Starting another painting

Well, the first painting of the Carder class is finished now – for better or worse. I think it’s ok… but nothing to write home about.

I have to say I was truly impressed with the drawing method – using the proportional divider made everything so much more accurate! I have been blessed to be able to draw pretty well – but this new tool was amazing! Improved my drawing accuracy by leaps and bounds! So if you want to make one (or buy one) for yourself to draw from life, definitely check out the videos at Really awesome stuff!

final 2So today I did some final touchups on the first painting. It doesn’t look a whole lot different, but I toned down some sections and tried to put more “punch” into it by darkening the darks and highlighting the lightest lights. But I don’t thing the painting will really come to life until it dries completely and I can varnish it so the colors come back to full vibrancy. (Incidentally – that glass cup on the left was my grandpa’s… he used it every day and has been gone since 1965. I love that thing!)

Meanwhile, I started another one today. Not painting, exactly, but the prep work.

Since I canned the last of the fresh tomatoes last night, I went with a set up of a still life with EGGS. It was either that or onions, but I’m itching to do a few eggs right now. I don’t know if I can light them well enough to make them truly interesting, but it will be a new painting exercise. Here’s the setup and the initial drawing…

still life setup 2

drawing 2

This drawing is looking a little low on the board to me but I did it with my proportional divider. That’s not to say I had it set up correctly. But I figure if all else fails, my son Brad, the woodworker, can run it through the saw and shave a couple inches off the top. OR…. I could suck it up and start over.  Hmmmmm……

Stay tuned for more updates. I know this is about as interesting as watching paint dry… because it really is watching paint dry!! But if you like to follow someone’s art progression, here I am!

The Tomatoes Won’t Wait!

In between painting… and working… and tending to daily things… this time of year, there are the tomatoes!

tomatoes Aug 2014I LOVE TOMATOES!!! I wait for them all year long! But once they come on… they don’t wait for me!

This year I was able to put a few plants in out by the shed where they get morning sun and they practically grew right up over the roof! Every day I would peek out the window when I got up to see how tall they were. Such a thrill!

Of course, they bud with small yellow flowers and then the green fruit begins to form. And I’ll be darned if the squirrels in my neighborhood didn’t find them immediately and start carrying them off! Of course, they’d drop them after a few sour bites and I would have to go pick up the remains and mourn for one less fruit. Daggone squirrels – why don’t people still shoot ’em and eat ’em anymore? Seems like a decent food source going to waste to me…

Anyway, I’m minding my own business and the tomatoes are ripening up like crazy. So just like granny, I go out to the little patch each day and gather them into my upfolded apron and carry them in the house. Before you know it, I’ve got a bounty of fresh tomatoes and some are getting TOO ripe. Something has to be done so the fruit flies don’t take over!

IMG_3852Then there’s my cranky old neighbor who plants tomatoes and doesn’t do anything with them. When he’s had enough, he just rips the plants out and lets the fruit rot on the ground. I must admit that I “liberated” a good dozen of these when no one was looking. But since I didn’t want him to know, the rest will just have to go to waste…

Now last year, I made marinara sauce and canned it – had enough half-pints to last me all year. But this year, when I looked up recipes, I was shocked to discover that the rules have changed. For water-bath canning, that is…

Seems that modern varieties of tomatoes are not nearly so acid as in times past, so if you want to can tomatoes without a pressure canner, you need to add some citric acid or lemon juice to each jar. Really?

Yep – I scoured the internet and everyone was on the same page about it. So I guess I’ll fall in line and try not to kill anyone with botulism. So my method this year was different.

I really don’t relish the idea of skinning each tomato by hand so there was no use doing that to can tomato chunks. Even if I buy canned tomatoes, they get crushed during the cooking process, so it only made sense to go ahead and make juice or plain sauce out of what I had. That’s the basic ingredient for marinara or pizza sauce anyway. And who can’t use some plain ole juice to spice up for Bloody Mary’s???

