Tag Archives: Paint

Walking Through the Witches

People ask me sometimes about ballpoint pen and how I use it in my drawings.  They’ll say that when they use it, it smears or gets discolored.  And I say, “that’s because no one in their right mind should be using ballpoint pen.”  But I can’t help it–that’s what I like.  It’s what I’ve ALWAYS liked, and what I’m most comfortable with.  It’s cheap, portable, easy to find, easy to carry.

But it does have a couple of issues.

Don’t be scared, though!  When I was younger, information was a lot harder to find, and I was about the only one I ever knew that drew with a PEN.  Nowadays, there are TONS of fine artists that use ballpoint (sometimes they call it “biro”), and do some AMAZING work.  I don’t know what they go through, but here are some things I’ve learned…


I’ve learned that I like ballpoints.  Not gels, not rollerballs, not ink pens.  BALLPOINTS.  Believe it or not, there’s a difference.  Nothing fancy, either–I’ve tried the expensive ones, and they’re nice, but for my work, they’re not gritty enough.  Plain ol’ Bics work best for me…but I’ll use anything in a pinch.


I call it “glurping” or “glumping,” or whatever.  It’s that blob of ink that sometimes comes out when you’re drawing, that can smear up your whole picture.  Early on, I’d be happily drawing and OH NO MY WHOLE DRAWING IS RUINED!!!  I know of one artist who uses his finger to wipe the pen every few strokes.  I use my shirt….or whatever dark fabric thing is closest.  Which is why, if you look all over my house, and on every shirt I own, you will most likely see little constellations of pen dots on my right front shoulders.  As I draw, every couple of minutes, I instinctively wipe my pen on my shirt in a little twist.  Sure, there is absolutely a better way to do this that was not so messy on my clothes.  I could use a napkin.  But I don’t.


I use ballpoint sketches as sort of a skeleton, because I like the pen marks to show through a little.  If I watercolor on top, I get this nice blend of ink and pen.  If I use acrylics, you still get to see the great lines, but with painting more on top.  BUT IF YOU VARNISH, no matter HOW MUCH acrylic paint I have on top of my pen lines, the pen will SHOW THROUGH.  And it turns sort of a purplish color.  I’ve tried different varnishes, and I always get the same result.  I usually like the look, but if it’s TOO discolored, I wait for the varnish to dry and paint in acrylic back on top of it.  Varnish THAT, and you’re good to go.  Waste of time?  Yes.  Draw my undercoat in pencil instead, then?   NEVER EVER EVER. Don’t know why.

So here’s a typical project:  Awhile back, my art friend Aaron McMillan (@mcmillankid on Instagram) and I challenged each other to draw Meryl Streep.  I wanted to draw both versions of her witch from “Into The Woods.”

I usually start with the eyes and work my way out.  I’ve mentioned before that there are many ways to measure faces to get proper proportions, and while I did my time with that in art school, I prefer to just wing it, because I like the wonky look.


My drawings are made up of very soft lines using varied pressure and crosshatching.  I noticed once, while drawing, that I sort of blur my eyes to see the values and tones as I’m shading…which might explain my terrible eyesight.  (Thankfully I’m near-sighted, so I’d still be able to draw in a post-apocalyptic world if I broke my glasses…but I’d be useless spotting anyone more than 10 feet away.  …I have to think about these things.)

2-good witch

Once the sketch is done, I usually use watercolor or acrylic, but for this one, I challenged myself to use markers (since Aaron uses them a lot).  Several people use Copics, but I prefer Prismacolor Premiere Brush Tips for no real reason, other than that I’m comfortable with them, and I love them.

Now this is where people who try this often get freaked out, because pens do freaky things…

3-adding color

AAAUUUGH it’s PURPLE!!    Yeah, using markers on top of ballpoint pen is a little freaky because it instantly turns purple.  This can weird you out at first, and make you think you’ve ruined the whole thing.  But be patient!  All is not lost!  Keep going…

I get my darker markers out to shade, and the purple discoloration is already starting to settle down a bit as it soaks into the page…


And now by the time I’ve blended my darks with my lights, the purple tone is almost as faded as a bad dream in the daytime.

5-smoother colors

So here’s what it looks like, flat without much highlights.  I have the ballpoint skeleton underneath, and I like the quickness of the markers–you can blend solid colors very quickly with darker shadows, and the marker soaking into the page does the rest.  So here it is all flat, and ready for the next step…

6-final flat color

Highlights!  Here I like to use white acrylic paint (although I’ve used white colored pencil in a pinch) to add highlights to everything to make it pop a little more.


