TBT – Summer time and everything is easy

journal entry for summertime - watercolour and ink

Summer, you have finally arrived!

Proof?  There are popsicles in the fridge and sandals and flip flops at the door.  The pool is already solar-panel heated to 85F.  Soon, we will be picking fresh lettuce and beans and other produce from our very own garden.


Lazy days of summer - journal entry

The tempo slows down and routines change during summer.  Walks are taken early mornings or later at night when the air is cooler.  There are more impromptu guests and drinks and barbecues by the pool.

And life is good!  Wishing you a safe and splendid summer.

(for this Throwback Thursday, I selected two entries from my 2016 gratitude journal.)

When eyes see things much too far

She always had that about her, that look of otherness, of eyes that see things much too far, and of thoughts that wander off the edge of the world. ~ Joanne Harris.

"That look of otherness". Mixed media: XL graphite blocks, Neocolor II, acrylics, collage of original printed tissue paper done with the Gelli plate on 11x15 inch Canson watercolor paper.

When eyes see things much too far, what do they see?

This is a good question; it seems to be relevant to the portrait as she has a look that says she is not present in the moment.

Is she looking in the distance or is she daydreaming? I don't know.

She is a surprise to me because when I started her I had no predetermined idea of the end result.

Here she is at the beginning of the process, looking a little like Marilyn Monroe.

initial rough sketch with XL graphite and gesso

She began to take a life of her own after I added colours using watered down Neocolors II.

portrait painting - added colours to initial sketch with Neocolors II

progress on mixed media portrait

When I was fairly certain I had a face that I liked painted on paper, I added the collage in the background.

I chose the Gelli printed paper with bronze and orange and green since I thought these colours were also in her skin tone. This is tissue paper that I had painted last fall while experimenting for another project.

I painted a portrait using the Gelli printed paper in a shirt a few months ago: Nests in her hair for spring

You can see the actual Gelli plate here:  Experiments with new art supplies and life is good!

Gelli printed tissue paper in background of portrait

Finally, at the very end when I thought I was done, I didn't like her hair. And then I didn't like one of her eyes and eyebrows either.

Acrylic paints are somewhat easy to rework and so I made the necessary adjustments.

And now she gazes in the distance, quite aloof to her surroundings, looking off into the distance, and I wonder what she is seeing.

TBT – revisiting Georgie the cat

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods.  They have not forgotten this.”  ~ Terry Pratchett.

"Georgie" 9x12" Prismacolor pencil art on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper

“Georgie” 9×12″ Prismacolor pencil art on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper.


Earlier this week, I painted my oldest dog, Chico.  In looking through past blog posts, I see that I have painted my dogs more often than I thought although they were never painted in such detail as with acrylic.  In 2015, I sketched my Maltese, Sophie. A relaxed dog is an easy one to sketch.

One portrait that has remained a personal favourite, is that of Georgie the cat, painted in 2014 as a gift for my American friend, Linda.

In my portrait, Georgie thinks she is the queen of her territory.

We can see her little smirk as a result of having lost a few teeth, and her relaxed, aloof gaze as though she is above everything and everyone.  A very regal pose.  

Or perhaps she is just slightly disdainful because we have dared to walk by her one more time without giving her that which she feels is owed to her, whether it is a treat or a brushing.  

photo of "Georgie" the cat- model for painted pencil portrait

Georgie’s portrait was a labour of love.  

R.I.P. Georgie. (2015)

June is butterflies, flowers, shade, and one relaxed dog

"The love of a dog is a pure thing.  He gives you a trust which is total.  You must not betray it." ~ Michel Houellebecq, a French poet and novelist. 

Mixed media portrait of Havanese on 12 x12 gallery wrapped canvas

“An afternoon in the shade”.  12 x 12 gallery-wrapped canvas, mixed media painting of Chico, my 12 year old Havanese.

Chico, our Havanese, has been with us since he was a puppy and has always been an easy-going, laid back kind of dog.

When he is happy to see us, he bounces around, and I swear, has a big grin on his face.  Most times though, he is quite content to lie quietly on a comfortable cushion and watch household activities.

I decided to paint him outdoors for this portrait.  After all, we are almost into summer here in Canada, and just like his human family, he loves the cool grass on his paws and the shady areas of the yard.

Below is the original photo used as inspiration for the whimsical portrait I painted of him.

photo of Havanese

The photo is a bit dark and not quite focused but hey, I work with what I have!  Chico is sitting on his favourite brown blanket on our red sofa.  He claimed that blanket as his own not long after he was sick and we used it to keep him warm.  It has been put away for the summer.

You can tell that I was aiming for a fanciful, soft portrait of our little puppy, as I often call him.  And in keeping with the puppy theme, I have made him look a little pudgier than he is in real life.

Although he barks at anyone who dares come to our door, he is the gentlest, friendliest little dog one could ever want.

What personality trait of your dog is most endearing?

Sisters always have each other’s backs

"No one could have called Mr. Standen quick-witted, but the possession of three sisters had considerably sharpened his instinct of self-preservation." ~ Georgette Heyer, (1902-1974) a prolific historical fiction writer who specialized in the Regency era.

Three Sisters - Watercolours and Micron and Pitt pens on Canson XL watercolor paper

Three Sisters - 12 X 18" watercolour and micron pen on Canson XL watercolour paper.

Although we were only two girls and one boy in our household, the girls always stuck together no matter what the issue or problem might have been, and our unfortunate brother was caught in the middle, literally and figuratively.

