Monday, August 31, 2015

That's So Kawaii!!! (Shopping for Art Supplies at the 100 Yen Store)

This week my wife and kids talked me into taking a break from my Utah prep for a little fun and history-in-the-making all wrapped up into one. What could possibly pry me away from the packing and sketching and painting, you ask? Well, the Daiso chain of 100 Yen stores (which already have an extensive presence in California and Washington state) just opened their first Texas store in the DFW area (Carrollton) and we were off to the grand opening!

the Daiso store is one of the first shops to open for business in the new asian market

My wife and kids wanted to check out the colorful, kawaii (i.e., "cute") goodies and the yummy Japanese snack items; while I was intent on discovering anything that might be useful in the studio or field sketcher's day bag. And very best of all -- almost everything in the store sells for just 100 Yen! (That's $1.50US for those of us who don't carry yen in our wallets.)

every aisle is chock full of colorful little possibilities! 

OK, opting for a hand basket instead of a shopping cart was probably wishful thinking on my part. But, being our first visit, I wasn't really certain how extensive the product range was going to be. (After all "all items $1.50" and "artist's supplies" don't usually go together. Right?) And, besides, my wife and kids each grabbed a basket as we entered too.

need a daypack-sized brush carrier (with water bottle and bulb syringe thrown in for good measure)?

The art supplies weren't difficult to find at all. In fact, I was rather surprised to find that there were aisles of them. Not surprisingly, there was an extensive sumi-e selection. But there was also several small watercolor sets to choose from... and sketchbooks, correction tape, and two-sided adhesive dispensers (colorfully decorated, of course.) 

ink sticks, stones and mini sets (yellow arrows), a selection of traditional 
sumi-e brushes (red arrow), and oriental papers (blue arrow)

I also found at least two artist's sketchbooks in the store's stationary section, and several excellent -- and highly affordable -- ink dish and water bowl options in both plastic "lacquerware" and blue ware  porcelain. (Yep, still just $1.50US.)

leave it to Daiso to make correcting those sketchbook errors whimsical and fun

Some items weren't exactly intended for artists -- but it didn't take much imagination to repurpose them for studio or field work. (For example, if you don't want to risk loosing all those artistic goodies in the tall grass, one of these brightly colored bags might be just the thing for keeping it together.)

now that's kawaii!

Or maybe you like to work with your French color box and tripod stool at home but need to protect your hardwood floors against scrapes and scratches. Well, how about socks for those tripod legs?

OK, I guess you could use these with household furniture too

So, why not check out the Daiso web sight, find the nearest store to you, and pay them a visit? (Or email them and ask when you might be able to expect a store opening in your area.) You're certain to have a fun time.

Don't live in the United States or Japan? No worries! Daiso stores can also be found in North America, Brazil, Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East.

how close is your nearest Daiso store?

Note: Daiso does have an online store on their website, but currently it only sells bulk (i.e., by the case.) The prices are still reasonable, but you probably won't need that many of anything unless you're opening up your own 100 Yen store.)

Next week we're back to adventure prep. (This time we'll be working on paper... and maybe shooting a little video.

Until then, Happy Trails... and Sayonara!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sketching in Oils as Place-based Journaling (Zion Update 3.0 Step-by-Step)

As any plein air artist can attest, sketching outdoors is a race against time. On anything but an overcast day shadows and highlights are fleeting and ever-changing. If I am lucky I may have an hour and thirty minutes, maybe 2 hours, to capture the lighting of a particular time and place. And sometimes -- having just caught sight of a serendipitous, and oh so fleeting, visual moment -- I may have only a tenth of that... or less. 

when Karen Doherty (at Exaclair USA) first introduced me to Bloc Rhodia notebooks I couldn't think of 
practical application for gridded paper; but now that I'm painting plein air again it's become my very 
favorite comp tool (tip: a wide rubber band will hold the folded pages open "gads-free" while painting)

