The eye searches for novelty…

“The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.”  W.H. Auden.

"Unexpected experiences" mixed media portrait in Strathmore Visual journal

“Unexpected Experiences”.  9 x 12 mixed media in Strathmore Visual Mixed Media Journal.  Mixed media includes acrylics, Inktense pencils, Neocolor II, metallic paints, and collage.

And the world opened up to her colour

“A  kind of light spread out from her.  And everything changed color. And the world opened out.  And a day was good to awaken to.  And there were no limits to anything.  And the people of the world were good and handsome.  And I was not afraid any more.” ~ John Steinbeck, East of Eden.

mixed media portrait with bronze leaves -"The world opened up to her colour"

“The world opened up to her colour”.  9 x 12 mixed media on watercolour paper.

I carved my own leaf stamps for gold leafing. I did not have gold leaf so I used some really old bronze sheets of leafing paper that I must have had in my art stash since the 1990s.  This  was a new technique and had I followed instructions the first time, I would have been finished sooner. Live and learn once more!

The acrylics are watered considerably so that they give the effect of watercolour. This is a technique I learned (and am far from having mastered) from artist Lauren Rudolph. You can see her amazingly vivid paintings by visiting her website here: 

I have used this technique before, here Letting troubles float away

and here: What I learned from trying out a new technique

I added stamped lettering (store bought) in the background, and the colours were achieved using Neocolours II.  Pitt Pastel pens were used in hair as well.

It seems to be a pattern with me lately to throw everything that I possibly can at a painting and see what happens.  The learning continues.

TBT – Ordinary tasks are a blessing

“Hanging laundry on a line is a very ordinary task.  It is as ordinary as scraped knees and lost keys, as fixing the same simple dish for supper again, and again.  Ordinary is most days…: ~ Jerusalem Jackson Greer, A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together.

"Three Baskets" watercolour and ink on watercolour paper

“Three baskets”, watercolour and ink on watercolour paper.

A basket full of line dried laundry might be viewed by some as another chore checked off a long list of ordinary, routine tasks, but I prefer to look at it as a basket of clothes that smell of summer sun and fresh breezes.

Aren’t the little things in life most often glossed over as too mundane, too insignificant for our consideration?

But scraped knees afford the opportunity to console a crying child and feel small arms around us in a grateful hug while lost keys (or cell phones), are fodder for stories that make us laugh at our forgetfulness…eventually!

Simple supper dishes that are repeated week after week become the comfort foods of our youth, recipes that are passed from one generation to the next.

As Jackson Greer writes,” Lord help us if we overlook them.”

Dear friends, I wish you many ordinary tasks this year.

How to keep a child creatively busy (an easy project)

When you have a little visitor in your home and it is one of those dreary days, here is an easy  project you might try.  I got the idea from Pinterest and we added our own unique twist to it.

child painting a canvas with acrylics

Items needed:  a newspaper or magazine, 3 colours of acrylic paint, medium sized sponge brush or other cheap brush, Modge Podge or good glue, a white canvas, foam squares with sticky backs.  Most of these items are available at the Dollar Store.

We also added a butterfly from a paper napkin, and a “crown” from a paper doily.  These are optional of course and your little one might decide to add different embellishments.  An older child might want to make this much more detailed.

collage newspaper outline of dog on prepped canvas
  1.  Paint the canvas with a sponge brush or old brush.  It will need several coats.
  2. I traced the outline of the dog on the newspaper and had my visitor cut it out.
  3. Next, glue the cut out newspaper dog (or cat, or butterfly…) onto the canvas.  We used Modge Podge because I know that it will hold. When it is dry, add the foam nose (a circle) and the dog’s eyes, in this case, ovals as her dog has oval shaped eyes in the photo we were using. Next, paint the ears pink.  This could be optional depending on the type of dog you have decided to paint.
  4. If you have paper napkins with interesting designs such as flowers, butterflies or whatever, remove the layers from the napkins so that you are left with only the top, printed layer.  It will be thin.  You might have to help glue this down.  We Modge Podged on top as well.
bow tie is painted separately

5.  Use a thin cardboard to draw a bow.  I had my visitor paint the bow in her chosen colour which was a deeper purple than the background and let dry.  Then she cut it out.  When the dog was dry, she glued on the bow.

