Your dent may be your gift

Okay, I’m outing myself. I’m two weeks post-op from a surgery that didn’t deliver the outcome the surgeon planned, but also didn’t go as bad as it might have. Why am I sharing that here, though?

“Where words and watercolor soar together” is the tagline for this blog, but for a little while longer, I can’t actually see well enough to write or type or paint or sketch very well at all. My only real challenge, luckily, is patience, because a couple weeks from now I’ll finally have new eyeglasses and will enjoy slightly better eyesight than I’ve had for a couple years. Still monocular, of course, but my right eye will be happier, and hopefully my trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all brain will be less pooped.

So again, why am I sharing this in my blog, rather than keeping it to myself and my handful of loyal friends who get to suffer through my mood swings with me?

It’s because I see now that each one of us, eventually, gets our very own dent.

(And be forewarned: those of you with a hankering for multiple superpowers may get more than one dent.)

Stay with me on this. It’s not that I wish ill on anyone, honestly, but the truth is if you live long enough, you too will experience a challenging situation that you have to face. There’s no saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and walking away. 

Think of all the people in your life: how many folks do you know whom you admire because they keep their head above water and carry on, despite some tremendous challenge? 

An old singer-songwriter friend of mine, Scott Alarik, told tales between songs at his gigs, often ending with a pearl of wisdom. One of my favorites was, “My father used to say, ‘Son, there are no problems in life, there are only opportunities.’ Once in a while, though, you do run up against an insurmountable opportunity…”

Isn’t that the truth? For me, eyesight has been an insurmountable opportunity for the past 45 years, literally shifting the focus of my entire adult life. I was an art major in college, was diagnosed with an eye disease at 22, and spent a couple decades desperately trying to craft a life where I no longer adored visual art expression. I failed miserably (thank goodness), so I relented, falling in love yet again with sketching and painting and teaching, and even wrote a book about how deeply pleasurable eyesight really is.

I invite you now to think about the people in your life who may have a dent of their own, and ask yourself, does it seem like that dent is a custom fit? No blame here at all, of course, and I don’t think the gods are nasty by nature, but I suspect the universe does enjoy a bit of irony. Isn’t it curious that Beethoven went deaf, not blind? And Georgia O’Keeffe developed macular degeneration later in life, not hearing loss? Leonardo da Vinci must’ve been good at dodging arrows because he had a full-size target on his back if the gods were taking aim at genius!

Here’s the secret no one told you: we each get a dent so that we may become a mentor. Every single one of us.

You’re given a passion, it becomes a bit challenging, and when you persevere (because you can’t imagine not persevering), you start to look like a mentor, and you weren’t even trying.

There’s no getting out of it. If you hang around long enough, someone is going to cross your path who needs exactly what you can teach them from first-hand experience.

Some examples of my past mentors:

* A couple decades ago I got a job working for an organization, VSA arts, that provided creative arts opportunities for people with and without disabilities in integrated settings. There I learned that the creative impulse is inherent in every one of us. That is also where I made peace with being an artist with challenging eyesight.

* That job introduced me to SAORI weaving, which later led me to open my own Saori weaving studio. There I learned to meet people where they are, to listen with my whole heart.

* A few years later, I realized I had to slow down and refocus the trajectory of my life. Problem was, I didn’t know how. Sure enough, I came across a mentor, Michael Nobbs, whom I wrote about in my book.

* And finally, earlier today, a dear friend shared a podcast with me that reinforces the notion that gifts are often found during challenging times. The reliably wonderful podcast is called “On Being” with Krista Tippett. The episode I recommend is the unedited version from January 21st with Katherine May. I dare you to listen to the first 15 minutes without smiling and nodding just a bit.

Here’s the final point: I’ve discovered it was my heart that needed opening, not my eyes.

So many options are still open to me if I can just drop a few assumptions and see things from a different angle. Years ago I heard an interviewer ask Bette Midler what the key was to her endless resilience. Her answer, as I remember it, was, “You only need to know one thing: Plan A always goes away.” That was it. Brilliant.

Here’s some exciting news: dents and gifts, or unexpected trials and mentors, are the inspiration for my next book. After a look at the joy of seeing by sketching, I wanted to look back over my shoulder at the crossroads and fellow travelers in my life, folks I may have raced past at the time, but now see as gentle docents guiding me forward. Many of them had dents, of course, for those folks make the best tour guides. I’ll be creating illustrations for this book as well, and plan to spend the upcoming months (as soon as those eyeglasses arrive!) studying the artistry of Ernest H. Shepard, Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, and Charlie Mackesy. Mentors abound, once you embrace your genuine passion.

