Sunday, March 25, 2018


I possess something that’s priceless. Not everybody has it and it can’t be found in books or downloaded from the web…it’s IMAGINATION. Knowing that I have it isn’t enough. Imagination can be a fickle thing. If I don’t take care of it, it will wither. I must nurture it, feed it, stimulate and exercised it or like any muscle it becomes weak. I also know technology robs me of it (cell phones, computer, T.V…). During Lent I abstained from technology during the day (12pm-5pm). I am amazed how much my artwork has flourished during these weeks!

I wasn’t much of a student when I was in school. In fact I would have rather been anywhere else besides a classroom. Why? School was hard for me. My sisters did great in school. They did their homework, took tests and got good grades. They made it look so easy! I did my homework, freaked out during tests and got dismal grades. I was trying! Some nights I’d spend hours upon hours studying, memorizing…with no improved results. Eventually I came to the conclusion I lacked intelligence which made me feel ashamed. 

I wish I knew then, what I know now. I’m not dumb (far from it). But I do learn differently. I’ve made allowances for my way of learning. I am a visual learner which means I need to see things repeatedly, read aloud and write things down. The very thing that was my downfall in school is my strength today. I’m a visual person. I see things that most people miss and I also see how they could be different. 

1. White pen on gray paper...
In my studio I live in the world of what ifs? I like to imagine different ways of sketching and painting light. I am always pushing the boundaries of what I know. My experiments may fail but they may also succeed. The excitement of pursuing what I don’t fully understand is stimulating! The presence of light is the most elusive and exciting subject I know. I’m always looking for ways to interpret it. 

1. continued by painting on the gray paper.
Example 1:  
I used a gray pastel paper by Canson called Mi-Teintes. Working on a toned paper I have no whites so I used a white marker for the whites. The marker is a Faber-Castell, Pitt White 101. Now don’t go getting all purest on me here and say white is a NO, NO! I’m exploring here…NO RULES. I am not worrying about a transparent watercolor show.

The next step I used watercolor. The marker was watercolor proof so it didn't bleed when paint touched the edges. 

Example 2: Negative Painting
Example 2:
Here is a painting I did using the technique of negative painting. I painted
around the lights without using any kind of resist, masking fluid or tapes to save the lights. You can read earlier posts on negative painting here. I used a limited palette of  Quinacridone Burnt Orange, French Ultramarine, Raw Sienna Light and Lunar Black, by Daniel Smith Watercolors.

A few years after Mike and I we’re married he made a comment about how smart I was. At first I thought he was joking…but he meant it. He was the smartest person I knew and I trusted him. It took me a while to fully understand the depth of what he meant. I possess imagination.  

“Imagination is more important than knowledge”. ~Albert Einstein

Happy Painting!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Boone Part #3, The Long Road Home

I am a native Californian born and raised. I have traveled a lot teaching workshops in the U.S. and overseas but I have never driven across America! On the other hand my husband Mike has seen much of America on a motorcycle. The journey that started in Boone North Carolina would now take us to Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and bring us home to California. We would be traveling 2,400+ miles is 5 days.

We traded in our compact car for something more comfortable. Next stop? Pick up supplies for the trip. Water and snacks for us.  Boone’s shopping list was longer: 
Ice chest (Boone’s 3 medications: antibiotics, eye ointment, pills)
Cat food (wet & dry)
Kitty litter (plastic bag for waste)
Towel (to cover back seat)
Wet cloths (for messes)
Kitty bed
Cat Carrier (to carry Boone in hotels)
Hair brush
…and more toys!

I would be riding shotgun with Boone on my lap (or he’d be napping in the backseat). Mike would be at the wheel pointing us towards home.

Boone Riding Shotgun on my Lap
The 1st Day, we covered a lot of miles from Tennessee to Arkansas. Boone was a great traveling companion. He didn't get excited at all, in fact he slept most of the day.  During our rest stops he’d get his medication and eat. He was beginning to feel more energetic which created its own problem. At night he wanted to jump and play with us. He had a laceration on his back foot in one of the soft pads. The paw kept bleeding. We had to clean the wound every time he got in the litter box.

