From My Illustration Days…

“The River Test at Stockbridge” gouache on illustration board-
from a photo I took on one of our trips to England in the 1990s

Back in another professional life before I became a painter in oil I worked in gouache and also a mixed media technique I learned at Mark English’s Illustration Academy. I also used watercolor and pen and ink for some illustration class assignments when I was getting my BFA Illustration at the Academy of Art (then College) from 1987-1989. Since spring is on the way I thought I’d share four that have a landscape or plant subject…two that play it straight and a two where I, well, didn’t and went for a humorous touch.

“Pond and Foxgloves” gouache on illustration board-
from a photo I most likely took in England
“Scarecrow and Friend” Watercolor, pen and ink on paper; this was for a class assignment which I think was to do a robot being used in food production. I always loved doing the research part and this was no exception
“Another Vacation Spoiled by Mischievous Fairies” Mixed media (acrylic and colored pencil) on illustration board; Don’t ask. I have no idea what corner of my mind this idea came from but once having thought of it I had to do it. I must say, it was a lot of fun and is unlike anything I’d done before or since

New Solo Exhibition Coming Up!

P and paintings

Details to come, but I will be having a solo exhibition at the Westhaven Center for the Arts, near Trinidad, California, in November and December. It will be a retrospective to celebrate my 20th year as an oil painter. I’ll be showing work that has been accepted into juried shows and/or won awards, along with a look back at my artistic roots as a kid who loved to draw and then worked for twenty years as a sign painter, graphic designer and freelance illustrator. I studied the craft of oil painting with a local artist for two years from 1994 to 1995. In 1997 I took a wildlife painting workshop (wow, people might PAY me to paint wildlife!)  and decided to make the move to painting in oil full time, focusing on what I’ve always loved most as a subject….animals.

I’ll occasionally be posting work that will be in the show between now and when it opens. In the meantime you can see that I would not be able to do the preparations without the enthusiastic assistance of Peregrin, our 18 month old rough collie boy.

In The Beginning….There Was Smalltalk (The First Graphical User Interface) And I Got To Use It

Smalltalk printout-
Smalltalk printout-

Sorting through old files the other day I came across a bit of computer history. I’m sharing it here because it had a bearing on me even getting interested in computers and also as a public archive since I doubt there’s much left anymore like what I’m posting here.

In 1981-82, my husband at the time and I were taken for a visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) by a friend who worked in IT so that I could see this new way of using a computer that let one draw pictures on the screen (I was a freelance graphic designer at the time). We were welcomed by one of the employees, Pavel, who did the demo above and then turned me loose to play with this cool thing called Smalltalk.

At a time when “computer” meant large rooms of very expensive machines or a small black monitor with clunky green type, Smalltalk was a mindblower. DRAW with a computer? Really? Really.

Of course, those of you who are in IT or know the history of Apple are aware of the version of events in which Smalltalk was the precursor to the Mac interface that made computers easy to use “for the rest of us”. If you want to know more about that history and connection, here’s a account. For years, the story has been that Steve Jobs “stole” the concept of Smalltalk (and a lot more) after his own visit to PARC. Whether that’s true or not is outside the purview of this post, but you can read more here and here if you’d like.

Today I have a 3rd Gen iPad with a half dozen or more apps for making images. I use it as a sketchbook, as do some of my artist colleagues. A couple are even teaching classes and workshops on how to use an iPad as an art media. But in another time and place, here’s what one artist spent a happy hour creating on the first computer which had software that let one draw….

Smalltalk art 1
Smalltalk art 1

All of these were printed out for me on a small plotter. I can’t remember what I was drawing with, but it must have been a mouse.

Smalltalk art 2
Smalltalk art 2

Smalltalk art 3
Smalltalk art 3

Smalltalk art 4
Smalltalk art 4

I was a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism at the time and much into unicorns…

Smalltalk art 5
Smalltalk art 5

Smalltalk art 6
Smalltalk art 6

Smalltalk art 7
Smalltalk art 7

I’ve never forgotten that magical afternoon at PARC when, for me, computers and art came together for the first time.





Every Artist Starts Somewhere- Art School

"Jazz"- Gouache on illustration board
“Jazz”- A classmate modeled for me in a tuxedo coat from the prop room, I went to a local music store and shot reference of one of the employees playing the clarinet to make sure I had the hand and finger positions correct and invented the mice and the lettering. This was for Illustration III. Gouache on illustration board.


This is the third installment of a series I started last year, my beginnings as an artist. You can find the previous posts here and here.

