Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Quilted Ava Bag


Today I tried something a little different.  I made an Ava Bag and quilted the exterior of the bag.  I really like the Vera Bradley bags and there is no reason why I can't make similar bags myself.  So, I took the Ava Bag pattern and created a quilted bag using Amy Butler "Charm" fabric.


See the quilting I did on the bag?  I made 1 inch blocks across each pattern piece for the exterior of the bag.


I did not quilt the interior.  I thought it looked nicer that way.

You like it?  It's in my Etsy shoppe! 




Monday, April 05, 2010

Another Two Bags

Did you enjoy the holiday?  We planned our Easter Dinner, Big Bear ran some errands, and I stayed home, cleaned up the house, painted, and made a handbag and an eyeglass case. Easter Sunday we went to church, went to breakfast at Cracker Barrel, came home got comfortable, Sarah had her boyfriend over, the boys played outside, and I made another handbag.



If you recall, a couple of weeks ago I made an Ava Bag for my sister-in-law, Marcela.  She loved it and showed it to her friends at Lexus of Palm Beach - where my brother, Mike works.  Next thing I knew I had 2 orders to make 2 more bags with an eyeglass case.  So, I told Janessa and Lauren to go to their favorite fabric store, purchase some fabric and send it to me.  They couldn't wait, so they went to JoAnns, bought some great fabric, and 2 days later I was making their handbags.

And here they are...



Janessa chose a black & white floral fabric with green iridescent interior and trim.  She also opted for the eyeglass case with a pink ribbon trim.



Lauren opted for a lovely Florida floral for both the interior and exterior of her bag. Tomorrow they will be shipped to Florida.  I hope they like their new bags and enjoy them too!  

So, I've got a good thing going on here.  Would you like me to make you this lovely bag too?  If so, email me at [email protected].

April 9, 2010:

Nothing makes me happier than to know that something I have created, whether it be a painting or a purse, has made someone happy.  In this case, 2 great ladies that work with my brother, Mike, at Lexus of Palm Beach - Janessa and Lauren.  They received their purses today and sent me this picture:


I think they look great!  Enjoy!  



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Making an Eyeglass Case to go with that Ava Bag


I like having a soft eyeglass case in my bag. One that is easy to get into when I need my glasses, and they are so easy to make too!  Today, I am going to show you how to make a nice one for yourself.  


I start by cutting out a square from my pattern paper.  You can use any paper you have around the house. I cut a 6 1/2" square and then I took a spool of thread and used the rounded edge to draw a rounded edge on each of the corners.  You don't have to do this, I just like the rounded edges.  I pinned the pattern on each piece of fabric I was going to use, cut it out, and then lastly pinned it on a piece of thin cotton batting and cut it out of that too.


Next, I put the batting between the 2 pieces of fabric and made sure the corners lined up nicely before I begin sewing.


I basted all three layers together around the entire square, using the edge of my presser foot to guide me.


I had some ribbon that was about 1" width that looked pretty with this fabric, so I lined it up along the edge of the 3 layers and sewed it about 1/16" from the edge.  You can see from this picture that where I am sewing is inside the edge of the foot.  That is because the ribbon wasn't that wide.  You can use a wider ribbon if you like.  I just wanted a simple, narrow, binding around my case.

Note that when I first placed my ribbon onto the case, I did so halfway down one side.  I did not start sewing on the ribbon on a corner of the square.  You'll see why in a second.


This is why you don't start sewing the ribbon on the corner of your case - especially if you have rounded edges like I do.  When you get to that rounded corner is when you get your dander up.  You'll have to stop and start, raise the presser foot (with your NEEDLE DOWN or you'll really have a mess!), twist the layers and the ribbon around the corner, trying not to sew over any creases.  I hate corners.  Thank goodness there are only four.  

When you have sewed all the way around and are back to where you started, sew about 1" of extra ribbon past where you started.  


Once you have finished sewing on your ribbon, flip it towards the inside.  Then, remove the basting stitches from the 3 layers that will be showing under the ribbon.


Turn over your square and it will look like this.


Pin the ribbon to the inside, making sure that all 3 layers of your square are tucked in nicely.  You may have to put some extra pins in the corners as you work your way around the curves.


Now, when you start sewing, you probably want to sew from the good side so that the seam looks even and straight on the side that you see.  The problem here is that your pins are on the wrong side, or at least mine were.  So, when you get ready to sew, flip your pins around so that they are easy to remove, or if you are really good at this, just put your pins on the right side when you are pinning down your ribbon.  I will tell you this, though - it really is faster and easier just to flip them as you sew because it is easier to pin down your ribbon from the wrong side initially.  Make sense?


See!  Now doesn't that look pretty?!!


Next step is to fold your square in half and pin it together, leaving an opening at the top and around one corner.  Begin sewing just under the opening and along the bottom edge of the ribbon (kinda like stitch-in-the-ditch).  Sew around to the end of the fold and secure the end by going back and forth a few times.


Nice case, eh?


And it goes perfectly with the purse I made for my sister-in-law, Marcy!  I'll keep the glasses, though.  I need them to read, and sew, and work on the computer, and, and, and ...

Happy Sewing!



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making the Ava Bag


I've never made a handbag before, and I thought this would be a lot of fun.  I especially liked the pattern and design of this little tote bag.  The pattern is the "Grand Revival Ava Bag" by Tanya & Linda Whelan.  You can visit their blog HERE, and with my sister-in-law's birthday just a week away, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take advantage of the enormous stash of fabric I have and make her this little gem.



First thing I did was read the instructions.  I've had the experience of jumping right in and making something before I've read the pattern only to screw it up royally in the process.  Experience has taught me that if I read the pattern and try to understand it before I tackle it, I usually have far better results.  So that is what I did.  Then I cut out the pattern pieces and prepared the fabric.  This bag is reversible, so I used 2 complimentary fabrics.



I pinned the pattern pieces onto the fabric, making sure that the BAG pattern piece and the handle piece were placed along the fold. Then I cut out the pattern pieces for Side 1 Fabric and then Side 2 Fabric.  I also cut some of the pieces out of the heavy interfacing I used to give the bag stability.



I sewed the side seams together for the BAG of Side 1 fabric, then I ironed on the heavy interfacing to the BAG of Side 2 fabric and sewed the side seams together on those pieces too.



Then I sewed on the bottom.  This is where I was confused on the pattern, because the pattern did not indicate a broken seam line like it usually does for where the seam is supposed to be.  Oh well, improvise.  Sure enough, it came out just right.



Next, I placed the Side 1 BAG fabric inside the Side 2 BAG fabric with the interfacing, wrong sides together, lined up the seams and the corners and pinned it into place.  I use a lot of pins.  It makes me feel better.  Then I sewed the two sections together along the top edge.  It's not easy to sew with my left hand and take pictures with my right, but I'm managing.



Trim and handles came next and I found myself scratching my head a time or two putting them together.  I followed the instructions - (sometimes you just have to), and it came out just the way it was supposed to.  



You know what I hate about trim?  The same thing that I hate about binding a quilt - the finishing seam.  No matter how perfect I press the seams, and pin the trim and handles to the bag, and then sew the finishing seam at the bottom, the side that you don't see when you are sewing never looks as good as the side that I sewed on.  The backside always looks screwed up.  There's got to be a way to do trim and binding and have a clean looking seam.  


If you are wondering, that is why I put the decorative stitch along the bottom of the trim - to cover up the fact that the finishing seam is screwed up.  Thank you, whoever you are, for decorative stitches on my sewing machine.  They cover up a plethora of errors.



Does anyone out there know how to sew a trim or binding on a project and get the finishing seam to look as good on the backside as it does on the front where you sew it originally?  If so, please let me know.  I need help.



I have a real issue with pressing little seam things.  Why you ask?  Because I inevitably get burned by the iron and the steam.  Dang that hurts.  I pressed the seams for the trim and the handles while trying to use my little stick-pointy thing to push them out and burned myself about a dozen times.



I prepared the handles next and then decided to wing it and only use a straight stitch to sew it on the bag.  It doesn't look perfect on the backside, but it doesn't look bad either, so I left it alone.



This is the most frustrating thing about sewing - those places that need to be sewed and are difficult to get to.  I pull and poke and cram the project under the sewing foot, grit my teeth, stand up and cuss a little, accidentally knock the foot down with my thumb, then work my way through it while praying the whole time that it comes out right.



I think it is a pretty cool little tote bag.  Sarah wanted to abscond with it but I wouldn't let her.  Instead I told her I would make her one of her own and even put pockets on the inside for her.  She liked that idea.



After all the drama, I added a personal touch and hand sewed a label on the inside.

I like it, and I hope Marcy will like it too.  It's perfect for carrying your lunch to work, or carrying a few random things with you when you go out.

If you are interested in buying this pattern, I got mine at Jojo's Quilt & Gift Shoppe.  They had the best price and a lot of other goodies too.  Just click on the banner below to get this pattern.  



Happy sewing!



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Maya: Sailing Off the Coast of Cape Cod


I finished my painting today.  My Big Bear was so happy.  It is the largest painting I have ever done, but I enjoyed putting it down on canvas.  It is 56 x 44.  I'm glad to get it finished.

I thought I would take you through my process...



It started with a large canvas that I stretched and gessoed myself.



Can you see this?  You can click it on for a larger view if you like.  I sketched out the painting in pencil and then sprayed it with some really nice hairspray.  It makes it smell good and it keeps the pencil sketch from smearing.  



Next, I put in some blues.



And some greens, all the while building the "underpainting."



I painted the sails yellow.  I did this so that when a light is shining on the painting, you will see just a hint of the yellow underpainting, hopefully giving it a feeling of sunshine showing through.



The painting is coming together, however, I'm not so sure I like the clouds on the left.  Ignore the white mark behind the boat - that is the sun shining through my studio window onto the canvas.



And here is the finished painting.  

"Maya: Sailing Off the Coast of Cape Cod" 56x44 Oil on Canvas.  You can click on the painting for a larger view.

If you are interested in this painting, you can contact me at [email protected].



Tuesday, March 02, 2010

How to Make Yarn Cards - A Fun Craft!

Ever since I was a child, I have loved making my own cards - greeting cards, gift cards, thank you cards.  I think it makes the thought a lot more personal when the giver takes the time to create something special.  Not that buying a Hallmark card isn't special, it is just the extra personal touch that makes it a keeper I think.  Anyway, I put together a care package for my granddaughter, Reagan McKenzie, and I made a card too.  This is the first time I have made a yarn card, and it was fun!  I wanted to share it with you so that you can try it too.  I even have a downloadable pdf at the end for you to add to your very own craftbook.




I had several rolls of yarn, some Martha Stewart Craft Glue (I like her glue.  It goes on easily, dries clear, and has a screw-on cap that keeps it from drying out), Instructions from my Craft book, pattern, scissors, card-grade paper, ribbon (not in picture) and some stick-on letters. 



This is the pattern I am going to use for the front of the card.



The first thing I did was cut the card stock to the size that I wanted the card.  Then I used carbon paper between the design (I cut it from the pattern sheet) and the card.  I traced over the design with a pencil and gently removed the carbon paper from the top of the card.  If you touch the carbon paper too much it leaves marks on your card and you don't want that.  Use a kneaded eraser to remove any unwanted carbon marks.



I have this paper clipper design from Martha Stewart that I purchased at MIchaels last year and I love it.  It is a versatile pattern.  I lined up the pattern along the bottom of the card and cut it out.  If you go to Michaels Paper Crafts isle you'll find all of Martha's goodies - from these paper clippers with lots of designs, to craft glue and glitter. 



I started at the top of the carriage and made one line of craft glue.  I began adding the yarn to the carriage.



Moving right along.  I added one line of craft glue, added the yarn, added another line of craft glue, then the yarn and so on.  Instead of cutting the yarn at the end of each line, I just turned it.  I thought it would look better that way.



So pretty!  This is fun.  I clipped the end of the yarn when I finished this section of the pattern on the card.



Next I used white yarn and traced around the handle of the carriage and the carriage itself in one fell swoop.  I started at the handle and worked my way back around, tracing the design first with a little bit of craft glue.  Then I cut the white yarn when I reached the handle again.



I worked my way around the rest of the pattern of the carriage.  Then, I made several knots (one on top of the other) in the yarn (for one big knot) and cut it out and glued it in the center of the wheels and at the top center of the carriage.  I peeled off the letters for Reagan's name and placed them with tweezers across the top.  I probably could have centered this better, but "oh well."  Chalk it up to being the first time I have done this type of card.  You'll do better I'm sure.





Then I added little embellishments that I had left over from my baby boutique days.  If you go to Michaels, you'll find that you can spend hours in their embellishment isles (Yes, isle"s").  They have thousands of embellishments for scrapbooking and crafts.  I went blind when I was in there with my mother last week looking for little cars for her game that she is making.  (That is another story for another time though).



When I finished with the front of the card, I worked on the inside.  I cut another piece of cardstock to about 1/2" smaller in diameter from each edge of the inside of the card and glued it on.



I made a bead of glue where I wanted to place the ribbon, cutting it at the edge of each row.



Then I glanced up and took a picture of my boy, Matthew, sanding his rocket.  He is making rockets to launch at the school yard.  He and Dad love to launch rockets together.  It sure helps having a art studio (aka living room) in our home.



Of course, I couldn't take a picture of Matthew doing his craft stuff without taking a picture of Sarah doing hers.  She is making a linoleum print block.  Notice the mess she is making next to my card stuff?  Oh well, we were both making a mess. 



Okay, back to my card.  I put ribbon around all 4 edges of the interior.  The only thing I think I did wrong was that I don't think I used heavy enough card stock paper.  The glue has made indentations on the other side.  Next time I should probably try to find heavier card stock.



I wrote a personal message for Reagan on the inside using a Sharpie Ultra-Fine violet marker.  Have you seen their 24 packs?  24 colors.  It is almost as fun as a new box of 64 Crayola Crayons.  I made a bow from the ribbon and glued it to the front of the card.  I love it.  Hope you do too!

Have you made cards before?  I'd love to hear about it.

If you would like to download this pattern, click on the craftbox below for the same pdf that I used to make this card.




Monday, March 01, 2010

Machine Embroidery 101


Nothing creatively makes me happier than when I "get it."  In other words, when I am learning to do something new creatively, I am filled with apprehension and a feeling like maybe I can't do this, but then I force myself to sit down and jump right in, learning to use new software or new equipment or a new craft.  



I've been quilting for about 20 years, but embroidery?  - only by hand have I done any embroidery, until recently.  About 4 years ago, my Big Bear purchased for me a wonderful sewing machine - the Pfaff 2124.  I've made several quilts and a couple shirts and a dress for Sarah in that time, but the one element that intimidated me about the machine was the embroidery attachment and the software.  It stayed in its case for this entire 4 years.



In that time I have mastered Photoshop and learned a lot about web design, so 2 months ago I decided that it was time to suck-it-up and learn to use and enjoy the embroidery feature to my sewing machine.  So, I signed up for a class where I purchased the machine 4 years ago.  After that one class I felt more confident.  I came home, set up my sole Windows computer (We're a Mac family here), and played with the 4D Software, testing my hand at some of the sample exercises in the software and from the instruction books.



Sometimes I would just sit at my sewing machine and read the books and play with the software, but not sew anything.  There is always a learning curve while learning something new.  I am always relieved when I've crested that hump of frustration and no longer feel stressed about the process.



Although clumsily, I worked my way through a few embroidery samples.  Then I started working clumsily and slowly on my  mother's quilt top.  Then it happened - I ran out of bobbin thread mid-embroidery.  Oh crap.  Now what? I stopped the embroidery process.  I locked up.  You know that feeling you get in the back of your neck and your shoulders?  That rise of tension and pain that shoots through your muscles telling you to change the direction of your braintrack or suffer the consequences?  Well, that is exactly where I felt myself going - down the wrong track.  


I took a deep breath and thought about it for a moment.  If I take the hoop off the machine to change the bobbin, will I have lost my place on the embroidery?  I sure as heck hope not!  I had no choice.  So I took off the hoop, opened my bobbin case and changed the bobbin.  Then I said a little prayer as I re-attached my embroidery hoop.  Geezy - Peezy, if this doesn't work, I'm screwed.  I didn't want to start where the machine left off because it had already "pretended" to be embroidering without any bobbin thread for about 300 stitches before I realized it wasn't sewing. 


There is this wonderful button on my machine that lets me back up stitches.  The machine clunks backwards stitch by stitch until I stop it at the point where I think it still had bobbin thread.  I press the button to start the embroidery again, and low-and-behold the dang thing worked!!!  It was as if I had never had a problem.  Can you believe it?!!  I was so proud of myself (if I may say so myself), and I felt all the pressure in my neck and shoulders disappear and I went right back to working on Mom's quilt.  



The pictures in this post are of my mother's quilt that I am making for her.  She wanted this basket quilt and wanted embroidered flowers in every basket.  I had no choice, I had to learn the software and I had to learn how to use the embroidery attachment or risk feeling a failure and disappointing my mother.  I didn't want to do either. 


Sometimes you just have to suck-it-up and jump in and try new things.  It can be fun.  Not always easy, but fun nonetheless.  I made excuses for almost 4 years before I finally decided to learn how to use the embroidery feature on my machine. That is why I purchased it to begin with was because of the beautiful embroidery it was capable of creating.  Waiting 4 years to get the benefits from the machine is ridiculous.  I should have learned all of this years ago.



I'm not afraid of learning new things anymore like I used to be.  Confidence can be hard to come by sometimes, but if you don't try, you'll never know if you could have mastered that one thing that you really want to learn.  You can do it!  Dig in and learn something new this week.  Learn how to use a new software program or learn a new craft. 

Have you learned how to do something new recently?  I'd love to hear about it!



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Make Your Own CraftBook


Are you a crafty person?  Do you have 287 craft books?  Are you running out of bookshelf space to store them all?  Yeah, well, me too.  I finally got smart, though, and decided to make my own craft book.  I wanted a book that reflected the crafts that I want to do and look forward to trying out. 



I had printed out a lot of crafts that I had run across online.  Many from the Martha Stewart website, others from moms like me who create at home and have blogs that show you how to make their crafts.  I love crafty blogs.  I love artsy blogs.  I love blogs.  I think we've come to that conclusion already.  So, I have printed off so many craft tutorials and instructions that my file cabinet is bursting.



I got crafty last week.  I found a 2" blue vinyl notebook in our home office just waiting to be used.  I didn't have dividers, but I did have tan file folders and I had those plastic labels that stick on the paper.  I was set.



First thing I did was make a list of sections for my book and here they are:

Book Crafts
Storage Crafts
Card Crafts
Kitchen Crafts
Crafts for Him
Misc. Crafts
Clothing Crafts
Purse Crafts
Foyer Crafts
Bedroom Crafts
Home Office Crafts
Laundry Crafts
Closet Crafts
Paper Crafts
Felt Crafts
Doll Crafts
Window Treatments
Bathroom Crafts
Baby/Toddler Crafts
Studio Crafts



Wow.  I spent almost an entire day going through my printed crafts and then I used a 3-hole puncher and prepared them for the notebook.  First, though, I made dividers.  I cut the tan folders in half, prepared them with the 3-hole punch on one side and a plastic sticky label on the other.  Then I put them on the floor and made piles for each section.



After I went through all my printed craft projects, I kept the ones I wanted and shredded the ones I no longer needed or wanted.  Then I put my book together.



I'm trying to live a greener life and I hate waste.  If I can find a use for something, I try to use it again and again.  After I shred my paper, and when the basket becomes full, I don't throw it away.  I tie up the bag that holds the shredded paper and I store it in the garage for use when I mail out packages that require cushion.  Why buy those styrofoam fillers?  If you shred your paper at home, save at least some of it for use in packing up boxes.  You don't even have to take them out of the bag that they are in if you want to save the mess when the box is open.  Shredded paper makes a great packing material.



There you go!  I hope you will make your own craft book and fill it with all your favorite crafts and ideas that you find across the web.  Now, I might just pull out this book cover craft and make a book cover for my CraftBook.

