Thursday, October 5, 2023

Thoughts under my drawing pencil


I've been busy this month teaching pen and watercolor. It's been a lot of fun, not only for me, but I think for the students too.

One of my favorite mediums is pen. I love drawing the subject in pencil first and then adding the pen. What a difference it makes. When I add color, such a watercolor paint, it sometimes really sparkles.

We studied frogs, butterflies, trees, sunflower and more this past session. It was fun to learn about each subject for our journals. I conducted demonstrations and of course, offered my encouragement. But I must say, the gals did a spectacular job!

A mixture of wet-on-wet and wet on dry.

Learning how to do layers to create depth.

Drawing a tree in ink.

Then adding color.

Providing space for salutations!

Learning how to fix a mistake
 (the frog's right foot)

I'm offering another fall class session, entitled Fall is in the Air. We'll be covering some fun subjects. See below for more information.

Hope I can see you in one of the classes soon. BTW, we will be exploring acrylics in a special four-week session in December. See you soon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Fall 2023 Newsletter

Visual Journaling

I'm back to playing with Visual Journaling (VJ). I've covered this topic before, but I want to revisit it since the process is so calming. With all the bad news we read and watch these days, it's nice to have a place to go that is safe, free of judgement (except maybe our own) and be yourself.

Some history
Obviously, keeping a journal or diary is good for the soul or people would not have done it for centuries. For instance, the earliest diary was found in 2013, more of a logbook, called The Diary of Merer (aka Papyrus Jarf), written 4500 years ago. In Japan, Pillow Books were common among court ladies and Asian travelers. These works consisted of essays, anecdotes, poetry and some art, created around the 1000s. Additionally, most great artists and scientists have maintained visual journals, such as: 

Leonardo da Vinci.

 Charles Darwin

From Sie Shonagon's Pillow Book

Studies have shown that visual journaling can reduce stress and anxiety (I am living proof of that). Some say it even enhances immunity and decreases cortisol levels, while also increasing dopamine and serotonin. I'm not sure about the chemistry involved, but I can say that this mindfulness exercise relaxes me, drains me of my anxiety and helps to increase my sense of wellbeing. So, something is working.

What is visual journaling?
Traditionally, journaling (or keeping a diary) has been the practice of placing words on paper into a notebook. It's a space where you can express your thoughts, worries, ambitions, grief and so on. VJ is the same but enhanced by the use of art. You can add drawings, sketches, hand-lettering, doodles, clips of photos or other images. And that's the beauty! You are NOT restricted by a list of rules or assignments. Your VJ is yours, all yours and can be self-directed or followed by prompts (ideas). 

How do you start?
Of course, your first step is buying a journal. Some of the products out there are just wonderful. The best place to start is perhaps purchasing the Strathmore Visual Journal. I started with a similar product but mine wasn't a good. What did I know; I was just a beginner? This journal offers good workable paper.  It comes in watercolor, Bristol smooth, Bristol vellum or mixed media.  They run about $15 each.

I especially like leather bound books. They usually have handmade paper inside, which means you have to double or triple glue your pages together, but I love how my work looks on these pages.

Then select any and all art supplies you have. I would not recommend oil paint, soft pastel or oil pastels. But everything else is fine: pens, markers, crayons, pencils, acrylic craft paint, watercolor, ink and so much more.

What subject matter?
Everything! If you see something online that gets your goat or hugs your heart, print it out and paste in your book. Then write about it. I find this very helpful when I'm stressing out about something. Remember, it's my space, so I can say whatever. 

Along with the words, draw or sketch to your heart's content. Draw your favorite flower, like I do. I enjoy daisies and sunflowers. Draw fruit, vegetables, outside, inside, clothes, your breakfast. Draw a vegetable you don't like and explain why. I hate brussels sprouts.

Or you can find prompts online. Here are a few I like:
  • Do I call myself an artist, why?
  • Who is my favorite artist, why?
  • Paste down a picture of your father, mother and tell them how much you love them (or  are angry with them or whatever emotional feelings you have).
  • Paste down the flag and talk about how much this country means to you.
  • Find some favorite quotes and write about them. I love Mark Twain's: If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. I can write and draw volumes on that subject.
  • Pick a season you like, sketch and write about it. I love to draw and talk about pumpkins in the fall.
Whether I'm glad or sad, I grab my journal to express my feelings. I feel free to express my thoughts here from beginning to end, I often visit my created pages. You can also pick it up, play for awhile and then leave it for a time. It's up to you.   