IMG_3854So first I cut up the tomatoes into large chunks and put them in a hot pan with a little olive oil. It didn’t take long for them to soften, which meant I could take them off the heat and put them through the food mill. The OXO food mill is another thing I got last year and it is fantastic! Just set it over a large bowl and start cranking – all the good stuff goes through and the skins are scraped off and left behind.IMG_3857

And don’t forget to scrape off the thicker stuff that clings to the bottom of the food mill. That’s what Chef Anne Burrell calls the “big money” stuff and you don’t want to waste it. So into the bowl it goes.

canningI no longer have the big ole granite-ware canner. Nope – last year I got a small plastic set up that fits in a regular soup pot. The picture shows it holding 3 pint jars but I can do 5 half pints or 2 pints and 3 half pints at a time. It works great and is not hard to store. (Available on Amazon: here)

After putting the first batch through the food mill, I put the hot sauce directly into my jars and then into the canner for 45 minutes. Each jar has a bit of salt, lemon juice and the milled tomatoes. Pretty thin consistency. And when I took them out of the water bath, the juice had separated in the jar somewhat so there was tomato “water” on the bottom and thicker juice on top of each jar. No big deal, but not exactly a sauce I can use quickly next winter.

So after 10 half-pint jars of “juice” – I decided to put the next batch of milled tomatoes back on the stove to cook. Seems you can cook it down for an hour or two or three and it will get thicker and not separate in the jar. That was something I wanted to try.

IMG_3865I let the sauce simmer for about 90 minutes – I’m sure it could have gone on for at least 90 more – but I really wanted to get to bed sometime before daylight dawned. By now it was cooked down by 25-30% and was considerably thicker than when I started. Good enough for me!

So I canned that batch for another 45 minutes and took each jar out of the water bath with tongs. And the fun thing was that I could hear the lids “popping” – the sound when they make that airtight seal – even as I was setting them on the counter to cool down. What happy sounds!

I feel a tomato still life painting coming on…

Progress Report

You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks…

I’m guessing there is some truth to it, but only as much as you allow. Still, it can be hard to change your ways!

I did get started on the still life I wanted to paint and the drawing process was awesome. Mark explained how to set up a couple of reference lines and then use the proportional divider to mark the position of the objects. It sure takes the guesswork out of it! And when you get done, everything is in the right place. It did take a while, and you can’t see my drawing on the stained canvas very well, but it looks promising.  Here’s that progression…

Set up the still life inside the shadow box and turn on the light in the light box positioned above. Then add a couple of strings to make both a horizontal and vertical line of reference.

IMG_3802Use the proportional divider (you can buy a cheap plastic one for $15 or so, but my son made me a beautiful one out of mahogany wood – it is a delight to use! Measure your objects with the short side and flip the divider over to transfer the measurements onto the stained canvas with the bigger side. Mark has complete video instructions for this on his website,

913291_2_proportional_divider_www.ward2u.comIMG_3819Then you get to mix paint! Using the color-checker (a device Mark also details on his website) mix all the color groups you need and get them onto your glass palette. They’ll last for a while since all the paints include slow dry medium. This was new to me, but the paint is literally like butter.

IMG_3836   color-checker

Start painting – dark first and gradually adding lighter sections of each object. It is best to complete one object at a time rather than jumping all over the place.

IMG_3837 Step9b

Work and work and work some more. Resist the urge to just paint without using the color checker (I didn’t!)

step 9B paint canvas covered

Get the canvas covered before you start any blending. This is hard to do!!! But if you blend now you will lose your deep shadow colors and it is near impossible to get them back. Naturally I did this, but hey – it’s my first painting with this method. I’ll have to practice more…

final 1I am (somewhat) pleased with the final result. I may go back and do a few things on it, but I sure learned a lot! For one thing… I did NOT spend enough time setting up a satisfactory still life. I thought I did because I changed it numerous times, but overall I didn’t like the dark look of it. So why would I think the painting would look any different? It doesn’t! Lesson learned… Also, the photo isn’t exactly true to the painting. The background looks pretty wishy washy here – moreso than in the actual painting.

