“The chatter is what’s the matter . . .”

Don’t you agree?

The chatter in our head is often the only thing holding us back from happily giving sketching a try, or anything else for that matter. That sweet little brain of ours is trying so hard to keep us from harm, yet it often derails our joy as well. We can know it’s doing that, but dang, how do we intervene and get beyond all those counter-productive cautionary thoughts?

I’m about to tell you the secret right now. (This will be a short blog post to read, but a long one to watch. Might be a good time to put the kettle on.)

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine, Dave Fry, asked if he could interview me about my new book, especially as it relates to a philosophy Dave and I share. Over the past forty-eight years this understanding has gone by many names: Innate Resilience, Health Realization, Inside-Out Understanding, but most often it’s called the Three Principles.

I came across the Three Principles (3Ps) over a decade ago, and must admit I was a very slow learner. The problem was that I kept trying to figure it out intellectually, and when finally “the penny dropped,” the understanding became profoundly simple. I burst out laughing, it was like finally getting the punch line of a joke I had heard my whole life. Anyone who talks about the 3Ps invariably starts using metaphors, because images are the best description. (Right up my alley, ya think?)

I won’t ruin the surprise, but rather I invite you to enjoy this 65-minute video when you get the chance. I confess, Dave could hardly get a word in edgewise. You see, watercolor, sketching, and the Three Principles are my hands-down favorite things in life, including chocolate. That’s how delicious and life-affirming they each are for me. I hope you’ll get a taste of it by watching this, and as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Enjoy!

Here is the link (for some reason it starts 21 minutes into it, so “rewind” to the beginning!), and here’s a secret garden entrance to sit by while you listen.

(Near Stagshaw Garden, Ambleside, on Windermere, UK. Watercolor by yours truly.)

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Draw what drew ya.”

There are so many perks to slowing down. Sometimes external elements help out, things like . . . the weather.

Yesterday I decided to slow down and be fully present to my neighborhood by walking home from an appointment rather than calling a taxi. The walk was only a little over a mile, but it’s been crazy cold and windy here lately, as well as icy underfoot, so pleasure walks have been out of the question. But not yesterday.

I decided to give it a try, and told myself I could call a cab anywhere along the line if I needed to. It was about 36 degrees F (that’s 2 degrees C), but the sun was out and the breeze was quite gentle. My first stop was for a take-out latte from a local cafe, then I just kept strolling. Sure enough it happened: the double-take.

A double-take is when your eyes take a second peek without asking your permission. There was something about that sky-space shape between the two chimneys. I looked, then I looked again. Yes, I told myself, that’ll make a pleasant look-at-that lingering moment. I sat down on a nearby step, and started to lay in the GPS points. (That makes more sense if you’ve read my book!)

I wanted to do a fairly quick sketch, and when I “came to” and compared the scene to the sketch, I saw my skyhole wasn’t quite right. No worries, it’s just practice seeing and sketching! I added several more courses of brick to the left-hand chimney and voila, I achieved that heavenly state of a smiling “good enough.”

Here it is.

Black felt-tip Flair pen, water brush to reactivate the ink in order to add shadows and leaves. The drawing’s not impressive, wasn’t meant to be. But wow, the way I felt after sunbathing-sketching in February . . . priceless!

Posted in Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Never plagiarize: copy instead!

According to the dictionary, plagiarism is “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” We can all agree that plagiarism is a very bad idea; even if you don’t get caught, you’re asking for seriously bad karma-cooties. Don’t do it!

Copying though, well that’s a very different thing. And ironically, it used to be a core part of all artistic training.

Centuries ago, in order to learn to be an artist you had to enter into a long period of focused apprenticeship. Usually that training was a formal agreement between master and student; other times it was training thanks to proximity, as with one of my heroes, Artemisia Gentileschi.   

At various points in history, though, this servile attention to “follow-the-leader” was thrown off, and very exciting artwork resulted. The Impressionists come to mind immediately.

Those revolutionary artists had one thing in common: audacity.

But what about the rest of us?

As an art major in school, I wanted to learn techniques, to become intimately familiar with the materials. Unfortunately at the time it seemed that skill wasn’t being taught, only style. Thus, every person who took the painting class at my college ended up creating very abstract work that looked oddly like the professor’s work. I didn’t see the point.

Now decades later, thanks to wonderful online and in-person mentors, I know my favorite art materials fairly well. I enjoy trying to “copy” someone else’s work in order to really study it. Honestly, twenty minutes of hands-on trying to copy a watercolor will teach me more than hours of simply looking at it.

