Let me know your thoughts about cats and about my Mad Cats!
I once had a dog I really loved, but I'm much more a cat person. Cats are endlessly fascinating: the way they look, the way they move, their little OCD cat habits. But the best thing about cats is the way they keep secrets. You just know by the look in their weird alien eyes that they are plotting something, and you may not want to find out what it is. At heart they all belong in Alice's Wonderland, charming but bonkers, mad beings in a mad world.
My joy in these drawing/paintings is not just about the cats (though a cat would tell you that should be enough.) All my work involves drawing - hand to paper - but instead of freehand digital coloring, here I'm working with tools I relish. Ink pens, charcoal pencils, watercolor pencils, brush and water: complete freedom in a few sticks, mixed with chance, luck, and lifetime practice - what can be better? My favorite pencils are Faber Castell Albrecht Durer - beautiful rich color that responds perfectly to the touch of a wet brush.
This series is a tribute of sorts to Mad Cat Excellent, Sir Toby, a furry beautiful rescue alien who allowed us into his world for about 14 years - he left us in 2020 at 18. Every cat I draw is at least a little bit about him.
Note: the images of the Mad Cat works are not perfect - I'm away from my studio for a couple of months so am making do with photos instead of high quality scans. I will be back in late November and will then provide better images and information about availability and pricing.
Let me know your thoughts about cats and about my Mad Cats!
I've been a tireless sketcher for most of my life, long before it became a popular thing. If you know my Philly and International series you likely know that all those colorful finished scenes start with free-hand on-site drawings straight from my sketchbooks. Not all the sketches make it to the finish line; there are plenty of outtakes, sketches just for my own pleasure or interest, or ones that don't call for a place in the finished series.
Take a scroll through a few - enjoy them with me.
A cold night in January 2020 - a long awaited chance to visit an empty Mount St Michel in France out of season, with a stop in stony, historic St Malo. We were happy to find this locals' bar, rich in good drinks and camaraderie. Who could know then that Mount St Michel - and everywhere else - would be without tourists for a long time to come.
Sketching - as opposed to finished drawing - should always be loose, spontaneous, in the moment, and happy with unplanned quirks of pen and hand. Below is the kind of sketch I do for my interest in all things art historical - a beautiful 16th c tomb in Nantes Cathedral. The sculptor is the awesome Michel Colombe - not well enough known, but one of the greats. My notes remind that I shorted the sculpture one niche. I took a picture too, of course, but sketching gives me time to drink it in.
Some sketches take a few minutes, some a good deal longer. The longer ones require a seat with a good viewpoint. (what you don't see is the nice lunch and glass of wine) Here's my view of the central square of Brussels, with the grand Hotel de Ville - that one may make a finished International Scene one of these days.
Paris is a sketcher's paradise; somehow every cafe seems to be peopled with the cast of an interesting art film. And who ever could get tired of the Seine and its bridges - here the Pont Neuf and the Vert Galant.
I was a high school art teacher for a long time - one of my mantras was that subject didn't matter. A kitchen counter, a pair of socks; small things are just as worthy of time and attention as a palace or a fashion model. The act of drawing - of seeing - is the magic. My daily housebound sketches in 2020 were as satisfying to draw as any grand scene. See some of them here
To end, one grand, one more comfy. On the left, the facade of the Rouen Cathedral - if you know Monet's Cathedral series this is his subject (his studio was just across the plaza). On the right, a summer day at Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia, with hammocks and fiber optic lights sprinkled in the trees.
Check out my finished Philly series here
Check out my finished International Series here
I'd love your thoughts! Are you a sketcher? Do you have favorites things and places to sketch? Leave a comment
I've just added an Original Drawings and Paintings page to my website, starting with a feature on a new series I'm calling 'Bird Games.' I'll continue my colorful prints of Philly, Travel Scenes, FLEURS, etc with enthusiasm, but I'll be adding more and more original works on paper.
My love of working on good paper with simple tools - in this case an ink pen and watercolor pencils - goes way back. I've always believed in the conversation approach to art - I have my ideas, but the paper and the materials get to have their say too. In the case of my Game Birds I begin with my characteristic loose ink lines corralled into a grid for a semblance of order, layer pencil colors for a rich background, and give a lighter layer of varied colors on the birds. What brings it all to life is water - careful brushing with a small brush on the background, and swifter, more impulsive flicks and swipes on the birds. I can never be completely sure what will happen until it does (though I have good sense of the possibilities) and am usually delighted with the result. A classic case of the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts. Knowing where to stop is essential.
