Saturday, February 28, 2015

Featuring Andra Jensen

Today, I want to introduce you to my friend, Andra Jensen.  A true artist, Andra is also a gifted teacher of art skills, giving her students confidence to reach their potential.  Soft-spoken and gentle, her personality shines out in her work.  I asked her to tell me a little bit about herself and received the following: 

I am Andra Jensen, and my passion is watercolor. I love the beautiful papers and the transparency of the paints. My trademark is using watercolor to create the softest effects possible. My subject matter is often influenced by my love of the past, especially geology, classic cars, and family history. 
Painted for the artist's brother-in-law, a fire fighter

I grew up in Arizona, where it was my good fortune to be surrounded by amazing desert colors and lots of great Mexican food. When I was three years old, I sold my first work to my grandfather for five cents. My family has continued to support my art pursuits, education, and participation in art competitions. I have been honored with awards at the student competition at BYU-Idaho and also from the Art Guild of Eastern Arizona.

'Winter Afternoon'
I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from BYU-Idaho. Currently, I am an instructor in the art department at Eastern Arizona College where I am on a crusade to teach color harmony through the use of limited palettes (using only a few simple colors at a time.)
'Old Car'

I have a dream of someday traveling the British Isles, painting and teaching workshops there. But wherever I am, I am sure I will still be teaching, and still loving watercolor.
Living in cotton growing country, Jensen recently took a closer look at cotton plants and blossoms.  The result of that can be seen below:

'White Cotton Flower'

Although primarily a watercolor painter, Jensen's love of soft edges and light is often expressed in oils as well.  Whenever I see a painting by her, I feel a sense of peace and tranquility, qualities she possesses in abundance.  

Oil on canvas

I hope you love her work as much as I do.  Andra hasn't got a web page yet, but when that day arrives, be sure that I'll be adding a link to it here!  

Oil on canvas

Come back to Whatercolorit again and thanks for stopping by!   Alice

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Field Sketching Day

I had tons to do on Thursday and was in the process of getting them done when my husband stuck his head in the door and asked if I wanted to run out to the barn building project with him.  Of course, I dropped everything, grabbed my bag and was ready to go.  I have no problems throwing off inside work on a beautiful day, particularly when a bacon, green chile cheese burger at the Rodeo Grocery is being offered. I can be bought..

Behind the Barn, 8" x 12"
Pine covered mountains to the south of me and rocky desert peaks to the north; a perfect place to spend the day
It's nearly an hour from our house, but the drive is through some beautiful country and the company is good.  Earlier this week it was cold and spitting at us outside; now here we are in the low 70's again.  Our winters are pretty great, sorry to all of you still waiting for the snow to go away.  You'll be happy not to be here during the summer, I promise.

Split Rock in the late afternoon- the cattle are fat and shiny on their diets of thick grass, but if we don't get some serious spring rains, this could all burn again this summer.   
I keep coming back to this same theme in my field work, but I think it's getting better.  Before too long maybe I'll be brave enough to try the canyon views out in a full sized painting.  In the meantime, a stolen sunny afternoon now and then to work outside there feels like a gift.

Come back again!  Alice

Home Sweet Home- or- The Neighbors Suspect!

I've been wanting a page in my sketchbook that shows the contrasts to be found in shelter.  I'm not sure why, I just thought it'd be an interesting thing to compare.  Yesterday I taught a drawing class in a town 75 miles from me, so I left early and spent some time drawing houses.  
Shelter, one from each end of the spectrum in my part of the world
It was surprising to see the reactions of the people who lived near each house.  I sat in my car, the windows down and worked on my lap.  On the mobile home street I was given dirty looks and hard stares by the neighbors.  The woman who lived in the house I was drawing gave me a quick look and hurried into her house when she got home.  I'm not sure they'd have been any easier in their minds if they'd have realized how harmless I was sitting there drawing.  I suspect if you live in deep enough poverty anybody would feel like a potential threat.

