Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Modified Watercolor Palette

I’ve always liked to take things apart (disassemble). When I was a kid... if I really liked something I took it apart. Why? I wanted to know how it was made. And yes I always put things back together. I have continued my fascination with how things are made into adulthood. But now I usually take things apart to see how I can make it better.

I’ve modified most of my art supplies: Sketch-Bag, sketchbooks, brush holders, pen holder, a few easels…and lots of palettes.

I get lots of questions about my sketching palette because it looks
different... Yes, I've modified it too. It’s the Heritage made by Alvin (it goes by other names too). It’s a great palette but lacked an area to make larger puddles for washes.

Trays:  3 inch Triangle Bead Trays, plastic (easily found on internet search)
Glue: Gorilla Glue or Epoxy 
Sandpaper: Fine Tooth/Grit

Clean the inside of the palette surface and allow to dry.
Use a fine grit sand paper on the bottom of the trays for better adhesion. 
Use a small amount of glue on the trays and put into place. 
Leave palette open over night to dry.

Step-by-Step VideoModified Watercolor Palette. If video doesn't play click this link: Video

And what would a palette be without paint? Here's my Dot Card of paint choices. I use Daniel Smith Watercolors. In my sketch palette you'll notice I've added Green Gold and eliminated Phthalo Blue (GS). These colors are on my studio palette which has more wells. Wish I could send everyone a Dot Card but I only have enough to cover workshops...sorry. 

Daniel Smith Watercolors 

Green Gold (not seen on card)
Hansa Yellow Medium
Raw Sienna Light
Quinacridone Gold
Permanent Yellow Deep
Anthraquinoid Scarlet
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Rose
Imperial Purple
French Ultramarine
Phthalo Blue GS
Cobalt Blue
Manganese Blue Hue
Cobalt Teal Blue
Phthalo Turquoise
Green Gold
Phthalo Green (BS)
Quinicradone Burnt Orange
Transparent Red Oxide
Lunar Black

Paint Tube Organizer. I always travel with this! It's the easiest way to quickly find tubes of paint and to organize colors. It's so handy! 

Happy Painting!


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Continual Line Contour

I've been using "continual line contour" drawing for so long I've forgotten when I learned how. I can tell you it has changed the way I see, draw and paint. I've learned more about observing edges, measuring, overlapping and page placement than any other approach. 
In my workshops (sketching, illustrated journal or plein air workshop) I start by demonstrating and teaching this technique. At first students might feel hesitant. But by the end of the workshop I have won them over.  

I keep a collection of props on hand and I ask students to bring props to the workshop too. The more variety the better: jars, kettles, paint tubes, brushes, mugs, wooden and metal tools, artificial flowers, vegetables. 
During the workshop I use a timer so the drawings don't become too involved or precious.  It’s funny how the mind acts when you use a timer…absolute and complete focus! We start by drawing: 1 object in 3 minutes, 2 objects in 6 minutes, 3 objects in 10 minutes. All drawing is done from life (no photos). Once we get comfortable with drawing we begin painting.

Here's a workshop demo:

During the drawing keep your pen on the paper as long as possible. Yes, I said PEN! This exercise will teach you to slow down, look longer and be more certain of shapes, size and edges. There will be a certain amount of distortion to the drawing but I consider this part of the charm.  Continual Line Contour is a good exercise no matter how long you've been drawing. 

Here's a short video I made showing, "Continual Line Contour". I usually work from life but in the video I use a photo so my view would be the same as the viewers. If the video doesn't play click on the link:

"Art like life, is knowing where to draw the line".  Happy Sketching!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What is the Purpose of Art?

Life is busy with workshops, travel, judging shows, writing and painting. Let's not forget those things that need our daily care: exercise, laundry, grocery shopping, appointments…  When I get time for myself I need something that will recharge my creative battery and feed my weary soul…sketching.

Sketching is a very broad term and I’m often asked, “What exactly is a sketch?” A sketch is anything I do in my sketchbook. Some people will disagree…that’s okay. Let’s face it the world is full of rules, laws, guidelines, restrictions, constrains… What I do in my sketchbooks is not defined or dictated by any one but me (big smile). What happens in my sketchbook is my playground, my challenges, my success, my failures…my business. 

My sketchbook is a safe place to go when I want or need to recharge, create, stretch, grow, play, explore and sometimes pour out my heart.  Within the pages I don’t ask for anyones approval or acceptance. Everyone needs a safe place to call our own. A place where we don’t seek or need anyone's approval or acceptance. 

You will learn more about me by looking through one of my sketchbooks than seeing an entire show of my work. Why is that? My paintings are me at my best (dressed up, make-up and on my best behavior). My sketchbooks are a true picture of me (in my play clothes, being silly, exploring my world, hurting…as a friend would see me). 

