Thursday, December 11, 2014

Remembering Artist Gary R Sanchez

Morning Coffee; Oil Pastel and Watercolor Crayon on Gessoed Paper

I'm feeling sad today. Two nights ago I learned that one of my continuing ed. art teachers, Gary Sanchez, passed away suddenly on Thanksgiving from a heart attack. It's hard to believe--I was just about to choose which of his classes I was going to take next year. He was only 53. Kind, generous, and a remarkably gifted teacher; he will be sorely missed by so many.

I took both watercolor and oil pastel classes from Gary. Watercolor was not a new medium to me, but oil pastel certainly was. In fact, I wasn't even sure I would like it very much--I only took the class because I knew he was a good teacher and I thought I should expand my horizons. What I didn't expect is that I would enjoy oil pastel so much it would become one of my main drawing/painting mediums. 

The above painting was one of my first homework assignments in that same class. Looking at it now I'm reminded of the fun our class had together, and Gary was funny, constantly keeping us entertained. I realize now that was a great way to keep us relaxed and light: we would sketch while Gary chatted, worked on his own pictures, and somehow managed to walk around the room giving us individual pep talks all at the same time. I can still hear him using the terms "hot dog"and "hamburger" in place of "portrait" and "landscape" to describe which way we should turn our paper (the same way he described it for the children's classes he taught, which of course was the perfect way for me to learn), or reminding us that Van Gogh ate his paints--a demonstration of how passionate we should be about our materials! (Or hungry.) Gary's website is still up and I encourage you to visit while it's there: Garyrsanchez.com

Some of the reasons Gary helped me to love oil pastels include:
  • There are no limits: I can use my fingers to paint. I'm also a ceramic artist, and being able to use my hands and fingers as tools on the paper fits me to a T.
  • Oil pastel color is rich. The colors blend like butter.
  • You can use a wide variety of interesting backgrounds, from sand paper to canvas, so it never gets dull.
  • It's a fast medium with quick results--and I'm a very impatient artist.
  • Oil pastels are a good choice for creating sell-able, frame-able work. And who doesn't want to go professional one day?
  • You don't need a lot of excess "stuff" to work with oil pastel--especially if you paint with your fingers! But seriously, they are a minimalist's dream: a selection of colors, something to draw upon, a few paper towels.
  • And you don't need to break the bank to get started. Even a cheap set is good--much better than you'd think. Great for the budget-minded.
  • It's a a very expressive medium--you can draw straight from the heart, right away--no experience needed. Really.
  • It's also a very forgiving medium--if you don't like the results you can pretty much just scrape it away and start over. Better yet, you can look for "happy accidents" and work with those in new and creative ways. It all turns out fine.
  • Oil pastels can be used in so many different ways: on their own, in collage or mixed media, applied thick and strong, or thinned with either water or solvent for a "watercolor" look. The possibilities are endless.
Going over this list makes me want to get out my paper and Sennelier pastels (the terribly expensive ones!) and draw something special. I often think the very best way we can honor our teachers and mentors, past and present, is to never give up on our dreams, no matter what. I'm so glad I got to be one of Gary's students, and I'm so glad I let him know when I could how much I appreciated his art and teaching. May his legacy live on.

Tip of the Day: My art journals are full of Gary's advice and tips, but one of my favorites is from the first watercolor class I took from him. We were each given a picture of a sunflower to paint. When we were finished (and praised--Gary always made sure we got tons of positive feedback before he offered any other type of critique) he said, "Okay, now that you've painted one sunflower, don't stop. Never paint just one. Paint a hundred. Paint a thousand sunflowers. Become an expert!" It's good advice for any type of creative pursuit: e.g., don't just write one poem or screenplay, write a hundred, write a thousand! Become an expert--and never give up. See you next time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My NaNoWriMo Must-Have List


Here we are--the last few days of NaNoWriMo: time to face the music, finish or else, or maybe just be Thanksgiving-Thankful for whatever words we did manage to get on paper. I've still got a few thousand words to go before Sunday, but I'll get there (I can! I can!).

