Didn’t Finish / Finished

Part One:

Generally, when I start a page in my sketchbook, I finish it – at least in some form. There are a couple through the years that I have walked away from – one in particular was homework for France Belleville-Van Stone Sketchbook Skool lesson in which we were supposed to deliberately draw cars which might drive away mid-sketch. There’s another page of studies of eyes that I’m adding to bit by bit as the urge to draw an eye strikes me (a less regular occurrence than I expected). But two weeks ago, I started a sketch and ran into such, well, MASSIVE issues that I couldn’t bring myself to continue much less finish it. It was bothering me so badly, I avoided drawing at all. I didn’t even touch my sketchbook for a week because I was so challenged by the mess I’d made.

Here’s a snapshot to give you an idea of the massive problem:


It just kept getting bigger

Mhmm. That’s a six page spread. Everything started out alright with a drawing of the negative spaces of the roofline of one of Tbilisi’s iconic buildings, but as usual, I didn’t really plan out the composition of the page and I let the size of my drawing get totally out of hand. It was so bad that I hadn’t even reached the really interesting part of the roofline before I ran off the page. I ran across the street to an art store and bought a block of drawing paper, matched up a sheet and kept going, figuring I’d tape it in as a fold-out page later. And then the same thing happened. And happened again. And again. And really, even again but at that point I threw in the towel. I went home, washi-taped everything up, tucked the pages in my sketchbook and began the whole avoidance process.

Part Two:

I’ve sort of been dreading this week’s Sketchbook Skool lesson with Juliana Coles. No offense – she seemed like a lovely person and talented artist but I’ve seen work like this before and I’ve even read a bunch of books on creating art journals like hers but I just didn’t get it. It seemed so forced and kind of woo-woo and reaaaaaally personal to me. Nope. Not my thing. I figured I’d watch the videos and give the homework a skip. I’ve got enough to do with making new sketches, why would I ever go back and alter the old ones? And yeesh! I worked hard on those sketches and I don’t want to mess them all up painting over them and sticking stuff on top. Nope. Not for me.

Part Three:

Somewhere in the middle of her demonstration it occurred to me that I did in fact have a sketch that I really hated. A sketch that I was so frustrated by that it was haunting me and keeping me from even touching the book it was in. The wheels started to turn and the ideas of what to I could do and what materials I could use started coming before I could even get to the end of the lesson. I persevered, watched Koosje’s homework video too and then grabbed my book and went off to my desk. (But I still wasn’t going to do that journalling thing. That’s just embarrassing).

Part Four:

I dug out a bunch of rarely-used materials, spread out the pages and thought, Oh what the heck? and grabbed a grey watercolor pencil and started writing. It turns out Juliana’s method of choosing a short prompt and playing with it really can start a flood of thoughts that definitely help to direct the rest of the exercise- which was a good thing considering I had six pages to fill.



Tiny snip of the embarrassing writing

Then it was time for paints. I used some really bright acrylics that have been lying around for years and added some gesso to tone things down or highlight as the mood struck.I made a huge mess; I had a grand time.


It took all day to get the paint off my hands

Like Koosje, I really am a Throw-Outer. I’m known among my friends and colleagues for my special throw-outing superpowers. But I do love to save National Geographic magazines and cut them up to add end papers to my sketchbooks. I grabbed a stack knowing I needed some words (I don’t have any stamps of any kind) but not knowing what else I was looking for. I found a bunch of words that seemed to go along with what I’d been writing and one piece of a photo that I just liked for no particular reason. I collaged them in, feeling that I’d add some weight with black ink afterwards. Some paint got on my brayer and I really liked that accidental effect. I like to use my Parallel pens to Twingle things and I thought adding some messy arrows and circles would work but before I knew it, I was adding ink scratchings everywhere.

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Done except for being washi-taped to my sketchbook

Part Five:

And just like that, it was done and it answered a question that I’ve had for decades when looking at art like this: “How do you know when it is done?” In this case it seems that you just know, but I’ll let you know because it turns out that this lesson that I wanted nothing to do with was probably my favorite of this session and I’m sure I’ll be trying this technique again very soon.