To speed up the painting process I frequently begin with a sketch in pencil or pen -- focusing on rendering the key shapes, shadows and overlapping plains while making mental notes about hue/temperature/intensity options for the background, middle ground and foreground.  

by pre-toning the panel with Gamblin Yellow Ochre I am able to quickly 
establish an accurate sense of the major forms and spacial plains 

After completing the compositional study I start blocking in the shadow areas on a middle-toned panel. (And if, for any reason, the sketching process is disrupted at this point I already have a recognizable, albeit rough, visual -- and far more personal experience -- of this particular time and place.)

detailing and nuance are now added to the middle ground, water and sky

Next I begin to introduce lighter areas (while still reserving my lightest lights for the end -- when my observations are most accurate) and refine the primary shapes.

highlights are introduced into the foreground cliff tops and face

At this stage the painting is still rough -- but I have finalized the composition; finished blocking in the major color and value areas; and have more or less defined background, middle ground and foreground. 

initial detailing in the middle ground

Pacific Cove, 6"x8", Gamblin oils on Ampersand Gessobord

The final stage (the sprint to finish before the original shadow patterns fade into memory) is fine tuning, adding select detailing (some in the middle ground, but primarily in the foreground), and polishing off a few of the rough edges. (Some "roughness" can add a very desirable sense of spontaneity, vigor and vivaciousness to a sketch though. So I avoid overworking the piece by adhering to the 90-120 minute allocation.)

And, if I intend to use the sketch as a study for a larger work in the studio later (or if I just want a more complete record of place, time and experience) I will frequently make notes -- about the weather, time of day, season, and the sights, sounds and smells of the local, even what I was thinking and feeling at that particular moment -- in white Gelly Roll pen on the back of the panel.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Fresh AiR Gazette

If you're like me you do your best to get as art out of your art adventures as possible. Before each voyage of discovery I spend weeks, sometimes months, establishing a daily routine of observing, sketching and painting -- of artistically living in the moment. When I'm engaged in one of my art adventures I try to experience place as much as possible, and squeeze every sketch, painting and journal entry of the unique local out of the limited time I have. (Of course, sometimes that looks, to the casual observer, like I'm holding a mug of tea staring off into space; but I guarantee the "record" switch is on.)

the layout design for page 1 of the new subscribers-only newsletter

In order to maximize my artistic experience at Zion National Park this year (and produce more artwork to share) I've decided to suspend most of my social media activities -- Facebook, Drawn to Life blog, and most email -- from early October to late November. 

I will stay in touch with my subscribers, however; sharing the latest artworks, trail adventures, journal entries, and links to exclusive preview time laps and step-by-step videos. And I'll do that via my new digital newsletter, The Zion Fresh A-i-R Gazette. Subscribers will receive a new issue of The Gazette each week while I'm on the road and in the park and, if the publication proves a success with readers, Zion will be replaced with the names of other parks as our adventures take us elsewhere in future seasons.

click on either page to view full screen

So, I hope you like the mock-up of Issue #1, and that you share it with friends and family, and (if you'd like to come along on our Zion adventure) that you subscribe. (Then just keep an eye on your inbox and I'll do the rest.)


New Corporate Partner --

As noted in the test issue of The Fresh A-i-R Gazette, Strathmore Artist Paper has joined the team as my newest sponsor. Strathmore is renowned for their outstanding line of artist papers and journals, and I'll report in detail (including step-by-step field tests and demos) on the papers I'm testing for the Zion adventure in upcoming blog articles.   

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Zion Update 2.0 (Exploring Evocative Color)

As I've been prepping for my Zion adventure over the past few weeks and gradually working my way back into a plain air routing I've been exploring different techniques and color schemes. I want to capture both the vivid colors of the landscape and the evocative in my plain air sketches while in the park and that has led me to revisit the alla prima technique and post-impressionist/fauve palette of my youth.

