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It’s 96 degrees outside: the perfect time to hunker down in my subterranean lair and take a dip, vicariously, in my new vernacular photo inspired drawings. This series centers around bathing and boating. David kindly indulged my request to use the furnace room as a drying room, so my collection of wet canvas boards is growing. Seen above in various stages of underpainting, they range from 16×20″ to 24×30″ — I might do some smaller pieces too.

Oil sticks are so darned messy, but I love the textures!

I really like to look at drawings that cause you to shift your attention back and forth between a figural image and the surface of the paint, so that’s what I’m up to here. The hardest part is to stop before I get fussy and start modeling. Flat! I love flat!

Why bathing and boating? Aside from the magical ability of water pictures to make me feel cooler, I’ve always liked photos taken against the backlight of reflected sky on water. It tends to produce degraded silhouettes and cause mysterious things to happen. Floating heads… Weird skinny bodies with strangely simplified noggins… Plus, reflections in water are prone to taking on an abstract life of their own. It encourages me to loosen up a little.

I also like the expressions and postures of the people. Swimming and floating are so inherently happy-making. When did you ever see someone weeping while wading? Never!

This summer’s series is also a great excuse to go downstairs into the art kitchen (67 degrees – in fact, I need a sweater down there!) to hang out until the heat of the day simmers down a bit. I use bits of Pupperoni to entice my dog to join me. Otherwise, he’d sit out in the back yard and toast his brain!

I’m not sure if/when/where this series will be shown, but if you know of a suitable venue to hang them, let me know! I’d love to see them in an appropriately swimming-related place, or at least a public spot where they might give people a mini vacation from summer heat.

Meanwhile, I’m “testing the waters” with a couple large 24×30 drawings from this series at my Etsy store, Kitschatorium. If you’re about to melt, or you have a pool changing room, lake cabin or beach house to decorate, here’s your chance to… Oh, I can’t resist: dive in.



Yesterday I completed the fourteenth in my series of oil stick drawings based on vintage photos of people who love each other.

I decided to title the series “14 Love Stories.” The drawings will be on display at the Flying C Cafe in Bozeman in February.

What drawing #14 means is that I have now completed the minimum number of drawings to hang, so I have nearly two weeks to mess around and really have fun.

Of course, I was having fun all along, but now the pressure is off, so I feel more free. Today I worked on a drawing #15, and it felt great!

I decided to use grid lines to make the sketch go faster. I used a cream colored Prismacolor to draw the grid, so I hope I’m not committing some cardinal art sin, mixing Prismacolor with oil stick. Will the drawing spontaneously disintegrate at some point?

I had to force myself to go on after the initial sketch, because I really loved the way it looked as just lines.

I also liked it at the partially colored stage. Once again, I was tempted to quit right there. And maybe sometime I’ll do some drawings like that. But not yet. I love the way the daisies in the vase look like something out of a 1920s poster.

The third image shows where I stopped for today, but I think I’ll do a bit more tomorrow. I do sort of like the stage two version better than the third stage, but I don’t feel like quitting while I’m ahead quite yet. I can do that anytime.

I started two more love drawings. I enjoyed the way the background of this “carrot eaters” one came together. I’m not sure what will happen with the faces, but so far I feel like it is conveying the intimacy of a carrot munch in the kitchen garden  pretty well. That guy has quite the Lyle Lovett hairdo, huh?

Next is the under-painting and first stage drawing of a couple who I imagine are a teenager and his aunt, maybe dancing to the radio at Christmas time. I am happy that this is quite a bit looser than some of my previous drawings. I can’t decide yet whether to leave well enough alone with their faces, or color them in a less wacky skin tone, but I do think I’ll tighten up the hands a bit once it dries a bit. Right now they’re too confusing.

My regular freelance work is picking up again, so there’s less time for drawing. Isn’t it funny how when you have “real” work to do, it makes you want to do other projects more than ever? In college, when I was supposed to be reading a text book, I found that reading a novel was more delicious than ever. I must be some kind of sicko, enjoying free time most when it’s stolen from some other obligation. Or is everybody that way?

I kind of like the apron and the grass, and the weird out of perspective sofa bed frame on the porch. I'm kinda bummed with the monochromatic cartooniness of their faces, but I figure at this size, I'll be happy if I can represent expressions at all. Yes, the lady's legs look weird. I accept that.

I’m about 14 drawings into my “love” series now, and you’d think maybe I’d be learning something by now. Every now and then I see little snippets of things that I like and occasionally I catch myself in the midst of a mistake so fundamental that it makes me actually want to slow down and think before I act. So, I guess maybe that constitutes learning.

For example, on my first couple of drawings, I just started drawing with black oil stick on the white canvas board, then filled in around it with color. I actually like that effect, and I think it tends to produce the “super awesome coloring book” look that I wish I’d end up with. But I soon discovered that it was a pain in the ass (and I felt dumb) when I drew a tree and had to try to fill in the sky behind it. So I started doing colored grounds. Planning ahead! Novel! Then I realized that it was kind of a waste of ground color if I covered it up entirely, so I have started trying to block in darks and lights a bit at the ground stage.