Do you have a special place in your home where you craft?  I'd love to hear about it!



Monday, February 15, 2010

How to Re-upholstery a Fixed-seat Chair


Last week was very busy for me.  So busy, in fact, that I didn't check my emails but maybe twice and didn't post all week.  I had a lot to do - from re-upholstering chairs that used to belong to my mother-in-law, to cleaning the entire house and preparing for my daughter's 16th Birthday bash with a sleepover.  I'll be sharing it all with you this week as I took lots of pictures, starting with the re-upholstery of the chairs.



We have these Early American Federal Shield back chairs that belonged to BIg Bear's parents.  They had this ugly gold upholstery that I am sure looked wonderful in the 60s, but didn't add much pizazz to our home decor.  Also, the seat cushions were stained from being in storage for so many years, so they were in need of new cushion upholstery and a new look.



The first thing I did was to carefully remove the old upholstery.  I used a razor blade on the backside of the chair and sliced as close to the nails as I could, making a clean cut so that I could use the old upholstery as a template for the new upholstery.

I pressed the old upholstery (boy did it stink) and then I layed it on top of some white muslin.  I added a couple of inches to all sides of the pattern to make up for the part that I had originally cut away with the razor blade.



Before I cut out the pattern on the muslin template or the new upholstery fabric, I removed the old batting from the chair and placed it on some new batting.



I used it as a pattern to cut out the new batting.  



I placed both back on the chair to give it more cushion.



After I cut out the muslin template, I placed it across the cushion of the chair for measurement.  I wanted to make sure it laid nicely on the chair and that the corners were cut out correctly.  I used a scissors to make adjustments.  Just know that I have never done this before, so I am learning as I go along.  "Trial and error" is what I call it.



I sewed the front corners together, making sure that when the muslin template was placed on the chair again that it still fit nicely.



After I made all the corrections to the muslin template, I removed the sewed corners of the muslin and used it as a guide for the final pattern on pattern paper.  This time, though, I added an additional inch to the final pattern (3 inches extra from the original upholstery that I cut from the chair).



I used this paper pattern for my new upholstery fabric, which, by the way, was just some fabric that I had in my stash.  It really isn't upholstery fabric at all.  It is quilting fabric from Moda's Poetry Collection.  I had just enough of this fabric to cover 2 of the chairs, so I opted to cover the armless chairs first.  The 2 arm chairs I will cover in another, complimentary, fabric from my stash some other time.


Before I sew the front corners (which, by the way, is the only sewing I needed to do), I lay it across the chair to make sure it meets the corners nicely and that I can fold under the cut corners on the back legs about 1/2 inch so that the frayed edges don't show.  It looks nicer too.



I sewed the front corners of the new upholstery, and I used a 1/2 inch seam.



Then I laid it across the chair and made sure the corners were sewed correctly.  



I turned the chair over and started stapling the fabric to the underside of the chair. 


I started with the back of the chair, stapling to about an inch of the legs. Then I stapled the sides.



When I got to the back corners near the legs, I folded the fabric under to give it a nice, clean crease near the legs and then I stapled it closer on the underside only.


When I got to the front where I had sewed the corners of the upholstery, I lined up the corner of the seam with the corner of the leg of the chair, measured to the outer edge of the leg, and cut the fabric to the bottom of the chair and then I finished stapling.  I did the same with the other side.

I folded under the corner of the upholstery that wraps around the front legs and then continued stapling.


When I was finished I made a muslin template for the bottom of the chair, made sure it fit nicely, then I made a paper pattern, and cut out the pattern on my canvas for the bottom of the chair.  The original chairs had this black netting that ripped right off in pieces, so I couldn't use it for a pattern.  I wanted something heavier on the bottom and Big Bear suggested I use some of the linen canvas I had in my art studio.  Great idea!  That is exactly what I did.  



The good thing about using that linen canvas for the underside of the chair instead of fabric is that I didn't have to fold under the edges to hide the cut, frayed edges. 



I stapled on the linen canvas to the underside of the chair, turned it over, and wah-lah - I had re-upholstered the first of 4 chairs.



I wasn't as happy with the corners at the front of the chairs as I would have been had I taken more time to make them more custom to the curve of the cushion, but "what the heck" - it wasn't perfect, but it sure looked a lot better than it did before and that is all I cared about.  



If I were doing a lot of this, I probably would have aimed for more perfection.  Please accept my apologies - to all those talented upholstery people out there.  I don't claim to know what I'm doing and I did this by the seat of my pants and some common sense.  Hope you'll overlook my mistakes and make some suggestions for improvement in the comments.  I would love to know what I could have done better.



Hope this inspires you to dig out some of your old, crappy looking chairs, and create a whole new look for your home.  I put my new chairs in my music room where the new cushion fabric looks great with my George Washington Mount Vernon green walls.

Happy Sewing! 



Monday, February 01, 2010

How to Make a Quilted Heating Pad

So your neck hurts.  Or, your feet are cold.  Or, your lower back has had better days, and all you want is a comfy hot pillow right where it ails you.  I've got the perfect solution.  It will take about an hour of your time to make yourself and you won't be sorry.  As a matter of fact, you'll probably make one for every member of your family and for gifts too!

Supplies you will need:

Colorful fabric
White muslin fabric
Cotton batting
Cutting Mat
Rotary Cutter
Sewing Machine
Quilting measure attachment
Cherry Pits



Let's get started.  First thing you will want to do is pick out some fabric from your stash.  Press your fabric and then cut it to 17" x 22"



Press your white muslin or cotton fabric and cut it to 17" x 22"



Cut a piece of cotton batting to 17" x 22"



Put all three pieces together like you see here.  The colorful fabric goes on top, the batting between, and the white muslin or cotton fabric goes on the bottom.  Pin them together.



Starting on the right side of your project, sew a 1/4" seam from the right edge.  Next, line up your quilt measuring attachment to that seam and sew your next seam, then the next, then the next - each time lining up the quilt measuring attachment so that each seam is approximage 1 to 1.5 inches apart.  Do this until you have gone as close to the other side as possible.



They are lining up rather nicely.  Notice the 1/4" seam on the right of the project.



When you are finished quilting the 3 sections together, fold your project in half lining up the edges nicely and trim off about 1/4" on the end to give yourself a perfectly straight edge.  


Next, fold it in half the other way and trim off about 1/4" from the other open sides as well.  This gives you perfectly straight edges all the way around your pad.



With right sides together, fold your pad in half along the 17" side so that the longest unfinished edge is the 22" edge.  You want your heating pad to be long to wrap around your neck comfortably. 



Pin the right sides together along the long edge.  Make sure you have lined up your edges nicely.



Starting at the folded corner, begin sewing towards your long edge with a 1/4" seam.  Turn your fabric so that you can now sew along the long edge with a 1/4" seam, removing the pins along the way.  Note that if you sew over your pins you can break your sewing machine needle.  It isn't a good idea to sew over your pins - I know - I've done it and I wasn't happy about it either.



when you have sewn 1 short edge and 1 long edge (the other long edge is folded), trim your corners, but not so close to your seam that you cut through your seam.  Trim it just enough that you can make a nice, clean corner when you flip it inside-out.



Flip your pad inside-out and poke your finger in the bottom corners so that they are nice and flat.  Now comes the fun part ...



Ya see, now if I were these people, I think I would have named this "Pit Stop" rather than "Pit Stuff" but that's just me.  Anyway, I purchased some clean, dried, cherry pits online at the "Cherry Pit Store."
It was a bit more expensive than some other places but I learned something from them - first of all, if your cherry pits are not boiled and then thoroughly dried properly, they will stink when heated.  They'll probably stink even if you don't heat them.  If you get really good pits with not a lot of open shells, you will have a nice filler for projects like this.  The Cherry Pit Store takes care of all the pits before they package them - boiling, sterilizing, and drying them thoroughly before packaging and selling them.  Cherry pits hold heat well, and I can attest to that.  It was about 2 hours ago that I stuck this heating pad in the microwave for 2  minutes, and about 30 minutes ago I put it behind my neck and it is still warm.  



I went ahead and poured the cherry pits into a bowl for easy scooping.



Scoop the cherry pits into the open end of your quilted heating pad.



Fill up your pad only half way.  I filled mine up a little more than half way and I think I have too many in the pad - so about 1/2 way is about right otherwise it will be way too firm and uncomfortable.



Next, fold the open end towards the inside about 1/2" to 3/4" for a clean hem.



Pin the end together.  Before you sew it shut, be sure the cherry pits are out of the way and down towards the other end of the pad.



Sew the open end shut, first with a 1/4" seam and then with an 1/8" seam.



Throw it in your microwave for 1-2 minutes.  Don't heat it longer than this or you could burn yourself!



Now, sit back and enjoy. "Okay Matthew - hand it over."






"Uh - Matthew?"



"Aw, come on guys - when is it gonna be my turn?"



Friday, January 29, 2010

Crafty Little Fellas


Last week, as I was circulating around my favorite blogs, I came across Sharyn Tormanen's blog "Live From Tormville" and saw what her husband has been up to lately.  I laughed my fanny off.  These funny faces are golf balls that have been opened and carved into funny faces.  The artistic character of each one is truly amazing and I just had to share.  

Of course, being the complex creative that I am, I had to learn how to do this unusual craft if for no other reason than to pass the time when I can't sleep or have nothing better to do - yeah, right.  Still, I thought this could be loads of fun and would make a great gift for the golfer in your life.

So, as I was searching around the internet for instructions on how to make these crazy golf ball faces, I came across these videos.  Knock yourself out - they are delightful, funny, and will teach you how to make these darling faces on your own.  Just be careful - some of the tools you use to make them can be dangerous and should be used with caution and the proper preparation so you don't hurt yourself.

Part 1 of 3:

Part 2 of 3:

Part 3 of 3:

How about painting these little guys? Well, Mr. Whittler, as I call him, shows us how to paint the faces too ...

Part 1 of 3:

Part 2 of 3:

Part 3 of 3:

I like what Mr. Whittler has shown us here, however, I like Sharyn's hubby's faces better.  I think he did a much better job of carving, don't you?  He created a lot more personality and detail in his faces.  Still, if you want to try your creative hand at carving a few golf balls on your own, then Mr. Whittler here has given us all some inspiration on how to get started. Thank you Mr. Whittler!

And by the way, I think Sharyn and her hubby are going to start selling their golf ball faces.  Neat idea Sharyn!

Now, where did I put those golf balls?



Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Homemade Cards - More Special than Ever


Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved making cards.  I think they are more personal than if you just buy one at the store, but that is just my opinion.  You can always look through the cards at the grocery store and get some ideas of what to say inside your own card.



For this card, I purchased some heavy card stock in multiple colors, and pulled out my trusty paper cutter from Martha Stewart Crafts, and a few other tokens, including stamps, that are easy to find at your local Michaels or Craft Store. 



My project was to make a "Thank You" card to attach to a Red Easel Master's Palette that I had made for a customer of mine at Red Easel.  Instead of having custom labels made for Red Easel, I decided, at least for now, to add a personal touch to the cards when I attach them to the easel and send them out.



For this project, I chose to use my Martha Stewart Crafts Light Blue stamp pad...



And my Martha Stewart Crafts paper cutter.    Have you ever been in the paper craft isle in Michaels?  The isle with all the Martha Stewart paper craft supplies?  It's enough to make you a crazy person.  Especially if you are a chronic creative like I am.  This is the first time I have ever purchased paper craft supplies and I was so excited to start this project for my palette customers.  See this device above? - You put your paper in the cutter and squeeze.  It cuts your pattern perfectly in the paper.  Then, you just move your paper down and line up the design on the cutter with the design that is already cut out of your paper for perfect cutting every time.  I could cut paper all day with this thing.



I also grabbed some ribbon out of a bottom drawer of my sewing supplies dresser in my studio.  I wanted to find the type of ribbon that has a little bit of wire in the sides so that it can be shaped.



I have a slew of stamps, but I only needed to find the one that reads "Thank you" - and yes, I found it.



I cut the paper stock with the fancy paper cutter after I folded it in half to make it like a card.  Then I stuck one of these fancy scalloped paper things on top of it to make it pretty.



Then I took my stamp, pressed it into the blue stamp pad ...



and, I stamped the front of the card.



I took a glue stick and put glue on the back of a nice heavy stock of white paper that I had already cut to fit inside the Thank you card.  Then I wrote my message of Thanks to my customer for purchasing my handmade Red Easel Master's Palette and I used a marker that looked like the same color as my stamp pad.



I punched a hole (with a hole puncher) in the corner of my card and tied the ribbon through the card and around the palette.  I thought it looked very personal and very nice.  I hope my customer thought so too. 


It is easy to make your own cards, and lots of fun too!  I especially like all the fancy paper cutters, and heavy stock paper you can choose from.  It really is enough to make you crazy if you like doing this stuff.  Now my card wasn't anything fancy.  I haven't learned how to get all fancy-schnancy yet.  I've seen some personally created cards in books that would make your head spin.  They are so beautiful.  For now, though, I think this works for me.

If you have children, you might also want to get them involved in creating their own cards - for birthdays, holidays, and Thank you cards.  I think it teaches our children a lot about respect and gratitude, love and appreciation.

Have fun!



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Inspired by Van Gogh


10 years ago I started this pastel painting, inspired by Van Gogh's Irises, and I finally finished it.  My hubby is so happy.  I told ya this was my year for finishing all those unfinished projects lying around!



I pulled out the pastels and got to work.



There is one unfortunate fact about working with pastels.  They're messy.  Very messy.  And, you have to be very careful about not breathing in the pastel dust.  I don't have one of those air filters in my studio so I don't use pastels often because of all the mess and the dust in my eyes and lungs.  Pastel paintings are so beautiful, though.  Most artists who work primarily in pastels have air filtering systems working in their pastel tables or near their easels.  Me? - I had a hairdryer to blow the dust away, gloves, and a face mask.  Not a pretty sight.



The good news is that I finished the painting.  I removed a print from this frame and used it for the painting.  My Big Bear hung it in a prominent place in our family room.  He loves it and was so happy I finally finished it.  I am too!

So, pull out your unfinished projects.  Pick one and finish it.  You will be surprised how good it will make you feel.



Friday, January 15, 2010

My Mother - The New Grandma Moses


I've been trying for 12 years to get my mother to pick up a paintbrush and paint with me.  I don't know what finally clicked with her, but she said "yes" and I enthusiastically set her up with her own little tabletop easel, a canvas, and some paints, brushes, and all the necessities for creating her first painting.



I had her look through some reference images I had in a drawer and she found one of a Gazebo that she liked.  She decided to call her painting "Gazebo in the Park."  



She sat for about 2 hours painting away, listening to music from her era of the 30s and 40s that I have on my iPod, and I made sure nobody distracted her.



Check out this wrist action while she mixes her paints. 



And how she sits back to look over her work - just like a real artist!  I'm so proud of her.



She may be 85, but I think she has just discovered a new career.  She was completely in her zone.  I don't think she even noticed that I was taking her picture.


She has not finished her painting yet, but when she does, I'll be sure to post it here.  For her first painting, I am really proud of her.  She drew the scene on the canvas with pencil and I showed her how to mix colors.  It isn't Monet by any stretch, but it is my mother's first painting.  And that, my friends, is worth a million to me.



Monday, January 04, 2010

Sunbonnet Sarah Quilt


It's been years in the making.  Why I have so many unfinished projects I have no idea, but I really need to focus on finishing the projects I've started over the years and never finished.  I am always getting sidetracked - finding something else to do.  Maybe I have A-D-D  Which ADDs up to lots of unfinished projects stuffed in a drawer.  Well, today I made a choice to "try" (being the operative word here) to finish a quilt that I started years ago.  So many years ago, in fact, that I don't even know how many years that is.


So I pulled out the unfinished applique quilt blocks and took them into my cold sunroom.  Today was very cold - below freezing - but sunny.  Still, with ceramic tile, no carpet, and no drapes (something else I said I would do), I pulled up my britches and buckled down in front of the sewing machine.


First, though, I made sure I tested my satin stitch on a scrap piece of fabric.  I can't sew without having my seam ripper handy.  I use it a lot.



So, this year is my year - I think - for finishing unfinished projects, like this Sunbonnet Sarah Quilt.  I have paintings to finish, and quilts to finish.  I have kitchen cabinets to finish re-finishing.  Maybe I'll relieve a lot of the stress in my life if I work on these projects.



As for this quilt, I started by making appliques from the traditional Sunbonnet Sue pattern.  But then I got an idea - to take pictures of Sarah as a small girl and make appliques of her from those pictures, only with a sunbonnet on her head; and, so this is what I did.  


These 2 appliques were created using 2 pictures of Sarah as a toddler as a reference.  As soon as I find those pictures, I will post them here so you can see what I did.

Do you have unfinished projects that you need to revisit?  If so, tell me about them!  I don't want to feel alone in my failings.  



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Palettes and More Palettes


This is not my calling in life.  Or, maybe it is.  I have no idea anymore.  My creative brain takes me in so many different directions that I imagine that I am on some dusty intersection out in the country somewhere, only today, I've been saddled down with palettes. 



Aren't they pretty, though?  My deck is officially my woodworking studio.  I go out there to make a mess of everything and it doesn't matter either.  Why?  Because our deck needs a demolition team - one of these days.
I've got quite a nice one man assembly line goin' on here.  I especially love these sunny days when I can lacquer the palettes and let them dry quickly in the sun.  The sun heats up the lacquer and it smooths out nice and even - just like glass.


The only thing I hate is all the hand sanding.  Bob cuts the palettes out of the sheets of birch. 


Then I pull out my spindle sander and sand down all this stuff you see around the edges.  Then I take 200 grade sandpaper and sit in the shade and sand all the curves to a nice, smooth finish.


Then I sand the top and the bottom of the palette, and sand the curves some more.  I know I'm done when my neck is stiff and my right shoulder is on fire.



Nice curves don't ya think?  Then I admire my hard work and I pull out the stain. 


I stain the palette, then I sand it.  Then I get lunch.  Then I stain it again, and I sand it again.  Then I take a nap.

Then I pull out the lacquer and paint on one coat and let it sit in the sun for 20 minutes.  Then I sand it and lacquer it again.  Then I sand it and lacquer it again.  Then I take 3 Advil. 

But it's worth it.  I'm selling them!  And, they are beautiful and comfortable and I'm proud of them. Just know that I'm not going to be making these forever, so if you want one for a Christmas gift, you better put in your order now!



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Red Easel Designing


As some of you may know, I have a small place on the web for visual artists that I call "Red Easel."  It is where I share stories from my studio, tutorials, and it has emerged over the last 2 years to a nice little place for visual artists to share their stories, their tutorials, their paintings, and more.  I also have listings of galleries, and I have an artist directory with over 100 artist listings if I can ever get around to finishing adding those artists that still need to be added to the directory.  I even have information and resources for visual artists.  A whole bunch of neat stuff in one place.  

Red Easel was the first blog I ever had and the first one I ever designed.  I was new to all this stuff 2 years ago and I used a simple template and then added my own banner and background.  Nothing fancy like you see here on Raisin Toast.  Believe me when I tell you it has been quite the learning curve for me in web design.  Blog design.  Whatever you want to call it.


With everything going on here at home, though, I got so wrapped up in Raisin Toast, that Red Easel sorta took a back seat.  My bad.  So bad.  Anyway, that is something of past history as I am trying to revamp Red Easel.  I have over 550+ subscribers to my monthly newsletter and that in and of itself surprises me.  


Red Easel needed help, though, so this week I have been working on redesigning the site.  I will hopefully be able to launch the new design on November 1st, but that might be a bit optimistic.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing this week, if you're wondering why I didn't post yesterday, well, not only was I working on Red Easel, but I was also cutting out, sanding, and staining 4 "Red Easel Master's Palettes," and, well, I'm tired.  And yawning.  And my eyes are watering.  And I'm ready to hit the sack.

Thanks for stopping by!  Is everybody ready for Halloween?  

