Opening Night at Gray Matter

Posted by on May 8, 2017 in drawing, Events, Lessons | No Comments

The show “Gray Matter”, consisting of pencil drawings by 3 of my advanced drawing students and me, opened on Friday evening.

This is the Brandon-Mitchell Gallery from the front, 117 S. Locust Street, Visalia, California. That is the county seat of Tulare County, in Central California where I live and work as an artist. (In case you are new to the blog. . .) 

Here is what you see when stepping through the front door.

And this is what I saw when I came through the back door before the people started arriving.

Maggie and I spent 3 hours hanging the 40 or so pencil drawings, grouping them in ways that made sense visually, lining up the tops ever so carefully, evaluating the spaces until we laughed aloud at our fastidious approach. It was so important to us to make this show just shine with the brilliance of our pencil work.

Kelvin began his art life with cartooning a chicken named Henrietta. He has cards, quilt squares and original drawings featuring her and the rooster Harold.  He even had cookies one time. . . This is all in addition to his very fine pencil drawings.

This is me with Kelvin and friends (newlyweds!) Melissa and Jeff. This was at the end of the evening, which was so busy and exciting that I didn’t take any photos. . .

. . . except for a magical moment when the light on the Post Office near by was just stunning. I ran outside as if it was truly important, abandoning my post, guests, and art. The Post Office is a work of art.

I didn’t get a photo of artist Maggie, but did catch Wendy (center) and her family in this blurry snap. I saw her husband across the gallery and thought he looked familiar, like someone I should know. Well, indeed – I have assisted Wendy in drawing him several times!

A good time was had by all, and the art looks wonderful. If you weren’t able to make it, there will be a second reception on Friday, June 2, 5-8 p.m. If you live anywhere near Visalia and like pencil drawings, I suggest you plan to attend. The work is really remarkable!

Gray Matter, A Pencil Show

Posted by on May 5, 2017 in drawing, Events, Lessons | No Comments

This show is all graphite pencil, 3 of my (very) advanced drawing students and me. It is part of Visalia’s monthly Art Walk, an event in downtown Visalia on the first Friday of each month. See you there?

Pencil Show Coming Soon

Posted by on Apr 25, 2017 in drawing, Events, Lessons, the business of art | 7 Comments

A pencil show? Yes, an art show of only pencil drawings by 3 of my advanced drawing students and me!

Some facts:

Title: Gray Matter

Dates: Friday, May 5 and Friday, June 2

Location: Brandon-Mitchell Gallery, 117 So. Locust in Downtown Visalia (between Main and Acequia, west side of the street)

Time: 5-8 p.m.

Participants: Kelvin Farris, Maggie Meling, Wendy Miller, Jana Botkin

We are part of the monthly “Art Walk” in Downtown Visalia. There are many business and art studios that join in this regular event. This is something I’ve never gone to, so I don’t know what to expect. However, you can expect some wonderful pencil drawings, including these.

Abby the Calf, pencil drawing by Kelvin Farris

Farmersville Corner, pencil drawing by Wendy Miller

Pensive Pose, pencil drawing by Maggie Meling

No Face Smaller Than an Egg

Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in drawing, Lessons | No Comments

That’s what I tell my students, and perhaps I need to specify that I am NOT speaking of a hummingbird egg.

But, sometimes my students test their skills while also testing mine. I warn, nag, deny, forbid, warn some more and finally capitulate, but with more warnings.

When someone insists on doing a drawing that I know from experience will be too hard, I just help them as much as possible, and moan the entire time. (Good thing I am not a parent.)

Susan is a classic case. She is determined, committed, focused, and perseverant. Look what she did!  Yes, she erased the face multiple times, and there was one day where I almost shouted at every class, “LEAVE YOUR ERASERS BY THE FRONT DOOR TODAY!!” As she would leave class sometimes, I would tell her, “DON’T TOUCH THE FACE!”

Why she puts up with me, I’m not sure. She is a remarkable person doing a fantastic job of learning to draw. Congratulations, Susan, on a job well done!

P.S. To everyone else taking drawing lessons, NO FACE SMALLER THAN A GOOSE EGG! (At least I didn’t say an emu egg, although I felt like it.)