I love this photo, but so far I do not like this drawing. Right now it looks like a bad drawing of children that somebody's aunt made. Oh, crap. I AM somebody's aunt!

On this “sisters” picture (still unfinished) I sketched in white instead of black. It seemed to undermine my ultimate goal of drawing FLATTER, so I don’t think I’ll do that again. The car behind the girl distracts from the image, but I feel compelled to tell the truth in these drawings from vintage photos. It’s partly the composition, or apparent lack of it, that I want to… What… Capture? Honor? Document? How can I say it without sounding too phony? I see the irony: Why am I making drawings if making a good looking drawing doesn’t come before representing the photo? Why not just show the photos? Well, partly because I’m afraid nobody would hang the photos. And partly because I need the drawing practice.

It seems like a lot of the drawings that I’m doing right now are somewhere between flat and shaded. I still can’t seem to make the leap away from modeling with shading (I know, I keep saying that!) but as soon as I’m done with the first 14 drawings (14, for Valentine’s Day) I’m gonna go WILD, I swear!

Where do I begin? There may be nothing in this drawing that I like! Well, I kind of like her expression. It does tell a story, if you can get past everything else. Oh, and I like the right park bench leg.

Meanwhile, I know I ought to give up on this park bench picture and move on. I have repainted the lady’s face at least 5 times (I even scraped it off with a palette knife) and while she looks less like a baboon now (at one point I considered adding a tail and calling it done), her skin tone is completely different than the guy’s. I can’t seem to make myself repaint the guy to match her because I like the way the warmth of the ground color comes through on him, in spite of the fact that it makes him look like he has been using a cut-rate spray-on tanning product. So I am stuck at an impasse with Oompa Loompa Man and Pancake Girl. I realize that this drawing just an outright failure, and it will continue to bug me like a pea under my mattress.

What is the lesson? It’s not like I don’t know this: Don’t get attached. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something you like for the greater good. For example, if you’re a writer, you know that you might have written a great sentence, but if it doesn’t flow, it’s gotta go. You just have to whack it out of the paragraph and have faith that you’ll write another good sentence some day.

My friend, writer Mike Harrelson, was telling me just a couple days ago something that David Quammen said to him: not to measure yourself by the highest peaks of your work, but by the lowest thing that you’re willing to put out there. Or, at least I think that’s what he said… something like that. I think he meant that DOING it is the thing, like everybody says (and to which I’m clinging with all my might).  …that if you only are willing to show your very best work, you probably won’t show very MUCH work. Or maybe you’re not really a writer at all. Or at least that’s what I came away with.

So I give you park bench people. And I’m saying, “Dude, it’s the PROCESS.”

You can see the mini Shiva in the the upper right.

I switched from cattle markers to artists’ oil paint sticks when I heard that cattle markers aren’t very colorfast. I have a couple year-old cattle marker drawings hanging in my house and I haven’t detected any fading yet, but I made the switch, just in case I happen to sell anything.

Other notable differences? Artists’ paint sticks cost a lot more than cattle markers. They average around $4 or $5 per stick, compared to about $1 apiece for cattle markers. So, being frugal, I tried a few different kinds — some brand new from the art store, some on sale, and some from E-Bay — with the help of my super-shopper boyfriend. I concluded that buying paint sticks on sale or second-hand is risky. (More on that to come…)

Of the oil sticks I’ve tried, I’m happy with Shiva Artist’s Paintstik Oil Colors. They have a nice consistency — like drawing with creamy lipstick — and there are several colors to choose from.

Now the bargain shopper caveats:

Left: Discontinued Winsor Newton extra thin oil bar was sticky and icky. Center: Shiva Paint Stick works great. Right: Discontinued Markall thin stick was a waste of money, even on sale.

Mini Shivas: I thought I’d try the mini-sized version of the Shivas because they were on sale, but I wouldn’t recommend them. They’re the same thickness as the large sticks (see top image of palette), but very short (think lipstick sample). By the time you peel off the crust, there’s not much left, and they’re so short, they’re hard to draw with. Putting them in a sleeve leftover from a full-sized stick helps, but I decided they’re too much fuss to deal with, even to save money.

Extra Thin Sticks: Since I’m drawing small (which is crazy, I know), I thought I’d try to find some extra thin sticks. I ended up getting some thin Markall paintstiks on sale, but they were as dry and brittle as chalk. Granted they may have been old, and I believe this product has been discontinued, but if you see it on sale, don’t buy it! The paper didn’t want to come off, they broke easily and they were pretty much nothing but crust. Useless.

I also tried some thin Winsor Newton oil bars (again, on sale) but they were like trying to draw with a piece of salt water taffy, and the wrapping was difficult and messy to remove. Apparently these have been discontinued, too, for obvious reasons, so I learned my lesson about buying discontinued oil sticks.

There are several other brands of oil sticks, but so far, I don’t have any complaints about the big Shivas. The best way I’ve found to peel them is to use my thumbnail, protected by a paper towel. That way, I can feel the consistency underneath, and not lose as much paint as I would if I used a knife to peel them. (God, I’m so cheap!)