Of course, much of the time, he was the author of his own demise...like the time he went into the freezer and ate the filling out of the butter tarts mom had made for Christmas.  Or the time he nearly electrocuted himself, or set the house on fire.  So even if he tried to pin the problem on us, we were quick to defend each other and place the blame right back where it belonged.

I can only imagine adding one more girl into the mix! It would certainly keep any boy on his toes if not teach him quick comebacks.

So when I read about Mr. Standen and his "sharpened instinct of self-preservation", I laughed at the memories the quotation conjured up for me of my childhood, with my brother always in some sort of trouble at home, and the girls watching as fate or sometimes mom, meted out the consequences.

Life is the most difficult exam…

Life is the most difficult exam. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realizing that everyone has a different question paper. (myimagequote.com)

mixed media portrait

"On graduation day". Mixed media including XL graphite blocks, acrylics, Neocolor II, acrylic ink, metallic paste on Canson XL - 11x15 inch watercolor paper.

graphite blocks XL used in mixed media portrait

Smile for me once more

"Teardrops are falling from your Spanish eyes/Please, please don't cry/This is just adios and not goodbye."  Lyrics to Blue Spanish Eyes.


mixed media Sevillana

"Smile for me once more". 9 x 12 mixed media portrait (acrylic and oil pastels) in Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal.

She ought to smile because I struggled with getting her out from the shadows. At the very end, she was given a "nose job" in order to make her nose more feminine. And now that I am happy because my creative slump is over I think should be happy too!

Inspired by the lovely women of Seville, Andalusia, this portrait was painted after I returned home and started looking at all the photos I had taken during the Feria de Abril, a week of parties that occurs two weeks after Semana Santa.

While we were in this pretty orange blossom filled city, Seville society paraded before us in carriages, on horseback, and on foot.

Everyone was going to Los Remedios, an area next to the Guadalquivir River where we were told by our guide, over one thousand tents were set up for daily singing, dancing, drinking and general partying.

The Festival lasts the entire week and well-to-do families, clubs, businesses, and associations have their own pavillion in an area that is a little less than a square mile. One has to have an invitation to be allowed into one of these pavillions or casetas but there are also public casetas for the general population.

The parties begin early in the afternoon each day and on the day we visited, I took many photos of the beautiful gowns and of the decorated carriages whisking entire families to their casetas which are equiped with a sound system or perhaps live music playing Sevillanas, the music of Seville, as well as a kitchen, and a bar.

Little girls in carriage in Seville going to casetas in Real de la Feria

These pretty little girls were accompanied by their grandmother to the Feria.

Horse-drawn carriage during Seville Feria
Seville family in horse drawn carriage on their way to the Feria.

Entire families such as this one, parade in one carriage after another, during the week of parties held at the Real de la Feria in Seville.

Sevillana ready for party during Feria di Abril.

I took many photos such as this one, of the lovely Sevillanas in their beautiful, traditional gowns, and posted them to my Facebook or Instagram pages during our holiday in Spain.

Our second visit to Seville offered us a quite different perspective than the one we had during the somber processions of the Semana Santa in 2014.

This visit was a feast for the eyes.

The rain in Spain results in adjusting my sails

"She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails." Elizabeth Edwards.

on the spot watercolour sketch in hotel lounge

Not long after we arrived in Spain, we had two days of bad weather. All four of us accepted that there would be no long walks on the Paseo Maritimo in Torremolinos, no exploring other than to find new restaurants for our meals. The intense rain and wind put a stop to our sightseeing plans.

The rain and wind abated around lunch time and we ran across the road to La Cabaña for paella and sangria, and then took a few photos of the rough waves before heading back to the lounge.

Because we were still jet lagged, we were grateful for the imposed change of pace.

on the spot - watercolour sketches - in the lounge
on the spot sketch - at the bar

While others passed the time reading, or playing games on their tablets, I practised quick, surreptitious sketches.

People came and went at the bar or in the lounge. Everyone was seeking a meeting place out of the rain.

I had many different scenarios to choose from. Some hotel guests were texting, others were chatting with family and friends, some sleeping... and generally, people didn't move too much so I was able to rapidly sketch their positions on paper and then add touches of watercolour on the spot.

The hours passed surprisingly quickly, and soon, the sun returned.

journal page - Malaga
Picasso journal page in travel sketchbook

Even before leaving Canada, I had convinced myself that I would have time to sit and sketch.

To that end, I carefully selected pens, pencils and travel watercolour set. I worried about the extra weight the contents of the zippered pouch would add to my carry-on bag so in the days before our trip, I sorted, and reorganized that container many times.

I needn't have worried.

Except for those two days of rain, daily sketching didn't happen. In fact, the Malaga pages were completed once I returned home.

We were on the go and when, at the end of the day, very late at night, we found ourselves back in our rooms, I was just too tired to even think about sketching and painting. It was time to socialize!

I adjusted my sails.

Picasso journal page 2
quick sketches scenes from Malaga courtyards

Málaga ceramics and murals – uplifting and colourful

"Gazing at beautiful things acts on my soul." Michelangelo.

Málaga mural

Since our return from Spain, I have been in a bit of a slump. I have many projects waiting to be completed and yet, I begin new projects, never satisfied with anything that I make.

It's at times like this that I think of the determination to succeed, the dedication to art, and yes, the talent of other artists that I know or whose work I have seen, more specifically, art that I admired in a little shop in Málaga, just around the corner from the Picasso Museum. Of course, no one was allowed to take photos in the museum.

I asked the shop owner if I could photograph the pieces for sale on the shelves and told her it was for publishing on my blog. She graciously allowed me to wander around the shop and take all the photographs below (and more).

