New Studio Painting In Progress

A few years back, I started taking classes at the fantastic crafting store in Berkley, Castle in the Air, where I met the most wonderful artist, Ulla Milbrath. Up until then I had mostly been working as an illustrator in games in the bay area, and was feeling quite isolated in my home office. After I was divorced in 2007, I told myself enough was enough; I decided to step out into the world again and start making connections back to the things that I truly love - not for the sake of my career or becoming anyone important in the arts, but for myself, my soul, and my own love of crafting fine things that bring me joy. 

When I was growing up my mother was always making something or other. One of my earliest memories is of my mom crocheting snowflake ornaments for our Christmas tree. If she wasn't making new ornaments for our tree, she was sewing my and my sister's wardrobes, making dolls and doll clothes for us, making all sorts of decorations and whimsical creations for the many houses we moved into as a nomadic military family. Almost every toy and piece of clothing that I wore growing up was made by my mom. 

So I started taking crafting classes and eventually stumbled into Ulla Milbrath's classes where I learned to make paper flowers. Ulla is one of the most wonderful and inspiring artists I know! She is incredibly inventive and creative, and stitches the most lovely things you can possibly imagine. She even paints on porcelain! You must check out her blog and be sure especially to follow her Pinterest account where she posts the most amazing reference material. 

Some of the flowers I made in her classes. I've since become quite obsessed with paper flower making. They are also a fantastic way to study botanical subjects.

Paper flower making was a popular past time in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. Botany at the time was all the rage as people became interested in plants from around the world and learned about classification of various species.  

Having lots of flowers around the house I had been wondering if it might be possible to compose them in a still life. I was thinking however that I wouldn't want them to be merely props for real flowers, but intentionally composed so that it is understood that they are crafted flowers. I played around a lot with this set up. I even included lots of other things at one point like scissors and glue, but took them out in the end because I preferred the look to be a little more subtle, kind of like a diorama.

The above monochrome is the open grisaille, the first pass underpainting. Below is the start of the closed grisaille, which ended up a terrible disaster...

I started this grisaille with a new tube of Michael Harding Titanium White no. 1. While I was painting I noticed the quality of the paint seemed thin and somewhat odd. I got as far as I could in one day. When I came back one full week later I found that 100% of all of the white areas of the painting were still very wet AND several of the half tones in the gradients were far darker and patchy than I painted them. On close inspection, I narrowed down that it was the white paint I'd purchased which was ground in safflower oil as opposed to linseed oil. When the manufacturer was contacted, he assured me there was nothing faulty in the paint and that it must be something wrong with my process… 

I decided to make the tough decision to wipe off all of the white paint that I could, feeling that it was obviously unstable paint. I did not want to risk this paint pulling up subsequent layers in the future layers.

I wiped off all the paint and found strange patchy areas underneath. 

So then I decided to sand to make sure there was no white paint left and a more even surface.

I waited a little more than a week, came back and found my painting was dry enough to repaint the grisaille again, this time using my old classic Vasari titanium white (along with burnt umber and a tiny bit of ult blue). 

The next stage will be COLOR. For this little painting I'm going to do a one day alla prima color study so that I can work out the subtle whites and reflected light in the composition. After that I will move forward with the final.

This year has been my 20th year of working as a professional artist. I am in the midst of completely redesigning my website, updating it with new art from this entire past year and a half at my job as Art Director at Disney Interactive. I have a lot of new work to share and will do so as soon as I can! I also have quite a few more tree studies to share soon.

Thanks for visiting! 


Tree Studies

For the longest time I've wanted to do an entire series of studies focusing on trees - just trees... single trees, groups of trees, macro views of bark, tree trunks, tree roots, various leaves and how the light falls on groups of leaves. Some trees seem to shimmer in the light while others have a distinctly light absorbing quality. I've always loved the various shapes, colors, and sizes but I can't say I understand them very well, at least from the perspective of an artist. Being primarily interested in botanical subjects in general, I've felt for some time that I need to do a serious study of trees and get to know a variety of species.

So I've just started my tree studies. Here are a few. I have been painting in the mornings before work in Palo Alto with a couple of really talented and passionate coworkers - kindred spirits in the brotherhood of paint. I've also been painting on Saturday mornings, early, and usually in the late evening on Saturdays on my nightly walk. 

