Monday, April 28, 2008

the beauty of line

Ah, the beauty of line...

I recently purchased The Four Seasons of Mary Azarian, a delightful book with images of Mary's woodcuts. Mary is an artist in Vermont, USA and as the title suggests, her art scenes are divided up by the seasons as experienced in her part of the world. My husband and I traveled to Vermont for many years each autumn to witness the fall foliage in the Green Mountains. That is where I first encountered her work.

I love woodblock art, in no small part due to all those lovely black lines! I find the history of this art form facinating as the carved woodblock is one of the earliest forms of printmaking and dates back at least 1,500 years to the Middle East, where wooden blocks were used to make repeated patterns on cloth. Woodblock prints on paper can be traced to 9th century China but the art form didn't reach northern Europe until papermaking techniques arrived in the 15th century.

From this book, I learned that following the publication of the Gutenberg Bible ca.1455, there was an an explosive period of book production. In the 45 years from 1455 to 1500, some 16 million books were printed and many of them contained woodcut illustration. Sixteen million! I also learned that by the end of this time of dramatic growth in book production, there was a growing distinction between the artists who created the designs and the "formschneiders" who executed the drawings in pear, box or applewood with sharp knives and gouges. Artists were kept busy doing the drawings and out of that grew an industry of craftmen who could execute the woodblocks from the drawings.

Albrecht Durer is credited with turning the woodcut into an art form admired all over Europe. There was another revival of woodcuts as an art form when artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch explored the medium.

Mary Azarian is an accomplished award winning book illustrator. I encourage you to visit her website at I think you will find her work truly delightful.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring has definitely arrived!

These days I don't have to go far to add beauty to my life - I just wander around the yard! This afternoon I grabbed the camera and spent half an hour taking pictures of the wildflowers in the woods and flowers in the garden. I couldn't help but post a few...

I also added some further beauty to my afternoon by attending an art show. The exhibition was most inspiring. Works were done in various media. I was quite impressed with how some artists were working in watercolour in non-traditional ways, with striking results. Only one artist had done a few coloured pencil pieces. One very talented artist stood out for me, she worked in pen and ink with watercolour. Her confident use of line was impressive as well as her mastery of watercolour. Unfortunately she doesn't have a website or a blog so I can't share her work with you. When visiting exhibitions like this, I always return rejuvenated and motivated. I have so many ideas for paintings, I feel like I could burst. All in all a grand day!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Musings on teaching

I attended an art conference three weeks ago which I wrote about on April 10th. Someone I met there made an interesting comment to me which has had me thinking.

I introduced myself to a woman at the conference and in the course of getting to know one another, I asked her what medium she worked in. She then asked me the same question. Upon hearing that I worked in coloured pencil, she said "Wow, you must have strong wrists." I confess I must have had a rather dumbfounded expression on my face as I paused, trying to think of what she must have thought I said - surely she misheard me. Unable to come up with anything, I replied, "Strong wrists?" And she said, "You know, with all that burnishing you have to do." Oh dear...

Turns out this woman took a coloured pencil workshop with someone who had them work on a project that was all about burnishing. They apparently spent much time painstakingly burnishing cherries until their hands couldn't take it anymore. When I informed her that not all coloured pencil artists work in this manner and that I don't do anything with coloured pencil that hurts my hands, she was now the one to be dumbfounded.

I know the woman who taught the workshop and to start with she is not a good teacher. I took a watercolour course with her many years ago and she is more interested in the income teaching provides rather than being interested in her students actually learning something. One thing she did 'teach' me was how not to be as a teacher! :-) She doesn't work in coloured pencil at all, but she has found an opportunity to make some extra money given the growing interest in coloured pencil. I am not bothered by the competition as I believe there is room for all of us and I am passionate about supporting other artists. What does bother me is that people who exit her workshop haven't been properly informed.

What am I saying here? First of all, if you have a particular style of working, whether in coloured pencil, pastel, oil, whatever, yes it is okay to teach this style. You do not have to teach all the various methods out there. But what I think you do have a responsibility to do is to inform people that your way is just one way. If this were my first time being exposed to coloured pencil and the instructor told me this was how it was done and I found it physically painful, what would ever induce me to continue exploring with the medium? Of course this isn't new, I have heard of others taking workshops where a certain methodology was presented as the 'right way and the only way'. I guess I bristle at the idea of fixed rules in art. People new to a medium should be encouraged to explore, to try, to embrace a wonderful, new creative adventure.