I’m still trying to develop a good way to avoid the little gunky bits of dried oil stick skin that make “oil stick dandruff” all over my workspace and pollute my drawings, but for now, I’m pretending that it’s intentional texture. As far as making thin lines goes, I know in my heart I should just be painting bigger, I just haven’t given up the convenience of storing and hanging cheapie 16 x 20″ canvas boards yet. Soon, soon.


I have gotten back to work on my series of oil stick drawings. This one is getting pretty close to done. I love that the photo upon which this drawing is based is labeled “Christmas.” Every time I look at it, I wonder how much is gone from that bottle, and does its fullness level have anything to do with the beatific smile on the face of the “Ma” character?

I am trying to figure out how many drawings I’ll have completed by the time it’s time to hang them at the Flying C, which is a hopping juice bar/coffee bar/lunch spot  upstairs in Bozeman’s Community Food Co-op. The Co-op was kind enough to offer to hang some of my drawings during the month of February, and since I’m nuts for Valentines Day, I jumped at the chance to do some pictures based on my favorite vernacular photo subject: love.

As with any project I undertake, there’s been no small measure of frustration and disappointment, but on most days I figure I have just about as much right to make drawings as anybody. So far I have done a couple that I like. I like this Christmas one pretty well — especially the pattern on Ma’s dress.

I was curious about how the drawings look as a group so I decided to round up what I have in progress so far. Some may not make the final cut, and only a few of them are absolutely finished to the last stroke, but most of them are close.

Drawings in progress

Glowing praise and encouragement are welcome…

I decided to come clean and show the reference photos that I’m working from, just for fun. But for God’s sake, don’t anybody make a big deal about whether or not my drawings are realistic, or I’ll sock ya hard!

reference photos

Here’s a little progress update showing how some of the earlier drawings in my vernacular photography love project have evolved (or devolved?) and introducing the beginnings of a couple of new ones.

Wren says these dancers are done.

The lake couple are starting to show my signature “awkwardly overworked” style. I like to think of it as quirky. Honest, her dress really does make her look like a linebacker.

I decided to change the color of the sky, but I didn’t quite hit the color I wanted.

Actually, I kind of like where this one is at. I may not change it much. I may tone down grandma’s moustache a bit…

Some yet-to-be-ruined underpainting

I like the way this looks right now, but I’m not stopping here.

These are a few more unfinished drawings in the vernacular photography love series. I’m pretty frustrated. It seems like I am getting more and more uptight in every drawing! I’d love to preserve the legs and feet of the lady in the big black coat, just the way they are. Maybe that will be the turning point. Obviously, the guy with the boater hat has a long way to go.

I’m continuing to work on my little series of “love” drawings based on old photos.  It’s tricky working from photos, because I have a tendency to try too hard to make it look just like the photo. As I saw how dingy and overly careful the drawings were appearing, I vowed to try to force myself to loosen up a little.

I may end up starting over on some of these subjects to see if I get better results once I get in the groove. If I had to say something nice about the drawings in this post, I’d say I’m pretty happy with the legs and feet of the lady with the apron. Otherwise, they kind of look like the sort of drawings that happen on the way to drawings that I like. On the other hand, the underpainting on the windmill one looks promising. We’ll see what happens…

The first drawing. I love this guy's stiff posture. Not quite finished.

I started on a new series of drawings this week. The gimmick this time is that they’re all based on vernacular photos of pairs of people. I’m hoping that they will be interesting to look at as a group. All of the pairs of people are obviously in some sort of close relationship, which you can see by their postures. I’m hoping to display the series in February, in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Three day old drawing. Not quite done.

first layer of oil stick, drying from yesterday

I started collecting old abandoned family photos at junk stores and flea markets several years ago. One here, one there. I love their frankness, their utilitarian compositions, and the unexpected things you sometimes find in them. I collect certain subjects, one of my favorites being love. (I also love the “my new dress” photos, of which there are many, and which seem so poignant to me. But the My New Dress series will have to wait.)

pencil cartoon, just started this morning.

To say that I have a tendency to overthink things is probably an understatement. (I’m still reeling from the irony of the comment made by one of my art professors that I was just not possessed enough to make it. Oh, I’m possessed, honey. I just happen to be possessed by some shit your scrawny artist ass hasn’t seen yet…) So anyway, all bitterness aside, I’m trying to do projects where I concentrate on drawing pictures — not on agonizing over whether or not they’re “good,” or will make me “make it,” whatever that means.

I’m using oil sticks, which are a lot like cattle markers, but more expensive, and theoretically more colorfast. I like the way that they keep me from being too fussy (okay, the fussiness is there, but maybe the struggle with my inner fussy demons will make for something interesting). It’s enjoyable to see how the images transform from photo to pencil cartoon, to the mucky underpainting to the final colored picture. It’s fun for me to imagine what colors were in the original scene. I think I’ll probably get wilder with color as I go along.

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