of brain-dump writing first thing in the morning, and I love the idea of meditative sketching first thing in the morning...but mornings aren't working for me. I liked doing daily paintings for a month. I will probably try it again in September, after Elijah goes back to school and I figure out a way to coordinate everyone's schedules so that mine includes some reliable art-making hours. For now, I'm just surviving summer and take every sketching opportunity I can find.


Day 21 - Mimi's Cafe watercolor sketch

We went out on a date yesterday, also known as "let's-go-eat-food-I-did-not-cook" :). I brought along a sketchbook. This was the view from our booth...rather charming, with the chandelier, the oval mirror in an ornate frame, the little photographs and the big paintings on the walls. First thing that drew my attention, though, was the quiet and cozy quality of light. I tried to infuse the sketch with it. What do you think? Can you feel it?

Day 11 - a few sketches from the days before

Things get crazy, no time for anything, etc. Here is a sketch of baby Ella (who is already 2 months old!):


And an animated gif of her created by the almighty Google through their awesome Auto-Awesome feature. I am having all kinds of fun with it. (Sorry if you hate pictures of babies...I can't help it! I promise I won't do it very often, though :))


The second sketch below is something I made based on a picture of a woman walking through an alley. Initially, I just liked the figure and the tall buildings around her (which were not dark or menacing in the reference photo). As I worked on it, though, it began morphing into an abstraction more and more and taking on a darker mood. I'm not sure it's finished. I like the transparent layers but I also want to see how far I can push it into abstraction and darkness. We'll see...


Day 10 - An Apple Tree Ink and Watercolor Sketch

One of these days I will make a blog post about making a watercolor sketchbook. Especially since my current handmade sketchbook is almost full and I need to make a new one! The sketch below is also from the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens paintout. I started it there but was too hot and otherwise pregnantly uncomfortable to finish. So I finished it today.

Apple Tree. Watercolor and ink on watercolor paper.  

I liked this apple tree on my first walk-through of the gardens and made sure to return to it at the end of the paintout. I was hoping for a more interesting light and for a shaded spot for me to set up my easel but things don't always work exactly the way you want them to when you're doing plein air. The tree was in the shadow and I was pretty much in sunlight.

Day 6 - A sketch of some bird of paradise trees

I had a doctor's appointment this morning. No big deal, just a routine 7-month pregnancy checkup (yep, in case you didn't know...I'm pregnant). Well, I ended up spending most of the day at the hospital! I've been having some issues including an episode of what looked suspiciously like preterm labor, so they wanted to run a couple of tests and an ultrasound to make sure nothing funny is happening. I'm all good, just need to slow down and get plenty of rest...Easier said than done.

Marker on kraft paper. 

Anyway, I didn't get to paint today yet (I may still, after the kids go to bed), but I did bring my sketchbook with me and doodled a little. The Kaiser hospital I went to has a really nice area between the buildings, with water features and lots of plants. While I was waiting on one thing or another, I sketched this group of bird of paradise trees . They also inspired all kinds of abstract ideas, so I intend to revisit these shapes soon :).

Plein Air Paint Outs

Plein air, in case you aren't in the secret circle of those who know, is a fancy (French) way of saying "outdoors" - as it relates to painting. In the last five months (right before I found out I was pregnant - though I haven't made the connection until now) I've been a lot more proactive about getting out of the house and going somewhere to make art. I started a Facebook group and, recently, a group to involve other local artists. It also led to an ongoing series of figure drawing sessions at the Burning House Art Studio in Apple Valley - but that's another topic worth a few more blog posts :).

While I am not new to plein air painting, it has been a long time since I pursued it with any intensity. Even now, doing it a couple of times a month is not really that intense - but I am enjoying it a lot and want to do more. I'm hoping it's possible with three little kids...we'll see. The projected arrival of kid #3 in early November has given me the momentum to start the groups and organize events. Probably because I know it will be tough to do anything for quite a while after the baby is born. So...the plan is to have fun and wear myself out so that I'm sick of art and am ready for a break from it. Or something along those lines :)

I wrote about our first, Oro Grande Sketch-out before. After that, we went to the Buddhist temple in Adelanto. The place is in the middle of nowhere (as is anything here, I suppose...this IS the middle of nowhere ;)) and it surprised me with beautiful architecture, a sculpture garden and what seemed like hundreds of birds (see video below and's beautiful).

At the same sketch-out, I met Kate of Katesfolkart , a wonderful local artists who paints scenes from the middle-of-nowhere I mentioned above and makes it look good :) She is now one of my most consistent sketch-out buddies.

I'll try to write a bit about every sketch-out we've had so far, so keep an eye out for more reports :). For now, some of my sketches from the Buddhist temple outing: