My name is Jonene Ficklin, and I'm a full-time wife, mom, writer, and professional artist. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I use colored pencils, oil paints, and watercolors. I love what I do!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Scribbler's Cove

Heyo, if you've been needing to sooth your inner pirate lately, check out this great new blog:

They were brave enough to invite me on board, and I included the story of the cataclysmic event that propelled me into writing in the first place. But be warned. I was VERY naughty. Glad I have wise parents!

Fushigi Balls and Sea Monkeys

Drat those kid-TV commercials. It’s interesting how they can take a fresh young mind and turn it into an obsessed mush-pile. 

I’ve seen the commercial, the gravity-defying ball of mystery called a Fushigi ball. It floats over hands, shoulders and all upper extremities like a rotating self-guided soap bubble. It’s cool. The gurus who sell it make it look so magic. Who wouldn’t want one?

Me. Because I know. It’s not a gravity-defying miracle. It’s a professional course in false advertizing.

But hey, they make it look so cool and kids like it. My son saved and saved for one, so I ordered the dang thing online. The confirmation e-mail said to expect it in two to three weeks. Sigh. This was going to be a very long month of August.

My well-organized child made a countdown sheet with numbered squares to check off each day.

Each day was an exercize in patience because, sadly, I knew nothing. The Fushigi company only sent the one e-mail, sans a tracking number or any further information.

We made the mistake of going on vacation during this time. Several kind neighbors offered to watch the house for us. I put a hold on our mail, so, just in case it came that way, it would sit safely down at the post office and not at our doorstep, where every kid in the country would descend and filch our hopes, dreams, and all future possibility for sanity.

We returned from vacation to no Fushigi ball. It was the end of the world. We didn’t know if it had been stolen by Fushigi seeking bandits, or aliens needing anti-gravity devices, or the mailman. (He would really want one, right?)

Another week passed. School was starting. The three weeks of waiting passed. No Fushigi ball.
Then I got another e-mail. “Congratulations! Your ball has just been shipped from LA. It should arrive in 5-10 days.”

Oh, joy. I gave my son the news. On the one hand, it was good to know that none of the people around us were thieving hoodlums. On the other hand, a new count-down chart went up and the waiting began all over again.

I just about cried when it came in the mail over the weekend. My son tore the industrial-grade tape from the small box. Out came the ball. It was plastic, with an off-center steel core.

When he held it out to levitate, it fell to the floor with a resounding thud. He looked up at me. Double joy.

Thankfully there was a video. We plugged it in. A twenty-something, thin young man with a tasteful ponytail gave detailed instructions while he demonstrated clever slight-of-hand.

And if my son gives up eating, sleeping, school, and all other nonsense stuff, and devotes himself to five years of continual, devoted practice (and buys a bunch more balls), he can be as good.

But hey, I understand the mania. After all, when I was his age, I did the same thing with Sea Monkeys (cute little pet mermaids and mermen).

It turns out they were just ugly little brine shrimp the size of this 'J'. Well, they were kinda cute if you looked at them cross-eyed.

So, if you're dying to see the magic of Fushigi, come to my house . . . in a few years.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drawing Lesson 1 b, Gradating Shading Scale

Now that you know the shading scale and recognize its numbers (10 is black, 1 is white, 2-9 are the tones in between), you are ready to do a gradated shading scale. This is again a transition from 10 down to 1, but there are no dividing blocks of shade. It is a gradual, smooth change from black to white. You DON’T want to be able to tell that one shade is ending and the next beginning.

Draw a long rectangle, just like in lesson 1 a (see Thursday, August 19, 2010 post for first shading lesson, 1 a), except DON’T divide it into boxes. Write your numbers along the side, just like in the illustration, going from 10 (black) on the top, down to 1 (white) on the bottom.
Reminder: Use a cover sheet to protect the paper.

Which pencils do I use?
You can either use a standard number 2 pencil or fine pencils.

If you are using fine pencils, you will use the same ones as you did on lesson 1 a, except as the pencil areas change, you will overlap those areas with the pencil from the next area:
Shades 2-4: 6H (when you get to the area of shade 4, overlap the end of the area with a 2H pencil)
Shades 5-7: 2H (when you get to the area of shade 7, overlap the end of the area with a B pencil)
Shades 8-10: B

If you are using a regular number 2 pencil, you will use the same techniques you used in the boxes, except now you are covering an area and easing into the next shade so we don’t notice.

The 1, or white, area is to be left blank. The white of the paper is all you need. What you need to watch out for in this and any drawing, is to be sure to leave this area (1: white) LARGER than you think you need to. The reason for this is that in a drawing, the white is the sparkle. If you close it in too tight, it may be too small and you will lose the effect you want. It is better to make it larger to start off with, and then, if you want to make it smaller, it is easy to shade into it, closing it in, rather than trying to erase it out. Often erasing will not take it completely back to a 1, leaving you with a 2.