For example, I hadn't done much journaling for a spell. Then, my brother died. Wow, what a set back. I did the usual writing about our lives together, even wrote the Eulogy for his service and Facebook. And while, these helped, I found going back to VJ has helped more. Actually, I haven't really talked about him much in my current journal, just random thoughts and drawings. 

No perfection necessary
I love to draw sunflowers. I don't need a reference. I just go for it. I enjoy their brilliant, sensual petals and the texture of the central florets. I put NO pressure on myself to create a "perfect" drawing/painting. As you can see from the picture below, I just let it all go. I  could have chosen  a more detailed study on sunflowers here, but I didn't want to. Here is where I let my art and my story flow as they are.

Pictures, scrapbooking...sort of
As I've said, you can also add pictures and other scrapbook type of stuff to your journal. I often use Washi tape that comes in all sort of designs, sizes and colors. But be careful with this fun product. You can find yourself using it with your cards, notes and even shopping lists.

Here is a sample of the type of washi tape you can buy.

Notice the different widths and designs. I love this product and can't get enough of it. While they aren't very expensive (that's the problem), there is a financial limit to everything, isn't there? So as I said, be careful. Before you know it, you will have hundreds of these Washi tapes

As for pictures, I usually pick up some very cool sayings or pictures from my Facebook page. I guess I'm lucky. I don't get a lot of worrisome topics on my page. Instead I'm flooded with positive axioms, which I promptly save and print out for later. I have a whole stash of these uplifting sayings, which I review before I start my page for the day. Here are two pages that were started with something I got on Facebook.

Adding photos and Washi tape and a whole slew of stuff can make your page pretty busy, but a lot of folks like that. Here's a page I did about women who try to stay young way past their prime. It contains photos of a contemporary woman and a painting called The Ugly Duchess by Quentin Massys--another woman who was desperately trying to look younger.

A place to be sloppy
I think what I like most about VJ is being sloppy. There are so many things in life where we have to be exact from following a recipe (although there are the courageous ones who don't) to using good grammar for a simple email message.

But in my journal I can throw everything into the wind. My words don't necessarily have to be perfect, my handwriting is just good enough to read, my choice of colors is solely up to me and so on. I LOVE it. And that's probably why VJ is such a solace, peaceful and happy place for me. There are no judgements or cares, but a place to be whatever I want, including sloppy.

A place to workout some issues
Way back years ago, I helped cancer patients create their own visual journals. Being a cancer survivor myself, I used VJ a lot!! And so I wanted to pass it on to others. What I personally did and eventually witnessed through other patients is that the journal helps to dig deep into some places you'd rather forget. 

Sometimes though you may not be ready to grapple with your subject. For example, back to my brother's death, I printed out his picture, prepared it with a nice cutout border and then just couldn't put any paste on the back to include him in my book. It seemed so final, so difficult. So I didn't and I still haven't done so yet. That's okay.

I have found that political cartoons have helped me with issues I can't control. I may be right or wrong with my opinions, but I let it hang loose in my book. That's because I can. I was looking at a page from a old book I worked on during COVID. It now seems so far away but not really. It's good to see the feelings today though. Helps me to be sooooo glad that is over.

Doing it daily
We have all heard about daily painting. I've tried it with fondness. I enjoy facing a challenge everyday. But after awhile I lost interest, perhaps I ran out of subject matter or just went back to my favorite thing to do and that is drawing. Whatever the case, I do find if I can set aside an hour or maybe two a day and work on my VJ, I am happy. The possibilities seem endless.

So that's what I've been doing for the past couple of weeks. I may not finish a page in the time I've set aside. I can always go back to it the next day. But again, unlike a painting or even a drawing project, there are no rules. I can do whatever I want, when and where. 

My final example is the tree I recently drew and then painted in metallic acrylic. It's not done yet and I haven't even figured out if I want to say anything. It was fun to draw and play. Perhaps I'll keep it that way or maybe I'll find a poem or a saying on Facebook that will be perfect to add. Until then, it will stay in my book, waiting for my final touch, like a fairy with a magical wand.

Art Express Workshops
Fall 2023
        • Three-hour online workshops
        • Scheduled for Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
        • Professional teaching and demonstrations
        • Workshop handouts in PDF form
        • Limited to 12 students
        • $75 per workshop
        • Topics include: drawing trees, watercolor pencils, Pan pastels, holiday projects.
For scheduled workshops go to:
 For registration information


Friday, July 21, 2023

Soft pastels, a great summer past-time

Wow, what a hot summer this year. It seems the only place that's cool is Barrow, Alaska (now referred to as Utqiagvik, Alaska)at 64 degrees today. The most northern city of the United State, Barrow isn’t where I’d want to spend my winters with the  average high of 3 degrees.

