Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chairs, Chairs, and More Chairs!

I just finished the final page in a sketchbook that I've been working in, off and on, for almost two years. I thought I'd share a few of the pages, before it takes its place on a shelf in my studio.

During the winter of 2010, I started a series of chair sketches. It was a rough winter with enormous amounts of snow, and I was spending a lot of time in the house. One day I was looking for something to sketch, and my glance happened upon the rocking chair in my kichen. I started thinking that so many of the furniture pieces in our house tell a story of a person we knew or an event in our lives, and it  might be fun to record them in my sketchbook.

This rocker (below) was a hand-me-down from a guy who worked at the National Security Agency with me in the 70s. It had been in his family for ages, but he gave it to me and Fred to fix up for our home after we were married. Fred repaired it, I painted it, and, three years later, we took turns sitting in it to rock our newborn baby daughter to sleep.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

These kitchen chairs were one of the first things I bought for our new house in 2001. I've spent a lot of time in them in the past ten years. Stories are told, bills are paid, food is shared, and plans are made in these chairs. I was sitting in this chair when my son-in-law told me I was going to be a grandmother.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

We have a pair of these cushy yellow chairs in our living room. When you sink into them, you don't ever want to get up - they're that comfy. The old oak rocking chair was a wedding gift from my college roommate - we only hear from each other in Christmas cards now, but I still think of her when I see it.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

This blue and white painted chair usually sits at my kitchen desk, but has seen a lot of service lately as the base for my grandson Nicholas' portable high chair. The tan office chair is the one I'm sitting in now as I type. I spend way too many hours in it!

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

This floral slipcovered chair now sits in a sunny spot in my bedroom, but years ago it was my father's favorite. Its original rusty orange upholstery was all the rage in the 1970s. Now when I catch a glimpse of that faded orange, it brings back memories of coming in from a date, quietly creeping through the house so I wouldn't disturb anyone, and seeing my dad, asleep in this chair, "watching" Johnny Carson.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

This little swivel dressing table chair is one of my favorite flea market finds. It came from an old train station. The other two on this page remind me of our son, Matt - we had fun decorating his room together in our new house when he was in high school, and these two chairs were part of our budget decorating scheme. It was something we could share, during a time when he was mostly going his own separate way.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

I had reserved a couple of blank pages in my sketchbook to finish this series, then never got back to it for a year and a half! But it's finished now, and here are the final two pages that I did last weekend. I like how the dining room chair turned out ...

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

I've saved the best, or at least the cutest, for last. I found these two chairs at our local second-hand shop looking pretty forlorn. They were a faded dusty rose color and looked like they'd come from a little old lady's parlor - in good shape, but definitely needing a face lift. I worked my slipcover magic and now they're cute as can be. I have them in the sitting area of my black and white toile guest room. One of my students said they look like they have their party dresses on!

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"

So, that's the end of my chair series, but, believe it or not, I have a couple more chairs that I haven't drawn yet - there's the old wicker chair that Fred pulled out of someone's trash and fixed up, and a couple more that I've slipcovered - but I think I've had about enough of chairs for now. Any ideas for what my next series should be?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lazy Afternoon

I was housebound last Saturday after a night of freezing rain and snow. It was treacherous outside, and I was more than happy to stay warm and cozy inside, make a cup of tea, and spend a few minutes drawing. I haven't sketched much for the past month, since the holiday busyness caught hold of me, so it felt really good to get back into it.

Our cats spend most of their time outdoors or in the garage, but on really cold winter days, they beg to come in, and I can't turn them down. Then they find a nice, comfy chair and settle down to snooze the day away. Here's my sketch of a lazy afternoon with Hoover, Genevieve, and Buckley ...

Watercolor pencil, 9" x 12"

I used a Derwent chocolate brown watercolor pencil for these rough sketches. I really enjoy fooling around with water soluble colored pencils, because you can do a quick line study, then take some clean water and paint over parts of it to make nice washes for the shadow areas. It gives me good practice in not getting too fussy with a drawing and makes me pay attention to light and dark contrasts.