Caution: Watch out again for pressing too hard with your 6H pencil, because it will cut grooves into the paper. It is only to be used with a light touch, for the lightest areas.

Let’s get started.

Just like in lesson 1 a, start with your black, or 10 area, putting in a good, solid black, but easing off a bit as it comes down. Then stop there, just as you’re going into your 9.

Now jump to your 2 area (nearly white). Remember to start higher than you think you should, almost into the 3 area. Then as you shade, shade DOWN toward the 1 area, getting lighter, lighter, lighter. Really focus on keeping your strokes smooth, even and right next to each other. If this makes you nervous, practice on another piece of paper until you are confident, then come back to your rectangle.

If you are using a regular number 2 pencil, use the same technique taught in lesson 1: slide your fingers back along the pencil to the end (taking the pressure off the tip) and then carefully sweep the pencil from side to side. As you go, lift slightly on the pencil until the shade gets lighter and lighter. When you can barely see it, you are there. Now focus on keeping your strokes even and right next to each other.

Your 2 area should literally disappear into your 1 (white) area. If it doesn’t, you can use your kneaded eraser to tap along the bottom of the 2 area until it does disappear.

Once you are happy with your 2 area, move on up into your 3, then 4, and so on, working up to your 9 and 10. If you are using fine pencils, remember to switch when the pencil won’t go dark enough.

Keep your strokes smooth, even and right next to each other the whole way up. When you miss an area, or get too dark or spotty, go back and touch it up, using your kneaded eraser and then finishing up with your pencil as needed.

When you have finished the whole rectangle, stand up and step a few feet away from it. Squint your eyes and look at it. Are there any areas that jump too quickly from one tone to the next, so that you see a line? Are there any blotches or spots? Are there any gaps between your lines?

The rectangle should be very smooth and very gradually change from white up to black.

Take your time and go back to fix the problem areas, stopping every now and again to step back, squint your eyes and see how it’s progressing.

Don’t try to hurry this. It takes time. It’s a very important skill to acquire.

When you are happy with it, you may do a second one, and this time, you can use your blending stick on the final step to smooth the rough spots and make a perfect ascending transition. (Remember to start with your 2 area first and work your way up, cleaning the blending stick often.) The reason I want you to do one with the blending stick and one without, is that you CAN do this without a blending stick and it’s very important that you can.

If you just can’t get it right the first time, don’t worry. It’s a process. It takes time and practice, just like learning the piano, or learning to walk. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself room to grow.

The most important thing is that you DON’T GIVE UP. Do it again. Make yourself proud. I learned that if I can’t do something, I go to another page and practice – up to 10 times. I guarantee that the 10th one will be 10 times better than the first.

Now when you’ve done it, it will feel awesome, like a drawer’s high! Date your page, and I recommend that you save it in a three-ring binder, in a page protector.

And get ready for the next lesson. We’ll take what you’ve just done and use it on an actual object. And don’t worry, it will be fun! See you next week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Get Lost!

Most of us try really hard NOT to get lost. But every once in a while you do. And every once in a long while, you do it on purpose.

We just got back from being lost . . . in another world. Really. Well, kinda.

We were returning from a quick trip to visit some friends and as we passed through Idaho, we saw a sign for “City of Rocks”. My husband had heard of it, and getting a wild hair, we took a family vote. Do we go – which would add several hours to our trip – or do we head straight home? The kids voted to go.

We turned at the sign. The civilized world gradually disappeared and we hoped we were going the right way. Our GPS wasn’t helping. It kept rebooting and didn’t recognize the road we were on.

Wind spread a thin veil of smoke from a distant forest fire, leaving everything hazy. Which was very cool, considering what we were looking at. There were rolling hills covered with scrubby cedar trees and sagebrush. We passed more than one ancient collapsing log home. It was like going back in time to the west – before it was wild.

It took forever, but finally, finally, there it was, the turnoff for the City of Rocks National Reserve. We held onto our dental fillings as we jittered down the dirt road with enough ripples to make a washboard jealous.

Funny shaped hills rose up, looking for all the world like the famous karst mountains of Guilin, China.

We reached this awesome crumbing house. There was no roof, only some walls, and the wind whistled through it like a bad 70’s western movie. Wow! (Click on the picture to make it bigger.)

We drove on and soon saw shadowy forms protruding from the distance.

Formations materialized. Lumpy rocks appeared. The western look was gone. Now I saw the way nature sculped, with a haphazard genius that leaves the onlooker to decide. This one seemed to be something off Easter Island, a comical face with an overly large nose:

Hm. Sentinels at a gateway?