I have emailed another artist whose work I loved because it gave me ideas for my papier mâché creations, and asked for permission to publish some of his work on my blog, but have not yet received a reply. I mention this because I wrote on Facebook that I would be sharing some of the art we saw in Spain.

artisan work in Málaga - ceramics
ceramics in Málaga shop
ceramics in Málaga art shop
ceramics in Málaga shop
ceramics in Málaga shop
artist/contributors to Málaga ceramics shop

I am not too concerned just yet that I don't feel the urge to paint.

Just "gazing" at other people's work, whether it be the creative outpourings of my Facebook or Instagram friends, will get me in the right mood to start painting again soon.

What do you do to start creating again? How do you move out of a creative slump?

Sketches from my travel journal – the first days

travel journal sketch - the beach

"Find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful." ~ Vincent Van Gogh.

What an easy assignment it was to "find things beautiful" in Spain.

I didn't have to look very far to seek inspiration for my travel sketchbook. Just walking along the beach and selecting colourful seashells amongst the thousands that had washed up onshore, drawing hearts in the sand, finding quaint little signs along the Paseo Maritimo, these were enough to get me started in my journal.

travel journal sketch - the marina at Benalmádena
travel journal sketch - The lighthouse at Benalmádena

These simple scenes from Benálmadena remind me of that sunny day spent at the marina where we had luch at Metro Ristorante. I glued a piece of their coaster in the top corner of one page.

Just a little further from the sailboat marina, people were sunning themselves on the rocks near the lighthouse. I chose one woman to add to my sketch of that area.

These sketches, completed rather quickly by my standards, and with all their imperfections, help me to remember things which photos just can't do: they remind me of the hot sun on my back as we searched for the little tobacco shop in Benalmádena where we could buy a bus pass, of the smells and all the sounds in and around the main marina and finding a little outdoor patio restaurant wedged among other restaurants and shops, and then, the long trek back to our hotel in Torremolinos where some of us discovered oozing blisters on feet not used to wearing sandals.

Of course, at the end of each day, we sat on our balcony overlooking the ocean, and reminisced about the events of the day while enjoying a good bottle or two of local wine.

travel journal sketch - the first day

Sensuous hands of the flamenco dancers of Seville

The sensual hand gestures in flamenco dancing are mesmerizing to watch. Sometimes languid, sometimes frenetic and wild, the circular movements of the hands and the fanning of the fingers and the snapping, (either combined or separate) have a hypnotizing effect on the audience.

I love the passion of the movements, the spiraling spine, the hip rolls and hip juts, the finger snapping and clapping, the castanets, the rapid heel work, the shouts of the encouragement, in short, the drama of it all.

watercolour and coloured pencil sketches of flamenco hand gestures

Andalucia in southern Spain is the home of flamenco, but this dance has been influenced by the different cultures of that region over many centuries.

Seville, a city in the south of Spain, hosts the flamenco festival each year. A few years ago we visited a "tablao flamenco", a nightclub where flamenco is performed on a wooden stage, but this, time, as we should be in Seville around the final weeks of the festival, we should be able to see dancers on the streets of this charming Spanish city.

Truly, flamenco music is a fusion of seductive music from the different cultural groups present in that area over the centuries.

When attitudes towards gypsies began changing in the mid 1800s, this type of music and dance caught the attention of writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and people who had no gypsy blood in them, popularized the dance and the accompanying music.

Many variations of the dance were found and afficionados could visit a café cantante, similar to the tablao, where there was a stage for the performers and tables for the audience.

Over the years, flamenco reinvented itself many times. In the late 1990s, a new craze for flamenco was ignited with the guitarist Francisco Sánchez Gómez (Paco de Lucia) who accompanied the greatest flamenco dancer, José Monge Cruz. They were to influence a new generation of musicians and dancers who are still on the scene today.

TBT – These Crocs were made for travelling

I posted this sketch last June after our trip to Havana, Cuba.

These Crocs were really the best shoes I could have wished for on that particular trip. It rained buckets. It rained cats and dogs...

Streets were inundated with huge puddles. The guys' sneakers were so wet that they never completely dried.

My Crocs? I placed them in the shower, ran tap water over them, and then dried them with with the floor towel.

They are light and comfortable and they are with me on my trip this time as well.

Beautiful, they might not be, but they certainly are practical.

watercolour sketch of Crocs brand shoes - best for travelling in hot weather
watercolour sketch of Crocs brand shoes - best for travelling in hot weather

Nursery rhyme inspired characters

Oh, dear, what can the matter be? / Johnny's so long at the fair. / He promised he'd buy me a bunch of blue ribbons, / He promised he'd buy me a bunch of blue ribbons, / He promised he'd buy me a bunch of blue ribbons, / To tie up my bonny brown hair. (Old nursery rhyme)

nursery rhyme inspired papier mache character

Poor Johnny.

He was sent to the fair to buy blue ribbons, not realizing that he would be going to the mother of all fairs, the yearly London Grand Ribbon show, where exhibitors, in row upon row and as far as the eye can see, display their collections of lustrous ribbons for sale.

Johnny was told to buy blue ribbons...poor guy...there are so many blues! He is completely flummoxed, yes, flummoxed!

Which does Priscilla want? Is it sky blue or turquoise or sea blue or ultramarine? And then there is royal blue, and azure, and baby blue....or how about indigo, or midnight blue? Add to that the sapphire blues, the lapis lazuli, the aquamarine and moonstone blues. So many blues that he is truly perplexed!