A nervous, but pretty neighborhood, 5" x 8"
In the neighborhood with more comfortable houses I didn't feel any more welcome.  Someone got into a car to drive by and check me out. Then, they turned the car around, parked it and went back into their house.  After about 15 minutes, a police officer came by, rolled his window down, looked me right in the eye and drove away without a word.  What if I had gotten my easel and folding stool out and set up on the sidewalk to work?  Would it have changed attitudes?  I'll have to give it a try.  
Home sweet home, lean but clean, 5" x 8"
While all of that was amusing, finishing the drawings was no simple matter.  I had taken my watercolors out of the bag to put new paint into them and left them home.  On the desk.  Sigh.. One of these days I'll get it all together at the same time.  It was a fun afternoon anyway.  I got some color in with a couple of Graphitint pencils from the bottom of the bag and was able to add the last of the it when I got home.  Life is good and my 'contrast' page is done.  

I'm so glad you took some time to spend here today, come again.  Alice

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seeing Better Through Drawing

Tonight I will be teaching a very basic drawing class to a group of teens. In the process of getting ready for it I've pulled out work from my files to illustrate the points I want to make. As I've been thinking about how to format the class I've had a chance to consider the importance of drawing. 

A graphite drawing from a figure drawing class I took.  I learned so much from this piece.  
At my university I realized that a very low priority was placed on drawing skills there. The more I learned about the contemporary art scene the more aware I was that this is nearly universal. Avant guarde work is rarely representational and when it is, it's quite abstracted. The general feeling is that drawing isn't important to this genre of work. 
(Done with water-soluble graphite)  Because I'd drawn fruit (yes, fruit) quite a bit before I took a figure drawing class, drawing volume in the figure was easier to understand.  Everything we draw contributes to something we will yet draw.  

This post is not a rant against abstract or non-representational work. I believe people should work in whatever style suits them best- while allowing others the same courtesy. (Down with the art police!) However, I do believe that the act of drawing and continuing to practice drawing will make better art all around. If I make wonky paintings because I don't have the skills to work differently then I'm not acting by choice. If my work is wonky because I choose to make it wonky, I am in control of my tools and vision. Drawing well is one of those basic tools. 
Using water-soluble graphite to work out the issues of this bottle before I put it into a painting made the actual painting easier to do.  

In my style of working drawing is key to successful pieces. Whether a piece is highly finished as a stand-alone work or made to try out an idea, it contributes to my whole body of work; not nessecarily the volume of my work but to the quality of it. Really seeing glass, for example and then drawing what I've seen teaches me to think on multiple planes, the plane closest to me, the rearward plane that I can see through the glass and the sides which are less visible but still present. 
Drawing glass helped me to imply the planes in these shapes that are not visible but still part of the piece.  

Understanding multiple planes makes presenting 3-dimensional objects in a 2-dimensional format more natural to the hand. Learning to draw is learning to see. Better observation of the world around us will only add to our ability to express ourselves, no matter the style in which we choose to speak. 

This drawing was done in color with soft pastels.  Being able to layer color to create volume in a drawing is another way to learn to 'see' our world and interpret it better.
It is interesting to me that the art world at large is beginning to acknowledge this idea again through the growing interest in 'Urban Sketching.'  Blogs and websites focusing on drawing/sketching skills are far more common now than they were several years ago, due in large part to the influence of Danny Gregory.  To my mind, this can only be good news for the art world as the underdog of art- drawing- becomes more appreciated.  Go forth and draw, artists!  I'm going to.  

So glad you spent some time here today, Alice

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Song Sung Blue

As I painted the cacti series over the past almost two years, I explored Phthalo Blue in a more in-depth way than I ever had before.  Using a limited palette based around Phthalo taught me so much about mixing color.  If you look at my Cactus page here you'll see that all of the ones I've posted but one were done with it.  'Peligro' was mixed with Ultramarine.  You can see that it's not nearly as vibrant.

