Dealing with Distractions

I’ve missed a few blog posts! Having set myself the goal of a blog per week, time has lapsed, and I have to get myself back on the beam.

Steppe Sunset, watercolor

I have been dealing with some major distractions–reading books, getting sucked down the rabbit hole that is the world news these days, buying seeds and plants for the coming season, etc. I realize that it’s time to double down on using my Google-Drive-made bi-weekly agenda sheets because they really help me stay on track.

Sunset Cottage, watercolor

Also, it’s important for me to continue following the 5 a.m. routine of exercise-journal/read-meditate. I’m about a month into this practice, and getting up early has definitely proven more productive for me.

BUT, now that the growing season is upon us, I do have to make time for pruning fruit trees and bushes, starting seeds, garden bed making, shoveling in compost, making fences and trellises, mulching, mowing, clearing, and planting more shrubs and trees. As it gets warmer, I’ll be dedicating my morning hours to outside tasks that, honestly, I wouldn’t give up for anything.

I’m going to give myself a little leeway because of all the outdoor things that need to be done. But as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I will not completely abandon painting like I did last year–I’m going to continue to do it every day. And that means better planning on my part.

β€œI never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”

Charles Dickens

A Few Works in Progress

I’m working on a capybara piece, sort of like my old fox piece, painting these giant rodents in different poses. It’s amazing how much you get to know something by taking the time to look and sketch. By the time I drew my last capys, I was churning them out without even looking at reference photos!

They are pretty fun to draw–and watch–I’ve taken my kids a few times to Cape May Zoo, and I always look forward to seeing them πŸ™‚

And here is something I’m working on inspired by the warm weather!

Making Good Habits Stick

I’m coming to the end of the first month in a very long time that I have sat down and painted every day. I was doing the same thing around the same time last year, only I bit off way more than I could chew in my gardening/landscaping endeavors. I made a giant enclosed garden, re-landscaped the front woodland garden, planted several hundred shrubs and trees, and managed to reap a load of veggies to put up in the pantry. But it didn’t leave time for much else.

This year, I plan to handle things a bit differently–I’m going to focus finishing the beds in the enclosed garden, maintaining what I’ve already planted, and growing fruit and veggies. That will leave me time for drawing and painting.

It all sounds well and good and easy, saying what I plan on doing. But actually DOING them is always a different story. And I get upset with myself for not following through–I’m sure most people know how this feels. I am tired of regretting what I DON’T do.

If you’re looking to cultivate good habits, improve on some aspect of your life, and be more productive/creative in general, I highly recommend reading Robin Sharma’s 5 A.M. Club. After two weeks, I am already seeing positive changes in my attitude, actions, and relationships. (That’s two weeks of getting up at 5 a.m., exercising for 20 minutes, journaling/meditating for 20 minutes, and reading/learning for 20 minutes.) To make this early morning routine a habit (to make ANY action a habit), the author writes that it’s important to commit to doing it for 66 days–you are basically rewiring your brain, and that takes some time.

In order to keep this creating habit going strong, I’m going to try Sharma’s 90/90/1 Method. I’m going to paint (I’ve decided to focus on watercolor–this is my “1” thing) for 90 minutes at the beginning of (almost) every day for 90 days. I’ve decided to modify it a bit and paint 5 times a week; if I decide to go for the whole week, kudos to me, but I need some recharge time.


So, instead of relying on motivation or inspiration, like I usually do, I’m going to bank on habit and self-discipline.

What do you do to create good habits??

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Small daily painting

If you go on social media, it’s filled with fantastic artists who seem to put out stellar pieces of art at a pace that gives me whiplash. It’s enough to paralyze me into a state of torpor. I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve developed this stop-and-go, short-frenzy-long-hush rhythm to my own art-making.

And I’m realizing it is a huge mistake. Not just because I’m letting outside concerns dictate what I do, but because appearances aren’t always that simple or clear-cut, especially online.

Sometimes, a post is a simple sketch or a quick painting. Other times, it’s a progress pic of a bigger, more detailed piece–there are usually several of these or even a video before a photo of the completed work. And you have pics from studios and inspiration and pets and family and food–life in general.

One thing these successful accounts have in common is that they post consistently–and I happen to think that this persistence is one of the most important factors in their success. Another is having goals that extend past the day, week, month, or even year. Many set long-term goals for themselves and what they want to accomplish creatively.

My primary concern is with making art, and I am not looking to go gangbusters on Instagram. But I am going to follow this program and post 3-5 times a week. Without falling down the myriad rabbit holes along the way πŸ™‚ I remember when I used to paint for the whole entire day and not think of anything else–I want to get back to that state of mind.

Energy and persistence conquer all things.