And then does she want a satin ribbon, or is it velvet? Was it a thin or a thick ribbon? So many decisions that Johnny is befuddled and speechless when the vendors approach him with their offerings.

Why didn't Priscilla send him to buy an awl, or a socket set, or ratcheting wrenches. THAT he could have handled!

papier mache character based on a nursery rhyme

TBT – Shakespeare said it best

Throwback Thursday mixed media mermaid

I would like to thing that Shakespeare must have felt the urge to visit some of the faraway places he frequently used as settings in his plays.

In The Merchant of Venice, he writes of the business conducted on the Rialto, a bridge that still stands today and of Belmont, an area that only existed in Shakespeare'd mind but could certainly be set in the tropical Italian mountains of the north near Lago Maggiore say, where the wise Portia meets her suitors and must choose one to marry her.

Romeo and Juliet, of course, is set in Verona. Tourists can see Juliet's golden statue (a tourist trap, I might add) in the Capulet courtyard.

Hamlet's action takes place in Denmark and Macbeth's gory scenes and battles, in Scotland.

Incredibly, this prolific playwright never set foot outside of England.

I often wonder why the "unpathed waters, undreamed shores" never pulled him in their direction. I suppose he was too busy earning a living once he was in the queen and then later, the king's good graces.

I might have taken the quotation out of context but there are many "unpathed waters, undreamed shores" that I hope to visit in the years to come.

This mermaid was painted last year for Let's Face it online class.

What my travel sketches will not reveal about me

"You can't do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh." ~ John Singer Sargent.

watercolour and ink sketch of clothes for travelling
watercolour and gouache map of trip in travel sketchbook

As you read this, I will be basking in the warm sun on the Costa del Sol. With all the rain we have had here lately, sunshine will be a pleasant change for us.

My sketchbook and a few art supplies are ready to be packed.

Here are five things you will not find out about me in my sketchbooks:

1. I have a healthy fear of flying but I fight it because I want to see the world. There is so much more to fear these days it seems: being bumped off planes, or more specifically, dragged off and missing my entire holidays as I heal a concussion from the overly zealous militia-like officials. We know from the nightly news that this is not a far-fetched possibility anymore. I fear passenger rage as we are crammed tightly into small spaces. I fear turbulence and any kind of unexpected bump in the night.

2. Speaking of night, contrary to all my friends, I cannot and have never been able to sleep on a plane. As I make one of several trips to the washroom, I see that I am the only one awake along with the air attendants. How I envy all those people who are snoring with their mouths open, the drool running down their chins.

3. I will probably never visit some countries because they are just too far. Recently, we inquired about a trip to Vietnam and our travel agent told us we could travel over the north pole and we would be seeing not one but two sunrises. She seemed excited about that but that was a turnoff for me. Ten hours is the most I can stand confined to a metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere at 30,000 feet above the earth.

4. My friends Sally and Jill who live in different areas of Australia will probably never see unless they meet me half way. Hawaii is a nice place to visit and I might be able to handle that with a stopover on the west coast. Sally and I have been friends now for five or so years and have never met in person whereas I met Jill on our Scenic cruise last fall.

5. For some odd reason, I am not as nervous on the flight back home. I can't explain why that is, it just is. I am always happy to be back even when we have had the most wonderful time.

I will post any sketches I manage to complete while we are in Spain when I return home.

Cheers everyone!

How to recycle and reuse failed art work

Digitally reworked portrait

Vandalize might be a strong word but believe me, it accurately describes the feeling I have after a few bad days in my art room.

Wrecking, ruining, destroying are all acts of vandalism.

In the above photo, the face had been overworked and I hated it. I still do. The urge to vandalize art that isn't working is very powerful. I have heard of a group of artists who meet once a year to party and rip up their ugliest art. Seems like a good enough excuse for some kind of celebration!

But a friend once told me that trashing art is not an option as there are many ways that a piece might be saved. Sometimes, an ugly duckling can be transformed into a somewhat decent swan especially with all the apps that are available to rework art.

With this advice in mind, I added the quotation over the digitally reworked painting; she is presentable and ready for publishing.

watercolour experiments

In this pair, I experimented with saran wrap, gauze, salt, and watercolours.

scary stage of watercolour painting

Is she in the scary stage and I need to push through to discover the beautiful swan?

Or is she overworked and beyond saving? Maybe she needs to be beautified in an app?

What will happen if I start adding acrylics? Or maybe I add clear gesso and try a mix of watercolour and acrylics?

I could even chop the whole thing up and make paper beads.

Another possibility is to let my granddaughter paint over the disaster. She is surprised when I tell her she can do whatever she wants over the portrait. She spends hours pencilling in details, and then painting or collaging over my work.

As you can see, nothing is ever thrown out until the paper is scrubbed to a hole. (Hence the state of my art room as I type this!)

And that's not an exaggeration. Some paintings are just that difficult to bring to a satisfying end and quitting at this early stage is not an option.

Both watercolour portraits are still sitting on the desk waiting for a decision.

I would love to hear about your ideas for saving art that isn't working for you. I surely can't be the only one with art hidden in dark corners waiting for some type of transformation.

TBT – Sangria Olé! an illustrated recipe

Illustrated sangria recipe

This past weekend we met with friends, who are joining us on our next trip to Spain. I invited another friend who has just returned from a six-week stay in Torremolinos, on the Costa del Sol, our destination. What better time to make a big pitcher of sangria served with tapenade.

Tapenade is made with black olives, capers, anchovy paste, garlic buds, and olive oil which are pulsed in the food processor until it is somewhat like a lumpy paste. Purists prefer mashing it by hand but as long as the food processor is pulsed, it is easy to control the texture to avoid a purée.

