Magnolia

We can get pretty extreme temperatures where I live in the Inland Northwest. I’ve seen -10 with windchill in the winter and 107 in the summer. I’ve also seen snow in June here, but that’s only happened once in my 32 years in this little town. Despite our extreme temperatures, my neighbor two doors down from us has two beautiful magnolia trees flanking her front door. These trees produce gorgeous white blooms in the summer that are most often enjoyed in the balmier regions of our fair country.

I’ve always enjoyed the beauty and fragrance of this flower and finally painted one in watercolor. I’m really pleased with the result. Now I can enjoy me a magnolia, even in sub-zero weather. I just need to figure out the scratch-and-sniff thing.

Commissioned Birds

I love birds. I may or may not have an excessive number of backyard bird feeders and bird houses on my property. I also love to paint birds. I recently painted a bird for fun and put it on a greeting card to send to friends. (One can always use a good songbird greeting card). I liked it so well, I decided to make several more. And since I’m going to paint them anyway, I thought, I may as well paint birds that other people like too. So I threw out a call for commissioned requests—understanding that they would buy the original and I would make greeting cards from the image.

Here are three of the commissioned bird watercolor paintings that I will make into greeting card designs. I’m rather fond of them.

A Poetic Tribute

I wrote this poem for my son who recently graduated from high school. He learned a lot about sacrifice, selflessness, and teamwork during football. He knows what it means to work hard and get things done for the sake of others. He knows how to leave it all on the field and lay it all on the line. I’m proud of you Will Evans.

The Lineman

He puts his joyful hands in the dirt

Warlike-look around his eyes,

Ready to battle and get to work

Unheeding of the cold and hurt,

An unbreached wall his only prize.

Kidney Infection — A One Star Review

I cannot recommend a kidney infection. 

And do not understand a certain affection 

     For ailments with titles familiar and plain. 

Wouldn’t you rather an “impingement syndrome” 

than plain “tendinitis” (which sounds quite humdrum)

     or “contusion” than “bruise” (which is simply mundane).

But this hackneyed disorder (back to my point)

Brings an ache and a torment into every joint

     And a feverish, shivery, drenched perspiration. 

Kidney infection: a carnival ride,

You’re ice when you’re up and muck-sweat the downside

     (Besides having a title that lacks inspiration).

This vile infection (of mean nomenclature)

Puts me quite out of sorts, against my better nature.

     It’s a pain in the back and is simply no fun.

So for want of enjoyment, cheer, bliss, or glee

(And a moniker lacking in all novelty)

     Out of five stars, this infection gets ONE!

Birthday poem

My friend had a landmark birthday and her husband threw her a birthday party. The invite said, “Please bring a poem, encouragement, Bible verse, or piece of advice. No gifts, please.” I wrote her this poem and made these pencil sketches for her. I realize that the tree branches are tamarack rather than pine, but most pine needles would dwarf a ruby-crowned kinglet, so I fudged a little.

Writing Critique groups— Receiving (and giving) feedback

Being in a writing critique group for the first time can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re prepared. Here are a few tips on giving and receiving feedback from other authors.

Receiving feedback:

When someone offers you feedback, you should think “bring it on!” every time. Because either the criticism will be correct and bring to light something you haven’t seen before and you can make the manuscript better OR it will be incorrect but can show where you may have been unclear and you can double down on your intention. Most importantly, don’t take anything personally, even though you may have put a lot of yourself into your manuscript, your manuscript is not you. Don’t ever let comments discourage you, let them make you better.

  • All feedback is useful–right or wrong. It either enlightens or helps you clarify.
  • You want to make your manuscript as excellent as possible.
  • Your manuscript is not YOU. Don’t take feedback on your manuscript personally.

Giving feedback:

When giving another author feedback, remember the “FEEDBACK SANDWICH.” Start with something you love about the manuscript. Kindly and thoughtfully present any constructive feedback. Then follow it up immediately with something else that you love. Make sure your tone and the way you present the feedback make it obvious that you want this manuscript to be amazing and that you hope for the best outcome for the author. And remember to present everything in a way that you would want the same information to be presented to you: The Golden Rule.

  • Your goal is to make the other person’s manuscript better.
  • Remember the Golden Rule
  • Use the “Feedback Sandwich”: Positive/Constructive Criticism/Positive
  • If you’re not sure what to say, you can always ask questions that may help the person improve the focus of their manuscript.
    • What is the target age?
    • Who do you imaging reading your story?
    • What is your goal with this manuscript?

Tiny, Little Decisions

Close up of a freckled girl with wide blue eyes looking at an enlarged honey bee gathering pollen in light pink flowers.

Artists make a thousand little decisions every moment they are creating. 

My first draft of this illustration was too huge. It was, in fact, enormous. My decision to get close up was okay, but the magnification was gratuitous (the paper was 18×24). At the suggestion of a skilled colleague, I pulled back a bit.

My next sketch was closer to the feeling I wanted. The eyes are wide in surprise or perhaps awe. But the mouth was too dark near the bee. The girl almost looks like she’s kissing it instead of observing from a distance. I needed to pull back on the contrast in the girl’s face to bring the bee forward.

Though my experience is with traditional media, I thought I’d give digital coloration a shot with this pencil drawing. I would be able to pull back the contrast in the girl’s face to make the bee more of the focus. I liked it. A lot. 

But then I painted the drawing with watercolor and thought the result was much more appealing. Now the digitally colorized image looked flat to me. The girl’s face in the watercolor was more contoured and I absolutely fell in love with the color pencil freckles I added. But there was something about that digital image that still pulled everything together.

After discussing it with my colleague, we decided that the gold color wash in the digital image was an art decision that made the composition more cohesive. This could be applied to the watercolor as well. I used a photo Filter Layer in Photoshop to give the whole image a unified glow and I increased the contrast in the features of the girl’s face with the Photoshop Burn Tool. Now she was more the focus of the image but without diminishing the importance of the bee. 

The end result made me very happy. I just love that freckly little face.

Deep Thoughts: The Hero of Your own Story

You know that book you love? Remember that evil character in it that you really despise? Do they think they are the bad character? No. They do not see themselves as the heartless tyrant, the slinking coward, the greedy manipulator, the guilt-ridden critic, or even the plucky sidekick. Everyone is the HERO of their own story!

No one has an objective view of their own narrative. When you analyze your own story, be sure to do it honestly. Maybe you are the plucky sidekick. What’s wrong with that? Everyone loves that character! Just be sure you’re not those other characters who think they are noble or brave with a “high and lonely calling,” but everyone reading the story properly can see that they are just the pits! Don’t be that one.

Likewise, when creating a story, your antagonist should not be aware that they are wicked. They need to think they are in someway righteous, doing what they do for “the greater good” and believing that the end justifies the means. Those are the most evil (and believable) characters. A sliver of truth deceiving them into believing the lie that they are virtuous.

Also, don’t be that character.

Sketch to Finish

I set out to paint a boy at the beach that just noticed an unfortunate change in the weather. Here is the sketch I started with.

Sketches are rendered loosely and I often like them better than the finished product. There is just more life and movement in the line. This one is no exception. I love his fat little hands. But his jaw is a little too square and head a bit small for the age I was shooting for.

Here’s the final painting:

In this image, the boy’s face is rounder and a bit larger making him look younger. I am disappointed that his chubby toddler hands didn’t translate from the sketch, but I’m happy with the sky. I also think the boy looks a bit more surprised at the change in the weather. That’s what happens when you’re having so much fun!