Drawing Big Heads

Our kids have been visiting for the holidays but it is almost time for them to return to home and jobs and university. I’ve been enjoying sketching partly for the reminder after they are gone and partly because there is something wonderful about really observing them now that they are grown up.

Claire 2016

Of the many challenging and inspiring Sketchbook Skool lessons and instructors, Lapin’s Big Heads in SBS Stretching really struck a chord with me. Just by suggesting that we begin a portrait with the eyes, he helped me to capture the faces of the people I love. I admit the sitting very close and staring intently part probably limits this technique to people who know me pretty well, and my likenesses improve if the subjects will actually hold still (I’m talking about you, Husband and Son).

Peter 2016

Coincidentally, I discovered that I –  like Lapin – enjoy using paper with a grid pattern. I love it for writing and notetaking, but never drew on it until my father gave me one of his old only partly used Pentalic Traveller’s journals with gridded paper this past summer. I loved the way the pattern added some depth to my drawings but once it was full, I went back to using plain paper sketchbooks. However, one of my New Year’s Resolutions (don’t judge, I still love making resolutions and I figure that at least for a few months I’ll be doing the good things I always dreamed of!) is to use up the loads of stuff I already have – including my, oh, TWENTY SIX (!!!) new or partly used notebooks. I am currently using an old Moleskine 5×8 journal with gridded paper and I am totally hooked on the interplay of grid and drawing. And in a further coincidence, Lapin and I also share the dilemma of how to find more of our now discontinued notebooks; this one is so nice to use because it predates the big Moleskine Paper Switch.

Sally 2016

If you haven’t happened to come across Lapin’s work yet, you can find him on Instagram @lapinbarcelona or check out his blog at les-calepins-de-lapin.blogspot.com

How I Got Over Fear of the Blank Page and Started Using My Sketchbooks 

For years, Fear of the Blank Page meant that while I carried a notebook of some sort with me everywhere I went, I never used any of them. My beautiful little books must require only beautiful and auspicious creations, it seemed. What was I going to capture in the few moments I was sitting still that would be worthy? Worse, if someone happened to pick up my book, what could I have created that wouldn’t raise a questioning eyebrow?

I wish I could say that I ended this dilemma by giving up caring what other people would think. Alas, that is also not in my nature. Instead, here are the things that helped me get past my reluctance and get busy drawing.

The Great Unloved

1. On a trip into London, I made a pilgrimage to Foyle’s Bookshop (honestly, if you ever witness me walking past a bookstore, assume my body has been taken over by aliens) found Danny Gregory’s book, The Creative Licence. (Actually, it might be more accurate to say, I found Danny Gregory. I suspect it does not matter which book or blog post is your introduction, the man has to be the single most influential force in creating new sketchers. Check out his blog, Everyday Matters, and see if you can resist!) This particular book assumes you want to draw but haven’t since childhood, that you are shy to begin, and that you are unsure you have anything worthy to sketch in the first place. It goes on through nearly 200 pages of advice and encouragement, illustrated by Danny and his sketching friends. It took me years to read and absorb and is still the book I return to over and over again for inspiration and assurance.

2. I joined Sketchbook Skool (SBS). A year and a half ago, I was fiddling around looking for online drawing classes when I found a link for SBS and it sounded so great, I signed up that second though Klass (it’s a little high-concept that way) didn’t start until April. And even though I was still working a bazillion hours and getting ready to move to one place and then another. And even though my internet connection in Armenia was so slow, it took an entire day to view each 7-10 minute video. I caught up a little when I went back to Buffalo in May, but I was typically bad at keeping up with the homework assignments. The program uses a masterclass style with one sketchbook artist giving a week’s worth of lessons and homework assignments. To be honest, I found it inspiring but overwhelming in the beginning. I was such a beginner, I was basically always frustrated by how poor my drawings seemed compared those of the many talented students and instructors. Imagine my delight when they announced that the lessons would be available to students in perpetuity! This turned out to be of the greatest benefit to me and I’ve signed up for each successive semester, following the videos and doing assignments as I am able or as the spirit moves me. I can (and do) jump back and forth and I find that revisiting older lessons as I grow more confident and capable allows me to glean more each time. But, as helpful and inspiring as the actual lessons are, perhaps the greatest benefit of SBS is that it has created a community of amateur sketchers (and some professionals too) who share their efforts and encourage and inspire each other to grow and improve. Seeing all the ways that people have approached the same assignment has quite literally changed the way I see the world.