In the early 1980s I was living in Berkeley working as a freelance graphic designer. I hit a very rough patch, rough enough that I had to sit back and figure out what to do career-wise. I saw my choices as getting a job, re-dedicating myself to my freelance design business and really digging in on marketing or “taking some classes” to increase and improve my skill level. What ended up happening is that in 1987 at age 35 I went back to school full-time at what was then the Academy of Art College (now “University”) in San Francisco for three years and earned a BFA Illustration in 1989. While I had intended to focus on graphic design and also take some illustration classes (a relative and a friend had both trained as illustrators there so I knew it was a good program), within a few weeks I knew Illustration was what I wanted since I had FINALLY found the art field where traditional drawing skills were still highly valued.

I had up to nine hours of drawing a week. It was a struggle to undo all the tics and faulty perceptions I’d built up trying to teach myself and, in fact, had become so frustrated that I didn’t draw at all, other than for work-related jobs, for close to ten years. But class after class I just kept going, drawing after drawing. I never won any awards, but at the end I had the knowledge and skills to keep improving. Within a few years I felt that I could finally say that I knew how to draw.

In the Illustration Department we had to do an illustration a week, every week. The first semester required us to use first pen and ink and also gouache. Below you’ll see some of the initial exercises we did. I was one of the very few who liked gouache and I was interested in greeting card work, much of which was painted in that media at the time, so I stayed with it all through school. The second semester was watercolor and dyes like Dr. Martin’s. From the third semester on we could use the media of our choice.

Among my favorite classes was one taught by Stan Fleming, who did storyboarding for quite a few LucasFilms, including at least of of the Indiana Jones movies. He would come to class in his leather Indie jacket, to our delight. Our assignments were movie-based, like doing a storyboard for Ghostbusters or object designs for a fantasy movie, and a lot of fun. Another favorite instructor was Dennis Ziemienski, who is now a nationally-known fine artist, but became a well-known illustrator for, among other things, his Elmore Leonard book covers. All his assignments were based on actual jobs that he’d done. He also brought in guest critiquers. For me the memorable one was Neil Shakery from the legendary design firm Pentagram. I’ve posted three images below, for a children’s magazine, from the assignment he critiqued. I encountered him downstairs afterwords and he took a minute to tell me how much he liked what I’d done. That meant a lot to me, as you can imagine. We also had guest speakers who included Robert Heindel and Drew Struzan.

So here’s a trip down my illustration memory lane:

Color strips
Color strips, Yeah, I know, exciting stuff. But it’s how we learned to control the media we were going to be using.

Exercises using watercolors or dyes.
Exercises using dyes. Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time won’t be surprised by my choice of subject matter. Dr. Martin’s dyes on vellum bristol.

Learning to see the largest shapes in two values plus the paper color.
Learning to see the largest shapes in two values plus the paper color. Gouache on construction paper.

Illustration II watercolor.
Illustration II watercolor. I remember vividly the lesson from this one….”Acknowledge the third dimension.” Critical and without which an artist cannot create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. Watercolor on illustration board.

Watercolor assignment for Illustration II.
Watercolor assignment for Illustration II. The texture was created by sprinkling salt on the wet paint. Watercolor on illustration board.

The assignment was something like "dessert".
The assignment was something like “dessert”.  I bought the dessert (which was consumed after shooting it for reference, of course). Everything else were things I had and the rose was from the garden. Getting the perspective and ellipses correct was a challenge and I pretty much pulled it off, but not quite. I think the purple shadow is a bit much now, even though we were constantly encouraged to “plus” everything. Gouache on illustration board.

Assignment from Dennis Ziemienski's class.
Assignment from Dennis Ziemienski’s class for a children’s magazine. This one was one right up my alley.

The mouse and the moon.
What is the moon made of? Green cheese, of course. I did my research for the astronaut’s suit. It’s simplified, but accurate, Watercolor/pen and ink on hot press watercolor paper.

Do fish sleep? The mermaid thinks so.
Do fish sleep? The mermaid thinks so. Watercolor/pen and ink on hot press watercolor paper.

The assignment was to do an album cover.
This assignment for Illustration III was to do an album cover. I’d recently discovered Kitaro’s “Silk Road”. Gouache and watercolor on illustration board.

This was for Illustration IV, I think. And the assignment may have been an open one, the hardest to do.
This was for Illustration IV, I think. And the assignment may have been an open one, the hardest to do. I’d been doing medieval illumination for years as a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism, so it was fun to use that skill in art school. Gouache on illustration board.

One of my classmates posed
One of my classmates posed for me wrapped in a bed sheet. I’ve always loved Alphonse Mucha’s work and it was fun to try to capture the spirit of his wonderful work. Watercolor on cold-press watercolor paper.

For my final semester, I did an independent study one on one with an instructor. He assigned me a movie poster.
For my final semester, I did an independent study one on one with an instructor. He assigned me a movie poster and I chose “Camelot”. I really had to battle to get the likenesses in gouache, but I loved coming up with the design.