When I teach my Introduction to Coloured Pencil course I expose my students to all the ways of working with the pencils that I know of. They get to try working on different surfaces, on coloured paper, drafting film, they get to burnish using various methods, they do a little exercise using a solvent. I don't just teach them to do art my way. I want them to leave the course armed with lots of info and examples of how one can work with coloured pencils. That way, if one method doesn't work for them, they can try something else. I am always fascinated at how one student will like a multi-directional stroke, someone else falls in love with drafting film, someone else loves the look a colourless blender gives...we are so individual and this is truly wonderful to observe.

So my thought for today is, if you teach or are considering teaching, please consider the importance of telling your students that your way is just one way...keep the door open for them to continue to grow and explore.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Track Lighting, Yippee!

Last time I posted, I mentioned that I was off to purchase track lighting for my studio. As you can see from the photos, I now have two rows of track lights that run down the center of the studio. The top picture turned out too dark but you get the idea. A big thank you goes to my husband who spent several hours last Sunday making this happen for me. This required crawling around in a hot attic, on top of itchy, nasty insulation to run new wires etc. I am most appreciative! Drilling holes in the ceiling and so on left a mess to clean up and with this job going on, I couldn't set up my studio for teaching - which started the next day! Of course that is what I get for procrastination. I taught a course here not long after we got possession of the house (we hadn't moved in yet, but I had moved my studio stuff) and I realized then that the lighting wasn't great for a teaching space. Fast forward six months and the job finally gets done.

I am teaching the Intro. course (which ends today) and the ladies involved are picking up this whole coloured pencil thing very well! I am impressed as they are very new to the medium, brand new pencils and all.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed a peek into my studio...could I cram any more furniture in there? You can hardly see the couch that is behind the white board easel (middle picture) but yes I even have a couch in my studio. My husband made the tables for the students and the legs fold up. That way I can take them down if I don't want them in the studio. Yes, my husband is absolutely wonderful...I am a lucky gal indeed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Apples on Pastelbord

The apples are finished! I really enjoyed working on this piece.

But...I must admit that at the beginning I was having some doubts. When I started working on the underpainting for the first apple, my mind was chattering away, 'you can't do it, you have messed it up, you can't save this, good thing it is only a 5x7 panel'. I was only on the underpainting layer! Yikes. This doesn't normally happen to me, now that I am comfortable with my medium, but this time I guess I wasn't as confident using the gray Pastelbord. I mention this in case you ever have these thoughts when working on a piece. Now I look at my dear little apples and think 'What if I had stopped at the beginning?' That would have been a shame. So, my advice - buck up and press some of your favourite music, loud if you have to, sing along, jog around the room reciting how wonderfully gifted you are, look at some of your past work that turned out okay, pour yourself a 'stiffner' if necessary or maybe just a nice glass of get the idea. Whatever you do, don't give up and don't give in to these goofy thoughts. You can do it!

And for those of you concerned about my welfare and who perhaps don't know my sense of humour, the stiffner was not required and I am not at risk of becoming an alcoholic for the sake of my art! :-)

Okay, on to something else - Have you ever wondered how to find 'your customer'? I urge you to visit this blog, today. Artist Marsha Robinett has posted a Weekend Chat Line entitled What's your best venue for art sales? This topic follows last weekend's chat on how to price your art. I posted a comment on this past topic and my thoughts inspired Marsha to post this new topic on connecting with buyers. I appreciate Marsha posting this topic and I look forward to seeing what thoughts come in over the next few days. Marsha has a wonderful blog so do spend some time looking around.

I am now off to shop for some track lighting for my studio. I am teaching my Introduction to Coloured Pencil course next week and I would like to improve the lighting over the tables. If you live in the Ottawa area and would like to attend, there is still room and there is still time to register. Just contact me and we can quickly work out the details. For info on this course (and others that I teach) click here: classes. If next week isn't good for you, the course is also running in June.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Apples on Pastelbord, Work In Progress

Here is my newest endeavour, coloured pencil of course, on gray Pastelbord. Pastelbord is made by Ampersand ( This product is a board not paper. The board or panel, is acid-free, and archival. Their packaging states that the "exquisite sanded surface" consists of a "hand applied kaolin clay ground, textured with fine marble dust granules. Holds more pastel layers than any other surface!" Of course you can use this support with many media, not just pastel. The surface is similar to the sanded surface found on pastel papers such as the Colorfix and Wallis brands.