If it's any consolation - I'm not.



Friday, October 23, 2009

WooHoo! I'm a TypePad Champion!


I was looking around TypePad this morning seeing what they have new going on and ran across a story about TypePad Champions, and boy was I surprised that I was on the list.  Check this out!...


Our "Champions" are here to answer your questions and help you get the most out of your TypePad blog. Be sure you stop by the Get Satisfaction forum and say 'hello' to them and join the discussion. Let us know if you or someone that you know wants to be part of the Champion program and help grow our TypePad community!

Christine herron Christine Herron was ranked among the Top 20 Women in Technology in 2000 by AltaVista and is a tribal kitchen goddess in her spare time. She's been blogging about technology, society, and best practices at since 2005. Favorite TypePad features include the easy integration of third-party sites and services through the widget gallery and using her TypePad profile as OpenID credentials.

Cynthia McCracken was previously a clinical therapist but health issues forced an early retirement and she began blogging not long after. That was 2003. She's a full-time mom as well as the author of four different blogs. Straight from the beginning she felt as though TypePad really cared about its customers, she liked the personal touch that we've provided and it has set the tone ever since.Visit her at Forever a Fangirl.

John T. Unger is the founder, lead author and developer at TypePad Hacks, an alternative knowledge base and design shop for TypePad blogs. TypePad Hacks is the leading expert in custom design and coding on the TypePad platform. As a result of his work with TypePad, Unger has also been asked for feedback by AdaptiveBlue, AddThis, Cocomment, FeedBurner and has done consulting work with PayPal, and Etsy.

Mipmup has been a member of the Typepad community since 2003 and blogs about design, food, shopping and green ideas on She has provided design and set-up services to many leading blogs and web sites. Her expertise includes custom blog design and set-up on TypePad, Movable Type & Vox, advanced templates design, and integration of third-party features such as advertising, stats, search and social networking applications. 

Robin Capper lives in Auckland, New Zealand and has been blogging on TypePad since 2004. He discovered TypePad through Autodesk's company blogs and began his own site after discovering how easy it was to create and publish without the hassle of learning a publishing platform or coding a website. These days Robin blogs about CAD, design, IT and various web theories on RobiNZ Blogs.

M. Susan Vaughn is a busy wife, mother, grandmother and artist. She produces artwork in oils and has sold her paintings around the world and won a number of awards. She has been blogging on TypePad for two years and finds it to be a wonderful creative outlet. TypePad laid the groundwork for Susan to learn HTML, CSS, Javascript and code for designing her blog. Visit her at Raisin Toast.

* * * * * * *

Thank you TypePad!  You know I love blogging on your platform, and enjoy helping others, too, make the best of their blog design.  You've given me an entirely new creative outlet!



Saturday, October 03, 2009

Design is Everything - the Perfect Palette


Well, today I won't be posting the Saturday Morning Skraw, but I have been drawing things up this week.

Plato once said "Necessity is the mother of invention" and working as hard and as long as I have this week in my studio, I got so frustrated and covered in paint that I decided I was going to do something about it.  You see, I have 2 palettes that I use when I paint - a hand-held palette, and a table palette with a glass top for easy clean up.  The problem I have been having is with the hand-held palette.  After searching for hours online for a palette that would solve my problem of getting oil paint on my left sleeve and arm, and the occasional stress and pain I feel in my left arm from holding the palette a certain way, I sat down and designed my own palette - one that would put an end to paint on my left sleeve and arm, one that would rest comfortably on my left hip or belt if I wanted, and one that had the correct angle at the fingers that I could place used brushes in my left hand easily.

So you can understand what I created here, let's take a look at some artist palettes:



This is an example of the palette I have used for years.  When I hold this palette in my left hand and rest it on my left arm, the paint on the palette gets all over my sleeve and my arm.  There is also no good place to stick a medium cup onto the palette.



This is Renoir's actual palette.  I have to admit that I have wondered if the image was on the palette when he was using it.  That would make mixing colors complicated I would think.  Still, the square design does not make for comfort in resting the palette on your left arm.  I've known a number of artists that use the square palette and they are really uncomfortable - I mean, the left bottom corner of the palette gets in the way of your arm and your clothes and makes it cumbersome on your arm.



This is the palette of renowned portrait artist Nelson Shanks. He is probably one of the most outstanding living artists of our time.  Now this is better design - well, sorta.  First of all, see the opening for your fingers in front of the thumb hole?  This design makes it difficult to place brushes in your hand while holding the palette, and I've noticed in some video of his demonstrations at the Studio Incamminati that his palette is sitting on a table in front of him rather than on his arm.  In addition, the curve that would be at your stomach is too deep, and the curve that rests on his arm would again be cutting into the bend of his arm at the elbow thereby getting paint on his clothes and arm, unless, of course, he holds it at the curve you see at the bottom.  The problem with that, though, is that the palette will curve right into your stomach, so it doesn't conform to your body comfortably.



This is the palette of artist Fatima Ronquillo.  Love her artwork.  She has mingled classical portraiture with modern design by creating portraits of characters you might say.  Children, but no particular one.  You can't help but be drawn into her work.  So, let's look at her palette.  She has room to hold her brushes in her fingers, however, the palette curves towards her stomach when she is holding it, and again, the left bottom corner curves right where you don't really want it to - in the bend of your arm, making it nearly impossible to avoid getting paint on your left sleeve and arm.



So, after drawing, erasing, and cutting out multiple designs, I finally designed the best dang palette ever.  It is so good, in fact, that I am going to offer them up for sale.  Made in America I might add.  Better yet, made in Charlotte, North Carolina - in my studio and on my deck to be more precise.

I made this one out of birch, but I am going to go to the lumber yard next week and get a sheet of Mahogany and Walnut, and make palettes out of those hardwoods as well.  The only difference will be that the palette will be heavier.  This palette is nice and lightweight.  



It doesn't matter if you are left or right handed - all you have to do is turn it over for the hand that you hold your palette.  This picture was taken right after I had  finished sanding it.  My Big Bear cut it out based on my pattern that I drew on the Birch wood panel.



After I sanded the palette, I stained it with equal parts of Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber - that way it isn't too Red or too Brown.  A perfect mid-tone.

Next step is to varnish it after it dries and to prevent it from absorbing the paints when placed on the palette.

Here is an explanation of the features that were important to me in the design ...



Click on the images to see a larger view.  Pretty cool design don't you think?

Here are the dimensions:



I am really proud of this palette and its design.  I hold it and it is lightweight, comfortable, and doesn't get in my way when I paint.  It curves around the bend of my arm and I don't get paint on my arm and clothes.  I have plenty of room for my palette of paint colors and for mixing and also for attaching a medium cup.  I love the fact that it rests on my arm so comfortably and I can rest in on my hip too.



I am calling it the "Red Easel Palette" after my Fine Art company "Red Easel, LLC."  

And guess what?  I am offering it for sale right here on Raisin Toast and also on my Red Easel site at 

I think it is a great value at 139.95.  I priced palettes across the internet that were approximately this size and a few were as expensive as 150.95.  Small ones were as inexpensive as 26.95 but very small and basic. 

Just consider this - it is entirely handmade!  On my Deck!  In North Carolina!

Hope you like it.  That is what I have been working on all week at the expense of the laundry which I promised my Big Bear I would get done today. 

If you would like a Red Easel Palette of your own, just email me at [email protected] and I'll get right on it.  I've even provided a BuyNow button below to make your purchase easy via PayPal. 

Hope you have a great weekend!  I'm gonna paint!



Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Morning Skraw - Drawing Lesson 5 - Simple Shapes


When I begin to draw, I always begin with simple shapes, observing first the shape of the object I am drawing.  If you confuse your brain with all of the details surrounding what it is you want to draw, you'll end up giving up.  Start small.  Start big.  But start with a shape. 


Today, let's draw a schooner.  I love sailboats and I love schooners.  As a matter of fact, I have just started painting the largest painting I have ever done - 42 x 60 inches.  It is of the sailboat "Maya" tacking off the coast of Cape Cod.  The reference image is beautiful.  I can almost feel the humid breeze through my hair and smell the salty air deep into my lungs.  I am excited about this painting that I am doing and can't wait to show it to you.  But for now, I'm just drawing pictures in my sketchbook and playing around with pencils on this rainy Saturday morning.  Let's begin by drawing a horizontal line.  This will be the width of your boat.  Then draw another line beneath it, not quite as long.  Then connect the two lines as you see in the picture above.


Next, draw the foremast.  When you draw, pay attention to the relationships of each line and each mark you make.  Ask yourself questions when you draw - Is the mast as tall as the boat is wide?  Where is it located?  Is it in the center of the boat?  How far to the left of center is the mast?  How wide is the mast?  Drawing is all about relationships of each line and each mark you make to the last one you made.


Draw the forward boom or bowsprit off the stern of the boat, or whatever that thing is called extended from the back of this sailboat I'm drawing.  Add your birdle and your jib sails.  Add some texture to your drawing, even at this early stage, by adding some shading and pencil values to the sails.


Now draw the top mast and the top sail or fisherman's sail.  Forgive me if I'm not correct on naming the parts of the schooner.  I can only dream of sailing again on one of these babies. 


Next draw the foreboom and the main mast.  I think that's the main mast.  Crap.  Somebody take me sailin' will ya?


Draw a main sail and a foresail.  Add texture and some fun scribbling to your sails and your schooner.


How about we really get fancy and draw a couple of people inside the schooner looking out at us.  Next, add some scribbles in the water to indicate the reflection of the boat and the sails in the water.


We're almost done!  How about adding a landscape in the background, a house or two, some trees and a couple mountains.  There ya go!  Now, let's go sailing!

I want to see some pictures from my readers.  So, when you have an opportunity, please take some pictures of your sketches and send them to me at [email protected].  I'd love to see them and know if my little tutorials here on Saturday are of any value to you all. 

Everyone have  a great weekend! 



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Red Barn at Outlook Farm - The Finished Painting


Many of you wrote to me and expressed interest in seeing the completed painting, so here it is in all its glory.  It isn't a masterpiece, but it is a painting that I am proud of and the family that commissioned me to do the painting are thrilled with it.  I took it to Frame Warehouse to be framed - my favorite place in all of Charlotte for framing and they helped me and the "B" family find the perfect frame to set off the painting beautifully.  We are all excited to see the painting varnished and framed and ready to ship this week.

So, before I ship it out the door, I wanted to share it with all of you.  Here again, is the process I used to complete the painting ...









The Red Barn at Outlook Farm is located in Maine.  The family that commissioned me to do this painting is giving this 30x40 oil painting as a gift to a family member that is getting married there in October.  The reference image is below.  She wanted me to make a number of changes.  First, she wanted the red barn to be much larger, and she wanted the painting to be impressionistic.  She also wanted me to remove the white tent from the image and instead paint something else in its place.  With the information she provided, I did that, and also put a large oak tree on the right.  Here is the reference I used for the painting:





Monday, September 21, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe - An American Inspiration


I adore the work of Georgia O'Keeffe.  It is beautiful, magical, original, and simply feminine.  The other evening I watched a story about her life on Lifetime television and received a renewed sense of artistic inspiration.  She is an inspiration to all women who want to express themselves artistically, freely, and independently and in her day was considered a remarkable woman, paving the way of independence and self-expression to woman around the world.


Georgia O'Keeffe lived a long and interesting life. Born November 15, 1887 near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin to dairy farmers, Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe and Ida Totto O'Keeffe. She was the second of 7 children and the eldest daughter. As a child she received art lessons at home, and her abilities were quickly recognized and encouraged by teachers throughout her school years. 


During her grammar school years, she attended Town Hall School in Wisconsin, receiving art instruction from local watercolorist Sara Mann. She attended a boarding high school at Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, Wisconsin between 1901 and 1902. In the fall of 1902 O'Keeffe's family moved from Wisconsin to Williamsburg, Virginia, however, Georgia stayed in Wisconsin with her aunt and attended Madison High School. She completed high school as a boarder at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia (now called Chatham Hall) and she graduated in 1905. Her mother was a large influence to Georgia and her siblings, as education for women was a family tradition. Georgia's mother, Ida, had been educated in the East and encouraged her daughters to pursue their passions and education. All but one of the daughters became professionals, attesting to her influence on them.


Art was always an interest to the young O'Keeffe, and by the time she graduated from high school, she was determined to make her life as an artist. She was encouraged by her family to pursue her passions and goals.

I am convinced, as a mother, that we must listen closely to our children's interests, and that in doing so, we foster personal growth and success in our children's life. In looking at Georgia O'Keeffe's childhood, I am equally convinced that her parent's interest in her life, her passions, her education, and her goals, laid the foundation for her future success, strength of character, and recognition.

Jimson Weed - O'Keeffe

O'Keeffe pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905–1906) and at the Art Students League, New York (1907–1908). She quickly mastered the techniques and principles of creating art that then formed the basis of the curriculum, which was imitating realism. I know, first hand, how difficult it can be to imitate realism in painting, and appreciate her early work in learning this skill, however, although principled in these techniques, O'Keeffe had not yet discovered her inner voice. She had not yet discovered how to express herself intimately on canvas. That would come years later.


While attending the Art Student's League and studying with artist William Merritt Chase, she won the League's "William Merritt Chase" award for her still life oil painting Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot) in 1908. That award was a scholarship to attend the League's outdoor Summer School at Lake George, New York.  Shortly thereafter, however, O'Keeffe quit making art, saying later that she had known then that she could never achieve distinction working within this tradition.  She was discouraged with her work and thus left the Art Student's League and moved to Chicago where she found work as a commercial artist. However, she did not as much as pick up a paintbrush.

I find this interesting, because I have experienced the same mental conflict when I paint for others or paint for the technical experience and challenge rather than painting from my gut, or from my heart.  I have become so discouraged with my own artwork at times that I have gone months without as much as walking in my studio.  Georgia went 4 years without painting, even after winning this award. I suspect it was because painting was "work" rather than "joy."  It wasn't coming from deep within her soul.


Her interest in art was rekindled four years later (1912) when she took a summer course for art teachers at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, taught by Alon Bement of Teachers College, at Columbia University. Bement introduced O'Keeffe to the then revolutionary ideas of his colleague at Teachers College, artist and art educator Arthur Wesley Dow. (painting above is "Boats at Rest" by Arthur Wesley Dow).


Dow believed that the goal of art was for the artist to express their personal ideas and feelings onto the canvas by harmonious arrangements of line, color, and "notan" which is the Japanese system of lights and darks.  His example and teachings influenced O'Keeffe and inspired her to examine alternative ways to express herself through her painting other than imitative realism.  She experimented with this idea for two years while teaching art in the Amarillo, Texas public schools from 1912-1914.  During the summers, she continued her tutoring with Alon Bement as his art assistant.


In 1916, she mailed some of these drawings to her friend and former Columbia classmate, Anita Pollitzer, who showed them to the internationally known photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz, who owned the New York Gallery "291" and was renowned for his photography.  He told her that the drawings were the "purest, finest, sincerest pieces that had entered 291 in a long while."  He wanted to show them in the gallery.  O'Keeffe had visited 291 in 1908, but did not meet Stieglitz at that time, although she had high regard for his opinions as an art critic.

In the spring of 1916, O'Keeffe returned to New York to attend classes at the Teacher's College, and also to see Stieglitz, who agreed to exhibit 10 of her charcoal abstractions at his gallery.  That exhibition took place in the spring of 1917.  Sadly, Stieglitz closed the doors to his avant-garde gallery one year later with a one-person exhibition of O'Keeffe's artwork.


Spring 1918, Stieglitz offered O'Keeffe financial support if she would paint for one year in New York.  She accepted.  By that time, they had fallen in love despite the fact that he was already married.  They were married in 1924, shortly after his divorce, and they lived and worked together at the Stieglitz family estate in Lake George, New York until 1929, when O'Keeffe left him and spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico.


From the moment she had returned to New York in 1917 for her exhibition, Stieglitz photographed O'Keeffe.  During their courtship, he took erotic photographs of her, many of them semi-nude and nude photographs between 1918-1937 and in February, 1921, he exhibited 45 photographs, including many of the erotic images of O'Keeffe at the Anderson Galleries.  Obviously, the photographs of O'Keeffe created a public sensation - and it wasn't all good.  We're talking the 1920s here, this imagery was unheard of in those days.


O'Keeffe's artwork emerged to express her innermost feelings.  She created works of both natural and architectural forms during these early years.  In 1924, she created her first large-scale flower painting "Petunia, No. 2" 36x30 Oil on Canvas, which was exhibited in 1925.


Stieglitz organized annual exhibitions of O'Keeffe's works.  By the mid-1920s, O'Keeffe had already become recognized as one of America's most important artists.  Her work commanded high prices, and in 1928, 6 of her Calla Lily paintings sold for $25,000 US dollars.  At that time, that was the largest sum of money ever paid for a group of paintings by a living American artist. Naturally, this attracted a lot of media attention, the likes that O'Keeffe had never seen before.

3F Pelvis-With-The-Distance-Georgia-O-Keeffe-25622

From 1923 until his death in 1946, Stieglitz worked assiduously to promote the artwork of Georgia O'Keeffe, by organizing regular exhibitions at the Anderson Galleries from 1923-1925, the Intimate Gallery from 1925-1929, and An America Place Gallery from 1929-1946.  As early as the 1920s, at which time O'Keeffe first began to paint the New York landscape as well as large-scale depictions of flowers as she is most well known, she had become recognized as one of America's most important and successful artists. A remarkable accomplishment at that time not only for "any" artist, but particularly for a woman.


In 1949, three years after Stieglitz's death, O'Keeffe moved permanently to her beloved New Mexico, leaving her New York home.  She had always been drawn to New Mexico's stunning vistas and stark landscapes which had inspired her work since 1929.  Many of her paintings of New Mexico, the mountains, the richly colored landscape, the dryness and starkness of the land, the desert, and the vast skies became as well known and recognized as her large florals.  


Taos and Abiquiu, New Mexico have become known as "O'Keeffe Country."  She moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949 and  lived at either her Ghost Ranch House which she purchased in 1940 or at her Abiquiu home which she purchased in 1945 until her death in 1986 at the age of 98.  O'Keeffe continued to work in oil until the mid-1970s, then in watercolor and pencil until 1982.  In 1984, O'Keeffe felt forced into retirement due to failing eyesight.  The landscape had nourished her creative efforts until that time.  She did, however, produce objects in clay from the mid-1970s until 2 years before her death.


As an artist and a woman, I believe we can learn much from the life and paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. She realized early on that if she was to pursue her passion for art, she must seek that which is from within her soul.  She must be passionate about her work, her subject, her place in this world if it is going to express itself within her work and on canvas.  Many artists never learn this lesson.  Others learn from the onset that they must create what is within their heart.  For me, it has been a long lesson, but one that is emerging more and more.  Getting past the academics of art and what others tell me I should do, and pursuing instead what I feel to be true is far more important.  

Georgia O'Keeffe has inspired me in many ways.  First and foremost, her strength of character and personal integrity.  Her work continues to inspire and will for centuries to come.  Thank you Georgia O'Keeffe.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Morning Skraw - Drawing Lesson 4 - Two-Faced


Two-Faced.  If you get red flags about a so-called "friend" or someone else - run like hell.  Believe me, if they talk about others negatively behind their back - be sure that they are doing the same to you.  That's what you call "two-faced" or "back-stabber." They'll act like a friend and then trash you behind your back.  I don't know about you, but I have no use for people like that.  They are ignorant, insecure, and shallow.  In the meantime, a great stress reliever is drawing and this seemed like an appropriate subject ...

The Two-Faced Drawing:

When we draw, many things are going on in our brain, and at times, there can be conflict between our left-brain and our right-brain.  I've struggled with this myself at times as I find myself trying to draw "things" as I know them to be rather than what I "see."  Painting is the same thing.  It takes time, discipline, and practice to focus entirely on what you "see" rather than what you "know."  