One of the ways I've kept myself energized these last weeks has been by ensuring I always have ready access to my favorite writing "must-have's." These include:
  1. Fountain Pen. I couldn't write (or live) without a great fountain pen. Over the years I've gone through all different sorts, from disposable (a mistake I won't repeat) to pricey and too precious to use (another bad idea). Right now I'm very comfortable with a black-barreled Retro 1951 Tornado model. It's a good weight and size for my hand and so far (about a year) has been problem-free, i.e. no ink leakage, etc.
  2. Colorful ink. This month I'm alternating between autumn shades of  violet and ebony brown.
  3. Uniball BLX gel pens. A great back-up to my fountain pen. I always keep a few of these gems in my purse, on my desk, clipped to my manuscript . . . I love them. The secret is the ink: the usual blue, violet, brown, etc. is infused with black, giving the various colors a mysterious, gothic appearance that fits my storyline perfectly.
  4. White legal pads. I can't get enough of these. I admit to stockpiling them in the dozens, just in case, you know, Office Max closes or it's the end of the world or something . . .
  5. Alphasmart. My trusty little portable word processor. Oh, how I love my Alphasmart!
  6. Plot Journal. Every manuscript I work on has an accompanying journal filled with notes, character sketches, and plot-lines all based on my:
  7. Magazine cut-outs. I don't think I could write without my very extensive visual references. The weirder, more obscure the photo, the happier I am. I keep my cut-outs in plastic sleeves inside my journals and play with them like paper dolls whenever I need some extra inspiration.
  8. A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. This is my favorite book of writing prompts. There's a prompt for each day of the year plus a few extras tacked on to the end of each month just for fun. The prompts can be used over and over and over and never become stale. The book also has tons of super writing advice.
  9. The Voice of the Muse, by Mark David Gerson. I bought this book over the summer and saved it especially for NaNoWriMo. I'm so glad I did. I like to read a paragraph or two before starting my day's work and the message stays with me every step of the way. Reading it before my writing sessions gives me a gentle reminder to trust, to breathe, to stay grateful for the process, and enjoy my writing without judgment.
  10. Padfolio. Another new addition to my writing life. I bought this as a reward for exceeding my daily word goal last week. It's red and shiny and makes me feel very productive. It's the perfect way to carry around my beloved legal pads. Not sure how I ever managed without one.
  11. Salty snacks. I like to eat while I write--which can be a very bad habit. This year I've discovered popcorn chips--virtually calorie-free, with just enough snap, crackle, and pop to make me feel like I'm getting a real treat. They also keep me from roaming the kitchen in search of more food and distraction.
  12. Cuppa. Lattes when I'm at a bookstore cafe, Earl Grey or Jasmine Green tea when I'm at home or in my office. In fact, I could use one right now. Catch you later!
Tip of the Day: Writing can be a lonely, frustrating process, one that can make you wish you were anywhere but plonked in front of your laptop or Alphasmart. So why not make it fun with small (or big) rewards? Start planning today what you're going to give yourself for finishing NaNoWriMo '14 or any other creative project completed by the end of the year. After all, you deserve it! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014, SCBWI Conference, and Me

Balancing Act, Pastel Pencil on Toned Paper;
Hello, Everyone! Happy NaNoWriMo! Hope those word counts are adding up and that you are finding plenty to write about. This year, thanks to a busy day-job and starting a new drawing class on Saturday mornings (sample above), I decided to go slow and steady, sticking to around 2000 words a day, with no weekend marathons. A more-sane approach is helping me to stay calm and positive about the process, and so far I haven't reached any dead-ends or resistance to my story (yet, LOL!). In other words, I'm hanging in there.

The other good thing I'm loving about this year's NaNoWriMo is that it's giving me a solid month of quiet focus to a) recover from finishing my WIP, The Abyssal Plain, and b) gather my strength to market the book, and c) contemplate everything I learned at the SCBWI Handsprings 2014 Conference here in Albuquerque at the end of October. 

I haven't written a book for young readers for several years, and it's a field I've been missing, especially as I've had an idea for a picture book rattling around in my head for the last eighteen months. So I could hardly pass up a conference so close to home I even went home for an hour to eat my lunch.