Ben Franklin

Agenda. On the back of this sheet is an identical template with a “Monthly Goals” section, too

I’m going to keep setting aside some time every day for drawing and painting, anywhere from 1-5 hours, and I’m going to keep working on the Rainforest Project. I have also worked up an agenda template in Google Drive and have been recording my monthly, weekly, and daily schedule. This is helping me a lot–I don’t always get everything on my checklists done, but I am much more productive when I have set tasks in front of me.

I’ve only been doing this about a month, so I’m still finding my flow. But I have discovered things that work for me, namely: breaking up work time into 1-2 hour chunks throughout the day, working on a detailed piece (that will probably take me over 15 hours) while simultaneously fitting in time to do smaller “quicker” pieces (1-4 hours), and changing up the medium periodically (watercolor, interspersed with pen and digital coloring).

Piano and puppy dog in the library/studio

It helps to think about other things I’ve made progress with, too. I started teaching myself the piano four years ago, practiced with a beginner’s manual for about a year, and then took two years off when I was teaching and just so busy. I picked it back up about 7 months ago and have learned Dustin O’Halloran’s Opus 23 and 36, some easy Bach songs, Yann Tiersen’s Comptine d’un Autre Ete, Satie’s Gymnopedies, and am about 2/3 the way through Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor. While learning them, I honestly didn’t believe I could play those songs–I never thought I’d be able to do it. But I tried anyway. I play literally everyday, sometimes only 15 minutes, but hey. Little by little, you get it DONE.

It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.


Anyone else have certain habits they follow to boost their productivity?

The Rainforest Project

The gods are mighty, but mightier still is the jungle.

Amazon Proverb

The Idea and Inspiration


I began this project a few years ago with an idea in mind to create a Loteria/Bingo game using images from the rainforest, something my kids would enjoy. Like Loteria, there would be a number of cards to be shuffled and drawn, while players would have a board with 16 images on it–each in different grid configurations of 4, across and down. I drew 9 or 10 images in small format–3″ x 5″–directly on drawing paper. My idea has transformed and crystallized a bit more since then.

I started off getting inspiration from books like Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata (probably one of my all time favorite books), Adrian’s book Nature of the Rainforest: Costa Rica and Beyond, The Cloud Forest by Peter Matthiesen, Jungles edited by Edward S. Ayensu, and some kids’ DK Eyewitness books on the jungle. I’ve accumulated quite a few books on the rainforest and comb through them, marking pages with tabs, jotting down good card ideas.

Sources of info and inspiration

Not all of the books deal with just nature through a biological lens. Some like YanomamΓΆ by Napoleon Chagnon and The Forest People by Colin Turnbull, explore the forest through the eyes of those who live there and describe their ways of living. Other books describe myth and legend in the rainforest (Tales from the Rain Forest by Mercedes Dorson and Jeanne Wilmot), and still others make account of explorers and naturalists and their journeys (too many to list).

I’ve also watched a lot of documentaries about rainforest habitats (most of them narrated by David Attenborough!), which have spawned a host of other project ideas πŸ™‚ And even some of my favorite movies–like The Mission and Fitzcarraldo–are films that heavily feature the rainforest. I especially like it in films when the wilderness isn’t just a setting but is so prevalent and evocative that it actually becomes a character, like in The Revenant.

Frequent visits to Longwood Gardens

Reading these books and mulling over the direction of the project, I realized that I had to be more focused with the content. I decided to limit the subject matter: the images I would create would depict life/people/history/other phenomena only in the tropical forests of South and Central America. That meant starting over, considering I’d already drawn a few organisms from the Old World Tropics.

Victoria amazonica, the Amazon water platter; a future card!

The Project: Rainforest Bingo

Finished “Piranhas” image
  • 60-65 cards, drawn in pen and ink, colored in Photoshop, named and numbered
  • one die (two faces with “1”, one face with “2”, one face with “3”, one face with “☠”, one face with “πŸ†”), to use optionally
  • tokens to put on the board tiles
  • player boards with 16 different card images each (need to be bigger to capture image details)
  • link to more downloadable player board pdfs
  • companion book, with pictures and descriptions of each image

One of the most difficult aspects of developing and managing the project has been settling on the number of cards there will be in the deck. And an offshoot problem of that has been selecting the subject of each card. There are SO MANY things to choose from! I’ve come up with a number of categories to narrow down choices and represent a more comprehensive picture of the place: flora, fauna, ecology, tribes and tribal practices, myths and legends, natural history (geography and earth science), people’s history, destruction and conservation, etc.

Creating the Cards

Like I mentioned before, I’ve gotten most of my ideas for the cards from books. When I’ve decided on a card image, the image name goes into a Google spreadsheet (it may remain there, or it may not; right now, I have more image ideas on the spreadsheet than I need). There, I keep track of the images I have sketched, drawn, and colored in Photoshop Elements.