As this pandemic and subsequent sharp-stick-in-the-bicycle-spokes time continues, I hope you find a bit of unexpected time to ponder now and again. Think for a moment: what dents are all too familiar to you? If you were to slow down long enough to look directly at that dent, what might you see out of the corner of your eye? 

Perhaps an unexpected gift? Maybe, you never know…

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

T, O, ST, G? What does it all mean?

A careful reader of my new book wrote to me this week with the following question:

“I just bought Look At That! and the Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher Pocket Box you recommended. On the page where you talk about drawing and painting our palette [pages 32-33], the picture has all the colors and they’re labeled and there’s also some abbreviations under each color: T, ST, G, O. I give up. What do those abbreviations stand for?”

Here’s the image:

Color chart for Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher Pocket Box

Here’s my reply:

“Very observant!

When I created that illustration I planned to explain all that, but later realized I was getting too far into the weeds for a book that was intended as a simple overview for shy beginners. But, since you asked, here’s the answer! 

Those initials are all to do with the properties (sometimes chemical properties) of the specific paint itself. Understanding those properties will give you a roadmap to more successful color-mixing, and of course, painting.

Remember, watercolor’s magic is due to the way light passes through the paint, bounces off the whiteness of the paper, then travels back through the paint a second time.

“T” stands for transparent, which means the “colored water” is very clear rather than cloudy. You can use it layer upon layer (a technique called “glazing”) and you’ll still get a clear, bright, stained glass effect.

“O” is basically the opposite; it stands for opaque. Those colors are beautiful as well, but the white of the paper doesn’t shine through the paint quite as much. It’s easy to run the risk of creating muddy colors when mixing with opaques, but, having said that, paints labeled “O” have the power to give solidity to a painting, thereby complementing the airiness. The difference between transparent and opaque paint can seem very subtle until you have painted a great deal.

The “ST” stands for staining, which means the pigment itself is a dye, and therefore, once it touches the paper, it’s very difficult to lift it off entirely. 

Finally, “G” stands for granular. Granular means just as it sounds, the pigment never fully dissolves so it leaves a lovely bit of granulation that can sink into those tiny valleys of traditional cold-press watercolor paper, leaving an evocative residue pattern. 

The explanation by the manufacturer, Winsor & Newton, can be found here. (You’ll note in their explanation that “ST” can stand for “semi-transparent” or “St” can stand for staining. That’s unfortunate, right? The giveaway though is if it already says “T” (as it does in the Sap Green area for example), then you know the ST means “Staining”— which Sap Green is in the extreme!)

Note: These are all descriptions of the pigment compounds, not the colors. And now there’s more to explain!

The abbreviations (like PY-175 by the Lemon Yellow Hue) are the Pigment Codes and are very useful. It’s a universal coding system used by all watercolor paint manufacturers so that artists have a better sense of what they are buying from one brand to the next. Color names can be very poetic (as anyone knows who has gone to the hardware store looking for a simple off-white room paint!), but these Pigment Codes are far more consistent. You can use PY-175 from one brand to another and you should get a similar result, whereas if you search by the English name (like “Burnt Sienna”) you’ll get vast variations. There you go!  A detailed color lesson I first learned from an amazing instructor I had back in 1986 who taught us chemistry, and paper compounding, and all sorts of things so we would understand the very bones of watercolor.”

The book that my first watercolor instructor, Gif Russell, used to teach us was brand new at the time in 1986, and has gone on to become a classic. It is Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing. For me it definitely earns the “one book I would take to a desert island” status.

So now you’ve had a glimpse at one of many rabbit holes I had to back out of when writing “Look at That!”. Throughout the book I gently disparaged my fellow how-to-sketch-draw-paint authors for being overly verbose, then I immediately found myself acting just like them, writing way too much with great enthusiasm, only to go back and delete, delete, delete! It is so easy to “over-deliver.” The admonition to “keep it simple” is easier said than done.

Have you bought the book in either ebook or paperback version? If so here’s a question for you:

Have you found any other loose threads in the book? Would you like to send me a quick note through the “Contact” tab above to tell me about it? I know of a few myself. Here’s one:

What about that “rigger brush” I mentioned and illustrated on page 17, but never mentioned again? What’s up with that??

Stay tuned, dear reader. More will be revealed…

Posted in Watercolor | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Short and sweet is never a bad idea, for drawings or blog posts!