So that’s painting number one. I don’t think I can stand to work it on much more, although I am waiting for Mark’s feedback on it. He might have something to say that will make me go back to it. We’ll see.

Slow to Start

After talking to several college counselors, I was unable to work out the finances and logistics of finishing my 4 year degree. I’m either going to have to let that dream go… or be about 70 when I finally get it. Either way is fine with me.

Meanwhile, during the process, I decided that my ultimate desire is to keep painting and keep improving at it. At this point in my life I have no illusions of being a well-known artist, but I do still crave the personal satisfaction of learning and doing all I can within my own little world.

When I was young, I didn’t have the patience for tedious things like I do now.

There’s a famous concept about achieving goals… that you have to enjoy the journey (or the process) instead of just the end result. And oddly enough, I have learned to do just that. I have TREMENDOUS patience for the sometimes tedious tasks involved in the “journey.” And it has taken a long time to learn, but learn it, I have.

For instance, I love to knit. And on a knitting forum once, I saw someone comment that she loved to knit so much – that if she was stranded on a desert island with one ball of yarn, she would make what she could with it. And because she truly loved the process, she would then tear the whole thing out so she could knit again with the same yarn. And she would keep doing it until the yarn wore out.

Well, that’s how I feel about artsy things. I no longer mind tearing out a day’s worth of knitting to start over because it isn’t right. I will gladly gesso over a failed painting to re-use the canvas for another try. Last year I spent $100 and 60 hours on two mosaic panels that came out hideous. I immediately put them in the trash and was glad to see them go.

A lot of people praise the things I do – but you must remember that I don’t show the failures. And there are a lot of them.

Soooo…. during my recent “degree search” I came across some online classes. One in particular stood out… The artist is Mark Carder (Who I have to confess I did not know of) but boy, when I began to look into his career and methods, I was blown away. And for the first time, he is giving an online class at a much lower price than it costs to travel to Austin, Texas to take one of his workshops. I immediately signed up.mark carder

To check him out, his website is… Get a load of his gorgeous Presidential portraits!!!

He also maintains a “how-to’ website here: which consists of enough videos to study on your own if you don’t want to take a class. Generous stuff.

Since then, I’ve spent hours watching the videos and gathering class supplies. It is amazingly technical! Which I love!

So for over a month I’ve been getting ready…

  • First I sold my over-sized living room furniture and got smaller stuff that I could move around to accommodate studio space.
  • Bought a small TV which my son-in-law mounted on the wall for me – and then had to pay a service call to the cable company to get it hooked up!
  • Installed wall shelving to hold supplies and canvases
  • Ordered paints and mediums (linseed oil, stand oil, clove oil, etc) that I didn’t have…
  • Built a “shadow box” out of black foam core – I even did my own take on it and put it together with velcro so I can take it apart when not painting and put it away. That’s a pretty short term solution, but will work for now.
  • Got light stands to hold the two 85W compact florescent bulbs (each equivalent to 350 watts) needed for “studio light.” (Honestly, it looks like Moses will be descending Mt. Sinai any moment now in my living room!)
  • Made a light box to set over the shadow box and even wired up the special bulb to a cord myself!
  • Hung black draperies along one wall in front of the bookcases to cut glare – but did so with S-hooks so they can come down when I’m not painting.
  • Special ordered glass for a palette.
  • My son, the woodworker, custom made me a “proportional divider” and a set of “color checkers” to use with this method of painting. (Thanks Brad!)
  • Ordered glass mason jars to mix the paint in and special little “sticks” to mix each color with.
  • Completely destroyed my pretty little living room
  • Stained the canvases and the back of the glass palette a neutral brown – which had to dry for 48 hours
  • Agonized over which objects to set up for the still life – took several triesIMG_3818 (picture posted here, but hard to visualize)
  • Used the proportional divider to make the pencil sketch on the canvas
  • Watched the 5 hour class video to make sure I had done everything right and could start mixing paint

And all the while, I emailed my progress steps to Mark Carder who has not only answered promptly, but been very helpful in making minor adjustments along the way.

Phew! And I haven’t even started painting yet!