Who are these birds? If you've seen my INK BIRDS series of cards you know the origin - the idea of birds just stuck with me. Birds are such an interesting meld of wild, cute, sweet, and sort of strange and savage; a bit like people, perhaps. 'Bird Games' - a play on board games and game birds - places birds in a kind of 'everyman' state, where every unconscious tweak of my pen gives a new personality, emotion, attitude. Or maybe that's just my crazy perception. What do you think?
Original Work: Drawings and Paintings
Pricing on request
My ongoing series of FLEURS is getting some new additions. These designs are a delight to create, so I wanted to share some thoughts about them and the steps to finished works. My intention is always 2-sided: having the pleasure of free drawing fresh organic lines and shapes, and making colorful, cheerful images that people - you - will enjoy as prints and cards.
These are the first two of six recent FLEURS line drawings. I always think of drawing as a dance, and never is this more true than with florals. I pull ideas from some kind of reference - living flowers or photos - but add freely from memory and imagination. As here, I like my arrangements to have a base - a pitcher, a vase, a bowl, maybe just a ribbon tie - to bring the exuberance of the flowers to a gentle conclusion.
After I scan the original drawings into my laptop I have free rein to digitally paint them into full color. My painting process, though digital, is as freehand and intuitive as with any other painting medium. I have a wide-ranging palette, with a concentration of favorites. The digital process allows me a truly unlimited world of tints, shades, overlays, and harmonies - all while letting me keep the clean integrity of the drawn line. As you can see, I approached these two drawings slightly differently: on the left I used the yellows of the daffodils as the anchor, while the right has the anchor note in the blue of the pitcher. The background color always comes first, but sometimes as I fill in the color I change that - again, with the digital process I can try out all kinds of variations without having to disturb what is in place and working well.
For the final stages I focus on harmony and contrast, making sure that every detail contributes to the balance and tenor of the composition. The little grape hyacinths in the lower third counterbalance the more assertive forms of the daffodils in the central band, and the slightly fussy decoration of the bowl adds some low key charm supporting the grassy greens at the rim.
For this I chose a closely related palette of bright aqua blues for the small climbing flowers to accent the dominant round forms of the peonies, with a few yellows and light oranges as middle notes. I follow my lines closely but not over exactly, prizing the loose sense of freedom that make the final design alive (but spend a good amount of invisible time at the end cleaning up any sloppy loose ends) People often comment that the loose nature of my work, as well as the colors, is what brings them so much pleasure.
Look for these new designs for purchase as cards and prints on my website and watch for the rest of the new FLEURS coming soon. Also watch for those original freehand drawings to be finished with watercolor, pencil, and gouache - that flexibility is another advantage of the digital process.
Comments are welcomed - let me hear what you think!
I moved recently, first my house, then my studio. I didn't go far, only a few miles south of Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware, close enough to keep my friends and my Philly loyalty. Some of the differences, however, are significant. I now live in a park. Well, not quite - in an urban neighborhood that is park-like (full of trees) and with an actual park - many more trees and a river - a few steps away. Nature is a welcome new neighbor and birds are now very present in my life. And what a welcome presence they are!
Our window feeder is a front row seat on the comings and goings, the swoops and darts, the pecking, the little spats, the nibbles and gulps, the busy busy life of birds. Late afternoon, especially, is an amazing rush of feathers and calls, all blurred activity and twittering song.
The birds have made a nest in my art too. The first series in my new studio is this flurry of bird life. As always with me, it starts with drawing, here a quick sketchy capture of shape and movement. The ink is water soluble, and I'm pairing it with water soluble colored pencil, a favorite medium that I've used in the past. I'm a great believer in art making as a conversation, letting the medium or tool have a say. With my birds, this approach allows them be a bit wild, untamed, even a little savage. My control only goes so far - I love the freshness of the ink and color as each creature springs to life under my wet brush. Knowing when and how to stop, how best to let the spirit run free, to keep it fresh, even a little messy, is the most important job.