Sketches for cards

When creating an image, I start with research–lots and lots and lots of research. Then, I sketch. Sometimes, a sketch comes together right off the bat. Other times only certain elements of a sketch are successful, so I end up with multiple sketches, each with some part that works. When this happens, I combine those successful elements in Photoshop and print out the final design.

Copying drawing on light pad

After I decide that a sketch is finished and ready to be worked up in ink, I take the original sketch or the Photoshop composite and tape it to a piece of bristol board (6″ x 9″). I then use a light pad that allows to me to see the line work of the sketch through the bristol and copy the lines with Copic Multiliner pens onto the bristol board. The sketch acts as a guide, and when I’m inking I change things and add much more detail.

Coloring in Photoshop Elements

Next, I scan the pen and ink art, upload to Photoshop Elements, and start coloring. I isolate the line work and remove all background so that the color in the layers-to-be-added will show through. Then, I lay down flats of color and continue adding layers using different brush tools and textures. The last steps involve highlighting and shadowing and other detail work.

I still need to figure out the size of the cards, the way they will be labelled and numbered, and I’m sure other issues will come up as I move forward.

As I get closer to completing all of the images, I’ll start researching stuff about product/game design.

If anyone has any tips, suggestions, or other comments, I’d be grateful to read them!

Thank you!

Frog Paintings

I have been getting in the habit of painting/drawing every day, and here are the fruits of my labor: quick paintings of Amazonian anurans πŸ™‚

Weekly frog paintings

All of these paintings are done with Dr. Ph. Martin’s radiant concentrated watercolors. I really like them because of the vibrant color you can achieve, although they do have their quirks and challenges as a medium.

For one, when adding layers, it is difficult to blend the upper layer into the ones already laid down unless using a paper towel or napkin. And you have to dab with care or you’ll remove the color, which is an interesting effect in itself. Layering on already-set-down color has a different effect with these watercolors, as compared to tube watercolors. But it’s kind of growing on me.

I’ve basically been doing wet-on-dry technique, with the demanding objective of creating different but cohesive values and contours. I’ve also been experimenting with adding dabs of water into washes of varying wetness and altering the concentration of washes–you can get some pretty crazy effects. Amazing texture and depth can happen when you change up the colors, too.

All in all, I would say these watercolors are great for graphic work, which they tout in the description of their product. I did a lot of fine line work using a tiny 3/0 round, and I really like the final result (like in the little army of tree frogs).

Anaconda painting with Dr. Ph. Martin watercolors

I’ll come back to frogs as a subject, but today I’m moving on to snakes! And just to note, the paints are acting differently on this paper (cold-pressed 140# Arches).

And sometime this week, I’ll be posting about my new Rainforest Project. I’ve been busy putting together the post–ideas and inspiration, outline of the actual project, creating the artwork for the project, future considerations and prototype, etc. and also photos and pics of artwork.

New Leaf Time

Glass Frog.

I’m in the process of making over this blog of mine and am debating whether or not to scrap the current theme or just keep it. I think I’ll just keep it, since it serves the purpose well enough.

I have a few new pieces of artwork to share in the meantime and hope to update at least once a week from now on.

Here is a sneak peak of the first 6 ink drawings in a new project of mine involving the Amazon Rainforest:

Amazon Rainforest Project.

I’ve also started a new Instagram account to keep me on track with my new theme: the Amazon Rainforest. So, if you’re on Instagram, take a second and check out some new work I put up!

I’ll explain more about the pen and ink project later, as it’s quite a big one–one that will take me probably a year to complete. I plan on interspersing these ink drawings with watercolor paintings of plants, animals, scenes, people, etc. that live in the Amazon. I will be posting progress pics, process info, and more in-depth posts here, on the blog.

I’ve got new systems of organization in place, and hopefully I have enough self-discipline to follow through with the tasks and agenda I’ve set for myself. Both of my kids are now in school, so I can dedicate at least 3-4 hours to pursuing art each day.

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays…I for one am eager to start a new year πŸ™‚

Springtime Planting

It’s been a while since my last art post! I’ve been working at the art desk, creating quick things like the Canna painting above, but I’ve been spending the majority of my time outside planting all of the trees, shrubs, bulbs, and perennials I’ve accumulated over the fall and winter. AND germinating a lot of vegetable, herb, and perennial flower seedlings πŸ™‚

But those are not the only things I’ve been growing…check out groovy Chia Bob Ross, here.

The girls and I have also been enjoying Spring and the warmer weather and taking in the sites around the forest. We found these underneath the willow tree:

β€œIn the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

― Margaret Atwood

Painting Like Crazy & Sprouting Seeds

Finished the “Mushroom Spirits” painting a while ago! I do like how it turned out, especially with the color palette I used. I’ve also learned to accept that I like working smaller when it comes to illustrations. I’m okay with that now, and I bought a few extra-small round brushes to hone in on details.