This seems like an appropriate time to note, too, that if your brain is ever in conflict in a relationship - focus entirely on what you know to be true vs. what you want to see - you'll save yourself a lot of trouble, heartache, and headache.

For instance, when drawing a pear, a barn, a person, or a face, try not to name the objects you are drawing, instead paying attention to the line, the curve of the line, and the relationship of that line and angle to other lines, curves, and angles you have already drawn. 

Vase/Faces DrawingFunny, but this is a good analogy for "relationships" as well - before you draw your line in a relationship, see how yours fits into that which has already been drawn.  Pay attention to past relationships of the other person and yours as well - those lines that have already been drawn, and let that guide you before you complete the picture or add your line to the composition.  Dang, I wish I had learned this lesson years ago!

This post is what you call killing 2 birds with 1 stone.  So, even if you don't want to draw 2 faces, you might just figure out what one is -  I know I have.

Another benefit of learning to draw is getting to know your brain and how the left and right modes compete and cooperate with one another.

This simple exercise is designed to illustrate how mental conflict can occur between your left and right modes.  Of course, if you find your brain in conflict over a relationship - don't fret, don't beat yourself up, and learn a good lesson - run as fast as you can - draw your line in the sand - and draw a line on what you will tolerate and what you won't tolerate in a relationship.  Respect yourself first and foremost.  Of course, if you are the kind of person who trashes others in an attempt to feel better about yourself.  Get help.  This is what you call an "inferiority complex" and can lead to negative and destructive behavior.

Now, let's get down to the business of your drawing.  You will begin by clicking on each of the images below - the image for right-handed and left-handed.  The image will open full size in another window and you need to then print off "2" copies of each picture.  Your assignment is to complete the profile on the other side of the picture.  Don't name the "things" you are drawing.  In other words, don't say in your brain "forehead" or "nose" or "mouth," or "vase" either.  Instead, try to pay attention to relationships of each line and each curve, duplicating the lines and curves of the other side of the picture.

1. Use the picture that is suited for the hand you normally draw with.  So, if you are right-handed, then you want to begin with this picture.  Try to complete the profile on the other side of the picture and set it aside. Label this image as "Step 1."

2. Take the picture that is suited for the hand you "do not" otherwise draw or write with.  Now, use that other hand and try to complete the picture.  Do you feel the conflict going on in your brain?  It's hard isn't it?!!  Don't fret, do your best and then set it aside. Label this image as "Step 2."

3. You have 2 images remaining - one for left-handed and one for right-handed.  If you are right-handed, take the left-handed picture and turn it upside-down.  Now, try to complete the picture with your right hand, only the picture you are trying to complete is upside-down.  This causes conflict in your left mode because it won't be able to "name" things like it wanted to do in the first 2 steps.  It will be in conflict with what it "sees" and what it wants to call the line or object you are drawing. Label this image as "Step 3."

4. Repeat step 3, only use the other picture and the other hand - attempting to duplicate the image with the hand you are not accustomed to using.  Draw the other side of the image - upside down. Label this image as "Step 4."

Pretty cool, eh? 

Here are your pictures.  Click on each image.  A new window will open with the full-size picture.  Print off 2 copies of each image:


This is the right-handed image.


Hope everyone has a great weekend!  Have fun drawing!  Oh, and when someone shows you who they are - believe it.  Don't wait for a person to change, move on and learn from it.  I know I have.



Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thank You Pablo Picasso


I've been struggling.  All artists go through this at some point in their career, but I felt I should talk about it.  Richard Schmid once said that you have to paint, and the more you paint the fewer "duds" you will turn out.  Now, I don't expect every painting to be a masterwork, and even my best is far from it, (and I think this one is probably one of my very best), but I keep trying, although I must admit that I am not as passionate about trying with every painting.  I don't know why that is.  Maybe laziness, maybe impatience, maybe I'm just tired.  I was passionate about painting "America's Promise."  Can you tell?

I realize that no matter what it is we are passionate about, though, sometimes we just don't feel like giving it our best.  It happens.


The most painful part of being an artist is that there will always be artists who are better than you.  LIke this one - L.S. Liang.  He is brilliant - absolutely brilliant.  All of his paintings are brilliant.  I don't think he even knows what a "dud" is.  There will always be masters of the past and present who we aspire to replicate and he's one of them for me.  There will always be room to grow - lots of room - too much room!  But, there is still something exhausting about knowing that I will never reach the top - never reach my fullest potential and goals as an artist - at least not in this lifetime. Maybe that has to do with discipline.  I think Liang is very disciplined.  It's in his DNA.  My DNA probably looks more like a Jackson Pollack painting. 

La meridienne by Van Gogh

Then I think of Van Gogh.  He didn't sell his first painting until 100 years after his death.  At least I have sold my paintings, and I have a number of collectors.  Maybe I'm just my own worst critic.  That is what my friend Alison told me tonight while we worked in the studio.  She's right you know.

I was complaining about my painting.  She was complaining about hers.  I liked hers.  She liked mine.  We both think our own work "stinks" and that is no lie.  She keeps saying she "paints like a 5 year old."  I keep saying my work is "crap."  We both need our heads examined.


She is completing an entire sketchbook with the theme "An Elephant in the Room" for the Sketchbook project and I am completing an entire sketchbook with the theme "A Million Little ..."  Yeah, a million little what?  How about a million little crappy sketches.  That oughta do it.  Suddenly, though, elephants are everywhere for Alison.  Why are we doing this?  Who knows.  Ask the Art House why they approached us and asked us to participate.  I do like this painting, though, from Christian Vincent.  It's called "Three's a Crowd."  I sent it to Alison. 


To tame my inhibitions, my desire for antiquities, and my inner artistic warfare, my next painting is going to be after Rene Magritte's "The Son of Man" if for no other reason than I like to paint people and hate painting faces - oh, and because my Big Bear wants the painting hanging in our foyer.  I will, however, try to paint the poor man so that his arm on the right (his left arm) doesn't look as though it is bending backwards.  Why did he put that crease so oddly in the man's suit sleeve anyway? That seems odd, as if the apple in his face isn't odd enough, or the wall, or the flat, stationary ocean.

And "No" I have not finished Matthew's portrait yet.  It is on the back burner again until I get my artist's confidence back.  It might just take an apple in the face to get me there.


Then there is the likes of Jackson Pollack.  I mean - what was he thinking?  Was he thinking at all?  I don't even like the colors in this piece.  This had to cost a small fortune in paint.  If you look at it long enough, you can see a face from the white lines.  They make 2 big circles, then a nose, then funny cheeks and an ear.  I take it Pollack couldn't draw well.

I'm sure he struggled too.  Or how about ...


this master piece of wonderment?  You'll never guess who did this...


Would you believe this guy?  Pablo Picasso drew that picture with a green conte crayon in 1952.  And from this picture, he looks like he has a headache.  I'm with ya Pablo.  Believe me, I'm with ya buddy.  I feel your pain.



Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Progress - The Red Barn at Outlook Farm


About 2 months ago, I received an email from a reader requesting a commissioned painting of the Red Barn at Outlook Farm for her sister who was getting married there in the coming months.  I have to say, nothing makes me happier than to get a commission for a painting that I love to do - and you know me and barns.  

Since that first contact, I sought out the best possible reference image, and although it isn't the best, it is enough to create a beautiful painting.  I thought I would take this opportunity to show you how I progress through paintings like this.  I do things a little differently now and then.   So let's get started!


I started by stretching my own canvas onto 30x40 inch stretcher bars.  Then I primed the canvas with gesso. I sanded the gessoed canvas after it dried, cleaned it off with a damp rag, then gessoed again, this time painting brushstrokes in the opposite direction from the first time.  After the second layer of gesso dried, I lightly sanded the surface of the canvas, wiped it off with a damp cloth, dried it with a hairdryer, and sketched out my scene with charcoal.  After wiping off parts of my sketch 137 times, I finally had one I thought I could work with.  The principle at this stage is just to have down the basic shapes and not worry about details.


As you can see from the first image, I painted in the sky.  I work from "back to front" and from "thin to fat." Back to front means working from objects that are considered "behind" the subject and working to the front.  Thin to fat means that the first layer of oil paint I put down on canvas is thinned with mineral spirits and the flow of the paint is improved with Artist's medium.  I also put the down the darkest values and/or basic color of the object or shape first.  This will be my underpainting.  Here, I've just placed the trees under-tone down on the canvas.


Moving right along, I placed a mid-value down for the surrounding landscape.


This area of the landscape is like a hay field.


This area is going to be tall grass.


This area of blue is going to be a pond.


Here, I've now painted in the barn a bit, although I may make a change to the building on the right.  I don't like it behind the Red Barn and would prefer, I think, to make it look as though it is attached to the side of the Red Barn.  I have added an awning to one side of the added side building too.  These were not pictured in the original reference, but instead a big white tent was pictured and she did not want the white tent.  So, I am using artistic license to create a nice, balanced scene.

That's it so far!  Tomorrow I will be moving on to thicker paint, expressive brushstrokes, use of the palette knife (I like to use the palette knife in my paintings as it adds texture) and I will be adding a lot more detail to the painting as well.  You won't recognize it when it's finished.  

Hope you enjoyed this day of painting!  



Friday, September 04, 2009

New Paintings to Share


Hello everyone!  I have some new paintings to share with you that I am going to be exhibiting at the Matthews Alive Festival this weekend together with some other paintings I have for sale.  This one is called "Rolling Acres" 8 x 16 Oil on Panel. You can click on any of the paintings to see a larger view.


Meet "Big Red" 9 x 12 Oil on Canvas.  I love painting barns.  I don't know what it is that draws me to them, but I love 'em.  I grew up surrounded by barns, so that must be it.  They almost look as if they grew right out of the ground don't you think?


"Church Bells" 9 x 6 Oil on Canvas.  This is the first in a series of church paintings that I am going to do.  I am taking pictures of churches and church steeples every time I travel around North Carolina.


"Alone on the Hill" 12 x 9 Oil on Canvas.

I haven't priced these yet.  If you are interested, just send me an email at [email protected].

Everybody have a great labor day weekend!  I am going to be set up at the Matthews Alive Arts & Crafts Festival in Matthews, North Carolina in the event you happen to stroll by. 



Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Morning Skraw - Drawing Lesson 3


Good morning!  Let's draw a tree together.  How about a big ol' oak tree.  Trees can be fun to draw and they really are not that complicated.  However, the more you practice drawing them and indicating the branches, the leaves, the bark, and how the light hits the tree, your trees will look wonderful.  Just remember, your impression does not have to look like mine or anyone elses impression - it just has to be your impression of the tree.  That is what makes art so wonderful and unique - is that the way you draw, the way you paint, the colors you use, and your brushstrokes are uniquely yours.  We can learn from each other, but ultimately, take what you know and what you learn and make it your own.  Be creative.  Let's give your tree some pizzazz.


Let's start by sketching out the general shape.


You can sketch in some random branches at this stage, or wait a bit, it's really up to you because some of these branches will change.  You'll see why in a minute.


When you look at a tree, you may notice that it has shapes, or clusters of leaves, and then you may notice that some leaves are in shade and others are in sunlight, and still others are somewhere between the shadow and the light.  

How you represent your tree is up to you, but here are some hints:

Pay attention to how the sunlight is hitting the tree and how the branches and leaves indicate the light.  

Understand that you are not duplicating the tree branch for branch and leaf for leaf.  Drawing or painting a general indication is quite enough.  Unlike a portrait where every shade, every shape of color, every highlight, everyTHING needs to be exact.  Having said that, I think I'll stick to drawing and painting trees for now because portraits, although I have done a number of them, give me a headache.

Use your kneaded eraser to erase some areas of the branches that you may have drawn earlier.  Add more shadows, and make the shadows different values (some darker than others.)

Don't draw in every leaf.  Goodness, scribble.  And besides, scribbling is more fun.

Remember to also add light and shade to the trunk of your tree and maybe a shadow area indicated on the ground. 


There you go.  Now my tree is nothing to write home about, but it's my Saturday morning oak tree and I think I'll keep it.  

I want to see some of your sketches! Photograph your sketches and email them to me.  

Have a great weekend and get out there and draw!



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fun Before the Festival


In the last 2 weeks I have been painting nearly every day preparing for the Matthews Alive Festival in Matthews, North Carolina this coming holiday weekend.  I'll be setting up a tent and showcasing my artwork to all the visitors who stop by.  I love the meet and greet and the children who walk by with their painted faces and their cotton candy.  It is always a lot of fun regardless of whether or not I sell anything.  I've been painting some little things.  Small paintings that I can complete so that I have something to sell.  I've sold a number of my paintings in the last few months and I've been commissioned to do a few as well, so I have definitely been busy in my studio.  


Alison has been coming over too, in between all the remodeling she is doing on her charming new home here in North Carolina.  She is getting settled in just fine and loves her new home.  It has been fun having her come over and paint with me too, though, as it is motivating to have her here in the studio with me.  


I love Alison's abstract, colorful paintings.  You can't help but feel good just looking at them.  So, I've included some pictures here to show you what she has been up to in the studio as well.  She has been working on this lady.  Pretty cool don't you think?  She hasn't given her a name yet.


And this very colorful array of flowers she calls "In the Garden."  You can't see the texture of the paint in this picture, but the texture of the acrylic paint is really great.  Alison paints in acrylics and she uses the most brilliant colors.

I'm going to start calling Alison "Miss Peter Max." 

Of course, I'm Miss Conservative and stick with traditional oils ...


I finished this one today, and I call it "Rolling Acres"  8 x 16 Oil on Panel.


I finished this one yesterday.  "Sailing Buddies" 8 x 10 Oil on Panel.


And I'm working on this one.  It's still in the underpainting stage.  I think I'm going to call this one "Old Lonely Barn." 

So that's what I've been doing folks ... painting away to the sounds of Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and of course Glenn Miller.  Alison and I both love Big Band music.  It's great to paint and listen to the sounds and bands of the 1940s and 50s.

Hope everyone is having a great week! 



Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday Morning Skraw - Drawing Lesson 2


Today's drawing lesson will be "Three Pears."  Just follow along with me as we draw these three little guys the best we can.  Remember, this isn't about being perfect.  You are not trying to replicate the picture so perfectly that it looks like you traced it or took a picture of it.   Drawing is all about "what you see" and "what you can do."  No matter how advanced you are in your drawing skills, or painting skills for that matter, there will always be others who are better than you and others who are not.  And, who determines who is a better artist?  Well, don't let that voice in your head fool you.  If Picasso and Pollack had listened to what everyone was saying about their work, the art world would not be nearly as exciting or interesting.  Art is subjective.  I must admit, though, that I need to remind myself of this often to keep going myself.

We will be using as our reference image a beautiful painting done in realism by Christopher Stott.  He is a Canadian artist who has brought the visual of simple objects to new heights and visual appeal.  I love his work.

Ready to grab your sketchbook?  Well, let's get to it!  Grab your sketchbook, your pencils, your kneaded eraser, and an open, creative mind ... (Note: At any time, you can click on any image in this post to get a larger view).


If you recall, last week I explained how everything can be broken down into basic shapes, and that is where we are going to start.  Again, perfection is not key here.  Simply pay attention to the "idea" of the shape - how you perceive the shape to be.  As you can see from my own drawing, although it is sorta shaped like a circle, I put my own spin on the basic shape of the first pear by also trying to achieve the angle of the curves.  It isn't perfect but I don't really want it to be.


If you look closely at a pear, you will notice that it is kinda rounded on the bottom and bottom-heavy.  You will also notice that there is this odd shape on top, so let's break it down a bit.  How about we draw a circle on top ...


Now, connect the 2 circles with 2 slightly curved lines ...


And erase what you perceive to be any unnecessary "mapping" lines.  When we put down "basic shapes" to suggest an object's perceived "overall shape" we create what I call "mapping lines" as it is the basic shapes that help us along our path of discovery while we draw.


We seem to have the shape down for the first pear nicely, now let's focus on the second pear.  Again, we want to draw the "basic shape" as we perceive it to be, paying attention to where it is located relative to the first pear, and also the size and shape relative to the first pear.  It looked to me as though they were about the same size.


Now, draw the smaller circle on top, then I want you to use your eraser and your pencil to make any corrections you see that need to be made until you are satisfied.  Remember, we are not trying to trace the original picture here, and we are not trying to duplicate the reference image - we are only trying to pull information from the reference image to create a drawing of our own interpretation.


Now for the third and final pear in our drawing.  Start with a "basic shape."  If you notice, it looks as though the third pear is settled a bit further from the first two pears.


And lying on its side.


You've drawn a lot of circles today, aren't you proud of yourself?  Now add the connecting lines of your 2 circles and then use your eraser and pencil to take out what you don't need and correct what you perceive to be necessary.


How about we add some stems to these babies ...


Now, this next step is a little more difficult, but the more you draw, the more you will be able to see the shapes of the shadows and the shapes of the highlights.  Here, I have put down a map of where I see the shadows to be.


Next, I fill in the shadows with the darkest value from my pencil by using greater pressure in the shadow area.  Next, I let up a bit on the pressure and scribble in some mid tones.  Then, I use my eraser to suggest the highlights on the pears or "that" place where the light source is hitting the pears directly.  By shading the pears like this you will be giving them shape and dimension.


Finally, there is a reflection onto the table below the pears (not all a shadow but mostly a reflection).  The shadow for these pears is directly under the pears as the highlight indicates that the source light is coming from the front and above (follow me?).  That is why I don't have uniform shading in the reflection, but if you don't want to add this, it doesn't really matter and entirely up to you.

There you go!  Hope you enjoyed our Saturday Morning Skraw!  I think next week we might try a landscape.  How about it?



Thursday, August 13, 2009

Portraiture is Painful


Monet once said "Painting is painful," and I would have to agree, but as for today, and for me, Portraiture is painful - very painful.  No wonder I've been cussing more in the last week.  Trying desperately to capture Matthew's sweet personality, bright eyes, and rosy cheeks has been a chore - but well worth it.  I am anxious to finish his portrait, let it dry, and varnish it.


I've been working every day for over a week now on this painting, and tonight the frustration kicked in, but that may have been because I'm tired.  Really tired.  I've been standing at the easel for hours and hours, but I did have company for the last few days.  Alison has been coming over and taking a break from her remodeling project at her new home to paint with me. 


I can't wait to show you her painting.  I love the way Alison paints.  She uses bright, vibrant colors and she paints in acrylic.  I told her that her paintings remind me of Peter Maxx.  Pop Art.  Really cool.  But, in the meantime, I struggle with this painting.  I am almost done with his face and hair and then I will work on his clothing and body with a more impressionistic brushstroke. 

The background will be my next big struggle.  I can never figure out what I want to do with the background for a portrait until I have scraped off a ton of paint.  As for the blue that you see, that was just my way of putting something around his face and figure, but that will change.  I may try to replicate the reference image (below), however, I don't want him sitting on a rug.  Maybe a rock, what do you think? 


Monet was right - "painting is painful" but Renoir once said "One must, from time to time, attempt things that are beyond one's capacity" and that I must agree.  I find portraiture to be my greatest challenge and my greatest satisfaction.  I want the skin to look luminous and the eyes to sparkle and look real.  I want to see the roundness of the cheeks and the wetness of the lips.  The real challenge for me is perfecting every value within the color of the skin and the eyes so that it looks uniform in shadow and in light.


I suppose when I want to pinch his adorable cheeks, then I'll be done with his face, and for me, that is the most important element of this painting - his adorable face.

Would you like to see my reference image:




Saturday, August 08, 2009

Saturday Morning Skraw - Drawing Lesson 1


I've had so many readers ask me if I could give them lessons in drawing that I decided to start something here just for you.  I'm going to call it the "Saturday Morning Skraw" (Sketching and Drawing) and today will be the first lesson.  I'm going to start with the very basics and work up to more advanced techniques over time, but I thought this would be a good start for everyone who is interested.

I enjoy drawing in the morning right after I wake up.  I keep my sketchbook on my night table with my pencils and eraser.  It's a fun way to start the day.  You'll need a sketchbook or some white paper, a kneaded eraser, and preferably some drawing pencils (I like Staedtler or Reeves), but if you don't have them, just use a handy #2 pencil.  Let's get started!