Spread on rounds of French baguette which should have lessened the salty taste, (it doesn't) sangria is very much needed to wash it down, but if you don't have time to make the sangria (it should be made in advance), tapenade can certainly be served with beer or wine.

I made the above sangria recipe and I am sharing it here as I already posted the Sketchbook illustration on Instagram on August 16 of last year. Thank you Joanne for sharing it!

Sangria is not difficult to make and there are many possible variations on a theme.

As usual, I did not follow this recipe to the letter. I substituted rum for cognac. No one wants to use expensive cognac in a fruity mixed drink. I changed the fruits a little by deleting the grapefruit but adding sliced grapes, as well as lemon and lime slices.

This is a wonderful change from those store-bought sweet coolers that are served during summer.


sangria pitcher

Walter and Millie – soap opera drama

"Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons." ~Al Hirschfield.

Walter and Millie - papier mâché brooches

Walter and Millie - mixed media brooches. Papier Mâché, acrylics, collage, nail polish (glitter on Millie's eyelids and in her hair.)

Painting these characters is so much fun that I do feel like a child again. Although they are not quick to complete, Walter and Millie (and other papier mâché characters in my art room) enter my brain and tell me a story as I work on them.

Millie, a talented ballerina with a small dance company, has many admirers. They lavish her with gifts at the end of each performance. Each suitor outdoes himself vying for her attention.

Meanwhile, Walter steadfastly remains in the background, quietly holding Millie's coat and her comfortable walking shoes, waiting for the crowd to disperse. For the past year, he has walked her home every night after her show.

If she thought about it long enough, (which she hasn't ) Millie would know that Walter is the man for her. Can't you see it in his lovestruck eyes? He is such a kind and thoughtful young man, how can she not fall for him?

Each evening, Millie happily babbles on about the little incidents that occur backstage, or recounts in vivid detail some of the preposterous changes to the choreography that Constance, the prima ballerina, has demanded. Walter can hardly ever find the right moment to tell her his feelings or to discuss what the future might hold for their relationship.

And so, this young couple, has managed to find a little routine that suits both of them for the time being.

Will Walter tire of Millie's self-centered storytelling? Will he finally speak up about the life he envisions for both of them? Or perhaps he will simply move on as Millie's career takes flight? Has Millie set her eyes on one of the dashing men who wait for her at the stage door?

As you can see, the stories associated with these characters have a bit of the soap opera drama in them: they hold the promise of possible betrayals, discovery of long lost love interests, debilitating illnesses and miraculous recoveries, as well as the emotional roller coaster to which such characters are subjected.

TBT – Souvenirs from Seville and Castilla-La Mancha (the heart of old Spain)

"If you're feeling fancy free, come wander through the world with me, and any place we chance to be, will be a rendez-vous. Two for the road, we'll travel through the years, collecting precious memories, selecting souvenirs and living life the way we please." ~ Henry Mancini.

Sketchbook painting of ceramic Spanish dolls

As so many tourists do, I come home with a few (and sometimes many) souvenirs from the countries I have visited.

As an example, last fall during our river cruise in Europe, I bought watercolour paintings and Delft pottery in Amsterdam, hand made lace bookmarks and embroidered napkins in Germany, clothes in Austria, wooden hand painted dolls in Hungary, and a few other items I just can't remember at the moment. Most souvenirs were gifts for friends.

At times, my suitcase was so loaded with souvenirs that the zipper gave up and the suitcase was split open on the "arrivals" carrousel at the airport. That was the case on the return flight from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when I purchased two rather bulky 8" ceramic dolls (one for my sister) and several ceramic plates as well.

Then there was one trip to Italy where I brought back ceramics from my grandmother's hometown, a small musical table with the inlaid wood designs typical product of the Sorrento region, linen clothes made in Italy, and jewelry.

inlaid wood musical table from Sorrento
musical table from Sorrento
ceramic plates from Codroipo, Italy
ceramic doll from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Top photos: Inlaid wood musical table from Sorrento. It plays the song "Isle of Capri". Bottom right: Ceramic figurine bought in Puerto Vallarta holding caged parrots. Bottom left: Plates from Codroipo with the dialect Friulan sayings written on them. With its accents on some words (cûr as an example), it looks nothing like Italian, but it is a language I can still understand to some degree today).

In Greece, I bought handmade linens and pillow covers and jewelry as well as ceramic dolls.

O.K. You have discovered my secret. I love to shop when I visit foreign countries.

So today's Throw Back Thursday sketch is from my 2016 travel sketchbook.

Each little bell that sits on my kitchen window sill reminds me of the wonders of the world that I have seen in the past ten years, in this case, in beautiful España.

Spain will once more add pages to my travel book

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." ~St. Augustine.

first page in sketchbook for trip to Spain

In a few weeks we will be enjoying, along with our lifelong friends, a glass or two of sangria on the shores of the Mediterranean.

This will be our second visit to Spain's Costa del Sol. Our first trip was in 2014 and we stayed in Marbella for a few nights and travelled to Mijas and Torremolinos but those visits were far too brief.

Spain kept a piece of me...I had to return.

This time, I am bringing along a travel journal, a sketchbook where I want to record our daily activities and add drawings as I did when we were in Havana, Cuba, in June 2016.

Parque Central sketch - in the lobby (Havana, June 2016)

Last fall, I regretted not having my watercolours and other paraphernalia with me on our Rhine/Danube cruise. However, if truth be told, I probably would not have had time to sit and sketch. This will not be the case in Torremolinos.

