Jana Botkin | Cabin Art

A California Artist's Show-and-Tell

Apr 17 2014

A California Artist Paints (Without Benefit of a Crystal Ball) in Tulare County

The Redbud Festival is coming soon. First weekend in May this year, and at the Memorial Building in Three Rivers, which is a new location.

As usual, I have no idea what to expect in terms of visitation or sales. A crystal ball certainly would be useful.

Oh well. Guess I’ll just paint a combination of what has sold well before and what floats my boat.

The first draft is bright but rough.

Now they are drying in the window sill. The colors look funky because they are wet and reflective.

What is that stack of stuff? I looked through my fruit photos (Phruit Photos? Fruit Fotos?), picked the ones that floated my boat, attached hardware, then wrote titles and inventory numbers on the backs of each canvas.

Now they are almost finished, drying on hooks next to the window. When they are dry enough to handle, I’ll sign them. When that part is dry, I’ll scan them. These are 6×6 wrapped canvases, in oil paint, and will sell for $50 each.

Or not.

I may be a California artist, but Tulare County is the 13th poorest out of 58 counties. And in spite of putting the price next to the painting, people always ask how much. We are also the 3rd least educated county in the state.

Always gotta do things the hard way, eh? Do you think my paintings of fruit would sell in Marin County? I could add another zero, maybe borrow my neighbor’s BMW, have someone dress me so I could pass, and make a run up there.

Nah. They’d see right through me.

Tulare County is where I was born, and it is where I’ll stay and paint. Sometimes I love it here, and sometimes I want to run away. That’s probably how it is with every place in the world.

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Apr 15 2014

Beautiful Pencil Drawing

Published by under drawing,Lessons

Every Tuesday I teach people how to draw at the Courthouse Gallery in Exeter. Been doing it for 20 years or so. You can learn about it here. Drawing Lessons

My drawing students are wonderful. They work hard, and they learn and they do beautiful drawings.

This beautiful woman drew her beautiful granddaughter. It is her first portrait, which is one of the hardest subjects to tackle. She has been drawing with me about 2-1/2 years, and honestly, she had a bit of a head start because she used to touch up portrait photos. But that doesn’t mean this wasn’t hard – it was hard! Everything is hard, so pick something you love, because you’ll be staring at it for a long time.

P.S. Today is my 6th Blogiversary. I still haven’t run out of things to write about!

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Apr 14 2014

Drawing Sequoia

Sequoia Natural History Association has sold my work for many years. Great organization – they stock and man the visitor centers and ranger stations throughout Sequoia. They do a lot more, but this post isn’t about them. It is about a drawing I am working on in hopes that they will add it to their inventory in the near future.

This is how the bridge over the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River looked during my recent visit to Sequoia National Park. This bridge is in the Lodgepole Campground.

This is the pencil drawing and the photos I’m working from. The white spaces in the photo are unfinished or sunshine, not snow.

Just in case you were wondering. . .

And I think bridges are remarkable pieces of architecture. They are simple spans over space, but they can be so elegant. Stone work, rustic wood, flowing water – what’s not to like?

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Apr 11 2014

TG Friday in Mineral King

Published by under Mineral King

Trail Guy – Friday in Mineral King. You thought I was referring to a restaurant? Not this little gray duck.

The white snow (thank you, God!) blends with the white (gray?) sky.

Trail Guy skied up to Crystal Creek.

Look – something that isn’t like a black and white photo.

A little break in the clouds made it prettier in person than in this photo.

And thus we conclude our  late winter check-in with Mineral King. Summer is much more visually inspiring to this California artist than the snowy landscape and gray (white?) sky.


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Apr 10 2014

Visiting Sequoia

When I was a kid and there were guests from out of the area, my folks would take them up to visit Sequoia National Park. I remember thinking, “Do we have to go to the mountains again?”

What a punk. A punk in the Park. A Park Punk?

Two very dear cousins of mine were here recently. We had family business to attend to, and then, we went to Sequoia! I wanted to go, and I really wanted to go with them. They had spent much of their childhood summers in Sequoia, and many of our memories were from times there together.