These days my medium of choice for plein air is pastel, a medium I've fallen in love with over and over again. Painting with pastels feels so natural, like playing with crayons or colored pencils until I get something close to what I want. I can't say I ever feel that way with oil. There is also something really neat about seeing a giant box of pastel colors together that makes me feel good. It feels like harmony.

Hilly bank in Palo Alto, pastel on toned paper. I think I spent about 3 hours on this.

A little tree, maybe an aspen, in the parking lot where I work, Disney Interactive. Pastel, about 1.5 hours.

Tree on the bank of Lake Merced in the late afternoon, just off the side of the path near the parking lot on Sloat. Pastel, about 2 hours.

This was a majestic evergreen variety that I was looking up at from the parking lot at work. Not the best perspective to be painting at. I tried to compensate for the foreshortening but I'm not sure it worked. I also painted this on sanded pastel paper. I don't like sanded paper at all. It just grabs up a ton of the pastel pigment and is difficult to blend soft edges. 
Pastel, about 2 hours

Lake Merced in the evening. Another pastel on sanded paper. I started to get the hang of the paper here a little more than the previous pastel, however it occurred to me that if what I want is thick texture as the paper seems to provide, I may as well just paint in oil. I enjoyed the light in this one a lot. The San Francisco Zoo and Ocean Beach are just beyond those far trees, one of my favorite places in the city.

 As I painted this scene a giant raccoon creeped around my blanket looking for food. Dogs would smell something but not see the raccoon near my set up and would snarl and bark while their owners yanked them on chains. I felt like the raccoon and I were enjoying this little hidden view together. A unique experience. Usually I'm swatting flies and flicking ants off of my pants and hoping ticks haven't crawled down my back for a nice cool drink of O-. 

 Hopefully in a few weeks I will have more than a few more studies. I've also realized this year that 2013 is my 20th year of working as a professional artist and illustrator. I'd like to commemorate that that soon and share some of the early work I did painting backgrounds in animation - a great job that I owe just about everything to in regards to landscape painting and just being an adult. 

Thanks for stopping by!


Found in the Minarets, Sierra Pack Trip

Earlier this month, I went on a fantastic six day painting adventure with artist friends Bill Cone, Paul Kratter, Ernesto Nemesio, Michele DeBraganca, Jeff Horn, Eric Merrell and Sergio Lopez to the Eastern Sierras - John Muir-Edgar Payne country. It was precisely the kind of uninterrupted painting time I so yearn for but don't very often get. 

Lake Ediza was our destination, a steep hike up from about 7,000 feet to around 10,000 at the lake. As we hiked up from the Agnew Meadows pack station where we dropped off our gear for the mules to carry up, I was floored by the incredible views along the rocky trail as I breathlessly made my way up slower than my group, despite the conditioning/training I did a few months before the trip.


Our mule train arriving after a long hike up to Lake Ediza. Eric Merrell on the far right on top of a boulder.


I set up my tent just under a tree, situated rather close to our cook's food storage/prep area due to the view of the Minarets from my tent. Given that we had a 4:00 am bear visit to the camp site, I think in the future I'd place my tent much farther away from the food source. I'm sure the view was just as magnificent a little further away.


Zipping down the front flap to my tent each morning gave me the most amazing view! I did a few little pencil sketches from my tent in the mornings but mostly sipped coffee while staring at the mountains and feeling like all was right with the world. Probably not the most efficient use of my painting time, but deeply enjoyable nonetheless.

Before I went on the trip I planned out how I would approach the week of painting. I intended to sketch out a couple of long shots, a few medium and a couple of close up intimate scenes so that I could create a portrait of the area from large scale to the very small.

What I hadn't counted on though was how much the altitude seemed to factor into my experience within the first 24-48 hours. After we got up to Lake Ediza from a long and difficult climb up to almost 10,000 feet elevation, I found that even after a long rest and some water that my heart was beating quite fast. I tried my best to ignore it, but my worry distracted me and I didn't paint very well the first day.


After the first 24 or so hours, my heart slowed to it's usual pace and I felt pretty comfortable. Still, I decided to stay close to camp to further acclimate to the elevation. While my camp mates were hiking up steep terrain in pursuit of painting gargantuan landscapes, I crawled along a stream bed close by looking for miniature wildflower compositions.