That’s why  a few years back I created a sketchbook called, “Inspired by Facebook.”

I belong to several Facebook watercolor groups, so I browsed through them until I found an image I liked. I took a screen shot of the image (this one is by the wonderful Suhita Shirodkar) and I printed out a small thumbnail of it. Then I attempted to capture the freedom and spontaneity of her line work and watercolor marks on the right-hand page.  Wow did I learn a lot about what I didn’t know!

Then on the left-hand page, I wrote the following:

“Lesson Learned:

Although it looks good enough, mine is much more “worked” than the original.

      -Many more brush strokes than needed.

      -The sky dried much paler than I expected, had to do a second coat.

     – Bolder ink lines to begin with would have made it a stronger design. I’m tempted to “touch up,” but then the lesson would be lost.

      – Still love my Ron Ranson 7-color palette plus 2 (burnt sienna and cerulean.)”

Soon after I started using Facebook groups for inspiration, I came across a wonderful class by Andy Walker on Udemy called “Watercolor Fast and Loose.” In it he introduces you to seven core principles in painting, and uses the works of famous watercolorists to shows you a step-by-step way to “copy” their watercolors. It was so liberating! I copied work I would never have taken on had I been left to my own tastes. I highly recommend this very affordable course, here’s the link.

 (I don’t receive any gratuities for recommending this, I just love his encouraging teaching style.)

There’s a reason I’m writing this now: I’ve hit a dry patch creativity-wise. I think I ran the well a bit dry in writing and publishing my book last year, and now it feels like, “I got nothing.”

But wait! That’s not true! I do have something; I have The Watercolor Itch. I still desperately want to play in the multi-colored water, I’m just utterly uninspired as to subject matter. (It’s been miles below freezing outdoors lately, that might be part of it. Plein air is out!)

Solution: Take another class with Andy. I’m in the middle of his “Paint Landscapes in Watercolor- Part 2” and I’m having a blast. While I’m painting, I get to pretend I’m sitting in the beautiful sun by a lake across from a lovely cottage in England. Seriously, what more could you want?

So there you have it. Don’t be afraid of using your sketchbook as a place to “copy” other people’s drawings and watercolors. Look around Facebook, search by “watercolor” or “sketching.”

Aside: Did you know that in the vast world of art imposters, you’ll rarely see a watercolor forgery? It’s true, it’s because the water itself plays such a huge, uncontrollable role in the tempo, the spontaneity, and all the unexpected “happy accidents” that are the hallmark of great watercolors.

So never fear: “copy” away, keep it all in your watercolor-paper sketchbook, and you’ll be free to practice your skills to your heart’s delight!

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Pencil sketching, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

“You never know . . .”

Have I used that as the name of blog post before now? Maybe. It would make sense because it’s one of my favorite expressions when things don’t go to plan.

A beautiful cold, sunny Saturday, after doing chores around my home in the morning I decided to reward myself with a stroll outside and a coffee-and-oatmeal-raisin cookie at my favorite cafe a block away. Fully masked, social-distanced, and well past whatever rush hour there is on a Saturday in these odd times.

After getting my coffee and cookie, I settled down to journal a little then sketch. Nope, too restless to journal, must be time to get right to sketching. Pull out the sketchbook and favorite Sailor Fude pen with that great bent nib and . . . insert screeching sound of brakes. Inside my head. Every line on the page was wrong, wonky, ill-placed. What??

It’s a long time since I’ve had an “I have no idea how to draw” day. It stunned me a little to be honest. After a while though, I realized the problem was I had no my focal point whatsoever. The solution of course is simple: slow down and look around.

Suddenly I realized my subconscious was hooked on what appeared on the page rather than on the joy of first simply gazing. As a dear friend says, “Take my advice, I’m not usin’ it!” No kidding. Reread page 9, first paragraph of “Look at That!” Hmm. . .

So, here you go. I’m lowering the bar of expectations for you and for me, and sharing my off-beat sketching time today.

First things first. Sit and gaze. Maybe breathe a little. Then repeat. When something grabs your attention, you will know. In the meantime, breathe and wear a Buddha smile.

Text on right-hand page:

“All I need to do to gauge my restlessness is to try to sketch when my mind is jumpy. Simply doesn’t work!! . . . Sometimes you just need to switch to a simpler pen—Fude too difficult today, Bic Cristal is perfect. . . .And consider simply writing something slowly – with your normal “grocery-list” handwriting. Ah, much better. Not every day is an easy sketching day, but every day is a “Look at That!” Day.”

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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