Good morning and Merry Christmas!

If you’re finding you have a spare bit of time after the morning chaos is finished and while your Christmas dinner is cooking, here’s an idea.

Think of an artist whose mark-making you really admire. This could be anyone from DaVinci to Rembrandt to a contemporary artist. Pull out your sketchbook and an image of one of their drawings, and simply learn from them.

Look beyond the entire image to the individual marks themselves. Were they slow and methodical, or quick flicks (you learned about this in the exercise on page 31 in “Look at That!”). Tempo matters, trust me!

Now, see if you can learn something about the tempo they might have used by trying to copy their mark-making. Guess what tempo they had while drawing that particular line, while creating those brush strokes. It’s fun, and it can help you to draw/paint much more quickly when you have less time to think.

Charlie Mackesy’s very popular book, “The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse” moved me to happy tears this holiday season, thanks to my dear friends Sandy and Nancy. It’s simply beautiful in so many ways. Here’s this morning’s doodle inspired by his magical shorthand style.

Learning is endless joy, don’t you think?

** Special Treat from now until tomorrow night **

I lowered the price of the ebook to a mere $1.99 on Amazon, starting Dec 23rd, and have decide to extend it through Dec 26th 9pm EST. In case you didn’t know, you can actually gift ebooks to your friends (quite amazing I think…) Here’s the link.

May all the people we love discover this new way to access a moment of calm and joy in the new year!

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Pen & Ink, Watercolor | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Braving the Cold with Patrick

Yesterday I had every intention of switching over to “online Sunday Sketching with Patrick” for the rest of the winter. I had sent him a text saying that since it was below freezing and there was a nice coating of ice on some of the sidewalks, it seemed like a good day to sketch together online instead of meeting outdoors. A while later he sent back a text saying in effect, “My computer area at home is problematic, could we instead enjoy a climate-controlled, fully-masked sketching time inside my car?”

I caved.

So at 1pm, as is our habit, I met him on the only-somewhat-icy sidewalk in front of my apartment, and we headed off. As soon as we reached the end of the block, he started telling me about three possible destinations he had spotted: a mansard-roofed house, a Victorian home with an enticing porch, and a gorgeous granite-and-wood fence. Whenever we go out, deciding where to sketch can be tough, so I was pleased. We scouted around as he chose what looked good to him (being a gentleman he asked my opinion along the way, but I reminded him, “Patrick, remember I’m the girl who’s happy drawing a garbage can.”).

Because of the snow that had arrived the night before, it took a bit of time to find a good place to park the car. When he found one, it turned out it wasn’t an ideal vantage point for our subject matter, so before we knew it, we were out of the car, sketchbooks and artkits in hand, scoping out the exact right spot to plant ourselves for sketching.

Patrick had his camp stool which he keeps in his car. I had thought we would be in comfy car seats with the heater on, so I not only had left my camp chair at home, I had also worn only jeans and a simple coat over a t-shirt, not wanting to get overheated in the car. I have to say, staying masked when it’s below freezing is a pleasure– my nose wasn’t cold at all! What, me worry? I was game.

Patrick selected his spot to sit and focus on the wreath hanging on the fence, and I sidled up next to him, masked and maybe ten feet away. Lately we have each moved a bit away from doing ink drawings to paintings, and yesterday was the same: starting with light pencil work followed by watercolor. I looked in the general direction of where he was looking, but unable to see the details he could see (my eyesight is a constant challenge, one I just don’t talk about that often), I decided to just look around for a while. I looked across the street to my right, and saw layer after layer of angles of roof-lines and dormer windows, and my first thought was, “Wow, THAT’S complicated. Good thing I don’t have to draw that!” And immediately found myself…drawing that.

I can tell within the first few lines whether or not I’m going to have a good time depicting architectural perspective. I couldn’t see any details really, but that helps a lot with simplification, right? I dashed in the major roof pitches with pencil, then decided it was time to get out the water and have at it.

I knew right away I wanted to have big juicy washes, so using the water brush was out of the question. I poured some water into my little container (I will be sure to photograph my set-up next time), donned my trusty Look-At-That Art Pouch so that I would have quick access to my pencil and watercolor brushes, and picked up my sketchbook with the watercolor palette and water container securely clipped to my board. I thought of Maria Coryell-Martin immediately, and wondered if I would ever be mixing alcohol in my water to keep it from freezing. Because I had no chair, I had to plant my feet in such a way that I would be steady, and was grateful I had worn my wool-lined wellies, nice warm ankles.