Some of my Ink Birds will be found in a birding guide, but not all - some are pure spirit. But this one, this male cardinal, is a frequent guest at our window feeder. His mate, with her beautiful tawny color and orange beak comes too. They live in a cedar tree behind our house. Sometimes she's shy, so he will pick up food from the feeder and take it to her, feeding her himself. What a guy! As spring moves towards summer we're seeing more takers at our window - the latest is a big blue jay who lands with a thump each time, scaring the many house finches. Keep an eye on my website for more Ink Birds - the sky's the limit (ha ha)
Ink Birds is a series of small paintings. I'm offering them as Note Card sets - single designs and mixed - and am also offering a selection of the originals matted and framed (8 x 10 framed size) Ink Birds are not available as prints. Click here to see the Ink Birds page
Was that really us? So crowded together, without a thought in the world for masks and germs and social distancing? It seems like another era, and I guess it was. I did this drawing in 2017 when I was in London, singing with a choir for a week at St Paul's Cathedral. Between rehearsals and services, I had plenty of time to wander around with my sketchbook. Covent Garden was nearby so it was an easy draw (ha! - both sense of the word). I remember clearly being overwhelmed by the crowds, but accepting the crush of humanity as part of the experience of one of London's great gathering spots.
This complex scene took quite a while to complete. I'm not showing in progress stages this time, just some details of the finished work. My focus, once I had the structure of the central space and flanking structures, was the crowds, in much the same way one arrives at a new and interesting location: 'Where am I? Who else is here?" The cavernous heart of the scene is full of shops and vendor carts - I suggested this commerce with a few lights and a sense of depth, while stressing the stream of people hurrying in to shop and browse.
The upper level at the right is - or was - a common sight - lots of happy folks jammed together, meeting, celebrating, chatting over drinks - in this case, of course, some good British beer. The weather is fine, the workday is over, time to kick back and relax.
,The big crowd at the lower edge is the heart of this scene. I've always marveled at the random dispersal of colors in a crowd - other than school groups with matching tshirts, there seems to be a law of physics that ensures a pleasing range of warms, cools, lights, darks, including, especially in a world wise city like London, skin tones and dress choices as well as colors. Look closely - in my scene you'll find humanity in many forms: families, children of all ages, leisurely wanderers, senior citizens, people helping people, lovers, business people, even a nun! Everybody has a story. We may have had to keep ours a bit more to ourselves this past year, but we're all still part of the big picture.
Do you miss crowds? Have you been to Covent Garden?
Tell me your thoughts!
Click here to find London Covent Garden for purchase as a fine art print in 2 sizes
Scandinavian folk tales are full of magical creatures, elves and trolls and tricksters, many of them pretty scary little folk. But in Copenhagen there's a magical world that is nothing but endless, colorful delight. The Tivoli Gardens, dating to the mid 1800's, (and the original inspiration for Walt Disney's own magical kingdom) was for us, when we visited in 2019, a revelation. We expected an amusement park - what we found was a veritable city in a city, a place of beauty, nature, fun, excitement, pleasure, and peaceful repose.
I've chosen one scene from a sketchbook full of Tivoli sketches - the Chinese pagoda set above a pretty lake, chock-a-bloc with a wild roller coaster that skims the air overhead, surrounded by an amazing botanical garden of beautiful old trees. The range of offerings at Tivoli is extraordinary - everywhere there are fun things for kids and families, lovely paths for leisurely strolls, pretty places to sit, cafes and restaurants and snacks of all sorts. We did our best to see it all, including a concert with a major pop star (sorry - I forget who) in a central open amphitheater, but I'm sure we were only getting started. We went back again just before we left, so we could see the place at night with all the sparkling lights.
I started the finished scene with a tree and the roller coaster, two unforgettable parts of the experience of being there. That roller coaster swooshed right above our heads! And I can't emphasize enough the beauty of the natural part of Tivoli - so many gorgeous trees. The cap of the pagoda is, of course, a major feature of the landscape and of my composition - it focuses the eye, allowing a viewer's gaze to travel in a circle around the rest of the scene. I like the perky shape too, with the lower lines almost like a smile. After these two stages, I added smaller details, including a cast of visitors of various types and ages. Then, at the end, a bit of magic icing - colorful stars to match the stars in the eyes of kids and grownups at the Tivoli Gardens.
Please let me know what you think!