It's always good to mix things up a bit and try out some different materials. I think I'll be doing more watercolor pencil drawings - I like the sketchy look, and they're really quick to do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hot Off the Press! Sketchbook Journeys: Ireland

After a frustrating week of trying to teach myself how to use Photoshop and InDesign to do book layouts, I'm happy to announce that my Ireland travel sketchbook is now available as a paperback book from You can preview it by clicking below or on this link.

I did this primarily so my mom could have a copy of the journal from our trip, but so many people have said they would love for me to publish it that I decided to go ahead and make it public. It's just my own personal commentary and sketches, and it certainly wasn't intended to be anything more than a remembrance of our wonderful time in Ireland, but now it's out there for all the world to see. I have to admit, it was really fun to open up a nice, new, shiny copy of it and see my sketches on the pages of a "real book." And anyway, all that struggling with Photoshop and InDesign was good for my brain, right?

I hope you enjoy leafing through the book in the free preview, but be forewarned, it just might get you in the mood to start planning a trip to Ireland!

The books are priced at just pennies over cost, and, if you're inclined to purchase one, be sure to check for Blurb coupons online.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cozy Cottage House Portrait

I had a request a few weeks before Christmas to do a house portrait of this cute little lakefront cottage in upstate New York, and I managed to squeeze it into my schedule and mail it off in time for the big day. The homeowners were really tickled with it, and that makes me very happy. They just bought the cottage last summer and have fallen in love with the place.
Keuka Lake Cottage, 8" x 10", pen & ink with watercolor

Sometimes I pretty up a house in a painting (like I had to do in this one), but this time I painted the cozy cottage just as I saw it, even including the hose hanging from the side of the house. It hints of real people living here, watering the flowers or hosing off sandy feet.

I layered watercolor washes of grey, blue, and brown on the chimney to indicate the variety of colors in the stones.

The Adirondack chairs invite you into the picture and bring to mind warm summer evenings watching the sun set over the lake.

The owner shared with me that her son has nicknamed the cottage "The Slice," because it's their own little slice of heaven on earth. As I sit here in the depths of winter, with the thermometer hovering at 22 degrees today, I'm picturing them next summer, iced tea in hand, lounging in those Adirondack chairs on a sunny afternoon, watching the boats go by on Keuka Lake. It does sound heavenly, doesn't it?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Watercolor Magic

To an artist, a red brick ranch may not be the most inspiring subject matter. But there's something about putting watercolors on paper that can magically transform even the most mundane subject, like a simple ranch-style house, into something special.

I was commissioned by a friend to do a house portrait of her parents' home in Washington, PA, and when I first received the photo shown above, I was a little concerned that the boxy house might look boring in a painting. After all, it didn't have any interesting details, like a welcoming front porch or gingerbread trim. The trees were bare, and that expanse of front lawn definitely needed something to liven it up.

This is where the watercolor magic comes in. In the finished painting, the house is still technically the same as in the photo - the same shape and dimensions - but it's been enriched with warmth, character, and a welcoming presence.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 8" x 10"

I started with a pen and ink drawing, then added layers of watercolor. The bricks on the exterior were suggested with varying shades of burnt sienna watercolor. The empty urns by the front porch were filled with cheery yellow flowers.

I decided to change the season to midsummer which required clothing the trees in lots of green leaves. I've added washes of blues, yellows, and reds to make things more interesting. Spatters of yellow ochre, brown, and dark green add texture and suggest random individual leaves.

I could see the remains of a summer flower bed in the photo of the house, so I conjured up a profusion of blooming flowers to line the steps leading up from the driveway. They add a much needed splash of color and help to lead your eye into the painting.

The final touch was the quote that I added to the wide front lawn. My friend chose the sentiment, and I lettered it in a casual font. It helps to balance the composition and adds a little something special to the painting.

As I work on a house portrait and add a little something here, or a touch of color there, I'm so focused on my work that I don't really see the transformation that the painting is undergoing. I'm worrying about getting the details right and wondering what my customer will think of it.

It's not until I'm all finished, and I've walked away from it for a few hours, then come back to take a look, that I see the magic that has happened. Looking at it with fresh eyes, it seems that the painting has become more than the sum of all the little parts I painted. It seems to have a spirit of its own. I think my customers feel it - these little paintings touch their hearts.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Good Neighbors, Great Memories

Indulge me, please. I'm feeling a little sentimental about this painting, and I have to tell you the story behind it.