Even with the heat, there's a lot of art to produce in the summer. One medium that’s always a bit dicey in the winter is soft pastels. That’s because the dust can get all over the place (including in your lungs), so it’s always best to work with it outdoors or at least, in a room with an opened window.

Drawing Pastels
Right now I’m working on a flower piece from the magnolia tree in front of our house. What a lovely flower and because it’s all white, it’s a bit capture the shadows.

As you can see above, I’m just starting the project. I am using whites and greys but will add more colors as I go along. White is very challenging because it not only has lots of shadows, but it also picks up reflective colors. Hope I’ll do justice to this piece. I’ll let you see the finished project as I go along.

For now, I’d like to talk more about soft pastels. Last summer I covered oil pastels. So what is the difference? While both can be used on pretty much the same paper (Mi-Tientes, sandpaper, color pencil paper, thick drawing paper), the difference lies in how the pastel sticks are made. 

Oil pastels are made with pigment, oil and fillers. I do enjoy working with them, especially in the winter, because they provide immediate color, can be very smooth and present little danger to me.

Soft pastels on the other hand do present a health risk as the little particles of dust can be inhaled, causing some upper respiratory problems. If I had to choose between the two, however, I will always opt for the soft pastel. I simply love them. The color goes down so beautifully, the remaining effect on the paper is brilliant and, although messy at times, are so much easier to clean up after.

Besides that, there are pastel pencils and small hard pastel sticks that make your job so much easier for those itsy-bitsy spots you must deal with. For example, although this is a charcoal pencil drawing, you can see what I can execute with a small point, i.e., the eyes on the lion.

The Products

Soft pastels come usually in boxes. First off, I want to stress that you definitely get what you pay for in soft pastels. Unlike oil pastels where you can purchase perhaps a cheaper set like Pentel’s oil pastel and get somewhat of a good result, you cannot do the same with the soft product. That’s because you will get far more filler than pigment in the cheap stuff. Believe me, I’ve tried several products.

What to look for when buying soft pastels?

  • Good color selection
  • Strong pigment
  • Soft, but not so soft, they crumble.
  • Good reviews

So how does one start out? I found a product years ago that works for me. It's in the middle--not too cheap and not too expensive. The company's name is Mungyo. It's Korean and has been in business since 1946. Their products are good for starters. For instance, their 48 set is small and not too costly (around $7.50).

These pastels are NOT professional grade, but a cheaper way to see if you like them. I used to teach a class on pastel drawing. The morning half would consist of oil pastels and the afternoon would be soft pastels (with the good stuff). Often, students definitely liked one over the other. So it's important to try the product first before making too much of an investment.

I have gone up the ladder over the years and have bought their "gallery" pastels (around $25) . They are much better and again, good for starters. 

Then there are the handmade soft pastels ($40) that Mungyo makes. Oh my goodness, they are fantastic, but of course spendy. I bought them this past year and I'm thoroughly enjoying them.

Hard Soft Pastel
I know the above sounds a bit oxymoron, but bear with me. There are two companies that offer soft pastels in hard stick form: Nupastel (by Prismacolor) and Conté à Paris Crayons. Again, in the early days when I was just starting out, I often used Nupastel.

They are great to start your drawing, fill in as a base coat and then cover over with more expensive/higher quality soft pastels. I also like them because sometimes, they are just perfect for filling in small places when I don't have my pastel pencils handy (around $12-$25).

Conté à Paris--both sets work well. I like the compact box version, easier to store in my bookcase.

Next Level: Rembrandt soft pastels
I used to work with Rembrandt exclusively for years until I was able to afford the more expensive pastels. They are harder (but not as much as NuPastel), but they still hold an important place in my pastel drawer  (starting at around $40).

The Best: Sennelier
In my opinion, the best soft pastel on the market is made by Sennelier, a French company that's been around since 1887. I love the amount of pigment (lots), the softness of the stick and the way it thickly lays down on the paper. Starting at around $30. What I have done for years is look for sales on Amazon, Dick Blick, Jerry's Artarama. Occasionally they go on sale for a short period of time. Pictured below is a half stick set at $34 on Amazon.

But on Dick Blick online, you can find the following set (full sticks) for $48.
When it comes to soft pastels, it does pay to shop around. In fact, I scour the Internet for deals for all my art supplies.

