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You’ll need some gesso and a flat piece of plastic. I cut mine out of a peanut can lid! Ideally, your tool should have a straight edge and rounded corners.

I’m not sure if this is a well known technique, or if it’s new to some people, but using a piece of plastic to apply gesso (or background color) goes quickly, saves paint, and leaves a nice, smooth surface. If you don’t have a piece of plastic, a piece of sturdy mat board or a credit card can work. …Or real squeegee, I imagine.

I learned this from my first painting professor at Montana State University, Hal Schlotzhauer, and I use it whenever I need to quickly cover a surface with a thin coat of paint or gesso. It’s especially handy when I’m painting flats for plays and I’m pressed for time and materials.

In this video, I’m covering a canvas with gesso that I’ve tinted with pink acrylic paint. I use my finger to smooth the edges. When I’m done painting, if I don’t frame, I use a printmaking brayer to paint the edges whatever color I want.

I could add another coat and sand lightly with fine sandpaper for an extra smooth surface, but in this case I’m not too worried about perfect coverage, and they’re pretty smooth without any sanding.

Just now I did six canvases in less than 30 minutes, with practically no waste. I used about 1/2 cup of tinted gesso in all. (The canvases already had one layer of gesso on them)




Eureka! I know this may seem stupid/obvious, but I finally discovered the three-container system for keeping my gouache water clean.

Ever since kindergarten, I’ve received furrowed glances for messy painting habits (Mrs. Gray: “Paint! Don’t scrub!”) and I honestly tried to take the advice of my illustration teacher, Anne Garner: Always use two water containers: a clean one for dipping, and a separate one for brush cleaning.

But even with two containers, I’d still be dipping my dirty brush in the clean water which ends up adding a gray tone to all of my colors, eventually. I pretend that I like that…that it adds cohesiveness to my palette…

But only today did I finally figure out that if I keep a bottle of pristine water handy, I can empty my dipping cup into my cleaning jar regularly and possibly… maybe… keep my colors clean.

Today is for celebration. I’ll deal with my messy palette issues another day.

Clean water, dipping cup, cleaning jar.

Clean water, dipping cup, cleaning jar.





Gathering – iPad fingerprint drawing – Marla Goodman

I am really bad at keeping track of journals and sketchbooks but, miraculously, I can usually keep track of my iPad.

I really like to draw and doodle using the Sketchbook Pro app. It’s cheap and you can do a lot with it once you figure out how the funky interface works. It has a lot of the features that I use all the time in Photoshop, such as layers with transparency options. Plus, you have the option of making relatively high res drawings, in case you want to print them or work into them later.

Somehow I find it easier to draw freely without worrying if it’s “dumb” or “pointless” when I’m using a digital device, where I’d be likely to seize up if I were using paper.

A thing I like to do when I don’t have any ideas is make fingerprint drawings:

  • First I fill the drawing background with black so I can see all the smudgy fingerprints on my iPad screen.
  • Then I create a new layer and draw in a light gray (so it shows up on the black).
  • I just draw whatever the smudges suggest to me.
  • I can either keep the black background, or delete the black layer, so the drawing has a light background.

It’s a way to unwind and draw without having to agonize over an idea.


Puppeteer – iPad fingerprint drawing – Marla Goodman


Dreams – iPad fingerprint drawing – Marla Goodman

This weekend David helped me build a cheapie pochade box so I can continue my artistic car camping (AKA plein air painting) adventures.

  • We bought a couple of boxes from the cigar store ($4 ea.) I decided to use one that’s 9.5″ x 9.5″ x 1.5″ to accommodate large canvas panels and palette, but I might end up regretting its lack of depth.
  • We hit the hardware store for a 1/4-20 (1/4″ diameter, 20 threads per inch) T-nut to allow the cigar box to screw onto a camera tripod. (Somehow, David magically knew that this size would fit a tripod.)
  • David cut a piece of Masonite to fit the inside of the box and drilled a hole (a wee bit bigger than 1/4″) through it and the bottom of the cigar box. He seated the T-nut through both from the inside of the box, so that tightening the nut will pull it into the box, not out. (The Masonite is there to help distribute the load so the nut will be less apt to bust through the bottom of the box.)
  • We cut a piece of Plexi to fit the inside of the box as a palette. (We didn’t provide storage space below the palette because this cigar box was too shallow. But if there’s a next time, I might get a deeper cigar box and glue wine corks in the corners to create a palette shelf, under which to store paints.)
  • We came up with several ideas to brace the lid in an open position for painting. I decided to try mounting plastic cord clips to hold a straight brace that goes down the lid and the back of the box. (A 90-degree open angle seemed OK for my purposes, and the flat box lid would have been tricky to attach a hinged brace to.)
  • We used two paint stirrers as strips of wood to amend the box.
    –One strip creates a shelf that helps support a canvas panel. (This is optional…maybe not really needed)
    –The other strip makes the back of the box flush with the lid when open, so the wire clips line up.
  • David had some hollow, rigid plastic rods in various diameters (I don’t know what they’re actually for) and one fit perfectly into the wire clips to brace the box open. I bet a pen or pencil, or even a paintbrush, would also work. The brace rides inside the box when not in use.
  • I made a closure for the box out of adhesive Velcro. (I’ll probably end up reinforcing the flimsy paper box hinges with Velcro too.)
  • For now, I’m using binder clips to attach a tea canister as a brush holder and an Altoid tin as a palette cup holder.
  • I’m also using a binder clip to attach the canvas panel to the lid. The panel shown in the photos is 9×12″.

