Monday, January 31, 2011


My practice of birds continues. I was slightly less successful in that I only painted three days last week. But, hey, three is better than two.

Here's what I did.

This is a Grey-Backed Thrush.

I'm pretty happy with how the colors turned out. I'm getting better with my dry brush technique after I've finished with the wet. I'm still not in love with the eyes - although I have to admit that they look like the examples I'm studying from. I may have to develop my own style there. I'm not 100% happy with the branch, but it's OK. If I were grading it, I'd give it a B.

Grey-Throated Minivet

Yeeeeah. Not loving it. It's OK I guess but this one just doesn't appeal to me. I do like the shape of the beak but the rest of it just seems sloppy.

Formosan Barwigs

I got a little frustrated after the last one so I tried to be very careful with this pair. I paid close attention to their shapes - to the color bleeds - and to the drybrushing. And I'm happy to say that I LOVE this one.

Yanno, painting birds in this loose style ... well, sometimes it's just going to flop. And I have to remind myself that this is a completely new style for me. But when it works - oh man, it's really lovely. They're nice and light, just like a bird should be.

So I carry on ...

In other news: More snow tomorrow! Then Ice! On the news today they said that Connecticut had more snow than Alaska. I think we're all kinda sick of it now - but the sledding is still awesome!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow, Snow, More Snow

It snowed again Wednesday night into Thursday morning. So we all woke up, watched the news, saw the school was closed, and got to shoveling. But first I snapped a few pictures because the backyard is a little unbelievable.

(Above) The snow is up past the bottom of the tire swing.

There are many times I've looked into my backyard and though UGGO! But it sure is pretty now. Especially in the morning when the snow is all blue and purple.

(Below) Look at the table. That's the accumulation of snow so far this year. It's looks like a triple layer vanilla cake! I went back and knocked a lot off of it. I was afraid the weight was going to crack the table.

Mike shoveled for about 90 minutes. I shoveled for about 90 minutes. Then later, after the snowplow went by again, I had to shovel out the driveway for another 20. But we got it done. And, I have to admit, shoveling isn't too bad when the sun starts shining and the temp picks up a bit. It's a chore - no doubt - especially when there's no place to put the snow and you have to walk shovels of it over to some place that isn't piled up 5 ft tall already, but it's pretty, and sometimes a good crisp air feels good int he lungs.

And then Magoo got out and worked on his snow fort.

If it were up to me, I think I'd be done with snow. Maybe let this melt down for a couple weeks, then give us a weekly snowfall of 2-3 inches. That'd be good. But, alas, I am not Mother Nature and I hear more snowstorms are on the way. Eesh.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

The other night I was working on the computer and Magoo came up to me and said, "Mom, can you help me make a trap for Java?"

Well, how could I turn that down.

So I sent him off to find a string and a stick. I fetched a basket. Then we set it up, put some cat food under the basket, and waited. It was a little like this:

And here's what happened:

D'oh! The basket wasn't big enough! We were able to try it one more time, but then Java caught on. It must have been KILLING her to be so close to food and not be able to get it, but her instinct not to be caught was stronger than the desire to be a chow-hound.

And if you think we're being a little mean to our dear sweet cat, all I can tell you is that she has this teeny bit of annoyance coming to her.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Flying Sleds!

On Saturday, we met up with the Brudz boys to go sledding at Bugbee School. I had been there once before with some other friends and it had a nice, wide sledding hill. Our local park is great - but it's nice to shake things up a bit.

Also, because it was a school, the snow was good and packed down.

We did the slopes nice and easy for awhile. Then it was RAMP TIME!

Magoo has very good aim when it comes to ramps. He always managed to hit them right on target. Here he is catching some air.

And because the men are really just tall boys - they got in on it too. Here's David (a.k.a. Brudz Dad) flying over the ramp on my runner sled.

And here's what happens when a fully grown man flies over a ramp on a runner sled. He breaks it. See that wood sticking out the side - it's not supposed to do that.

