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!

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!

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.

How to paint with kids at home (Part 2)

I feel superior to people who have less than three kids. It's just what it is. Having three kids, for example, gives me a legitimate reason to not go to events I don't want to attend. On the flip side, of course, it also makes it a lot more difficult to attend events I want to. But I digress.


Today's post was prompted by my discovery of Marissa Huber and her series of interviews with artist moms. I often feel alone in my daily struggle to 'make it' - both as an artist and as a mom. I know that on the outside, I look successful in both - but it does not come easy. And it seems that there are so many successful artists who either have no family or are retired from 'real jobs,' with their kids by now independent. And that the really good moms devote their every waking hour to raising kids and keeping the house, with no time or energy left for any pursuits of their own.

So it was very exciting to read Marissa's interviews with real-life women artists who have real-life small children.

How do they do it, then? Well, here are some tips based on my own experience and some I'd like to borrow from Marissa's guests:

1. Adjust your expectations. I still occasionally get frustrated when I count on an hour of uninterrupted creating time and it doesn't happen. So, don't set yourself up with unrealistic expectations. If 5 minutes at a time is all you can get, get it!

2. Have a schedule. Kids respond well to having a structure to their day. And you will, too. Right now, for example, we have nap time for Katia (3.5) and Ella (2), around 12-2 pm. This gives me a block of time to work (or take a nap, whichever seems more pressing at the time :)

3. Learn to say 'No' to some things. No, you don't have to be the PTA president, remodel your bedroom and make art for a show all at the same time. Pick what is most important to you, based on your values and goals, and go for it.

4. Adjust your process. This may be working smaller, switching to a more kid-friendly medium, and moving your art headquarters to the kitchen island. Some stolen creating time in your living room is better than no creating time in your studio.

5. Make art with (or alongside) your kids. This one looks better 'on paper' than in real life, but I hear it is an option. Unless I'm just sketching, I need to be in a state of mind that is completely different from 'OMG, is she about to fall out of the chair?' and 'Oh no, too much mess!' So, it works better with older kids who may possibly allow you to dip your toes in your 'zone.'

6. Do the sketchbook. That sketching I mentioned above, it can be a mom-saver. Just do it.

7. Go hang out with other artists once in a while. Attend a meetup, go draw a nude or paint some plein air. You don't even have to talk. Just being in company of other creative souls will recharge your batteries. And get you out of the house!

8. Take the kid(s) with you. Yes you can!

9. Hire a babysitter, if you can, or get another family member to watch the little ones while you work. This, of course, really depends on your situation, but is so worth it!

10. Stop comparing yourself to others. This is really the same as my first point. Do what is right for you at this point in your life and hang in there.

That's all. Go forth and create now :)

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.'

New studio

The dust from the move and remodel is settling, and so are we. My studio is now taking up a corner in the garage and is unpleasantly hot a lot of the time. It does contain all my art stuff, though. As I was unpacking and arranging everything, I kept thinking that some enthusiastic beginning artist would love to be at my post-mortem garage sale. Cheerful, I know :) . But I do have a lot of cool art stuff!

This morning, I am out for some sketching and painting in the old part of Fair Oaks, CA. I haven't done plein air in forever! Will post about it soon if it ends up looking like anything blogable.

What's up?

So it's been a while. At least, if you read my blog regularly, you aren't too tired of seeing me in your inbox :) . I'd like to think I am slowly coming out of the 'fallow' state I've been in (a nod here to the amazing Margaret Atwood). The Selfie class (see previous post) was good, though I felt caught off guard when it ended. I still haven't completed the 'final project' - an awesome 1-2 hour photoshoot with myself, which should result in some nice head shots and mysterious full body images. I do feel more prepared for it, though. Soon, I will do it.

One of the prompts from the class - use your tools/props!

Last week, I did a demo for the Sacramento Public Library's art program. It was good to share my knowledge and love for watercolor painting again. I miss teaching. There are local workshops and online classes that I have on the back burner but I haven't had the energy to get them going yet. Soon...soon.