I attempted several minute scenes, but these two are my favorites of the lot. Most of these tiny compositions were along stream banks underneath tree growth bathed in beautiful cool sunlight with reflected light bouncing in and deep warm shadows. The pastel set I brought did not have a yellow that was as bright and pure as the yellow I saw in the light, so I tried my best to layer a few colors together and tried adding some transition color along the edges in order to brighten the color.


I also had some fun playing with the outside edges of the compositions, layering blue and accenting the edges with an emerald green. These little compositions reminded me a lot of the kind of watercolor paintings I did a lot of in my 20's. I would really like to get some hot press watercolor paper and do some more of these little flower studies. 

In keeping my goals, I decided to venture further away from camp in order to attempt a long shot landscape. I found a bank of trees at the opposite end of Ediza near to where we hiked in and made myself comfortable by the lake shore in a shady spot. I always enjoy large view paintings but do find them daunting at times. Part of the reason for this is probably technical on my part; I feel the need to hang out in one area until I get the entire area correct in terms of value, hue, and saturation before moving on to anything else. This I am sure is due in part to the lessons I learned early on at the Palette and Chisel via Richard Schmid, who often lectured about the importance of getting everything correct within the focal point first. It is entirely possible that I misunderstood his point, but still, there it is, imprinted on my art mind forever and the way I've approached painting since I was 19.

Bill must have wondered what the heck was going on because at one point he came up to me and said, "Commit Julia! Commit!" I had to laugh because I knew exactly what he meant. From that point on I told myself over and over, "stop the bullshit and lay in some more color!!!" I did find it helpful to stop lingering as much as I was in my focal point and get some more color down.



What attracted to me to this grouping of trees was the deep shadow within the bank of trees at the bottom. I liked the way the shape looked and liked how it was juxtaposed against warm and cool greens in the light. I'm not sure this photograph picked up the variety of color in the shadow very well, unfortunately.

Also, while I painted the mountain in the far distance behind the bank of evergreens, I noticed that the colors were muted variations of reds and greens, a color scheme I saw near the foothills of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. I wondered if these mountains have some of the same elements.

Switching to oil, I wanted to make a few studies of the light on rocks down by the water. I was attracted to the color in the shadows on the rocks - just jam packed with rich color that made it really fun to paint.


However, this simple study was more challenging than it might look. I'd look down to mix up some color, look up, and all of the sudden the temperature in the light was completely different! I decided it was probably due in part to the reflection of the shimmering light coming off of the water from Lake Ediza. This one is also on Arches oil paper. I layered the paint thicker in this study to compensate for the absorbency of the paper which seemed to make my values at least a full value darker about ten minutes after I laid down the paint. I did another few studies of the Minarets but became frustrated with the oil paper. I think I'll switch back to my usual L219 new traditions panels for oil studies. 


Switching back to pastels, I decided to turn around, move down the beach and paint a close up study of this rock face and shadow. The rock had a blue-grey local color and in the shadow side had some oxidization that made rich brown patterns along the cracks. The entire time I was painting the main deep shadow of the rock I could barely wait to paint in those wisps of grass in the light. When I finally put those little lights in, it was like going to the circus! 


I tried a longer view from across the lake. I had to work very quickly on this one since the shadow and reflected light was changing by the minute, it seemed. The triangle of shadow at the bottom was filled with cool deep greens while the shadows above had warm light bouncing into cool shadows.

The amazing thing about the Sierras, at least the Minarets and Lake Ediza, is the reflected light. I found it quite difficult to paint such bright bounce light in the shadows, always thinking to myself that no one would  believe my painting if I painted what I saw in front of me. It was challenging to keep the reflected light within a value range that was in keeping within the shadow while also trying to define form. I've always found rocks and boulders challenging more so than other subjects for this reason.


I am so fortunate to have spent time amongst the Minarets with this band of talented mountain loving artists. What made it so deeply enjoyable was the kinship with fellow artists who were all equally enthusiastic about painting. As we sat around the dinner table while Kelly cooked we all talked about what we painted that day, the places we explored and the light we saw.