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3. I took Koosje Koene’s Awesome Art Journaling class. Though it was short and simple, I took it right in the middle of moving chaos (avoidance, anyone?) and I fear I didn’t take away as much as Koosje put into it. Still, Koosje (the other half of the creative team behind SBS; check out her website – it’s also full of usefulness) is so positive and so supportive to beginners (and ALWAYS responds to emails sent to her by students – I am in awe), I can look back in my sketchbooks and see that this class is the one that pushed me into making drawing a nearly every day habit. And that habit is one that works like meditation for me. It allows me to slow down and has encouraged me to closely observe and notice the details and peculiarities of wherever I am. Though I still take too many photos when I travel, I have begun pulling my sketchbook out and trying to record the moment I am in, and those drawings take me right back to everything I was experiencing in a way my snapshots never seem to.

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I am sure there are people who took up drawing without needing books or online classes or communities but I don’t think I would have made the leap without Danny and Koosje’s help. Along the way I’ve begun to believe that I can create my own vision of a moment and that getting it “perfect” is not the point – in fact, sometimes getting it “finished” is often beside the point as well. Just as I was about to publish this post, I received an email from the guys at SBS that shared a quote that captures my thoughts precisely: “Practice any art… no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” – Kurt Vonnegut

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An Illustrated Walk Through My Neighborhood

It was a crazy week month two months (more on that later) and I finally had a quiet weekend at home. Alone (more on that later, too). I promised myself that I was going to take a walk down to Prospero’s Bookstore and buy myself a new book. For absolutely no good reason except I wanted to take the walk and I wanted a different book than the ones on my shelf. It is about a two mile walk (maybe less) through a really interesting neighborhood and I just couldn’t stop taking photos.

IMG_0408My electric blue puffer jacket goes with EVERYTHING, Baby!

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It is extremely easy to eat well in Tbilisi.


Be careful – these are Frah-Gee-Ley!


Looking at this never gets old.


Neither does this.


I am here to tell you that there is nothing like a pile of pink sequined sheep holding wallets and sweaters on their backs to make me think, “Hey, I should buy my husband some expensive Italian clothes!”


This is some powerful makeup they are selling in M A C.

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These little bronze statues are all over the place downtown. I love them.




Little statues everywhere.

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Leaves were everywhere. It was extremely windy today and I think the leaf-sweeping ladies might get Sundays off. Monday is going to stink for them.


I should probably look up who this guy is; I really like his regal posture.


And his lion fountain.


This lady is always here, right next to the McDonalds. Don’t be tempted to buy her an ice-cream cone. Once, I saw a girl do that; she does. Not. Like. Ice-cream. Maybe because it was freezing and rainy that day; I don’t know.


Everything looks more romantical by moonlight streetlight.


I really love these old grapevines growing up the side of apartment buildings. Sometimes they are as big around as trees.


And I love these old cars. Unless I am behind them on the way to work; then I really don’t like them at all. (I need my friend Alijon to tell me which is older: the car or me?)


I do not know who Samo is, but this is absolutely no kind of way to share the news!

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Everybody’s door is better looking than your door dreams of being. (Do not even ask me about my door. It has to fend off the zombie apocalypse. It has no time to get pretty).


Hey! I kind of like this one.

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And it comes in different colors. With some of the world’s craziest headbands. (How to decide)?


I wish Mark was here. This is a great place to stop on the way home and share a beer and a bowl of peanuts. Not the same alone, alas.


Seeing the Ferris Wheel never ceases to make me smile, either.


Now, now! Even a fur isn’t going to keep you warm if you don’t do your part!


Late night cheese run, anyone?


I love these alleys.


And these courtyards.


They had me up ’til the deer-antlered woman.


Slept through your alarm? No problem! Just throw Benetton’s super-trendy new jacket over your nightie and you are ready for a day in the office.


Have you found yourself with only one tire on your car? This shop in our perehod can set you up.


At long last, SUPPER!


And lunch!

And because I know the suspense is killing you, this is what I bought.


I’ll let you guess which one is already impossible to put down.