In 'Dinosaur at Twilight',  I only used Indigo for the blue hues and loved it so much that I knew I needed to explore the possibilities of it further.   Indigo is much more subdued, but no less beautiful. As a serious proponent of limited palettes, I have been playing with colors to keep in my travel box that can be used with it for good landscape color mixtures.  Living in the southwest I often need to mix shades that are muted and soft, so the new palette had to be able to mix these hues.

My little paint box.  From upper left counter clock wise: Ultramarine, Phthalo, Indigo, Sepia, New Gamboge, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Vermillion
Using only Indigo, Burnt Sienna, Sepia and Yellow Ochre, I painted 'Old Patches' last week.  This piece is so far from the bright, almost pulsating color I used for the Cactus paintings that I am obsessed with developing a body work to go with it.  Today I mixed up a color chart to help me get a feel for where I want this to go.  I have to admit, the whole idea of going with paler, more earthy colors has me laying awake at night with the excitement of it.

Mixed with Indigo, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Sepia, pictured here are a few shades that are possible with this palette.  None of them vibrant or loud, rather they are understated and mellow.
I found a blog post by artist/author Cathy Johnson that shows her use of this limited palette combination.  She calls it 'Muted Primaries,' which I think is a great name for it.  The examples of what she made trying it out in the field are beautiful.  If you love seeing the palettes used by other painters like I do, it's worth your time to check out.

Thanks for dropping in!  Alice

Monday, February 23, 2015

If At First You Don't Succeed-

The following words by Ira Glass are often quoted and for good reason.  I first heard them in an art class and loved them.  

Glass said, "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.
Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.
And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that."
For years I thought I had little talent for art because what I was making wasn't anything like I saw in my head.  It was exhausting, actually.  I was driven to think, read and talk about art, but couldn't figure out how to make what I wanted to make.  It felt like everything I painted was worse than the last piece.  What a miserable time.  I began this blog to help me track progress, but got so discouraged that I couldn't bring myself to post.  When I did, I found myself hoping nobody was looking; the blog was for my own purposes, after all.  Those posts can still be seen, two of them are HERE and HERE.  

Old Patches, a marker to me that I'm getting somewhere

I noticed last week as I was working on 'Old Patches' that I knew what I wanted it to look like and how I was going to go about it.  I feel that I am finally to the point where I've put in the hours and work to begin to produce work that is visibly improving.  I know I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but I'm not in tears after finishing a piece anymore.  It has been a long struggle, but one that I am so glad I've made.  It was SO worth fighting my way through and so now I can see it is worth it to continue that fight.  And now, I'm off to work.  

So glad you stopped by.  Alice

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Painting Makeovers

I spent the day with my daughter, daughter in law and granddaughters yesterday.  We took on a fun project that I just had to share.  After seeing a video someone had shared on Facebook about a woman who took the nasty Bratz dolls and gave them wholesome makeovers, the girls just had to try it.

Fresh (hmmm, you may take that how ever you choose) out of their shipping box.
Looks like a group of teens under the tender care of a pimp, poor things. 
After looking through all of their local thrift stores for used dolls, they finally hit pay dirt on Ebay.  A whole box of dolls, clothes and feet.  Yes, I meant feet.  Evidently these dolls don't get permanent feet; you have to change their shoes by popping the whole foot/shoe off and putting on another one.  Who knew?  It's been years since I bought/made dolls for my daughter and I would never in a million years have offered one of these nightmares for a child I loved.  This is a whole new world to this old gal.

To me this is just creepy.  
Using fingernail polish remover, we rubbed their terrifying little faces off and washed them.  Even without features, they looked better already.  Who on this great, green earth decided these were a good idea?  They look like the stuff of nightmares to me!