Waiting Out the Storm
Day 2, was more exciting. Our destination was Oklahoma. Our plan was to get to the North-West corner of the state before a big storm hit. The last couple hours the sky changed drastically. We arrived at the hotel just before the storm hit. We carried in our suitcases, Boone and his litter box. Mike and I decided to eat dinner at a tiny café across the street. As we were eating the winds we're blowing so hard the windows were shaking and it was raining hard. I said something to the waitress and she said you haven't
seen anything yet…the worst of the storm will be here in about 10 minutes. Since we had finished dinner and had a long wait before we could leave we ordered dessert. The storm provided quite a show. The wind was carrying the rain sideways beating against the windows, you could feel the air pressure building, lightening lit up the sky, the wind blew construction signs down the street, people were running into the building to get out of the storm and the road was flooded. I could barely see our hotel through the rain. I had a frightening thought…it this a tornado?!  All I could think about was our safety and the kitten we left across the street. Did we come this far for this? Thankfully the storm never built enough strength to become a tornado! 

Tired Little Traveler
Day 3, Destination Santa Fe, New Mexico! Up to this point we didn't have any problem finding a pet friendly hotel. But today was different. I spent hours on my phone looking for a hotel that would except Boone and still be a place I would stay in. I was starting to feel disheartened and ready to give up hopes of staying the night in my favorite town. To my delight I found the perfect place…The Inn on Alameda. They were pet friendly, beautifully decorated, clean, perfectly located, wonderful breakfast buffet and they even had pet food bowls in the room. Once we got Boone settled we went for a walk to stretch our legs. We headed over to the plaza, looked inside a couple galleries and found out it was the biggest art week of the year! All the galleries were open late, many of the artists’ represented were at the galleries and lots of art receptions going on. I spent the night in artist’s heaven! 
Day 4, Today is my birthday! What could be more wonderful than waking up with a soft kitten, a hot cup of coffee and a relaxing breakfast with Mike? We strolled up Canyon Road and I sketched before it was time to hit the road…again. We left Santa Fe and headed for Flagstaff, Arizona. After 8 hours of driving we checked into another hotel, carried in Boone and all his paraphernalia (food, litter box, cat bed, ice chest…). My sister and husband live in Flagstaff so I had the joy of having dinner and birthday cake with family.

Day 5, California here we come!
”If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans”. Just over a week ago I had different plans. Little did I know that a tiny kitten with a heart as big as Texas and a purr as loud as thunder would create a detour in my life. 

By night fall we were home. No more gas stations, rest stops, restaurants, hotels or driving. Tonight Boone would rest and tomorrow he would explore his first home.

What have I learned?
It all came down to choices. Boone made the first choice to seek help. It was risky for a fragile, partially blind, sick kitten to leave his shelter. But he crawled out from under the trailer in the parking lot and ran to Mike and poured out affection and purrs on Mike’s ankle in a desperate attempt. He begged to be touched, for someone to care…to be wanted.  We made the choice not to turn away. We sought help for him locally and when they turned us away the choice rested with us. 

The decision to take on this kitten was filled with unknowns.  Little did we know how much it would require of us! Was he a burden or hardship? Past experiences has taught me a lot... hardship isn’t a bad thing…quite the opposite. Something happened in my heart as we drove across the country. For the first time in a couple years Mike and I were working together for something or someone else. Boone gave us a common purpose…to love without expectation, to care without a return, to love without knowing an outcome…to be still and quiet together. Mike and I needed this time together. Boone wasn't a burden, he was the gift!


If you missed earlier posts you can read the story here:
Part #1 Becoming Boone
Part #2 Bring Him Home
Part #3 The Long Road Home (this post)
Part #4...more to come!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Becoming Boone, Part #2

--- Bring Him Home ---
What were we going to do? We had a sick kitten, family waiting in Tennessee and a plane flight home to California in 4 days. I called my son in Tennessee and said we had a “small” delay and we’re running a few hours behind…and by the way do you have a 24 hour animal hospital near you?

Next we drove to the nearest pet supply store and got a litter box, food, water, bowls, flea drops, flea comb, a couple toys. Mike rearranged our suitcases, workshop supplies and sketch bag in the back seat. I now had a litter box at my feet, food and water bowls on the floor…and an exhausted little creature searching the car for a place to…do his business! Obviously he didn’t know what a litter box was. Let’s say he caught on quick (I was only slightly soiled in the experience). Now we had windows open for fresh air, handy wipes for clean up and cruising down the road. A few miles down the road my son called with the number of an emergency animal clinic in his town. We had a new destination!

