acrylics with Pouring Medium, black gesso, collage, dip pen and ink on w/c paper 10 X 11″

He thinks I’m weird!? (I’d have to agree.)  We both are.  He is made of the same elements as I, the same energetic flow, the same fire of Pitta, the same molten temper. . . why, even the same white hair!  His power is from the same source as mine.  

Perhaps we should join forces.

I don’t actually think of myself as someone who is drawn to the grotesquely creepy and I stay away from much of television drama which is!  But occasionally the grotesque comes flowing off my brush and there’s nothing to do but embrace it. I was demonstrating acrylic flow medium and pouring acrylics onto the page.  Some of my mixtures were apparently a bit old and they started to interact in diabolical ways. Minutes later they were still moving, like some kind of creepy Zombie army.

Fast forward to the next week when the lesson was “Black Gesso”, that fully opaque and velvety matte acrylic paint, which not only serves as a wonderful ground to begin a painting on, but also is useful in rescuing a failed one.

So with a brush loaded with black gesso I attempted to rescue my demon.  After all, we all need to embrace our shadow sides, or so say not only the therapists but even my Buddhist teacher!

Meanwhile my class did far more beautiful creations with their gesso, poured acrylics and collage, which I’m happy to share here.


Potrero Hill


fountain pen and brush pen and watercolor in Strathmore mixed media sketchbook, 8 X 10″ spread

It was sizzling hot at Camp Winnarainbow in Laytonville, 2 hours north of my home in Sebastopol (northern California).  The day after I got home Bob and I went to San Francisco for the day.  As you can see in the picture, it was cold and windy, at least 50 degrees cooler than at Camp.  I dropped Bob off for a workshop at the S.F. Center for the Book and had the day to wander and sketch.  Potrero Hill was a brand new area for me to explore, so I set off with a map, not realizing that every two blocks or so I would ascend and then descend another hill.

I found these gentlemen, possibly homeless, in a small park bundled up against the cold wind and sound asleep.  Rather than turn and head on, I sat down nearby to sketch the scene and contemplate their lives. . .with compassion. I have slept in parks in the daytime, clutching my purse to my breast.  I have slept curled up on seats in airports with my legs wound around my luggage.  It was a nice neighborhood.  They would be safe there.

potrerohill2Sitting outside a popular restaurant on a narrow retaining wall, I had an unobstructed view of a different kind of crowd in this gentrified neighborhood.  The challenge was to tell the story in a short period of time, leaving out 10 times more details than I put in.  The dog was my favorite part.  Luckily the wait for a table was rather long, so I had some good models!

potrerohill3Here I actually had a bench in the sun which was so welcome as the wind was still blowing off the sea.  Once again so much detail to choose from, so I just started and worked my way around.  Something I’m learning about urban sketching in S.F. is that most of the streets go abruptly up or down, like the sidewalk in this scene which disappears.  I need more practice with the visual cues to quickly describe the scene.

When I’d finished the sketch I stopped in at the Open House in the residence next to where I was sitting, curious about what one could buy in S.F. for $1,150,000.   A great view in a trendy neighborhood and a place to park your car off the street.  Highly desirable in a city like S.F.  Otherwise a tiny 2 bedroom, 1 bath flat.

If you like adding watercolor to your drawings, I wouldn’t buy the Strathmore mixed media sketchbook.  I like the 5.5 X 8″ size which gives you the choice to draw across the gutter if you need more space, but the paper is not sized like w/c paper so it’s harder to do washes of color.  So once again I’ll be looking for the perfect sketchbook!


Butterfly Lady


Citrasolved papers (using a stencil), fluid acrylics, inks with dip pen on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Butterfly lady lost a wing, setting in motion unexpected changes. Her eggs got replaced by moons, and the children who had been orbiting around her began to float off in new directions.

She is not dismayed. One wing is more than enough for a while.  She waits patiently and watchfully for a new wing to appear, or perhaps the old one will fly back to her.

I got this idea for Citrasolv collage technique from another artist’s blog victoryroad.com.  She spells out the process clearly on her blog so I won’t repeat it here.  Previously I’d always dissolved the National Geographic inks with Citrasolv and then used the pages for collage.  In this method you can collage the Natl Geo pages on first, then apply the Citrasolv and even wipe away the inks using a stencil.  Easy and fun!


This was my first one.  The inks didn’t dissolve except where I used the stencil.  Another interested effect.


Camp Winnarainbow 2015


fountain pen and watercolor in Strathmore mixed media sketchbook, 5.5 X 8in

Camp Winnarainbow.  Fun to be a kid at camp again, sleep in a teepee, do arts and crafts and dance class and Zen clowning, and swim in the lake when it gets too hot and wear costumes, oh, and sketch!


Wavy Gravy still at it!  Officiating at a game of Beach Blanket Bingo by Lake Veronica.


Hearty delicious meals under the trees with Wavy reading poetry in the morning and “cabaret” performances in the evening.


Back at home I had more time to sketch, from my pictures, some of my favorite camp personalities, like Mr. YooWho. . .


Hiroko, the Butoh teacher.