For those of you in Canada, I haven't yet found a supplier here. After trying various Canadian on-line suppliers, I searched the Ampersand site. They do supply some products to a few stores in Canada, but not this Pastelbord (at least not according to my searching). Not to worry though, it is available from on-line suppliers in the U.S. There are several good suppliers such as Blick Art Materials ( and Cheap Joe's Art Stuff ( I like shopping from Dick Blick on line. They are a great resource for professional art materials. I appreciate the fact that they carry the Prismacolor Lightfast line of pencils in open stock. For a complete list of suppliers, try doing a google search or check out the various ads in magazines such as American Artist and The Artist's Magazine.

So, about the art...I am working on a 5" x 7" panel. One of the reasons I chose a small size is so that I could get the work completed rather quickly. I am giving a presentation in three weeks to an art group here in Ottawa. The members of the group are experienced artists. I have been advised by the event organizer that many will probably have some knowledge of the basics of working with coloured pencils. Therefore I thought I would focus part of my presentation on what isn't generally known about the medium - such as working on surfaces other than paper. So that brings me to this project, creating an piece for the 'show and tell' part of the presentation.

The first WIP picture (lower image) shows the bright underpainting that I put down. The gray surface is rather dead and dull but the wonderful thing with it is that colours seem to glow when applied. This use of an underpainting is also my approach when working on white paper. I ask myself what colours I see underneath the red of the apples and these go on first. The lower layers affect the end result because they are still visible. This is in part due to the fact that I don't burnish. This is just my style, the way I achieve the look I am after. While it takes longer than other methods of working I just love the final result. For me it is what makes coloured pencil work look so unique.

I am working top apple, left apple then the right apple. I am right handed and I don't want my hand across the work if I can help it. Working on this surface causes a fair amount of pencil pigment to flake off in the process. This method of working keeps the pigment off of my hand and prevents me from smearing the work with this excess pigment. Having said this, I still have more to do on the top and left apple. I will continue to work on them (being mindful of where my hand is resting) as I get the last apple underway.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'Reflections' Kit

Here is the finished image of the 'wine glass on black' project. I really enjoyed working on the black paper. It is so easy to get rich colours. Having said this, I have just read Jeanette's comment to the previous post. Jeanette notes that some colours seems to disappear on certain black paper. I have only worked on black Stonehenge and black Canson Mi-Tientes paper so I can't speak for other brands. I have found working on these two to be a similar experience.

Some colours do surprise me in that they don't show up the way I would expect, while others seem to beam off the paper like fluorescent paint. I have two ways of working around this. One, I only work on subjects that include the colours that will pop. :-) bit of a cheat, but hey if it works for you... To find out what colours work well on black, cut a strip off of your black paper and do some testing. Scribble some lines of colour from various pencils. You will probably be surprised too!

The second is a technique I read about somewhere and it is one of those no-brainers that is so simple, you question your intelligence because you didn't think of it yourself. So here goes, when you are applying a colour that doesn't show up as you had hoped, apply a lighter colour first (I use a really light colour such as pencils in shades of cream or peach, even white). Simple, but it works.You don't have to lay down a thick layer of pigment, the idea is just to cover the black. Then apply the colour you originally wanted. You just don't work this way when using coloured pencil on white paper and as someone who had a long history of working almost exclusively with white paper, this process just didn't come naturally to me. Oh well, that is my excuse anyway... :-) I am so glad that artists share their tips and techniques, saves us all from inventing the same wheel!

As I mentioned earlier, this image is for a kit that I am creating. I now have to write up my hastily scrawled notes into detailed step by step instructions. After that I will create the sheet of WIP photos and I also need to re-do the line drawing. I tend to draw as I work so my original drawing doesn't provide enough detail. I hope to have it ready for posting on my website by the end of the month. If you are interested in completing your own wine and grapes 'reflections' picture from this kit or if you are interested in any of the other kits, just contact me!

Now off to work on my new piece, apples on pastelbord.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wine glass on black, WIP

Here is a second picture of the 'wine glass on black'. I didn't realize until I took this picture, that I hadn't yet applied any colour to the top of the wine glass. Good to step back from your work once in a while! :-) I am enjoying drawing the white abstract shapes that are from the crystal pattern of the wine glass.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wine glass on black, WIP

I have started a new piece this week. Actually this painting is going to be turned into a kit. I have wanted to offer a kit like this for a long time now, one that allows someone to practice working on a coloured surface. I set up the still life and took the photos over a year ago but unfortunately buying and selling homes last year really messed with my productivity.

I like the dramatic look of coloured pencil on black paper. The paper I am working on is Stonehenge. I chose a wine glass for part of the subject matter so people can also gain experience drawing glass. Glass objects seem to intimidate people. It is one of those times when we need to turn our brain off and just draw what we see.