The make-overs begin. My two year old grandson named this doll, 'Guy' and loves him dearly. 
We painted their new faces on with acrylic inks and tiny brushes.  It's hard to get straight, even lines painted on with a whole gaggle of excited little people dying to get in on the action.  Nevertheless, we got new faces on and the dolls, clutched to the hearts of their news friends, promptly headed upstairs, footless, to the playroom.

The difference is startling.  Now they look like toys for children to love. Well, except for that poor kid on the right.  He is not possessed, however, he's just waiting for his turn in the eye surgery line.
With the kids out from underfoot it was time to pull the saw out to alter their feet into something a bit more natural and child-like.  I'm terrified of the saw, but my daughter is not the coward her mother is.  In five minutes we had a whole pile of feet ready to snap back onto their legs.  Not creepy anymore.
Cutting the shoe/feet thingies into more realistic shapes and sizes

Ah, now that's more like it.  A bit of cleaning up and a sole painted on and we have cute sandals.
To tell the truth, it made me want to get on Ebay and find a new doll for myself.  What in the world I'd do with a new doll is beyond me, but today I remembered how much I loved my own dolls way back when Raggedy Ann was my best pal.  Maybe for a minute I wanted to re-capture that, who knows?  What I do know is this, I will enjoy watching these ladies make more appropriate clothes and a house for the new dolls over the coming weeks.  Such a fun way to spend the day.

Thanks for stopping by.  Alice

Just three kids off to play with their friends

Saturday, February 21, 2015


I took the day off yesterday to celebrate our anniversary.  (33 great years!)  This morning, I got some photos I thought I'd share.

Sometimes, after someone buys a painting from me, they send a picture of it framed.  I love when this happens because they look so different in frames.  Even when I'm not sure I like a piece, I nearly always like them after they've been framed.

The foreground of this painting caused me no small amount of anxiety, but seeing it in a (temporary) frame helps me know that it is okay!  
There have been times I couldn't quite decide whether to put a painting in the 'bad' drawer of my flat file or put it out there for possible buyers.  I keep a frame in the studio for just such a quandary.    

I love the gold band around the picture in this, it really sets off the light on the hill shapes
Often times, the frame changes the look of the whole piece, helping me see what I couldn't before.  After looking at a the work for hours on end I sometimes lose my ability to 'see' it.  The frame alters my view of it, helping me see it with fresh eyes.  So to speak..  
Painted 8 or 9 years ago, this was recently framed and sent to me.  I love how this looks all ready to hang!  
I guess I should collect them and keep a database of who has what, even if just to remind myself on down days that there are people who like my work; even if I always don't!

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Old Patches, Completed

Getting time to paint two days in a row is a rare gift lately.  I completely enjoyed this project and may do more like it.  The lower corners look a little out of kilter, but it's just because the paper is a bit curled at the edges.  After it's been pressed it'll be okay.  

Old Patches
Watercolor on paper
22" x 30"
PS, I've heard from a couple of people that they can't post comments. If anyone else is finding this to be the case, would you please let me know at 

Thanks for stopping by.  Alice

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Old Patches; Work in Progress

A whole day for painting.  It was wonderful. This old adobe (mud brick) building was once a store.  Patched many times over the decades of its life, it has taken on a wonderful patina of colors and cracks.  
The many layers of plaster added as repairs over the years have given this old building a patchwork appearance that draws my attention.
As an old building fan, I have spent hours of my life oohing and ahhing around broken down old houses, barns, stores; any old building I can get anywhere near, taking pictures like a madwoman and peering in windows.  When I can't manage to get myself into them, I spend hours imagining what they are like inside and what sorts of stories they've seen.  
A good stopping point; sometimes I just have to step back and take my time
I've been stewing on how to handle the many colors and layers of plaster and began today with a solid plan in place.  I'm not usually this decisive right off the bat, but this painting was pretty firmly developed in my head before I began.  I saved the best parts for last; the door, window and shadows.  Since I get over zealous when I get this excited about a piece, I have to take a break and let the fun parts rest easy in my mind.  When I come back, it'll be ready to finish.  

