mouseover any illustration tagged "sketches" to see the original drawing


Sky Trees

Sky Trees is unique among my paintings because it is one where the idea came straight to my mind, and wasn't derived from a subconscious scribble or remembered dream. I noticed one day while waiting at a stoplight how pretty the blue sky was in the trees, and had the thought: what would it look like if the sky became trees, if the blue of the sky grew up the trunks of the trees, and made another world upside down? As soon as I got home I quickly sketched out the idea.

As you can see, the original sketch had rabbits running through the upside down leaves which doubled as grass, but that idea didn't make it through to the final painting stages. At first I had no more plans for the space between the sky/tree trunks than to make them black shadows, or poles.

The painting went pretty quickly, in about three days, since I already had the idea solid in mind and didn't want to deviate much from it. Here's the first few hours' work, in several layers of pastel:

I struggled a while to make brown blend into blue evenly and clean. I decided to stop fighting it and make the trees white, like birches or aspens. It was really fun to watch it progress and take on different aspects as I worked. For a while, before I built the leaves much, it looked as if the sky were growing roots.

When I gave the shadows/poles between the sky/tree trunks some form and shape, they began to have personality, and so at that point I decided to add faces to them. I pulled out a handful of subconscious drawing sketches, of faces I saw in patterns of wood grain on doors, and had quickly caught on paper.

(I have further plans for this fish with a face)

With the addition of the faces, the painting felt complete. Continually while working on it I would turn it around and paint with the tress right-side up, or vice versa. I feel that there's no permanent orientation for this painting. My daughter certainly didn't agree with me, if she saw it one way she'd get all upset: "mommy picture upside down!" But I like the fact that it can be turned around when you're ready for a fresh look at it.

To view this painting the other way, or see the details visit this page and click on "flip image" or "zoom."


Toy Animals

I just did these sketches and had to share with you before my day ends. My two year old has a set of small toy plastic farm animals, and I thought it would be fun to draw some of them. I disparage them for being out of proportion to each other: all could stand side by side in real life, except the monster pig who's larger than the horses and one goat taller than everybody else.

I thought it would just be a quick, amusing exercise but to my surprise I found myself really studying the anatomy of these toy animals, the shapes and masses of their features. They really are more realistic than I had given them credit for. (Although other aspects of them are not realistic: this sheep has pink wool!)

I meant to stop after drawing the goat, but my daughter saw what I was doing and got excited about it, seeing me recreate her animals on the paper. She set one after another in front of me: "now mommy draw this one!" so I kept going.

The donkey gets scorned because his front legs tend to rub ankles and he always falls over when my daughter is trying to line them up, causing her no end of frustration.

This little running apaloosa horse is one that I found on a walk, and got adopted into her collection.

Most of the sketches I did in less than five minutes, but I spent a bit more time on this colt. They are all small drawings, three to five inches. Not much bigger than the toy animals themselves, who are all less than four inches, nose to tail.


Blue-fingered frog in the same style as the Mermaid. Also watercolor, about four inches.

Ghost Dog

Ghost Dog Pastel on paper, 24 x 19"

I thought I'd post this painting here to explain how it came about. Last year around this time I was searching for a new subject to paint in pastels, which I had just started using. There's this photo I took

of my sister's dog that I always found fascianting because of the eyes. One was in light, the other shadow, and the difference in the dilation of the pupils is dramatic. I realize now looking at my painting again that I made the dog's head too large, but I think I was just really trying to get into those eyes.

When I was younger, before we got this dog, someone down around the block had a weimaraner. I used to walk by their yard often, along a trail. The gray dog with the pale eyes was so striking. We called them ghost dogs. In keeping with the season, I painted this just before halloween in 2005. My intent was to make it look all dark, like the dog was lying at the bottom of a shadowy area or well, looking up at you with her blue ghost eyes. Most weimaraners' eyes turn yellow as they mature, but this one kept her baby blues.

View a black and white portrait I drew of this dog here.

Objects on My Table

A quick still life study that I never painted.
Graphite pencil on paper, 5 x 7".


Metal Pitcher and Blue Porcelain

A still life oil painting I did several years ago. It was quite a challenge, rendering the two opposite textures: shiny yet rather matte white and blue porcelain next to the highly reflective metal pitcher. We had a metal pitcher just like it in my home growing up, used for milk. I remember many times staring fascinated at my distorted reflection in it during breakfast. Perhaps that is why I chose the object, since it was so familiar and almost dear to me in a mundane sort of way.

I didn't quite finish the red onions, though.

Detail of the reflection.
This painting is 16 x 20".

You can see the preliminary sketches of this painting here.