I started creating practice kits as a result of feedback from students. Students told me that they liked the exercises in the class and they wanted more of this type of thing to work on at home. In class I give out detailed instructions for the projects, pictures, as well as a line drawing. This way if a student doesn't get the time to finish something in class, the work can continue at home. Also, if a student feels they have goofed something up or they would just like a redo, they can have one. Of course some students leave the course ready to fly, they have their own ideas and they can't wait to get going.

I have also sold kits to people who are unable to attend a class but who would like to give the medium a try. Then there are the folks that tried coloured pencil a long time ago and they would like to work on something that would refresh their memory. Anyway, I enjoy creating these kits...I just have to remember to document everything I am doing so it can be written up in the instructions later! As for the kit format, I have seen that other artists offer similar products (Janie Gildow, Bob Ebdon, Ann Kullberg, etc.) so I thought this would be a good way to package the information. If you would like to see the kits that are already finished and ready for purchase, visit the 'kits' section of my website using this hyperlink.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Art Conference Follow-Up

Last Saturday, I once again added beauty to my life. I attended an art conference in Ottawa. Hanging out with fellow artists and being inspired by three presenters was a wonderful way to spend an early spring day.

The first presenter was painter David Jones. David is an accomplished oil and watercolour painter who lives and works here in Ottawa. His presentation dealt with painting en plein aire. There was lots of show and tell of materials and he also did a watercolour demonstration. We can always learn from other artists and their disciplines and I quite enjoyed hearing about his process of working. Working in watercolour and coloured pencil is quite the same in that we build up our colour in layers and our media is transparent (unless you are a burnisher). At one point he gave an example of choosing colours. David looked at the wall paint colour and quickly broke it down into the three or four colours that he would use to depict this shade. My process is the same and I found that I picked similiar colours when I looked at the wall and tried to mentally colour it with my pencils.

What I enjoyed most about David Jones is that he is a professional painter in every sense of the word. He has achieved his level of success by good old hard work. Arts reporter Andrea Douglas writes "Not long after completing his visual arts degree at the University of Ottawa, David held his first solo exhibit. It didn't quite launch his career and it certainly didn't put enough food on the table. As a young, single artist, he held up to eight part time jobs at a time and painted in his "spare time". His strong work ethic continues to this day.

David spoke of his "purity of intent" mantra - always stay true to your art and your subject matter. Don't follow whims. Paint what you believe in and as if no one will see your painting.

At one point David was asked how he paints dyptics and tryptics. Does he work on them at the same time or does he work large and then cut the piece up. David said that the latter way of working would be immoral for him. For him the idea to create diptics and tryptics has to be there from the beginning. They are an artistic challenge, as for him each panel must be able to stand alone compositionally and then also as part of the grouping. Immoral - I like that. In a world where it seems almost everyone is looking for a shortcut, or the easy way to success, I admire his professional work ethic. To see David's work visit his website: I personally like his Ottawa valley landscapes. I love his colour palette.

The second presentation was on Nurturing Your Creativity by Rosemary Leach. Rosemary spoke of her own journey as a frustrated artist as she started out with a day job as a teacher. We got into groups and discussed questions such as: How does it feel for you when you are being most creative? What helps your creative energy to flow? When you are being creative, in what way is the world a better place? I must confess that I don't have 'issues' in this whole creativity area. I don't spend time navel gazing, wondering where my muse has gone. I have more creative ideas than I shall probably ever have time to bring to fulfillment. I also don't see creativity as being only about art. I live my whole life creatively - I cook creatively, I teach and design courses creatively, I decorate my house and garden with creativity, I enjoy the creativity involved in running my get the idea...It is always good to be reminded to take risks. Rosemary encouraged us to try the media that we avoid at the art supply store or to try the canvas that is so big it seems impossible. In other words, get out of our boxes, at least once in a while. Rosemary is a talented painter and you can view her art at

The final presentation was by Angelina McCormick on the fine art of photography. Angelina was well prepared and gave us lots of info on the technical side of digital photography as well as dark room processes. I took pages of notes. Like David, Angelina inspired me with her dedication to her craft and her professionalism. Angelina went back to school to study photography after being home with her children for 10 years. I really enjoyed hearing about what she 'sees' in her photography and what she is aiming for. She has such an artistic vision - I was in awe of her attention to detail. I especially loved seeing her prints and hearing of the inspiration behind the images. I encourage you to check out her website at Her 'Fiore' series on dying flowers is worth the visit.

So, a wonderful day spent with wonderful people and did I mention the wonderful food? The conference was hosted by the West Carleton Arts Society, an arts group located in rural west Ottawa. The WCAS is putting together an art exhibit and sale that will take place in the fall during the Thanksgiving weekend. This show is open to all artists, in all media. If you live in the Ottawa area and would like to know more, visit their website at (see the 'details and application form' on the events page).