A field of either hobbit houses (girls’ choice) or dinosaur droppings (boys’ choice):

A castle wall with spires:

This was better than cloud-watching and there were millions of natural exhibits, all carefully placed like the hall of a museum.

We came to another field littered with huge lonely rocks. The sun rotated through patchy clouds, casting weak spotlights over an alien landscape.

We pulled over and the kids emerged from the car to stretch. We were next to a huge rock pile – at least that’s what it looked like to us. To the kids, it was a jungle gym, a maze, a climbing wall. It didn’t take long for them to scramble off.

My husband and I went too, finding little passageways through the rocks, similar to the slot canyons of Utah or Arizona. We explored, slid, took off our shoes (it was easier to climb the stones that way) and quickly got stickers in our feet. What the heck are stickers doing way up on bald rocks? Oh well. All part of life’s odyssey.

After a half hour, the kids wandered back to the car. All but a daughter. My husband and I circled the pile one more time. And there she was on a stone that balanced like a monster egg on top a peanut. It was a Pebbles Flintstone moment.

We took off again, the kids happily chattering about which part they liked best.

Most of the wildlife stayed hidden, except for hawks. We probably passed ten while we were there in the reserve. But then we neared a huge bird sitting on the fence. We slowed and inched forward. It took off.

I’m not sure, but I think it was an eagle – not a bald one, a golden eagle. It was so huge, it couldn’t have been a hawk. I see why the forefathers picked the eagle as our national bird. In flight, it’s breathtaking.

It circled and soared, and to our surprise, didn’t leave, not even after five minutes. It came ever closer, framed by rock and sky.

My sharp-eyed husband noticed a fresh rabbit kill. We were disturbing dinner.

Reluctantly, we pulled out to make our way back through time, back to the real world. Sigh.

We hadn’t even planned this trip, or brought a road map, because originally, we knew exactly where we were going. Now we weren’t quite sure where we were.

We could backtrack an hour to the freeway . . . or trust our GPS, which to be honest, hadn’t been very specific the last little bit. To be fair, we hadn’t updated the GPS since we bought it four or five years ago.

Still, casting our lot to the fates, we plugged in our address and chose to follow our little black box.

It REALLY took us out into the boonies. We drove down more dirt roads of even more antiquated quality, and didn’t see a single car the whole time. The one road sign we saw gave a different name than the one the GPS showed.

The time came when the GPS told us to take a right (imagine a breathy female voice) “in point 1 miles” – and there was no road. At all. Just a field. We could see another dirt road far on the other side. Hm.

My hubby and I looked at each other. Do we dare? We looked at the field, our eyes finding a fence. Nope.

We continued down our wrong-named dirt road, while the GPS calmly said, “Recalculating.” (Don’t you love it when it does this?) This time it DID take us to an actual road that DID take us to the actual freeway.

We were really glad the GPS was only messing with us and knew where we were the whole time.

I sighed and felt the stress fall away one layer at a time.

At least we got to ride off into the sunset . . . going 75 miles per hour . . . on a freeway I was familiar with . . . in an air-conditioned vehicle . . . munching on grapes.

Not a bad way to go.
What's the best time you've ever been lost?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Drawing Lesson 1 a - Shading

I like to teach things backwards. For a lot of people, shading is scary, but once they know how to do it, it’s the best part. So I teach shading first, then go into form (or how to draw shapes accurately). So here’s lesson 1a. (For the list of supplies, see blog post on Wednesday, August 11, 2010.)


Shading is very much about being able to see. Below is a shading scale. It goes gradually from black at the top to white on the bottom.

There are also numbers, with black being a 10 and white being a 1.

The ones in between, numbers 2-9, are mid-tones, with 2-5 being lighter mid-tones and 6-9 being darker mid-tones.

Let’s talk about black for a moment. In nature, black isn’t a color, but the absence of light. It is what you see in a shadow, at the very spot where no light is getting in. Black is very important to have in EVERY drawing. It gives depth. Put a metal pot or pan on a table.

Look to see where no light is hitting. Do you see black? It might only be a very thin line at the base.

In drawing, white is the highlight. Look around you until you see something that sparkles. That is your highlight. In drawing, this is equally as important as black. It gives the drawing life. You must have white in every drawing.

Now that you see black and white, the midtones are easy. They are every shade between the two. Look at a place that sparkles. Now look for a light area near it. If it is nearly white, that is your number 2. You can barely tell the difference between white and this one, but it is often a 2 that shows a sparkling white for what it is. If you look at where the black, or 10, is under your pot, around it is another area that is almost black. That is your 9. If you look on the side and inside your pot, you will notice lots of shades as the pot curves. Inch by inch, compare each shade to the shading scale and see if you can identify all the numbers.

