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.


A Week of Sketches

Catching up a bit with sketches from the past week, first a day in San Rafael enjoying the bucolic campus of Dominican University.


light pencil and watercolor in spiral Field Watercolor Journal, 8 X 8″

I was setting up my stool in the sun, planning to catch the bright morning light on the bench with the English country style building behind, when the lady in the red slippers sat down and started texting/talking. I was happy to include her and had just started drawing her in when she looked up and saw me. She immediately jumped up, thinking she was in my way, and came over to apologize and see what I was doing.

“No, no” I said. “Please make yourself at home on the bench and ignore me.” So she sat back down for a few minutes, then came back over to look again and tell me her story. . .her peaceful memories of that bench going back to when she was a young student there. . .losing her glasses. . .something about those wonderful red pom pommed slippers . .. . her own fascinating art life. Anyway, you get the picture. A delightful encounter for both of us, which would not have happened without the sketchbook.


Found a quiet spot in the sun to practice architecture, or a small piece anyway. Sitting in the direct sun with light bouncing off the white paper and sun-blind eyes is a challenge. Best to sit in the shade while sketching the sunny scene, but this is not an option on a chilly winter day.


We headed to lunch at the Flat Iron pub in San Rafael. Pork sliders and fried calamari. Yum!


Another day of sketching closer to home, at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. I wanted to catch the passengers on the train but missed the schedule.  Good thing because a costume shop down 4th St., Disguise the Limit, is a sketcher’s paradise with mannikins, masks and displays of every kind of costume for theatre and festival, including steam punk attire.


I guess I was in a Halloweeny mood with my macabre choice of subject, but I left in a much better mood than when I’d entered! Go figure.



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.

Announcing: #OneWeek100People2018 starts Monday March 5!

100 sketches of people in one week?!! Not as hard as it seems, and so good for the drawing muscles. Join me?

Citizen Sketcher

We’re doing it again! The sketching challenge that pushes you to draw 100 people in one week!

Taking inspiration from online challenges such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), or the popular Inktober, this year from March 5th – 9th, 2018, urban sketchers Marc Taro Holmes (Montreal, CA) and Liz Steel (Sydney, AUS) invite the world to join in with #OneWeek100People2018.

Every aspiring artist has heard the advice ‘Carry a small sketchbook at all times!’. We’re all told ‘Practice drawing every day!’.

This is great advice, but sometimes we need a little extra motivation.

Last year #OneWeek100People had me running all over – from a jujitsu tournament to the rehearsal for a comic opera, to a hip-hop dance class.

You don’t have to go to such great lengths 🙂

Feel free to work from photos, or do a self-portrait series. It’s all fair…

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Marin County and Sonoma Sketching

I was out scouting for locations for upcoming sketch workshops. A new series of Bay Area Urban Sketch 10 X 10  workshops will be announced soon! And I’ll be teaching one of them, so stay tuned. This spot in Sausalito right on the Bay with a view across to San Francisco and the Bay Bridge was cold and windy, with colorful layers of clouds constantly changing.


fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ spiral Handbook Co. Field Watercolor Journal with the Fluid Watercolor paper I like!

The colors of water and sky and everything, even the values were constantly changing. You have to just decide where to set your sights and stick with it, something I’ve never been particularly adapted to. I get excited by all the changes and want to dip my brush in new colors. It can make for a mess. So I tried to reign myself in on this one.


Then, not so far away in Mill Valley looking toward Tamalpais Valley it was hard to find a spot where the wind was not blowing us to smithereens. Finally we found a building to block the wind and settled down to sketch this lovely scene of creekbed and lagoon beyond. I even managed to get the cyclists in! And then once again the weather changed while we were sketching, and the sun came out, wind died down, and all the colors changed! (Not that I’m complaining.)

Meanwhile my friend Laurie Wigham did a lovely sketch which captured the serenity of the natural scene and illustrated the reflections on the water, a subject she taught in workshops for the Nature Journal Club series last week.


On Saturday Bob and I headed to Sonoma Plaza so that I could scope it out for the May 5 workshop I’m teaching there titled Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher.  I was immediately drawn to the ducks in the pond that were delighting the small children. And then when these geese settled down on the grass, I did a quick standing capture of them since they were relatively still for a few minutes. That is, until a small boy chased them away! Because of the softness of the scene I left out the pen did a quick pencil sketch before the watercolor.


I was looking for simple subjects of interest for students in the workshop. Sonoma is a town where California history is well represented in an historic park bordering right on the Plaza. Not only can you visit the Mission but the Blue Wing Inn, with its Gold Rush era gambling room and saloon, and the adobe barracks built to house General Vallejo’s Mexican troops. So much to sketch, indoors and out!


But it was lunchtime, so we ordered at the Sunflower Cafe and I sketched in pencil til the food came, and later added color from memory (and imagination).

I hope you’ll join me on May 5 for the Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop. For more info and to register visit my website.

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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