I like to find the “hot spots” of white, and blend them into the background color.


And there ya go!


The main point is not to get freaked out.  I teach our daughter that there’s no real way to “mess up.”   If you can’t fix it with ink or paint, you can always pretend you did it on purpose.  🙂

Don’t be afraid to mess up.  Just open that sketchbook and DO IT.  The worse that could happen is that you learn something.  So good luck with all your artistic experiments!

Painting with Confidence

“You’re really good at drawing, mom.  You’re even better than that lady that’s better than you.”

Um.  I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but it sounded like a compliment.

Then, with her head down, she said, “I’m not even as good as you.  I don’t paint very well at all.”

Ouch.  Now I know she doesn’t really feel that way.  But being a mom of a whole 5 years of experience (trust me, I know from my sister–a mother of two teen girls–that I’m STILL in the beginner levels), I have learned enough to see this more as a confidence cry than an actual honest declaration.

She KNOWS she’s only five years old, and that my own many many (MANY) years on this earth has just given me a bit more time to improve in my artwork.  She knows that the more time she spends on something, the better she’ll get at it.  And she knows it’s not good to compare yourself  to others, as long as you’re having fun.

She knows all that.  But she wasn’t just being disingenuous, and she wasn’t fishing for compliments–she just needed to feel something positive.  A reassurance that she was on the right track.

But it hurt my heart for her to not be able to see how awesome she is when she does what she loves.  So I whipped up an idea to let her run with.

We’ve drawn together many times before, and our collaborations are fun.  But it’s not often that SHE does the painting herself.

I had an extra piece of cut wood from an older project, and I sketched a face.

That evening, I laid a tablecloth on the carpet in the art room, gave her a few of my older (but still decent) brushes, and my palette of acrylic paints.  I told her it was hers to paint any way she liked.

So she immediately went for the green.

dinah in progress1

Apparently, they had learned that song “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah” that day at school, but to her ears, it sounded like “DINO…”  And she imagined some happy little dinosaur-girl who (for some reason) was dancing around in the kitchen.

Using my “grownup” paints is a really good way to teach her to control the paint…that just a little change in water or pressure, how you mix the paint, how you thin it….it ALL affects how the paint goes on.  All I did was watch her, and tell her how she could make it work when the paint was too thick or too thin.  She noticed that when there’s too much water and not enough paint, it dries very VERY light….but that a little paint can go a long way if it’s thinned down with water a little bit.  I thought of myself as bowling bumpers: letting her do all the work, but there just to make sure she didn’t completely throw a gutterball in frustration.

And after awhile she said, “You can paint with me, if you like.”

I told her that it was her project…that I had wanted HER to do the painting.  “But I really like painting with you,” she said.

So I did.

dinah in progress

I tried not to add TOO much detail.  I didn’t want to discredit what she’d already done by completely painting over it.  Her only request was that I not change the colors she had already chosen.  AND OF COURSE I WOULDN’T!  Why would I?  They were already awesome.

So here’s how it turned out in the end…

dinah FINAL

And here is her sticking it over her own face…

dinah MYLA

I didn’t want to alter it TOO much, but I also wanted to join in with her, since she asked me to.  I made sure to ask her before I did anything.  I let her give me direction.  And watching me, she picked up that a quick way to make scaly dino skin without too much detail is to paint dots on the face in a darker color.  She learned that a little darker or lighter makes shadows & highlights.  She ASKED me about these things, not because I sat her down for a lesson…but just simply from observing a fellow artist.

So I told her again: I have many years of experience, but I am not finished learning.  I am ALWAYS learning.  I love to learn new things.  I love to watch other artists, and try the things they do, learn the things they do.

Yes, I have been drawing a lot longer than my five-year-old.  But she has parts of her imagination that I no longer have, that are fantastically wonderful.  Her artwork is just as valid as mine, and quite often even more amazing.  Everyone has value.  It doesn’t help to compare yourself against someone else.  There is always room to grow and learn, no matter what level you’re at.  And wherever you’re at–if you have a love and a passion for it (whatever it is)–that is an amazing thing.

Working Together

Sometimes I get asked if Myla and I still draw together.  My answer, in short, is that YES, we do…but that it’s sort of changed a bit.