A small watercolor illustration, about four inches wide. It is simple, but I was rather pleased with how the transparency on the tail worked out.

Where I came from...

Well, I think I'm actually coming back to Blogger after spending two days on Wordpress. I know, silly me. The reason? Wordpress is great for words. They've got limits on pictures. If I'm putting up several pictures a day, that might be a problem. I don't want to run out of space. The downside? I can't (as of yet) import my old posts to this new blog, and I was able to do that with Wordpress.

So I'm going to try this, and we'll see what happens!

Blogspot has said that in the future I'll be able to import my old posts, I hope that's really so. In the meantime, if you want to read what I did before, go here. If they never can get imported, I suppose I might reopst those images at a later date.


zebra stallion


standing alert, what does he hear?

Eye of the Leopard

Last night I watched a National Geographic film about a leopard, called Eye of the Leopard. Did some sketching while watching the film.
I did several sketches trying to just get the proportions of the body of the leopard correct. They have rather small heads carried high level with the shoulders. Also how one of the leopards would carry its tail with a perfect loop/curl at the end of it, as in the smaller sketch here.
Young leopard


male lion

trotting somewhere


Spotted hyena, their voices are amazing it really does sound like laughter

little dog

Small dog I glanced for a moment on the tv. This was sketched from memory very quickly, in about two minutes.

Dissecting Crayons

For some reason my little girl doesn't like to draw or color with crayons. She doesn't seem to understand what a coloring book is for. She prefers to scribble wtih markers on blank paper, or anything that I am writing/drawing on! Her preoccupation with crayons is to first carefully remove all the papers from them, then break them in half, or thirds. It keeps her busy for some time, so I was able to make this sketch while she was dissecting crayons.


Thoughts From the BMA

An early oil painting of mine, ode to one of my favored sketching media: pen and ink, the kind where you dip a steel nib into liquid black ink in a jar and drag it across the paper with various thins and thickness following the pressure of your hand....

Yesterday I visited the Baltimore Museum of Art with my sister and my two year old daughter. It was a very inspiring day. I always feel refreshed, like my eyes have had light poured into them, after seeing rooms and rooms of paintings. I spent much time with my nose just inches from the canvases, enthralled by the work of the Realists and the Barbizon School. My dauther was not so thrilled. She was content for a while to accompany us through the galleries of gleaming still life collections of fruit, race horses in unnatural flying poses, portraits of faces with breathing skin. Then she got bored of the paint and wanted to just sit on the benches.

I study the paintings so closely not to learn their secrets, but simply because I enjoy the passages of paint. Even though I don't regularly use oil paint myself now, I remember well how it felt to have brushes in my hands during my school days. I look at the surface of the paintings and I can imagine to myself which pigments the artist mixed to get this color, exactly how he laid his brush to make this mark, the turn of the wrist that created the raised edge of that stroke. It is mesmerizing.

The curious thing is that although I delight so much in oil paintings, I find myself working almost exclusively in soft pastels these days. For several months last year I struggled to find a way to work with oils, but couldn't get around my sensitivity to the odors, especially when I have no separate work space with proper ventilation. I also worry about exposing my child to fumes. My best discovery so far was water-soluble oil paints. But the odors of linseed oil still gave me headaches. I daydream sometimes about trying another innovative product I have heard of: heat-set oils. Apparently they stay wet on your palette, brushes, canvas, until exposed to a certain temperature via a heat-gun. It sounds great!

But in the meantime I have become so used to the manners of soft pastels that when I occasionally pick up brushes and paint again it feels like speaking a foreign language I haven't used in a year. I have always loved the freedom and spontaneity of drawing, the immediacy of making the marks. Painting takes more care and concentration for me. Pastels are the best of both: it feels like drawing, yet I can get effects like paint. In fact, that is how this method was taught to me.

This is one of the first pastel paintings I did. It is a copy of a detail from John Singer Sargent's portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. The nose is crooked and the proportions are slightly off, but the feel of the pastels and richness of color laid down (in this case) on Arches watercolor paper, was amazing to me!

In school, two of my instructors of life-drawing classes taught a method of using soft pastels to mimick the effects of oil paintings. Painters used to make studies of their planned works in pastels before painting it on canvas. All the pastel paintings I had noticed before used it like the impressionists, laying strokes next to each other to create the effect of blending with the eye, and to preserve the pure colors of the pastels. In this method, layers of color are laid lightly on top of each other to create blending, much like underpaintings are done in oils. I loved this way of working with pastels, but even after using it in class a few times I never dreamed then I would become a pastelist!

