Monday, June 25, 2012

75 Day Sketch Challenge: Days 11-17

I've been sketching up a storm and managing to stick to the challenge rule of drawing directly with a pen. I occasionally bend the rules a tiny bit by using a pencil to lay out the lettering, like in the sketch below, but the subject matter is all drawn in ink. 

(All sketches are done in a 5" x 7" Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook 
with watercolor, pen & ink)

Drawn with Pitt pen

I had a lot of fun filling the little squares on Day 11's grid page with all sorts of everyday things, like iced tea, flip flops, toothpaste, sewing tools, and books.

This next sketch is the view from our back door, looking across the yard and over the trees to the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, just east of us in Fayette County. It's so pretty on a summer morning!

Drawn with Noodler's flex pen & Lexington Gray ink

I didn't realize until I had finished the sketch that I'd forgotten to turn on the fountain! It would have been nice to have the sparkly splashing water in the picture. Guess I'll just have to paint it again sometime.

Last Thursday was the first session of a beginners' Sketchbook Journaling class that I'm teaching here at my studio. I drew this page from photos I took during the class. (Note to my students: Please forgive me for the un-likenesses!) We had so much fun, and it was great to see them getting excited about drawing. I can't wait to see their homework this week.

Drawn with Noodler's flex pen & Lexington Gray ink

I drew some very weird perspective in this sketch of a hall in my house.It  reminds me of one of those crooked rooms at an amusement park. Too bad you can't erase ink...

Drawn with Noodler's flex pen & Lexington Gray ink

Being a glutton for punishment, after drawing a room full of people on Thursday, and attempting perspective on Friday, I visited a dog show at the fairgrounds on Saturday. I had the idea that it would be fun to draw the various breeds of dogs, and their interesting owners. Trouble is, nobody would hold still for me to draw them!

Drawn with Noodler's flex pen & Walnut ink, plus rubber stamping

I did the best I could with the drawings - adding watercolor helped - but I was very frustrated with trying to draw the dogs. I'll keep trying, because I'm determined to get better at quick on-the-spot sketching.

Drawn with Noodler's flex pen & Walnut ink

Houses are a lot easier - at least they hold still. I chose this one because of the awnings - I love painting them.

That was Day 17. Whew! It's been a good week. Lots more sketches to come!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rice, Cheddar, and Spinach Pie

I haven't posted many recipes here lately - too busy sketching, I guess! But that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. Here's a recipe I tried a couple of months ago and have made several times since. I'm not a big meat eater, so this vegetarian Rice, Cheddar and Spinach Pie recipe is just my style.

Rice, Cheddar, and Spinach Pie made with white rice
This time I used a long grain, brown, and wild rice blend

The recipe is very adaptable - add more cheese, or substitute white rice for brown, add bacon or sausage, or throw in an extra clove of garlic or two. It always tastes great.

And it's fine for leftovers, too. Cut the leftover pie into 1/2" slices and sauté them in a frying pan. The cheese gets all melty and oozy with a crisp lightly browned crust. Yummy! I even eat it for breakfast.

Sauteed slices of leftover spinach pie

Rice, Cheddar, and Spinach Pie

3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups cooked brown rice (could use instant or quick-cooking)
1 to 1½ cups diced extra-sharp cheddar cheese
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. salt (¼ tsp is sufficient, if rice is salted)
4 large eggs
¼ cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a 9” pie pan with cooking spray.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spinach; cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl. Add rice, cheese, pepper and salt to the bowl and stir to combine.
3. Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Stir into the spinach-rice mixture. Transfer to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
4. Bake the pie until lightly browned in spots, about 25 minutes.
5. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Recipe Notes:
- This makes a great appetizer when it's baked in mini muffin pans.
- The original recipe called for three cloves of garlic, but the fresh garlic I've been using lately is super strong, so I only used one clove, and the pie still had a mild garlic flavor. I didn't want the garlic to overpower the cheese.
- The original recipe called for only 1 cup of cheddar cheese. If you're using extra-sharp, that seems to be enough, but when I made it with regular sharp cheddar, I felt that it would have benefited from adding another ½ cup of cheese.
- The last time I made this, I added some crumbled cooked sweet Italian sausage to it, and it was tasty. I might try crumbled bacon sometime, too.
- Feta cheese would be an interesting substitute for cheddar.
- Next time I make it, I think I'll sprinkle a dash of nutmeg into the mix, and add a topping of fresh chopped tomatoes. 