Now that you can see the shades, it’s time to draw them. You can use a standard number 2 pencil (that you can buy in any store) or you can use fine drawing pencils. See the supply list on the Wednesday, August 11th blog post for details.

If I’m using fine pencils, which pencils do I use for which boxes?
Shades 2-4: 6H
Shades 5-7: 2H
Shades 8-10: B
You will notice a different feel on each of the pencils. The B is very soft graphite that leaves a lot of crumbs, and misses little spots on the paper. You need to go back and fill those spots in (you can even use a 2H to fill in the spots if you need to). A 6H is very hard. You need to use this pencil lightly because it will easily push a groove into the paper when you push hard. This pencil is meant for only the very lightest shades, so remember to use it lightly. The 2H is the standard sketching pencil. It will shade all shades, except it can’t go dark enough to make a 9 or 10.

Whenever you draw, put an extra sheet of paper (called a cover sheet) down that your hand will rest on. This paper keeps you from smudging or getting oil from your skin (it happens when you sweat and stains the page). Each time you move your hand, move this paper under it.

Ready? Let’s get started:

1) Make a long rectangle and break it into 10 boxes like in the picture of the shading scale.

2) Number the boxes 10 to 1, 10 at the top, 1 at the bottom

3) Let’s start shading the black, or 10 box. To get a true black, it will take several layers, or in other words, you’ll draw over the same area several times. You have to put some pressure on, too. Push hard, just short of tearing the paper. Fill in all the little holes. Now go over the whole box, pushing hard until what comes out is shiny. You will have little crumbs of graphite coming off your pencil. (Use your drafting brush to wipe them off.) When the whole box is shiny, smooth and very black, you are done.

4) Now we’ll go to the other end of the scale. White you leave alone. Let the paper be the tone. So go to the 2 box. This is the hardest shade to get. It is a lot easier with a 6H pencil, but you can get it with a standard number 2 pencil, but here’s how you do it:
This tone has to be barely one shade darker than white, which means that you don’t want to put any pressure on your pencil. The easiest way to achieve this is by sliding your fingers to the back of the pencil (see photo below) and then carefully sweep the pencil from side to side. As you go, lift slightly on the pencil until the shade gets lighter and lighter. When you can barely see it, you are there. Now focus on keeping your strokes even and right next to each other. This takes practice. One good way to practice is to use another paper and make several swatches. When you are confident, go back and fill in the box on your scale.

1) After drawing a 2 shade, a 3 is easy. Go to the box and do a 2, only a little darker.

2) After the 3 box, do box 4 even darker. Your 6H will have a hard time going this dark. Use a 2H if you need to, but be warned, it will be a lot darker right off.

3) For box 5, switch to your 2H pencil. Start light, then put on other layers until it is one shade darker than box 4.

4) Continue on to box 6 and box 7. By now, it will be getting hard to get dark enough with your 2H pencil.

5) On box 8, switch to your B pencil. Go light at first! Then if you need to darken it, do another layer.

6) Box 9 will be easy. Just go one shade darker than 8, but not quite a 10.

7) Now lay your paper down and step away a few feet. Look at your shading scale. Squint your eyes (old artist’s trick). This exaggerates the shades. Look for a drastic jump between any two boxes. This shading scale should be a gradual change from white to black. Make any adjustments needed.

How do I make an adjustment if the shade needs to go lighter?
This is where your kneaded eraser will become your best friend.

Take it out of the package, then stretch it and ball it, just like a wad of clay. When it is soft and supple, then tap (don’t scrub like a standard eraser) the square that is too dark. It will go between ½ to 1 shade lighter with each tap. If you have spots that are too dark, then pinch out a point and tap until the tone is right (see photos below). If it gets too light, simply take your pencil and lightly adjust the shade until you’re satisfied.

What do I do if my shading is patchy and there are blank spots between the pencil strokes? This is where your blending stick will become your other best friend.

It can smudge and smooth your square. FIRST you need to know that this is only rolled paper and you are NOT to use the tip, except in corners and then, use it very lightly. It will collapse if you push with even moderate force. The way to properly use the blending stick (without collapsing the tip), is to first hold it like you would a pencil, but when you lay the tip on the paper, tilt the blending stick until it is touching the paper just off the tip, but near the top. Now gently sweep or circle the tip until the tone underneath smoothes out. But there are a few other things you need to know. ALWAYS start with the lightest tones (your 2’s) and work your way up to the higher tones.

After each square, take your blending stick to a scratch piece of paper and clean it. This is done by placing the blending stick, just off the tip like before, on the paper and rubbing the dirty part on the paper, back and forth, until the edge is clean. You can twist the blending stick as you go, if needed, to clean off a larger area.