We agreed that we probably should have put the T-nut a little further back, rather than centered, because most of the weight is toward the back when a canvas panel is attached. We’ll see how it goes…

Now I get to try it out!

Update: I took it out for a test-drive and nothing fell apart, so I have to call it a success. There was a little bit of wiggle (about 1/4″) in the back brace, so maybe this design needs some fine tuning, but not bad for under $10!

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wet-boxSo! Tonight I accomplished the single best thing I’ll do all week (maybe all year) by making myself this nifty wet painting carrier from a cardboard file box. Granted, I’m doing the car-camping equivalent of plein air painting, so it doesn’t have to be that sturdy or portable. I hot glued 1/2″ strips of foam core in regularly spaced intervals along the sides of the box and added a wire across the center of the box to make sure my 9″x12″ canvas boards fit snugly. Note how I deftly fastened a long bead as a decorative turn buckle to tighten the wire.


Something came over me and I signed up for a week-long plein air oil painting workshop in Paradise Valley, Montana with Aaron Schuerr.

Did I own any oil paints? Did I have one of those plein air easel-y thingies? Did I know my arse from a palette cup? Did I even know how to spell palette? Had I ever painted a landscape? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope!

I guess I figured trying something new might be good for me.

New? I know, it sounds ironic. Me with a degree in painting from prestigious Montana State University. And I’ve never painted a landscape in oil?

Bear in mind that when I went to school (in the 80s) painting anything so provincial as a landscape was mercilessly mocked. Undergrads who could actually draw were routinely made to weep and MFA candidates who were so audacious as to present anything representational and/or lacking in: 1) automobile salvage; 2) bashed in and/or spray-painted baby doll heads; 3) roadkill were tortured by their thesis committees. I was never really picked on: just informed in a disgusted tone, “You should be a graphic designer.”

For better or worse, things like painting technique were not given a lot of air play. (Okay, in fairness, my painting teacher did teach us how to stretch and gesso canvases, clean brushes with Irish Spring, add glycerin and retarder to acrylic paint, and paint a clean edged line. So, I know how to do those things. I also learned how to bullshit with the best of them come critique time, and slide through an easy grade by gluing dry cat food to a television set and adding a perverse title.)

Anyway, that’s all in the past (I hope).

Meanwhile, in addition to fulfilling the dreaded graphic design prophesies of my professors, I became curious about how to use oil paints.

Aaron seemed to be pretty good at painting with oils, and thus began my week of struggling miserably at painting alla prima (meaning “like a muddy mess”) in oil.

Because Aaron is nice, he arranged for me to borrow an outdoor easel set up. I dropped a cool $100 to purchase a few oil paints and a bottle of Turpenoid (one of many mysterious paint thinning liquids) and here I am, proud survivor of day three of the workshop.

But the one thing I still needed was a box to carry my wet oil painting efforts around in. (Calling them paintings at this point seems like a bit of a stretch, but on the bright side, I still have two whole days to improve.)

As near as I can tell, you can’t buy a box for carrying around wet oil panels in Bozeman, Montana. Hence, my super awesome homemade 9×12″ wet canvas board storage box! Honestly, if this is the best thing I do all week, I’m totally fine with it.

PS: 9×12″ seems plenty big when you’re standing in the hot sun being devoured by mosquitoes and squeezing out blob after blob of expensive paint!


nutcrackerA nutcracker gets those pesky dried-on lids off paint tubes. Fits any size, doesn’t wander off like pliers tend to do. I’m thankful for mine every time I use it, and I use it a lot.

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