Patrick offered me the use of his chair after a short while, but it was already too late: sitting would have changed my sight-line significantly and therefore all the angles, so I declined. I was already deeply into it.

About an hour later (we never think to look at the time when we start), he said, “I think I’m done.” What that means in watercolorist lingo is, “I am nowhere near done, but I think I may be on the verge of overworking it and ruining it, so could you please take the brush out of my hand now?” Of course I said yes.

Then I took a step and it was like coming out of a trance. I swayed and staggered a little bit, then realized my knees were freezing, my baseball cap was inadequate, so I wiggled and stretched a little before I trusted myself to take a real step. I was really really cold, had been standing the entire time in one spot, and hadn’t even realized how uncomfortable I was until I stopped painting. I dumped my 2 ounces of dirty watercolor water into the snow by the side of the road and slowly disassembled my set-up which had been surprisingly functional. There often are start-and-stop moments when painting on site, until you have your kit down to a science. For now, I like what I’m using.

Let me take you on a tour of my painting time, from big picture to a bit of detail, much like the painting experience itself was.

Here is the whole sketch.

Warren St Concord, NH

What attracted Patrick to this place was the fence and wreath, which I actually added toward the end of my sketching time.

Fence close-up.

While he had been drawn to the fence, I had been spell-bound by the complexity of all those buildings and rooflines.

I forgot to take a photo of the pencil sketch before I started painting (maybe I’ll remember to do that next time), but I do remember the very first thing I painted was that big evergreen in the background. When the paint went down, it looked almost black—that’s one of the many challenges with watercolor, you have to make your mixes so much stronger than you think you need, because they dry a good 30% paler than how they look when wet. Here’s a close-up of the tree and skyline.

I smile because I’m well aware of the wonky lines, the dribbles, the blooms where I added a second layer of paint before the first one was dry. It was hard to tell at the time whether the layer of paint was dry or frozen! Not a question I have even asked myself before when painting. The wonkiness doesn’t matter, the blooms and wiggly lines don’t matter. Why?

For all its discomfort and inconvenience and truly uninspiring color (dirty snow, dirty sky, pale houses, no dramatic lighting or shadows), yesterday’s session outdoors in the freezing cold felt like one of the best outings Patrick and I have had yet, for a lot of reasons. The first is simple: we did it. The heck with mere mortal concerns, we were motivated. Secondly, I think we each surprised ourselves with the results. I am still surprised at the subject matter I chose. I am stunned that I stood for an hour in the cold on arthritic legs. I went so far past my comfort zone that I discovered a new one I didn’t know existed. And I got to thinking, “I wonder where else I am saying ‘no’ when I could be saying ‘why not?’ ”

As we were sketching and painting, a few pedestrians passed along the road at a safe distance. They were out there to jog, to walk the bundled-up baby in the stroller, to care for their bodies by exercising regardless of the weather. Patrick and I were on a similar auto-pilot mission: It’s Sunday, 1pm, everything else gets set aside because it’s time to exercise our eyes and minds and artistic souls.

“Would ya look at that?”

Thank you, I think I will.

Posted in Look-at-That! Pouches, Nuts & Bolts & Magic, Pencil sketching, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“Look at That!”…but where do I start?

Well my dear friends, I have launched my wonderful book on Amazon, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

eBook: I struggled with three separate versions of the ebook, each one with its own drawbacks, and finally settled on one I like well enough.

Paperback: I do love this sweet little thing. I love the cover, thank you so much to my graphic designer. The inside of the book, all 72 pages, was a huge struggle, going back and forth with another talented designer who specializes in formatting books for publication. I think we drove each other crazy along the way, but we ended up with a final product we both like. A lot.

The pouches: You will see on the menu bar above that I have added a tab for my “Look at That! Art Pouches” which I am selling on an Etsy site (the link is on that page shown above). I wove and sewed like crazy in the past several weeks, and then put to use my internet-writing-photography-marketing skills (often shaky skills!) to get my Etsy shop opened. A lot of work, but plenty of fun too.

If you’re thinking of buying copies of this book for gifts, you may also want to go one step further and add some art supplies. The problem is, where do you start… and more importantly, where do you stop?!

Thank goodness a dear friend asked me to help her with this, and it showed me how confusing it can be. Here is what I learned from helping her:

The supplies can and should stay really simple!

If you are getting this book as a present for someone, here are the three approaches you might consider.

1) Buy the book alone as a gift. You have just planted a life-changing seed.