You will notice that the boxes with the darkest tones will stain your blending stick and make it very difficult or impossible to completely clean. I use one end of the blending stick for lighter tones, and the other end for the darker tones.

Once you’ve smoothed each square, you will notice that the tones might have changed, either lighter or darker. Step back and evaluate the gradual change again. Make adjustments as needed so that it is a smooth, gradual change from white to black, with no big jumps.

Congratulations! You have just completed your first shading lesson. Keep this shading scale, and write the date on the bottom. You will be using it a lot in the future. One good way to keep things neat and easily accessible is to buy a 3-ring binder and page/sheet protectors. Slip your shading scale in a page protector and put it in your binder. Do the same with all future lessons, as well as notes or pictures. You will be glad later when you can see how much you’ve progressed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My First Award and a Contest

I can't beleive it - I got my first award! Thanks a million, Leisha - especially since you have an amazing blog and have been my personal Yoda. (If you need a good laugh, check out her blog at:

My personal favorite is Three Apple Cores Down Under or the Great Toilet Adventure on January 27, 2010.)
I have another favorite blog that all writers (and everyone else) will benefit from. If you have a medical question (for real or for your book), you can get it answered on Medical Mondays with Dr. Lydia Kang! Her blog is:
She's also a writer and has great posts, as well as a contest running right now. Check it out and best of luck!

Tiptoeing Through Grizzly Land

Why do people go on vacation? We actually take time off work and spend money so our whole family can sit together in a vehicle for loooooooooooong hours (a full day of driving in our case) going from point A to point B.

I guess it’s what’s waiting at point B that makes it all worthwhile. In our case, it was the very wild Glacier National Park in Montana. Yes, the park does have a real bonafide glacier. It also has grizzly bears, huckleberries (amazingly good, especially in a milkshake), rare Lady’s Slipper flowers, and a micro-climate temperate rainforest.

We went for a hike in a Tolkienesque world where trees, rocks and the ground were covered with moss.

We looked up to see waterfalls draping the ridges and mists brushing peaks still holding snow. A nearby river barreled over beds of stacked shale, and the water was true turquoise – I’m not kidding – it really was.

The smells were amazing. We grew dizzy from inhaling while walking through forests of huge pines. With all the fallen trees and leaves, you’d think it’d smell rotten, but it didn’t at all. There was this wet, piney aroma that was as fresh and intoxicating as newborn baby breath.
It's silent as a chapel, broken only by an occasional rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker or stacatto scolding of an annoyed squirrel.

And a lot of people were there. I'm sure it would be a real problem keeping people away - except for the fact that we're all meandering in the company of 800 pound predators who consider us a light snack. That's just grizzlies. There's also huge black bears and cougars.
We took a can of bear spray. I confess I didn’t feel terribly secure. If something happened, we’d need to make sure to spray with the wind, not against it. I’d been informed of the joys of being mauled, after seasoning myself with misdirected pepper spray.

So what were we suppose to do? Toss a handful of dry grass in the air (you know – check the angle of the breeze) if we sight a bear? I was a little concerned about the time constraints, among other things.

I was also informed that I didn’t need to worry about bear spray if we walked with a group of older tourists (you know – someone slower).

At this point, I didn’t want to be informed about anything else. I just wondered what we’re doing taking our kids there.

But they had a blast. It was beautiful and an adrenaline rush (for me at least as I looked behind every tree). You know in the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ – all the screaming and running? Didn’t happen. We made it out alive and in one piece. The bear spray is still safely in the can.

Okay. I had a blast, too. It was more beautiful than I could imagine. And with all the noise we were making, the bears probably high-tailed it to Canada. So with my free time, I took a million pictures until my son actually suggested that all cameras be confiscated. (My family’s very patient with me and my snap-a-holic ways.) But I got a lot of great photographs!

We did a lot of other things, too, like visiting the Montana Vortex (The House of Mystery—you can check it out at, and having an awesome family reunion. I’ll have to save those stories for another time.

The hardest part of the trip was knowing we’d have to face another super long drive back home.

But we made it. We’re home now. And I’m so glad the only bear we saw is in the pack of postcards we brought back with us.

What was your scariest vacation?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Free Online Drawing Lessons: Supplies

This week: Supplies for basic pencil drawing

If you’d like to learn how to draw or want to improve, I’d like to help. Each week I will be giving a free drawing lesson and/or pointers. My specialties are pencil and Prismacolor pencil.
We'll start with pencil first, then go to Prismacolors.

I’ve been teaching lessons for longer than I’d like to admit and love to see life through another’s eyes, the way it comes out through your art. There’s no right or wrong way to do art, but there are ways to ensure success and make it easier. It’s a lot like learning to play an instrument. There are basic rules, which if learned, will get you going. The rest is up to you. Practice is the key. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.