I’ve also been working a lot in the sketchbook with Dr. Ph Martin liquid watercolors. Painting plants, specifically chrysanthemums and a viburnum or two, and a few human figures. I really like the punker plant–a Dracaena species.

In between finishing illustrations and doodling in the sketchbook, I’ve been practicing painting from life. Norway spruce cone, red newt, and the ghost pipe plant– Monotropa uniflora— which is actually a parasitic flower I stumbled upon once at my parents’. It’s very white, actually has no chlorophyll because it’s non-photosynthetic, and found in the shade of beech trees. Its hosts are fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees; so, really, it gets its energy from photosynthetic trees.

I have also been sprouting seeds, getting ready for the spring garden–cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale for today, also cold-stratifying Nanking cherry and red currant seeds. It will be time for peppers later on this week!

Making Swatches and Creating My Own Watercolor Palette

My friend gave me a really awesome/generous/exciting gift this past Christmas: a set of 60 watercolors. I was overwhelmed at first–which ones to choose? Am I going to randomly squeeze out some paint on an already saturated and messy palette like I usually do?

Nope. I decided to do something different this time.

Switching things up is always scary, because you have no idea if the outcome will be successful or not. Lots of times, the output turns out to be a bust, but not a complete loss. Something usually is salvaged or learned and carried over to the next endeavor–trying something new has the potential to be a great source of inspiration. And it gets easier every time you do it. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

So, instead of the utter spontaneity I normally opt for when choosing colors, I started out by making some swatches of each new color. I was surprised that many of the pigments are opaque, which I don’t have a lot of experience with. But, I’m eager to try them out…

I notice that many people who regularly make swatches of their colors are a bit more ordered about it than I was. Similar colors are grouped together, maybe they follow the ROY G BIV thing, etc. Many people choose to be super-thorough and make a number of swatches of the same color in order to see how they respond to different painting techniques–for example, the wet on wet (diffusion) test and permanence test and staining test, etc.

I made swatches in batches of six, based on how they were grouped together in the packaging, and didn’t really pay any attention to arranging the colors beyond that. I’ll give my reasoning in a minute, but you can be as organized or as casual or as instinctive as you want πŸ™‚ Depends on what your goal is. What I wanted to find out was basic appearance of each color: transparency and granulation. I was most interested in what the color looked like on paper.

With each swatch, I started super-saturated at the top and diluted to very little color toward the bottom (a graded wash). After I made swatches of the 60 colors, I just looked and looked and looked. And looked again. Certain colors jump out at you for any number of reasons. An understanding of color theory does help when deciding on your palette. I ended up filling 20 half pans, so I chose a third of the collection!

I coded the colors with stars and circles to help me remember palettes I’d like to use in the future. I want to try out new and interesting color combinations for the pieces I’ve envisioned.

Also, notice how the colors are cracked and unevenly dried in the pans (above). When I added the paint to the pans, I shook them from side-to-side thoroughly, and it looked as if the pigments would dry in a flat layer. Alas, this did not happen. I’m not sure if it’s because of something I did or the paints themselves. Maybe a second addition–like a top-off–would help even the paint out in the pan. But all-in-all, I don’t really care personally.

And for me, the semi-random way in which I did the swatches was more in harmony with my individual approach and ultimately more helpful because I could see how disparate colors could potentially be paired or grouped for a desired effect.

Now it’s time to test out some of the pigments…I chose five to stick to for this painting: Vermillion Red, Wine Berry, Raw Umber, Pear Green, and Ultramarine. We’ll see how this one turns out…

Another Character Study

I finished another character painting, and it only took me a few hours. I’m going to experiment and put this time constraint into effect for future paintings. I have a few other scenes in mind for the Wanderer.

I also cleaned my art dest. Feels nice to actually be able to work on it πŸ™‚

I’ve still been working with pastels and charcoal, finishing up another fairy tale piece and working on a smaller one. I have a progress pic of the latest almost-finished one, and it looks like a big mess, as you can see. However, I’ve been working a lot like I usually do in watercolor: layer upon layer. Instead of paint, there are layers of tape and pastel color smudgings.

But when you take the tape off…voila! It’s also pretty satisfying to peel off the tape and see how the scene turned out underneath.

Other than art, I’ve been baking lots of bread, taking care of some sick kids, and planning spring gardens. I watched the documentary The Gardener and was very inspired. I basically have a blank slate on about 2 cleared acres and am jotting down all of my design ideas. On the remaining 2.5, there is a wetland forest, which is just beautiful…further on down the road, I think I will plant and plan in there as well.

Yesterday, mail check was especially exciting because we finally received our batch of veggie seeds! I’m trying to sort through all of my surplus seeds and use up most of the stock I have. But, I have a lot of seeds–the container below only consists of flower seeds, not vegetable, which fill TWO containers.

Happy Creating and Happy Gardening!