(Sidenote: There was a wicked cool hawk up in one of the trees. I kept hoping it would fly away so I could get a shot of its wingspan, but it seemed to be enjoying the show.)

Closer to the parking lot - the children (and men) took advantage of the extra piles of snow and used them to launch their sleds into the air even more.

Here's Michael having a go at it.

That looked like so much fun, Magoo tried it too. Let's see how it turned out:

Ooooooh - not as good. But he tried it a couple more times with more success.

I hope everyone in New England is enjoying the snow because we're getting moroe of it tomorrow!!! OY!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Last Friday I declared a resolution to practice painting birds. Well, I've broken it a little in that I won't paint on the weekends. Who was I kidding? My weekends are filled with grocery shopping, baking, laundry, and doing things with Cam and my own friends. Art happens on the weekdays.

But I DID paint all 5 weekdays last week. So here are the results:

MONDAY: Narcissus Flycatcher.

I was drawn to the fabulous colors of the Narcissus Flycatcher but I don't think I was super successful in reproducing them. It looks a little globby to me. As you can see, I've painted three of them. This is something I am trying out to learn the brushstrokes. Do the head: boom, boom, boom. Paint the back: boom, boom, boom.

I did it on a few of the other ones too, but as I was getting better with the birds I finished some of the them off with branches and foliage so I didn't show the repeats.

TUESDAY: Parson Finch

I like the way this little guy turned out. But I must admit, the eyes are a little difficult. There's not a lot of space to work with and if you bring the "eyebrow" in too close, you get one angry-looking bird. That will be an on-going challenge. I did find that it helps if I pencil in the eye area and stick close to those lines when I paint.

WEDNESDAY: Johnstone's Bush Robin

I'm pleased with both of these, but I think the top one is stronger. I guess it looks like it has a couple more worms in its belly and is a little more robust.

THURSDAY: Blue and White Flycatchers (Male and Female)

Oooo - two birds. It's the simple things that excite me - like getting to paint both birds in the composition. When the birds don't have a ton of color, it's really important to be able to control the contrast and "segments" of the birds - which I didn't do well here. But I do like the negative space between them and I enjoyed whipping that branch in there too.

FRIDAY: Mountain Bush Warbler

This bird looks happy. Maybe a little too happy. I'm satisfied with the colors in the body but if I'm going to be completely honest - and why wouldn't I be - I think the face looks a little cartoony. It's saying, "Hi Snow White - can I help you hang the laundry." But I think I can go back in there and fix it. I just need a little more shadow and definition.

At least it's not angry.

SO ... week #1 has been successful. I feel I'm getting my own groove and developing my own techniques in painting these birds. When I'm done with the birds in the book, I'll have to see if I can apply what I've learned to photos of real birds - and work on an original composition. But one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tomie DePaola Illustration Award

About a month ago, I entered a contest. It was the Tomie dePaola Illustration Contest through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

The assignment was to illustrate a passage from the book Heidi which was provided for us. It was an early passage, basically introducing the landscape and the fact that a little girl, Heidi, was being dragged up the mountain by her aunt. She was wearing every stitch of clothing she owned and was hot and tired.

Somehow I got it into my head that it would be cool if I put the landscape in Heidi's coat. I guess I wanted her to stand out more than her surroundings. So I cut the pieces out of paper and sewed them on with embroidery floss. That took a little time ...

... but I was loving the results so I kept at it.

Well, it paid off. I didn't win, but I got an Honorable Mention and that's none too shabby. And, BONUS, Tomie DePaola saw my work! That is pretty darn cool.

Here's the link for the contest winners.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Art Class: Emotions

I am trying to lay down a good drawing foundation with the boys before we proceed to other mediums. And since I bought them blank comic books (for future use) - I want to make sure they have the ability to draw people doing and feeling all sorts of things. So this week we worked on illustrating emotions.