The collaborations we did were fairly simple, and happened–as I described in the post–pretty spontaneously, at first.  Now that she’s a little older (she’s five ANDAHALF now), she’s not so interested in just simply adding a body on to a head I’ve drawn.  While she does still enjoy it now and then, her interests (and mine) have changed quite a bit.  So while our past collaborations were a such a wonderful and fun experiment, and we still do enjoy doing them from time to time, we find so many other ways to share our artwork with each other.

I started the new year with some new supplies, anxious to try some new things.  Recently, I tried out some mixed media board, drew a picture of her sleeping, and wondered if it would work if I asked her to draw what she might be dreaming…


So she added onto what I had drawn, telling me what each thing was, and what it might mean.  I asked her questions about it, had her tell me dreams she might’ve had in the past, and if she could draw them.

I later added on some pen detail, to sort of clarify what I thought she was trying to convey (based on what she had told me), and give it some decorative, dreamlike imagery.


And this is what we made.  She dreamt of rolling toys, and the Shcar she had created.  There’s a dragon in the top right, who carries her babies in fire.  Most of her dream is protected by a unicorn with a shield-horn that wraps around her as she sleeps.

sleep3(Consequently, the unicorn also has glitter streaming out from behind him (see those dots?), because…well, because she’s five, and glitter farts are funny.)

She was happy when she saw it finished, although it didn’t come without critique…she said I had forgotten to color the eye of the Shcar white (I later amended it for her), and that in her mind, the unicorn was actually supposed to be BLACK….but that one she was willing to overlook.

Another time, I wanted to draw her from a photo I had.  When I showed it to her, I said, “I want to make a drawing that tells a story about creativity, and how your mind thinks of wonderful things.  do you have any ideas?”  She grabbed the pen right away, and started drawing…


She included dragons playing with her hair, dreaming of Legos.  She’s imagining the Shcar she designed.  She gave herself wolf ears, for fun.  There’s a peacock on her shoulder, disappointed because he thought her hair was worms.  And a sleeping mermaid, resting peacefully on her shoulder.  I don’t know what any of it means.  But I don’t HAVE to.  It’s her creativity, it’s her mind.  It doesn’t have to MEAN anything.


Again, she gasped with delight when she saw how I had finished it, but again, she had critiques.  The mermaid was initially colored wrong.  It’s apparently a toy she has (I had misunderstood which one), so I corrected it.

She asked why I drew circles around her eye, and I told her I was trying to draw the idea that artists see things in a different way than some people do.  That it’s almost like having “special eyes.”

She asked me, “why do I look so sad?”  I showed her the reference photo I used, and said,  “In the picture I used, you weren’t sad,  just thinking.  I didn’t mean for it to look sad, I just meant it to look like you were thinking.”  I told her that when I was younger, people often thought I was mean because I would quietly stare off at nothing while I was thinking, and that (along with my squinting because of bad eyesight), it made people think I was annoyed when I wasn’t.  That made her laugh.  She loves stories of when I was younger…

Speaking of when I was younger, Myla once said to me, “I wish I could play with you when you were a kid. We would have so much fun.”  So I thought it’d be interesting to draw the two of us, around the same age, playing…


Before I gave it to her, I said, “if we were kids, what kinds of things would we do?  I used to like to catch bugs, I liked dinosaurs and robots, aliens and animals.  I bet we’d ride bikes together.”  She thought that was awesome.  But the first thing she drew was the “loves” above our heads.

(Awhile back, she asked me what my “love” would look like, and I drew a heart with BIG BIG arms.  Hers was an envelope with wings to fly with you wherever you go.)

She drew our Donkey to the right, since we both have loved him for YEARS (I got him when I was around 8, and she’s had him since she was a baby).  There’s a spider catching a fly in a web below us, which we’d probably both be fascinated and grossed out by.  On the bottom left, she and I are riding bikes.  You can barely see (as my hand is nearly covering it) that she is pouting on the bike, because even as a kid, she imagines I’m probably still the boss when we ride bikes…


Here’s the piece nearly done…


And the final piece:  Myla and me, roughly 4 or 5, playing.  And she’s right….we’d probably have been the COOLEST of friends. (..And I’m pretty sure I’d take turns on our bikes…)


She smiled a big smile when it was done, and had only one thing to say:  “Perfect.”

Aside from my regular face studies, in my drawings and paintings this year I’ve decided to make more of an effort to try to tap into illustrating a message, or a meaning, or a feeling.  I don’t mean a STANCE–I’ve not got any political or legal or religious statement to make in my artwork (there are others who excel magnificently in that), but more of something that means something TO ME.