The Friday night and all-day Saturday event featured a fantastic line-up of guest speakers and workshop leaders: Julie Ham Bliven, editor from Charlesbridge; Liz Baker and Patti Ann Harris, editor and art director from Scholastic; and agent Sara Megibow. We also had the excellent input of our local members adding their experience and wisdom to the mix, and I came away with pages and pages of notes and good advice.

Some of my favorites:
  • Children's books are big again (yay!). As in REALLY big. If you've ever wanted to write a book for younger readers, this is the time to make that dream a reality.
  • When you go to write, however, don't just fall back on the books you enjoyed reading as a child. Take yourself to the library, the bookstore, and read online publishing lists and catalogs. In other words, research. Study what kinds of books are being published today. You might be surprised at how different they are . . .
  • . . . as well as being very close to what you loved, too. One of these similarities revolves around the idea of "perennial themes"; subjects that will always be popular, especially in picture books, e.g. bedtime, new sibling, holidays, counting and alphabet books. Study modern approaches to these themes and see how you can add your own personal twist.
  • Look for creative ways to layer those themes: e.g., can a bedtime book also be a counting book? (One little lamb put on his pajamas, two little lambs turned out the lights . . . )
  • Don't be afraid to explore the "dark side" of your theme/subject. Children need to express and explore negative feelings in a safe and open way.
  • Titles are super-important. In fact, they are so important they can determine where your book will be placed in the bookstore!
  • This is because many children's books buyers rarely remember the name of the writer or the illustrator (Sad, I know.) But book buyers do remember titles like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.
  • If you're writing a picture book, make a "dummy" to ensure that your words and line breaks flow from page to page. (Easy dummy method: take 8 pieces of paper; fold them in half for a standard 32-page book that includes title and copyright pages.)
  • Picture book writers: Always think of your illustrator, even when you have no idea who that will be. Make sure your words inspire LOTS of pictures. There's nothing worse than having an illustrator receive your manuscript and say, "I don't know what to draw."
  • Editors can be open to a "reasonable" amount of art notes included with your text, so don't be too inhibited with your suggestions for pictures or a particular style of art.
  • Nonfiction writers: editors are looking for NF that reads like fiction. This goes for all age groups; picture books, too.
  • Books DO come from the slush pile. Keep submitting, don't give up.
  • Editors and agents take your membership in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators very seriously--so if you haven't signed up, think about joining.
  • Read. Read. READ.
  • Books in verse for all age groups do well. Rhyming isn't as taboo as you might think. Just be sure to rhyme well.
Yes, I was inspired! The week before the conference I wrote a very rough draft of my picture book manuscript, and have since cut it up and laid it out line-by-line in dummy format. Currently it's "resting" in its own lovely folder, ready for rewriting as soon as NaNoWriMo is finished. And you know what? I'm actually looking forward to revisions--630 words is a whole lot better than 50K.

Tip of the Day: Joining a professional writer's organization, even if you have never been published, is one of the best ways I know to gain both confidence and inside information. If you're interested in writing for a younger audience, consider joining the SCBWI--the networking is excellent, and the constantly-updated marketing and publishing information they provide is invaluable.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Let's Go: Taiwan Trip with Artist Ming Franz



Spring Garden; Splash Ink Watercolor
with Gouache on Mulberry Paper

Happy Halloween! I can't believe it's been 3 weeks since my last blog post. Put it down to an overly-busy day job; going out of town for a bit; too many birthday parties to attend (including my blog's 6th anniversary--6 years!); getting ready for NaNoWriMo 2014 (cannot believe I've signed up again); and of course the fantastic Handsprings SCBWI conference here in Albuquerque last weekend--an amazing, and very tiring, event. I'll try to post some of my impressions from the conference next week, but for now my big news is:

I'm going to Taiwan next year! Best of all, there's still some room left on the tour for more friends of the arts to join up. Here's a sampling of info from the trip brochure:


Art and Scenic Tour of Taiwan with Ming Franz
March 25th to April 7, 2015

Ming Franz is an artist who is a native of Taiwan. This is her second tour leading artists to Taiwan. This tour will take you to visiting museums, art galleries, art studios and beautiful tropical Taiwan. 2 days flight, 12 days tour. 

