Back After a Break

I’ve taken a longer than liked break from my blog and will try very hard to avoid doing this again, with the possible exception of vacations. It kind of worked out since the last several commissions were gifts and what a way to spoil a surprise by seeing it in progress on Facebook or twitter.  I still have a couple of gift projects and will delay writing about those until after they are delivered.

The last couple of years I have been involved in a couple of networking groups. They have helped me become a better messenger for my work, been great supporters, clients, and good friends.  They have been a great audience for the pent up art history teacher in me, being willing recipients of snippets of fun and interesting facts about art and artists.  A few have commented it would be fun to visit a museum with me, but there is a significant difference between a brief talk and a few hours looking at artwork and absorbing facts and observations.  Overload is a definite possibility.  I would enjoy sharing but need to think about how to pull this off without overwhelming someone.

I digress from networking. Growth through input from other artists is really important.  There is nothing better than a candid critique or open discussion about problems, etc., with your peers.  To that end I have joined several of groups of artists.  The Fine Arts League of Cupertino* (FALC);  the Colored Pencil Society of America** (CPSA), and their local chapter.  I discovered FALC while touring the Silicon Valley Open Studios*** event and that led me to the CPSA and then to the local chapter.  So far the groups have been very welcoming and have offered interesting speakers, workshops, and a great avenue to shows and exhibitions.  I look forward to developing projects to submit to upcoming events.

Fred Final


In the interim, I wanted to share my most recent project “Fred”. Fred was the beloved companion of Heather.  After a long and happy life, Fred left this mortal veil and a heartbroken friend.  Heather has some really wonderful friends who wanted to ease her pain and commemorate Fred.  I wish I would have known Fred.  He looked like he was game for almost anything from the photos given to me.  The finished work was presented to Heather at Fred’s memorial, and I’m happy to say she was delighted and moved.  I’m closing this entry with Fred’s portrait.  I hope you enjoy it.

*Fine Arts League of Cupertino

**Colored Pencil Society of America

***Silicon Valley Open Studios

Starting Work on Cowboy and Tahoe

The last couple of days have been spent organizing the studio and going through the owners photos of the two cats that are the subject of my next project. Tahoe and Cowboy are kind of shy, so I’m depending on photos of them through the years taken by their “humans”.  I tried to get shots of them but didn’t have much luck.  On the up side, I have great shots of them dashing away.  I’m used to close ups to get a good take on fur texture, colors in the eyes, and fine details.  I’ll be depending on personal recall, generic cat references, and artistic license.



The cats are black and black and white, so my pallet will be limited. I do find that the Prismacolor Premier black is pretty soft and will wear down quickly.  The replacement order is in and should arrive early next week.  Even with blue and chestnut highlights, the black just does not last as long as most of the other colors.


I have worked out the poses and composition on drafting vellum and have started work on the actual piece. Most of the complex color is in the eyes and I have about six shades of yellow and green and reddish brown in play.  I’ll see how well this is working when I flip the film and start working on the reverse side.  Being able to work on both sides of the matte film makes the colors so much richer and vibrant and I love the results when I’m done.

Weekend Report – Busy!

Wow! The last few days have been crazy busy.  I spent a lot of time prepping for the K9 Cancer walk that took place yesterday.  Getting organized, having prints of new work made, reviewing marketing material, making sure all the equipment was in working order, etc.   Oh yes, and also travelling to a family wedding out of town (so much fun and such a happy event).  Good news is I am more organized than usual, and ready for the next series of events at a local winery.  More on that in a later blog.

The walk event went really well. They had at least 800 people participate.  Most of those brought their dogs, so you can imagine the crowd.  Love seeing the teams, especially those that were breed specific.  I think Team German Shepherd had to have at least twenty five dogs…an impressive site.  We met some wonderful dogs and their humans.  Heard some heartbreaking stories, but mostly everyone was having a good time.

A couple of days before the event it rained pretty heavily so there were quite a few patches of mud.   The dogs are as curious as their owners about what is on the vendor tables and to make sure they got a really good view of what we had it was paws on the table.  After a while we gave up trying to clean the muddy paw prints of the table coverings.  There’s nothing to do about that.  But, now we know to keep the note card inventory away from the front of the table.  No unauthorized autographs on the artwork.


I had help with sales this event. Special thanks to Kuma my spokes model and his “mom” Bibiana.  I drew Kuma late last year, and we displayed his portrait with Kuma patiently sitting next to it before the official walk started.  Kuma is a pretty mellow black lab and was really good about meeting folks and maybe made a few new friends too.  I think I owe him a bag of treats for his help with sales.  Here is my handsome helper.

I need to get back to my drawing table to attack the growing queue of commissions. A very productive April!

Grateful Gardeners and a Happy Bride

Today I had the happy task of delivering completed projects. The first delivery was to the school urban garden club.  The kids are between 11 and 13 in age, and they were wrapping up their weekly gardening responsibilities when I arrived.  Their garden is beautiful.  The kids really work hard at keeping it weeded, trimmed, and watered.  There is a lot to be said for all that young energy being focused on this type of project.  Certainly more productive than sitting on a sofa playing games or spending the afternoon mesmerized by texts, tweets and chats.

