Art Journals

Annas and Mourning Cloaks

We’re finally getting some rain today, intermittent with the sun breaking through clouds. Nature has been so bountiful this week with brief hailstorms, the blooming of those miraculous orchid-like Pipevine flowers which look like Dutchmen’s pipes.

And there was the morning I was standing in our front walkway talking on my cellphone while scanning the garden and my eyes fell on this jewel.


Regrettably no, this little Annas Hummingbird was not just tame or friendly, but rather quite dead, newly so, and with no sign of external damage and no cats around to blame. And so brightly festooned in neon iridescence that I was quite awestruck. He may have been the one buzzing around my head in an urgent greeting some mornings. There was nothing to do but say a prayer for him and. . .


. . .to immortalize him in sketches! I have been watching these beautiful creatures for years and wondering how to paint that color, which changes into a multitude of pinks and reds and purples and russets and even blacks with each turn of the head. The dot you see on the top of the page is one of those head feathers that came off. I glued it onto the paper, and when you turn the paper in the light, all those colors manifest!

The next day on an afternoon stroll at Riverfront Park not far from my home, I was delighted to find myself practically alone on the trail, except for a pair of Mourning Cloak butterflies that accompanied me the whole way, weaving back and forth and stopping just ahead to open wings wide as if waiting for me. At one point one of them came repeatedly to rest on my scarf almost touching my chin! No way to sketch this in real time, so I just enjoyed the conversation.


watercolor in 5 X 8″Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook

But as I sat on a bench overlooking the lake I heard a drone overhead – the electronic kind which we will be seeing more and more and everywhere. Such a strange world. I wonder what the butterflies and birds think of those flying “brethren”?


It was time to leave, but this view delayed my departure. Another challenge for the artist here in wine country, to get the color right on those impossibly yellow (actually the definition of yellow!) mustard plants that abound in the winter vineyards with a backdrop of blue violet hills.


Mixed Media and Sketch Workshops This Spring

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So what do I mean by “Previous sketching experience is recommended.”? This does not mean that you’ve got sketchbooks full of gorgeous drawings. It means that at least you’ve been out there at some point trying to sketch your experience, and enjoying the experience enough to want to do more of it and learn some ways to make it easier, to tell your personal stories with more color and pizzazz! If you don’t know if you’re ready for these workshops, contact me and we’ll talk about it.

For more information and to register visit my website, email or call me.

Health Benefits of Coffee!

Have you been reading about the recent studies on the health benefits of drinking 2-3 cups of coffee a day?! Especially great for liver functioning – go figure! But also some of us have known for a while that coffee has some positive effects on our art making, which always leads to more general health benefits.

In Muse group we did a lesson this week using tea and coffee to stain papers, tea bags and to “paint”.

pileupcoffee splattered w/c paper with coffee soaked Masa paper and cheesecloth collage

It starts to pile up after a while, the shorn off pieces with holes in them. As we spin around in space our linings get worn and raggedy. Pieces of skin are rubbed off. New lines and cracks and brown blemishes appear. And still the moon shines brightly, more so perhaps as we realize we are better tuned, lighter, brighter, less encumbered than before.

One of the things I try to do in this group each session (of 6 or 8classes) is to inspire ourselves with the work of a particular artist. This lesson was inspired by Deborah Benioff Friedman, a SF Bay Area artist whose work many of us viewed in a recent exhibit at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. She uses tea bags and natural stains in her wall hung and sculptural work in inspired ways!


For years I’ve used tea and coffee stains to age papers and evoke historical contexts in mixed media works. This one also done on Monday is a bit more in the story-telling style I have often used. At times I’ve used pictures of my own ancestors in the mix. Here are a couple of them: My grandfather Lee Loffswold and his clan and my grandmother Selma Buskerud Loffswold’s family home.

To stain papers I soak them in extra strong tea and/of coffee and then dry them out in a 200 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Mmmm and they smell good too (if you like the tea/coffee flavor that is.)

Let me know if you want to join us in the next 8-week session of the Monday Muse Group starting March 19. There are still openings! Visit my website for more information.