First things first - how to hold your pencil.  This is called the basic tripod pencil grip and this is the most common grip to draw, however, you won't be using this all the time.  When you draw, the best place to be in your brain is in the right hemisphere because that is where you will find your creative self, and there are some tricks to get you hoppin' over to that side of your brain.  When you use the basic tripod grip, you are actually still in your left brain because you are using your fingers and your wrist to maneuver your pencil while you draw.


Then there is the overhand grip and you will enjoy using this grip for shading and drawing too.  When you use this grip on your pencil, you are using your right brain and your entire arm to shade and draw.  This is also the best grip to use when making ellipses and circles because your arm will give you better results than your wrist and your fingers.  I like to draw using this grip when sketching on canvas at my easel with charcoal too.  It is much easier to draw with the overhand grip when your surface is vertical (like it is on an easel) than if I were to use the basic tripod pencil grip.  Try it sometime, you'll notice a difference in how it feels and your control.


Every object has a structure, or a shape based on either the cube, the cylinder, the sphere, or the cone, and if you look at any object, it can be broken down into elements of one or a combination of these geometric shapes. The shapes are not always perfect, but if you look you will see them within every object. 

A solid object has 3 dimensions - height, width, and depth.  When you begin to see objects as a combination of geometric shapes, it becomes easier to draw what you see.

Let's start with something simple - a cube.  Make 2 squares like you see above.  They don't have to be perfect, but try to make them about the same size.


Now, connect the 2 squares like you see above.  You have now created a cube.  If you start every drawing with the basic ingredients of simple geometric shapes first, then it becomes easier to correct a line for a curve or add detail.  I use the analogy "You have to have a foundation before you can put up the frame, and you have to have the frame before you put in the drywall, and you have to have the drywall before you can paint."  Start with the simple foundation of basic shapes, no matter how imperfect they are to begin with, you can always make adjustments to your drawing as you work.


Now, let's add some detail and take out some detail.  Remember, the eraser can be your best friend when you are drawing and sketching.  So, we have the basic structure - a cube.  Let's begin by erasing some lines that would not be visible since we are drawing an open box.  Then, add some simple detail, like the little half circle in the front, then draw the lid paying attention to the angles of your lines and where they are relative to your other lines in your drawing.


Shading and values are something you will learn later, but if you want, go ahead and copy where I have shaded the box including the cast shadow.  Try to visualize the direction that the light is coming from and what part of the box is turned away from the light and how the shape of the box will cast a shadow.


Now, let's try something different and a little more challenging.  Begin by drawing an ellipse.


Add a cone to that ellipse.


Draw a half circle on top of the ellipse and erase the inner side of the ellipse.


Add some detail and some shading.  Yummy.  That wasn't so hard now was it?  Drawing is a lot of fun and it takes practice.  Just remember, the more you practice, the better you will get just like with anything you do. 

Have Fun!


I don't know about you, but this tutorial made me hungry for a chocolate ice cream cone.  I think I'm going to go get me one.

Lesson 2 next Saturday morning!



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Random Sketches

Take a stroll through my sketchbook...

Below are my random 5 minute sketches.  Well, some of them may have taken me 10 minutes.  They are quick sketches - in other words, I wasn't all that concerned with accuracy as much as I was about just having fun.  They are rough, quick, and part of my sketchbook that I thought you might enjoy glancing through. 


A quick sketch from life, Bob was watching television and I was sitting on the sofa sketching him.  I look at this old sketch and remember how young the children were.  Glen was usuallyin his playpen (pictured behind Bob) and the toy box was always open (under the windows).  


Sometimes, whenever I see a picture in a book or a magazine, I enjoy sketching it.  Don't know this young boy, but I enjoyed sketching him.


My daughter Sarah asked me to sketch her Bubba bear, and so I did.


While looking through a book on Edward Potthast, I decided to do a quick sketch from one of his paintings.


It was right after a young Elizabeth Smart had been abducted from her home in Utah.  I paused a picture of her that was on the television and did this quick sketch of her playing the harp.  I'm so happy she found her way home.


I did this quick sketch after seeing a picture in the Carolina Magazine.


I think I did this from another picture in the Carolina Magazine, but I can't remember.


I drew this from a picture in an old book I had on drawing.


I have the most adorable picture of Matthew that I took when he was 4 years old.  I remember getting up one morning and sketching the picture.


This was a sketch from life as I was sitting in a rocking chair and admiring my son lying on the sofa all curled up and asleep, so I grabbed my sketchbook and did this quick sketch - then I covered him up with the quilt so he wouldn't get cold.


A quick sketch from life, my mother was sitting in a recliner in our family room and "thinking" as she often does.  So, I grabbed my sketchbook and did this quick sketch of her in her pajamas.


I can't even remember how long ago I did this sketch, but I do remember that it was from an image in a book on drawing.


I did this quick sketch as well from a book on drawing years and years ago.


While looking through a book on Renoir's life and paintings (he is one of my favorite artists), I decided to sketch one of his paintings.


A quick sketch from life, Sarah was asleep on the sofa.  She had been reading a book and fell asleep.  I covered her up, put her book at her feet, and grabbed my sketchbook to render this drawing.


Just the other morning (around 4am) I couldn't sleep, so I sat up in bed, grabbed an old drawing book and my sketchbook and rendered this drawing from a picture in the book.


I was sitting in the waiting room of Presbyterian Hospital Matthews waiting for my mother as she was in surgery to have her gallbladder removed.  I was nervous, worried, anxious, concerned, and feeling alone sitting there in this big empty waiting room and so I rendered this sketch as I waited for that door to open - the one behind the chairs - and my mother's doctor to emerge.  He finally did emerge, with good news that she pulled through the surgery with flying colors, and one less gallbladder.


My daughter Sarah and I did a 5 minute sketch together from a picture in a book as a reference.  This was mine.  I suppose I'll have to post hers here too if she'll let me take a picture of it.


This was a quick sketch I did about 10 years ago of a woman sitting on a bench in an ad for something in a woman's magazine.


And of course, there are the quick sketches that I did so long ago that I don't remember where the reference came from, only that it was in a book.  I do know that I struggled with the eyes and the mouth - funny how much hasn't changed over the years.  I still struggle with drawing and painting the eyes and the mouth.

I have a lot more sketches, but I seem to have misplaced a few of my sketchbooks.  When I find them, I'll post a few more pics for you to squinch your nose at.



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Drawing Lesson by Jon Gnagy - Snow Scene


Just what we need - a snow scene to cool us off from this summer heat.  I took a break today from my laundry and was snooping around the web for information on Children's book illustrators when I came across this video of Jon Gnagy.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I used to sit in front of the television and watch him draw - mesmerized by his perfection and ease of hand.  "I want to do that!" I'd yell to my Mother "Mommy! I want to draw like that!" 

Jon Gnagy Introduction

He was the first person ever to teach art on television back in the 40s and 50s.  By the time I rolled around and discovered him, I think we were watching re-runs.  Still, he was amazing and he still is.  After discovering this video on YouTube - My goodness you can find anything can't you? - my son Matthew sat beside me on the sofa and was just as mesmerized as I used to be when I was a child.  You can't help but want to pick up a pencil or a piece of charcoal and draw like Jon Gnagy.  

Jon Gnagy was a mid-westerner and although he was mostly a self-taught artist, he did attend classes at the Kansas City Art Institute when he was a young man.  Did you know that Andy Warhol claims he even learned to draw from Jon Gnagy - at least that is what he says.

Jon Gnagy Draws A Seaport Village

Jon made everything look so simple and his lines were always perfect.  How did he do that?  And so fast too!  A self-taught artist, Jon Gnagy was an art director for an advertising agency in New York before entertaining the masses blessed enough to have a television back in 1946.  That was the year my parents got married.  His show was called "You Are An Artist" and was broadcast on NBC-TV.  For some reason, he switched to CBS-TV in 1950. They probably made him an offer he couldn't refuse, but that doesn't make sense either, because from what I understand he didn't make a dime from the 700+ telecasts he created over a period of 14 years at CBS and NBC.  He did, however, create an art set called "The Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw Outfit" and earned royalties from every sale - including one that my mother purchased for me in the 1960s.  (Would you believe I googled "Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw Outfit" and I actually found it on!  What's even more amazing is that they have both of his art sets and you can still buy them!  I might just get this for my little ones)


I still remember it.  The kit had black, white, and gray pastels and charcoal.  The gray pastels were for the mid-tone shadows.  It was all so grown up for me back then.  I don't recall that I really understood how to use everything he had in his kit, but I liked to pretend I did and when his show came on the television, I would pull out my Jon Gnagy art kit and plain paper and draw my heart out.  I drew so much in fact that I would take my drawings to my neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, who lived alone and she would give me a Mary Jane candy for every picture I brought to her.  


Would you believe when I was in my 20s, I went to visit Mrs. Johnson one day.  She was much older and still living alone.  We had not seen each other in years.  She took me down to her basement and I could not believe that my childhood artwork was still taped to her walls together with artwork from her grandchildren. I couldn't believe she had saved them.  She told me at the time that she thought I was so talented and that I should be an artist one day.  Sadly, She passed away long before I ever had a chance to let her know that her words of encouragement shaped me into the artist I am today.


I learned to draw cubes and cones, balls and boxes, cylinders and shadows from Jon Gnagy - and Mrs. Nye, my elementary school art teacher who had the greatest influence on my career as an artist.  So you can imagine how my eyes popped out of my head today when I found these videos!

And, because it is never too late in life to ponder these wonderful Gnagy lessons and listen to him speak - he had a great television voice - I thought you would enjoy seeing this incredible telecast yourself. Actually, I think most men spoke with this kind of inflection back in the 40s and 50s.  It's kinda funny.

John Gnagy Draws a Snow Scene

Jon Gnagy passed away in 1981 at the age of 74 at his home in Idyllwild, California.  I hope you have enjoyed your time with him!  I know I have!  Makes me think that among the 526 other things I already do, I really should make some art tutorial videos.  I just don't know when I'm going to find the time.  Maybe I'll just have to settle for sharing these wonderful Jon Gnagy videos with all of you wonderful readers out there.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

Friends & Photoshop Actions


Before we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, we lived in Woodbine, Maryland on 3 acres in a community of only 15 homes all on about 3 acres each.  It was a nice community and one of the best things about it was our neighbor Lisa and her 2 children, Alison and Conner.  Lisa and I became fast friends and so did Sarah and Alison.  Moving didn't make a difference that much except that we didn't see each other as often.  We've putted our way up and down the interstate to Maryland and back a number of times to see them and they've come to North Carolina to hang out with us too.


Well, about 10 days ago, Alison, Sarah's bestest friend on earth came for a summer visit and although we couldn't afford to do all the things we normally would have done as in past summer visits, they have had a wonderful time together.


Today I took some pictures of the girls and every one of them was great.  I know that theirs is a friendship that is going to last a lifetime and I couldn't be happier for Sarah and Alison.  I, too, have a great friendship with Lisa and know that that too, will last a lifetime.  She is funny, she keeps me grounded, and she is a devoted and dear friend.  I love friends like Lisa, and tomorrow she is flying in, staying the night and flying back on Saturday with Alison.  It's going to be sad to see them go.


The pictures I took of the girls were so good that I decided to find one that I loved (impossible because I loved them all) and then run some actions on it, print it off on HP Photo quality paper, and then frame it and give one each to Alison and Sarah.  Memories of a great summer together and a cherished friendship.

So here's the deal - I can't decide what picture to use and frame for the girls, and so I am going to ask you for your advice.  Which one would you choose?


This is the original SOOC (Straight out of Camera) image.  Following are the color Actions from Totally Rad's Doug Boutwell Action Set and PW's Action Sets 1 & 2 as well.  Doug has got the best Actions ever, and yep, I enjoy using PW's Action Sets too.  I can't imagine ever needing any other Actions ever. I really liked this shot of the girls with Hannah, and I ran some Actions on this picture and want to know which Action you think brings the best out in this shot.  Then, that's the one I am going to use and give to each girl for their end-of-summer gift.


Technicolor Dream World (Totally Rad)


Super Fun Happy (Totally Rad)


Sparta (Totally Rad)


Soft & Faded (PW Action Set)


Rusty Cage (Totally Rad)


Oh Snap! (Totally Rad)


Lux Soft (Totally Rad)


Grunge Rock (Totally Rad)


Fresh & Colorful (PW Action Set)


Bullet Tooth (Totally Rad)


Boutwell Magic Glasses (Totally Rad)


Boost (PW Action Set)

Don't you just love Actions?  I mean, all you have to do is load the Actions into Photoshop, open up your image, click on the Action you want to use and Photoshop takes care of the rest.  Couldn't be easier.  

Now for a number of Black and White Actions that I think are great ...


Sepia Tone (I think this is PW Action Set)


PW's Black & White - Custom 31% Opacity 43% Fill (PW Action Set)


Milk & Cookies Black & White (Totally Rad)


Black & White Beauty + Define & Sharpen (both from PW Action Set)


Brooklyn Black & White (Totally Rad)


Bitchin' Black & White - Custom 80% Opacity (Totally Rad)

And last but not least ...


Awesome Black & White (Totally Rad)

Now do you know why I need help picking the best Action for this picture?  I have lots more actions, but good grief, I had to pick my favorites and that is what you see here.  My girl could not choose which picture they liked best, much less which Action to apply to it, so come on people!  Help me out here!  

The image is going to be printed on Quality Matte Photo Paper and beautifully framed - 8 x 10 for their bedrooms where they can display the picture on their nighttable or dresser.  

I am giving it the Title "Best Friends" and I am going to place the text along the line of the top of the Baby Grand Piano.  Then again, maybe across the bottom centered under Hannah.  Whatta ya think?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  And this is only 1 of about 100 pictures I took this afternoon and they were all great!  But if I showed you all of the other images (other than the few at the beginning of this post) we'd be here till doomsday.  

Opinions Please!!  Thank you!  All readers who help me choose the winning Image and Action will receive a very wet kiss from Hannah (If you don't know who Hannah is, well, that's the little white fluff ball in the middle.)



Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Artists' Specials Series


When I find something educational and entertaining, I'll be the first to share it with you here.  After yesterday's post, I had several readers ask about a Winslow Homer movie after a reply I had made to my friend Beth in the comments.  We have a set of movies called The Artists' Specials Series that we have enjoyed time and time again.  Whenever I want inspiration, I pull out one or two of the movies.  I originally saw these specials on HBO about 4 years ago and immediately went online to purchase the movies.  They were that good.  Here are the movies that are in the Artists' Specials Series ... 


Monet, Light & Shadow; 

The story of Claude Monet starts at the very beginning of the Impressionist movement, in 1869. In a small town on the banks of the Seine outside Paris, Monet is experimenting with his revolutionary new painting style. He is passionate about color, light, and nature, and he and his friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir spend long days perfecting their canvasses as shimmering reflections of the local landscapes.

Monet has little success selling his works, but he remains an optimist. He is also very proud and extremely committed to his art, so much so that his rich father cuts him off from his only source of income, a family allowance.   Luckily Monet has a friend in an aspiring young artist Daniel, who is the son of his landlady.   Daniel also has mixed feelings about his own father, who he believes has run off to Avignon to paint.  Monet gradually becomes both a mentor and father-figure in the boy's life, as Daniel will even skip school to accompany Monet on his painting excursions.  This greatly dismays the boy's mother, who has just evicted Monet from the inn with great fanfare, but when Daniel finally learns the truth—that his father has abandoned him—Monet is the only one who can reach through to him.  Though they both feel like giving up, together they see through these difficult times and in doing so they teach each other the importance of holding on to goals and dreams.

54 minutes, Color


Mary Cassatt American Impressionist; 

This story is of American painter Mary Cassatt during her time in Paris in the last century.  She was one of the first female Impressionists and an American.  She became a close friend of the great artist Edgar Degas and this movie tells a tale of how they might have met in Paris.


Cassatt is an intelligent, charming and fiercely independent artist with an orderly life in Paris, until her brother and his wife arrive unexpectedly with their three unruly children. Though at first dreading the presence of the children, Cassatt soon finds herself inspired by them and even uses them as models. Her teenage niece Katherine, who believes that getting married is essential to positioning oneself in society, plays matchmaker between Cassatt and Edgar Degas. Though the match is not meant to be, Cassatt's feminist ideals greatly influence Katherine and change her life forever and for the better. Likewise, the influence of the children softens Cassatt and inspires her to renew stronger contact with her family back home in America

Many of her paintings were influenced by her nieces and nephews and children though she had none of her own.

56 minutes, Color


Degas and the Dancer; 

The story finds the great painter Edgar Degas in a time of crisis following the death of his father.  Saddled with debt and struggling to survive, he derives unexpected inspiration from an aspiring young ballerina named Marie.


Degas helps Marie tap into the incredible talent she doesn't believe she has, especially when compared to her beautiful and confident sister Pauline, who is also a ballerina.  At the same time, Marie convinces Degas to persevere in the face of relentless criticism from the Parisian art establishment.  In the hours they spend together as artist and model, they become friends and confidantes, finding in each other what they most need to move forward and follow their dreams.

I absolutely love this movie, and this one is probably my favorite of them all.

55 minutes, Color


Goya Awakened in a Dream; 

The story opens with young Rosarita helping her mother, Leocadia, find a new home where she can work as a housekeeper. A run-in with the artist Francisco de Goya at the local church turns out to be a blessing. Enchanted by Rosarita's artistic talent, Goya agrees to hire Leocadia.


When Goya turns gravely ill, it is Rosarita who has the most faith. Just when it seems that the great artist no longer has the strength to continue, she convinces him to keep fighting. Recovered and with new found inspiration, Goya begins an ambitious work directly on the walls of his dining room, a series of fourteen works collectively known as The Black Paintings.

55 minutes, Color


Winslow Homer an American Original;

The film is set in 1874, by which time Winslow Homer had seen and recorded enough of the horrors of the Civil War. Leaving the battlefield and his post as illustrator for Harpers' Weekly behind, he is at Houghton Farm to be alone, refocus, and paint. Breathing in the fresh air, he sets up his easel at the nearby river, but he is soon discovered by two young children. The children are fascinated with Homer and his art and he has no choice but to show them his studio, reluctantly.  Homer asks them to be his models. The two youngsters together with Homer eventually share the truth about their lives and what the war has done to their families, and to themselves. Through their ability to share their feelings, and to escape the fear and shadows of the Civil War, all three of them discover that the present has more to offer than the ghosts of their past.

49 minutes, Color


Rembrandt Fathers and Sons.  

The film is set in 1614, when Rembrandt is the portrait painter of choice for Amsterdam's bourgeoisie, thanks in part to his well-connected and beautiful young wife Saskia. However, he soon finds himself caught up in the trials of his young neighbor Samuel, who is locked in a fierce adolescent rebellion against his father, the respected Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel. Samuel refuses to become a scholar like his father, so as a compromise, Rembrandt and the pregnant Saskia, propose that Samuel become a studio apprentice. The arrangement brings an unexpected surprise when Rembrandt learns that the boy's true talent lies in the art of printing.   Through his friendship with Rembrandt, Samuel has found his future vocation and the courage to accept his family heritage. Samuel's struggle reveals to Rembrandt just how much he feels constrained by artistic conventions and leads him to follow his heart and alter the history of painting with his magnificent works.

53 minutes, Color

All of these movies were created for the benefit of children that they might witness the genius that came before them, and inspire them to be great in their lifetime.  Although these movies were created with children in mind, each story depicts how a child influenced the greatness of each master based on what we know of each of the masters, and each movie is a joy to watch as a family.

I fell in love with Degas and laughed out loud at his grappling with a ballet dancer and his assistant.  I was moved by Mary Cassatt's strength and determination to be recognized as a serious impressionist.  I was surprised by the darkness of Goya's work, and I laughed at Monet's attempts to sidestep his landlord so he could paint. 