Rice, Cheddar, and Spinach Pie with wild rice blend

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The First Fruits of Summer

Today was a scorcher, just what the first day of summer should be! I spent an hour in the garden early this morning, as the sun was just peeking over the trees, and did my weeding and harvesting before it got too hot.

Watercolor & ink (Lexington Gray) in Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook

I washed a big basketful of leaf lettuce, then made a double batch of rhubarb sauce. (3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2" pieces + 1/2 cup sugar + 1/4 cup water. Cook till it's mushy.) When the berries were all cleaned and tucked away in the fridge, I rewarded myself for all my effort with my favorite summer breakfast, a bowl of thick,creamy Greek yogurt mixed with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Yum!

I set up this little still life on the table in my studio, and worked on it throughout the day. A few minutes here and there added up to a finished sketch by dinnertime. The problem was that, as the day wore on, those berries were looking more and more tempting. I just couldn't resist eating one or two... or three or four...

Did you notice that little brown speck in the sketch, on the right, near the blueberries? Here's a close-up of my uninvited visitor...

At least we know he has good taste - organic produce, fresh from the garden - who wouldn't like that?

(This is Day 13 of the 75 Day Sketch Challenge.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

75 Day Sketch Challenge: Days 6-10

I'm already reaping the rewards of the 75 Day Sketch Challenge... and I'm only on Day 11! It's becoming second nature to draw directly with a pen. No more fussing around with a pencil drawing first. Now I simply observe closely and record what I see. It's saving me time and energy. And I think the sketches look livelier than when I do a preliminary drawing.

(All sketches are 5" x 7", watercolor, pen & ink.)

I'm nuts about hydrangeas and have them planted all around our house. Despite a late frost which killed off the early buds, they're beginning to bloom with those delectable blues, pinks, and purples that are so gorgeous, they almost don't look real.

You'll probably be seeing lots of sketches of Buckley during these 75 days. He's always at my side and willing to pose/snooze long enough for me to do a sketch. But his fur is so blonde that it's difficult to paint him. He ends up looking like a ghost dog if I don't give him a makeover and add some color to his fur. In this sketch, he's falling asleep on the granite hearth in the breakfast room, his favorite place to cool off on a warm summer evening.

After doing all those details on Buckley's picture, I decided to go a different route on Day 9. I've been wanting to try adding some stamping to a journal page, so I dug out some stamps that I made awhile back from Dollar Store erasers. (I just cut them into pieces with an X-acto knife, then glued them to a small block of wood.) I stamped the border on my sketchbook page, then drew the flowers with a fuchsia Sharpie pen. I added the finishing touches with watercolor. It was so freeing to keep it simple (something I struggle with most of the time.)

I wish I could do this next sketch over. I got carried away with all the detail, and it's much too fussy. But I do like the colors, and each drawing or painting is a learning experience, so it's staying in my sketchbook. I was on my way back from running an errand up the road, way out in the country, and stopped along Tenmile Creek to draw this scene. I'm so glad it's summertime, and I can enjoy moments like this.

Don't you wonder what I'll come up with next? Me, too!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

75 Day Sketch Challenge: Days 1-5

I've accepted the challenge - the 75 Day Sketch Challenge, that is! Artist Brenda Swenson came up with the idea as a way to encourage people to hone their drawing skills and gain confidence as an artist. You can read all the details on her blog.
Basically, the challenge involves doing 75 sketchbook drawings in 75 days, using pen and ink. No preliminary pencil drawing is allowed. That's the part that's a little intimidating for me. I usually do a pencil sketch first, then add ink. Now I have to boldly draw with ink, and live with any mistakes or inaccuracies.

Each person who completes the challenge will receive an official "Artistic License" from Brenda. It's her way of encouraging people to stick with it and complete the challenge.