Now it looks as if I can't get myself away from it.
Thus I have once again abandoned an attempt at oils, leaving my Bell Jar Lizard sitting on the side while I make plans for pastel works again. Maybe I'll start him over when my materials arrive. In the meantime, while I wait for a shipment of papers and pastel grounds, I will share with you over the next few days more drawings as I work out my sketches.

Here's one of my favorite old pen and ink drawings of an assorment of ink bottles.


Wildlife Sketches

These are studies from my sketchbook done from photograph reference. I don't plan on using them for paintings, but like to do them just to study the animals themselves.


White Rhinoceros

Lioness dragging a kill

A friend of mine saw the post I did yesterday and was highly unimpressed. I could tell by the look on his face that it was totally uninteresting.

'What is it, you don't like my sketches?" I said.
He shrugged. "It just doesn't look that great."
"Why not?"
He thought a minute: "It's like listening to Hella," he said.
"You know Hella."
"You don't like them."
"That's right, I don't."
"That's because it's music for musicians," he said. "It's the bare bones. It's just a drummer and a guitarist going at it. You think: what the heck is this about? But I think it's cool."

It went on, but the end of our conversation wound up like this: sketches (in his opinion) are bare bones structure and best appreciated by artists. To him, they just look unfinished. To me, Hella isn't music. To my amigo, sketches aren't art.

But I happen to love seeing other artists' sketches. The economy of line and the strength of gesture. It has a beauty and energy all its own. Sometimes the sketch for a painting remains holding more life and vitality than the finished painting itself.



Today I watched a film called The Story of the Weeping Camel. The setting was in Mongolia, in the Gobi desert. I thought it was beautiful and interesting. I loved the visual richness and contrasts. One of the most striking things was how plain the tents were on the outside, and inside a blaze of color and gorgeous decoration. And of course, I loved watching the camels.
I really enjoy sketching animals from films. It has the advantage of being able to pause for closer study, yet you can still observe the movement and gait of the animals. Sometimes I don't even pause, but sketch while the film is running. The camel on the left here was drawn on pause, the one on the right while it was playing. I work pretty swiftly, either way. Of course, the experience still doesn't beat drawing from life, but it's the next best thing when I can't go to a zoo all the time.

These Bactrian camels have wonderous long wool on their necks and big tufts of it on the upper forelegs. Here is a very young one.


Finding Things

As an artist, I tend to pay a lot of attention to how things look. My eyes are constantly looking, seeing. At the shapes of things, how colors fit together, where lines converge, movement in the trees that might unfold itself into a deer, or something more grand...

Little things get caught in my eyes, too. Small objects make their way home in my pockets, from where they have been waiting forgotten on the ground. In one week alone I have found a tiny yellow rubber duck with a keychain ring, a small running horse, a memory card that fits my digital camera, a butterfly made out of beads, a necklace chain, and a handful of blue beads that I strung into a pretty bracelet.

Perhaps I ought to advertise: Finder of Lost Things!


Bell Jar Lizard

This new painting I'm working on came into thought a long time ago. Here is one of several small drawings from an old sketchbook.

More details added a year later.

And two more I did yesterday, working out exactly how I wanted it to look.

At first it was just a commentary on the feeling of those times when whatever you do only seems make your own situation worse: you know, the kind of "open mouth insert foot" incidents, or ones of more serious nature refered to as "digging your own grave". Thus the lizard is being strangled by his own tail. But then something compelled me to add the bell jar, a suffocation from things beyond your control. I suppose this painting reflects the ultimate helpless feeling.

It was only later, an hour into painting the rough that I realized this also ties in nicely to Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar.

My two-year-old saw the last sketch. She said "open! open, let him out!" She knew exactly what was going on with that poor lizard, he was trapped. I flipped back to the earlier sketch where it's not so obvious to her that he's enclosed and she looked relieved: "he out!" But then she pointed to the last drawing again: "now open dis one!" It made me laugh! Not too much, though, because she was fairly concerned at the lizard's predicament.

For the moment, I am working in oils again. This is a smaller painting (for me), being only 12 x 16". It feels quite different to have the pervasive smell of oil paint and linseed in our small rooms instead of constantly sneezing pastel dust! I really ought to open some windows, but the weather has taken a sudden plunge into winter's cold.

See the next stage here.


Reptile Studies

In preparation for my next painting, which is simmering inside my head, I have been going through old sketchbooks studying drawings that I did of lizards and similar creatures, and making new ones as well. Here are a few that I will be using as reference for the painting.

Reference being a very loose term. They will be sources for gesture, structure and textures, not copied directly into the painting.

All of these drawings were done from life. The first three were drawn with ink pens, at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

This last one is a pencil sketch of a box turtle that I found in our backyard just last week. I didn't know before what long nails they have, and find the overlapping of the scales on his legs so interesting...