I find (as an illustrator) that it’s one of the defining differences between “commercial illustration” and “painting”–I know I take things way too literally.   There is not often any deep, hidden meaning in my work, and I’m totally okay with that.  But this year, I’m going to try to tap more into what I’d have to SAY (if anything) in a painting….something I’ve never really done, unless it was a melancholy, depressing image when I was upset, like pitiful gothic teenage “woe is me” poetry.

And that’s exactly what happened with the first one I tried.  I was in a hormonal funk I couldn’t get out of.  Everyone has “down” days, but this one seemed neverending.  I had no motivation.  I wanted to cry all day FOR NO REASON.  It felt like someone handed me a huge boulder to carry as I went through the day, and it weighed down everything I did.  I had trouble really describing how crushing this feeling was.  Instead, I tried to see if drawing it might help.

It felt like pointy-beaked birds nesting in my hair.  It felt like ribbons of tears.  It felt like a dark cloud.  Still, drawing it still seemed to trivialize it a bit.  It still felt like bad teenage poetry.

I debated showing it to Myla–I didn’t want to worry her or upset her.  But when she saw it on my art desk, she asked about it.  I told her I was doing a painting about feeling sad, and was trying to show how it makes you feel.  She asked if she could add on, and why not?  She drew a dragon tangled in the hair, trying to hold on.  There are x-rays to “show what’s inside.”  And little wind-up mice, crawling all over–into the heart, chewing the hair, chewing at the bones.  She hesitantly asked if it was okay if she drew something creepy (because there’s a time and a place for creepy things, and school isn’t one of them..and also because it was my drawing and she wanted to know if it was okay), and I said of course–that it was what the drawing was about, that I was trying to show things that bother you, that upset you.  She drew the thing that creeps her out the most–zombies (which she only knows about courtesty of the halloween sections at the grocery store, and the game “Plants and Zombies,” and from a few kids at school).


So she helped me with this one.  And to me, it seems like a stereotype…a morose self-indulgence.  Maybe I’m just uncomfortable with negative feelings.  It must’ve helped, though, because the horrible funk passed not long after.

But every new journey starts with just one little step, and that’s my goal this next year…to try to see (from time to time) if I can start with very simple, little ideas, and get them on paper, without it being all melodramatic and serious.  Not because it’s a “new year” and I have to “make a resolution” (I’ve mentioned how I feel about that)…but because I love trying new things, and it just happened to coincide with the new year.  SO there.  🙂

And while I’m taking my own little journey, I’m wondering how it’ll influence Myla’s views on her own drawings.  She is VERY literal (like me).  She has an AMAZING imagination, but she’s not sure (spatially) why I have made things float around in the paintings above.  I’ve told her the idea behind why I did it that way (that I’m illustrating dreams and ideas instead of THINGS), and she’s nodded, deep in thought.  I can tell she’s mulling it over.

But I don’t think this means my artwork will get more “SERIOUS”–I think humor is a big part of what I enjoy (and not taking yourself too seriously is EXTREMELY important to me)….I just think it’ll be fun to see where digging a little deeper takes me.  Where it takes us.  Because as long as it’s fun and it’s making us happy, who CARES what it means, right?

…So what new things are YOU trying?



I grew up on science fiction.  My dad was a big sci-fi fan, so when we’d go to the video store (yes, I understand that’s an ancient concept these days), he’d choose anything so long as the cover had space, spaceships, or aliens on it.

I remember seeing Star Wars when I was younger, and collecting figurines and spaceships.  Alongside the wooden playhouse my mom designed for us in the backyard of our little house in Oklahoma, my dad built what was meant to be the head of AT-AT.

I remember staying at home with a sitter while my parents saw what they thought was a grownup movie about aliens, only to take my sister and I out the very next night when they realized how good (and kid-appropriate) E.T. was.

I remember one of the very first “grown up” movies I saw was Blade Runner.  I was blown away.

So I think it’s fair to say that me & sci-fi go way back.  Which is why of COURSE I loved Guardians of the Galaxy.  I’m not going to review it, or go into in-depth conversations about how it relates to the comics (which I have not read, and don’t really intend to), but it was a fun little movie, and I enjoyed watching it.

What makes a sci-fi movie “real” for me is the characters.  I love them, humor, flaws and all.  GotG had some great ones, and nearly ALL of them interesting-looking enough to draw (which is why my IG feed has been flooded with all sorts of amazing character sketches from various artists).  For me, GotG has a similar campy feel as Fifth Element did, with a sense of humor, and a lot of colorful characters.

