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And We’re Back!

June 14, 2018

Me and gouache, that is.  The little children’s picture book is done for now. I uploaded it to the publisher and now we’re waiting for a review copy. If it looks good, then we’ll set up for publication. We should have it in about a week.

Meanwhile, I pulled out some paint tubes and a Canson Mixed Media sketchbook and got reacquainted with gouache.

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Smithy, 5×7, gouache


“Smithy” was the first thing I worked on yesterday. It’s a real departure from my typical subject matter, but hey, why not start with a challenge, right? There are a number of issues with this little piece.  The drawing is off in places and some of the edges need to be softened, but the idea was to sort out which brushes to use and getting the paint consistency where I wanted it. I liked this scene from Old Bedford Village in Bedford, PA and have wanted to attempt it for several years.  Now that I’ve done it once, I may do it again, work a bit on the composition and take a little more time with it.

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Little Barn, 5×7, gouache

“Little Barn” was today’s effort and I felt better about what I was doing.  I should note that instead of working on cold press illustration board, I am working in a Canson Mixed Media sketchbook (the blue spiral one).   Thus, the surface is a bit different from what I’m used to.  But I decided it had been so long since I painted with gouache that it wouldn’t matter what the surface was, and besides, not knowing how this was going to go, I chose to use an inexpensive sketchbook rather than buy illustration board.  I think it was a good choice.  Once I started getting the consistency I wanted, the paper took the gouache beautifully.  I won’t varnish these. I think they will work better matted under glass when and if that time comes.

I discovered a Facebook group called Gouache Sketchers that some of you might be interested in. It appears that many/most of the members are plein air gouache users, but they’ve accepted my studio work, so I don’t think it matters. There are some folks in the group who are doing some beautiful gouache work.

I’m working at the dining table rather than one of the easels, so I’m not putting undue stress on my shoulder and elbow. I started out painting that way, so it’s not a big deal.  The shoulder/arm is improving as long as I do the exercises the physical therapist gave me.  I’m not the most conscientious about that, so while I’m thinking about it, I suppose I should go do them before starting another gouache piece.




A Note to My Gouache Friends

June 7, 2018

I know that gouache is the main reason most of you come to this blog.  The statistics show me that. This isn’t an apology because every day I’m doing what I love to do. But it is a recognition of what most of you expect.  I’m very close to finishing the work on The Book Of Sherwin.  I do anticipate starting some preliminary work on another picture book, but I won’t feel the need to push everything else to the back burner.  I started the work on Sherwin a couple of years ago, and it has taken so many different turns that work simply stopped at times. It has languished off and on over that time and I finally felt the need to meet the commitment I made to myself to do this book.  It’s almost there.

sherwin at the y

Doing these illustrations has truly been a labor of love, but once it’s finished and ready for publication, I want to get back to doing some work in gouache.  Of course I will still move back and forth among all my interests because that’s just simply what I do, but I’ve gone too long without moving some gouache around.

I have some thoughts as to what I want to work on, but ‘ll start small because I’ve got to get my touch back.  I’ll get there.

Bear with me.

Fun, yes. Easy? No.

May 25, 2018

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I’ve discovered what many artist/writers already know: creating your own illustrated storybook is definitely not easy.  Among other things, there is the insecurity of wondering if the work is good enough, and the doubt as to whether anyone will buy the book when it’s finished.  Combine that with creating characters and their environment while writing interesting text and you’ve got quite a job going.   I’ve come to the conclusion that, like most artistic endeavors, a project like this has to be, first and foremost, a labor of love, a hackneyed phrase to be sure, but nonetheless true.  Like playing jazz or the blues… or reciting poetry out loud… or working on a hot rod.  First, you have to simply love the doing of it.

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And, like all of those other endeavors, you have to be prepared to reject and re-do. You have to be brutal in deciding what works and what doesn’t, what stays and what goes.  For example, the image above was the second attempt to illustrate a part of the story that has been developing for Sherwin The Snail for well over two years.  This morning, as part of the paring down process, the farm image was edited out of the book. The book had too many pages for an illustrated children’s book, and the farm was weak visually compared to the other images.

Sherwin was born as a sort of spot cartoon from a character that first showed up in another book (which got set aside as Sherwin moved to the front).  The snail had personality from the start, but was always portrayed in one-shot sketches. When the idea for a book began to grow, there were two directions to go: first was a collection of these one-off spot cartoons; and second, as an actual story with a beginning, middle and end.  The humor of the first would have been aimed at adults and the story in the second would be aimed at children.  I’ve opted for the children’s book.  I like the idea of people buying it for their children and grandchildren.