As you can see, I took advantage of the opportunity to try all kinds of styles and approaches. Next time I’ll share some of the work I did after graduation for my professional portfolio.



Every Artist Starts Somewhere- Junior High And High School

This is the second installment of an occasional series on my beginnings as an artist. You can read the first one here. I started with my childhood, which included lessons offered by a local art organization. I was in junior high in the late 1960s when there was not only still an art class at my school, but it was required.

In high school I was focused on meeting the entry requirements for going to the University of California, so I had to concentrate on academic classes, not fun electives, although I was active in the Drama Dept. for my sophomore and junior years (and those are some stories for another day). In my senior year I finally took an art class. along with the class that put together the school yearbook. In the end, I qualified, but never went to UC because my heart was set on Berkeley, but found after researching it that Cal was known for many things, but not its art department. Such is life.

I ended up back in Humboldt County going to Humboldt State University, majoring in art, but I only took one drawing class and no painting classes, instead taking the jewelry and calligraphy classes, which I loved and a screen-printing class, which I hated- too many steps between the idea and its manifestation that, for me, had nothing to do with creativity. I lasted out the drawing class, but got disgusted and bored early on because I was looking for traditional training in fine drawing, but had a teacher, typical of the time, who was only interested in “self-expression” and couldn’t actually draw very well himself. Learning to really draw was something that would have to wait. Around ten years or so.

Here’s a selection of my work from back then.

We have to cut up colored paper and create these tangles, then paint them as realistically as possible.
We had to cut up colored paper and create these tangles, then paint them as realistically as possible cut them out and paste them on black paper. This seems to be the only piece I have left from my 9th grade art class. Mr. Stebbins was our teacher at Winship Junior High in Eureka, California, where I grew up.

A value exercise in my high school art class.
A value exercise in my high school art class. This one was chosen for the holiday art department art show, so it’s nicely presented. Bob Lopez at Eureka Senior High School was our wonderful art teacher. He let us turn on the radio during class. I remember, I think it was in the spring, that every day for weeks at around 1pm, the theme from “Shaft” would play.

Still life in acrylic. Notice I went for an animal part.
Still life in acrylic. Notice I went for an animal part.  24×18″

Pen and ink still life.
Pen and ink still life. And an animal part, of course. 24×18″

Local Victorian re-located for Halloween theme assignment.  24x18"
Local Victorian re-located for Halloween theme assignment. Still pleased with the somewhat lurid colors. 24×18″

I still did work on my own at home. Here’s one of three mushrooms I did that are definitely artifacts of the time.

 Pena and ink patriotic mushroom
Pen and ink patriotic mushroom 11x 8 1/2″

Every Artist Starts Somewhere-Childhood

I thought that I would occasionally share some my early artwork. Really early, for starters, from when I was from around eight to thirteen years old.

When we buy art books or go to shows, we see an artist’s best work and that is as it should be. But no one starts like Athena springing full-grown from Zeus’ head. No matter how “talented” an artist is, there is still a lot to learn, motor skills to develop and a personal path to find.

Most of us probably end up throwing away far more of our creations than we keep.

The takeaway, I hope, is that you should just start where you are and keep going. And if you want to try making art, DO IT! Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks or if you have “talent” or if you’re “good enough”. Take joy in the process. Like I did as a kid.

Here’s a sampling of some “historic” works that didn’t get round-filed.

My first "major" work. Using a Walter T. Foster art book on big cats that I still have, I tried to put together a composition with a number of elements. I always liked to draw animals most of all and was, I think, about 8 years old when I painted this. "Lion Family" approx. 18x24" probably watercolor, but maybe acrylic, on paper

One of PILES of drawings I did as a kid. My dad brought home old business forms and I drew on the blank backs. I had an endless supply of paper, but ended up a little surprised to learn that one could get drawing paper that didn't have printing on one side. "Lion" colored pencil, 8.5x11"

When I was 11, I took my first real art lessons from local Humboldt County artist Dorothy (Dottie) Stocum, through the Redwood Art Association (RAA). This great class for kids was held on Saturday mornings in a big old empty Victorian. The media is acrylic, which was brand new back then (the mid-1960s) and touted as being THE replacement for oils. Well, no. "Still Life" acrylic 18x24"

My "abstract" phase when I was also messing around with using a palette knife. Also an RAA Saturday morning class piece. "Arrows" acrylic 18x24"

Somewhere around age 12 or 13, I learned about sketching from life; these were found object (driftwood and stones) sculptures that I saw when my mom took me to the Ferndale Art Festival. They needed to be drawn. And I loved the titles. No idea who the artist was. Approx. 6x8" blue felt tip pen on paper