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!

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.

Enjoy the new video demo!

Here is me sketching and painting a couple of roses in a sketchbook:

A little sketch of roses to celebrate Mother's Day! I am using a Sakura Pigma Micron pen and watercolor paints on Fabriano Artistico hot press paper.

This was recorded with my new camera (Nikon D3300) which I have high hopes for: something along the lines of it filming and producing at least monthly videos almost by itself...I'm quite happy with it so far. Now, to find the time.

On a sort of related note, I have been talking about launching an online course for years and now that I have the equipment, I want to figure out what exactly this course will be about. When it comes to watercolor painting, I'm good at several things and I need to focus on one. What would you want to learn from me? I will love you forever if you let me know :)

What do you want to learn?

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 12 - to France!

At least, virtually for now :) I got a few reference photos of windows and doors from Bix of France Painting Holiday and used one of them today. Not crazy about the result but happy that I actually managed to paint some. There are things I like and dislike about this painting, but in general, I declare it a dud, a stinker, a wiper. Any other terms for unsuccessful painting attempts? Often, my "wipers" turn into experiments (since I already know it can't get much worse, I'm not afraid to mess it up with wild ideas). On this one, I want to do a few things...One is to apply gesso with a bristle brush (for texture) over the timber and freshen up the color on top.


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 7 - Italian Window 4

I was too wiped out last night to post this, so...I was about to say that it means two posts today, but probably not. Small changes in routine seem to mess up my painting opportunities in a major way. Yesterday, I had the baby's 2-month checkup appointment in the morning and then, a sick 1.5-year-old for the rest of the day. So not much happened in terms of art production and marketing.

This reminds me of the popular artist-blog expression, "life got in the way." On one hand, I can relate completely: "life" can demand so much attention and energy that you don't have anything left to feed your creative self. Or, in another scenario, you have to constantly switch gears between "life" (in my case, it means being a mom and wife) and art-making or business mode, can't focus on either, and become very frustrated. Multitasking, you say? What is that?

Now, as to the other hand...I am slowly beginning to realize that life, the one that "gets in the way," is actually more important to me than, albeit more pleasant and fulfilling in the short term, process of making and selling art. (This may be the reason why women artists rarely "make it" in the art world).

Anyway, another window from Venice today. Hope you like it :)

10 x 7" Watercolor and ink on hot press 140lb watercolor paper. Special price of $75 until February 1.

10 x 7" Watercolor and ink on hot press 140lb watercolor paper. Special price of $75 until February 1.

On Day 5, I rest!

...Not entirely true. I'm taking a break from daily painting because I need to catch up on housework (to a degree, of course. In my experience, housework is a black hole that will gobble up all the time and energy you let it). However, let's keep the Italian theme alive! If you follow me on Facebook, you may know that recently, I developed a new hobby: making wonderfully delicious bread. So, my current batch is Italian semolina bread that looks like this:


Go ahead, drool...Beg me to invite you over for a cup of tea. It makes awesome toast, too! :) And because I can't leave you without some art, here is a sketch of another loaf I made recently:


That one was a "peasant loaf" out of my new favorite book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." Interested in making your own bread that is easy, fast, and tasty? Check it out on Amazon:

Day 4 - Neighbors

Venice yet again! I noticed these two windows sitting next to each other on two adjacent buildings. They have an intriguing balance of contrast and shared old world charm that I couldn't walk away from.

6.5 x 10" ink and watercolor on hot press paper. Special price of $75 until Februrary 1.

6.5 x 10" ink and watercolor on hot press paper. Special price of $75 until Februrary 1.

Day 3 - Restaurant "Chiodofisso" in Venice

I love street scenes. It's probably very obvious if you look at an archive of my work :). And I am particularly fond of European street scenes. Beautiful architecture, good food, people enjoying life - what's not to love?

This little restaurant is tucked around the corner from St Mark's Cathedral in Venice and, according to Yelp, it also serves great food. Next time I'm in Venice, I'll have to see for myself!

"Chiodofisso" - 7 x 10" Watercolor and ink on paper. Special price of $75 until Februrary 1.

"Chiodofisso" - 7 x 10" Watercolor and ink on paper. Special price of $75 until Februrary 1.

30 Paintings in 30 Days Round 3!

I may be crazy...because I'm doing it again! If you are subscribed to my blog and you don't want to receive an email with new post every day for the whole month of January, you may want to manage your subscription (so that you only receive a summary once a week). If you need help doing that, just drop me a line and I'll be happy to help :).

I decided to have a tentative architectural theme for this set of 30 paintings. And I also intend to keep them small and quick, which will, hopefully, help me survive and keep painting until the end of the month. The first painting was born when I was virtually walking the streets of Venice in search of an architectural detail I would want to paint. Instead, I got drawn into this little alley and attracted by the expressive figures. They aren't expressive in the sense that a flamboyant dancer is, they are just silhouettes of people walking with a purpose or enjoying their vacation in Italy.

Italian Window, December Virtual Paintout

Or, I suppose, it's more of a door...Virtual Paintout is in Venice this month, and I just couldn't miss it! During my first few minutes of virtually riding in a gondola down the canals, I realized that you can't go to Venice for a couple of days. You have to spend at least a month there. Inspiration is going to stab you around every corner!

I found a dozen of spectacular views on my short walk but settled for this charming architectural detail of a balcony for now.

Merry Christmas!

And a Happy New Year! Thank you for reading my blog an following my work, especially if you've been doing that for years :) Your support and encouragement means a lot to me.

The image above is from my sketchbook, a super-quick painting of a tree shadow that I saw on our backyard fence and painted while talking on the phone. Inspiration has been striking me in unlikeliest places recently :)

In news, I'm considering participation in another one of Leslie Saeta's 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenges, which begins in a week. I really want to paint but I'm not sure I can swing it with two babies at home. Three on weekends...Yea or nay?

Ella-Nutella (or Meet the New Baby)

So you may have noticed that I disappeared for about two months...Which is pretty much what having a baby does to you :). Things get intense and everything other than making it to the due date, recovering, and taking care of the baby becomes less important.

Ella was born on November 4 and what can I say, she is pretty amazing. As much as I'm not into babies, I do tend to like my own quite a bit :)

Day 23 - An Avalon Street in Ink and Watercolor

More Catalina! The city of Avalon, to be specific, the little street called East Whittley Avenue. I snapped the reference photo while pushing a double stroller with both of my kids in it up that hill.

East Whittley Ave. 7.5 x 8.75". Ink and watercolor on hot press paper. $75 (special pricing until October 1). Buy here. 

As predicted, I had no time or energy to do a daily painting yesterday. I had an amazing second (and last) day of my portrait painting workshop and I'm super proud of what my students were able to accomplish. However, I was also experiencing symptoms of a cold and of being very much pregnant, so by the end of the day, I was dead. With a little over a month left until we get to meet baby #3, I am glad to stop being so active and lay low for a while. Of course, I will want back in the saddle before I know it...but for now, I feel like taking a break. 

Day 21 - Mission San Luis Rey

I spent the whole day teaching the first half of my portrait painting workshop and hanging out with the husband and kids in the evening, so I am cheating today. This sketch of the Mission San Luis Rey is from a few months ago, when we visited San Diego. Miraculously, I think I was even able to finish the sketch on site.

Watercolor and ink pen on paper. 6x11" 

I'm teaching the second day of the workshop tomorrow, so I may not have an opportunity for a new daily painting again. Good thing I have a ton of unpublished pieces...On the other hand, I am still reliving the Catalina trip and want to paint a few things based on my photos from there.