French food markets are a category of pleasure that transcends easy description. Indoor or outdoor, a French market is French culture on full display: a communal love of eating and sharing, pride in growing and producing great food, family gatherings and business traditions, artistry of display and attention to every meticulous detail. In this new scene I'm spotlighting the fabulous Les Halles de Lyon, a true wonderland of taste, sight, and smell that is at once a venerable French market and the food court of your dreams.
My on-site sketch was done on an October trip starting in Strasbourg, traveling through Alsace into Burgundy with Lyon as a vital linchpin of the trip. We knew Lyon was considered one of the meccas of French cuisine, but Les Halles still managed to take us by surprise. It is new rather than old, in a shiny new building (2004) and billed as a 'haut-lieu des papilles' (a pilgrimage site for the taste buds.) Les Halles de Lyon is named for Paul Bocuse, favorite son of Lyon, and also pays homage to the famous woman chefs who did so much to put Lyon on the food map (Les Meres de Lyon).
Once inside, your battle begins, and what a battle. There is NOTHING in that jewelry store of culinary excellence that will not tempt you or make you ravenous. Every aisle sparkles with good taste(s).
My progress through the scene started as always with blocks of color defining the space, but I couldn't wait to get to the sausages! This merchant, Maison Gast, is one of a number of Alsatian vendors at Les Halles, specializing in choucroute (a hearty pile of pork and sauerkraut) and all that goes with it. Their display is so colorful and beautiful it's hard not to walk away with your arms spilling with sausage.
The tables in the foreground of my sketch refer to another specialty of the Lyon market - seafood. Wine too, of course - this is Burgundy. Lunch is a perfect time to visit, for one's own pleasure, but also to see the conviviality of groups laughing and chatting, digging into heaping platters of oysters, shrimp, lobster, and crab, or sharing perfectly arranged boards of cheese and charcuterie.
Have you been to Lyon? I'd love to hear what you think!
In late October, in the midst of negotiations of house sales and purchases, Rick and I escaped to the coast of Maine for a week. It was a wonderful respite, very safe and isolated in this time of Covid concerns. Our cottage looked out on a peaceful inlet, and when we weren't busy eating lobsters, we explored small towns and byways in the area. Here's a view of one of them, Boothbay Harbor, tucked up against the hills and overlooking the working waterfront.
My sketch, done with chilly fingers, is quick and efficient. I may have skipped over a building or two, but the cozy picturesque cluster of church, homes, and practical structures for Maine's lobster industry is all there. Lobster pot markers bob out in the water, as they do in all Maine coastal towns.
I started painting the scene with bands of blue and green to establish values, and then began filling in the warm tones of the foreground structures. The church, the focal point of the view, carries the highest dark and light values.
The final scene, before I cropped it and added my signature, shows a serene but hard-working town in a beautiful, typical Maine coastal world.
Have you been to Maine? What are your thoughts and memories? Leave a comment and let me know!
England will, no doubt, always be there despite Brexit and other world upheavals. My newest scene celebrates the splendid show that is London: iconic Big Ben, bright red double-decker buses, historic Tower of London, and the London Eye, all lined up above the stately Thames. I did my sketch on an August day in 2017, standing on one bridge looking down the river across several others, keeping an eye on the weather that as often as not requires an umbrella.
I wanted this to be a relatively simple scene, in part to counter the weighty gravitas of some of these landmarks. It's part of my style in any case; a slight wink and nudge, especially at grand architecture that takes itself a mite too seriously. I wanted the British flag in the picture, but as I don't always think of the details when I'm doing the sketch, it was lucky to find I had two of them ready and waiting!
To begin I blocked out the basic neutral colors - blue/gray sky, gray bridge, green foliage, plus a brighter blue barge as a peripheral accent. Next, a deep teal for the river and stronger colors for the main characters. When I painted the tour boats, which on the Thames are predominantly white, it became clear that two were too many, that they were too much of a feature and took away from the point of the scene. So - the beauty of art as opposed to photography - I just took one out. That is, in fact, one of the best aspects of my approach to drawing and painting these scenes: they are accurate to the reality and spirit of a place, but I feel free to take liberties to enhance and emphasize my take on it. I get so many nice comments on the freedom of my style - that flexibility is part of it.
Artist/Designer/Illustrator - Drawing is my way to see and think about life in all its dimensions, color, meanings, and pleasures