Saturday, April 5, 2008

April Newsletter

Whew, the April newsletter is finished. I hope you enjoy the new 'feedback' section. Newsletter Group member Sandi Fletcher-McGuire submitted a wonderful portrait. To read this latest issue, go to the newsletter page of my website. Contact me if you wish to become a member of the Newsletter Group. Membership is free and so is the newsletter! Enjoy.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Finally, the orchids are done!

So here they are, orchids on burgundy Colorfix pastel paper and orchids on white Stonehenge.

This is the first time I have done this. Here we have the same artist, using the same image, creating the pieces at the same time, with the same techniques and the same pencils. I went back to the pastel paper one and tweaked some of the things that irritated me. At first, I was sure I would prefer the Stonehenge version but I have to admit that the pastel paper image has grown on me quite a bit.

Working on the pastel paper piece was a bit faster. I thought it would take me much longer to do the Stonehenge piece but it didn't. It would have made more of a difference if the paintings had been bigger in size. If I had attempted to create a dark background on the Stonehenge it would have taken me much longer. I have already written my thoughts on working on the sanded pastel surface. Suffice to say that at the time it felt like I wasn't able to get the detail that I wanted and I also felt that my style was looser. What is humorous to me is the fact that in the end, the two pieces look so similar.

In my opinion, the dark one looks richer and more dramatic. It definitely gets your attention in the 'across the room' test. This impact disappears when daylight starts to fade. In a normally lit room, the dark piece doesn't stand out near as well as it does in the daytime and you definitely lose the detail. This effect was brought up earlier in a comment that Cindy Haase made. Lighting is very important if you are displaying dark pieces. The one on Stonehenge looks more delicate and perhaps less intense. It does look great in normal house lighting in the evening.

In the end, not exactly the dramatic difference I expected between the two versions. It just comes down to personal preference. I like them both! This has been an interesting experiment with some surprises along the way. Why not try this yourself? Challenge yourself to work outside your box , (the pastel paper was 'getting outside the box' for me) and maybe you will be surprised too!

I have the April issue of my newsletter just about ready to post. I am attending an art conference tomorrow so the issue will probably get out tomorrow night. I shall let you know and of course I will report back on the conference.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gallery Hopping

Yesterday I added some beauty to my life. I spent the afternoon gallery hopping. My mother-in-law was in town and as she is an art lover, we treated ourselves to a fun afternoon of art viewing. Joined by my husband, we started our outing with lunch at The Ox Head Restaurant for some wonderful, authentic Vietnamese food. Next we were off to the Ottawa Art Gallery, (not to be confused with the National Gallery of Canada). The Ottawa Art Gallery is currently featuring an exhibit entitled "Deep Roots". This is an exhibit of approximately 35 paintings by members of the Group of Seven as well as their contemporaries. The symbolism and significance of the familiar Canadian landscape composition found in the Group of Seven's work is explored. As Catherine Sinclair, the curator writes: "The placement of the tree in the foreground of the picture is intimately connected to the depiction of a landscape emptied of any other human presence. This was a departure from 19th century Romantic landscape paintings, which included human figures as witnesses to the grandeur of nature. When the Group of Seven and others removed people from their landscapes, they created a void and filled it with the artist's autonomous experience in the wilderness." While this is a small exhibit, if you enjoy the work of the Group of Seven, it is worth stopping by.

Next we headed to the Atrium Gallery, Ben Franklin Place (101 Centrepointe Dr.) to see an exhibit entitled "A touch of Gold". This exhibit features works by OMMA artists - Ottawa Mixed Media Artists. This exhibit is running until April 30, 2008. While a small exhibit, if you are looking to acquire an original, contemporary, mixed media painting the art is for sale and reasonably some artists aren't charging enough :-) I love mixed media art. This may surprise some people as I create mostly realistic, detailed art. How could you not love a group whose motto is "Artists with attitude"? OMMA has some very talented artists in their membership. There are over 160 members and you can browse through a listing of the artists and see examples of their work by visiting

At the end of the day I came away satiated, content and inspired. Perhaps I need to dust off those tubes of oil paint in my cupboard and how about that idea I have for a mixed media piece, humm...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'Orchids' WIP continued

Here is what my Orchids on Stonehenge looks like now. It is is almost finished. I need to spend some time tweaking the veins in the petals. Once it is completely finished, I shall post a picture of it alongside the version that I did on the Colorfix pastel paper.