Desert Valley (rendering exercise), 6"x8", oils on gessobord

Of course, most of us can't simply switch from one way of seeing and painting to another. So, I've begun a series of "exercise" panels to retrain hand and eye. Every other week or so, I'll share the results with you -- hopefully good results, but maybe the occasional miss too (this to share not only the problems that arise, but how I go about resolving them creatively.) And, time permitting, I'll even try to include a step-by-step demo, if you're interested.

As things stand thus far, I've decided to do my "scouting sketches" (those done while out scouting trails for interesting subject matter and vantage points, under whatever lighting I encounter) on 6"x8" or 6"x6" panels for speed and portability. Planned plein air pieces (done at sites I've previously scouted, or been told about, at a time of day that offers the most dramatic lighting) will be done on 9"x12" or 12"x12" panels. And studio pieces (done either at the Grotto House while in residence or in my studio after returning home) will be done on 12"x24" or 18"x24" cradled panels. Of course, I'm always on the lookout for an excuse to do a panoramic painting. So, if the subject presents itself, I'll likely do an elongated watercolor on location and construct a special panel or canvas when I get home.

High Mountain Spring (rendering exercise), 9"x12", oils on gessobord

My first venture back into a post-impressionist palette this week was the 6"x8" landscape entitled Desert Valley (see at top of article) -- explored bold light and the use of cool colors and a limited value range in the background, advancing to a more vivid color scheme and value range as I progressed into the foreground. 

Yesterday's exercise (High Mountain Spring) explored the same palette's effectiveness in capturing low-angle lighting on sandstone rock formations like those I'll encounter in southern Utah. (And the "snow" even offered an imaginary escape from the Texas heat.)

Canyon Wall (thumbnail comp study), 2 1/8"x 4 1/4", graphite on paper

And today I'm working on a 12"x 24" landscape entitled Canyon Wall (see thumbnail comp above.)

So, what do you think? Do you like the "new" color scheme? Or do you prefer a more naturalistic rendering? (Like I used in the Cascades.) And would you like to see more of these color studies (with maybe a step-by-step or two) in future posts?


Never enough time when you're really having fun....

I want to maximize the amount of sketching, painting, journaling, photographing and videotaping I can do while in Utah, and en route. But, as is too often the case for all of us, time will be at a premium. So, I've decided that I will suspend publication of my blog -- beginning with my departure for Zion, and ending with my arrival home.

I will continue my weekly drawing and painting articles only until early October for those of you who are enjoying following along as I prepare for this new adventure. Beginning with the second week in October and running through the end of November -- I will be publishing an illustrated weekly newsletter (which will be delivered in a printable PDF format via email) exclusively for my Kickstarter fundraising campaign supporters (at all pledge levels) and sponsors.

So, if you'd like the latest news and images from Zion and on the road delivered weekly directly to your email inbox (along with the pledge rewards which will be delivered directly to your house) be sure and pledge... and don't forget to share the project with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

And as always, thanks for your support!  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Friends and Neighbors (Of The Garden Variety)

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
                                                                                            My First Summer In The Sierra (1911)
                                                                                                           John Muir

my maturing yellow variant bell peppers

One of the fun things about sketching in the garden is that, over time, you learn not only about individual plants, and bugs, birds, and even the soil and weather; you begin to learn about how they are interconnected, and about nature's cycles.

sketch hunting amongst the fruits and veggies

During July I went to the veggie garden just after sunrise each morning (in part to avoid the triple-digit heat) and was thus treated last week to the spectacle of a dragonfly swarm in the park; the vision of sunlight sparkling off the wings of hundreds of dragonflies as they patrolled the park's open field was magical!