2) Buy a book and a simple sketchbook for your gift. My book is 5.5” x 8.5”, and so are many sketchbooks. Here are three of my current favorite sketchbook options, all roughly A5 size.

a) The Hand Book Travelogue Watercolor Journal is the one I recommend in my book, and it is great if you plan to use watercolor often. Roughly $17 USD.

b) The Moleskine Art Sketchbook has really good paper, and works well with pen and ink as well as controlled amounts of watercolor. Roughly $15 USD.

Note: Be careful when you buy Moleskine books: They offer hard cover and soft cover, several paper weights, are beautifully made, but most are terrible for any artwork other than pencil (which I rarely use). If you are browsing in a store, look for the ones that have a blue/purple band near the bottom of the label, and are called  an Art Sketchbook (see photo below). The paper weight is “165 g/m2”. Beware of the ones called “plain” paper (green stripe/ 70 g/m2), and “cahier” paper (orange stripe, 70 g/m2). Those two papers are less than half as thick as the Art Sketchbook, and are way too thin for the kind of mark-making freedom you deserve.

Moleskine Art Sketchbook (this is a smaller version, but the link above will get you the right size.)

c) Finally, this sketchbook option is much less expensive, and is surprisingly adequate. They are sold in sets of two, each sketchbook is 6″ x 8″, has 30 sheets/60 pages, a soft cover, and you get two of these for only $6.99 USD (at least that is the pricing for now). “Artist’s Loft” is a Michael’s Craft Stores brand. It you are careful to control the amount of water you use, it does take watercolor well, and cuts your sketchbook expense considerably. Here is the link.

Michael’s Craft Stores have many choices- this one is a hidden gem.

3) Buy a book and a sketchbook online– then get an Art Pouch, and a Pen Kit from me. It’s almost like taking me home with you!

The Look-at-That Art Pouch: I invented these pouches a few years ago after sketching at a rally at the State House here in Concord. I needed to have easy access to my tools, so I could simply pull out my sketchbook and be ready to go, sketching standing up. No need to figure out where to sit, and how to manage holding multiple pens and brushes at the same time. Sketching while standing is an amazing experience: it energizes you, makes you focus, liberates your decision-making. Now it is easy!

These Look at That! Art Pouches are from a recent series I called “Peas and Corn and Carrots”!

Go to the Pouch tab on the menu bar above, find the Etsy link, click on that, and then take your time selecting the pouch that speaks to you. In the description of each pouch, I state the width of that specific pouch’s opening. They vary because they are handwoven, and are each the perfect size for a small collection of pens, pencils, and watercolor brushes, but most do not fit cellphones (yay!) because that is not what they’re designed for. The pouches are intentionally small so you’ll leave your extraneous art supplies at home.

L.A.T. Art Tool Kit: For drawing, feel free to simply grab a handful of assorted pens from your desk and use them to get started! If on the other hand you would like a fast, economical way to own the exact pens I describe in the Look at That! book, as well as a water-brush, I also offer this 6-piece tool-kit on the Etsy site.

Left to Right: Bic, Pencil, Pilot, Water Brush, Flair, Uniball. The logic of “why these?” is all explained in the book, of course!

I know the investment can add up quickly. Truth be told, the book, a grubby pen, and a dollar-store blank journal are enough to get anyone started, and to totally change their life (that includes you too). I’ve seen it happen.

Starting with very simple supplies has its own advantages. If you give someone just the book, a sketchbook, and nothing else, then they get to decide how deeply they want to dig in, and when. They will be able to consult the Infamous Purchase Order at the end of the book (page 65), and in a moment-to-moment spontaneous way, they can decide what next to add to their toybox.

Enjoy, and thanks!

Sketching in Scotland, what more could you want?
Posted in 1- Nuts: Graphic Styles, 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Look at That! book, Look-at-That! Pouches, Pen & Ink, Pencil sketching, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Today’s the day! “Look at That!”

My book is finally a reality! I am so proud to announce that a book that began its life as a twinkle of a notion of an alternative sort of art class three years ago, has turned into a lighthearted, fun, 72-page guide to enjoying ourselves in a whole new way.

“Imagine having instant access to a peaceful state of mind, simply by taking notes on what you see.”

That’s what it says on the back cover, and it’s true.

See for yourself. Both the ebook and paperback are now available worldwide on Amazon. You can search for “Look at That!” or Bobbie Herron, or use this link.   

Many people avoid using Amazon, I know, so I made the paperback also available through a wonderful website whose mission is to keep our beloved local bookstores thriving. The link is here.   