We even have the movies of the Inventors' Specials and the children love watching them with me too. 


I recommend that anyone who loves the masters, homeschools their children, or just wants some wonderful family movies that also offer a great educational benefit, to get this new box DVD set that is available through Amazon.  Just click on the image above.

You'll enjoy every moment.  Promise.



Monday, June 29, 2009

Summertime and Edward Potthast


I don't know what it is about summertime, but every summer, I get all wrapped up in the paintings of Edward Henry Potthast.  I love his work.  I can't stop looking at it and studying his brushstrokes.  My own work has been greatly influenced by this artist.  His paintings make me happy.  There is a brightness and joy that can be felt from his paintings. Although my favorite artists were the impressionists - Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cassatt, Degas - it is the work of this American Impressionist, Edward Potthast, that I believe has had one of the greatest impacts on my own body of work.  And so, I would like to tell you a bit about this artist whom I love ...


Edward Henry Potthast is best known for his sunny beach scenes, filled with sparkling surf and high-keyed subjects such as balloons, hats, flowing clothing, children at play, and umbrellas. He was born to a family of artisans in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 10, 1857.  At the tender age of 12, he began studying art at Cincinnati's new McMicken School of Design and continued his studies there off and on for over a decade.


Potthast went overseas in 1881 and studied at the Royal Academy in Munich.  There, he studied with the American-born instructor Carl Marr (von Marr, after 1909), who was known for his adroit handling of light and shadow in realistically rendered works. Potthast completed his European tour with a visit to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian for about a month before returning to Cincinnati in 1885 where he began to earn a living as a lithographer. 


As an artist myself, I understand how one can become influenced by our teachers, and master artists whom we admire.  We tend to gravitate to a certain style of work and attempt to emmulate the great masters of the past.  At this time in his life, Potthast was influenced by the Munich School, which was, in turn, influenced by the painting tradition of the Dutch.  He painted landscapes and interiors, displaying sound draftsmanship and composition, solid unbroken brushstrokes, and a use of dark tones, something that would change in his later years.


He must have become bored with Cincinnati, because he returned to Paris in 1886 where he studied with Fernand Cormon and, possibly, with Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. In 1889, he met American Robert Vonnoh and Irishman Roderic O' Conor, both of whom were landscape painters working at Grcz.  It was their work, and the work of others at the Grcz colony that would have the strongest impact on Potthast and his palette.  It was these artist's cool-toned, Impressionist paintings with scumbled surfaces that would ultimately dictate the work that we recognize as his finest body of work.  


Potthast did return to Cincinnati, but with him he carried canvases filled with light and cool bright colors. He had discovered himself through Impressionism. One of the paintings he brought back with him was Sunshine, 1889 (Cincinnati Art Museum), a painting of a girl in an outdoor setting which had been exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1889. When the exhibition entitled "Light Pictures" opened in 1894 at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Potthast was the only American artist included in the show, and of course, that was because Impressionism had its beginnings in Paris in the 1860s and most of the work in this exhibit would have its roots from there.


Even though he enjoyed modest success in his Ohio hometown, Potthast made the decision to leave Cincinnati in 1895 and settle in New York City. He set up a studio for himself and began to earn a living fulfilling illustration commissions for publications such as Scribner's, Harper's, and Century.  He continued to paint in watercolors and oils and exhibited his work at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1896, and at the National Academy of Design in 1897. He won the National Academy's Thomas B. Clarke award for best figure painting in 1899, and in that same year he was elected as an Associate of the academy. Potthast was made a full academician in 1906.


It was after he settled in New York that Potthast painted scenes of people enjoying leisurely holidays, summers, and weekends at the beach with their families and children.  


Potthast spent the summer months in any one of a number of seaside art colonies, including Gloucester, Rockport, Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Ogunquit and Monhegan Islands, and the shores of Maine. He loved the beach so much that although he resided in New York, he would journey out on fair days to Coney Island or Far Rockaway with his easel, paintbox, and a few panels.


An extremely private person, Potthast never married.  He was close to his nephew and namesake, Edward Henry Potthast II (1880-1941), who also became an artist. Potthast died alone in his New York studio on March 9, 1927.


The paintings of Edward Henry Potthast are represented in public collections across the United States, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Art Institute of Chicago; Cincinnati Art Museum; Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.


I love Potthast's beach scenes of children and their families. Through his artwork, he captured the essence  of children at play. Although he never had children of his own, and was a somewhat private person, he clearly enjoyed the company of children and their families and depicting them in his artwork.  What I enjoy most about his paintings, is that he was a true impressionist. 


He placed notes of color on his canvas to indicate light and shadow so that you can almost feel the heat from the sun.  He doesn't place much emphasis on faces or details, but rather, creates an indication of the subjects in his paintings enough that we understand the scene and we are drawn into the painting.  I could stare at a Potthast painting for hours and never tire of it.


Potthast is one of the most recognized beach scene painters by any American artist today and if you want one of his wonderful works you'll have to have deep pockets.  For now, I'll have to settle for a book gallery of his paintings to satisfy my summertime Potthast desires.



Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Rusting Away" 11x14 Oil on Canvas


"Rusting Away" 11x14 Oil on Canvas.

$320.00 (unframed)

I took a little more time on this little fella and I enjoyed working on the detail.  I also mixed my own greens rather than use them right out of the tube.  I mixed Ivory Black with Lemon Yellow in different variations to achieve the different green hues.  I think in this painting, the dulled-out greens look more natural in this barn setting. 


Here is a closeup of the Rusty truck sitting in the tall grass.

As I've said before, I love painting barns in landscapes and objects like this rusty truck.  I love painting horses and cows and people going about their day.   I really enjoyed working on this painting and I hope you like it too.


If you are interested in "Rusting Away" you can click the image above or HERE.

More paintings to come!



Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Peek Into My Studio


I did not paint today.  I did not do laundry today either (although I probably should have).  I didn't take a nap either (and I usually do that!).  Instead, I cleaned and organized my studio, cleaned my brushes, and looked through my reference material to prepare for my next painting. 

After I finished, I thought I would give you a tour of my studio.  It's nothing fancy.  This would normally be the living room of our home, but we believe that each room should be useful.  No "pretty" rooms in our house.  We use them all, and fortunately, our home has the space we need for all of our activities.


In the back of my studio I have some wire drawers to hold all my "stuff" and I have my European Easel set up to complete my son's portrait.  I also put some of my children's artwork on the walls. 


Here is the painting I am working on now.  See my reference?  I have a color reference and a grayscale reference.  This helps me to determine values while I paint.  I like to push colors in my paintings (if you hadn't noticed) in other words, I make them more vibrant.  That's just the way I paint, and I like it that way.


This is my maul stick.  Ever heard of a maul stick?  Well, many artists purchase the maul sticks with leather wrapped around one end.  Naaah.  I use my mother's old cane and it works perfectly.  I use it to steady my hand when I need to be precise.  I love my mother's cane. 


Also, see the color of  our walls?  When we had our home painted last year, I intentionally wanted this room to have a neutral tan color.  It is a perfect backdrop for me, especially when I am working on a large painting as it does not reflect some strange reflective light onto my painting.  If I had a bright yellow wall, all my colors would look warmer than they really are.  If I had a blue room, all my colors would look cooler.  By having a neutral tan color, it neutralizes the reflective light coming into the room and I get more true colors in my paintings - even if I decide to paint in high key!


Instead of holding a palette in my left arm and painting with my right hand, I prefer to have a palette table so I can sit comfortably while I paint.  See the wood frame holding my brushes?  My Big Bear made that for me about 10 years ago.  I also had a thick pane of glass cut to size to use as a palette.  I didn't want it to have any sharp edges.  It makes clean up easy. 


I keep my brushes in old canisters.  I have a canister for large brushes, one for medium size brushes, and one for small, detail brushes.  See that sketchbook in the background?  Sarah was sketching today.  She likes to draw faces and is learning how to draw eyes. 


I wish I had more natural light in my studio, but if I start working early, there's enough light for painting.  As for this bookcase, I'm just waiting for it to collapse. 


Here is another painting that I need to finish.  If you only knew how many unfinished projects I have surrounding me.  Let's just say "lots."  I think I'll finish this painting next after I get some little paintings done for the Festival coming up in September.  (Whatever "next" means).


I love this old dresser.  Believe it or not, my mother and father purchased this dresser as a part of a bedroom set for my oldest brother, Mike.  Mike is now 61, so that is probably how old this dresser is.  The bottom drawers don't open easily, but fortunately, the bottom drawers are filled with quilting scraps - and a few more sewing and quilting projects that I have put on the back burner.  I've really got to do something about that.  Oh, and here is another easel.  I've got a number of easels.  I put paintings on them to dry, or to paint, or to sketch - all in various stages of completion.  At least I don't get bored.  Pay no attention to the potty pads in the picture.  They're for Hannah.  She can't decide whether to go outside or inside, so we keep the potty pads in the studio just in case she can't wait.


I also have a very nice sketch desk - that one on the left with the sailboats.  I use it for my pastel paintings, or should I say "unfinished pastel paintings?"


Raise your hand if you love IKEA?  I love IKEA.  When they opened an IKEA near to our home here in North Carolina, I was thrilled.  See these 2 tall chest of drawers?  I've had them for about 11 years.  We got them at IKEA in Maryland and they have served many purposes in those 11 years.  From homeschooling supplies to sewing supplies to art supplies, they are sturdy, spacious, and functional, and they still look like new.  As a matter of fact, I also got my 2 tables in my studio that hold my palette and my brushes (next to my easel) at IKEA.  Love 'em.


Ready to collapse.  I am an avid reader and a perpetual student, and this bookshelf holds an incredible education - from Art History to Art Instruction.  I've kept Northlight books and Barnes & Noble in business.

So there you go, a short stroll thru my studio.  Nothing to write home about, but it was somethin' for me to write about today.  It is my personal space at home where I like to go, turn on my iPod, and get into my creative "zone."  It's nice to have a place to call my own.  Do you have one?



Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Cow in Field" 8x16 Oil on Panel



Today's new artwork:

"Cow in Field" 8x16 Oil on Panel.

SOLD $250.00 (unframed)

Here is a close up of our friendly cow ...


Isn't he a cutie? 

After stepping away for a few hours, I went back to my friendly cow and used a palette knife to texturize the fields in the background.  I think it gives it a little more character.I love painting with a palette knife.


Back to the easel - I'm now doing another painting of a barn with an old car in front of it.

I have a lot of paintings to get done for this September's Matthews Alive Arts Festival.  I also have several competitions that I am entering - but those paintings are a bit more complicated and will take me far longer to do than just one afternoon.  I'll be sure and share those with you too!



Saturday, June 13, 2009

Church Steeples in Oil - A Tutorial


I enjoy painting different subjects.  Still, I have some favorites - Barns, landscapes, horses, cityscapes, and churches.  There is something about these subjects that draw me into the painting process.  Today, I decided to paint at least 1 small oil painting, and thought it would be a good opportunity to teach those of you who are interested, how I go about preparing a canvas from sketch to completed painting.  In this case, it was a very small painting - 5x7 inches, and it took me 2 hours from start to finish. Well, almost finished anyway.


I start with a reference image.  Most of my paintings are completed in the studio rather than on site (Plein Air).  In this case, I referenced an image by professional photographer Patrick Schneider.  He is an outstanding Charlotte photographer and has provided me with some wonderful reference material for paintings.  I cannot always get out of the house to take pictures for reference, so I depend on professionals to provide me with some excellent material.  Of course, I pay them a commission when a painting sells and I always reference the photographer for anyone who wants to know.  It sure makes my life easier in the studio! 

So, let's take a look at this reference.  I made 3 copies so that I have 1 for graphing, 1 for my painting reference (that I can get paint on if I want to) and 1 for my files.


Graphing.  I love my Quickline ruler.  You can get one at any sewing store.  Being able to see through the ruler makes creating the graph easier and more precise.  I use it for making quilt pieces too when I am sewing. 


I measure the reference image, horizontally and vertically.


Next, I place a horizontal and vertical line with a #2 pencil through the center of each measurement, cutting the image in half in both directions.


I now want to convert those 1/2 measurements to 1/4 measurements.


Since the steeple of the church is the area of the image that has the most detail, I want to create a smaller and more detailed graph around the area of the image that is the most detailed, thus, cutting the boxes of the graph in 1/2 more and more around the detailed area of the image.


I gotta tell ya, it is not easy taking a photograph with my left hand, while drawing with my right hand - with a right-handed camera. 

Okay, back to the graphing - After you complete the graphing of the image reference, take your canvas and do the same steps, making sure to measure both horizontally and vertically cutting the canvas in 1/2 each time until the graph looks the same on the canvas as it does on your image reference.


Note: the dimensions of your image reference and your canvas do not have to be the same.  As long as the dimensions are in a similar presentation (Portrait or Landscape) and they are similar, that is good.  Your painting can be any size.  It just so happens that I made a painting that was nearly the same size as my reference image. 

Before you start sketching, number the horizontal blocks and alphabetize the vertical blocks.  It makes it easier when you are sketching.


Start sketching.  I like to work from top left to bottom right when sketching, that way my right hand does not start rubbing off the sketch as I work.


Detail is not important.  I like to put sketch reference of values at times (value is the lightness or darkness of a shape as in the areas that are in light or shadow).  I do this for my own benefit.  I like to see the shadows when I sketch, but I ignore the detail because it will just be covered over with paint shortly.


I continue to sketch my image on the canvas until I'm satisfied with the results.


Next, take your rubber eraser (you can get this at any art supply or craft store) and erase the graphing lines.  You don't have to do this, I just prefer to do it so that they don't distract me when I am painting.  Your erasing doesn't have to be perfect either.  Just lighten the lines and get them out of your distraction area.


Now, grab some hairspray.  Huh?  You know, hairspray.  I LOVE this brand - S.G. Salon Grafix Professional Freezing Hair Spray (Mega Hold).  Why?  Because it smells so good and I like to do my hair when I sketch.  Not.  Actually, I buy this solely for my studio and when I sketch, whether in pencil or charcoal, I spray the completed sketch with hairspray to set the sketch.  I don't like smearing.


If I hold my canvas in the sunlight I will be able to see that the hairspray has covered the entire canvas. I give it about 30 minutes to dry.  If I'm in a hurry, just grab your hairdryer and dry the hairspray that way.  It will take just a few minutes and will set your sketch so that the pencil sketch or charcoal sketch doesn't rub off on your hands or smear with your paint.  That's nasty.


Now I want to prepare my paints - and my hands.  I use one or the other of these products.  They protect my hands while I paint, preventing the oil paint from getting on my skin (well sorta).  It isn't healthy to get oil paint on your skin because it gets into your blood stream and is toxic.  Not a good idea.  Better yet, just put on gloves.  But, I'm going to be bad and not wear gloves because the painting is small.  Thank goodness for Artguard and Udderly Smooth Udder Cream.


After you have set out your paints, start mixing your colors. 


I paint differently than I sketch.  I work from background to foreground (what is in back to what is in front) and from thin to fat (thin paint first as in an underpainting, to a thicker more interesting texture to the paint).


More mixing.  When you mix your paints, do not use your paint brushes. If you do, it will break down the bristles and ultimately ruin them.  I use a palette knife to mix my oil paints.


When you paint, not only work from back to front, but from large shapes to smaller shapes.


Also, when I paint, I put down the most obvious color and value first, in a thin layer of paint.  Then I add the details like shadows and other details.


I'm not real picky about my detail or painting style.  I paint loosly and I also like to use a palette knife on larger areas.  In this case, I used a palette knife to thicken and texturize the paint on the sky.


And here is the (almost) finished painting.  It is no Monet, but I'm not trying to win any awards with this one anyway.  It was just a fun little painting to do on a Saturday afternoon. 


"Church Bell in Old Salem" Winston-Salem, NC.  5x7 Oil on Canvas.

Just so you know, this painting is not finished.  I have a few tweaks till I'm really happy with it.  So, once the paint dries a bit on the steeple and the church and I've had a day to get a fresh look at it (like the crooked steeple for instance) I'm going to make some corrections until I'm satisfied with it.  That is the advantage of oil paint - you've got time to change your mind, make corrections, or scrape the whole thing off the canvas and start over if you're really brave.  If you only knew how many times I've scraped the whole thing off the canvas.  I'm not gonna tell.

Hope you had fun!  Now, get yourself some art supplies and paints and start having some fun in your own studio!



Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Remember Me


This video was created by a 15 year old girl - Lizzie Palmer.  It is absolutely beautiful and I had to share it with my readers.  Enjoy...



Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fine Art, Mayor Nancy Anderson, Congresswoman Sue Myrick, and Me


Sunday was a great day.  My girls and I got ourselves dressed and fixed up for the presentation of awards at the Weddington Town Hall.  I was a speaker and presenter at the ceremony of the 2009 Congressional Art Competition sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives and Congresswoman Sue Myrick of North Carolina.  It was an exciting experience.


I love our town hall.  It is a Victorian home with yellow siding, a front porch and rockers.  The artwork from our county's high school students who had been nominated to participate in this year's competition were scattered about the walls and the room. 


There were sunflowers on a table with refreshments for all, and the spirit was high.  A spring breeze off the back patio was enjoyed as we browsed the artwork.  Of course, I didn't check the settings on my camera and ended up with a blurry image of these beautiful sunflowers.  Darn.


Congresswoman Sue Myrick presented the awards to the Top 3 winners.  Pictured here left-to-right is Sue Myrick, Mayor Nancy Anderson, Artist and 3rd place winner - Megan B., and guests.


I spoke to the guests about the choices I had made as a judge, what I looked for in each piece, and what drew me to a specific artwork.  The light coming in from the back patio was terrible for taking pictures, but wonderful for the breeze!  In this picture, Mayor Nancy Anderson is holding the artwork by Caroline G. entitled "Sister Sarah."  The piece is done entirely with words. I am the presenter.  Next to me is Congresswoman Sue Myrick showing interest in this piece.  Behind her is Cathleen Harvey, 1st place winner Natalie Harvey, and Heather Whillier - District Scheduler for U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick.


I was in good company, and if I may say so myself, I think all 3 of us ladies can be proud of our lives, our families, our contributions to the community, and so much more.  I can't help but look at this picture with pride.  To the left is Mayor Nancy Anderson.  Here is a woman who has truly made a positive difference in our community.   She served in the military for 20 years and retired in 1998 as a Lt. Colonel after a focused career on disaster preparedness and medical readiness.  In November 2003, she was elected as Mayor of Weddington, and has served ever since.  She is the mother of 4 children and lives with her family on a 60+acre family farm in Union County. 

Congresswoman Sue Myrick has represented North Carolina's 9th Congressional district (map) in the United States House of Representatives since 1995, the first Republican woman to represent North Carolina in the United States Congress

And then there's me.  What can I tell you that you don't already know?  Well, let's see ... I attended Georgetown University in Washington D.C. with a major in International Business and Law.  I attended college as a single mother with 2 daughters and more importantly, learned the value of being self-sufficient during a time when I needed that lesson the most.  You know me as being the mother of 4 great children and the grandmother to a sweet little boy.  I'm married to a big bear who has supported me in following my dreams.  I am an award-winning fine artist in oils and have collectors of my paintings around the world.  I am a writer.  I am the writer of this blog Raisin Toast.  Yep, that's me.  Gray hair and all.


Most importantly, there are the young, talented artists who were recognized for their fine work in this competition - Left-to-right: Congresswoman Sue Myrick, 1st Place winner Natalie H., 2nd Place winner Brooke S., and 3rd Place winner Megan B.  Talented young ladies, don't you think?

It was a pleasure meeting these young, talented artists and their families.  They sure do have a bright future, and I am proud to have been a judge in this competition.  These young artists are very deserving.



Saturday, May 16, 2009

There's a Lot of Young, Promising Talent in North Carolina


About a month ago I received a request from Congresswoman Sue Myrick's office to be a judge in this year's Congressional Art Competition.  I agreed.  I was one of 3 judges from my county of Union to attend the exhibition of artwork from promising young high school students in the area who had applied to be a part of the competition.