You might wonder what is so special about a travel journal?

Contrary to photos, a travel journal makes you more aware of all the minute details of your surroundings. You might record:

- snippets of overheard conversation
- stamps from different areas
- maps or sections of maps
- quick, on-the-go, gestural type sketches
- more leisurely, detailed sketches
- quotations
- lists (sites to see, things to do in and around the area)
- bits and pieces of travel brochures
- the joys of discoveries, the disappointments and irritations that sometimes occur while travelling
- the best gelatos, tapas, beer, wine, etc. that you enjoyed and where you found them
- caricatures of people

In a world of instant this and that, a travel journal seems old-fashioned and maybe even quaint to some people.

But putting pen to paper forces the writer/artist to examine the surroundings without any filters of a camera lens and find the particular in the general setting, as well as people to sketch, and conversations to listen to (eavesdropping is permitted at such times), and chronicle the highlights of the trip.

More often than not, as I am sketching, someone will look over my shoulder and begin questioning me, and that will lead to more fascinating discoveries.

A travel journal/sketchbook, I would argue, heightens the senses.

The world is a book and those who do not read each page thoughtfully, savouring each word, will easily forget the wonders they have seen.

You can quote me on that!

Boots of the Fallen – Battle of Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary

On this day, Canadian soldiers fought, with much sacrifice, and captured Vimy Ridge.

Boots of the Fallen - Watercolour in sketchbook

"Boots of the Fallen". 3,598 Canadian soldiers killed at Vimy and over 7000 injured in a battle that lasted four days.

This great battle represents a coming of age for Canada. The French and British armies failed to take Vimy Ridge. During cold, snowy spring days, in three lines of muddy trenches, Canadians awaited their orders that would see them move up the ridge and make greater advances, capture more soldiers than any other offensive during WWI.

Vimy was reclaimed from the Germans after four days of intense battle and loss.

Vimy Ridge, where physical evidence of the battle remains, is Canada's National Memorial in Europe.

Meet Michelle and Antonina, papier mâché experiments

" A goal should scare you a little and excite you A LOT." ~ Joe Vitale.

Michelle and Antonina, first set of clay brooches

Michelle (Bonjour) and Antonina with her flowers, Mixed Media brooches.

My art work room is cluttered with experimental projects in different stages of completion.

I can find fault in all of them. So much time has been invested on these canvases, and I need to see them successfully finished to breathe a sigh of relief, and to feel contentment with my work.

But it is easy to get sidetracked when there is so much art to try out there.

I have never worked with papier mâché and the thought of creating fanciful figurines has me off on another tangent while my canvases collect dust for a while.

The armature for one such figurine is finished and I only need to apply the papier mâché. The really exciting part of the process for me is painting the hardened paper and wondering what quirky character might show up.

As often happens, I was excited about this new project and started asking myself what if?

Artistic distractions are the bane of my life at the moment, but I allow myself to be pulled in this or that direction as I search for my true calling as an artist.

So instead of working on the figurine, these brooches appeared. They are experimental of course, but I do love their little whimsical faces.

My art room looks like a production line with paper clay brooches in various stages of completion spread out all over the counter and the worktable.

As time consuming as these brooches are, (I need to refine the process), they are also very satisfying to finish. Each one is unique and I have a few dapper men to add to the collection as well.

Michelle is wishing you a good day but something is troubling her. She has a very concentrated look on her face as though she is scrutinizing you very carefully before allowing herself to open up to you.

Antonina, on the other hand, is an old-fashioned woman. Shy and retiring, she would much rather surround herself with her flowers than participate in idle gossip. (Her name occurred to me last night as I watched The Zookeeper's Wife at our local movie theatre.)

Each clay brooch has a story to tell.

This new venture excites me a lot.

It’s all about the background – Progress report 2

"Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties. " ~ Gail Sheehy, American author and journalist.

working from this photograph

There are so few certainties when I start each painting.

Uncertainties are many as I continue to work on a large canvas featuring my granddaughter as ballerina and using this grainy photograph as my inspiration.

The flowers I had "tested" on each side of the canvas have been removed after I received emails from friends and subscribers when I requested feedback. The consensus was almost unanimous so I painted over them.

Another uncertainty had to do with the background which couldn't remain black even though it is very dark in the photograph.

A friend suggested that I examine some of Degas' ballerinas for ideas. I found two of his paintings with backgrounds including what looked to me like alizarin crimson, raw sienna, burnt umber, yellow ochre, and I think these colours work better than stark black.

I still have a bit of adjusting to do on the background, but I am much happier with the changes I have made.

the background on acrylic painting of ballerina

While the background dried, I returned to the ballerina.

Her face is partly shaded in the photo. The next steps will involve trying various skin tone recipes. The light on the ballerina is tricky. Her forehead and nose are in the light, but her neck and chest and the rest of her face are dark. Somehow, I have to find skin tones that will match the rest of her body and not be too far out of the colour range that we see on her arms and legs.

Rather than trying the recipes on canvas, this time I will use watercolour paper. I feel a lot of trial and error about to happen.

....And probably a few more uncertainties too!

Doubts set in on big canvas painting – progress report 1

"If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends) "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist? Chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death." ~ Steven Pressfield, "The War of Art".

another painting session begins

I wonder if any artist ever feels totally confident? Surely there must be times when the stars properly align, when everything goes smoothly, and the painting is just right?

Being cocky about one's work is just plain obnoxious. But so is excessive self-deprecation. Doubts are just a normal part of growth in any field.