But I will soon…

Backstory, Part 2

I settled into my corporate job and felt very lucky to have landed on my feet. I was able to make a living, keep my house and take small vacations once in a while. Painting went on the back burner.

dogI would occasionally do pet portraits and other sketches for people I knew through work but I didn’t really like commissions. It was tiresome to be under the pressure of making other people happy so I decided to just paint and draw for myself. Nothing for sale or to make money on the side.

Painting pretty much fell by the wayside even though I was known at work as the “artist.” And I was somewhat of a joke over it. I worked in a department of all engineers (not their secretary) and even though I had more college than most of them, I made nowhere near the same salary. And this is where not having a 4 year degree really hurt me. I wasn’t considered qualified to do the work I had learned to do, and thus not the pay.

One particular engineer loved to ask me, “what does the artist say to the engineer?”

And the answer… “would you like fries with that?”fries

Hardy har har.

Still, I learned a lot of chemistry over the years and was able to save the company millions of dollars by doing specialized re-application work of steel orders. Then the recession came.

Automotive steel orders were cancelled to the point that the company had to take drastic measures. And I, the only non-engineer in an engineering department, was the first cut. So after 14 years of pushing myself to be a valuable employee, I was called in and let go in a matter of minutes. No notice. No thanks. Just an escort out the door after being stripped of security passes. The feeling was that of being kicked to the curb.

Again I had to scramble to make a living. And again I landed on my feet. I took classes in copywriting and was able to work from home, which beat slaving away in a cubicle every day. But it wasn’t all roses – health care was a nightmare. I’ll spare you that whole ordeal.

The point is… I was truly slaving to make a living and I wasn’t doing the thing that makes my heart sing: paint. I would think of it from time to time, and I periodically kept sketch books for the fun of it, but I wasn’t doing any serious artwork.

When I went to Italy I wanted to paint more than I did. I started the trip with a class to get warmed up, but it was difficult to keep up the momentum. I had to work while I was there. I was also overwhelmed by the culture difference. It was exciting, and there was loads to see but I didn’t speak the language and I was alone.

I churned out a number of small paintings but I was just getting started when it was time to come home. They looked pretty much like what I’d always painted, so there was no “breakthrough” to speak of. The trip was fantastic, but I did not come home a better painter.

When my mother died a couple months ago, I realized I’m running out of time. That 4 year degree is still on my mind but I haven’t figured out how to make it happen. And while mulling that over and talking to college counselors, I realized what I really want is to paint at a higher skill level. And that is still possible.

So I’ve found someone to study with and the method is quite new to me. What I love about it is the discipline and the “old master” feel of both the process and the finished paintings I’ve seen.

I don’t know how that is going to transfer to my own experience, but I’m hoping to learn something new and paint more like I want to. And I’m bringing back the Sketchy LIfe Blog to track it all. Even if it is only me following it, that is fine. This IS for me. Finally.

The Backstory

I mentioned in my last post that one of my few regrets is that I never got a 4 year degree in Fine Arts. I tried, but I didn’t make it. And it was totally my own fault.

My daughter is among several who tell me that a degree is over-rated. Just a piece of paper. Not relevant. And I believe that on one level.

Still, from the time I was a little kid, I wanted an art education. A real one. With a framed diploma that said I had it.

You see, I discovered I could draw when I was in second grade. My school class (in Chillicothe Ohio) had taken a field trip to a local historic home, Adena. After the tour, the teacher set us up on the front lawn with large sheets of drawing paper and pens and paints.

I focused on drawing the front of the building and to my utter surprise, the lines just seemed to flow out the end of the pen. The mansion took shape before my eyes as though someone else was doing it. I was mesmerized.

As a finishing touch, I found a small sponge and dabbed in the shrubbery. And as I stood staring at my handiwork, the teacher came by and gasped out, “Did you do that by yourself?”

I looked at her through my own amazement and quietly replied, “yes.”

It was one of those defining moments of life you never forget – and I was all of 7 or 8 years old.