The kids were very gracious and introduced themselves to me as did the teachers and parents. It is always gratifying to have a project be appreciated, especially by a dozen or so people at the same time. When we unrolled the banner, there were lots of compliments, but what I loved was how they all wanted to touch it.  We took pictures of everyone with the banner.  I would love to share those but I need to get permission from the parents before I can post anything.

I had a chance to talk with some the teachers and kids to ask what they liked about the garden, being in the club, and the banner. Loved that the kids uniformly enjoyed being part of a club, learning how to garden, eating the fruit and vegetables, and letting their school mates know that it was a “real” club.  What did they like about the banner?  They liked that they would now have a really big sign that shows what they grow and how they feel about their garden.   They picked the quote for the banner:

“If our garden can be a peaceful place, then our school will be peaceful, then our community, then our city, then our country, then our continent…and then that peace will spread to the whole world.” -Unknown student


The club then presented me with a very nice plant and two cards, signed by all. The card I like best is hand made by one of the boys, and he took the time to explain how he decided on the artwork.  Very sweet!  So happy campers, or more appropriately, happy gardeners looking forward to hanging the banner in their beautiful garden.

When I arrived home I received a text from my soon to be niece-in-law that she had received the wedding invitations I created the artwork for, and she is really happy with them. The couple was great to work with, had many ideas, and then let me run with it.  I’m so pleased I was able to add to their special day, and it was a great way to wrap up the day.

Prepping for the K9 Cancer Walk

The first event of the season is this Sunday. It’s time to drag out all the supplies and check they are in good condition.  I have learned to keep a notebook to jot down ideas to make doing the event easier and more productive, not to mention easier to store equipment.  What have my husband and I learned?  The first event, we carried everything separately from the parking area to the vendor area.  It was tiresome work and had to done again at the end of a day of being on our feet for six plus hours.  While there, we saw other vendors with nifty fold up canvas carts with tires like a truck.  Genius!  We can move our equipment in just a couple of trips, not including the pop up tent.  Other additions have been stackable storage containers that fit the wagon, the notebook for ideas, and pet odor eliminator since dogs want to mark everything.

We have developed some great marketing ideas as well. Raffia tied around sets of note cards sell much better than individual note cards.  Setting up a table in the center of our booth brings people into the shade and creates more conversation…a little like a gallery.  Of course offering a show only discount or holding a raffle for artwork, is a great magnet for potential clients.  This event is dog oriented, but even so, I find that displaying samples of all of my work creates interest and conversation.

Certainly an excellent strategy is to showcase portraits of especially big personality dogs. These are fun to talk about working with the animal and their human and potential clients can relate and are more inclined to ask questions about what it takes, on their part, to have a portrait done.


Here is one of my most popular “models” Happy. He surely is and he has helped sell a number of commissions. Back to organizing the event and running related errands. Hopefully I will get a couple of commissions this weekend.

Giving Back – Musings on Our Animal Family Members

I have had cats in my life most of my life. Only a few were picked out of a litter and had me as part of their forever family.  The rest came to me, and my husband, as a second home, or, in some cases, as a last chance alternative to the pound.  Each was unique and had their distinctive personality and brought love and companionship to my family and me.  Each is missed.  Where else would we get the perfect cocktail party story if it weren’t for them?


Here is to Claude, Djinn, Tonic, Slim, Gordo, Belle, Sarah, Punt, Chessie, and Raider (aka Bubba). Of all the cats I have had in my life, some have left us too soon and others lived a good, long life.  They have had various maladies, but I had never lost one of my guys to cancer, until Raider.  It was a tough journey for all concerned and I would not wish it on anyone.  Raider’s Vet and his staff were wonderful, supportive, and gratefully honest and pragmatic.  I know some choose chemo, but by the time it was diagnosed, combined with his age, it seemed the least kind option.  Sadly cats hide illness and pain very well, so it is often too late to do anything other than make them comfortable and make sure they have the best quality of life for the time they have left.

When the time came, it was not during regular hours so I brought Raider to a 24/7 Vet that had recently opened close by. All I can say is these were some of the kindest people I have encountered, ever.  They made an intolerable situation bearable and were loving and gentle with Raider.  I will be forever grateful.

Why am revisiting this? I attend at least three events each year where I set up a booth and try, like many artists, to get commissions and expose my work to as many people as possible.  One of the events is sponsored by  .  The Morris Animal Foundation sponsors research to cure cancer in animals, domestic and wild.  They are a good organization.  I am happy to know my booth fees are going to a good cause and I encourage everyone to look for a local event in which to participate.  One day hopefully no one will lose their cat, dog, or other beloved pet, to anything other than old age.

Tales from the Frame Shop – Cut Your Own Matts

One of the ways I paid for college was as a custom framer. In my first year I landed a seasonal job as a portrait artist at a northern California amusement park.  My life drawing professor encouraged me to try for this type of job because it would be good training.  He was right on that count.  But I still had to earn money during the months when the park was closed.