So, of course, I couldn’t help but draw a few of ’em, too….

(Don’t worry, I don’t think I’ve got any spoilers here…)

I tend to start off on the beaten path, so one of my favorite characters was Drax the Destroyer, played by WCW’s Dave Bautista (who was so good I forgot he was an athlete-turned-actor).  Drax is extremely literal (as am I).  I could totally relate to him, as a lifetime of literal misunderstandings have made my own life a bit confusing.   He has one of my favorite lines in the movie, saying “Nothing goes over my head.  My reflexes are too fast.  I would catch it.”  I had to get my blue & red ballpoints out and sketch him.

photo 1

Later, I sketched the character named Yondu (played by Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker) who controls a deadly arrow with his whistles.  This one I sketched in ballpoints, and highlighted with acrylics, and I’d just like to say that it was QUITE hard to draw a person whistling.  Just sayin’.

photo 4

I have a couple of characters I’d still like to draw if I don’t run out of steam…like Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and everyone’s beloved Groot.  I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by the plethora of inspirational imagery in that movie, so I think a couple more drawings and I’ll be okay.

Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13, so I know a lot of kids went to see it, but aside from the fact that Myla is only five, heavy action understandably frightens her.  Sometimes that can be a little challenging, trying to find kid’s shows that have no “bad guys,” and where no one gets hurt and there’s no conflict whatsoever, but I’m also quite okay with her enjoying the simpler things.

So when there are shows that come out where the marketing and products are EVERYWHERE, or other kids are talking about it, I like to tell her the simplified version.  Instead of telling her the entire story of GotG, I tell her about the characters, so she still knows what everyone’s talking about, but doesn’t have to actually see the “scary show” herself.  And in my doing so, she has developed a love for characters she’d never otherwise see: like Khaleesi, Daleks, and in this case, Rocket and Groot–as has most of the sci-fi world.  I show her little video clips of the characters on YouTube sometimes, she asks me questions, and she loves ’em.

So the next time she asked to draw on some heads (as we do), she immediately turned one into Groot, complete with a little leaf on his shoulder.

photo 2

And seeing Rocket in stores out & about, she asked lots of questions about this little raccoon character.  She thought it’d be funny if he had bubbles coming from his gun instead of bullets…

photo 3

So there ya go.  Nothing like a little sci-fi influence for your day!

Get Messy!

Summer’s coming!  And for a stay at home, work-at-home mom, the prospect of keeping the munchkin busy all day every day for several months while simultaneously working from my computer is a daunting one indeed.  But while I work on the prospect of signing up for a little bit of summer day camps and a few hours of daycare each day, I have to remember to make some really good memories.  And sometimes, the quickest way to make a good memory…is to make a good MESS.

A long long time ago on the blog, I wrote about making beautiful messes.  When I was a kid, I loved to make a mess, and I wasn’t afraid of things like dirt, muddy clothes, or bug guts.  But somehow, in the process of growing up, instead of being carefree and fun, a roll in the grass now makes me fret about grass stains, spiders, and where the dogs may have peed.  But how is our daughter supposed to know what it’s like to squish mud between her toes and all that stuff…if I never let her do it?


And honestly, can’t all that stuff be washed away, for the most part?  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, really?  When I was in the army, we would get disgustingly gross, sweaty and muddy and horrible-smelling and sore, and I think the fact that you are so disgustingly messy beforehand made you feel SOOOO GOOD when you got all cleaned up.

As a mom, when I find myself being resistant to something the kid wants to do, I try to ask myself  if I’m saying no for a good reason, or just because it makes me uncomfortable.  If it’s just that it makes me uncomfortable, it might be something I actually SHOULD do.

So a recent trip to our local library has unearthed my sister’s favorite book series and our newest book obsession:  The Magic Schoolbus.  Along with being EXTREMELY educational and fun for me to read to Myla in a way that can grow with her (there is the main story about going on crazy adventures and exploring things like the human body, insects, sea life, etc, and then additional more detailed information along the sides in cute “side notes”), the crazy teacher’s motto has reiterated an idea that has been a key thing I’ve learned from becoming a parent:  to “Take chances, make mistakes, GET MESSY!!!”


If you’re someone who gets the oogies about messes, there are easy stress-free ways to get messy, and the key is to GET PREPARED!   Use washable paints, wear sloppy clothes or an apron.  Put down a table cloth and have towels on hand for when you’re done.  Have the washer on standby and have a set of clean clothes waiting by a readied bathtub.