The Kindle/ebook version (only on Amazon) is very inexpensive right now, but not for long! It will remain at the crazy price of $1.99 for this week only, until November 29th.  If you’re not yet sure about ordering the paperback, try the ebook first. As a new fan said, “If you like the ebook, you will LOVE the paperback!” 

This past week my team and I worked hard behind the scenes, and I am thrilled that “Look at That!” has reached #1 New Release status in four categories!

 #1 New Release Art Reference, Landscape Painting, Art Study and Teaching, and Graphic Design Pen & Ink Drawing!

How cool is that!

Here are some quotes from recent customers:

“This book is a take-you-by-the-hand journey into the Present Moment through the magical world of the sketchbook.”

“This sweet book inspired my non-artistic self to give sketching a try, not to create a work of art, but to soothe my mind and spirit.”

“This little book is such a fun way to truly SEE. It’s remarkably deep but deceptively simple, and I love how the author’s humor and joy come through every page. I highly recommend it!”

“This book was a great find! Not only did it inspire me to move from thinking about sketching and visual journaling to actually doing it, it also made me see the world differently.”

The book description on the Amazon page will tell you everything you need to know, and the “Look Inside” feature is activated so you can even read a bit of the book right there.

It is a perfect holiday gift for artists and non-artists alike, trust me. My goal was to find a way to take you by the hand, go for a walk together, pointing out things you pass by every day but have never seen until this very moment. I think I succeeded.

If you enjoy it, let me know here, and please, spread the word! Share this blog post, talk it up on social media, tell your friends! The world could use a “Look at That!” bit of peace right now.

Posted in 1- Nuts: Graphic Styles, Cartoons, Look at That! book, Look-at-That! Pouches, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Quickest Way to My Heart is via a Fountain Pen

Another fun Sunday out sketching with my friend Patrick. This past weekend we enjoyed an unseasonably warm patch of weather, and took advantage of the afternoon light right here in town.

This is Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, a beautiful stone structure on the corner of Chapel and State Streets. Patrick admired the simplicity of the facade, the clean lines of the stunning front door, free of the metal and glass weather-proofing so many public buildings have in this climate (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5B).

Not the greatest photo, I was only thinking of taking that beautiful door home with me.

This will be a short post, because I am deep in the details of pre-book-launch which will be official on November 22nd. For those of you who live within driving distance of Concord NH, I am planning a “Socially-Distanced Book Launch” on Saturday, November 28th from 1-3pm. Books for sale, cash only, $15 each, autographs free of course! More details in the post I plan to send on the 22nd. Of course, plans are subject to change, based on pandemic shifts.

For now, enjoy this beautiful church, and take a minute to pause and enjoy your surroundings as well.

LOVE the details at the eaves of buildings.
Last minute photo after the shadows started to shift.
This is the view that caught my eye.
And this is how simple it can be! Intentionally unfinished lines, suggested textures, fountain pen, felt tip pen, and tint brush.
Look at That!
Posted in Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A piece of unexpected art equipment

If you’re like me and you haven’t totally divorced yourself from Amazon, you probably have received more than one piece of blue-and-white bubble wrap packaging from them. That packaging may be hard to recycle, but it’s dead simple to repurpose. I’ve used one of these plastic sleeves for several years, it’s the perfect size, and more than likely, yours may fit you perfectly too.

“Perfect size? For what?”

It’s a modern version of my 1950s Girl Scout Sit-Upon, of course.

Here’s all you need to do to make yours:

1- Cut off the sticky part at the end of the Amazon bubble wrap envelope so it doesn’t cause trouble later.

2- Then you fold it in half, or fold it in quarters, and tuck it into your travel art kit. I have a very small backpack I keep stocked up for grab-and-go sketching. Then all I need to do is fill my water bottle, and I’m off and running.

In case this is not obvious yet, your bubble-wrap sleeve is the perfect size for your butt. Yup, no other word for it. The great news is that the next time you go out sketching and the only place to sit is on a wintry granite bench or a bumpy stone wall or a wet wooden step, no problem! You just put your Amazon mailing packet down first, then you set yourself down. Ahh…

Back a zillion years ago when I was a very young girl, I was a member of Brownies, the American junior version of Girl Scouts. One of the first things we did in Brownies was create a “sit upon.” All we needed was:

  • two butt-sized rectangles of Girl-Scout-green oil cloth (a pliable plastic-coated fabric with a cotton mesh backing. It’s like waterproof canvas, great for things like picnic table covers.)
  • a small stack of newspapers
  • a paper punch
  • a long, long piece of bright yellow yarn
  • a big fat sewing needle

(Keep in mind the Girl Scout colors back then were kelly green and bright yellow; now they are green and white.) We measured the spacing carefully, then punched holes around all four sides of both pieces of green oil cloth. Then we made the layer cake: oil cloth with green side down, then the newspapers, then second oil cloth, green side up. After aligning all the holes we threaded the fat needle with the fat yellow yarn and looped our way around all four sides.