Even as I continue to edit out images and text, the story begs for new illustrations that portray things better and text that (hopefully) makes the story more meaningful.  I’ve finally settled on some format and composition things, so it’s getting closer.

I can’t honestly say this is hard work, but it isn’t easy, either. The artwork emerges from my mind and makes its way onto the page easily enough.  I’ve created a lot of storybook and whimsical art over the years, much of it set in a forest and all from my imagination.  And with two and a half unpublished novels on the shelf, writing has always been an enjoyable pursuit.  But combining the two into a coherent package that flows and holds a reader’s attention while meeting certain criteria is a challenge.  It will be self-published, but it still needs to stay within a few industry guidelines.  Making it all up is one thing.  Making it work is another.

I think I’m in the home stretch.  I just don’t know yet how far it is to the finish line.


May 15, 2018

When life hands you lemons…

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The weather allowed me to sit outside a couple of mornings this past week while I spent time on some of the Sherwin artwork. Nell went walking around the park and went past a couple of times. She said it was obvious that I was deep in concentration and I was unconsciously gesturing slightly with my left hand, a sort of “this way or that way?” kind of thing. I think her point was that I was immersed in something I love.

I have always been impressed by artists who are storytellers. N.C. Wyeth illustrated written stories and Howard Terpning illustrated moments in Native American life, just to name a couple.  There are, of course, the storybook artists but interestingly enough, I’ve never spent much time studying them, so people like Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit} and  Ernest Howard Shepard (Winnie the Pooh) are, in a way, new to me. I haven’t studied them because I had no thought of being that kind of storyteller. Yet here I am, doing work that is completely foreign to the landscape paintings I’ve spent the last ten years trying to do.

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Mrs. McLady’s House, 10 x 12, ink & watercolor

Mrs. McLady’s House isn’t quite finished, but it combines so many things I love:  humor, whimsy, color, a structure, landscape… and the sheer enjoyment of just drawing things, all for the purpose of telling a story.

After several weeks of physical therapy for my shoulder problems there has been some improvement, but I can tell I’m still not ready to paint at an easel.  And that’s okay, because I am thoroughly enjoying this storybook work.  This is my lemonade.

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And the possibilities are endless.

But First….

May 9, 2018

Before I pull the gouache tubes out there is some unfinished business that needs to be dealt with. The Sherwin book has been sitting on the shelf for quite a while.  Although I seem to be constantly changing my focus, not being able to do any easel painting changes the game, creating a void that brings about an unintentional refocusing. Over the last few days, I have been re-reading my rough drafts and reviewing the illustrations of our little friend’s adventure. I have also got two 10′ x 10′ illustrations started and nearing finish.

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“After dark, Sherwin awoke to the sounds of grunts and rustling of grass. Knowing that armadillos eat grubs, worms and yes… even snails, he moved quietly further back under the rocks.”

While all of the illustrations for this story are currently pen & ink and watercolor, Sherwin and the Armadillo incorporates gouache. The original ink drawing had some heavy-handed black outlining the armadillo and gave the appearance of it being in some kind of cave or burrow. That wasn’t the intention.  The armadillo is supposed to be moving through the grass. I simply got caught up in the trap of “if a little bit is good, then a lot is better”. It showed up dramatically when the watercolor went on and nearly destroyed the drawing.

I was faced with the choice of trying to repair the artwork or completely redraw it.  It has been my experience that there is a 50/50 chance of the piece being as good as the original. Because I start my illustrations directly onto the paper in pencil and take a pretty casual approach to inking, I’ve found that often there is a loss of spontaneity and freedom when one is redrawn. So I chose to try to repair this one. Chinese white and watercolor didn’t quite get the job done in trying to pull the grasses out of the black, so I used gouache to repaint that area and then retouched the ink work. It’s almost there and I think I’ve saved this illustration.

sherwin and squirrel. progress

“You can’t see the world from down here. You need to climb up to the tops of the trees to see the world!”

Sherwin’s encounter with the squirrel is ink and watercolor. While the trees in these illustrations are usually twisted and gnarly I wanted to put some emphasis on their height in keeping with the conversation.


The Tools

The ink work in these illustrations consists of Micron pens (#1 and 5) for the fine work and Sharpies for the bold line touch-ups.  If you’ve been following for very long, you know we live in an RV and my studio is a corner in the living area. The whole process has to be contained in a small area. I use a small Windsor & Newton watercolor palette and replace the colors from tubes when necessary. Idea sketches are done in one of my favorite sketchbooks, the Canson Mixed Media 5.5″ x 8.5′ with 98 lb paper that takes any medium, wet or dry.  The final work is usually done on Strathmore 140 lb Watercolor paper in the 11″ x 15″ size. The paper takes my fine Micron ink work well. The Sharpies are a little different. The hold so much ink and the tip is so fibrous that I can only touch the paper surface for an instant or it will bleed.  I still use them because I like the look they give to my ink drawings.