Susan at 27, pencil drawing by Susan Oldfield

Finishing Drawings For Other People

Posted by on Apr 3, 2017 in drawing, Lessons | No Comments

Every week I teach people how to draw and have been doing this since 1994. Sometimes people stay for years, sometimes they discover it isn’t for them after a few lessons, and sometimes a year or two satisfies their itch to learn to draw. Sometimes people grow up, graduate, move away, retire, travel, or something else.

Two girls quit drawing lessons and left unfinished work. I don’t remember when this happened, and somehow I ended up with the drawings and the photos from which they were working.

This may surprise you, Gentle Reader, but I am not a perfectionist. I am a finisher. It takes focus and discipline for me to try and perfect something, and it isn’t natural behavior for me. (Remember the drawing of the bridge over the Tule River a few months ago, the one that I used for February in the 2017 calendar? Yikes. I needed a perfectionist to stop me from printing that before I embarrassed myself.)

Girl One began a drawing of a border collie, her very first (and last) with me, working from a calendar. I don’t work from copyrighted photos, but often my students do. I am friends with Girl One’s dad, so I thought I’d surprise him with this:

She did the hard work of setting it up and shaded the eyes before deciding that drawing lessons weren’t for her. I had fun finishing it, and then I signed both of our names.

Girl Two was with me from 6th grade until she graduated from high school. She left this unfinished self-portrait. I am friends with her parents, so I thought I’d finish it and give it to them.

She did the hard work of setting it all up and shading the eyes and mouth. This made it easy to just add more shading, and wow, what a pretty girl! Again, I signed both of our names.

I don’t know the proper protocol for any of this, so I make it up as I go along. There is tremendous satisfaction in finishing things and giving them to the people who will appreciate them.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Posted by on Jan 30, 2017 in drawing, Lessons | 8 Comments


Last week I took a small stack of pencil drawings to a framer because I have a show coming in the spring. As I was lining them out on his counter, I decided that there is something wrong with this picture. It isn’t anything I can put my finger on; I just don’t think it is good enough and I don’t know why.

One of the things I teach my drawing students is honest evaluations of drawings. We tell each other the truth (kindly, of course) because it is how we learn and grow. It is too hard to find flaws in one’s own work, just like it is impossible to proof one’s own writing.

This is what I heard:

  1. not enough darks
  2. weird road curve into the distance
  3. something wrong with the shoulder of the road
  4. edges of bridge arches too clean – should be more pock-marked for its age
  5. furthest pillars wrong size

I thought about just shredding the drawing. Please forgive me for inflicting this on those of you who bought a calendar – try to be brave through the month of February. At least it is the shortest month!

Then I thought that seeing the photos might help us all understand.

I actually worked from 3 photos, picking and choosing the best and most visible parts of each. 

This sort of dissatisfying result is probably because I worked from photos instead of standing there on location with a sketchbook. Of course, then I might have gotten run over, bitten by a rattlesnake or a mosquito with a nasty disease, gotten too hot or too cold or sunburned or maybe bugs would have landed on my paper or the wind might have blown it away.

I hate it when that happens.

Will I try to figure it out and rework the drawing? Probably not. I used spray fixative (actually called “Fixatif”, which on of my drawing students says ought to work on any marriage!) which makes it not erasable.

Color Bullies, Part 2

Posted by on Dec 7, 2016 in Lessons, Oil Paintings | 2 Comments

My advanced drawing students successfully bullied me into 2 oil painting workshops. We had a great time!

A rebel set aside her Sequoia painting that she began last week. This is of the Tetons from a photo she took. I painted the scene first so it would be a little easier for her. (I had the assignment of copying an “Old Master” during the 1/2 semester of painting I took at the local junior college – copying is a good way to learn.)

A rebel set aside her Sequoia tree to finish a painting of the Tetons that she began last year.

We had an overachiever who worked on 2 paintings at the same time.

An overachiever worked on 2 paintings at the same time.

Good job, E! You get an A for sure. No rebelling, one painting at a time.

Good job, E. You get an A for sure!

Turned out that two painters did choose the same scene. We put them side by side, and learned that the one on the left could benefit from stronger colors and more contrast, and the one on the right could benefit from more detail. Interesting exercise! (They look different in real life than on the screen because I had to mess with the photo because it didn’t look right because. . . . on and on and on. Never mind.)