 The light at dusk was just stunning, absolutely my favorite lighting of all, the time of day when all of the color is blanketed in a blue grey bath. Apparently I wasn't the only one interested in this; right after dinner each night, Eric Merrell would begin to set up his pochade box for some nocturne sketching. He had an excellent night time set up with little led lights on his palette that were perfect for illumination and did not blow out the light when you looked up at the dark scene in the distance.


Eric painting around 9:00. Although you can't see it in this photo, the moon was quite bright, illuminating the landscape and flooding it with warm and cool grey light.

I attempted a nocturne, but quickly learned that in order to do it well I needed a much better lighting set up. Every time I looked down at my palette with my headlamp to locate a color I wanted, I would look up and find my eyes completely unadjusted to the light making everything in sight a giant silhouette. I tried using a dim book light on my palette instead which was an improvement, but then had problems locating the colors I wanted to use. Below is my result, for better or worse. 

However, I did indeed learn A LOT by making the attempt. Not only would I come with tiny LED lights like Eric's, but I'd lay out a limited palette ahead of time full of cool blues, neutral greys, and even warm greys and a few rich violets too. 

The sky was so rich, full of violet and ult blue. I also vividly remember a thin sliver of very warm yellow value 2 light on the outer lighted edge of the moon - very surprising since the rest of the moon looked cooler in the light. 


Besides developing a nocturnal lighting obsession, I became completely enamored by the lighting around waterfalls that were close to our camp. These areas were typically surrounded by rocks that when wet became a deep brownish color, almost black in some areas. This looked really stunning against the white water washing down around them and the green patches of vegetation nearby.


I felt like one day's time was not enough to study this waterfall area. I really want to go back and spend a full week exploring the light and color of this incredible dynamic.


There is something about the mountains. When I was a little girl, my father, a newly promoted Captain in the Army, was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Of all the places we lived as a military family, Fort Carson was my favorite. My mother and I were so heartbroken when we left. It was just outside of Fort Carson that I spent every weekend learning to ride horses, became obsessed with wildlife, the mountains, the air, the snow, the birds, horses, horses, horses, and the outdoor life.

At age 5 I thought that I'd live at Fort Carson forever and grow up to be a cowgirl that took care of horses. Every weekend I tucked my white blonde tresses into my child sized cowboy hat, put on my five year old cowboy boots, and jeans, got in the car and drove with my mom to where I took horseback riding lessons on my best friend, a Golden Palomino with blonde hair just like me. I spent every Saturday all day riding up and down the trails learning how to trust a horse while he walked down steep mountainsides with little me on his back. I learned how to brush a horse, learned about changing his shoes, and how to feed him hay. I watched as the caretakers put saddles on all the horses and wondered when I would be big enough to put a saddle on a horse myself, since at that time I was too small to even get on a horse without someone picking me up and dropping me on his back.

These memories came flooding back to me constantly since our camp cook Kelly wore a hat and a t-shirt that said "Mule Days" on it, in addition to the charming tin camp plates that had mules and horse shoes printed on them. 

I am so fortunate to have spent such sacred time with fellow artists and friends in the Sierras. I really could do this forever. 



Searle in America Auction, "Reminiscing"

Since starting my new job last year at Disney Media Group/Playdom, I've spent a lot of time sketching and thinking about classic Disney characters. It seemed a natural fit when the Searle in America Art Auction came around that I might try a theme with one of the villains. 

The auction is taking place on EBAY. Pieces from animation industry professionals will be auctioned off HERE. Check it out!

***update: my painting on this post SOLD today! There are a number of new pieces by other artists that have been added and more coming - be sure to check the auction page!

After sketching a few ideas out of Searle's birds and cats, I just kept coming back to the concept of Cruella de Vil relaxing in her home office... I did a little research on wikipedia, and what do you know?!! Cruella did indeed go to school in England! Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

In the original story, Cruella is a pampered and glamorous London heiress who knows the owner of the Dalmatian puppies through school, though it is mentioned that they were not friends. Her net wealth as mentioned in The One Hundred and One Dalmatians is £6 million. She was a menacing student with black and white plaits. She was later expelled for drinking ink

Of course that school was St. Trinians. 

