Boca de Tomatlan III

Have I said anything about the climate in Boca de Tomatlan yet? Sunny and around 80 degrees every day with a gentle ocean breeze. Warm ocean. It never seemed to get too hot, even in the sun. I was there for one week with two of the days spent in travel from and back to home. That left 6 full days and so much to see in the area. 

But even trying to pack in the experiences, side trips and more, it was relaxing. . . except for the next day’s bumpy bus ride to Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica. The city was full of tourists and stores and attractions which I realized were more a dis-traction. I couldn’t wait to get back to Boca, the small fishing village which felt a bit like our home by the third day.

The following morning I walked the plank bridge (three boards wide supported by rocks in the rushing river) to the other side where boats were being loaded and unloaded with everything from boxes of produce to bags of trash. 

Sitting in the shade on one of those rectangular benches, I picked a house across the narrow river to sketch. It was the palm thatched roof and the dark interior that drew my eyes, but as I sketched, the thatching disappeared as I got absorbed in the sunlit palms!

A house in the jungle, swallowed up by vegetation. I stopped short of the vines that encased it on either side. Too much green! and added a spectator Snowy Egret and boat landing on the river’s edge.

Our scheduled trip for the day was a drive up the mountain to El Tuito, which translates to beautiful small valley. It’s claim to fame is the artesan cheese, breads, cookies and the restaurant, El Patio de Mario, where we ate lunch in a sunlit courtyard with a parrot, . Here I had my first taste of the real Mole, so good! After walking around the dusty village with not much shade to be had, I returned to the restaurant to watch the open kitchen and sketch the lovely ladies at work.

The best part is always sharing the sketch and getting that picture!

The last day before the long trip home to our northern climes, we all spent time on the beach.

This cheerful shop was our neighbor, three doors down. You could buy a drink and snacks and have access to an umbrella table and chairs on the beach, which we practically had to ourselves on that Friday.

I’m not much for sunbathing, being a redhead (well, gray now) who burns even with sunscreen. So an umbrella and a scene to sketch with the warm ocean breeze . . .well that’s the best.

I had to include the dog because I never sat down to eat at the beach restaurant without at least four dogs of all sizes and shapes encircling the table, cozying up to our legs and imploring us with silent doleful eyes. Otherwise you would find them sound asleep in the sun in the middle of any pathway. 

That’s a tiny bit of the story anyway. I’ll be sketching from a few photos now, hoping to prolong the trip just a bit longer.

Muchas gracias to our hosts, Bob Masla and Monica Levine, who shared their winter home and retreat center of the past 18 years with us. It was a small group that week and we enjoyed their delightful company as they got us settled, joined us at meals, and guided us on all our excursions.  The Casa is filled with Bob Masla and other master artists’ work and the open air studio-with-a-view on the upper levels a tantalizing place to paint. Bob and Monica taught us as much about the local culture as about art so that we could feel at home there. Gracias! also to the cook, Rubi, whose meals were the best of regional cuisine, and to all the other Mexican locals who welcomed us to their small village with open hearts and hands! 

If all this has wetted your appetite for a Mexico art journey, visit the Casa de los Artistas website for more information about workshops coming up.


Teetering on the Edge of Paradise

Acrylics on gesso textures with sequin collage on 10X11″ watercolor paper

Here am I teetering 

On the edge of paradise

Feet in the sand head in the jungle

Wondering what 

Creatures will be in the greeting party

Will they bring shells and slimy treats

Or stand apart wary

Of me the uncivilized

Of other language, flora and fauna

As I stare open mouthed

Offering for now a mute greeting

We played with gesso textures in Muse Group today. This piece was a part of my demo. I knew better than to resist the urge to go tropical, on the verge of a trip to Mexico. I leave tomorrow for one week. There’s way too much ocean and jungle cycling through this overheated mind of mine right now to think that anything else would emerge in a Muse inspired piece. 

The lesson, Decalcomanie, was one that I cherish for its serendipity of textures – . You slather some gesso onto your paper randomly or in a shape and place another piece of paper on top. Press the sheets together, by hand or with a roller. When you pull them apart you have some kind of texture, often coral-like. The thickness of the gesso determines how pronounced or subtle the texture is. Let it dry and you now have two beginnings to fun acrylic mixed media paintings. Add collage and dry media and you’ll have a hard time stopping. But you’ve got two textured beginnings, so do a second!