I bought a brand new Stillman and Birn Alpha Series sketchbook to work in. I've been wanting to try a hardcover sketchbook to see if I like it. So far I do.

I began my challenge last Friday, June 8th, and will finish up on August 21st. I dashed off this first drawing in ten minutes or so while sitting on the front porch with family, watching the sun go down.

5" x 7", Pitt pen with watercolor

I'm not sure whether most people doing the sketch challenge add color to their drawings, but I can hardly bear to leave a sketchbook page with just black and white on it, so I added some watercolor to the geranium drawing the next morning.

On day 2, I attempted to sketch two of our cats, Hoover and Genevieve. Of course, as soon as I drew the first line, Hoover started lolling around in the chair and stretching, never holding still for more than a few seconds at a time. Genevieve was a little better, but I rushed my drawing because I was anticipating her wandering off any moment.

5" x 7", Pitt pen with watercolor

I love the drawing from Day 3. I carried a folding chair out to the raspberry patch at the back of our garden and sat there in the late evening to draw a branch of ripening berries.

5" x 7", Pitt pen with watercolor

I'm going to do most of the lettering in this sketchbook freehand, but I'm giving myself permission to use a pencil to lay out the spacing of letters if I want to (like I did on this raspberry page.)

Already, I'm seeing a difference in the way I focus my attention on what I'm drawing when I know I can't erase. It's making me pause to think before I draw a line.

I almost forgot to do my sketch on Day 4. I was letting Buckley out before bedtime when it suddenly dawned on me. I spied the clothesline strung across the laundry room, and thought, "That'll do!" and picked up my sketchbook and pen. This time I switched from the Pitt pen, which I had used for the first few drawings, to my Noodler's Flex pen with Lexington Grey ink. I'm much happier drawing directly with the fountain pen than with the felt tip Pitt pen. I can draw a fine, light line if I want, or make it thicker just by pressing down a little harder. Compare the line quality of this drawing with the cats from Day 2. I think it's much more interesting.

5" x 7", flex fountain pen with Lexington Grey ink

I'd like to sketch all the rooms in our house while I'm working on this project. Here's a corner of the living room...

5" x 7", flex fountain pen with Lexington Grey ink

Well, I'm off to a good start. 5 down, 70 to go! 

Anyone care to join me? It's a fun project, and we'll be finished before summer's over. Leave a comment if you're up for taking on the challenge!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Garden Marauders

After tending my patch of June-bearing strawberry plants for weeks, carefully weeding, mulching, and watering, I could hardly wait for the berries to ripen. The plants were loaded with pink berries - they only needed a few more days till they'd be ripe, juicy, and ready to meet their destiny swimming in a bowl of shortcake, sugar, and milk.

But my dreams of fresh strawberries were dashed when I came home from a weekend away and found my strawberry patch stripped clean of berries. Every last one had vanished! Confusion ... disbelief ... then a dawning realization that I'd seen it all before...

The masked moochers had struck again!

Despite the fact that we have a 6-foot high electric fence around our garden, the raccoons walk through like there's nothing there. We've caught four in our Havahart trap in the past two weeks. Two years ago, I caught eight in one month! They can't resist the lure of my gourmet raccoon bait concoction: peanut butter topped with ripe banana slices and mini marshmallows. They always lick the can clean!

When I catch one of the little fellas, he gets a free ride in a comfy mini van to an idyllic country setting complete with woods, fields, and a meandering creek - and no strawberries!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Fun - Try Sketchbook Journaling!

Summer is a great time to indulge in doing something just for you, whether that means napping in a hammock in the backyard or spending an entire afternoon in a beach chair with your nose in a book. 

Perhaps you have a yearning to explore, to try something new and different. Maybe reading this blog has made you wonder if it might be time to (re)discover your inner artist. Have you thought about picking up a sketchbook and trying your hand at watercolors, but aren't really sure where or how to begin?

Well, if you're ready to take that first step, come and join me for a 4-week, fun-filled, no-pressure introduction to expressing yourself creatively through sketchbook journaling. Lessons on drawing, painting, composition, and mixed media techniques will help you to develop your own style. No art experience is necessary - only an open mind, inquiring spirit, and willingness to learn. Before long, you’ll be seeing your world through new eyes, as you record the everyday things of life in your sketchbook. 