6. Finally, she added the little crown to make it “cute”.  This was from the edge of a paper doily.

7. Once this was done, I suggested she write her name.

And then, it was time to move on to baking.  She made chocolate chip cookies and banana chocolate chip muffins.

It was a busy day!

the final project of collaged dog
time to make some cookies

How do you keep your children or grandchildren creatively busy?

Cody, the Sheltie, and life at the cottage

“When I am old and grey my step might be slower…BUT…My love will be the same.   My heart and soul are grateful for all that you have done and do…”  ~ Bridget of Linked Souls.

"Anticipation" mixed media portrait of Cody the Sheltie with Gelli printed background

“Anticipation.” (SOLD) – a whimsical mixed media portrait of Cody, the Sheltie, as he anticipates leaving for the cottage and chasing his favourite chipmunk.   (11×14 birch panel with 1 inch painted sides).  Background is Gelli printed tissue paper collaged on board.

Cody is getting on in age and his owners wanted to have his portrait painted sooner than later.

The owner says that I have captured Cody’s look of expectation when he knows he is going with his much loved “Grandpa” to the cottage. They have many fond memories of Cody at the cottage when he was in better health.

What’s not to love about the cottage even for a dog?

photograph of  rocky shore at the cottage

At the lake, Cody runs and jumps joyfully, and blows off all pent up energy he has kept in reserve at home in the city.  For a moment, he forgets his age-related aches and pains and is a puppy once more.

He has all the new smells of the forest to explore where wild animals have left their calling cards just for him, or so he thinks.

He has the shore where gentle waters lap against the polished and glistening stones.  How glorious it is to splash around and cool off with a few quick licks close to the rocks!

When he tires (as all old dogs at the cottage do), he can enjoy his naps and bask in the warmth of the sun on the large deck facing the gentle breezes from the lake.

relaxation by the lake - photograph

Most of all though, Cody loves patrolling the property and checking for “chippie” (chipmunk) hideouts.  This activity provides him and his owners hours of entertainment.

Cody chases the chipmunk who skitters away and then hides in the drainspout where Cody will shove his big snout and wait for Chippie to tire of the hide and seek game.  Chippie is wise and waits for Cody to retreat before ever showing himself again.

What would happen if Chippie would decide to come out of hiding with Cody’s snout blocking the way?  No one knows because it has never happened. Cody loses interest and calls it quits eventually.

Ahhh, yes, there is much to appreciate at the cottage for a dog.  (and for humans too).

the view from the deck - photograph
lilies at the fence - cottage life photography

TBT – Summer’s fresh sun kissed bounty

watercolour and ink picnic fruit

For this Throwback Thursday, I have selected fruits I painted two years ago.

After all the rain we have had, it is time to head out to the farm to pick luscious red strawberries and enjoy their sweet plump taste in pies, jams, on ice cream or just as they are, straight from the basket!

watercolour and ink strawberry wreath
watercolour and ink fruit and wine - ready for a picnic

A child of the palace of dreams

“In the garden of memory, in the palace of dreams…that is where you and I shall meet.” ~ Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"A child of the palace of dreams" mixed media on 11x14 watercolour paper

“A child of the palace of dreams”.  11 x 15 mixed media on watercolour paper including, watercolour, acrylics, Inktense pencils, Neocolor II.

In her garden of memory, the fragrant roses are already in full bloom. She closes her eyes and remembers the sweetness of the old-fashioned flowers on the table during the heat of the summer, their velvety pink petals falling, one by one, onto the embroidered white cotton tablecloth.