Another thing I've been busy with is lots of freelancing. Architectural concept illustration for the most part, with some book illustration thrown in. Income-generating activities, in other words. This allowed me to keep my mind occupied and helped us finally become debt-free. Which we celebrated by buying a house, which is guaranteed debt for the next 30 years...But anyway, we have a house we will be moving into in two weeks! I will lose the home studio for a while but a plan to studio-ise part of the garage is in the works. And maybe a separate little shed of a studio outside down the road.

Working on an architectural illustration of a residential development in Colorado

Working on an architectural illustration of a residential development in Colorado

Meanwhile, my son is finishing Kindergarten, my middle daughter turned 3, and the baby is now 1.5. They all are beautiful and they make me happy. I'd say they are growing on me :)

The Selfie

Funny that I should now talk about selfies, as just in the last post, I included a selfie-painting and got all self-analyzing. And, like, stuff.

Sorry...couldn't help it. I still associate the word 'selfie,' even beatified by the Oxford English Dictionary, with less-than-clever teenage girls. Along with corresponding vocabulary.

Anyway, to business. And the business is that I am taking the "Rock A Selfie Photoshoot" class with Vivienne McMaster. There are several reasons I decided to do it now. I recently had a LASIK surgery and now don't wear glasses. So, my 4-year-old current head shot is definitely not very current.

The second reason has to do with the complete disorientation I experienced over the past year. It brought into focus the fact that I don't know myself very well or, what is more likely, that I lost the connection with myself a while ago. My values, my beliefs, my relationships, my goals in life, all became questionable and blurry. So, taking this class seemed like a way to pay a little more attention to myself, hopefully with some revelations, affirmations and good images as a bonus.

This was a me-on-my-path prompt, which turned out difficult for me. I've been feeling disoriented, sometimes suspended in mid-air not sure which way is up; sometimes definitely plummeting down; sometimes touching the ground for a second and then bouncing off again. So an image of me walking down a path would not ring true.

I was surprised at the pure luck of catching my feet so high in the air. Ideally, of course, they would be in focus...And the bottom right is where I would like to be. Feet firm on the ground, safe, confident. Ready to go.

And there is yet another reason. Reference photos for a semi-secret series of paintings I have been plotting for several months. I considered hiring a model for these but maybe someone like me will do :)

How to Make Mistakes

Yes, I did mean 'make,' not 'fix' mistakes. This post may turn out somewhat philosophical and maybe a little bit self-help-y but it has direct relevance to making art.

I had something of a revelation last night, as I was attempting to fix a 'drip' on a commissioned portrait. The 'drip' happened when I decided the painting was a stinker and I had nothing to lose by going wild all over it. Well, the collector loved that stinker except for some minor adjustments. Like the huge drips and splashes.

Usually, I try to do all I can to make my collector happy. They will be the ones living with the painting, so I want to make sure they love it. As I was scrubbing and dabbing, though, I thought that these drips and splashes and blooms...they are my style.

I realized that I allow these 'mistakes' in my art on purpose. I have a very accepting attitude that I developed some time ago and didn't grasp its significance until last night. The drips and blooms, considered mistakes in someone else's books, are part of my artistic self. I let the errant ink lines be. I rarely erase anything. It's like a record of my...growth? My self-discovery? There is something intimate in being able to see the way an artist begins their work, hits bulls-eye on something, completely misses something else, and keeps trying. If you see the mistakes, you see the see the work, not just the perfectly finished result.

Another effect of allowing mistakes is that you develop confidence. This is one reason I advise my students to sketch in pen, not pencil. You can erase pencil, and you will likely keep doing it over and over again. You will keep trying to get it perfect. If you make a mistake with pen, you have two choices: live with it, accept it and leave it in your drawing; or abandon that drawing and start over. You have to make a decision, and I think that with time, you will learn to be on good terms with your mistakes. You will allow yourself to not be perfect and be fine with it.

It is what makes watercolor an 'unforgivable' medium. In most cases, the more you try to 'fix your mistakes' in your painting, the worse it gets. The less you fiddle, the better.

Make your mistakes. They are beautiful.