And don’t forget to JOIN IN!  Don’t just be a spectator.  It’ll be good for you to get out of your comfort zone–believe me!


Most important of all, though:  don’t take anything too seriously!  Get out there and challenge yourself to make all kinds of messes with your kids, with your family, with your friends.  You can do it!  And when you DO, don’t forget to take some pictures, and share them with me on Facebook.  I’d love to see ’em!

I love BUGS.

Yes, I love bugs.  Insects.  Beetles.  Whatever.

Well, mainly, I really love the IDEA of bugs, and I love LOOKING at bugs.  (It’s a whole other story when they’re actually touching me.)  I don’t like squished bugs, but sometimes if they’re all dried up and pretty, I love looking at dead bugs.  I have a few I’ve collected here and there, that I’ve hung up on the walls of our house for the past ten or so years.  By “collected,” I don’t mean I’ve gone out & hunted them down myself–I mean that I either found them, bought them, or was given them by friends.

One day, while helping our daughter get ready for bedtime, my eyes tripped over a rhino beetle we had hanging in our bathroom.  It had been there for YEARS (in different houses, but in roughly the same spot), so long that it just sort of blended into the scenery of everyday life, overlooked.  But this time, a strange and very intense thought occurred to me, and it did so with a very loud voice:  “I wonder if I could paint on its wings?”

Then I wondered, if beetles could customize their wings with painted “tattoos,” what would they get?  Beetles often fight, so maybe they would be aggressive battle scenes with intimidating imagery.  But not the typically intimidating human skulls, since beetles lack an internal skeleton and therefore it wouldn’t mean the same to them.  Perhaps instead of a skull and crossbones, they’d have two sticks and some decayed leaves around them?   Maybe a Japanese fighting beetle would have ornate scenes of fighting beetles emblazoned on their backs, or a fear-inspiring giant sole of a boot, since their main natural predator might be our own feet trampling down on them.  Maybe there would be peaceful, hippie-tattooed beetles.  Or images of their larvae with birth dates.  Or a portrait of  “mom.” And what on earth would a DUNG beetle get?

Yes, these are the kind of thoughts that sometimes go through my head while staring at the shell of a beetle and getting our daughter ready for bed.

So, like most ideas I have, once they’re in my head, they won’t go away until I do it.  So I did.  At my husband’s suggestion, I drew a preliminary sketch.  I don’t always like to do this–I often like to just wing it (haha, see what I did there?).  But this time (like most times) he was right.


Apparently, this beetle had been sprayed with a kind of varnish (because I bought it at a store and of COURSE they sprayed it to preserve it), so it was a little like painting on plastic.  I used acrylic paints, and took my time going over and over and over it, layer after layer, since the paint had a habit of beading up.


But with each new layer, the image started coming together, and the basic layout was falling into place.


Thankfully, the wing shells were pretty sturdy, and although they had the slightest give, they didn’t really move much.  Since I am impatient, I tried using thicker blobs of paint to cut back on the amount of layers I’d need to repaint, but I still needed to go over and over it again and again to bet the basic underpainting.  Once that was dry, I could go back and add the little details and shading and fine-tune the whole thing.


And here it is:  the final beetle!  I really REALLY wanted to put a skull on his head, but that didn’t make sense, so I put a tiny leaf that ended up looking a bit like a snowflake from a distance.  Still, I like the little “skeleton beetle skull with crossed sticks” (instead of a skull & crossbones) on the inside of his back.  And instead of “bad to the bone…”  Well, you know.  Because beetles don’t have bones, right?


So I had SO much fun with that, that I immediately looked around the house for more insects I could vandalize.  Some of my nicer ones are contained completely inside wooden frames and sealed plexiglass, which makes breaking into them nearly impossible (probably for the best), but I was able to accost one of my dragonflies.

So what would a dragonfly get?  There are so many different styles of tattoos!  This one is a tribal-style dragon on dragonfly wings…


Those wings were hard to paint, by the way.  I was hoping for more detail, but this guy died about 14 years ago, and is really fragile.  Plus, dragonfly wings, with all those little cells, are almost like tiny little tissue-thin accordions.  Keeping a straight line was pretty difficult.