I take my sketchbooks everywhere I go. You can find me sketching at a cafe, in a garden, airport, sketching with friends…or a hospital.  People passing by like to comment. Most of the time they say, “nice sketch”, “wish I was talented” or “are you an artist?” But I’ve also heard, "What a shame it's in a sketchbook you could have sold it”. Why is it that so many people do not see the value of something unless they can attach a dollar amount to it?

Take a tour inside a recent sketchbook. Click on the video below or click on this link

The sketchbook in the video is one I made. To learn more see: The Perfect Sketchbook

My favorite manufactured brand is the Stillman & Birn, Beta. My video review:

I leave you with this question...

What is the purpose of art if it does not feed the soul of the one who created it? 

  Happy Sketching! 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Carpet Your Rut #2

Any form of repetition can be a rut: technique, subject matter, perspective, lighting or paint colors.  The quote, “Don’t carpet your rut”, reminds me not to get too comfortable doing the same thing. Painter’s can get in a rut because we want a successful outcome every time. Anything that’s repetitive is playing it safe. If you want to grow it means you have to take a risk. The risk can be large or small. 

If you find yourself in a creative rut…start climbing out! I begin by thinking, What if? How many ways can I sketch or paint a subject differently? The answer is countless.

The more effort and imagination I put into exploring a new approach the better the experience will be. The object can be quite simple.  The images don't need to be very big, 4x6 or 5x7 inches will do. I sketch the subject numerous times mixing drawing and painting techniques. This is a great way to explore new ideas by investing a small amount of time.

Pens: Bamboo Reed, Fountain, Disposable, Ballpoint…
Ink: waterproof , soluble, colored…
Drawing Tools: Pencil, Charcoal, Markers, Brush…
Papers: Watercolor (cold or hot press, rough) pastel paper, Japanese papers…
Paint Colors: Regular Palette, Triads, Tonal, Warm or Cool… 
Painting Techniques: wet-into-wet, flat or graduated washes, glazing…

The examples are numbered in order completed. Each drawing took less than 3 minutes and were painted in 10 minutes or less. For me it is important to keep the exercises quick and fun.

#1 Drawn with a bamboo reed pen dipped in liquid watercolors. Painted with regular palette of Daniel Smith Watercolors.

#2 Drawn with a fountain pen dipped in sepia waterproof ink. Value study with sepia pencil and painted with Lunar Black.

#3 Drawn with pencil. Painted with regular palette and Payne’s Blue Gray. The new Payne’s Blue Gray mixed beautifully to create rich glowing darks in the background.

#4 Drawn with a fountain pen with blue waterproof ink. Painted with the 8 new colors from Daniel Smith.  I love putting these new colors to work!

Now it’s your turn. Once you start, you’ll see endless possibilities. I’m sure you can add a few of your favorites to the list! See more examples here.

Happy Sketching! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Toxicity in the Art World

Toxicity in the art's not what you might think.
Original painting by Brenda Swenson
It all started in early January when I received two separate messages on Facebook.  Delilah and Suzanne notified me that one of my paintings was on the cover of a national arts supply catalog. It was obvious to them someone had copied my painting. I am so thankful that these women cared enough to message me. I owe them a debt of gratitude! 

I sent an email to the company. What came next was weeks of countless emails and phone calls. The company was rightly concerned because they were in the middle of a copyright infringement…a bad legal situation. The company wanted to write me a check…I declined. It wasn’t about the money…it’s about protecting what is my property. Instead I asked if they’d give a gift certificate to my local elementary school, for the art program. They gave a generous gift. I also outlined what I expected from the company.

*My artwork to be removed from their website and e-publications.
*An apology from the student
*An apology from the instructor
*Implement an artwork/photo release form for all future competitions. All artwork and source material must be original. No copies.
*A written notice stating that the artwork was a copy of an original painting by Brenda Swenson and copied without permission. 

The company has complied with my requests…but it’s too late to retrieve the catalogs that were mailed. I don’t wish to damage the company with negative publicity. They’ve made serious efforts to correct the matter immediately and put new guidelines in place to avoid something like this happening again.

Copy of my painting "CAL 46". Cover on left. Feature on right.

As you can see I blocked out the company information. I also blocked out the teacher’s and student’s full name and school. The teacher and I had a chance to talk and she was genuinely sorry for what happened. She was not aware that the artwork was a copy.

I’ve included the catalog cover (left) and feature (right). The student, Cassie talks about her inspiration. She stole my words, too! She had no idea how much of me went into my painting, “CAL 46”. I own the truck in the painting, the vintage license plate is in my studio, the painting earned me signature status in a watercolor society, featured in my book and much more. She entered a copy of my painting in a competition and happily accepted national publicity… an award… for my work. She has not apologized.