I admit that I have doubts on this large 30 X60 canvas, the largest I have ever undertaken to paint. However, the big surface is a pleasure to work on and allows for large brush strokes and therefore, freedom of movement, and I think more large projects might be in my future.

Since my last post, I have been diligently working on the stage, the central figure, and testing flowers that will break up the horizontal line which is the stage.

The doubts that have set in so far?

I didn't like the roses and I attempted another type of flower although I wouldn't be able to identify it. I first painted it soft pink, (too pale), then added orange (too brash), and white, (a little better), and finally, in the last photo, which is where I left the painting yesterday, I covered it with a white wash.

starting here today

The unidentified flower on the right hand side still needs refinement. I might keep the core part (bud like area) and delete the rest.

The mystery flower is less traditional than roses, and in my mind, a better match for the painting. Let me know what you think. Do you prefer the roses on the left side? The unidentified flower on the right? Maybe you have another suggestion?

I suspect that I have to try other designs. I will leave that for later in the process. Sometimes, procrastination is a good thing!

My next task is to start painting the background. I think this will be another struggle as I try to find a substitute for black (Payne's Grey maybe?). I don't want the colour to be uniform so that will entail more experimentation and of course, more doubts.

Yesterday, I concentrated my efforts on the ballerina adding flesh tones to the limbs and face and working the colours in the dress to suggest folds.

The figure on this canvas is so large that I can allow myself to move from one area of the body to another without smudging any wet paint. I suppose that could be one advantage of working on such a big piece.

This is where I stopped yesterday (see below).

today's progress on large canvas acrylic painting

I am pleased with the ballerina so far, and I really like the stage, the skin tones, and the way her white filmy dress turned out.

I remain optimistic about continuing to work on this canvas. Doubts are present but they are not crippling me. The work continues and I will keep you posted!

A big blank canvas is always daunting

"Unless you put yourself on the line and give it your best shot, you'll never know what you could achieve." ~ Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder from Great Britain.

 Daunting big blank canvas 30 x 60

There are no guarantees in art. Each stroke of paint, each mark might result in disaster of colour or proportion or conversely, it could improve the work and bring about greater beauty. Artists speak of many trashed paintings on the road to their one successful painting. And so I understand what it means to be putting "yourself on the line."

Growth (or achievements) in any endeavour can only occur if one is willing to accept challenges and be on that line.

All winter, this 30 x 60 canvas has been waiting outside the art room. The canvas is too big for any of the easels I own so I will work on it propped up on the table in my art room.

For a few years, I have had something in mind for this canvas so last summer, I gave it a base coat of black acrylic paint thinking I would work on it over the winter.

Filling a canvas that size is daunting. As time went along, other projects kept me busy and I procrastinated starting work on this large surface. And thank goodness I did because I was recently inspired by a photo I found of my oldest granddaughter at her dance show.

She is the subject to be painted on the canvas.

Initial measurements on 30 by 60 canvas

As I have never worked on such a large surface, it was important to get the correct proportions right from the beginning. Out came the ruler followed by a sheet rock T square. Head, torso, legs, were all measured out before any paint was applied.

initial sketch on 30 by 60 blank canvas

At this point, my greatest concern is whether or not I have left too much blank space around her. I have to leave room for the stage at the bottom and that might change the look of the piece once it is added to the canvas.

Here she is with her body partly gessoed and roses lightly sketched on one side. I will be testing different flowers and deciding the type and colours that will be most suitable before proceeding too far along.

I like the idea of breaking up the stage and not having it run from one edge to the other. I have a possible title for the painting and the flowers on the sides would work with it.

underpainting for large canvas

Painting is putting myself on the line, and blogging is doubly so. Sharing the work that I attempt or that I complete and writing about it is always a bit of a risk. After all, both are lonely activities that I pursue in my art room each day and then publishing a post allows everyone to see my vulnerabilities.

Those of you who get to the end of my posts, (thank you so much for your understanding) or who have been in contact with me on social media sites or elsewhere, realize that I am not always happy with the outcome. However, I must let go and move on.

Each challenge, each decision is part of the journey I have undertaken in the last two years. Putting myself on the line means that I will give it my best try, and accept that where I am today as an artist is not where I will be tomorrow, or next month, or next year.

What challenges have you accepted lately? How have you "put yourself on the line"?

Caught between two worlds

"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity. " ~ Carl Jung.

mixed media painting on paper "Caught between two worlds"

"Caught between two worlds", mixed media on Canson XL 12 x18" watercolour paper.

This title came so easily to me compared to titles for other paintings.

Why is she caught between two worlds?

For this assignment, I was to paint a "graffiti girl" but right from the get-go, the painting never suggested anything contemporary to me.

She reminded me very much of photographs of women long ago who endured hardships and disappointments with presence of mind and cool composure.

As I continued with the painting, she adopted a bit of a more modern look. Her hair is loose and partially uncombed, she does have a bit of lip colour on her, and the dress, although rather demure by today's standard, might be considered timeless.

And this is how the title "Caught between two worlds" came to be.

She does look sad, as women did long ago in their formal photos, but surely she has had her moments of happiness too in spite of life's hardships.

After all, as Jung states, happiness is not a permanent state of mind, and is appreciated far more when we also accept our times of sorrow.

The request was for a “real mermaid”!

This post is a little different than usual.

When my five year old granddaughter was told she could decorate her prop surfboard for the dance competition season which starts soon, we were surprised that contrary to the other girls who were mostly painting flowers on their boards, she wanted a "real" mermaid. There was lots of emphasis on REAL!