Two painters ended up working on the same scene.

At the end of our session, it turns out that we had two rebels and five Sequoia trees. Yes, that is a cat, but the cat painter is actually drawing a Sequoia tree in pencil these days.


None of these paintings are finished. They need more layers, more details, some color corrections, edges of canvas painted, signatures, and varnish.

This probably means there will be another painting session ahead.

Color Bullies

Posted by on Dec 5, 2016 in Lessons, Oil Paintings | No Comments

About twice a year, I allow several of my advanced drawing students to bully me into giving an oil painting workshop.

Sometimes everyone paints the same subject, and sometimes each person chooses her own subject. It is easier to teach when everyone paints the same subject. That way everyone benefits from the same instructions rather than having to wait until I get around to help individually.

Recently, the color bullies arm-twisted me into another oil painting workshop. I negotiated to get them to all paint Sequoia trees and the result was that I gave them several photos from which to choose.

OF COURSE every single participant chose a different photo.

Good start, E!

Good start, E!

Good start, A!

Good start, A!

Good start, L!

Good start, L!

Good start, M!

Good start, M!

Whoa, E, you are getting this, but why is your photo upside down?

Whoa, E, this looks great, but why is your photo upside down?? (Teeheehee, those of us who draw together know the answer to this.)

Go, A, Go!!

Go, A, Go!!

Wow, M, you are getting this and even listened to me a couple of times!

Wow, M, you are getting this and even listened to me a couple of times!

Hey, L, are you confused?

Hey, L, are you confused? (We insiders get it. . . how snobbish of us!)

Let's all go outside and marvel at the colors in the leaves.

Let’s all go outside and marvel at the colors in the leaves.

The color bullies and I had a great time. (You know I use the term “bullies” as an exaggeration, yes? These folks are truly wonderful, and we love painting together!) Stay tuned to see how the paintings turn out after session #2.


12 More Reasons to Take Drawing Lessons

Posted by on Aug 30, 2016 in drawing, Lessons | 2 Comments

Drawing lessons from me, not just drawing lessons in general, although learning to draw from me might be a problem if you live in Oklahoma or Minnesota.

  1. Because learning to draw is on your bucket list
  2. Because you had a mean art “teacher” who made you feel like an idiot and you want to undo some of that psychological scarring
  3. Because you used to draw but think you might have forgotten how
  4. Because you don’t like the way you draw
  5. Because you don’t know how to draw
  6. Because your mom/wife/grandma/sister/husband/boyfriend made you
  7. Because you always thought it looked fun
  8. Because other people are having so much fun in drawing lessons
  9. Because you always said you’d learn new skills after you retired
  10. Because it is only $55 a month and therefore much more affordable than violin lessons
  11. Because it is safer than horseback riding lessons (ask Lou about this)
  12. Because I am a dang good drawing teacher

That’s really only 11 reasons, because #6 is NOT a reason to take lessons.

You can learn more about drawing lessons here.


12 Reasons To Take Drawing Lessons (from me!)

Posted by on Aug 29, 2016 in drawing, Lessons | 2 Comments


“Armed”, pencil drawing by Lou Womack

Drawing lessons begin on Tuesday, September 6.

I might have a little space in a class or two, and can’t find my waiting list. Are you thinking about taking lessons? Here are 12 reasons to consider drawing lessons:

  1. Because you were told it would be a miracle if you ever learned to draw
  2. Because you want to be the first person who proves me wrong when I say that I can teach anyone to draw
  3. Because you want to be able to sketch ideas in order to design clothing
  4. Because you want to hone the skills you already have
  5. Because you need something to do
  6. Because you want to meet women (That’s what Ralph said.)
  7. Because you paint a little and your shapes look wrong
  8. Because you always knew you could if you had a little help learning how
  9. Because if you don’t pay me monthly, you won’t bother drawing
  10. Because you think it might help you sit still
  11. Because you are about to go to art school and are afraid you will look incompetent
  12. Because you are an elementary teacher and drawing skills are expected of you
  13. (a baker’s dozen, perhaps?) Because maybe you could get as good as Lou (see “Armed” above)

You can learn more about drawing lessons here.