The competition, sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives, is held each spring and begins a nationwide search for talented high school students to compete in the Artistic Discovery Contest.  The contest encourages artistic talent across the nation as well as in their Congressional District.  All the artwork must be original in concept, design and execution.

The winner is honored by having their artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year and a trip to Washington D.C. 

So, I, and 2 other judges, spent a couple of hours admiring the artwork and the talent of local high school students and I would like to share their work with you.  There were over a hundred pieces and they were all excellent, but here, I am going to share with you the winning artwork and a few pieces that I believe deserve honorable mention.  There were so many excellent pieces and so much talent and creativity, that it was difficult to narrow it down to 3 winners.  Personally, my choices were based on composition, control and use of the artist's medium, perspective, color and value, and how well the artist's work impacted me and drew me in.  I also pay attention to where my eye goes when looking at each piece - a clue to the overall composition.

Congratulations to all the students who were nominated to compete in the competition. 


The Winners:

First Place:

Natalie H.
12th Grade
Myers Park High School

"Abstract Cityscape"
31 x 23 Mixed Media
Acrylic, tissue paper, charcoal, and ink.
Teacher: Lynn Wu

My eye went right to this piece.  You might notice some strange highlights at the bottom of the image.  These are due to the light shining on the protective clear cellophane covering the image.   I love this piece.  Natalie's use of her mixed media and abstract depiction of her cityscape are excellent.  I was particularly impressed with her freedom of movement, application of color and design, and composition.  Very impressive work Natalie!  Congratulations!


Second Place:

Brooke S.
12th Grade
Charlotte Christian School

30 x 25
Teacher: Eva Crawford

If this doesn't make you smile, nothing will.  I love this piece!  The detail and crispness is wonderful.  Artist Charles Hawthorne once said "A portrait is a picture of a person with something wrong with the mouth."  Not this portrait!  Brooke captured the essence of her grandfather in every detail - and must be commended on her depiction of his mouth, his smile, his teeth, and his smile lines.  His eyes, too, although closed, are filled with emotion, and she captured every shadow and every detail of his glasses as well.  It is her grandfather's smile that draw you into the portrait.  She is to be congratulated, too, for filling the canvas with his face and his smile.  It is composition such as this that we love and admire.


Third Place:        

Megan B
11th Grade
Charlotte Christian School

"City Life"
30 x 23 Mixed Media
Teacher: Eva Crawford

"This" ... is a powerful piece.  I mean, just look at the expression on the homeless man's face.  The squint.  The detection of anger and sorrow in his mouth and face.  The grip he has on the sign.  The sunlight and how it hits his face directly.  Incredible.  I am anxious to ask Megan what inspired her to do this piece and how she decided upon the elements she used to tell her creative story.  Everything from the ripped box to the newspaper depicting the city, the magazine elements behind the cut-out letters, the smear of the hand across the sign.  Wow. 


So these are the top 3 winners of the 2009 Congressional Art Competition for our Congressional District.  Tomorrow, I will meet Congresswoman Sue Myrick, the artists and their families, and speaking to them about why we made the choices we made and what inspired us about each piece.  I am looking forward to being a part of these young artist's big day.

I would like to share with you some other pieces that will be receiving Honorable Mention. 

Katherine D.
12th Grade
Covenant Day School

Teacher: Joshua Barkey

I love the contrast between the black & white of the image and the brilliance of the red and how it is blended into the petals of the orchids.  Excellent work, Katherine!


Susan H.
12th Grade
Charlotte Christian School

"Thoughtful Man"
21 x 16.5 Mixed Media
Watercolor and Charcoal
Teacher: Eva Crawford

You can see the expression of thoughtfulness in this man's eyes.  The way that his glasses sit on his face, the glimmer of a smile and the roundness of his cheeks.  Great work.  I thought it was artistic and interesting how Susan used watercolor to depict light and shadow.  She has used "hot" and "warm" colors (yellow, red, orange) to depict the area on the man's face that is in light, and "cool" colors (blue, green, and maybe a hint of violet) to depict the areas of the man's face and hair that are in shade.  Interesting.  It caught my attention.  I also like her detail with the man's whiskers.


Grey H.
12th Grade
Charlotte Christian School

Mixed Media
Watercolor, Acrylic, Ink
Contour portrait with color highlights
Teacher: Eva Crawford

I love this piece.  It is simple and elegant.  The color choices are fascinating and so is the artist's use of mediums.  It has a Peter Max quality about it with a bit of Matisse thrown in for good measure.  Love it.  I want to take it home and hang it somewhere.  The thick use of the yellow acrylic paint on the right is fabulous.  There is a freedom of expression that I really love.  Great work!


Charlotte L.
12th Grade
Gaston Day School

"Fitia's Peace"
22.5 x 19 Mixed Media
Oil and Collage
Teacher: Holt Harris

Interesting, don't you think?  I think this painting, together with "City Life" welled up in me the most emotion.  Behind this child is a map of Madagascar and there is a story about this painting as told on the entry by the artist: "This painting portrays a young girl, Fitia, who I met and photographed during a humanitarian project in Madagascar this [past] summer."  Isn't she beautiful?  The thought that went thru my mind when I saw this painting was "we all need to understand and help the children of this world. We need to find peace in this world."


And lastly, ...

Caroline G.
12th Grade
Charlotte Christian School

"Sister Sarah"
27.5 x 21
Word Art
Teacher: Eva Crawford

Whoa.  I mean, wow and whoa.  This entire piece is nothing but "words" that describe the subject - apparently the artist's sister, and the words are in values and sizes that at a distance (and if you squint) bring each element of the piece to life.  I love the way Caroline used different handwriting skills to depict the different areas and textures - such as shadows, wrinkles in the shirt, the hair and hairbow.  What amazes me is that I don't see any mistakes.  Not that I was looking for any, but goodness! That sure is a lot of writing and the consistency in pen pressure, handwriting style, value, is incredible.  Great work Caroline!  You sure caught my attention and kept it there for a good long time.  I love what you wrote throughout your piece too!


Aren't these pieces wonderful?!!!

Congratulations to the winners and to all who entered.  Your work is exceptional and deserving of recognition.  Congratulations to Charlotte Christian School and Teacher Eva Crawford.  You are obviously doing something right in training up your students to be the exceptional artists that they have become at such a young age.  I am looking forward to being a part of the 2010 Congressional Art Competition.  Look for you there!



Thursday, March 26, 2009

Window Cleaning


Honestly folks, I must have way too much time on my hands to have been cleaning windows today.  I know what you're thinking "What's the big deal?" Right?  Well, it's a little more complicated than that.  I started out taking pictures of Matthew in our Sunroom playing with his yo yo, unfortunately, when I pulled the pictures up in Photoshop, the exposure was all wrong.  I'm still learning how to use my Nikon D300 - it's a complicated machine I'll tell ya that.  Like Photoshop, I don't think I will ever completely learn what it will do. 

No, I'm not running off on a tangent here.  Back to cleaning windows.  I was playing in Photoshop.  And here is what I accomplished ...

I told you I had too much time on my hands. I don't know about you, but just watching this video clip makes me tense.  You know what I mean?  Like when someone is scratching your back but they never seem to scratch the itch - "a little to the left, no, a little to the right - uh - this way - no up - now down - aaaah, better, no - a little more to the right." 

I think I better go clean the real windows. This is giving me a headache.  Then I'll take a nap. Then I'll probably do some other useless task in Photoshop.



Monday, March 23, 2009

How Did You Do That? Creating An Animation Gif in Photoshop CS3


Yesterday's post resulted in quite a few emails from readers saying "How did you do that?" with that cute animated gif I created in Photoshop CS3.  It isn't difficult, although it took me a good 3 hours to figure out how to do after reading numerous tutorials and viewing numerous videos from others who tried to explain it.  Why did it take so much time?  Probably because whoever was writing the tutorials would either skip a step entirely or start talking about something else altogether.  Plus, I'm full of determination.  When I want to learn something, daggonit I buckle down the hatches until I've figured it out.  I was so proud of myself.  As I've said before, if I learn something new that I think you all might be interested in learning, I'll share it with you here.  It's fun!

Now, I have Photoshop CS3, so if you have another version, I can't be sure if this tutorial will work for you, but you can try.  I will say this, though, that in the numerous (about 10+) tutorials I read yesterday, I did learn that Photoshop CS3 and beyond is actually just a combination of the older version of Photoshop and ImageReady.  They just combined the two programs so that now everything you used to create in ImageReady can now be created in Photoshop CS3 and above.  Sound good so far?  Duh, I haven't explained anything yet.

Note: By the way, if you need to see the original larger image of my screenshots, a few of the images below can be clicked on and you can see its original size.

Alright, let's get started ...


Click on the image above for a Larger view

First step is easy, you will want to open up all of the images in Photoshop that you want to use in your animated gif.  So, for instance, if you have taken multiple photos of the same scene, as I did here with Hannah, then you will want to open them all up in Photoshop.  Make sure that each image is corrected for White Balance (the lighting) and that they all look consistent in hue, saturation, and corrections that you have made.

As you can see, I have 4 images that I am going to use to create a new animation of Hannah looking adorable. 


Click on the image above for a Larger view

Next step is to choose the photo that is going to be the first photo in the animation (or the "Background").  It doesn't matter what you call it, it will just be the image that will be on the bottom of all the layers we are going to create in Photoshop for this animation.  So, choose your first picture.  I am going to choose this one - DSC_3984. 

If you look to your right, you will see a panel that has 3 tabs: Layers - Channels - Paths.  Make sure your "Layers" tab is the one that is selected and you will see your first image in the panel that reads "Background."  Good so far?

I chose this first image of Hannah because it was "numerically" the first image I took of her.  The number of the images I will be using are: DSC_3984, DSC_3985, DSC_3986, and DSC_3987, so it just seems logical that I would start with the first picture in the sequence as my Background and the first image in the animation.


Click on the image above for a Larger view

The next step is to create "layers" of all the images you want to put in the animation.  You want your layers to be in order as well.  In other words, the first image (Background image) is DSC_3984, so the next image and layer I will place on top of this will be DSC_3985 and so on.  Just create the layers in the order you want your animation to move.

So, I am going to take these images that I have open in Photoshop and use the  "Move Tool" to move them on top of the first image DSC_3984.  This will create the "layers" I need to create my animation. Go ahead and do this on your own images if you are following along in Photoshop.  It's like putting cards on top of each other.  The card on the bottom here is DSC_3984. 

If you look at the screenshot above, this is what you see:

1. This is image DSC_3986.  I already put DSC_3985 on top of DSC_3984 and created Layer 1.  Now I am moving this next image in the sequence (DSC_3986) on top of the other 2 images and I will be creating a Layer 2.  I'll show you that screenshot in a moment. What you see here is that the image you have in your "Layers" panel is the one you are moving.  In this case it is image DSC_3986 that I am moving.

Animation82.  Click on the "Move Tool" in the top left corner of your tool panel.

3. Hold down your right mouse button and move your image on top of the other images in your animation sequence.


Click on the image above for a Larger view

If you look in the panel on the right, you will now see that my layers are showing up in the "Layers" panel.  Take a look.  All of the images that I placed on top of the first image (DSC_3984) are in the "Layers" panel.  The last image I placed on top is the large image you now see in Photoshop.  If I were to click on any of the other layers here, that particular image is what you would see. 

Note: When you move your images one on top of the other to create layers, make sure that they are placed perfectly on top of each other like a perfectly stacked pile of cards, otherwise the animation won't look as good as you like.  Just be neat when you stack your layers.


Click on the image above for a Larger view

Now that we have created our layers for our animation, we want to create the animation!  How fun is this!!
So, in Photoshop, click on "Window" in the top toolbar, then you will get a drop-down panel and you want to click on "Animation."  I'll bet you didn't even know that was there did you?  Don't you just love these little discoveries in Photoshop?


Click on the image above for a Larger view

1. When I click on "Animation," a new panel will open at the bottom of my screen in Photoshop.

2. If you look in your "Layers" panel on the right you will see all the layers of images that will be your animation.  Highlight the first image (the one on the bottom that says "Background") and that is the large image you will see in Photoshop and the image that you will see in the first Frame of the Animation panel.

Animation7To start, in the "Layers" panel, you will notice that the 4 images all have an eye next to them.  "De-select" all but the first image, the "Background" image.  This will be the first image in our animation.


Next, click the button next to the trash can, the one that will duplicate the frames.  Because I will have 4 frames to my animation, I have created 4 frames in my Animation Panel. Click, Click, Click - done.

All of the images in the frames will be the same original "Background" image, but don't worry, we're going to change that.


Now, click on and highlight the image in Frame 2 ...


And de-select the "Background" image.  So, the 2nd image in your animation (Layer 1) will have the eye next to it and the "Background" image will not.  All of the frames will have eyes next to them too.  You can ignore them and leave them as they are. 

All you are doing here is highlighting each Frame in the Animation Panel and then telling it what image to put in that frame.  Select the image from the Layers Panel and de-select all the other images in your animation, and so on - Frame by Frame, do this until you are done.


Next step is to tell your animation how many seconds there will be between each image.  I selected 0.2 seconds.

If you look at the bottom of your Animation Panel, you will see the "Play" arrow in the middle.  Click that on and you've got yourself a spiffy animation.  Cool eh?  But wait, we want to save it.  So here's what you do.  


To save your animation, you click on "File" and in the drop-down menu you want to click on "Save for Web & Devices."  If you click on "Save" or "Save As" you will just have an image, even if you do save it as a Gif.  By saving it with the "Save for Web & Devices" it will save as a Gif Animation.


Click on the image above for a Larger view

A window will pop up with your Animation in the center - click "Save" in the top right corner.


Click on the image above for a Larger view

Give your Animation a name making sure it is saving as a Gif and there you go, you now have an Animation of your own created entirely in Photoshop.  And, just to show you what we did here ...


There you go, isn't she cute?  Now this obviously isn't the best animation, but you get the picture, right?  Just think of all the things you can do with this tool in Photoshop?  Remember when you were a kid and you would take a stack of white cards and draw a different sketch on each one to make it look like it was moving?  Well, this is the same thing.  Hope you enjoyed this tutorial! 



Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Take Better Pictures Of Your Children with a Little Help from Connie Groah and Nikon

Photo HH

WE HAVE A WINNER!  I love my sponsors, and I especially love these giveaways.  I know that one reader is going to be one lucky duck enjoying "her" new Nikon D80.

So, you all shared with me what your biggest frustrations are in photographing children.  Fortunately, we have Connie to help us get it right.

And the winner of the new Nikon D80 is ...


Alicia wrote the following:



Thank you to everyone who entered.  I'll have more great contests soon! 

Alicia - contact me at [email protected] to claim your great prize.


Welcome Connie Groah to Raisin Toast Photography!  We are excited to learn from your experience as a professional photographer!  Take it away Connie ...

My name is Connie Groah and I am a contemporary child photographer and the owner of Barefoot Photography® ( in Annapolis, Maryland.  I use a mixture of documentary-style photography and relaxed poses to capture my young subjects and specialize in birth through teens.  Susan asked if I would be willing to share some photographing thoughts and tips with her readers from time to time and this is my first share here at Raisin Toast.

There’s more to getting great photos of your kids than the right equipment, a great pose, or simply “saying cheese.”  You don’t need a fancy camera to capture great snaps of your kids - even a simple point-and-shoot will do.  But there are some tips and guidelines you can follow to maximize your chances for getting a shot you will love.

Photo A


When photographing children, it’s easy for them to get lost in the picture.  But there are some simple steps you can take to help keep the focus on the child.   Simple clothing tends to work best toward keeping the attention on the child.  Little Emily may love Minnie Mouse, but some patterns, logos or emblems can tend to compete for attention in a photo.  Often solids are easiest to keep the focus where it belongs- on your child!


One thing that can really get in the way of a great photograph is a distracting background.  You may realize that the tree behind Johnny is a good six feet back, but somehow, after the frame has been snapped, the tree suddenly appears to be sprouting from Johnny’s head!  Likewise, clutter or junk in the background can steal the attention away from an adorable expression, so when you can, remove these obstacles.

Photo close up


You may end up finding yourself down on the floor to do this - that’s OK!  Kids are short or at least I haven’t seen too many 5-foot tall one year olds.  You may have to get down and dirty on their level to really capture them at their best.

Even then, it’s often as important to think about what you want to leave OUT of the frame as what you want to include.   Don’t be afraid to get in close and really focus on your child without all the distractions of their environment.  There’s nothing I love more than a super close up shot of an adorable little face.

Photo D


You know that little square smack dab in the middle of your viewfinder of your camera?  Well, ignore it!  Most people like to line faces up with that little square but dead-centered pictures tend to be much less visually interesting than shots that are composed a bit more creatively.

Photo E 

As Dr. Sheila Cason discussed in her article on composition, the rule of thirds is a composition tool for photographers to line their subjects up along the vertical lines or intersections that are created if you were to visually divide an image into nine equal parts with two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.  For those of us shooting children, this means that as a general rule, we try not to center the eyes in the middle of a picture (think of those elementary yearbook pictures!) but instead try to line up the child’s body with a vertical line and their eyes with a horizontal line.  See the difference?

Photo F 

Along these lines, using negative space can also be quite complimentary when used creatively.  While there are times when filling the whole frame is a great idea, other times you may want to create a sense of space and give your little subject some breathing room.

Photo G


Some of my favorite shots ever were taken in the “golden hour," just before sunset.  The light has a completely different quality to it in the early morning hours or at the end of the day before sunset.  When possible, aim to shoot during these picture-perfect times.  The light is softer and more flattering than during the middle of the day when it is beating down from straight overhead.

If you find yourself shooting mid-day, don’t despair!   There are still ways to soften the light a bit.  Try guiding your little one under the soft shade of a tree or perhaps under a porch overhang. 

Finally, if possible, turn off your flash.  Natural light is always more flattering that the harsh light put off by a flash.

Photo H


Lastly, in my opinion, and most importantly, stop with the cheese already!  I have yet to see a child smile naturally when told to “say cheese."  Yet parents insist on asking their children to do so when taking pictures.  Then they wonder why sweet Alyssa looks like she’s growling with her face contorted into a shape they’ve never seen before.  Saying cheese simply does not elicit natural smiles.

Talk to your child, act silly, sing songs, tell jokes - whatever you need to do to engage them and get their mind off the fact they are being photographed.  Besides, if you can make it fun, there’s a lot better chance your child will be excited to see you coming the next time you pull out your camera!


Connie Connie Groah has quickly become a sought-after children’s photographer in the greater Annapolis area for her unique eye and her ability to preserve little pieces of this precious time as she captures your children exploring their expanding world. The pensive stares, pouts, smiles and giggles are all part of their unique personalities. A child’s innocence, curiosity and natural state of wonder make for perfect opportunities to capture life as art. Connie believes that every stage, every milestone, deserves to be remembered and that you will never regret having too many pictures of your children. They grow up so fast, and the stages they go through pass quickly. The way he sticks his tongue out when he crawls, the way she giggles excitedly with her first steps, his proud smile after he loses that first tooth, her nervous fidgeting before her first prom date… these are the moments that we wish to imprint in our memories.  Connie will document these genuine expressions, moments and little details that may otherwise be forgotten.

Connie Groah is having 35 of her beautiful baby images published in The Big Book of Babies, released in March, 2008. She is an Approved Registered Member of the International Registry of Children’s Photographers (, an exclusive collection of the finest children’s photographers from across the world promoting the highest standards in children’s portrait photography. She is also a member of the Professional Photographers of America, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, and Professional Photographers of Greater Annapolis. She resides in Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and their two active sons. She is available for commission for portraits as well as commercial work with children in the Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington DC areas. Inquire about availability for travel.


Now for the kicker - I've got a great surprise for my readers.  How would you like to start taking excellent pictures of your children with a brand new digital camera?  And, how would you like that camera to be a brand new Nikon D80? 