It had snowed several days before and the previous night. Our first stop was Beetle Rock, which involved some fun stories and binoculars for bird watching.

It was overcast and cold. Doesn’t matter. We were in the Park, and surrounded by Sequoia trees. I love this fence, even when there is no sun on it, even when the snow is tracked.

Cousin Joel seems tall to me, but not compared to a Sequoia tree. He has binoculars, because he sees a bird. Or maybe he hears a bird and is looking for it.

We walked up toward Tokopah Falls, stepping in the tracks of some previous hikers. Doesn’t this look cold? It was 34 degrees.

This is the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. It flows through Lodgepole. Brrrrr.

It got so foggy we descended to enjoy the foothill part of Sequoia. This is the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River as seen from a suspension bridge out of the Potwisha campground.

Isn’t this a cool bridge? When I bounced on it, it was hard for my cousins to hold the binoculars still and identify their birds. I tried to not be a punk and mostly succeeded.

Isn’t this cool?

This is an old flume and provides water for hydroelectric power. Very clean energy, and nothing gets wasted. There were no birds in the flume, so the binoculars weren’t necessary.

For the record, this former punk really enjoys Sequoia Park. I am now a California artist who loves the special places of Tulare County, and that’s the truth! (Raspberry sound, but I can’t spell that)



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Apr 09 2014

How to be a Professional Artist in Tulare County

  1. Love the place
  2. Be flexible
  3. Never quit


Easy sounding? Here are the details:

1. Love the place – take a camera everywhere, always be on the lookout for a different angle, another landmark, better light, something never noticed before. Take what feels like endless photos of Sequoia trees, Mineral King, oranges, poppies. Learn as much as possible about the landmarks. Meet as many people as possible who have lived here a long time, especially those who know people who know people, go places when you’d rather stay home. Pay attention to the geography, the seasons, the agriculture, the flora and fauna.

2. Be flexible - learn to teach drawing lessons, figure out how to give both private and group lessons and workshops too, learn to paint when you’d really only prefer pencil, learn to do murals even if you think it seems impossible. Accept commissions of things that don’t seem worth painting or drawing and figure out a way to make them look great – find their beauty and show the customer. Enter shows, schlepp your work around, try new shows, take your work to different places of business so it gets seen because there aren’t many galleries in Tulare County. Listen to suggestions by people of what to draw or paint. Be willing to give talks to groups. Be willing to open your private studio to the public from time to time. Reproduce your work as cards, printstee shirts, whatever it is that people are wanting to buy. Write a blog. (NEXT WEEK IS MY 6 YEAR BLOGIVERSARY!) Maintain a website when you’d really rather be drawing or painting or blogging.

3. Never quit. Get a second job if you have to, but don’t quit trying to make it with art.

P.S. Every so often, publish a book. Upcoming from me, The Cabins of Wilsonia.

Any questions?

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Apr 08 2014

Drawing in Pencil

Published by under drawing,Three Rivers

I’m drawing in pencil because I love to. There might be a purpose to these drawings in progress, and it might be to keep from doing repetitive and boring work on the computer for the upcoming book The Cabins of Wilsonia. The book isn’t repetitive and boring; the computer work is both of those things plus IMPOSSIBLE. No worries, I’ll figure it out or figure out who to ask for help. Meanwhile, I am drawing, a very therapeutic and productive procrastination technique.

This is a scene I’ve painted in a horizontal format, and one that I’ve lent the photo to a drawing student so she could draw it. I might have drawn it before, but I’ve slept since then. Actually, this drawing might be finished in this photo. Here, have a closer look:

This is the Generals Highway, above the Sequoia Park entrance at Ash Mountain but below Hospital Rock. You can see yucca in bloom (this is from a photo taken in June) and Moro Rock in the distance. Just a typical scene from Three Rivers, California. . . yawn.

But wait – there’s more!

This is an unfinished pencil drawing of a “Sheltie” named Wally.

Okay, I admit it. This is now finished too.