If you’ve taken classes, you probably know that every teacher teaches a bit differently. Part of that is experience (knowing what works), part is taste (what they like), part is what they see and want you to see.

It’s called ‘the artist’s eye’. Art is mostly about being able to see things a certain way. If you can see it, you can draw it (or paint or sculpt, etc. – you get the picture). After seeing it, the next step is technique. Drawing is very easy and very fun. That’s why children do it. Anyone can do it. Seriously. I haven’t met anyone yet – although many, many, many people have claimed – that can’t do it after they learn to see and learn a few basic lessons.

Drawing is also the gateway into other forms of art such as painting and sculpting. It’s also very cheap, can be dropped and picked up at any time, doesn’t require big blocks of time, and has supplies that can easily be taken anywhere, even to the dentist's office. It's easy to draw while you wait and passes the time beautifully.

If you’re interested, want to brush up, or even if you want to prove you can’t draw, lets get going! (You can -- let's make sure that's clear.)

By the way, all you artists out there, some of the best tips I’ve learned have been from you – from taking classes from you or watching you at work. Please feel free to add ideas, tips, hints or fill us in on specific supplies you love and how you use them! We’d all love to learn from your experience.

So, for here and now, I’ll share what I’ve learned and show you the way I do it. (Yes, artists all do it very differently.) Let’s get started.

Week one: Supplies

To begin, you’ll need supplies. Here is a picture of the typical items you’ll need, along with explanations. (Click on the picture to make it larger.)

From top to bottom and why I chose that item:

1. Staedtler drawing pencils.
You don’t have to get this particular brand, but it’s my favorite. I’ve had fewer problems with it, although I’ve tried a host of others. You don’t need to buy the full set. I use only three: Staedtler 2H (“H” stands for hardness, “B” for blackness, “F” for fine point), Staedtler 6H, Staedtler B. I’ll explain in detail how each one is used in the first drawing lesson.

Note: You don’t have to use fine pencils. In fact you can get the same results with just a standard number 2 pencil (that you can buy from any store). But when you’re ready to get serious, get some good pencils. You’ll feel the difference right away and they take away half the work.

2. Keep a pack of number two pencils. Don’t laugh, but you’ll use up the erasers like crazy. I’ve tried all sorts of fine erasers, but end up using these because, first, they’re cheap(especially if you load up on back-to-school sales at the end of summer); second, they are small and get in tight places; third, I use erasers a lot and don’t feel bad burning through these. And if you need pencil lead, you’ve got a ton on hand!

3. Kneaded eraser. This eraser isn’t used for scrubbing, like most erasers are used. It is soft and pliable, much like clay. When you are shading and get too dark, you tap it and it removes a light layer of graphite each time you tap, without erasing all your hard work. (We’ll try it soon.)

4. Blending stump. Despite the picture, you only need one. Have you ever used your finger to smudge? This is a much better way. Not only do you get to keep a clean finger, but you have better control and can get in tight corners. It is nothing more than rolled and pressed paper that picks up the graphite you already have on the page. It smears it around to get the perfect blend. As for size, you can see from the picture that there’s a large variety. My personal preference are the ones that are closest to the width of a regular pencil. (The little ones break easy and the big ones feel awkward to me.) Any will work, though.

5. Drafting brush. This is to safely wipe eraser crumbs off your drawing. It prevents smearing on the page, graphite-lined hands, and unwanted moisture from spitting when you blow off the crumbs. Don’t laugh, but you can use a feather duster or a cheap new (unused) paintbrush as well – you just want something that will safely wipe your page clean.

6. Cheap typing paper. There are several uses. For the first few lessons, you might want to save your good paper and use typing paper to draw on. Also, whenever you draw, slip an extra piece of paper under your hand where it touches the paper. This is called a cover sheet. It will prevent smudges and leave your drawing and your hand clean. You can also use typing paper to try things out.

7. Fine drawing paper (sketch pad). When you are ready to start a project, you’ll want to get good quality paper. It really makes a difference. My favorite brand is the Strathmore 300 series. Check the front cover of the drawing paper. You want a paper that is medium to heavy. This is thickness. Your paper won’t tear and won’t wrinkle from sweat if it is thick. You also want to look for either a smooth or medium surface. Sometimes it is called hot press. This means that the paper is very smooth and you won’t have to fight all the little holes in a cold press or rough surface paper. There are other good brands, so it’s not life or death if you can’t find Strathmore.


Common Questions:
Where do I find these supplies? You can find them in most art and hobby stores. Michaels Art and Craft store is a national chain that carries most of these.