Pan Pastels
Recently, there has been a new product offered to pastel artists and that's Pan Pastels. They offer a unique way of laying down your pastel colors. There are no sticks, but instead you use soft tools and layout your colors in a palette form.

I have a video on this one on my YouTube channel. To learn how to use this new product/method, please go to the following link.  

Pastel Pencils
These pencils are great to use for small places or to create the perfect detail. But, they are difficult to keep sharpened. I have several sets and there isn't any one product that I have found that doesn't have a sharpening problem. 

This problem is such a difficulty, you will see loads of videos on the Internet that try to help. There is one video, however, that I think does a pretty good job of explaining things. Here's the link

Okay, having given my warnings, here are the pastels pencils I use.

Austrian Cretacolor Art Pastels
Basic Set ($23)

Derwent Pastel Pencils
Basic Set ($23)

Stabilo Pastel Pencils

Last but not least, we need to talk about paper. I use Canson's Mi-Tientes paper. The same stuff I use for colored pencil. But I also have found that sanded paper is wonderful. Here are some suggestions:

Comes in lots of sizes and colors. Made in France. (Starting at $12)

Great texture, good color selection. Comes in six different color formats. Made in France. (around $30)

An outfit from Australia, Colourfix is a nice smooth sanded paper that comes in a lot of different colors. The one above is the cool packet . There are other packet colors to choose from. (starting around $30)

I have really only scratched the surface regarding soft pastel products. There are all sorts of color sticks and papers on the market today. I haven't tried all of them, but I can say that the ones I use are time-tested by me since 2006!

The art project
Here's the same flower from above but more complete. Just need to add more reflective colors and clean it up a bit. Done on Pastelmat, dark blue. BTW, this doesn't take long to complete--another advantage of soft pastel, quick and easy!

Happy Summer!

What happening this fall 2023

Monday, March 20, 2023

 Spring in the Studio

Here's your chance to learn how to sketch during your travels this spring and summer. We will visit five countries: USA, Italy, Canada, Russia and France, using photographs.

As always we will meet on Tuesdays or Wednesdays (3/28 or 3/29) via Zoom from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Learn how to capture scenes with both your camera and your sketchbook. We will use pen, watercolor, colored and watercolor pencil.

It's a five-week course for only $90. Interested? Contact Jill to register at

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Playing with pen and ink

Nature Sketching

For the past five weeks, our online class has been playing with pen and ink with watercolor. It's been fun because the subject has been Nature Sketching. I can never get enough of working on nature. There's a connect to the universe and the Gods when trying to relate what I experience. I love the concentration it takes and the true "seeing" of an object. Besides the subjects are all so perfect!

We've also been working on a Nature Sketching Journal. That includes the subject matter, prose, poetry or whatever you like. I'm especially into Washi tape, so you'll see a lot of decorating in my book as page dividers, borders and/or simple visual statements. (Click on photos for enlargement)

Here are few examples: 

We all have a lot of fun with our art journals. This past session we covered mushrooms, insects, sea creatures, flowers and trees. 

Moreover, I am using a  new notebook or should I say sketchbook now. It's made in India with handmade cotton paper. The artisan actually writes you a note, saying thanks. I found this book (see below) at Hobby Lobby. However, you can get similar books at Amazon.
Study in ink and it's properties
One more thing, we also learned about the darkness of different black inks. It was a fascinating study. See below to learn what we found out:

Why is this important?
Very often you may want to have a black or grey background. You can of course create black in watercolor (brown and blue), buy some black watercolor already made or even acrylics. But if you want a really striking black, try using ink. And from this short little study I found that Sennelier's A La Pagode is the darkest. Zig's Sumi comes in second.

What about opaque white ink?
One of the best things to have in your stock when it comes to working with ink is opaque white ink or white gouache. While I haven't created a visual list for these, I do prefer Deleter white ink #2 and Zig white ink #30. As for gouache, I prefer Lascaux. When you make a mistake these media can help with a good cover up. I've tried white watercolor paint (some call it Chinese white), but haven't had good luck with that at all.

Next session: Nature Sketching II
The next online class session, held Tuesdays and Wednesdays, start on February 14/15. As always the cost is only $90 for five weeks, and we meet from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The subject matter and media are as follows:

  • Week One: Bulb flowers/Graphite pencil
  • Week Two: Skies/Watercolor with ink
  • Week Three: Rocks and pebbles/Colored pencil
  • Week Four: Sea creatures/Oil pastels
  • Week Five: Landscapes/Watercolor
To register email me at

Thanks for your continued support!