Week 5 watercolor class part 2

Then the teacher gave us postcards of different mountain scenes, and I chose Death Valley. I’m always coming to class early and it’s great because I get first pick on the copying subjects! This really was the best of all the cards.¬†

The view from Telescope Point in Death Valley, USA.

The view from Telescope Point in Death Valley, USA.

It almost makes me want to visit (but …..no).

At this point, I only had 30 minutes left before I had to leave. Then I thought, I’m going to finish an in-class painting for once! After mixing colors like a mad person, I did this:



My teacher said she liked it ūüôā


Week 5 watercolor class part 1

My teacher started our week 5 session like Bob Ross, but went really fast through this mountain painting exercise that she learned off of a youtube video by Annette Raff.



I ¬†like this painting better when it’s far away from me.


Week 4 watercolor class

Training wheels are coming off! Let’s do some landscaping!

My teacher really likes to garden and is always interested in the gardening tales of us students. She had us all bring pictures of our gardens. I brought several because I take pictures of my plants all the time. However, I’m not ready for the big, complex images, and I ended up choosing my simplest viewpoint:

real iris


Just a bricked box of rose bushes and blooming Dutch iris next to my fence’s gate in the front yard. You can see my driveway, my house’s corner, and my neighbors fence. Nice lines, easy subjects, and clear colors. Here is the painting, including a close-up:

flowerbox     closeflower

This painting is NOT finished. I have to leave class 30 minutes early to go pick up my kids from preschool on-time. If I had another 30 minutes, I probably could have fixed up the brick lines, detailed the cement, added gravel, and more weeds. Maybe I’ll have time to add more, maybe I won’t. Again, wash before dark-colored details. I honestly thought that the green house stripe was dry enough, but no, dark colors cannot be trusted.

One thing I have noticed though. My teacher keeps pushing me to add realistic detail. Just me, not the other beginner students. Every class she starts with showing us other artist’s work on the same subject as the lesson. Usually it’s French Impressionists to show us that it doesn’t have to be exact or detailed or perfect. Yet, only when she walks by me, does the teacher suggests ways to add more realism. My hypothesis is this: she thinks I’m ready for and capable of it. A good thing.

Week 3 watercolor class

This week, my teacher wanted us to focus on an individual trees before doing landscapes. Here was my model tree’s source image, unfortunately, I do not know where my teacher got this from, so apologies to the original artist:



Then with the help of masking fluid and some china white, I have a flowering Prunus tree (theoretical). Unfortunately, the teacher forgot to have us wash with green before doing the tree. I didn’t know the folly of this wa until my brown trunk paint started to streak and run. No matter how much I thought it was dry or how many minutes with a hairdryer, it still caused me problems. WASH FIRST!!! Lesson learned. The grass at the bottom was my teacher’s idea.


As a first try, I like it! I was especially pleased with how the wood detailing came out, until I tried to wash with green and ruined some of it.  

Week 2 watercolor class

The teacher gave us some Eureka lemons from her own backyard tree and taught us how to set up our palettes. She had us make a basic 8-color paint selection, some of which were mixed colors. I tried seeing what it would be like in a dark and lighter wash-type color. Then we started progressively adding complexity to 4 lemon sketches. My lemons look like squashes because my lemon model was under-ripe, lumpy, and on a brown table. Why the teacher made us do this on sketch paper instead of watercolor paper is beyond me.

colors and lemons

I’m sorry to have to post a picture from my phone, the paper is too buckled to get a good scan. The risk of cracking the glass plate after putting on a weight to press it flat is too much for me. Besides, the lemons look like squashes!


Started a watercolor class

Our first exercise was to copy some chinese brush paintings using only black. Next week we start colors.

morning_mountain     morning_lake

My advice for the TFA final interview

This blog isn’t always about art, but sometimes if I learn something important I just put it here so others can find it. Teach for America just keeps getting bigger and bigger, so I’ll just leave some practical advice here for future applicants.

Let me begin by bitterly disclosing that I was not accepted, but moving on….


1) Obey the 5 minute limit on the lesson time.

No really, 5 minutes. Seriously, 5 minutes. Don’t be THAT person who brought 20 minutes worth of material to cover.

2) Assume the worst presentation space possible.

Think cramped conference room with an awkwardly long table and no board of any type. Your “writing space” is just a 2ftx3ft piece of laminated paper and the markers are dry.

3) Dress (and act) like you got some sense!

Half of my fellow applicant showed up late and a few more were wearing going-out-to-the-bar clothes. Appalling, honestly.