If you want to do this at home, pick up some Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. He's a genius at showing a wide range of emotions with the minimal pencil lines.

The boys and I worked through nine different emotions - paying attention to eyebrows, pupil sizes, eyelids, and mouths.

They all seemed to really enjoy these short exercises. The face shapes were very simple and I think they liked seeing the difference a silly eyebrow arch can make.

Then we applied the emotions to different creatures.

A surprised mouse by Curly, an angry cat by Magoo and a bored insect by Mo.

I think maybe the mouse is surprised by how angry the cat is. And if you look closely you'll notice the cat is holding something - a soda. Apparently it's gone flat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Magoo Hits the Slopes

On Saturday, we went up to Vermont to go downhill skiing. Where does one take their eight-year-old for his first time skiing? Why, Suicide Six, of course!

Here we stand, ski lodge in the background, ready to hit it!

I've been skiing before. As a child, my family would go to Crystal Mountain in Michigan quite often. Then, when I got older, I didn't go as much. I think the last time I went skiing was in the late 90's. So it's been a while for me. But it's kinda like riding a bike, yanno. I needed a few runs down the bunny hill, but I basically had it.

But for Mike and Magoo, it was the first time.

Mike went off with family-friend, Larry, who gave him some pointers. Being an excellent ice skater, he picked it up quick.

I worked with Magoo. I had read/heard that they were teaching the kids with the pizza/french fries method - meaning if you wanted the child to snowplow, you'd say "Pizza," and they'd make the shape of a pizza with their skis. And if you wanted them to straighten the the skis, you'd say "French fries." It felt a little silly, but I was happy that I wasn't the only adult shouting, "Pizza! Pizza!" at my kid.

It was slow-going at first. Lots of falls. But the kid never lost the thrill of it. He was having fun.

Here he is, ready to go.

Heading down ...

That's the J-bar in the background. Magoo was psyched when he rode the J-bar up be himself and didn't fall at the top!

Eventually, Magoo felt like he wanted to try one of the easy trails on the mountain. I was hesitant, but I didn't want to be a mother who tells him "No" just because I'm worried, so Larry, Mike, Cam and I all went up together.

Well, I was kinda right because he wasn't ready for it. Magoo could make awesome turns to the left, but not to the right. So you'd get him going and then he'd turn left and head right into the trees. He always stopped himself by falling, so he didn't get hurt, but it was a lot of stop-start-stop-start.

Larry tried leading him down with his ski poles.

But eventually Magoo and I skied down the mountain like conjoined twins, with my right ski, guiding his skis. We made it, but it's a lot of work guiding 60lbs down the mountain!

Still - everyone had fun. It was GORGEOUS up there. We even got some light fluffy flakes floating down like Vermont magic.

And now Magoo is ready, willing, and almost able to try again. (Check out the video at the end.)

(Sidenote: check out the massive icicle! It's a widow-maker!)

Here's Magoo coming down the bunny hill. I thought he was going to stop when he got to me, but he kept on going so I had to ski after him. High-action film-making, people!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Year of the Bird

I think I'm going to be painting a lot of birds this year. I'm kinda over fish. I'm sure I'll go back but after painting a gazillion fish over several years, one gets bored with them. So I turn my attention to the bird.

This is a piece I've done for the New Britain Museum of American Art's fundraiser auction in May.

I bought myself a little Christmas gift, 100 Birds: Chinese Techniques for Painting Birds. (And it's a good thing I'm a visual learner b/c most of it is in Chinese.) What I need to do is paint a bird a day. Will I? Probably not. But let's challenge myself.

Starting Monday, I will paint 1 bird a day for 30 days. It can be the same bird, but it has to be complete each day. Then, on Friday, I will show my birdies off.

Let's see if I remember on Monday.

Here's what I have so far: Study of a Sparrow.

Study of a Warbler.