This is where it gets tough. Why? Because I have to look at myself. I’ve allowed her thoughtless actions to interfere with my life. Being angry has cost me too much: time, energy and emotions. To remain angry is toxic. I have two choices. I can be in control of my feelings or remain bitter towards the young woman. To remain bitter or angry is toxic. I’m ready to move on…not because of her… but because of me.

Happy Painting!

Please don’t tell me how to watermark or reduce my artwork so people will have a harder time stealing. If you do you're missing the point.  Please read my post on Ethics and Art and

***Update 2/14/2017*** Letter of apology arrived
I am so ready to put this matter behind me and move on. I can only hope the event opened people's eyes to how painful and upsetting it can be for everyone involved. I'm sure it was a painful lesson for the young woman, too.
I hope this post helped bring a greater understanding to teachers, students, schools, art supply companies and publications. Painters/Artists do have ownership rights to what we create. If you do NOT have the artists NOT download it, copy, save to computer... do NOT print, copy, sell or show work that is NOT yours. 

Enough said.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Habits for Success

Every once in a while I read something that goes to my heart and stays with me a long time. When I came across quotes by John Di Lemme I was struck with how his words hit home.

Habits for Success
by John Di Lemme
"I am your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly. I am easily managed--you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically. I am the servant of all great men, and, alas, of all failures as well. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are failures, I have made failures. I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a man. You may run me for a profit or run me for ruin--it makes no difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you. Who am I? I am a habit!"

I've wondered if my constant desire to sketch and record my world is obsessive? I've sketched on planes, trains, and automobiles. I sketch in churches, courtrooms, hospitals, grocery stores, laundry rooms, kitchens and hotel rooms. I've sketched from roof tops and mountain tops, from scaffolding and street corners. I sketch to celebrate joyful births and painful deaths.  I sketch my dinner, coffee, dessert... 
I think I have a habit.  Looks like I had it right after all!  

Happy Sketching!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Rose Parade 2017

As I am writing this I can hear the Good Year blimp flying overhead and the faint sound of bands in the distance. I live 2 and a half miles from the Rose Bowl and 2 miles from the starting point of the Tournament of Roses® Parade in Pasadena, California. People from all over the country have just witnessed the 2017 parade from the bleachers along Colorado Blvd or on T.V.

This year it was chilly and damp. The cold is great for keeping flowers fresh but a challenge for keeping my fingers warm and flexible for sketching. I had on three layers, scarf and gloves. The temps were in the 40’s. I admit that’s not cold as other parts of the country, but cold for me.

As usual Judy and I had to get permission to be on the floor of the float building site. Even through I’ve sketched the floats since 2001 I don’t want to take for granted the wonderful opportunity I have been given. Once inside the building you'd be surprised how noisy it gets. The P.A. system making announcements, power tools, blenders, scaffolding being move, Crew Chief's shouting directions…and tour groups walking by.
First thing I do is walked around the inside of the float building barn. People look like ants climbing all over the floats. They’re glueing on the flowers, seeds, and spices. Others are cutting apart straw flowers, sticking roses into vial with water, sweeping the floor, moving scaffolding... The energy in the building is magical! 

The challenge is finding a view that is exciting to sketch, unobstructed and not in the way. This isn’t easy!  There is so much going on. Once I found a good spot I had to constantly move, duck, lean, and dodge. And on top of all this everyone who walks by is interested in what I’m sketching. And I loved every minute.

I sketched The Lions Club International float,“Celebrating 100 Years of Service”. The organization does a tremendous amount of work to help people all over the world. I asked the volunteers working on the float to sigh my sketch. As it turned out many of the top district leader were on site and I had a photo opportunity with them, too. What fun!

I also sketched the Armenian Americans, “Field of Dreams”. I liked this float for it’s unique use of natural materials and strong images.  I sketched two exotic birds in a pomegranate tree on the very back of the float.  I love pomegranates for their symbolism and meaning in my life.  I only regret I couldn’t get a better view the figures riding the horse but there was no place to sketch and be out of the way. There’s always next year…


The parade was on January 2nd. I imagine a few are shaking their heads and wondering why the Tournament of Roses® parade didn't happen on New Year’s Day. In 1893 a “Never on Sunday” tradition was established. Any year New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday the parade would be moved to Monday. Why you ask? To avoid frightening horses that would be hitched outside churches and interfering with worship services along Colorado Blvd. So the events were moved to the next day, January 2. The tradition remains to this day.

Happy New Year!