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Apr 04 2014

Disproportionately Influenced by California Citrus

Published by under General


In conclusion, this is a California artist, disproportionately influenced (inspired, perhaps?) by citrus. Today I am probably out in an orange grove with my cousins, looking for Washington navels that may still be hanging in the center of the trees. Or perhaps we are inhaling the remaining scent of orange blossoms.

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Apr 02 2014

Why is this Oil Painting Commission So Hard??

As a studio painter, I work from photos. There is a ton of pressure out there in ArtWorld to paint plein air, which might be French for “on location”. There is a ton of embarrassment out there in ArtWorld about painting from photos, because it usually garners a lot of derision and sneering and condescension.

One of my painting mentors (virtual – we have corresponded but never met) Jack White has said, “All realistic painters either work from photos or they lie about it.”

I try to NEVER lie. You can count on finding the truth here, although I do minimize the ugliness as much as possible. This blog is supposed to be fun, informative and entertaining, not edgy, rude or shocking.

Now, let’s move on to the point of this post, which is to discuss the difficulties of a commissioned oil painting of a place I love here in Three Rivers.

I did a commissioned oil painting for my amazing friend Barbara. It was a composite of several photos – her house, all the lavender in bloom, and hills behind. There is no place to stand to see this actual view, so I worked from several photos.

 Being the generous and thoughtful person that she is, Barbara gave away this painting. Then she asked me for another just like it.

Instead of looking at my computer screen and attempting to copy this painting, I pulled out my photos again. This is because I don’t think the computer reproduction is very accurate, and because I like to work from the original source. And, I hope I paint better now so will be able to do an improved version of this. (Ever hopeful, always wanting to improve, ever optimistic, this California artist!)

Either I’ve lost some of my photos, or I’ve lost my ability to paint from them or I’m losing my mind.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve attempted in awhile! I’ve been messing around with the proportions, studying the photos, staring at the painting, looking at the version on the computer, and not making any progress.

Why is this so hard?? What is my problem??

Finally, after wasting an inordinate amount of time just staring and thinking, I decided to go outside and look at the actual hills.

I took my camera for a walk so I could fully see the end of the house that we want in this painting. I need to see the proportions of the windows to the shutters to the wall space on either end and in the middle. 

Nothing is solved, but now I have even more pictures to study.

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Apr 01 2014

On the Easels, On the Wall

Published by under Oil Paintings,Three Rivers

These are some of the paintings on the easel and drying on the walls around the painting studio/workshop.  I did them for the Studio Tour. After spending an entire year just drawing the cabins of Wilsonia, it was time to paint again.

Always gotta have citrus paintings – what else would you expect from a California artist? These are each 6×6, a very popular size in kitchen art.

These pomegranates are 4×4″. Like the shoes? Ugly as sin, but oh so very comfortable. I thought about cropping them out of this photo, but got lazy. This palette served as a convenient tray for transporting these little wet paintings. The weird circle behind the painting on the upper right is an old color wheel. The palette is a gift from someone whose mother used to paint. Most of my supplies are gifts from people whose mothers and mothers-in-law used to paint.

The yarn in the photo is lavender and blue. I have been on a roll for a couple of years just loving the combination of teal and brown, so that’s what I am making the yarn in the painting. The photo is showing me the twist pattern, the size of the strands, and the way the light and shadow fall. This is called “using a photo for reference”, because out there in ArtWorld, working from photos is met with a lot of contempt.

The Kaweah River is on my list of Oil Painting Subjects To Always Have On Hand. I’ve painted this scene before. This time it is 10×10″ square, and the colors are a bit juiced up, although it is hard to tell when looking at a photo of a photo.

Ditto the Kaweah Post Office. This is the first time I’ve included the monument marker. Painting it on a square canvas got my eye confused, and the proportions were whacky at this stage. I fixed it later.

Careful! The paint is wet on these! The piece of paper is how I keep track of where I am on which painting. I could just look around the room and see, but a list makes me feel more productive and efficient. Never mind that it might be a waste of time to make the list and to keep it current. I’m 53 and I can do what I want. Wait a minute – am I 54? I can’t remember!

The top and bottom paintings sold at the Studio Tour. Time to paint another Mineral King!

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