Dainty bone china teacups remain on the table.   Not far from the vase of roses sits the large crystal plate with one last piece of refreshing grasshopper pie made just for this occasion.  The ladies enjoyed the minty slices while sipping their hot tea.

The small room is now silent. One guest has forgotten her white gloves on a chair.  Lingering fragrances of lily of the valley and jasmine remain in the room, complementing the ambrosial scent of roses on the table. The hostess sits near the open window in her best Sunday dress, quietly fanning herself with the latest copy of Women’s Day.

In her garden of memory, the child she was, sees and remembers that afternoon long ago.


This art work collected dust for many months, but I can finally set it aside with a feeling of satisfaction to finish the second painting in a similar style.

I was inspired by the artist, Katrina Koltes.  Katrina gave an online workshop on her techniques which got me started with this painting, but then I became stuck as the results I had achieved were not like the ones she had demonstrated.  Sometimes, the best action is inaction, or at the very least, to wait for my confidence to return.

Katrina’s creations are colourful yet soft, detailed, and full of emotion.  I have so much to learn to create a story as she does with her gorgeous art. Or maybe the words are needed anyway?  You can let me know.  In the meantime, you can find Katrina on youtube or visit her website here:


Painting Miss Daisy

“Everything I know I learned from my cat: When you’re hungry, eat.  When you’re tired, nap in a sunbeam.  When you go to the vet’s, pee on your owner.” ~ Gary Smith.

Miss Daisy - mixed media cat portrait

“Miss Daisy”.  9 x 12 mixed media (cat in acrylics and background in acrylics and Inktense pencils) in Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal.

Shhh…don’t tell my dogs that I am a traitor and I painted A CAT!

And please don’t tell them that I actually had more fun painting this cat than I did painting Chico, my Havanese, a few weeks ago.  June is butterflies, flowers, shade, and one relaxed dog

I was a cat owner long ago before I ever even thought of owning a dog (or have they owned me?).

Tyler, my Siamese, would hide from us most of the day until he heard the can opener on the kitchen counter, a trick we often used to simply see if he was still alive and with us.  He would THUMP! down from the bed upstairs and casually saunter into the kitchen as if to say, What took you so long?

 Except for his behaviour as a gourmand of fine canned foods, he was the laid back feline par excellence.  Tyler was the last cat in our house before our second child arrived and before I started my career as a teacher.

Misty, on the other hand, was the most hyperactive cat I have ever met.  I should have known that she would be a handful, and that is an understatement,  when I visited her first owners and saw her and her siblings climbing window screens and rappelling down cat clawed ripped sheer curtains.

Spooky, our charcoal black first cat, would allow my oldest son, who was a toddler at the time, to hold him, but he was very aloof with anyone else.  He had several bad habits (I will spare you the details) that surprisingly did not turn us off from owning cats.

Before I continue, consider yourself warned that there is a bias in this post.

At the risk of starting the whole dog vs. cat debate, I will let other pet owners and their observations speak on behalf of our furry friends.

Dog:  “This man is caring for me, feeding me, and sheltering me.  HE must be GOD!”

Cat: ” This man is caring for me, feeding me, and sheltering me.  I must be GOD!”

Dog; “I will love you forever if you feed me.”

Cat: ” If you feed me, you will live to see another day.”

Of course, nothing illustrates the major differences better than the dog’s and cat’s diary…

Dog: 8 am – ” Dog food! My favourite thing!”

Dog: 9:30 am – “A car ride! My favourite thing!”

Dog:9:40 am- “A walk in the park! My favourite thing!”…and so on.

Cat: “Day 983 of My Captivity.  My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.  The dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets.  Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.”

And there you have it, the reason we call a dog, “man’s best friend”.

Special thank you to my friend and blog reader, Thérèse, for suggesting the name for this cat portrait.

Also, I would like to thank Lela Stankovic and her photo challenges as a “free collaborative project”.