Have a great 3-day weekend everyone!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fluffy Rain

That's what my neighbor was calling it this morning. It's a heck of a lot of fluffy rain - I'd say!

We all knew it was coming. All the weathermen were all a-twitter in anticipation of a weather event. They delight in these things so! And sure enough, we got it. And hard. 18" baby.

This was the scene around 7am.

Around 10am, Magoo and I pulled on our snowpants, "got puffy," as he likes to say, and ventured out.

Here's the first bit of a path.

I'm a lucky Momma. My boy is quick to help. Of course after about 10 minutes of helping his natural boy instincts kick in and then it's all play from then. I shoveled for an hour and fifteen minutes, now I'm in for a break. He's still out there.

After I'm done posting, I have to head back out and liberate the car. And, in all honestly, probably re-do some of the sidewalk b/c it hasn't stopped snowing yet. It's definitely a work-out. I feel no guilt re: chips and salsa today.

But it sure is pretty, too.

Magoo said, "I love this part of January!"

It's a fluffy wonderland for him.

OK - back out to the trenches for me.

If you're in my neighborhood, I wish you luck with the dig and hope you can enjoy the fluffy rain.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Art Class: The Human Figure

My little students gathered again for our Sunday Morning Art Class - this time we were tackling the human body. My goal is to get them drawing people a little more realistically. Magoo, for example, tends to draw arms more like wings. I'm not looking for super accurate muscle definition, but the acknowledgement of elbows would be a step in the right direction.

The boys did a great job and put a ton of effort into it. This was challenging though - and I can see we're going to have to keep working at it.

I was basically trying to get them to map out more sophisticated stick figures and then we'd add "meat to the bones" but the boys didn't add a lot of meat - so there were some really skinny people.

Then, I started teaching them to put "balloons" on the bones and trace around those. That helped a bit.

At one point Magoo was looking at his profile and saying, "I see one eye. I see a nose." etc. And although he couldn't draw them as he saw them, the fact that he saw that in this photo he had only one eye is great. It means he's looking and not assuming.

For week 2 - I'd say they're all doing AWESOME!

In other news: I finished my second cowl. This is called the Gap-tastic cowl and I got the pattern on Ravelry.

I like this one much better than the Luxe Cowl. The Luxe looked good in the photo but it felt a little like a skein of wool was eating my face. This one is warm but gives me room to breathe. Ahhhhh.

OK - I have a big To-Do list today, so I'm off!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Modern Masters

On Monday evenings, my friend Angela comes over and we paint. We took some time off between the art show and New Years, but come next Monday we're getting the ball rolling again. We thought it might be a good idea to soak in some art and get the creative juices flowing so we went over to the Modern Masters on Paper show at the Wadsworth Antheneum.

I'm an Andrew Wyeth freak - so I was so excited to see one of his watercolors, Granddaughter, there. I won't try to do an art analysis here b/c I'd just sound like a big pompous idiot, but I love his contrasts between light/dark and soft/hard edges. That composition is pretty killer too.

They also had about 5 Edward Hoppers there. The one there were big about advertising was Captain Strout's House - and it surely was outstanding. But I found myself drawn to this relatively stark one entitled, Truro Station Coal Box.

This image doesn't really do it justice - but the blue was really ... uh ... awesome (for lack of a better word.) And one of the things that has always drawn me to Hopper was his shadows. I love a good shadow! I don't paint a lot of architecture, but seeing the way Hopper makes a coal box dramatic sure makes me want to try.

Angela and I had a tiny companion with us - her daughter E. And E was not down with this exhibit. She has a favorite room and dragged her momma right out there to sit. So when I was done with my art-gazing, I went out to take a babysitting shift.

I didn't know how this was going to go. Ang has 4 children and the first 3 like me just fine. But I have gotten the stink-eye from this one MORE than a few times so the odds weren't in my favor.

But I had a few secret weapons. 1.) a pen. 2.) a notebook 3.) my awesome ability to draw a bird.