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Brush Off

I'm tired of babying a sore arm and am going to paint today. As I began preparing my work table and palette, I found myself nearly giggling with the anticipation of sitting down with my beloved brushes and getting to work.  The brushes I use the most I've had for nearly 10 years.  They are my friends and familiar to use.
My entire arsenal of watercolor brushes
You've probably heard that old saw, "A Craftsman is only as good as his tools."  You may also have heard that the only paint to buy is professional grade, get the best brushes you can afford and only use high quality paper.  When you are beginning, you might even read the catalogs from the art supply dealers and come away confused, wondering what paints, brushes and papers are really the quality to buy to help your work be the best it can be.
These may look like junk to you, but for scrubbing, masking, splattering or lifting, this group of brushes are my dear friends.  Except the Hake.  That's the wide one.  It's a piece of junk.  I keep it because I paid for it.  
I still believe that my paper and paints have to be the very best I can afford.  Brushes, however are another matter. Although I'm talking about watercolor brushes here, I believe it holds true across mediums. Here's what I wish I had known 24 years ago when I began my watercolor adventure:   An art teacher and friend, David Vega Chavez told the following story in the first session of classes I ever took with him.  He had invested hundreds of dollars in sable brushes and had a collection well worth over $1,000.00.  He had them in a case away from home one day and they were either lost or stolen.  The whole collection.  He couldn't afford to replace them with more sable brushes and so bought some made by the Silver Brush company from their Black Velvet line.  He loved them so much that they became the only brushes he used.
My pride and joy brushes.  These are just about the only brushes I ever use for applying paint dry brush or wet, washing and detailing.
So, I bought two.  I quickly saw what he meant and bought more.  I love my Black Velvet brushes.  They are a combination of squirrel and synthetic fibers with a quick snap and thirsty bellies that hold a lot of paint and keep a sharp tip when wet.  They are my work horses.  This isn't a commercial for Silver Brush.  What is is though, is me, arguing that a fancy brush is not going to make you a better painter.  A good, solid, mid range brush will do the job just as well as the pricey sable one.
My three thoroughbreds.  L to R, Isabey and two Escodas.  Meh, they aren't that special.  The Isabey won't make a sharp tip and the two Escodas can't hold nearly the paint/water as the Black Velvet brushes.  
A few years ago I decided I wanted to see for myself, so I ordered three sable brushes, Two Escodas and one Isabey.  They are beautiful and soft.  They have nice snap and thirsty bellies, too.  What they don't have is any better performance than the Black Velvet brushes.  In fact, I still reach over them to pick up a Black Velvet brush every time.  
This painting, 30" x 41.5," is pretty darn big for a watercolor.  The Silver Brushes shown above are the only things I used on this.  They were up to the job of washes on something this big.  
If you are looking to buy new brushes, you might look at these.  In fact, look at all of the mid range brushes.  Chances are, they will perform just as well as the ones that cost considerably more.  Save that money you planned to spend on high dollar brushes for paint or paper and put it where it will make a visible difference.  You're welcome.

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fiber Artist Extraordinaire

My husband and I visited the Amerind Museum and Art Gallery between Benson and Wilcox, AZ recently.  By sheer luck we happened to be there the same day pottery artists from Mata Ortiz, Mexico were teaching and displaying their beautiful work.  

Porfirio Gutierrez, artist-weaver
Also at the museum was a native weaver from Oaxaca, Mexico, Porfirio Gutierrez.  Gutierrez is not only a weaver in the Zapotec tradition, but an artist as well in every true sense of the word.  Willing to visit, teach about weaving techniques and show visitors the traditional symbolism in his weavings, he is the perfect ambassador for the family weaving firm.  He took quite a bit of time to answer my questions about weaving  and dyeing wool with real interest and not just a desire to sell his work.  Here is a man who loves his craft.
I used images from the artist's website.  They are difficult to really appreciate here, so be sure to visit the site to see them for yourself.  
The colors are vibrant and the workmanship meticulous.  