Since I'm growing veggies for our table (as well as for my art) I'm avoiding the use of harmful (i.e., toxic) and that, in turn, has led me to seek out natural remedies for the occasional pest problem. (Of course, I'm not averse to sharing a little of our bounty with the occasional insect if they're willing to pose for me and/or they are likely to morph into something interesting. (And sometimes the little critters are saved by my tendency to put my art ahead of their destruction.)

the retractable "horns" came as a surprise

A case in point: one morning I found a particularly large and colorful caterpillar on one of my neighbor's quite lovely parsley plant. Should I destroy the ravenous trespasser? Of course not! I carefully put it in an empty pencil box (and, in doing so, learned something quite delightful about its natural defense mechanism) and brought it home to draw. My intension was to release it somewhere near the house (and away from the community garden plots) the next morning. But, overnight, the caterpillar took action of its own -- morphing into an equally picturesque chrysalis. So, now it's residing in my kids' butterfly tent and we're checking it a couple of times a day and waiting for a Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge.

my pest control partners (interestingly, only the females can sting)

Of course, no pesticides means that I have to maintain a vigil for an excess of pests, picking off the young caterpillars on my kale and tomatoes as they arrive in waves. But it also means that I needn't worry about poisoning my pollinators -- be they honey bees, carpenter bees, butterflies, moths, et al. And, fortuitously, nature also provides me with several amazing allies! For example, while watering the patch yesterday (and harvesting a bag full of cherry tomatoes and peas) I noticed that brown paper wasps had begun to visit my plants. At first I suspected that they might be collecting building material for nests. But more careful observation gave me a delightful surprise; they were inspecting the underside of leaves and, whenever they found one, removing caterpillars! I don't know whether the caterpillars were destined for the wasps' larders or brood chambers, but it certainly was an amazing example of how it's all "hitched to everything else in the Universe."

trying to ignore the heat ("focus, focus, focus")

I hope you have an amazing and delightful week, and that you'll join me again next week (when, weather permitting, we'll do some plein air painting.) See you then!

the heat warped the card, but pressing 
for a few days should take care of that


Zion NP update --

I am delighted to announce my first two sponsors for this year's artist residency. As with my previous residencies in North Cascades National Park, Sakura of America and Ampersand Art Supplies have generously offered to provide material support. My heart-felt thanks goes out to the folks at both. 

If you haven't done so yet, please visit my Kickstarter campaign page, select a pledge level (and reward) to your liking, and share on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks!   


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Zion Update 1.0

Zion Canyon, 4"x8", oil sketch on Ampersand panel

When I'm preparing for a new adventure -- one that involves going somewhere I've never been before -- I begin with some research. Oh, I'm not one of those who plans out every moment of every day. I'm too big a fan of serendipity, and enjoy the magic one discovered in the totally unexpected too much to give into regimentation. But it is nice to have a starting point, a framework to hang the unexpected discoveries on.

Zion Canyon (preliminary study for the oil sketch above), 
6"x8", w/c over Sakura pen & ink

Artistically speaking, I like to polish the technical skills and studio practices (even if my "studio" is going to be primarily the Great Outdoors) well in advance of my departure. Oh, I may adopt a new medium, technique, or subject while in the field. But (for me anyway) it would be a tragic mistake to think that I'll sketch or paint everyday while away from home if I haven't already established that habit before I leave.

Sunrise, Monument Valley, 4"x8", w/c over Sakura pen & ink

So, I've been out everyday sketch hunting -- looking for new subjects, drawing, painting, experimenting with different tools and color schemes, and acclimatizing to heat and intense light. Sometimes I work up a piece as a monochromatic drawing, sometimes in color. Sometimes I work a drawing up in color. Sometimes I paint plain air. And sometimes I produce a sketch onsite and create a painting from that sketch once I've returned to the studio. Sometimes the results are less than stellar, either because I'm feeling rusty or because I've attempted something new and missed the mark. But that's OK because it's all intended as an opportunity to learn and grow. And, with practice now, I'm confident that the poor works will be fewer and farther apart by the time I begin my next adventure (not to mention that the honed observation and rendering skills will likely result in a more memorable experience.)

in addition to my regular field journals and plain air panels I'm thinking 
it might be nice to produce a large adventure journal (with maps, 
illuminations & calligraphy entries) and pen & ink portraits of 
some of the folks I meet afield 

I've been putting together a map that identifies particular points of visual interest in the park -- scenes previously sketched or painted by some of the outstanding artists who have worked in the park previously (from Thomas Moran to Franz Bischoff), and venues that are of particular interest to current visitors (such as Angels' Landing, Big Bend, The Subway, and the Emerald Pools.) But I'll also dedicate a good bit of time to just wondering and looking (for picturesque landscapes, flora and fauna) and talking with park staff and visitors.