E helped me out with some dot and coloring action. And when the novelty of notebook drawing was over, E discovered another canvas...

According to E, drawing on my arm was BIG TIME FUN! Guess what? She likes me now!

If anyone in the Hartford area w/kids wants something fun to do, the Wadsworth is having a community day on Martin Luther King Day. They always set-up art projects in the galleries so while kids are making their own art they're soaking up some culture. In the past, Magoo was always more interested in the elevator, but hey, we tried.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Joke Lives On...

Did you know I love unicorns? Well, I don't. But I am surround by funny people who LOVE to keep this joke alive. It popped up at my birthday too.

My buddy Heather got me these lovelies for Christmas.

The large tin is a bank. You see, I'm saving up for a unicorn! The side of the bank suggests that if you can't afford a unicorn perhaps one might take some medication and tape a paper towel role to a cat's head. It's nice to know that they give you a plan B.

Then, Charlie gifted me a book.

I actually do kinda dig zombies - so this one is JUST PERFECT!
Here's the cover art sans dust jacket.

Looks to me like the zombies are kicking some serious unicorn butt! I do love the rainbows that are just thrown about.

Here's a black and white from the inside:

The zombie has removed the unicorns horn and stabbed the creature with it. Who knew zombies were so resourceful!

So thank you to my hilarious friends and family. Someday, when I die, people will come into my house, go through my things, and see my unicorn collection. Then they will carve the mythic creature on my tombstone with the saying: Here lies Julie - who truly loved unicorns.

Then I will haunt you all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011: New Things

One of the things we're trying in 2011 is Sunday Morning Art Classes at the Phillipps' Institute a.k.a my dining room! Heather had talked about sending her boys over to the town art center for weekend classes, but then you have to work your kids into their schedule and pay fees and since she has one 6-yr old and one 8-yr old you have to co-ordinate what their ages are to classes, yadda, yadda, yadda. Headache!

I'd been wanting to teach Magoo, but sometimes the transition from Mom to Teacher can be tough on him. He's not always fond of Homework Mommy, yanno? We decided if we merged the youngun's together it might offer more structure.

And so we have ... art class.

I started by teaching the boys the structure of the human face. First we learned how to see the real shapes of facial features and they traced their own from photos I printed up. Then I taught them about placement. Then (pictured) I gave them all printouts of nine different illustrated faces to teach them about the symbols of the face; the different ways artists show eyes, noses, mouths, etc.

Drawing their own faces was a challenge. I knew it would be. They complained about their skills just like the adults did in the evening art classes I used to teach. (I don't know why people are so hard on themselves when it comes to drawing, but they are.) But the boys had fun with the "cartooning" aspect of faces.

I asked them to mix and match styles and see what they came up with.

Magoo had a bit of a hitch at the beginning of class when I had to tone him down (too hyped up) but otherwise I think the boys all did very well.

In other news (and now I'm back-tracking a bit) I have become a knitter. I fought it for a long time. Whenever one of my knitting friends asked if I wanted to learn I'd say, "As if I don't have enough hobbies!" But Heather wore me down.

My first project was a scarf for Mike:

I used 3 skeins and it took me about 6 weeks to knit. The first 1/3 of it has mistakes GALORE! But then I started getting into it and the repetitive motion of the knitting became rather soothing. Feeling stressed? Go knit a few rows!

Then I decided I wanted to make a cowl for myself. I joined Ravelry and found a pattern, bought more yarn, bought needles for knitting in the round, and learned to purl. This took me far less time. It's called the Luxe Cowl.

Know I'm a little cowl addicted so I've already got 2 more in progress. For the most part I'm going to try to not be one of those people who buys tons and tons of yarn. I have nothing against those people, it's just that I have tons and tons of fabric in my basement already so clearly I have hoarding tendencies. I just want to keep myself in check. One project at a time. For the most part.

I hope everyone likes scarves/cowls - b/c that's what you're all getting next Christmas!