Fees includes round trip air fare from San Francisco to Taipei, 12 days 4-5 star hotels, restaurants, tour bus and guide, all park and museum fees and tax, also basic medical insurance. Total is $3500 USD.  


Please go to her website to see the travel itinerary at www.mingfranzstudio.com, click on "Events" section. Feel free to contact her for questions at mingfranz555@gmail.com or 505-281-4956.


So what do you think?? Fun, or what?

I met Ming Franz last year when I took her Splash Ink Watercolor class through the UNM continuing education department. The class literally changed my entire approach to art-making, allowing me to be much more comfortable with who I am as an artist, rather than trying to constantly live up to my often unrealistic expectations. I know this is going to be a wonderful trip; I've never had the opportunity to visit any part of Asia, and I've never had the chance to seriously travel with other artists. I can't imagine what it must be like to be allowed to sketch unhindered and at leisure--usually my experiences have been people telling me to a) hurry up, and b) why can't you just take a photograph and draw at home? 

I really can't wait to start packing. In the meantime, we still have several months ahead, and I'm sure there's plenty to do till then, beginning, of course, with National Novel Writing Month tomorrow. Start flexing those plot muscles!


A Little Bird Told Me; Splash Ink Watercolor
 with Gouache on Mulberry Paper

Tip of the Day: Even if you can't make the trip, you can still be an "armchair traveler" by reading Ming's book, Splash Ink with Watercolor; Looking East, Painting West and visiting her website. Her artwork will inspire you on many levels. Personally I think they make amazing writing prompts. Just place your characters in one of her settings and let the magic begin!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finishing the WIP and Visiting Open Space

From my sketchbook: 
"Open Space Farm Land." Watercolor Pencil.

Last week I finished the year-long revisions to my WIP, The Abyssal Plain. As in: finished, complete, all done. I can't believe this journey is finally over, at least the writing part of it. Soon I plan to begin my marketing, and after that I'm sure there will be more editorial changes to be made at some future date prior to publication. But for now, the book is written and ready to go. Which means I am now officially free to explore some new directions for awhile. So how apropos that I would recently visit a place called Open Space

Open Space is 30,000 undeveloped acres of land situated throughout Albuquerque with the intention that these acres stay wild and free and forever open to the public. Set somewhat in the center of it all is the Open Space Visitor's Center where I met up with the Colored Pencil Society for an afternoon of plein air drawing and painting. 

At first I was a bit nervous--plein air painting has never really been my thing, a topic I wrote about in my post Adventures in Travel Journaling. However, this time I remembered to bring a hat, sandwiches, water, and a sweater, and I was fine. More than fine--I sketched without getting a single bug bite, dirt smudge, or having to run to my car for refuge! 

It was good to be outdoors after all these weeks and months cooped up with my Alphasmart and more red pens than you can count. And it was also good to think about "open space" in more metaphorical and personal terms. For instance, what parts of my creative life can I keep open for new ideas, new methods, new subjects and mediums? Where do I want to stay open in my artwork, and why? And when do I have to follow the rules without neglecting my own individuality? 

These are good questions, and ones that I found myself thinking about while I was sketching the sun on the trees and watching the clouds float by. I also found myself thinking about what I want to do with the rest of this year. Some plans include:
  1. Writing a children's picture book set in Barcelona. 
  2. Designing and painting  illustrations for the book, even if it's just for my own fun. (Note for the curious: Sending a picture book manuscript with illustrations to a publisher is never recommended. Still, that doesn't mean I can't have some input at the end of the day, and the drawing does help me with the writing process.)
  3. Preparing and completing a piece of artwork for the upcoming Colored Pencil Society 2015 show here in Albuquerque--my first ever!
  4. Attending the October SCBWI conference, also here in Albuquerque. (I've signed up for all the picture book workshops.)
  5. Reading. Lots of reading.
  6. And of course, drafting my query and synopsis for The Abyssal Plain so I can begin submitting it to agents and editors early next year.
Looking at my list I almost feel like I'm embarking on a 3-month vacation. So what's on your Open Space list? Drop a line and let me know!