This piece started as a kind of sampler for different applications of acrylic texture, so you’ll see some stenciled texture, which I also demonstrated. When the gesso was dry I wet the whole piece and floated fluid acrylic color on, using the tipping of the paper to move and blend the paints and reveal the textures. Voila! a jungle appeared. And what is a jungle after all, but a tumble of textures.

I’ll see when I get there. Back to packing. 

For some other examples of this technique visit these other posts here and here.


Folded pen portraits

Chinese Ink applied with homemade folded pen and brush

My husband Bob has been having so much fun with his folded pen which he just made after a quick trip to Lowes for dowels and some light weight bendable metal. There seemed to be no limit to what he could do with it. So I asked him to make me one and give me tips. I had just a few minutes to try it out before dinner and was amazed at how much control I had with it! Enough to tackle portraits! It all depends on how you load it up with ink and position it. I was also surprised by how much drama I could get with the dark thick lines, which I normally steer clear of because the human face seems to demand more subtlety.

But after dinner, when I switched from scrap paper to my toned paper sketchbook, the folded pen wasn’t behaving as well. Blobs of ink coming out at inopportune moments. So it will take more practice, but still, the drama is there. I think I prefer to use the folded pen on white watercolor paper and do the modeling with a brush and light wash of ink.

I decided to switch to the Pocket Brush Pen for this fellow’s pose (on the Sktchy Museum app). thinking I needed more control. Of course the pocket brush pen also has a mind of its own, so I used it just for bold outlining, and for added dimension use a brush dipped in diluted ink.  At the end I added some watercolor for the red beard before declaring it Done! Always best to get out before it’s too late.

watercolor and white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

A couple more portraits here, done before the holidays. This one done with a touch of fineliner and clear choice of focus. How much of the head do you need to tell the story, and what can you leave off? The top of the head for instance?

Such a beautiful model. That makes it much harder. One can’t resist trying to get that beauty on paper. Overworked. 


On the Shortest Day

On the shortest day of the year a short drive through snow flurries landed us in the faux tropical setting of  The Bark and Garden Nursery where we found respite in the indoor plant section. In this divine setting the Buddha oversaw the art making with his beatific inner vision and gentle waterfall acoustics. It was warming and restorative!

ink and watercolor in w/c hand.book journal

Normally I don’t think one finds a flamingo statue in a meditative garden with a Buddha, but when I finished the sketch I noticed that bird peeking out behind Buddha, no doubt being drawn in by his compassion. So in the last two minutes there I added him to finish the story of abundant grace!

Since we’d run into lunchtime and were hungry, Jan and I headed over to the nearby Mall’s food court to also practice catching people on the move. I figure it takes at least 30 minutes to warm up for this kind of quick capture sketching, where you’re really taking a rapid mental picture and trying to hold onto it long enough to get your nervous hand to get something human-like down on paper. Often the figure is long gone and you’re half finished and needing to make up the legs or use someone elses. The faces at the tables were more cooperative, but the manikin in the window was the best!  We were just getting warmed up when it was time to head home! 

At home the day before I was practicing a technique I’ve seen on the youtube channel @VanidasMangathilArt. This amazing painter/teacher demos how to paint  imaginary figures from watercolor paint splatters! 


direct watercolor on w/c paper

He makes it look pretty easy, so I thought I’d give it a try. My first line of splash figures was intriguing enough to try again. I did the second line of 12? figures in 5 min with my palette “mud”. You’ve got to paint fast before the paint dries. Now do 10 more lines, I told myself! and was promptly called to dinner. So the challenge is still floating. 

Want to do landscapes in the same way? Vanidas Mangathil also demos imaginary landscapes which look so effortless and realistic that your mind is blown. Give it a try and let me know! He’s also on Instagram of course.