One day while I was running errands, I noticed a custom frame shop had opened in the neighborhood. I went in to check it out.  The owners were very nice and friendly so I proposed they let me set up my easel in their storefront to try and attract foot traffic and commissions.  If someone had a portrait done, it was logical they would want to have it framed, so a win win.   It went well and we both profited.  When they became really busy prior to the holidays, they asked if I could help out when I had time.  That’s where I learned the basics about framing.

From there, a friend of a friend hired me as a framer for his shop. It was a great place to learn the craft.  It didn’t hurt it was in a fairly well to do area, so the art was generally very nice and the choice of materials was wide ranging.  One of the skills I learned there is cutting matts by hand.  Not with one of the matt cutters on a rail, but a hand held model (I have been using the same Dexter cutter I got in college).   All you need is a large, flat and clean working surface; a long heavy duty metal straight edge; an 18 inch metal ruler and a small 5 inch ruler; a heavy duty spring clamp, a utility knife, a hand held matt cutter,  and a hard, sharp pencil.  Oh yes, a steady hand and patience help too.


The actual cutting part just takes practice to master. It took an afternoon to get comfortable and gain confidence.  I wasn’t fast, but in a couple of weeks, I was much faster and at ease cutting double and triple matts, and then matts with multiple openings. I’ve tried using the “bullet proof” track cutters, but it’s too easy to make mistakes and waste matt board.  The blades flex too much causing curving at the corners and wavy cuts, and there is a tendency to over cut the corners.  I see it all the time in galleries.

A well cut matt can really dress up a simple, good quality pre-made frame and save a lot of money. As an example, I recently compared the price of a custom frame job to my cost including time and labor.  The frame shop was moderate, catering to mid-range clientele.  I selected very similar frames and identical matting, glass, etc.  My cost was one fifth of the shop quote, savings worth doing it myself.  I am delighted to offer my clients their commission framed.  This way I know it is ready to display and I have saved them a fair amount of money.  Everyone is happy.

Periodically I’ll share “Tales from the Frame Shop”. Some are humorous, some are humorous in a weird way and some are just plain astonishing.

It’s the Friday of a Long Week

The last couple of days have not been too productive as far as getting a good start on my next project. Thursday was happily given over to opening day of baseball and all that entails.  It was fun and we got to catch up with folks we only see during the season.  The up side was, with time to kill, I had a chance to go through my reference photo catalogue and pick some subjects to work on between commissions.  This is one of my favorites.  I saw this during a morning walk in the neighborhood.  It is some variety of a Chinese lantern flower.  I’ll have to do a little more research to find out specifically which variety.

lantern flower

Today was spent with the graphic designer at the printer finalizing final proofs for the wedding invitation. Had some glitches with the scans of the artwork that had to be worked out.  Thankfully the designer is a dream to work with.  We both are detail oriented and a little obsessive, so when I pick things out, or ask for certain details that a lot of her clients don’t (see or ask for), she doesn’t get ticked off.

Hopefully Monday I will be able to start Tahoe’s and Cowboy’s portrait so I’ll have a draft to share in my next update.

WIP on Maurice

Maurice’s portrait is done! Work progressed quickly without many distractions the last couple of days.  I’m happy with the final result and hope his human companion will be as well.  I will be interested in knowing if they share it with Maurice’s therapy clients and hearing if they enjoy it.  I know he is a great addition to my portfolio.

He is a furry little guy with a combination of short and longer fur. It made for some fine detailing work especially because of the numerous colors in his coat.  It was a good exercise of using a light hand and blending with pencil strokes.  I also used wax paper and sometimes an eraser, to remove some color for highlights and to get more depth in some areas.   Love the wax paper but it is not great if the pencil is more than a couple of layers.


Next up are a Tahoe and Cowboy, a friend’s two cats as a birthday gift for his girlfriend. It’s a nice change as I seem to mostly get commissions for dog portraits, and even though I love dogs, I have always had cats.  I get my dog fixes working with my clients and going to dog oriented events.  Speaking of that, I will have a booth at an upcoming event sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation.  The event is a walk to raise funds for cancer research for dogs.  It’s a good cause and you might want to look for one of their events near you.

WIP on Maurice

Maurice’s portrait is coming along nicely. His coat is surprisingly varied in color, but the differences are subtle.  I’m glad I have a couple dozen reference photos of him so I can separate shadows from coat color, especially around his muzzle.  I am always drawn to light colored fur because of the blues, yellows and soft pinks that come into play. In this case, not only does his coat have very light coloring, it also has golds and a rich spectrum of browns.


I really enjoy working with a subject that has so much personality without having to be told too much about him by his owner. While every animal has their own personality traits, many are way more obvious to their human companion that to those of us who do not know them well.   In Maurice’s case, he just oozes character, making my job easier and way more fun.

I have spent a fair amount of time on his ears today. The coloring is very soft and the changes subtle, calling for a very delicate touch with the pencils.  Blending is working well, but I have found that certain colors can leave pills of residue.  Cleaning them up is tedious, but I have not found a way to avoid this happening.  A photo of the progress as of today included.