How much do they cost? (These are approximates.)
Staedtler pencils: around $1.50 each
Regular number two pencils: $1.50 for a pack of twelve, but much cheaper on sale
Kneaded eraser: around $2.00
Blending stumps: around $2.50 for a pack of 2
Drafting brush: between $5.00 - $10.00
Cheap typing paper: I can get a ream of the cheap stuff at Walmart for $3.00
Fine drawing paper: they range in price, but anywhere from $8.00 - $18.00 is about right.

What size sketch pad should I get? I recommend anything 8 x 10 or larger. To start I would go with 8 x 10 or 9 x 12. Larger sizes are fine once you’re really rolling and want to draw a large picture.

Do I need all these supplies for the first few lessons? No. The first few lessons, you can get away with a number two pencil with a good eraser on the end, and a few sheets of typing paper.

Are there any other art supplies you recommend?
Pencil sharpener
Spray fixative (down the road, to spray and protect your finished drawings)

So there you have it. The first lesson, which will be coming next week, is very easy and lots of fun – I promise. So grab your supplies and get ready!

(If you’d like to see samples of my artwork, feel free to check them out on the left sidebar under “My Artwork” and “My Religious Artwork”. A few are oils or watercolors, but most were done with Prismacolors. I have two pencil drawings in "My Religious Arwork".)

I'd love to get your thoughts, questions, or tips, so please post any comments.

If you have any specific drawing (pencil or colored pencil) questions or requests that you'd like addressed on this blog in the future, feel free to e-mail them to:

Monday, August 9, 2010

What's With the Birds?

I found a walnut in my front flower garden this morning. I picked it up and shook my head. Sigh. The crows were here. Hadn’t seen them in a while. Dang.

You see, we’ve had several unwanted avian infestations over the last five years. First it was magpies. If you’ve ever heard one at 5:45 a.m., you quickly find out what kind of stuff you’re made of. (Their calls are a mix between a shriek and a fire engine horn.) If there are five – all next to your window – things tend to get a little crazy.

We’ve been to ‘crazy’ and beyond. So have many people in our area. Regular bird species have declined. It looked like magpies were taking over.

Then the crows showed up, too. Not just one or two or five, but whole flocks of them. Ten, twenty, who knows how many? They’d circle and caw, adding to the general din. I started wondering/hoping it was an Alfred Hitchcock “The Birds” prank.

Nope. It’s the real thing.

We had fence-line discussions with our neighbors who ‘love’ both species as much as we do. We learned (copied from the DWR site):
R657-3-7. Nuisance Birds, Porcupine, Striped Skunk, and Squirrel.(1)(a) A person is not required to obtain a certificate of registration or a federal permit to kill American Crows or Black-billed Magpies when found committing, or about to commit, depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance, provided: ( . . . a very long list of things you shouldn’t do)

Soooo . . . how the heck do you get rid of them? Is there a humane way?

Oh, we’ve heard lots of inhumane ways such as fireworks –illegal – they’re only allowed a few days a year and too messy, and shooting guns out of bedroom windows, but that tends to be looked down upon by law enforcement.

I’m sure there are many more ideas which I’d rather not think about. So we tried our own humane way. Whenever we heard the magpies and crows, my kids would run out shouting until they left. The kids ran and shouted a lot (sorry to all neighbors who’ve been wondering just what in the Sam Hill is going on over here) . . . and things started to get better. In back. Not in front. At least not with the crows. They were everywhere, especially on the road.

We couldn’t figure it out. Were they waiting for roadkill? Most people drive pretty slow on our street. There’s not a lot of road kill. Ever. But something was up.

Then my husband figured it out. Those rascally crows are smart! They found a walnut tree several houses up. They’d fly the walnuts to the nearest road (ours) and drop them. Cars would drive by, and drive OVER the walnuts. They’d crack nicely. The car would pass, the crows would descend, and dinner would be served.

Once my husband pointed it out, we camped out with our faces pressed to the front room windows. Hey, it was free entertainment. It was fun for a day or so.

But you can only take so much cawing, so we closed the windows and griped and endured.

Then they went away. I don’t know why, but I’m not complaining. Not at all.

For the last month it’s been quiet. I can hear other birds – pretty sounding ones. My windows are open again.

And then I found the walnut. And tonight I saw the crows one block down. Sheesh. Have you had anything like this? Any suggestions????

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Second First Impression

First impressions are interesting. We’re always making first impressions to someone, especially in our culture where people move a lot.

When you read Jane Austin, you see how other cultures handled this important first meeting. It had to be done through someone else, someone who was already acquainted with you. You were introduced. Because people didn’t move a lot, when they did, their reputation often preceded them and was spoken about with much anticipation. There weren’t many strangers.


Here, our culture is VERY informal. We meet perfect strangers all the time. If we don’t think we’ll see them again, we forget our first impressions.

But if we're going to see them often, that impression sinks deep.

Soon after we moved into our house, we went to a neighborhood block party. We shook a lot of hands, had many little conversations and tried to commit names and faces to memory.