After that I was obsessed with drawing. The only thing I wanted for birthdays or Xmas was drawing sets or paints. I devoured everything on sketching from the library. And from there I would scour books for illustrations I could copy.

I desperately wanted art lessons but that was forbidden. “People like us don’t spend money on those kind of things,” my dad decreed. And there was no changing his mind. Even worse, we had moved to such a small town that even the high school did not have an art program. I got into music and cheerleading but my heart was literally starved for art.

Finally, we moved again and I was able to enroll in a local branch college of Ohio University. In the Fine Art program! I was so excited that I stayed up the entire night of my first assignment going over and over it to make it perfect.

Sadly, it went downhill after that. This was school year 1969-70. The art world had been taken by storm by Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans. All of our assignments were to come up with conceptual pieces that were wildly non-mainstream. There was nothing close to the principles of realism, the reasoning being… if you want something realistic, take a photo.

I went with it but my heart wasn’t in it. And it was very difficult to work, pay rent and pay my own tuition and book and supply fees. My room mate and I had a list of potential “dates” we could call who might buy us a pizza so we could eat!

By the time I was a junior I also had to commute 45 minutes to the main campus because the branch did not have a full program. That meant less time to work and more money for gas and parking.

Plus, I finally had a serious boyfriend who was not the college sort. At first he humored me about it, but eventually he resented the time and expense of my education. We fought about it and I made the decision I’ve always regretted… with four quarters left to go to get my degree, I opted to “take a break” from school. It was meant to be for just one quarter, but life happened and I never went back.


my daughter, Ellyn, age 14

I never stopped drawing and painting. I worked it in around the husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs, house and yard. I was happy enough with my life, but art was a hobby, not a focus. I got odd jobs doing sign work and murals. I did some portrait commissions. I won some prizes and got some local recognition. But it still wasn’t the art I dreamed of. And because my husband didn’t approve, my drawing board was actually in the garage – right between the car and the deep freeze.

After an unexpected divorce in my early forties, I got a government grant and went to a community college for graphic design. I finally got a 2 year degree but that was the limit of the grant. Now I had 5+ years of college… and a 2 year degree. I felt half-baked.

I checked on getting the 4 year degree but it just wasn’t financially possible. Worse, I couldn’t get a graphic design job. Supposedly there is not discrimination out there, but no one would hire a woman in her forties who was fresh out of school – and I tried for over a year.

Meanwhile, I was working as a secretary at a local company and was well-liked there. My colleagues helped me get hired on in a “real” capacity and suddenly I was in the steel business. But it was a very good living with great benefits and it meant I could keep my house. That’s life.

But now the kids were grown and I could afford to travel to better art classes. I took vacations to study with prominent artists for a week at a time and painted in my spare time in my home studio – which was actually a whole room inside the house! However, this was still “hobby” level, even though I did some pretty nice stuff.

Then life struck again – which I’ll detail in the next post…

Painting Again

As always, painting is my first love.

DavidI’ve done a little the past couple years… very little. Nothing serious in the least. Probably my nicest drawing was this one of Michelangelo’s “David” that I saw in Florence. It is pencil, charcoal and white gesso on gray drawing paper. I framed it and hung it in my living room to remind me of that glorious day. (My original post about the incomparable “Da-veed” is here:

It is so easy to tell yourself, “I have to work” or “I have to keep up with the house and the yard” or “I’d really just rather watch TV for a while.” I have done all those things.

Then, this past Easter Sunday morning, my mother passed away from congestive heart failure.

The whole thing happened very quickly. She had been in the same condition for several years in an assisted living home. She wasn’t terribly old – just 79 – but had neglected her health for most of her life. I don’t blame her for that… it’s an easy thing to do.

But the most sobering thing for me, besides losing a parent, is that she was only 17 years older than me.

That means, of course, back in the early 50s, she was a youngin’ of 16 when I first made my presence known. Certainly she did not invent that drama – it was practically an epidemic. And like many of my generation, I was welcomed into the world by parents who were still children themselves.