Hmmm.  I thought so.  Are your eyes popping yet?  You are going to love this camera.  Hey, it's a NIkon so you know it's going to provide you with the best pictures ever! 

Just answer the following question in the comments:


What gives you the most frustration about taking digital pictures of your children?

This contest will end at 4pm EST on Thursday, March 19th.  Winner will be announced at about 6pm EST on Thursday evening and chosen by the Sponsor who is providing this wonderful camera to my readers! 

Sorry guys, but family and close friends are not eligible.  I know, life stinks sometimes, but if I want to keep my sponsors I have to be honest - and uh, I'm an honest doobie.

Now, start thinking about that question and leave a comment ...



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Raw v. Jpeg - What's Really the Difference?

6568 Number 1 JPEG

By Dr. Sheila Cason

If you’re wondering what this whole talk about shooting “RAW” is about, then listen up because I’m about to tell you.

Basically it all comes down to data. When you take a photo, all that your camera grabs is data. If you choose the JPEG  then your camera processes the data automatically inside the camera and saves it into a JPEG format.  When you choose RAW then your camera does nothing with the data and merely hands it over to you.  It’s now left up to your computer to process the data so that you can view the image.

Better? Not quite?

Ok here’s a little more info.


A RAW file can be thought of as a digital negative. For the beginning photographer, shooting in RAW can save you from some common mistakes with exposure and white balance

RAW files are uncompressed because it saves all the data that the camera’s sensor reads, even if you don’t want or need all that data.

RAW files take up a lot of space.

By batch processing, you have the option to convert all your photos from RAW to JPEG.

RAW files show highlights and shadows better but can be flatter appearing and not as sharp.

RAW files must be processed by your computer to be viewed. 



A JPEG is an image that is available immediately.. It needs no post processing to be shared or spread through the web.

JPEG images are compressed. All the extra data you don’t want or need is thrown away.  Therefore you get a smaller file size and it’s easier to move around.

JPEG is lower in dynamic range but is  higher on contrast, and often sharper than a RAW file image.
Each time you open it and edit it, data is lost.

If you need to play around with exposure and white balance it’s tougher to do and often doesn’t lend itself to such good results.

Better now? Ok let’s compare a few untouched photos.  Here are a few that I took both in RAW and in JPEG.

Here’s the JPEG:

6568 Number 1 JPEG

Here’s the RAW (converted to JPEG with no changes):

6568 Number 2 Raw to JPEG

And here they are up close.
This is the JPEG:

JPEG Number 3 Up Close

This is the RAW File:

Raw Number 4 up close

So as you can see if you’re happy with the exposure and white balance they can appear pretty close to each other. I think the JPEG actually looks a little better with the contrast. But if you want to open it up and tinker with it, it is not so easy.

Check out my exposure mistakes. Here’s the original JPEG:

IMG_6526 Number 1 JPEG No Change

And here’s the original RAW:

6526 Number 2 Raw to JPEG No Change


I tried to adjust the contrast in the JPEG and it didn’t quite work.

6526 Number 3 JPEG Brightness and Contrast Adjusted

So I opened up the Raw file and additionally adjusted the exposure.

6526 Number 4 Cropped Exposure Brightness and Contrast adjusted in Raw

This is better though not as good as if I’d gotten it right in the first place.  Now when I mess up with white balance I can adjust it in RAW.  Last year I took over 600 pictures in the wrong white balance.  I know - rookie mistake!

Musical Chairs SOOTC
(Musical Chairs SOOC)

This photo is nice all warm and soft but I didn’t want the warmth- at least not in all 600 photos! So I changed it.

Musical Chairs Adjusted
(Musical Chairs Adjusted)

So what should you do?

Do what works for you. I’m a lover not a fighter so I won’t argue the point with you.  Seriously, all you need to do is just google Raw vs JPEG and you’ll see irate opinions running amok!  There’s no need to get upset.  It’s not a moral decision.  It’s a personal preference.

My personal preference is the RAW format. I like the options that RAW files offer me and if I’m running low on time then I can batch process them and convert them to JPEG.

Ultimately my goal as a photographer is to take a good photo from the get go and not rely on the computer to save me.  Having said that though, it’s nice to be able to experiment and save those less than perfect shots.  Also I find that it’s hard for me to purposely accept less data and limit myself.
But the choice is yours to make.  So tell me-which do you shoot in- RAW or JPEG?

- Sheila

NOTE: Dr. Sheila Cason is a contributing Author here at Raisin Toast.  She is a practicing Pediatrician, the mother of 3 beautiful children, and a Navy wife living with her family in Guam.  She has her own website where she talks about her life, her children, her practice of pediatrics, and her love of photography! 

We are proud to have Dr. Cason as a contributor to our Photography section.  I've learned a lot from her and know you will too! 



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Photoshop and Banner Creation Part 2 (And a Contest for You at the End! Woohoo!)


WE HAVE A WINNER!  My Sponsor handed over the job to me and, so I ran the magic number and the winner is ...

Doesn't that chocolate cake look good? 

Don't you just want a piece?

All right already!


We had 26 readers who commented for a chance to win Photoshop CS4, and I am happy to say that 16 is the Winner! 

So, who is 16?  Well, I counted 12 times to make sure I got it right.  And, the #16 is:

Catherine B.!  


Congratulations Catherine B.!  You've won Photoshop CS4.  

Email me at [email protected] to claim your prize. Be sure to provide your shipping address! 

Thank you to all who entered.  The odds were pretty good.  Keep tuning in for more great contests!

Have you created some banners in Photoshop yet?  Have you had a bite of that cake?  Talk about needing a chocolate fix - that slice up there will do it for sure. 

Getting back to reality - There is so much you can do to be creative in designing banners or sidebar items for your blog.  Personally, I think creating banners is fun.  All you need is Photoshop - hint hint.  And, now that I know how to rotate those image banners every time the page is refreshed, I want to share the knowledge with you. 


Since I am sharing the Love in this post, I thought I would share a little of Peter Max in the process. 

Yesterday's post taught you how to create a 160x600 banner in Photoshop, but don't feel limited by yesterday's lesson - the information is there for you to create banners of any size to suit your website or blog.  So, let's say you've created several banners of the same size and you want them to rotate on your site when the page is refreshed.  You know that this will keep things interesting and new and will bring energy to your site.  if you're like me, I wasn't going to be happy until I figured out how to do this with my TypePad blog. 

I realize something about myself - that even if I had a Wordpress blog, I guarantee there would be something that I would need to learn to do or I wouldn't be satisfied with it.  So, I'm stickin' with TypePad.  Not only have I been able to create a nice blog for myself, but the knowledge base and customer support have been excellent.


I only recently decided to learn how to use Advanced Templates within TypePad  so that I could customize my blog.   I did not like the way it looked and wanted to add a professional look and feel to it.  I also wanted it to reflect my personality.  The only way I could do this was to learn some web design and understand the fundamentals of CSS and html on my own.  And, if any of you have been here a while, you know why - because we're broke!  Big Bear has been busy looking for a job since his layoff and, well, I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on a blog redesign, so I had to figure it out myself or forget it.  Even that wasn't enough for me, though.  I wanted that stinkin' random image thing in my sidebar.  I'm persistent. 

Well, thanks to that persistence, I learned how to accomplish this within a TypePad blog, and the good news is that you can add this script to your blog too.  If you don't have a TypePad blog, you may have to contact your blog's customer support if you don't know where or how to add the java script to your sidebar, but here, I will explain how to do this within TypePad, and then you can figure out how to use the script within your blog if you use Wordpress or Blogger or some other blog platform.

Let's get started.  Here are some banners that I have created in Photoshop:

TKASTROLL160X600BANNER BigBearBanner160x600 copy

Despite how it looks, each banner is 160x600.  After you have created your banners in Photoshop, you will want to save them to a folder on your computer where you can easily find them.


Now, open up your TypePad account (if you have one) and click on your "Control Panel" tab.  If you use another blog platform, you will need to go to the area of your blog where you can upload images that will be used for placement within your blog.


Once you are in your Control Panel, click on the "Files" tab.  In TypePad, this is where your folders and images are kept that are used within your blog. 


Click on "Browse" to upload your banner images, one at a time, to your File Manager.


Click on the image or images that you uploaded into your File Manager (one at a time) to get their url (web address).  I like to have multiple tabs open in my browser rather than multiple browser windows.  In this case, I opened up each image that I had uploaded into a tab of its own in my browser making it easy to copy the url when I need it to put into the random image generator script.


In another tab, open up your TypePad account and click on "TypeLists."


You will want to "Create a new TypeList"
    1. List Type: Notes
    2. List Name: (Give it a name that will identify what the TypeList is).

When you give your TypeList a name, if you put the following code ( <!--YourTypeListName--> ) before and after the name, it will not be visible on your blog.  In other words, your banner image will show up, but the name of the list itself will not be in text above the banner image on your blog.  Hope that makes sense.  So, if you don't want the name of the TypeList that your image banners are in to show up (and I didn't), then write the List Name like this:


Otherwise, just type in the name of your TypeList and forget the dashes and symbols before and after.  By putting the symbols as you see here (in red) before and after the name you give your TypeList, the name will not show up on the page with your image.  Don't you just love sneaky little tips like this?


Now that you have created a new TypeList "Notes"  List, you want to place the script for the random image generator into the box.  (Note: Leave the box "Label"  blank.

Here is the script that you will put in your TypeList 'Notes' box:

<div align="center">
<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="Javascript"><!--

// ***********************************************
// URL:
// Use the script, just leave this message intact.
// Download your FREE CGI/Perl Scripts today!
// ( )
// Modified for use in CSB and Trellix by Samantha Conway
// MUST change gEMDIR to GEMDIR before using code!!!
// ***********************************************

function image() {

image = new image();
number = 0;

// imageArray
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
// keep adding items here...

increment = Math.floor(Math.random() * number);



Everything that you see above in GREEN is part of the script and needs to be in the box.  The only change you will make to this script is the url (web address) of each of your images that you want to rotate.  And, remember, we opened up your images in individual tabs in your browser so that you know the address of each image and can copy and paste it fast and easy.

Put the url for each image (image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, etc...) into the script.  These are the images that will rotate on your blog.  So, if I put this TypeList in my left (alpha) sidebar, the images, each of which are 160x600 in my case, will rotate every time the page is refreshed.

Now that you've created a TypeList with this script and you've added the url's of the images you want to rotate on your blog to the script ...  Now what?

Click "Save"  then click on the tab that reads "Publish"


As you can see here, all of my Templates in TypePad are Advanced Templates.  It wasn't always like that.  I had the basic templates for a long time and yes, they are a lot easier to use, however, you are limited in the customizations you can make within a basic template.  If you want to really get down to the nitty-gritty of customizing your TypePad blog, you'll want to be in Advanced Templates.  For me, I just had to swallow my insecurities and believe in myself enough that I could learn how to design a blog that was uniquely my own within Advanced Templates.  It was scary at first, but I did it, and I am happy with the way Raisin Toast looks and functions - at least for now. 

When I find new things that I want to add to my site, like wanting my image banners in the sidebar to rotate when the page is refreshed, I have to learn how to do it myself.  And when I learn it - I'm going to share it with you, so you, too, can add some cool features to your blog!


Now, see that Template Tag that the red arrow is pointing to?  Copy that Template Tag.

Open up your blog's template, beginning with the Main Index Template, and place that code exactly where you want your images to show up in your sidebar.  In my case, my images pop up on the Homepage in the left (alpha) sidebar. 

That's it!  It really isn't as difficult as it looks.  You'll get the hang of it. 

However, because I love you all for dropping by and taking the time to visit my little corner of the web, I have a surprise for you just so that you can start creating some really great banners for your site or for advertising, or both! 


How would you like your own copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4?  I thought so.  Just answer this question in the comments:

What drives you to be creative? 

Now, here's the deal, because I am starting this contest at 2am (I had a rough day yesterday - sorry for the late Monday, now Tuesday, post), I am going to end this contest at 12pm (Noon) EST on Wednesday.  This is a sponsored contest and the sponsor has indicated to me that he wants to choose the winner from his basket of tricks which is fine with me.  The winner will be announced on Wednesday evening around 9pm EST. 

So, tell your friends, tell your family, call up your buddies, call up your kids, and tell them to stop on over to Raisin Toast  to learn how to create cool banners for your sidebar and to enter this great contest to win Photoshop CS4! 

One Entry Per Person please.

Contest entries will be closed at 12pm (Noon) EST on Wednesday, February 25th.

Winner will be announced at approximately 9pm EST Wednesday evening.

Good Luck!  Yippee! DeeDooDah 



Monday, February 23, 2009

Photoshop and Banner Creation


I don't know about you, but I get all excited and happy when I learn something new.  Especially when it is something that I have been trying to figure out how to do for well over a week.  I'm sure you want to know what it is that I've learned how to do that has given me so much thrill today?  Random images.  Hey, it doesn't take much to make me happy, and thanks to Brianna over at TypePad, I'm as happy as if I had a slice of chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing right about now.

If anybody reading this has a blog or a website, you know that keeping things fresh is important to keeping your audience.  But, as a TypePad blogger, we don't have the luxury of "plug-ins" like you have over at Wordpress.  However, we have a lot of other things that make TypePad great and easy to use once you get the hang of it.   I love TypePad, and know that it has just as many full featured abilities as Wordpress - you just have to pick it apart a bit and learn a few tricks to figure it out.

You can find many of these tricks over at TypePad Hacks.  I think I've just about hacked that site apart trying to figure out how to do things in Advanced Templates.  Fortunately for me, though, I've had fun doing it.  One thing I could not find was a script for creating random images so that every time you refresh the page, a different image pops up.  Until today.

Thanks to Brianna at TypePad, she has worked with me over the past several days trying to find a script that works to generate random images.  She found it.  I put the script into my TypePad TypeList 'Notes' and wah-lah I've got me a random image generator in my sidebar.  Pretty cool. 

The reason I am telling you this is because I am going to make this post about creating your own personal banners for your site, since in order to have random images in your sidebar where you place your banners you need to first know how to make the banners.  It'll be fun!  You'll see! I'll begin by showing you how I create a sidebar banner (which can also be a way to create your own advertising banners as well) and this will be Part 1 of my tutorial.  Part 2 will be tomorrow, and I'll show you how to upload images into TypePad and create a random image generator for your sidebar.  Sound like fun?  I hope so.  Let's get started ...


Open Photoshop.  The first thing you want to do is click on 'File' and then 'New' thereby creating a new file within Photoshop.


Give it a Title like "Banner160x600" or something like that.  You can give it any title name you want.  I, however, like to put the Banner dimensions in the title so that it is easy to locate in my folders on my computer.  In the Dimensions make sure you give it the Width and Height that your finished banner will be.


Click "OK" and you will have a new file open within Photoshop that is the dimensions you specified.


Next, open up the image or images you want to use in creating your new banner.


Once you've opened up your image or images, you will want to adjust their dimensions to suit your banner.  In my case, the Width is more important than the Height as I will be using several images in the creation of my banner.  Also, I will need to click on the box that reads "Constrain Proportions" so that my image does not become distorted. (Unless you want it that way, in that case have at it ). 


Click on the 'Move Tool' in the top of the Photoshop Toolbar.


Next, hold down your mouse button with the Move Tool over the image you want to move.  Then, while continuing to hold down your mouse button, move the image to your banner where you want it to go.  In other words, just drag and drop it.  Repeat the last few steps until you have designed your banner with your image or images.


As you can see, I decided to use 2 images for my banner.  I also decided not to change the Width or Height of their original size, but rather, just move them to the 160x600 Banner and move them around until they were placed where I wanted them to be.


Next step, click on the 'Rectangle Tool.'  We're going to use this as a background for some text.  You don't have to do this step if you don't want to.  I like it, though, in the creation of my banners.  You'll see why in a minute. 


I placed the rectangle shape at the top of my banner, clicked on the color box that indicates the color of the rectangle at the top of the Photoshop toolbar, and then the 'Pick a solid color' box opened.  From here, I decided to choose a color for my rectangle that is within my images.  That's easy, if you move your cursor over your banner image, you will see that it has turned into an eyedropper where you can choose a color from within your image.  I clicked on a part of the tractor that was in shadow and the red color came up.  I like it.  I think I'll use it.


Now you can adjust the Opacity of the rectangle to be as strong or as transparent as you want.  I adjusted mine to be 50%.


Click on the 'Text Tool' and we'll write something clever in the banner where I placed my transparent rectangle.


Now that I have my Text box blocked out where my transparent rectangle is located, I will want to go to the top of the Photoshop toolbar and choose a Font and a Font size before I just start typing something clever.  At least I hope it will be clever.  It may be boring.  I haven't figured out what to write yet, so while I'm thinking about this and deciding what font to use, I'll go pour myself some sweet iced tea.  I'm thirsty.

Okay, I'm back with my tea.  Aaaahhh, refreshing.  gulp.  Hold on, I have to prop up my feet on the ottoman and get comfortable again.  Now, let's see.  What to write?  hmmm.  I'm thinkin.  Patience. 


There you go.  That works for me.  Done with my banner.  Now all I have to do is save it as a .jpg and I've created another banner to add to my set of 160x600 banners that I am going to use in my random image generator for my sidebar. 

So, get started on creating some banners for your site, and then tomorrow, we'll learn how to create a random image generator for TypePad.  If you don't have a TypePad blog, don't fret.  This code can be used to create random images on any site. 



Thursday, January 29, 2009

How To Erase A Background From An Image In Photoshop - Pt. 2


Since I seem to be on the subject of erasing a background from an image, I thought I would share with you one of the other ways to achieve this successfully.  But, that all depends on the image you are working with.  Let me explain.  Take this image for instance - I am going to show you how to erase the sky from the image, leaving only the trees, the barn, and the foreground.

This can be challenging, especially since I want to also erase the small remnants of sky that are visible between the branches.  This is where the Background Eraser Tool can come in handy over the Magic Eraser Tool.  Keep in mind, though, that the Magic Eraser Tool is great for when you want to erase a color that is prominent in the background and can be erased in one click as described in Pt. 1 of this tutorial.


Before I get started using the Background Eraser Tool, I will want to select it and adjust the settings for what I want to achieve.  In the case of this image, I have selected "Sampling: Continuous (on the left), Find Edges, and 60% Tolerance.


Now, I will start by placing the Background Eraser Tool over the area that I want to erase.  See the plus sign in the middle of the circle?  I want to place that plus sign over the color of the sky that I want to erase then I want to "option-click" the tool in that area of the image.


DO NOT DRAG the Background Eraser Tool!!  If you do, you will end up erasing far more than just the sky.  When you use the Background Eraser Tool it is best to adjust the size of the tool to your image.  For instance, if you are erasing a large area of an image that is the same or nearly the same color, then a larger tool is a good idea.  In the picture above, you might have noticed that the Background Eraser Tool is also hovering over the tree and the barn.  No problem.  Why?  Because by "not dragging" the tool, placing it over the area that includes all or part of the background you want to erase, and then just clicking (not dragging), you will cleanly erase the color you select, and in this case, the sky disappears, not the tree and the barn.  Pretty cool, eh?


As you can see, I am now getting down to the nitty-gritty - erasing the sky from between the branches of the tree, and not the tree.  This is where the Tolerance setting of your tool is critical, because the higher percentage of tolerance, the more sensitive the tool and you may end up erasing parts of your tree.  Even at 60% tolerance, I will probably be erasing some of it, but we might be surprised.  Let's see how I do.  But first, I am going to zoom in on this area to better see the pixels so I can be more exact in choosing the color to erase. See the dropper?  I am holding down the Option key which shows me the eyedropper where I am going to select the color for the tool to erase in the area where I am placing the circle of the Background Eraser Tool.  Have you got a headache yet?  Dang, this is harder to explain than it looks. It really is easy.  Hang in there with me!


Making progress.  The Background Eraser Tool has done a great job of erasing "only" the sky and preserving the rest of the image. 

So there you go.  I think that pretty much explains 2 ways you can erase the background successfully.  No dragging!!!! 



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