4) Don’t leave your fellow applicants hanging

It’s actually fun to participate in the 5 minute lessons. Don’t be a jerk and let the crickets chirp. By acting like an interested student (age appropriately) keeps the pace brisk and your fellow applicants will return the favor.

5) Don’t print out power point slides and tape them to the wall as your lesson plan

Nobody can see or read what you just put up there. It makes you look like you didn’t really think this through all the way.

6) Don’t waste your teaching time

Make your fellow applicants pass your handout on their own. You’ll waste too much time handing every individual their own piece of paper. Drop the damn pile on somebody and say, take one pass it around.

7) Regarding the group exercise:

I think this is the most mysterious of all TFA’s assessments. Judging by most other accounts, this just makes everybody feel goofy and awkward. Alpha-leaders are restraining themselves, strangers don’t always work well together, writing out everything can take too much time, and someone’s always trying to say their piece even if it has nothing to do with subject. Then there’s the elephant in the conversation: the TFA staffer sitting there typing away at something that divines our true potential. I dreaded this part the most and for good reasons too.

8) Regarding the personal interview:

If I had to guess, I think they want to hear how you’ve suffered, how you’ll never leave your post, and that you’re the top 1% of the true-believers. Other than that, my interviewer was very disarming and very nice. I’m sure your interviewer will be awesome too.

9) Regarding the 5 minute lesson:

First of all, teach kids, not adults. If you want a group of adults to actually learn something you’re already doing it wrong. The worst presentations I saw were high school-level. The best were in the K-5 range. Think games and hands-on activities, not calculus. Don’t challenge the intellect of your TFA staff. If you make it easy for them to enjoy your topic, it makes it easy for them to have a good impression. Try remembering your favorite elementary school teacher and what they did.

10) In conclusion: sour grapes.

Rejection letter can be summarized as: You didn’t make the cut, our methods are fool-proof, and please consider joining the Peace Corps.


Human Development Illustration

These days, instead of sitting and drawing, I’m spending my spare hours sweating and exercising at the gym. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about illustrating. In fact I do quite a bit and I have a backlog of ideas. Today I needed to illustrate some concepts in human embryology. Since it’s ink and the scans are already on my computer, why not post it anyways?

Feathering and Bleeding Ink

Feathering and bleeding happens when an ink seeps into the fibers of the paper by capillary action. The wicking of ink off the applied stroke can ruin the linework. Some inks and some papers are more prone to it than others. Here, I test 3 different inks on 7 different papers to find that winning (or that losing) combination.

ink #1: Speedball acrylic ink

ink #2: Speedball india ink

ink #3: Higgins india ink

Here is my list of worst to best papers for feathering resistance….

7. Canson Bristol 2-ply Plate Smooth (100lb.?)

6. Strathmore Bristol Smooth Surface (100lb.)

5. Borden and Riley #234 Paris (108lb.)

4. Canson Drawing Parchment  (24lb.)

3. Canson Illustration Artist Series (150lb.)

2. Canson JA Dessin Drawing (123lb.)

1. Arches Watercolor Hot Press (140lb.)

Best overall ink: Speedball acrylic ink

Worst overall ink: Higgins India ink

Best overall paper: Arches 140lb hot press watercolor

Worst overal paper: Canson Bristol Plate smooth

Arches hot press watercolor paper did well for resisting feathering and bleeding with all the inks. In fact, it’s been recommended to me for use if I ever do ink and watercolors together. I don’t do watercolors, but I’ll keep it in mind whenever I’m ready start adding real color to my line work. Unforunately, this paper does not have a smooth surface and therefore, laser-sharp lines are hard to accomplish.

The Canson Bristol is a thick, but very soft paper. The tip of the nib just sinks in with little pressure and can easily cut into the surface. When using dip pens with metal nibs, an artist often has to apply pressure to acheive various line widths. With this paper, it’s not easy because with pressure, the nib cuts a rut. The rut fills with ink and the paper wicks it all away. Thicker inks with high surface tension will be crucial to successful ink projects on this paper.

However, my favorite paper is currently Borden and Riley #234 Paris (108lb.) for a variety of reasons. I never ever use Higgins ink for this media.

Jillian Michaels portrait in ink

Jillian Michaels has an awesome face. Symmetrical, unconventional, and very fun to draw. Finding reference pictures for this was really hard to find because being sweet and pretty is just not her schtick. Also, her hair is different is every single photo I can find. I just gave up on trying to draw layers. She does however, have a great monster face which I’ll make another noir project out of sometime soon.

Dear Jillian,

Please don’t be mad about the hair. It’s harder to draw than anything else about you. You are my favorite Biggest Loser trainer. Stay strong!

Love, Domina Illustris.

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