We arrived at the Knoxville Pet Emergency Clinic a couple hours later. I felt a huge sense of relief…we would have some answers. We filled out papers, gave them our payment info and sat in the waiting area. We were called into an examination room and a tech came in to take his vitals. She wasn’t the most gentle person and I could see he was afraid. When the tech left the room Mike bundled him up and restored the kitten’s sense of safety. About 15 minutes later the veterinarian, Christine Kline came in the examination room. She had a gentle manner, scratched his chin and got acquainted gently. We told her where we found him, our concerns, travel situation. She needed to do tests before we could discuss the future. She bundled him in a towel and took him to the back room for blood tests, dilate his damaged eye, an exam….and we waited.
Stillman & Birn sketchbook, 10x8 tinted paper 

She estimated him at being 6 months old and very small for his age. There was good news and bad news. The good news: he did NOT have FeLeuk or FIV (cat diseases).  There was hope for the little kitten! The bad news: he was dehydrated, had a respiratory infection, ear mites, fleas, laceration on his foot and permanently blind in his right eye. She followed up with…he’s a sweet kitten and will get better. We reminded her or our situation and living across the U.S. She gave us the name of a shelter in the area. Mike and I looked at each other and didn’t like the idea. We had already been down that path earlier in the day. If we found a place that would accept him it was very likely he would be euthanized. Who would want to adopt him in his current health? And we were getting attached. She asked if we wished to have him treated? We said yes. She wrote out 3 prescriptions: Drops for his ears, ointment to sooth his damaged eye and antibiotics for his respiratory infection. 

We went to the waiting area to pay our bill and pick up his medicine. As we sat their Mike and I talked. We tried to make sense of the situation we had gotten ourselves into. The kitten was on our lap purring loudly and so very happy. We had one more question for the veterinarian.  What paper work do we need to take the kitten home with us on the plane? She said it would take two weeks for him to be well enough to fly due to his respiratory infection. TWO WEEKS?!!! 
He would also need all his shots for the required  health certificate.  We had a flight to catch in four days and I had a workshop to teach in 10 days! I felt like we hit another road block.

All three of us got back in the car. I called the hotel and asked, are you pet friendly? The answer was yes. So we headed to the hotel, checked in, carried in our suitcases, litter box, cat food and a the kitten. I got cleaned up. too. Clean clothes felt good. We were half a day late but we arrived in time to have dinner with my son and family.

For the next three days we visited with family and took in the sights of Knoxville, TN: zoo, national park, downtown…but at night we returned to the little guy waiting for us. Each day he got stronger and stronger. The medicine was doing its work! The stronger he got the bigger his personality got…he was so cute!

There was a large uncomfortable question looming over us.  What were we going to do when it came time to fly home? On the second morning Mike woke up and said, do you have a solution yet? I said no, do you? With a cute smile he said, yes. We’re gonna drive home.

All the sudden what looked like a problem became a new and wonderful adventure that would take us all the way across the United States with a little kitten in the back seat… Two days later we traded in our rental car for something more comfortable, loaded up our suitcases, litter box, cat food, dishes…and headed towards home. On this day I named him Boone…the city where the adventure began.

Part 3… The Long Road Home.

If you missed Part 1 click here

Happy Travel,

Monday, January 29, 2018

Becoming Boone...Part #1

Each of us have a story to tell…

Last summer I taught a workshop at Cheap Joe's Art Stuff in Boone, North Carolina. It’s one of my favorite places to teach for many reasons. The people are warm and friendly, the country is beautiful and I get to spend time with a very dear friend, Joe Miller (the one and only Cheap Joe). I had the best week ever! One of those weeks we hope for as teachers. My students were eager to learn, positive, nurturing to their class mates, funny, creative…and above all, inspiring women. I came away with a full heart.