"Sketchbook Journaling for Beginners"
Instructor: Leslie Fehling
Saturdays, July 14, 21, 28, and August 4
10 am - noon
Eva K. Bowlby Public Library
311 North West Street
Waynesburg, PA
Cost: $40.00

For more information, stop by the library, or call Leslie at 724-627-4148. Class size is limited, so sign up soon at the main desk at Bowlby.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sketchbook Display at Bowlby Public LIbrary

The nice folks at my local library asked me to set up a display of my sketchbooks a few weeks ago in a tall display case near the circulation desk on the main floor. If you're local, you might want to stop by the Bowlby Library in Waynesburg, PA, and take a look.

It's a little frustrating though, peering in through the glass, when you're just longing to get your hands on one of the sketchbooks and flip through it to see what's inside.

Seeing them all together was an eye-opener for me. Working on just one page at a time, I hadn't realized that I've actually been building a body of work. It's exciting to see all the books together.

I included one of my palettes, some brushes, and a Pitt pen to show the materials used for the sketches.

On the bottom shelf, I arranged some of my collection of books about sketching. If it piques the interest of just one person and encourages them to pick up a pencil and draw a few lines, I'll be happy.

The sketchbooks will be on display through the end of June at
Eva K. Bowlby Public Library
311 North West Street
Waynesburg, Pennsylvania

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Cutest Baby Shower Gift Ever!

I'm in love with this adorable little flower petal ottoman! A friend commissioned it for her daughter-in-law's upcoming baby shower. She mentioned that the nursery colors were to be green and pink, and then said, "Just have fun with it - I'm sure whatever you come up with will be great!"

Well, this is what I came up with! Isn't it just the cutest little thing?

The fabric is "Polka Dots" from Thibaut's "Sweet Life"' collection. The fun fuchsia and white polka dot trim is from my local JoAnn's store.

The ottoman measures 9" high and 13" across, and is constructed using a base of 4" diameter PVC pipe, plywood, T-nuts and bolts, but all that manly stuff is hidden under layers of fluffy polyester quilt batting and a girly exterior.

The top is edged with diagonal striped welt which is repeated in the 3/4" wide banding at the lower edge. A frilly skirt of fringe allows the green ball feet to peek out. (The feet are wooden doll heads from Michaels.)

Even the bottom is pretty!

Won't this be a comfy spot for mom to prop her feet during those midnight feedings?

I'm betting there will be a chorus of "Oohs" and "Ahhhs" when this cute little gem is unwrapped at the shower. What fun!

Flower petal ottomans can be designed to coordinate with any theme or decor, and they come in a variety of sizes. Order yours today from Leslie Fehling Designs.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mug Shots

Everyday things, collected over time, tell the story of our lives. They're reminders of the people we love and places we've been. It makes me happy to use things that hold memories for me, like these coffee mugs, which I painted the other day in my 7" x 10" Canson Montval watercolor sketchbook.

Watercolor with Noodler's Lexington Grey ink, 7" x 10"

Like most people, my cupboard holds a collection of mugs that I've picked up on our travels or that were given to me by friends. It's fun to pick out the one that fits my mood for the day.

Sometimes, I want to remember a wonderful vacation to a place not too far away...


or one halfway around the world...


Occasionally, I pick up this mug and smile, remembering the story of my son, who worked at a Benihana restaurant when he was in high school, coming home one night all excited, saying that actress Sarah Jessica Parker had sipped coffee from this mug that very evening!


 Some days, I want to remember the friends whom I haven't seen for way too long...


 or my sweet sister who's always been there for me...


Then there are those days when I just want the familiar comfort of this rounded, cream-colored mug with its cheery little blue flowers. For some reason, it's the one I use most days. Hmm, I wonder what that says about me - that this is the one that feels just right.

For another take on painting coffee mugs, check out Jamie Williams Grossman's gridded mug sketch on her Hudson Valley Sketches blog.
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