Before we built our new house in 2000, we lived just 5 miles away, and our next door neighbors were a retired couple named Ola and Albert, who became dear friends to us over the years.

"Memories of Home," 8" x 10", watercolor, pen & ink

I remember the kids and I sitting on their back porch with them on warm summer evenings, just chatting about nothing in particular, watching the fireflies come out. Once in awhile, I'd invite them over for some homemade blueberry pie, and we'd sit on our porch and visit. I'll never forget the time I baked a nice strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, and Albert took a big bite and got the funniest look on his face. "What's wrong?!" I asked in surprise. "I think maybe you used salt instead of sugar in the cobbler!" he exclaimed. Definitely one of my most embarrassing moments ever.

The kids loved them. They were like a bonus set of grandparents who lived right next door. Ola was generous with cookies, so Sara invited herself over for a snack most mornings. Every day, Albert would bring my mail from the mailbox out by the road when he picked up his own, and we even shared our local newspaper. Albert would read it in the morning, then bring it over later in the day for us to read. That's just the kind of people they were.

Eventually, health issues forced them to move to Syracuse, NY, to be closer to their daughter, and we felt the loss keenly. I missed that friendly wave across the yard and those hours of porch-sitting. And life in the neighborhood just wasn't the same without Albert's smile and Ola's memorable laugh.

Albert passed away five years ago - he and Ola had been married for 68 years. I've kept in touch with their family over the years, and last fall their grandson's wife contacted me to ask if I would paint a house portrait of the place where so many family memories had been made. She wanted to surprise her mother-in-law for Christmas, not with a painting of the front of the house, but of the back porch where all the real living took place.

Of course, the house today doesn't look anything like it did then. The maple tree is so overgrown that you can hardly see the house. The siding is now an ugly yellow-tan color with green trim, and the back porch is loaded with clutter. In the days when we lived next door, there was never a thing out of place.

I had to paint my memories of the place - the hanging baskets of fuchsia that Ola tended every day, the impatiens that filled the flowerbeds around the porch, the iris, the bird bath, and the lilacs in the yard, the maple tree, and, of course, our friends who lived there.

I was in my studio one day in November, working on this painting and letting my mind wander back to those days, when the phone rang. It was Ola's daughter calling to tell me that Ola had passed away the day before at the age of 96. She had been battling dementia for several years, and had finally passed quietly from this world with her family by her side.

Ola and Albert were in a better place, and it was good to know that they were together again, as they had been in life for all of those 68 years. As a tribute to their years together, I added the carved heart to the maple tree in the painting.

A simple house portrait of a little white cottage can mean so much to the people who have a lifetime of memories tied up in that place. And for me, painting it was a way to honor two friends who were an important part of my life.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A New and Improved Blog for 2012!

It's been a year and a half since I started this blog, and I'm amazed when I look back at all the posts I've written and projects I've completed. It's been a lot of fun sharing with you guys, and getting to know you through your comments and emails. I really appreciate all of your interest and support.

For the new year, I thought I'd make the blog more functional by adding some pages that will help to organize all this information and make it easier to find things. It's still a work in progress, but here's what I have so far:

I've added an About page to give you a little more biographical info, and a Contact page for when you need to get in touch.

There's a News page where I've listed galleries that carry my art, shows that I've entered, recent publications, and blogs and TV shows that have featured my work.

What I'm most excited about is my new Gallery page filled with links to my sketches and paintings. Finally, there's an easy way to access my artwork in an organized fashion. For those of you who enjoy looking at sketchbooks, I've included my everyday sketches plus my illustrated travel journals. So pour a cup of coffee, sit back and relax, and browse the various albums in my new online gallery.

I've also added a Custom Artwork page. Since I've been receiving more and more requests to do commissioned paintings, I thought it was important to offer information on what's available and how the process works. I hope you'll check it out - there are lots of great ideas for truly special personal gifts.

And last but not least, I've updated my blog header to showcase some winter scenes for awhile.

Let me know how you like the new features, and please, if you see a typo or something else that needs to be corrected, drop me an email. I'd appreciate it. Also, if there's something you would like me to add, let me know. I'll see what I can do.

So, thanks again for stopping by - it means a lot to me - and Happy New Year!
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