Voila, an instant tushy cushion!

We were supposed to use them for all the wonderful camping trips, and all the other fun things you do outdoors in Girl Scouts. Unfortunately I either drifted off or the troop disbanded, not sure. I think I actually sat on mine maybe twice, but making it is still a vivid fond memory.

So now I have this much simpler version, and it makes me smile to remember how long I’ve been playing with yarn, and how much I just love my creature comforts. As I write this, I am sitting outside on my bubble-wrap sit-upon, on top of a very, very cold granite stoop, in front of the candy store where I live (yes, I literally live above a candy store!). It’s a cold, autumn Sunday afternoon, and I’m about to go sketching with my good friend Patrick.

What more could I want? I feel like all of you are my new scout troop now. Look at that! 🙂

Latest updates: the book is right on schedule for November 22nd release. Also, I have added the “Look-at-That Art Pouches” page to this website. This coming week, I plan to do a bit of work on the 82 photos of the 41 pouches I’ve made so far, and of course weaving continues. My Esty page needs more work before it can launch too. Never bored!

Life is so good, once you’ve found your passion.

Burlap bag from Aigas Field Centre (Scotland), fold-up chair by Road Scholar, sit-upon courtesy of Amazon, and sketchbook is a wonderful discontinued version (of course) from Michael’s Craft Store. (“Why a chair AND a sit-upon,” you ask? You never know where you’ll decide to sit!)
Posted in 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Look at That! book, Look-at-That! Pouches, My Story, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sundays with Patrick

It’s time to tell you about a weekly outdoor adventure I have enjoyed since the end of May. At 1pm every Sunday, sketchbook, art kit, and camp stool in hand, I meet up with my good friend Patrick and we head out together on a search for great “Look at That!” locations to sketch.

I am so lucky to be able to learn from Patrick and borrow his eyes. He is an architect and therefore sees and understands things that you and I innocently overlook. He points out to me the nuances of architectural design that make a building facade “work.” I learn so much from him, and although we don’t talk a lot while sketching, we each have a ready audience for any insights either of us might have, about the scene in front of us or about life in general.

There are so many benefits to having a weekly sketchbook buddy:

  • Scheduling: Sundays from 1 until 4 are blocked off in my datebook, a default time that frees both of us from having to decide how and when to meet up. This makes it a priority, not a whim.
  • Food first: Many Sundays begin with a quick stop at our favorite restaurant right in the middle of town, where we have enjoyed outdoor seating for the last six months. We mask and distance automatically and effortlessly, refusing to let those minor inconveniences diminish the day’s joy. We listen to each other’s updates on work, family, and whatever else has been filling our dance cards. Then we are free to move on to the day’s sketchbook adventure ahead of us.
  • Scouting out a spot: We have a few favorite areas where we go to sketch, mostly because Bobbie will sketch anything, but Patrick has more discerning taste; he prefers to draw buildings or architectural details that catch his eye. I am happily along for the ride and will draw most anything I can see. I often choose to focus more on the landscaping than on the buildings, because my distance eyesight is quite weak now. No worries, I still have fun. Last Sunday I used the zoom lens on my smartphone’s camera as if it were a pair of binoculars, so now I can see roofline details as well as he can with his 20/20 vision. Very exciting!
  • Tempo: As we’ve traveled from May until October, Patrick and I have developed a tempo to our time together. After he parks the car, we quickly pick a spot for our chairs, and he gets right to sketching, using a beautiful hardbound A4 size sketchbook and a ballpoint pen. It takes me longer to settle in, but I also begin with just my sketchbook and a fountain pen. Whenever I think I’m about finished, I look over, and sure enough, Patrick is slowing down as well, sketching less, looking around more, simply enjoying the peace and quiet of intentional gazing.

Last Sunday, before I left home to meet Patrick, I double-checked my sketchbook and was surprised to see the prior week’s sketch had used up the last page of the book. An end of an era. My next new sketchbook was within easy reach, so I grabbed it and headed out the door.