The hand-dyed fibers he weaves with are all given their hues from natural pigments found in plants and insects.  These are no wimpy colors, however.  His pieces are vibrant with color.  Paired with the patterns of life and spiritual belief Gutierrez weaves with, to me they are pure eye candy.  I hope to be able to afford one of his art pieces someday; when I do, it will be one of my treasures.

Purposely asymmetrical, this piece expresses the artist's creativity. 

I believe that a true artist is confident enough in their work to be open and willing to share their expertise with others.  When someone who proclaims themselves to be an artist is secretive and closely guards their knowledge, I feel they are hiding behind a fear that others may 'steal' their ideas and thus their uniqueness.  Gutierrez happily shared with me the pieces he had made that expressed his personal creativity beyond the traditional patterns like a textile missionary.  His generosity is genuine and no amount of sharing what he knows will diminish his work.  

Porfirio Guterrez can be found on Facebook or the website HERE.  Enjoy!  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Stepping Back in Time

On our little jaunt this weekend, we spent time at Tumacacori National Historic Park.  The old mission church ruins really captured my imagination.  I felt like I had stepped back in time and could almost see over the years past.  This wonderful spot would be a great place to sit for hours and paint.

The Tumacacori Mission ruin, a terrific look at history inside and out

Located south of Tucson, AZ on Interstate 19, it's easy to get to and find.  The whole place is beautifully kept and clean.  What restorations have been done are mostly for preservation, leaving the bones of the ruin visible to help visitors understand how it was built and easily able to imagine what it was like way back when.  

Inside the chapel it is long, narrow and cool.  With 5 foot thick walls and the high ceiling, it would have been a haven in the hot months.

My husband and I are history buffs.  The stories of the old Spanish missions are interwoven throughout the historic narrative of our part of the world and being able to see them and where they were geographically lends to better understanding of what we read and have read.

The area around Tumacacori is rich with Spanish and Native American history.  

One day I'd love to set up an easel here and spend a day, but for now, the photos will have to suffice.  If you ever get the chance to visit Tumacacori, do it!  It's very worth the trip.

The ruin from the east side.  I love adobe walls.    

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Flower Lady

Today, in Tumacacori, AZ at the site of the old mission there, I met a lady who makes flowers.  Beautiful, bright paper flowers.  She showed me how to make them and chattered away to me in Spanish about making a tea from pomegranates for my stomach, invited me to her house and told me how many years she's been making her wonderful flower creations.  I am a marginal Spanish speaker, so I only caught about half of what she told me, but I loved her instantly.

Teaching me to make flowers out of crepe paper, homemade paste and a love of beauty

Here is a short video of her process.  Her work-worn hands are beautiful.  They not only taught me about her art, but made a valentine for everyone who stopped by her table to visit or buy flowers.

I bought three flowers from her.  If I'd have had more cash on me, I'd have bought dozens of them!  Happy valentines day!  

The flowers I purchased from her today; rose, zinnia and chrysanthemum 

Friday, February 13, 2015

San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, AZ

We are on a little jaunt to explore a bit this weekend. We got to the mission this evening during sunset and wandered around awhile. An artist could spend a lifetime painting this one subject alone.

I'm working on my iPad on the Blogger app tonight, so there's no telling how this will format.

San Xavier del Bac Mission

Hopefully tomorrow we can go back and tour the inside. I've wanted to for years. 

We wandered around to the rear of the complex. As beautiful from this side. 

There isn't a view of it that isn't captivating. I'm dying to get my little sketchbook out and get to work, but I'm resting my arm and being very adult about it. 

My favorite old Catholic Church has been the cathedral in Santa Fe built by archbishop Lamy, but this one may have topped it. 

The warm, sunlit front is so beautiful next to the cool, blue shadows. I can't wait to see inside, but even more, I can't wait to try some paintings based on this visit.