Zion events --

Dates and times for two events during my Zion A-i-R have now been finalized: I'll be doing a presentation for the Southern Utah University art department and interested public on Thursday, Oct. 29; and on Nov. 4 I'll be a guest speaker for the annual Zion Plein Air Art Invitational lecture series. Southern Utah University is located in Cedar City, UT, while the PAAI lecture series will be held at Zion Lodge.

the poster for this year's Invitational 
(original art by Michelle Condrat)

Kickstarter fundraising campaign --

My Kickstarter crowd-funding project was approved this week (on my birthday actually... a very nice present indeed) and, after reshooting the video and tweaking the pledge rewards, was launched yesterday. I invite you to take a look at my Kickstarter page ( and what I'm planning to accomplish during the residency, and I hope you will take a look at the rewards I'm offering for pledges. If you like what you see and hear I hope you'll pledge at a level that appeals to you AND, please, tell your friends.

Your financial support could be critical to the success of this art adventure and will be most appreciated.


Next week -- sketching & painting updates from the garden.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cultivating a Better World

I enjoy raising my own fruits and veggies almost as much as I love making art; and when I can combine both activities the experience is truly sublime.  

a diagram makes it easier to inventory the plot's current layout and to 
visualize changes and/or additions

Shortly after we moved to Benbrook, TX, in June my kids and I decided to do a little exploring of our neighborhood. (Actually, we needed a break from the tedious chore of opening boxes.) We already knew our new house was just a short walk from Timber Creek Park but had no idea that the city had built a community garden in the park just last fall.

our plot and those of our neighbors (the fence is primarily to keep the deer out)

Well, a couple of quick emails and we were the proud resident-gardeners of our own plot. And, as luck would have it, we even "inherited" a thriving veggie patch (The previous tenants had to make a work-related move earlier in the summer.) with several healthy tomato plants, dwarf kale, 3 variety of sweet peppers, chives, a pea patch -- and a splash of color provided by marigolds around the raised border.

If I'd had a culpa tea before leaving home I might had got the 
measurements right too (3" & 1")

We put in a simple (but very effective) seep irrigation system, tied up a tomato plant that thought it was ground cover, pulled out some cucumber & squash vines that had succumbed to squash bugs, put in an egg plant and some strawberries (for my daughter), planted a couple rows of "Mammoth" sunflowers (for a painting or two this autumn and bird food this winter.) We've added Blue Daze to the border for my wife, a pair of bright red Pentas to attract the bees and butterflies, and two dozen marigold seedlings to fill out the cinder block "pots."

thanks to one of our resident master gardeners I've now learned 
just how easy it is to grow marigolds from seed

So, now I'm up at the garden every morning -- watering, removing the bad bugs (no chemicals means more work; but it also means a better knowledge of our garden... and organic veggies for the table.) and doing my best to attract the pollinators and other good bugs.

the Pentas have proven very attractive to pollinators 
(which then visit my tomatoes, peppers and peas) 

When the "work" is done -- I sit back, listen to the song birds, watch the carpenter bees, butterflies, cicada wasps, and hummingbirds make their rounds... and sketch. And, before heading home, I get to harvest whatever's ripe for dinner. (Ah, life is good!)

these "straw" mushrooms pop up in clusters 
and are gone within 24 hrs.


Next week I'll post an update my plans for the autumn residency in Zion National Park. And in upcoming weeks I'll be posting more news (and journal pages) from the gardens.