And the last one was this brittle old moth.  (The light one, not the dark one who just happens to be glued next to him.)  I gave this guy old-school flames, because of the ol’ “like a moth to the flame” standard, and because moths love light, right?  So he’d probably tattoo some daring flames on his wings to show off his bravery at dancing close to danger.  Or something.    Anyway, they didn’t turn out as detailed as I had envisioned either, because moth wings are fuzzy, and it’s like painting on a tiny little carpet.8

So there are my painted insects.  I immediately went on Amazon and ordered a few more beetles to paint on, but apparently I didn’t notice they’re shipping from THAILAND and will be here in like three years.  Or two months.  Either way:  a long, long time.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your ideas:  with all the different styles and influences, what do you think different types of insects would get if they could customize their wings?


Once upon a time, our daughter commented that an artist’s work we saw in a shop wasn’t so great because “it looks like scribbles.”  In an effort to try to expand her creativity, it occurred to me that other than the rare kid’s book, there isn’t much out there to explain different kinds of art to kids in a way that makes sense in their little world.  I guess kids try so hard to learn how to draw things literally, that it’s difficult for them to understand why anyone would INTENTIONALLY draw something unrecognizable!

We had learned a little about Frida, and how she “painted her dreams.”  Then I taught her to “dance” with the paint, like Pollock.  Like their work or don’t, but each one of them was important to the history of art for a reason, and I think helping someone else make sense of that reason is a fun challenge.

So I saw another opportunity in Picasso.  Picasso was a fine artist, and actually drew quite realistically, but what really set him apart was when he expanded on the idea of breaking up the face into its most basic SHAPES.  He also played with the idea of seeing if he could show different perspectives in the same piece.  Could she be turned to the side, but also show both of her eyes?  What would that look like?

This was fun, because it didn’t take a lot of prep work.  When our daughter came home from school, I had a plate full of shapes that I had cut out of construction paper  waiting for her, along with some glue.


“Picasso made shapes into faces,” I told her.  “Let’s see if we can make a face using only shapes.”  So we happily cut and pasted.  At first she balked a little.  “Your dress looks strange,” she questioned me.  “And why are her cheeks two different colors?”  Because, my dear, we’re trying to mix things up a bit.  Picasso-style.


I told her it didn’t have to be perfect, and it didn’t have to look EXACTLY like the thing you were trying to draw.  It was just supposed to be a fun experiment.  What would it look like if you used shapes for the eyes instead of drawing them?


She couldn’t help herself, and finished some additional spots in pen.  And although she struggled with the need for symmetry, she was able to step out of her comfort zone a bit and enjoyed trying something new.


We left the shape plate on the table, and she created a rabbit the next day.  (I KNOW those mismatched ears were killin’ her…)


So, like we did with Pollock and Frida, I showed her a drawing of Picasso I had done, and she drew a body for him.  She put him in stripes, gluing little shapes down onto paper, just like we did.  And while that may not have been Picasso’s medium, the basic idea is there, I think.

Besides, I think Picasso might have actually had fun with construction paper and glue.


So if you’re looking for a fun kid project that also teaches them about art, give it a try!  And I’d love to see what you come up with over on the Facebook page!

(OH!  And if you’d like to see more artsy artwork from both me AND the kiddo, I’m on Instagram now!–@busymockingbird.  But more about that later…)

…And a Happy New Sketchbook


Do you sketch?  I do.  A lot.  I have drawn in lots and lots of sketchbooks.  There’s such a good feeling of potential inspiration on the gaining of a new sketchbook.  But for me, doing so means involving myself in a bizarre sort of ritual:  I MUST decorate the cover.  Usually, it is with whatever I happen to be inspired or influenced by at the time.  But here’s the catch:  if the cover doesn’t turn out so well in my eyes, I have trouble drawing in that sketchbook, and it ends up being a total waste of perfectly good drawing paper.


I know, I know–that’s silly, right?  Well for me, it’s true.  There’s something to be said for making your surroundings, and the place you like to “nest” aesthetically pleasing.  It lights little sparks in your mind, gives you the warm fuzzies, and encourages you to try new creative things.  “Come on in!” it says.  “Welcome!  There are so many awesome things to see!”  But mess up the front of that sketchbook, and it says in a nasty little voice, “Those things you like to doodle?  They are not very good.  Don’t bother, because it will just look horrible.”

I have decorated new sketchbooks with a variety of doodles and paintings over the years.  These little tattooed “milk men” were from a time when I was very influenced by some vintage tattoo books.