Muse Group in Olympia

Demo: inks, gesso, collage on w/c paper 10 X 11″

The Playful Muse group met Thursday morning for the first of a three week series. All seats taken in this first in-person workshop I’ve taught since moving to Olympia! And I couldn’t be happier to have these fellow travelers exploring mixed media fun, riding the waves of that shared creative energy. They all came prepared and plunged right in. The art studio I’m renting from a new artist friend is cozy and well appointed with a big table for each person. After the holidays I’ll continue to offer these Muse Group series. If you’re local to Olympia and interested in Muse workshops next year, let me know!

The first lesson was inks and gesso applied with a variety of tools. In the picture above, can you see where the acrylic inks and gesso were dropper/dropped, spritzed, finger blended, rollered, scraped with a serrated tool, drawn into with a rubber color shaper, stamped with a custom-made soft linoleum stamp, and squirted with a water streamer?

I’d forgotten to bring my brushes and had to borrow one just to wet a shape on the paper first so that colors would shoot into rivers blending like the salt and fresh water in our rivers here. As usual and by design I had no plan to start out with, just a lingering sense of awe from the short drive to the studio, past trees and bushes of flaming, out-of-gamut color! I was not the only one in the group who couldn’t resist the warmest colors in our palettes.

The second step in the painting was to add some collage, and I grabbed an old music book with Roaring Nineties music and picked the lyrics When the Robin nests again!

Because even with the glorious colors of fall, I am already longing also for spring. Fickle thing, the mind. Here’s how it came out when I finished the piece and did the free write (edited version here)

I claim to be at peace with all the seasons
Each color in my palette there to celebrate

This week I am blazing fall foliage
Dancing sizzling salsa

Next week I am the winter strains of melancholy
Blues and wooly grays

And when the robins nest again
The bunnies, bees, blooms, butterflies

. . . the greens of peace again.



Dazzled by fall colors! And anxious about how quickly the fall rain and wind storms are denuding my favorites! 

I keep thinking I’ll find the colors to mix, the techniques to employ, the tools to utilize. . .to capture. . .a touch of the outrageous autumn foliage displays. I keep working on it, but. . .

You probably think I’m exaggerating. But Nature is the biggest and most outrageous exaggerater, always. It was awful windy at the Capitol building this week, too much to try to put the color on the page on site. A more intrepid urban sketcher surely would have done so. I just wanted to memorize the look of that redderthanredred against that greenerthangreengreen with the gold thrown in . So at home I just kept putting paint on til I gave up. . .yet strangely still felt satisfied from the effort. 

Autumn glory upstaging Washington’s state capitol building!

And meanwhile this artistry was going on in my neighborhood. What would you say. . .New Gamboge with a touch of Quin Gold? Quin Rose? 

And then this morning this 4 inch glowing something in the middle of our lawn. A golf ball? A piece of paper trash (it is trash day) a wrapper? A fried egg for goodness sake? Would it glow in the dark to flavor up the spooky Halloween?

Did you guess? A mushroom of course! Time to get out the mushroom ID books!

Portraits More Recent

I think I would title this one “The Shoes” because they are definitely the star. That and the exposed shins and socks. The picture makes one feel a bit tipsy, like the feeling of riding on public conveyance. But this guy is a pro.

So how does he really feel about it? Blood pressure skyrocketing. Finger in a light socket? Missed his flight? Just got canned?

French diplomat? Who knows? I got out my Fude fountain pen with the crooked nib. Its hard enough to handle that all precision gets lost. So the big shapes, the chisels on the face of an older gentleman can have the emphasis they need. There’s intellect, experience and power there.

The gray toned paper needed some relief but I might have overdone it with the white gouache. So much detail in the hands left out here. I must admit, all those fingers, like so many windows on a building, sometimes bore me. All you need to know here is that they are hands. Period. More attention for the face.

OK, so now I’m caught up with portraits for now. Next batch in a month. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Since I know many of you are portrait artists, questions or advise! about materials or sources are welcome in comments here!

My source for inspiration, as always in the Sktchy Museum app.

Portraits: Catching up!

Periodically I get so tired of my careful, precise drawings. And I suspect this portrait above happened after I had overworked the last one. So I reached for my Pentel Brush Pen and just went for it. No subtlety here. Just the deeply grooved face of an elderly man who knows the meltdown of facial muscle tone has already occurred, and thinks, So who cares!?