Fast forward to now…

Losing a parent is something that happens to everyone. But when it is you, you realize you’ve just taken another step up to the turnstile out of this life. When I was a kid, I was in line behind great-grandparents, grandparents and parents. Now most of those are gone and I’m first in line.

Holy whatever!

Does this mean I have 17 years or less left? Or maybe a few more if I watch what I’m doing? Who knows?

What it does mean is you start questioning your priorities…

Knowing your days are limited makes you start to think of what you really ought to be doing with the valuable time you have.

Foremost for me are spiritual goals and family time, but beyond that, I have a personal life as well. What am I doing on a daily basis that makes my life interesting and fun and worth other people remembering me?

Basically, for me, it is creative pursuits that I can share with others. Anything creative sets off all my bells and whistles. I’ve spent countless hours learning to knit socks… make the perfect marinara sauce… keep sketch diaries… recreate vintage handkerchiefs… teach everyone to make homemade noodles just like my grandmother did… and on and on.

But if I have one regret, it is this… a 4 year college degree in fine arts.

I never got it and I still want it. Yes, I’m 62 years old and I still want it. And I remembered it when my mother died.

However, education is not free. I did some checking and it is still out of reach. I’ll put the details about my college experience and desires in another post…

So that made me think… what is it I really want?

Well, dagnab it, I want to be a good painter. And I want to have a nice body of work under my belt. And if I can’t go back to college, I can at least study painting and do some good work. And so I have started. I am officially painting again… almost.

What I’ve decided to do is a very involved process and that is part of why I want to document it.

It will take me several posts to explain, so if you hang with me, I’ll do just that.

For now, I’m happy knowing I’m about to start painting again.


The Sketchy Life is BACK!

Starr 61Hello! Starr here…

Today is Saturday, 8/9/2014 – more than a year and half since my last post of the paintings I did in Italy in late 2012.

I wasn’t sure what would happen to this blog, but coming home from Italy was just as much culture shock as it was to go there in the beginning. If you look back through my blog at that time, you will see that it took me more than 2 days to get home – 2 days of missed flights and sitting up all night in airports and feeling generally displaced in life. I was so numb when I got home I slept for days.

The other thing was that I had moved into a small apartment (downsized from a 4 bedroom home) just 2 days before I left for Italy for 3 months. It wasn’t planned that way, but it IS how it happened. So I came home to a tiny apartment of less than 500 square feet – filled to the ceiling with boxes in every room. I didn’t even know where I was! I had to write my address down so I could recite it for deliveries and updating billing accounts. I floated through life in a daze for some time.

I fully intended to keep painting – and keep walking – but life in the U.S. is vastly different than village life in Italy.

Painting went by the wayside because I had an entire living space to unpack and organize. And if you know me, you know I can’t just throw a K-mart sheet on the bed and crawl in…

Nope, I had to shop day and night for fabrics and storage units and unpack box after box of items I didn’t know what to do with. But one thing was for sure… it was gonna look designer-chic when I was through. (And it does!)

Second, the walking was a bust. In Italy, everyone is on the streets all day and half the night. Everyone walks or bikes to the markets every day and the streets are wall to wall shops and cafes. It is lovely and I got so I had to go out several times a day just to walk and shop for necessities and see what was happening. Rain or shine.

In southwest Ohio, you only walk if you have to… meaning you don’t have a car and possibly can’t afford a bus ticket. The markets are NOT nearby – they are least a few miles away. And anyone you meet on the street on the way there is someone you should probably be afraid of. Yes, there are people who “exercise” – but they are not the ones walking to the grocery. Folks simply don’t do that here.

And so, I reverted to the native midwest girl I am. I gained back the 20 pounds I had lost effortlessly in Italy and my feet lost their hard-won conditioning for walking any sort of distance.

But now I am good and settled in. The house is in order… the small garden is in place… and my passion for painting is back.

In order to document what I’m doing, I am reviving the Sketchy Life Blog. It is mostly for me because I’m a nut about writing and recording things and sharing my creative passions. I know that a lot of other people don’t really get that. But no matter. I’m getting back to the Sketchy Life and it makes me happy to record it here. And that’s that.

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