The next day Mike and I packed up and started our drive to Tennessee. We planned on arriving in Knoxville within a few hours and would join our son and family for dinner. About 100 miles into the trip we stop to have lunch at a sandwich shop along the interstate. We sat outside in the warm Tennessee air. Within seconds a small kitten appeared. He had been hiding under a boat trailer in the parking lot. He ran to my husband and wrapped his little body around his ankle. It was obvious the kitten was alone and not cared for and blind in one eye. I was very concerned about touching him because he was obviously sick. But Mike was already petting, scratching and comforting the kitten. He was starved to be touched. His desire to be touched was greater than his want for food. 

I started making phone calls looking for a facility that could help him. I found a humane society and animal shelter. I picked up the kitten and we got in the car and I waited for all hell to break loose!!! The odd thing is the little kitten didn’t get excited at all…he just wanted to lay his head on my feet. I’ve never had a cat not go wild in a car! We drove 30 minutes to the nearest animal shelter. They turned us away. Why? Because we weren't residence of that county. No kidding! But the kitten was found in their county. Didn’t that matter? No! They gave us another number to call. That shelter turned us away too. They already had 400 cats that needed homes. At this point we were sitting in the car trying to figure out what to do. And now the little kitten needed to go potty. I got out of the car and put him on a little plot of grass in the shade. Immediately a sad sick cat came out of the bushes towards us. Oh NO! People were leaving sick and abandoned animals outside the shelter! 

What were we going to do? We had a sick kitten, family waiting in Tennessee and a plane flight home to California in 4 days. I called my son in Tennessee and said we had a “small” delay and we’re running a few hours behind…and by the way do you have a 24 hour animal hospital near you?

Next we drove to the nearest pet supply store and got a litter box, food, water, bowls, flea drops, flea comb, a couple toys.

And this is where his story begins…The story of Becoming Boone. 

Be sure not to miss Part's my favorite! Add your email address to the "Subscribe" box, it's located in the right column, on the top.

Happy Adventures!
Brenda & Boone

Friday, January 12, 2018

Sketch Collage

Stillman & Birn, Beta, Size 8.5 x 5.5 (open flat, 8.5x11inch)
Do you remember the old movie posters that had multiple images that gave you the highlights or teasers to the best scenes in a movie? I do. They were beautiful! They were called a montage. The process or technique of selecting, editing and piecing together separate sections of a film to form a continuous whole. 

Have you ever visited a location, spent a day with friends, went on a trip... and felt one image wasn't enough to tell the "story"? Me too! Many years ago people noticed how I sketched multiple images on a page to tell a story. I started calling them a "Sketch Collage”. But I suppose sketch montage would of worked, too. 

The challenge is arranging elements in a way that the page has a flow and balance. Here's a few tips and ideas to help you.
11 x 10 Sketchbook
*Themes: Travel, garden, cooking, animals, vacation...the list is endless. 

*Complete the sketch collage in one sitting or add images to a page over the span of the trip. 

*Don't worry about objects being true to size in relation to each other.

*Have objects such as people, signs, road…pointed in and not out of the page.

*Overlap objects or scenes.

*Border or boxes help tie images together.

Next time you are looking for a way to tell a bigger story I hope you'll give this technique a try. 
Stillman & Bin Beta 10x8  (open flat, 10x16 inch)

Most of the Sketch Collages I create are in the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. My favorite surface is the Beta, soft cover. I use a variety of sizes.  You can learn about the two types of sketchbooks I use here, Sketchbooks: Size, Paper, Cover & Binding

Happy Sketching!

P.S. If you'd like to join me in one of my workshops in 2018 I only have a few spots left. If you've ever dreamed of sketching Tuscany in the Fall I have one spot open. A dream trip!!!  Workshops Here 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A New Page and a New Year

Life is like sketching with a pen. You can cross something out but you can never erase it.

When I sketch I usually have a pretty good idea how it’s going to look. Along the way things can change. I can make mistakes or improvements. It all depends on me.  Sometimes my plans don’t work out and sometimes things turn out better than I imagined. Kind of like life. I’m becoming more open to the possibilities. The What ifs...? Do I make mistakes? You bet I do. Mistakes are the greatest teacher. If I always play it safe I stop reaching for possibilities I miss the opportunities to grow.

When the drawing is finished, I paint.  Color sets the mood of happy or somber, warm or cool. In the end I have something that feels like my home comfortable, safe and warm. Is it perfect? Not at all. I'm not after perfection. Life and creativity are more enjoyable when we live beyond the boundaries of perfection. In the end I will turn the page and start anew.  