J. J. Crashbang


Juan Too Many

Other art projects at camp. . .felted dreadlocks and rainbow tie dye t-shirts.  Now that I’m home again, I’ve shed some of my hippy dippiness, but in my heart of hearts. . .


Flapping in the Wind


acrylic, ink, collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Sometimes you need to flap in the wind, feel the ocean motion, or just notice the slow movement of sunset and sunrise and the moon’s phases. 

All this is a necessary counterpoint to rock solidity and the stuckness that keeps you laboring year after year in silly blind repetition, following rules that have stopped serving.

Let that wind blow them away, and watch as a new breeze deposits the next stepping stone right at your feet.

I had loaded a brayer with copper paint and then black and then gesso to make an underpainting and paint some collage papers.  It takes a lot of paint if you’re going to roll it on.  But I’d squeezed out a lot more than I needed.  So I wet a clean sheet of watercolor paper and pressed it onto the juicy palette.  That was the beginning.  It sat in a stack of “beginnings” for a couple weeks, then inspired another approach.


Healdsburg Jazz Festival


Fountain pen, brush pen, watercolor in Strathmore mixed media sketchbook, 8 X 5.5″

Free outdoor concerts are always a highlight of the summer.  Every town in Sonoma county has them, and Healdsburg starts off the season with their week-long Jazz Festival.  The people watching possibilities in the free venue in the plaza are stellar!  People start staking out their territory with chairs and such hours before the performance and then bring dinner and drinks to enjoy before and during the performance.


Ritmos Unidos was heating up the plaza that night with their Latin Jazz beats. I had to sketch this from a picture since there were dancers blocking the view of the musicians.

jazzplaza3This old guy hardly moved more than an inch on the dance “floor”, but it was clear that he was totally intoxicated with the music (at least). This is my favorite sketch, done standing about 3 feet from him (painted later)


The sketch on the left was done on site.  I was so intrigued with this guy’s outfit.

The one on the right was done from pictures I took.  And yes, that is a live snake, which was brought onto the dance “floor”.  I suppose snakes can groove to Latin Jazz too?


Another night we heard the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet at the Shed with Jackie Ryan (on percussion).

I’m working on building my skill with hands in movement, not an easy task, especially when you are spellbound with the fluidity of hands on drums.

jazzshed2This was a study in tracking the form of an instrument I’ve never drawn before, not even really understanding how the hands move it.  Now I’d love to do more trombone playing sketches, and preferably with good light and from many angles, which are not available when you’re watching a performance from the sixth row and with heads in front of you.

There is something about sketching while listening to live performance. . . the passion in the music takes over the pen and channels through it onto the paper.  Maybe not as exciting as actually performing music, but certainly a real high.  And by the way, this was another extraordinary group!


The Sweetest Cat in the World


acrylic paint and fabric collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

About 13 years ago this little yellow cat appeared in the bushes in front of our house and meowed incessantly for days until we finally let him join our other cat as a (reluctant to us) family member.  He had that piercing Siamese kind of meow, which makes you want to do anything to shut it up.  Food always worked, and later it was petting that worked.  And after a few years, he had us trained well enough that he only had to ask once, and we knew what to give him. My boys named him Phil after some poker champion (go figure) and I had no say in the matter.

Fast forward a few years.  I’m not sure when it happened that Phil learned a technique for getting any passer-by to pet him.  He flops down in front of you while you’re walking, so that you have to do a quick little dance step to avoid stepping on him.  His soft exposed belly and audible purr is enough to get the message across, and most people find it impossible not to scratch an ear or rub that belly.  That’s my favorite part.  He’s my buddy whenever I’m outside gardening, or sitting eating my lunch or doing my Chi Gong under the trees or sketching.

The hallway of our home exhibits some of my paintings of previous pets – Alexander the cat and the bunny whose name I’ve forgotten.  I wanted Phil there too. So when I introduced a new mixed media lesson in the Muse group on fabric collage, I decided to try doing Phil’s portrait.

This pose is a typical daytime one.  He loves to sun himself in the dirt in the garden and look up at us langorously as we pass.  I took a picture and did a line drawing of the pose on the paper.  On a trip to the fabric store I picked up swatches of fabrics I thought would be fun to use.  The rest is probably obvious.  I cut strips of the cloth, piecing them to fit the drawing and then added paint to complete the picture.  I imitated the style of one of my favorite mixed media artists Mark English.


golden brown ink, dip pen, watercolor in watercolor sketchbook, 8 X 5″

Another one of Phil’s typical poses.  He likes to sit under that table between our chairs outside watching me while I eat, and then falling asleep. Look at that face.  Like I said, the sweetest cat in the world.

In conversations with the Muse I mix paint with vision, collage with story, word with meditation and prayer. And out of the mixture comes a release of energy and healing and a lightening of the load of everyday living. You'll find most of it here, where I've been showing up for the past few years, along with collectible paintings, travel sketchbooks, figure studies and an invitation to join me in art play and discovery!

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By Susan Cornelis


All images and text are the original copyrighted work of Susan Cornelis unless otherwise attributed.


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