"Reminiscing", 10 x 12", gouache on board


It's been awhile since I've painted something cartoony without a computer. These days at my job the characters, props and backgrounds I draw and paint are for pre-production concepts, so I don't often get to finish the art myself. I enjoyed researching Searle and his interesting line work and making an attempt at it myself, although I was light on the line work and more heavy on the values.

 I thought I'd share a little bit of my process on this piece. 


When I first thought of the concept of Cruella in her home office or study, I pictured lots of books, framed diploma on the wall, books on the floor as well as photos and other paraphernalia from her early days at St. Trinians. After sketching out several ideas, moving things around, and thinking about it, I decided that it was better to go simple with this idea. Since Cruella's face is looking down and so clearly the center of interest, I thought it better to have her looking into her yearbook. All else in the concept is support at that point, so I eliminated as much detail as possible, feeling the idea is stronger with less.

After I finished sketching, I found some good photoshop brushes and experimented with palettes. I looked at some of Searle's work and found that he often used an interesting blend of warm grey and cool blacks. I love the look, so I dug out some materials from my art closet to see if I could match his look in terms of color first. 


I thought a base layer of tan acrylic wash would work well with cool and neutral grey gouache tones and a cool dark grey line.


After I transferred the printed out drawing to a lightweight cold press illustration board, I painted a thin acrylic wash using the tan acrylic. This at first can be jarring because it tends to make the whole piece look dark and smears the lines a little, but when it dries the lines are in tact and the wash fairly clean.

After the acrylic wash was dry, I simply began to paint in flat values using the various grey gouaches mixed with a little titanium white gouache at times. I spent a lot of time fiddling with the layers, being careful to not let the gouache get too thick.


After I painted the grey tones I painted in the line work. This took longer than any other part of the rendering process, but was probably the most fun of all. In fact, I am now thinking about seeing what I can do with this technique on more Disney villains - just for fun!


Please stay tuned if you have been following my posts on studying the Flemish Method with Sadie. I have finally finished the piece and will post about that VERY SOON! 

Thanks for reading!


Little Museum Drawings and a Hiatus

I've been on a short hiatus from this blog and painting since December. I traveled in December to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to see to the spectacular Alphonse Mucha show at the Czech & Slovak Museum, a rare showing of his works in the US, then a quick trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. After that, the holidays were upon us. During that time a family medical emergency took place, which I have been immersed in since. 

I am now back at my Sunday studio workshop with Sadie Valeri, starting again today. In April I will resume posting about the painting I have been working on for about a year now. I have about 8-10 Sunday sessions to go before I finish this elaborate work. After that, on to the next one, which I think will be considerably smaller. I am eager to move on to new works. I have sketched out quite a few ideas around some themes I have been thinking about for a number of years now.

It was an incredible experience to see Alphonse Mucha's works in person. Seeing a lot of his large format paintings and lithographs was absolutely worth the trip. His palette was far richer and varied than is conveyed in reproductions of his work. There were also a large number of sketches, many in mixed media, some in oil, and some in pencil and watercolor. All were amazing. Really amazing.

I sat and did a quick sketch of this painting. (There is a copy of the painting HERE.) I didn't quite capture it - I was a little distracted by the hawkish curators who were on the look out for picture taking and eyeing me cautiously even though I was only drawing.


Next we spent a day in Chicago to visit the Art Institute. Going back to downtown Chicago brought back warm memories of being a 20 year old art student, slogging my way in between the American Academy of Art on Michigan Avenue and the Palette and Chisel across town, sometimes stopping off at the Terra Museum to check out the fantastic Winslow Homer paintings in between or the Sargent paintings at the Art Institute, one of which I did a museum study of while I was a student.

On this visit, I found this odd little sculpture that had an expression that intrigued me because of  the intensity and the strangely slightly inwardness of his eyes. It made for an arresting sculpture that I quite enjoyed drawing. 


Earlier this year Jamie and I were in Paris, where we visited the Musee D'Orsay. The museum is packed with incredible paintings and sculptures, but also fantastic decorative Art Nouveau pieces as well. While I didn't have enough time to sketch this piece in person, I took some photos and pieced them together later so that I could do this study of a gate by Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard


I have been collecting all of my little museum drawings on this magnetic chalkboard I have on my desk. They all remind me of some of the most magical times I have had with Jamie sketching together, probably some of the best times I've ever had with another human being. 


 I look forward to more adventures together.