There is more Sherwin to be done and I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.


April 30, 2018

No, not those kind of joints. I’m talking about the kind with bones and muscles and tendons. I have been seeing a physical therapist a couple of times a week, and this morning the physical therapist told me to put the brushes away for a while. After a couple of hours yesterday, my right shoulder, bicep and elbow became increasingly painful, to the point that I had to stop painting. My doctor, the xrays and the PT all indicate it’s not the rotator cuff but the muscles and joints from the back and shoulder down to the elbow that are causing the trouble. The PT’s exercises make it better, but the movement of easel painting makes it worse (different motions). So… I’ve put the large canvases and the easels away and will go back to table top work. Maybe some small gouaches or pen & ink and watercolor work. We’ll see what happens with the smaller arm and wrist motion. The physical therapist advised that, even with that, I should stop every 50 minutes to an hour and take at least a 5 minute break. That’s not easy to do when you’re focused, in the zone and enjoying the process.

I may try painting left handed again, but I found that there’s a subconscious switch that takes place, the brush somehow finds its way back into the right hand and I’m painting normally again without even thinking about it. So the easel painting may just have to go on hold for a while. I’ll pull out the gouache and illustration board and see how the arm does with that at smaller sizes. Looks like more meandering is called for.

I need a gouache refresher anyway.



I Am A Meanderthal.

April 25, 2018

mēˈandərTHôl: noun. One who meanders  See also wanderer

Yep. I am a meanderthal. And since my last post I have continued to meander through my own little world of art. (My last post, Ramblings, gives a greater explanation.)

In that time, I’ve started several acrylic paintings, done some pencil sketches and a watercolor, and added a nice little ink and watercolor sketch. We delivered that 24×30 acrylic Texas landscape to the Mason Gallery and froze on a cold, windy Saturday on the square in Mason, Texas. And… I’ve been going through physical therapy for some shoulder and elbow pain in my right (painting & drawing) arm.


It was a cold, windy day in Mason, Texas and the sidewalks were empty. The good news was that we got to try out our greatly downsized booth and we like it. Setup and teardown were about 15 minutes tops.

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Facebook artist friends suggested I try painting left-handed to alleviate the shoulder and elbow pain in my right arm.  It went a little better than I expected. I’ve let this one sit for a while at this point and now I think I’ll make some major composition changes and try some more left hand work.

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The painting above is an 8×10 acrylic plein air piece on canvas panel. I’ve attempted to paint these trees in our back yard several times and I think this is the closest I’ve come so far. I’m a slow plein air painter and the light changed drastically on me the first day. I went back out the next day at the same time and “finished” it.

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Sometimes it’s fun to just make stuff up. The little painting above is a 9×12 acrylic on canvas panel. It’s a total invention, falling into the category “Places In My Mind”. It’s inspired by images of the Texas Hill Country in early April, when the bluebonnets are blooming. So you see…. you CAN make this stuff up.

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“Truck and Tractors”… this 11×14 acrylic on stretched canvas was based on a 60 mph photo taken on a drive down to Kerrville, Texas. Of all the photos I shot of the Texas Hill Country, I had to choose this old vehicles and tractors. It was fun to do and nice to discover that I could actually paint something like this.

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“Craftsman At Work”… this little 5×7 watercolor grew out of some sketches I did of workmen doing some “sprucing up” work at the RV park where we live.

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“Working Man”… 20 x 16 Acrylic  I haven’t done a portrait study in a while and thought I’d take a shot at this one. It’s based on a photo shot by urban explorer William Moore. William’s street photography is amazing and he’s also a very talented artist with an interesting viewpoint.

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My attempts at painting cows continue. While I can draw them with a pencil, I find the translation into paint isn’t easy for me. This one wouldn’t be bad if only the head didn’t look like a pinata.

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And the painting above, working title “River of Gold”, is the latest acrylic in progress. It’s 16×20 on stretched canvas. I’ve made some new gallery contacts, but I don’t have enough inventory of the right genre and medium to show them yet. Thus, my Texas landscape work continues. And besides… I love painting these river scenes.

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And of course there is my personal favorite, ink & watercolor sketching. I  believe I gain as much pleasure from these little 5×7 drawings as the larger paintings. This was done recently while sitting on our patio.

I guess the point of this post was that while I didn’t have a lot to say, I did have a lot to show. Just keeping everyone up to date. Now, go pick up a brush or a pencil and get to work!