As the year comes to a close I hope your home is warm and safe. May you feel loved and cherished everyday and may creativity fill your life and our world.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah…and Happy new Year!

Happy Painting!


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Negative Painting - Poinsettias

Reference Photo 
Cameras are a wonderful tool but it's important to remember photographs are simply a springboard. I don’t rely too heavily on them. The sooner I respond to what’s happening on the paper and quit looking at the photo the better off I’ll be…especially with the technique of negative painting.

I start by drawing the poinsettias with a 2B pencil on Arches 140lb cold press paper. I'm especially aware of the space and shapes between the flowers and leaves (negative space). I want shape and size variety. I draw enough to get the general shapes, but not too much. I intentionally leave areas understated so I'll have opportunities for negative shapes to develop in the painting process. 

I use transparent paint to build up glazes. I limit my underpainting to 3 

colors. To determine which 3 colors I will use I make numerous color swatches. The paints need to be the same consistency (whole milk) to encourage ample mixing on the paper. I'm looking for interesting combinations (how they mix when wet, range of colors, range of values and do they relate to my subject). The 3 paint colors I selected I call my Mother Colors: New Gamboge (NG), Quinacridone Rose (QR), and Phthalo Blue GS (PB GS).

I wet the watercolor paper with clean water and introduce the 3 paint colors separately into the wet surface. I paint at an angle to encourage mixing as the paint moves. I don’t overwork the surface with a paint brush but encourage the paint to mix and mingle on the paper. I leave a third of the paper untouched with paint. As it dries the paint will continue to move and hopefully a small amount of light/whites will remain. Let throughly dry naturally (without a hair dryer).

I continue with my Mother Colors (original 3 colors) and I pull French 

Ultramarine into the mixing area of my palette. When I bring a new color into the mix it touches one of the original Mother Colors. Why? Having a new color touch one of the original 3 colors creates harmony in the glazing process. When I begin glazing I'll paint over some of the poinsettia petals, leaves and background at the same time. I start in the upper left hand corner and work clockwise. I paint hard edges against the petals I want to save and soften as I pull away. As I work clockwise around the main poinsettia I vary my colors slightly with the Mother Colors and French Ultramarine. Let throughly dry.

Periodically I wipe off my palette especially if the mixing area has become a neutralized mixture. Mud, neutrals or grays are wonderful and every painter should know how to mix them. But know when you want them and how these grays work to make other colors more lively.

I pull out fresh paint into the center of my palette. I have the Mother Colors (NG, QR, PB), French Ultramarine and the new addition of Hansa Yellow Light. Starting on the left side directly below the poinsettia and working counter clockwise. I use a mixture of French Ultramarine & 

Quinacridone Rose. I carve out shapes with hard edges against the petals. As I move across the lower section I want my colors to move from purples into the greens. With each brush load I slightly shift the green. Below the center poinsettia is a cooler green and pushes towards the blues. As I move across the lower section (left to right) I carve out more petal shapes. Above the far right poinsettia the greens are much warmer and have more Hansa Yellow Light. The small negative shapes in the center of each flower is a dark mixture of French Ultramarine & Quinacridone Rose. Let throughly dry.

As the poinsettia turns from the light I have a variety of shadows. Form shadows have soft edges and cast shadows have hard edges. The shadows on the petals are a darker value of Quinacridone Rose with a touch of French Ultramarine as it turns from the light. When I need to soften the edge of a form shadow I use clean water on the edge before the paint has a chance to dry. The leaves beneath the center poinsettia is the darkest passage of negative painting. I use a mixture of Phthalo Blue GS & New Gamboge, before the paint has a chance to loose its shine I drop a little Quinacridone Rose into the passage. The unexpected warmth brings life to the dark greens. A few touches of color in the center of the poinsettia and it’s finished.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this short demonstration. I used the Daniel Smith Essentials SetThe set consists of six tubes of paints. A warm and cool: red, blue and yellow. The colors are VERY transparent (exception of Hansa Yellow Light which is semi-transparent). 

Happy Painting!

(I originally wrote this post 12-13-15. With the holidays quickly approaching it's a good time to share it again)