When I arrived back home that evening, instead of shelving my completed sketchbook next to the mountain of other ones I have filled in recent years, I decided to pause and look back through it. It felt just like being there again. That is the best reason for creating a regular sketchbook habit. You get to enjoy every peaceful, look-at-that moment twice: once while you were there sketching, and again later when you slowly look through your book and experience effortless time-travel.

Here are some of the images from my most recent sketchbook. I encourage you to also find a weekly sketching buddy for yourself. It will be good for your heart and soul, as well as improving your drawing confidence and skill. If you live in an area where the pandemic is still too strong to make going outdoors pleasurable, consider starting, as Patrick and I did in March, by having a weekly meet-up online in something like a Zoom room. When we started, we each picked our own landscape photo to work from, and used the same approach/tempo we do outdoors: pause, look, look again, wait until some detail of the photo catches your eye, and then begin.

I smile writing this, because all of these steps are laid out with such loving care in my new book, “Look at That: Discover the Joy of Seeing by Sketching” which will be available on Amazon on November 22nd if all goes to plan.

Here’s a secret head’s up about my book:

Although it will be available in paperback and ebook formats, I really, really, really like the paperback better. So much care went into the layout, so much thought about what appears on facing pages, and the overall design is a joy. Of course in ebooks, you can view them a page at a time, or as 2-page spreads, and if the pages are made smaller or larger, well, don’t get me started. The information and loving guidance is the same in both the ebook and the paperback, of course. But as a light-hearted and enjoyable textbook, the real 3-D paperback will be much happier snuggled up next to your real 3-D sketchbook.

Here’s a sampling of this year’s Sundays with Patrick sketchbook. Enjoy!

Posted in Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

My “Look at That!” book is moving right along!

I must say, if I had known the amount of studying and learning that was ahead of me in order to self-publish a book, I would have hesitated more. No regrets, but can I just say, wow.

The book cover phase is complete (created by a brilliant professional designer), the contents of the book have been edited (by yet another professional), revised, and edited a second time, and I am very pleased with the results of everything so far. Next, the book interior will be sent to a graphic designer for formatting so the headlines and text are as visually appealing as possible.

My own learning curves about copyright, ISBN numbers, lead magnets, landing pages, email management, and technology in general have been, as a friend of mine would say, “character-building.” The old me would have said, without hesitation, “No way! I have no interest in learning about any of that; I’ll pay someone else to do all that stuff.” But something happened. I got curious.

I started thinking, “What if I took the time to learn how to do that myself? What else do I have to do with my time? Really, what else?”

When I am learning at my own pace, I am one happy camper. If I have to learn faster than I can take in information, I get overwhelmed and frustrated. I now know that for me, the struggle is rarely about what I am learning or how complicated it is. For me, the feeling of angst is much more about tempo.

A gift from YouTube: I was thrilled to discover that when I am studying complicated instructional videos about technology, I can actually slow down the audio to 75%. Who knew! I am so old I can’t even hear as fast as young people talk. Sad but true. But if they are on YouTube, I can make them talk slowly enough for me to learn.

So there’s my update. I am learning more than I ever dreamed I would need or want to learn. I have discovered that velocity is a bigger problem than trajectory. I can aim for the stars if I let myself stroll at my own intuitive pace.

Best of all, I’m still a human being (not just a tied-to-the-laptop writer), so occasionally I have errands to run. It is then that I get to practice what I preach.

Heading back from the store yesterday, I was walking along, minding my own business, and out of nowhere I felt that metaphorical tap on the shoulder, triggered by my peripheral vision. Suddenly I noticed something brand new. It was the same building, the same tree that I had seen a hundred times, but never with that moment’s light and shadow, that moment’s autumn chill in the air, and that smell of coffee drifting from a nearby cafe.

So without hesitation I stopped, the same way I would if I had spotted a dear friend. I stopped because I know enough to honor a “Look at That!” nudge from the universe. I took a seat on the granite wall, pulled out my very cheap notepad and beloved fountain pen, and began. I took a sacred five minutes to simply say thanks for the pause, to draw what drew me.

If this little vignette has sparked your interest and you would like to be part of my Launch Team, to help get the word out about my new book coming out in November, drop me a note through the Contact tab above, and tell me a bit about yourself and why you are interested in learning about a “Look at That!” approach to life. If it sounds like a good fit, in exchange for your help I will send you a free advance copy of the ebook. As they say, “We’ll talk.”

Five minutes, I’m not kidding. You can do this too. Look at That!

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Look at That! book, Pen & Ink | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments