Monday, December 27, 2010

New crayons

When I was a child, one of my favorite Christmas presents was the brand-new box of 64 Crayola crayons that we'd receive each year. I loved everything about them: the way the box broke open along the perforated top, the smell of them, the feel of them, and those color names...periwinkle, maize, salmon. (One of my most treasured estate sale finds is this mint condition, unopened box from way back when...before they changed some of the original color names. I'm such a crayon geek that I've only opened it from the bottom.)

So, this Christmas, when my family gave me a set of 132 colored pencils (every color Prismacolor makes!), I felt the exact same excitement. I loved opening the lid of the tin, seeing those pencils all lined up inside, and reading their color names (there's no maize but there is a periwinkle and a salmon pink). Prismacolor doesn't package them in color groups, for some reason, so this is how they looked:

(There are other wonderful brands of artists' colored pencils, such as Derwent and Faber-Castell, but I've always been partial to Prismacolor. The color lays down smoothly, they blend well, they're widely available and the whole pencil barrel is colored. I've tried other brands, but when only the top half-inch of the pencil shows you what color it is, I find myself spending way too much time looking for the right color.)

Yesterday, the fun began - sorting, sharpening, and organizing . There's something so satisfying about arranging art supplies by color. I kept thinking back to my freshman year in college: I was studying interior design, and we were required to buy a pack of 500 Pantone colored papers for our design projects. It was no small investment, so we handled our boxes like gold. One night, I decided, along with a couple of fellow design students, to lay out every single one of the papers on the floor of the common room of our dorm forming a huge mosaic of color. We spent hours on it, happily debating how to sort  the colors, etc. Yesterday was a lot like that for me - should aqua go with the greens or the blues? Seashell pink is really more beige than pink, so should it live with the other neutrals? (I'm sure my husband thought I was taking this way too seriously.)

At long last, the three families of greys are in my canvas roll case, and the rest are happily residing in glass jars on my work table. I'm ready to draw. Or, I may just sit here and stare at them for a while longer...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

I belong to a fabulous book club. Our fearless leader brought us all together after our sons graduated from the same high school. While cheering on our guys at soccer games, or working together on committees, we had occasionally talked about what we were reading, but I didn't really know many of them well. Six-and-a-half years later, we've read and discussed some great books and have eaten some incredible meals, but most importantly, we share a very special friendship. So, at our holiday gift exchange earlier this month, I gave them each a print of this drawing.

While deciding what to draw for them earlier in the week, I found some gorgeous fresh mistletoe at Bunches in Los Gatos (I just adore that place and their shop duck, Pete). I tied it up with a bit of ribbon, cranked up the Christmas music and sat down to draw. (I usually can't draw with music playing, but I made an exception this time - Christmas music is pretty much a necessity when drawing mistletoe, wouldn't you agree?)

So, have yourself a merry little Christmas, pass the eggnog, and I'll see you after the holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chestnuts NOT roasting on an open fire...

While I was up in Davis in October, buying the aforementioned local walnuts, I also scooped up some of these little gems...chestnuts. The woman at the produce stand, perhaps curious as to why I bought only a handful, asked me what I was going to do with them. "Well, actually", I ventured, "I'm going to draw them." Not the answer she was expecting, I'll bet, but their appearance is irresistible to someone like me. Those round, dark hulls coming to a point at furry tufts remind me of little hedgehogs. (And the fact that they grow in spiky outer coverings just adds to their hedgehoginess.)

As expected, I found them really interesting to draw. I ended up layering many colors of colored pencil to try to replicate the beautiful polished-wood hulls. The drawing was initially done without the shadows, mainly because I was afraid of ruining the whole piece. Shadows can be very tricky to draw, and if they're not rendered accurately, the viewer's eye knows it, and is distracted by the shadows instead of focusing on the object. To further complicate things, shadows contain many colors, depending upon the color of the light source, and including reflected light from the object itself. Intimidating. After staring at my finished chestnuts for a day or two, I took the plunge. While not perfect, I'm satisfied that the shadows add to the drawing. Hooray for risk-taking!

And hooray for the humble chestnut. American chestnuts were pretty much obliterated by the accidental introduction of blight in the early part if the 20th century, but there has been a movement to re-establish chestnut trees in the United States. While researching chestnuts online, I found two sources practically in my own backyard. The first is a book by San Francisco author Susan Freinkel that looks fascinating, American Chestnut: the Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. I also learned that there's a chestnut orchard not far from where I live, and I'm already looking forward to visiting it next fall!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Learning to see...again

I've always loved to draw. I drew as a child, took lots of art classes in high school and majored in design in college. During my career as an interior designer and then as a graphic designer, I usually just drew as needed for my job, but rarely made time to draw for the sheer joy of it. When I started to get seriously back into drawing about six months ago, I felt out of practice. Like playing a musical instrument or enjoying a sport, without frequent use, one's skills get rusty.

 Luckily for me, I happened upon the blog of an artist named Paul Foxton, who lives and works in Surrey, England. In his blog, "Learning to See - A Journey Back to Painting", he talked about getting back into art after a lapse. His drawings, especially his still life work and his cafe sketches, really inspired me to get off the computer and dig out my sketch pad. (I later discovered that he has another portfolio website that's full of his beautiful work.) Recently, after drawing some gorgeous local walnuts, I realized how reminiscent they are of Mr Foxton's work. Once again, it's time to get off the computer, but it occurs to me that I owe someone a thank-you email first....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Considering my love of advent calendars, it seems only fitting that I am writing my first post on December 1. This blog will allow me to share my drawings, but I'm equally excited to be joining  the online art community. As I've started spending more time drawing, I've been inspired by many artists that I've discovered online, particularly illustrators who work in pencil and colored pencil, and I hope to devote some future posts to them. What inspires me? Why do I work in pencil? What drives a person to draw a pile of chestnuts? Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, here's a drawing for today. I have a thing for pinecones. My basement stash of the little beauties, hauled back from many summer vacations at Lake Tahoe, causes my family to shake their heads and chuckle. But I dug this one out of that stash, and loved really looking at it and drawing it. Pinecones, like most forms in nature, are amazing, elegant structures. Enjoy...I'm off to open that first door on this year's advent calendar!