We met an older couple that lives just a few houses down. The wife has a delightful German accent. They were fairly quiet for the most part, but very congenial. We learned she really was from Germany, but little else. For the rest of the night, they sat at a table off to the side, and although they didn’t turn anyone away, and spoke to everyone who approached, they seemed happy to keep to themselves.

My brain made a first impression: quiet, private, maybe reclusive. Not a bad first impression, but not a great one either.

In the years since living here, I’ve only talked to them, very breifly, a couple of times and it’s always at a block party. We often walk past their house. It’s surrounded by bushes and trees. They keep it nice. And each time I pass, my brain brings back that first impression. Yup, they’re very private, very reclusive. That’s all I know.

In the last year or so, the wife began walking their big white dog early in the morning. A few months ago on garbage day, I noticed her walking into a neighbor’s yard.

That was odd.

I wasn’t sure what to think of it, so I watched. She went over, grabbed the garbage can they’d forgotten to put out, and dragged it to the street. It was heavy. She had to work for it.

She dusted her hands off and continued on as if nothing had happened. The garbage truck turned down our street not a minute later.

Wow. That was pretty cool.

Since then, I’ve seen her doing other little things. She’ll pick up stray garbage. She’ll stop to admire a bird in a tree. And I really like her.

I’m so glad I’ve been able to change my first impression. Now when I think of her, I think: neat, thoughtful, kind, interesting, nice. That’s sure a lot better than quiet and reclusive.

I wonder if other people in our area have the same impression of her that I first did. I want to tell them, particularly the neighbors she’s been helping, of the wonderful things she does. I want to 'introduce' her, just like in Jane Austin's time. I guess I'm hoping for a second chance myself. And I can't wait to talk to her again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Is a Perfect Day Even Possible?

It’s probably too much to ask for a perfect day. A full 24 hours, at least. But it is possible to have a perfect evening.

I know, because I just had one. After dinner, my husband and I took the kids to the beach. They ran down and dove in the water, splashing and playing, swimming out to the buoy.

My hubby and I sat in the shade of these huge cottonwoods, reading and snacking on Wheat Thins.
Thirty seconds later, we’re surrounded by seagulls.
Smart people that we are, we break off a small piece and toss it. There’s a rush of feathers, some flutophone squawks, and one big bird gobbles it. The whole thing is over in two seconds flat, but word spreads and the kids hurry over to watch.

So we do it again. And again. Big Bird gets it every time. In fact, he hunches his back, his feathers all ruffled and starts this wild loon call.
The other birds back up a step, moving from foot to foot, practically drooling. They obviously respect and/or fear him. Still, all eyes are on the crackers in our hands.

So I get a bright idea. I start chucking bits in the opposite direction of Big Bird. He sure doesn’t like it. It’s a little like watching Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies hitching up her hems and making a 40 yard dash. Only everyone else is winning.

The kids grab crackers and join in, loving the way he scuttles around, trying to push his way through the crowd.

His feathers get higher. The loon calls gets louder. The shuffling gets faster. That’s when we notice the avian stampede sounds. And we’re giggling like crazy.

I need to back-peddle about three hours, to where there was a much different atmosphere. After seven weeks of 24/7 summer vacation – everybody living close -- all annoying habits have multiplied a hundred times. Everyone was breathing everyone else’s air.

At least every five minutes – or less – I’d get another “Mom! (Fill in a name) is driving me CRAZY!!!”

I seriously thought some fur was going to fly, and was a little afraid I’d be the instigator.

And yet, here we are, up to our ankles in lovely warm sand, laughing like we’ve had a bit too much of the dentist’s happy gas.

Yes, a full day’s too much to ask, but this . . . well, this is really nice.

We run out of crackers. The birds wander around like lost puppies, searching out minuscule crumbs. Big Bird charges the ones wandering too close to him. This time they squawk back, and I suddenly see my kids in feathered form.

Then, one by one the seagulls leave.

The kids grab the ball and begin playing. I sigh and settle back in my chair with my book. I burrow my toes deeper in the sand. A breeze kicks up and it’s oh, so lovely.

A little while later, the kids begin calling. I look up to see the most perfect sunset. Luckily I brought my camera.
In the next half hour, the sky changes colors multiple times.

My kids and I take close to 250 shots. (I know. It’s a terrible illness. You ought to try it sometime.) We’re absolutely giddy at the chance to document this.

We wander into the bathtub-warm water and my daughter calls to us. We turn and she begins snapping. This is the result.
We’re all alive. Really alive. Doesn’t get much better than this.

It grows dark, so we climb in the car, tired, sated, happy. I hear the loon call and glance out my window. Don’t worry, Big Bird. We’ll be back.

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