And this octopus lady?  Well, I’m not sure WHAT’S going on with her, but I’ve always really loved her eyes.  And what a friendly smile, amIright?

octopus lady

One time very recently, our daughter saved a sketchbook from near doom.  I had been trying desperately to rescue this drawing by adding highlights and more “tribal” hair, and patterns and all sorts of whatnots, when she came over and asked me if she could help me by adding “highlights in her hair.”  Knowing what lay on the line, and the potentially sad fate of this sketchbook, I let her, and with three simple brush swipes of white in her hair, she completely saved it.

mylas highlights

As you can imagine, over the years, my ever-growing collection of sketchbooks had built up and was responsible for a fairly large chunk of our military moving weight. (For non military folks, a quick explanation:  the military allows only so much weight per family it will ship when you move to your next duty station.  My love of books and my sketchbooks have been a fairly decent chunk of that weight for a good part of our marriage….)  So much so that it was almost weighing ME down to keep those old sketches around.  In a way, some sketchbooks are like looking back at a snapshot of your life at the time.  You see the ups, the downs, the inspirations and the failed attempts at drawing, mundane grocery lists, mental notes, favorite quotes.  All the little snippets of day to day life that someone like me (who usually has a sketchbook within arms reach at all times) might have.

So one year, I decided that except for a few special sketchbooks, I would take only the highlights from all of the sketchbooks from all of the years, and make a scrapbook.  I took my favorite things, even the little snippets and sketches and notes, and compiled them into one huge scrapbook.  It was a little intimidating at first to consider throwing anything away, but in a way it felt sort of good to get rid of all of that extra weight, to throw it away forever, and have something to show for it; something that felt good.  Something that made that little voice say, “HEY!  Some of these are pretty good!  See–maybe you’re not so bad after all!”


…So it’s almost the new year!  And I have a new sketchbook.  And whatever I decide to put on the cover, I want it to be a good one.   I want it to make me feel happy, to feel good.  I want it to inspire me to do better, to be better.  …So, metaphorically speaking….what would you put on YOUR new sketchbook?

A Portrait

Call me old fashioned, call me overprotective, but I’m a little weird about having my daughter’s face all over the internet.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the internet, while a wonderful and amazing resource, can be quite creepy.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the “Collaborations” post going viral is that nothing is sacred.  People are free to say and do anything from behind the protective shield of a computer screen.  And they do.

I am reminded of an installation piece by Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal, who lived in a room for a month with an internet-controlled paint gun.  Anyone at all could log on and shoot him, with no repercussions, no consequences.  And they did.  A LOT.  SO much so that he was haunted and traumatized by it.  As this article states, “…when people no longer fear reprisal from their actions then they will become monsters with little regard for other human beings.”

So if I’m so protective of her, why post anything at all about my daughter?  Simply put:  she is an enormous part of my life.  I know the things I do with and for her are things another mother or father might like to know, or might feel better for having read.  People can be nasty, and while I’m a big girl and can handle it, I feel there’s no real reason (other than the fact that she is, in fact, super adorable) to show her face.  Cropping and sideshots, folks.  That’s just how it goes.

But since my artistic likenesses aren’t exactly photorealistic, I feel fairly comfortable sharing a painting I did of her.  My first one of her, actually–and it was pretty intimidating.  Photos rarely capture someone’s personality, and I find with portraits, I will sometimes paint it as closely as I can to the photo, and yet there is something always missing:  the personality, which (unless you know the person) is difficult to grasp and (even if you do know them) is difficult to separate from.

m-1So I wanted to draw my daughter with a few of my favorite girlie accessories:  She-Ra’s sword, Leia’s belt, Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, and Leia (as Boushh)’s holster.


One time, my daughter told me she wanted a “gown” to play dressup, so we got some pink thing (a dress?  A nightgown?) at my friend’s vintage clothing sale for $3.  At the time, her kid-drawings were nothing more than circles with faces, and lines for arms and legs.  She called them “monsters,” so I recreated them in acrylic in the background.

When she saw the final piece, she looked for a minute with a critical eye and said, “…is that me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is that mine drawings?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I put them on the painting.  Do you like it?”

She paused for a long time.  “I think it is beautiful.” She said.

And that’s pretty cool.


Keep ’em Coming…

Contest entries are coming in from all over, and they’re so awesome!  Have you entered yet?  …Looks like you all are having a lot of fun with it, and I want to see MORE!  One more week to enter!  If you want to give it a shot, head on over to the last blog post and try it yourself.  Good luck and most importantly: have a great time with it!

contest entries1

contest entries2

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