Self Portrait in the Wild

My bird feeders are busy stations these days. There’s the mixed birdseed one, the Nyer seeds for the smallest birds and the blocks of suet laced with seeds and fruit. They swing with activity throughout the day. Oh and then there’s the hummingbird nectar as well. So small wonder that when we did the crazy self portrait lesson in Muse Group this week, my own went over to the feathered side, yet again.


Photo of self at Photo Booth using Comic Strip filter, printed in black and white, cut and collaged onto w/c paper with other collage and paint, etc. etc.

I am captured, captivated, taken over by dreams of those feathered ones who have been whispering in my ears for years. I am captive to my earthbound ways, my rootedness and groping for stability. Though I fluff my hair and imagine wings stretching out, open, ready for flight, I never quite make it into the air, but stand and watch as my feathered relatives soar and dip and perhaps look down on me with compassion for my flightless state?

(Can you tell which eye is mine?) I’ve been teaching wacky self portraits in Muse Groups for years and it always gets us laughing! How different it is from what happens when you look in the mirror in the morning, trying to get your hair right while noticing some new puffiness or wrinkle.

In the next series of Monday Muse Groups which starts March 19 I’ll be teaching Smoke Painting, the esthetic of Wabi Sabi art featuring textures and patina, and painting with water shapes charged with pigment. There are still openings at this point, so I hope you’ll be able to join. For more information and to register visit my website.

Here’s an old video I made of student self portraits, which I’ve watched so many times with giggles.

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A Muse Lesson on Canvas

We always paint on watercolor paper in Muse Group, but every once in a while I get out my big role of canvas and cut pieces for everyone. I like to take my (loose) canvas paintings and use them as book cloth to make covers for the Muse portfolio/journal books (bound loose leaf with rings).

movingAcrylic on gessoed canvas fabric with canvas collage, 12.5X13.5″

When a figure emerged, rushing along like she was on fire! I recognized myself, dashing through my days in constant pursuit of accomplishing something or other. I must have been thinking of gardening and the blooming of azaleas. . . And I had just read a poem by Pablo Neruda. Here’s an excerpt which starts with the above quote:

Keeping Quiet (excerpt)

If we were not so simple-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

-Pablo Neruda


Gesso and black ink squirted on canvas, rolled over with brayer and scraped off with a color shaper.

How easy it is to create fun textures with some fluid acrylics and two tools. . .in less than five minutes! I was thinking I could cut or tear it up for collage, but will probably make it the back cover of a book!


Two of my mixed media portfolio books, opened to show the canvas covers.

The artwork, mostly done in Muse Groups gets added to the easy ring binding. I have three boxes of these books now, going back to 2005! Before that I just threw my art in flat file drawers where it was forgotten, or in the bin. This has been such a satisfying way to document not only the lessons I learn and teach, but contemplations and writings which are on the backs of the each piece of art (and archived here in the blog!)

(To be continued with more recent lessons and opportunities to join.)

Asleep in the Woods

Last week in Muse group we did that strangest of art techniques. To start you wet the (Masa) paper and crinkle it til it’s wadded up in a ball! Then spread it out and paint on it.


Oh to fall asleep in the woods

But on a soft bed with pillows and down comforter

After all, does the fox not have a preferred bedding

And what of my cat Phil (who prefers dry dirt)

Oh to fill the nostrils with pine and damp wood

and let the breeze cool your cheeks

and dream of streams running with fish

and skies pulsing with birdsong

and even worms tunneling through earth (just not in my sheets please)

Break down the barriers between inside and out

Let night in

Let nature in

Spring Workshops!

My first sketch workshop of this year will hopefully respond to the requests of so many of my students who would like to be more comfortable adding people into their sketches. It’s not easy, but so satisfying when you can tell the visual story with the human angle. So I’m working on distilling the most useful techniques I’ve learned over the years (and am still learning!) about sketching and painting convincing figures! Hope you can join me this spring.

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Last year I taught the workshop on simplifying watercolor for the sketcher, another topic I love! So here it is, scheduled again in a new location this May.

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And if you’d like stir up your Muse and get your creative juices flowing, i recommend the Muse Group, which is starting a new session in March.

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I hope to be painting with you soon!