Each six weeks, Lela posts a reference photo on this website and artists are encouraged to paint and draw by hand (no digitally altered works permitted) using a medium of  their choice to explore the values and the complexities of the photo.  She then publishes all the art she receives on the website.  Anyone can join and benefit from the helpful comments.

TBT – Flossie, the flapper.

“The pretty toes, the shapely ankle, the gently undulating leg – and then to cap the climax – there is the knee.  Or should we say knee-cap?

It’s a terrible bump – to masculine imagination.”  The Flapper – (The psychology of knees), June 1922.

"Flossie", mixed media and collage portrait

“Flossie”, 16×20, mixed media including collage background, acrylics, and Golden Pearl Mica Flake (small) in hat and on earring.

This flapper from the 1920s for Throwback Thursday was originally published last year.  When you know your hours of frustration are over

At that time, I was beginning to learn that each painting goes through a scary, ugly stage when artists must push through to the other side, that is, to the portrait that actually has human features.  For Flossie I used a collage technique in the background that I still find appealing a year later.

Even though a year has gone by since I painted Flossie, and even though I like to think I have progressed at least a bit in my techniques,  I do like the mica glitter in her cap, the colours from the background which are repeated in her cap and dress and the spotlight which seems to be focused on her.

She was the first painting to be displayed in my home.  Most of my other art work remains in dark corners of my art room or in sketchbooks.

Portraits and faces remain the subjects I truly enjoy painting, but our furry friends come a close second, and I have a backlog of commissions waiting to be completed.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what endeavour is undertaken, whether it is knitting, music, cooking, sculpting, photography, etc.  as long as it fills a need or a void in our lives.

What is your creative endeavour?



A tisket, a tasket, and nursery rhymes reconsidered

A tisket, a tasket,

A green and yellow basket.

I wrote a letter to my love,

And on the way I dropped it.

I dropped it, I dropped it,

And, on the way I dropped it.

A little boy picked it up,

And put it in his pocket.

(traditional nursery rhyme)

a tisket a tasket, watercolour and ink journal entry

(“A tisket, a tasket”.  Watercolour and ink sketch.)

A quick whimsical painting was in order on a very rainy day recently.

Someone asked me not long ago, what comes first?  The painting or the quotation that you see above each painting on my blog posts?

Usually, the painting is first as was the case with this watercolour and ink sketch.

I was testing my new art supplies –  liquid watercolours –  and had absolutely no idea what I was going to paint with them.

The mailboxes came first, then the potted plant, next the basket and the girl, and finally, the watering can and the tree in the background.

Once I was finished, then I started to look for the story to accompany the painting.  Sometimes the story builds as I paint.  Not this time.

After some thought, I remembered the nursery rhyme my mother sang to me when I was young.  As it happened, there WAS a green and yellow basket.  I had filled the basket with kittens and so what?  The rhyme did not specify what was in the basket.

And as my luck would have it, the girl was holding mail in her hand which made sense since she was so close to the mailboxes.  So again, the nursery rhyme suited the sketch.

Are nursery rhymes still recited or sung to children today?

I admit that some poems deserve to be edited or updated because they are offensive.  As an example, my original intention was to title this watercolour, Eenie, Meenie, Miney, (the kittens) and Mo (the duck). And then I remembered the rest of the nursery rhyme…

But nursery rhymes involve silly words which children love (a tisket, a tasket), repetition of words, (London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down..) and children learn how language works through these poems.  They imitate the adults’ gestures as they sing these songs and so learn to coordinate movements to words.  There are so many positive reasons to keep this oral tradition and pass it along to future generations.

I know that the teacher in me is voicing these opinions.

However, you can’t deny that the cute factor is bumped up many times when toddlers innocently sing these songs alone or in a group.

Long before someone studied the educational value of nursery rhymes, mothers and fathers must have felt the same thrill we feel today in hearing youngsters repeating these poems and songs so expertly and so sweetly.

What nursery rhymes do you remember from your childhood?  Which ones did you sing to your children?

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 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. (

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!