Now I ask you, what exactly is a real mermaid? After much questioning and probing, her mother sent me some ideas to consider for this challenge.

I had never painted on hard foam before, but the board came pre-primed. This was a blessing because the acrylic craft paint which is already quite gritty compared to more expensive artist paints, adhered really well to the board.

 foam "surfboard" prop of mermaid for dance show

After the mermaid was painted, I wanted to add a ballerina in the bubble she is holding, as though the mermaid wished to be a ballerina. That was the story I told my oldest granddaughter who helped me base coat the board during her winter break.

Below is the bubble with the ballerina and my oldest granddaughter who loves anything to do with art, helping me paint the prop.

close up of ballerina in bubble
keeping her busy

I saw youngest granddaughter's first dance show this past Saturday. It was a very cute number with summer music and twenty or so girls dancing and "surfing" on their boards.

Unfortunately, the audience never got to see all the work everyone put into painting the surfboard props. They were flat on the ground or quickly stashed away.

It was a disappointment as an opportunity was missed for a very awesome display of beautiful surf boards with colourful summery art to go along with the dancing and the music. I did get a quick glimpse of some sparkly Hawaiian flowers on one board before it was whisked away.

In the end, youngest granddaughter was very happy with her "real mermaid" board, and that is all that counts.

Nests in her hair for spring

"You can't keep the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair." ~ Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons.

Nests in her hair - mixed media portrait

"Nests in her hair", mixed media portrait.

By the look on her face, she doesn't seem to mind having nests in her hair at all. She thinks the melodious bird song is pleasing after the silence of winter.

Mixed media painting including:

- Charcoal XL sticks by Derwent
- Graphite XL sticks by Derwent
- Faber Castell Gelatos
- Acrylic paint
- my own leaf printed collage made last fall with my Gelli plate. I decided she needed something bright to wear.
- a photograph of birds resting in a willow tree taken this winter by my talented photographer friend, Jean-Pierre Serré. I used parts of the photograph in the woman's hair. Thanks so much for the generous offer!

Finally, I imported the work into Procreate where I softened the edges of the collage with digital paint!

Happy spring everyone!

A strange kind of beautiful

"What strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is good." ~Leo Tolstoy.

mixed media portrait - A strange kind of beautiful

"A strange kind of beautiful", mixed media in Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook.

Titles might sometimes express the idea of the portrait. But suitable titles are not easy to find, especially when there is no background as in many of my portraits, and the story behind the painting is only in my head.

Each painting is a different experience. I like to see the painting evolve especially when it is in its ugly stage as the previous post shows. Really, a painting is just so many layers of change and I get to know the person emerging on paper or on canvas. Each painting is an obsession.

I imagine the subject's thoughts as the portrait develops. Could it be she is going to post a selfie? Does she need to pose in a special way to get positive feedback? Is she about to do something her parents would disapprove of? She looks innocent enough...but maybe that is the whole point?

How can I relate all that in a few words? I think she might be a good girl, or maybe not. She may just be deceiving me with her lovely eyes. Behind the loveliness are strange, maybe evil thoughts. She is not what she appears to be.

Tolstoy is not alone in thinking that we deceive ourselves in assuming that what is beautiful is necessarily good.

"You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, something not everyone knows how to love." - Warsan Shire.

"Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty." - Charles Beaudelaire.

"It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character in art." - Walter Hagen.

I leave the final word to Virginia Woolf. "For the eye has this strange property: it rests only on beauty. "

Letting the painting speak to me

"Artists are people who have learned to live with doubt and do the work anyway. " ~ Julia Cameron, founder of The Artist's Way, a movement that has helped millions achieve their creative dreams.  

 Cameron herself is something of a Renaissance woman.  She has published books that have become international bestsellers and are taught in universities.  Her short stories and poems as well as her essays and hard-hitting political journalism have garnered much praise.  And if this weren't enough, she is also a playwright, filmmaker, and composer of musicals. 

At the root of all her work is the belief that creativity is an authentic spiritual path.  Through her career, she has inspired readers to "simply start".  Cameron says that "Most of us have no idea of our real creative height.  We are much more gifted than we know.  My tools help to nurture those gifts."

About Julia Cameron

pastel WIP - letting the painting speak to me

(WIP - pastel portrait in Strathmore Toned Tan Sketchbook)

Part of my journey of self-discovery as an artist includes reading about other artists and their creative lives.  

Julia Cameron's creative path demonstrates that when a person uses her creativity in daily life, the more potential she has for personal growth and for increased productivity.  Her own life is a testament to the power of creativity.

People think that artists are born with a creative gene that allows for art to appear as if by magic, but  I have read that creativity must be nurtured and practised on a daily basis much like any other interest or sport.  This is certainly true for anyone who wants to see an evolution in their work or capabilities.

I have been posting works in progress (WIP) more often recently.  The path leading to the final product has its own twists and turns, and many opportunities for doubts to set in.

As on any journey, there are choices to be made and the artist might end up at a different destination than the one that was initially planned.  Such was the case with She walks with wolves, a recent painting that sat unfinished for months.  The original intention did not much serve the final outcome; however, the struggles along the way were all teachable moments for me.  

As I work on the above portrait in my sketchbook, I have an idea of the young girl I hope to paint.  There are still many opportunities for stumbling along the way as I apply layers of pastel and refine her features.  Will she still look like a young girl at the end?  Maybe not.  In fact, will I even GET to the end of it and be satisfied?  Maybe not.

That is all part of the creative process... letting the doubts set in, and following the direction where the art seems to be leading me.