And another one, all bristly white hair and determined scowl, or is it simply compassionate concern? Sometimes older folks have a scowl on their faces, but it’s really because they’re struggling a bit to see with failing vision. I should know.

This guy’s younger, and an experiment in color value. Find the shadow shape and flood it with color! Two colors here: quinacridone burnt orange and pthalo blue, and some white gouache.



What’s my favorite facial feature? Why noses of course and the bigger the better. More drawing with the Pentel Brush Pen, though I think I must have done a quick pencil sketch first? I can’t remember. The paper is good watercolor paper and white, so there’s no need to finish with white gouache for the highlights. The white of the paper does that best.

I wanted the subject, Katarina, to speak in that throaty Baltic/Russian voice. Can you imagine it? The gel pens at the end helped to convey a kind of glamour she seemed to have. That, and oh those lips!!

There’s more to catch up on. Stay tuned.

Portland: Japanese Garden/Rose Garden

fine liner pen and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

How do they do it? Every inch of Portland’s Japanese garden elicits a sigh of recognition. Nature as the ultimate beauty. Sigh. One is invited to breathe it in through all the senses simultaneously. The sounds of water, visible or not, throughout. The contrast of stone against plant holding your interest so it never flags from step to step.

At times last Sunday spectators filled the paths, but a bench opened up inside a mini pagoda structure looking out on this scene, so we sat down for some sketching. I’m learning not to freak out about the complexity of forest scenes, to tell myself to start out with a kind of nature doodle, letting the pen wander, then coming back with playful layers of watercolor, and perk it up at the end with a colored gel pen. The important thing is, can you look at it and feel the cool forest air and hear the water?

Next day we started at the Hoyt Arboretum with its miles of specialized trails ribboning up the hill back and forth: the red pine, the spruce, the redwood, the hawthorn and magnolia and holly and more! We picnic lunched at a forest outlook point and later stopped above the fragrant rose garden where I had time to sketch this appealing restroom while we waited for the bus to take our weary feet back “home”.

Portland: Swifts at Chapman Elementary

Last weekend I got to go back to elementary school. No, not with a grandchild. I don’t have any of those. I was visiting friends in Portland for a three day weekend. Saturday night Janet and I took a picnic lunch up the hill to Chapman Elementary to sit on the hillside with the crowd and wait for the swifts to arrive, the Vaux’s Swifts to be precise. They’re the ones that arrive in Portland for the month of September each year and perform their jaw dropping show each evening at sunset.

We got there early, having heard that it would get crowded. At our blanketed spot on the hill we ate our dinner and watched the back up show of children “sledding” down the hill on the cardboard left there for that purpose, and the soccer players on the field below, as the hill filled up with all ages of happy spectators, their dinners, their dogs and small children colliding around us.

pen and w/c in Etchr sketchbook

And finally the headliner act arrived in chaotic rushes, flying around the gigantic chimney where they would spend the night. Plunging and soaring, spiraling and dispersing, returning to circle round again. Where were they coming from? Were they aware that the crowd of spectators had grown to over 1000? 2000? 3000? I started sketching the building, looking for flight patterns, gasping with the crowd when the inevitable hawk appeared, afraid to keep my eyes on the sketchbook for fear I’d miss something.

At sunset the patterns changed. The swifts appeared like swarms of bees, became almost a funnel shape. And then someone in the crowd gasped and clapped and all heads turned toward the mouth of the chimney as the birds disappeared one at a time into the chimney. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who imagined what it would be like to spend the night inside a chimney in the feathered company of thousands of your kind. Cosy? Comforting? Smelly? Claustrophobic?

That night their were 4,940 bedfellows, to be (not) exact. Apparently there are bird watchers who get trained to make this count. Could my thumb actually keep up with the clicking of the counter to capture each one in time? I doubt it. Perhaps the final count is an average of many findings.

Finally after many minutes, the final swift disappeared down the chimney. The crowd applauded and worked their way home in the dark.

If you find yourself as curious about this as I was, you can find out more on the Portland Audubon site.

And if you think it exceptional that birds would congregate so extravagently in this way, just ponder the gravitational pattern of our species on that hill at dusk.