Tip of the Day: Collage can be an excellent way to cultivate and explore your own vision of creative open space. To give yourself plenty of room, try working with a format larger than your usual journal-sized page, for instance, a full-size piece of poster board or construction paper. Don't be in a rush to fill the paper, but do think of what will fill your spirit. Take your time to see what evolves, and what inspires you the most. Keep in mind that this isn't so much about being a "to-do" list as it is about finding what will keep you inspired and happy over the coming months. Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Artist's Date--With Friends!

Writer's Group friend Elaine Soto choosing something
wonderful from Blue Bead Designs.

I'm a true believer in Julia Cameron's concept of the artist's date, something I've been lucky enough to take advantage of in the last few weeks. But sometimes I like to tweak it up and break the rule of "go somewhere by yourself." Which is exactly what I did with my writer's group last weekend when we went on the Tanoan Studio Tour here in Albuquerque. 

Tanoan is an exquisite gated community of custom homes built around a golf course and country club. Walking through the immaculately landscaped neighborhoods as we made our way from studio to studio was almost as much fun as seeing the artwork! 

Altogether we visited nine home studios:
  1. Margaret Ferrer makes necklaces and earrings with an ethnic flair. Her company is Blue Bead Designs LLC, and she can be reached at (505) 301-2661.
  2. Sandy Miller-Lastra and Diana Swanson work in fused glass. Their imaginative designs range from kitchen cupboard pulls to delicate jewelry pendants. Contact Diana at creationsx2@juno.com or (760) 601-4417.
  3. Carolyn Poole is an artist working in oils as well as other mediums. She paints portraits, landscapes, still life, and . . . pets! Her business postcard features a bull terrier who I swear could double as Swatch of Project Runway. Carolyn's contact info is (505) 828-3909 or crpoole@comcast.net.
  4. Brenda Bowman makes contemporary jewelry with semi-precious gemstones and glass beads. One item she had for sale that really stood out for me were her beaded wineglasses. She had wire wrapped the stems in a variety of colorful beads and patterns, an excellent way to know whose glass is whose at parties. Brenda can be contacted at www.brendasjewels.com
  5. Debi Housley, Heather Housley, Marie Torres Cimarusti. Debi and Heather made beaded and felted crosses and hair ornaments, and Marie has a series of children's picture books. More info about her books can be seen on Marie's Amazon Page.
  6. Jessica Bonzon is a quilter. Besides traditional bed quilts, she also has home items such as place-mats, wall hangings and pot holders for sale. She can be reached at Pieces and Patches, (505) 828-1066.
  7. Karen, Kirsten, and Jenn Swanson had modern paintings, drawings, and decorated bags for sale. The tiny drawstring bags are perfect for storing jewelry purchases!
  8. Rachel Nelson, the organizer of the tour, was selling wreaths, notecards, and paintings based on her photographs of the Tanoan community. She also very kindly gave visitors drilled pine cones ready to be made into bird feeders. Just smother the cones in peanut butter, roll in birdseed and hang in the garden--how cute is that?
  9. Gloria Dial Hightower is a local author writing mystery and adventure novels. Her titles include The Cotton Rope Strangler, In Total Darkness, The Shadow Mountain Murders, and her latest, Simon of Cyrene. The first three, a trilogy, are set in a Country Club community--a lot like where we took our tour, LOL! Books can be ordered from tomglo@comcast.net, or by phone, (505) 345-7192.
All of the studios generously provided us with snacks, water, and juice (much needed and appreciated by the time we arrived at each stop. The Albuquerque sun becomes pretty hot after an hour or two.). Heat aside, though, it was a glorious day, indeed, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to share it with my writing friends. Thank you everyone for the fun and hospitality! Looking forward to our next adventure.


Yay! Earrings!

Fused glass from Sandy Miller-Lastra and Diana Swanson
All that color was just luscious.

Blue and orange--always my favorite pair of 
complementary colors.

Fall is in the air with Pieces and Patches.

Tip of the Day: Taking the time to see what other artists, writers, and craftspeople are creating in their individual fields is just as important as setting aside time for your own work. Whether you take your artist's date on your own, or make it an event to share with friends, just make sure you go. Now is a particularly good time for exploring as there are so many shows and exhibits planned with the holidays in mind. (P.S. Shows make great places to find those holiday gifts, too!)