Monday, January 30, 2012

Girl with a Goldfish Bowl

Those big puffy sleeves were quite the rage in the "olden days"! As I mentioned before, I was inspired by Utamaro's woodblock print with the geisha holding a gold fish bowl. Once I composed this portrait, I thought what better background than an ancient sea map. I may have to pursue this further, since another one of my collections, in addition to cabinet cards, is vintage maritime maps and charts.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Illustration Friday - "Forward"

Me thinks this young lady and her butcher friend are not going to go "forward" on any level here.

This was a preliminary thumbnail sketch for a book cover. The book is an amusing and informative true tale of the author's travails in attempting to adopt a new diet that included meat (upon the advice of her doctor). This sketch did not go FORWARD and another illustrator was chosen for the project. This was the decision of the publisher - yet another reason why authors should refrain from choosing their own illustrators, since the publisher usually likes to make that call.

I'm glad that I kept the sketch - now I can use it for Illustration Friday!

Friday, January 27, 2012


Look at this - is this not the most beautiful wood block print that you have ever seen? (it's a detail, to be accurate, taken from a worn-out calendar).

The artist is Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), and at the beginning of this month I saw his work in an exhibition here in Minneapolis. I was so enchanted by his work, I almost swooned a dozen times - I was sure security was going to have to carry me out. If only I could have married him, I would have been surrounded by his beautiful art for my entire life. I'm too late, he's been dead for 206 years.

The only thing left to do is to attempt to do beautiful art myself. I think I'll steal his idea of the gold fish bowl. Did I say that? Let me rephrase. I think I'll "reinvent" the idea of the gold fish bowl in my next drawing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Poppy Tie Lady in Color

Here she is in water color with her fashionable totally modern tie. Yesterday I wondered if photo retouching was done in the nineteenth century. (in other words, was there life before Photoshop?). And the answer is, yes indeed.  Apparently it could be a hellish process!

Here's a quote from the British Journal of Photography dated November 9th, 1894, describing the working conditions of retouchers:

"Sir - ... I should like to inform you that there is a photographic establishment wherein the employés labour under difficulties quite as great as those described by the 'depressed and low-spirited assistant, who so frequently requires the stimulus of 'a cup of tea'. In a room measuring about 11 ft long by 6 ft wide, and varying from 8 to 10 ft in height, seven retouchers and spotters have to work. Three walls and the roof are of glass, rendering it necessary for the retouchers to keep their heads entirely covered with black cloth, besides making it very difficult to spot, as the light comes from so many different directions. In the winter, the room (which would otherwise be intensely cold) is heated by a gas stove, which renders the atmosphere unbearable. Another interesting fact from the employé's point of view is that the proprietor of the concern sits at a another desk in an adjoining room, having full view of the seven assistants, so that, though they may faint in the fumes of the gas or shiver in the cold, they have not a moment's respite from their arduous employment. ... [Signed: HYGIENE, Bristol]"

And to think I complain about sitting long hours at my keyboard!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Poppy Tie Lady sketch

As you can see, I'm not really going after likenesses with these cabinet card ladies, although there is a hint of the original within the sketch. I'm more drawn to (did I say "drawn?) the clothes, the hair and the fact that these are real people before the days of Photoshop and retouching. Now that I think about it, I wonder if they did retouching in the 1800's? I'll have to look that one up!

Love the hair!

Now she needs a little color, so that will be for tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


In the previous post, I made mention of the young girl's strange expression, saying that I couldn't quite figure it out...was she bored? Annoyed? Impatient? A very kind reader named Heidi wrote in the comment section "I think it's called "bershon". At first I thought she was referring to the little white dog, and I was getting ready to comment back saying no, that's a Norwich Terrier... (haha) but thankfully before I took pen in hand, or hands to keyboard, I used my dictionary. I'm probably the only person in the universe who doesn't know what "bershon" means - but this word fits the young girl's expression just perfectly!

The best definition I found was in an article written by Michael Bierut, and I quote: "Bershon was first introduced to a wide audience by writer and blogger Sarah Brown, who remembered it as a word from her own teenage years. Her definition is still the best: The spirit of bershon is pretty much how you feel when you’re 13 and your parents make you wear a Christmas sweatshirt and then pose for a family picture, and you could not possibly summon one more ounce of disgust, but you’re also way too cool to really even DEAL with it, so you just make this face like you smelled something bad and sort of roll your eyes and seethe in a put-out manner." The article is very amusing, and if you'd like to read it and laugh before you start digging through your own family scrapbook for photographs displaying friends and relatives in various stages of bershon, you can check it out here.

Thanks for the tip, Heidi!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Girl with White Dog

This cabinet card is dated "1927" on the back, in elegant but faded green fountain pen ink. I'm assuming it's a mom and daughter portrait - they even have similar style dresses with the pleated skirt and dropped waistline. The daughter has such an interesting expression on her face, which I can't quite interpret. Is she impatient and annoyed having to stand for her portrait? I think not, judging from the fact that she has taken the time to pose her leg in a fashionable way. Mom is actually smiling, which is very unusual to see in a portrait of that era. I took quite a few liberties with this illustration, didn't I! Artistic license, you know...

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Another attempt at watercolor - I think I bit off more than I can chew at this point! Too many decisions here, not enough practice to make my hand do what my brain sees. But that's OK, it's all process and the faster I make my mistakes, the quicker I can get to where I want to be.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vintage Sewing Pattern Girl

I thought I would try something new - watercolors! I found my old tin of watercolor paint which must be at least twenty years old - I think I used it once or twice and abandoned it. I'm in the mood to try new things, so here goes. I find watercolors really hard to master, and posting them on my blog will provide me with a a visual diary and a means of discipline to prompt me to continue. It will be fun to see the evolution, don't you think? This is an interpretation of a Simplicity 50's sewing pattern cover. Love those retro kids!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cabinet card lady

I have a collection of cabinet cards that continue to fascinate me. They were very popular in the last part of the nineteenth century, until Kodak came out with their Box Brownie Camera in 1900. At that point, families began taking their own photos instead of relying on professional photography studios, and these intricate and carefully posed scenarios of people and props gradually ceased to exist. I thought it would be fun to translate them using Photoshop (first image) and watercolor (second image).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sublime Stitching

My pencil sketch above

I was asked by Jenny Hart if I would be interested in creating a pattern of belly dancers for her fabulous company Sublime Stitching. I said YES YES YES - I was thrilled! Jenny has pioneered to transform the traditional craft of embroidery into a contemporary art form - "This ain't your gramma's embroidery!" is her motto. It certainly isn't! One look on her website and you will see what I mean. Her efforts to revolutionize needleworking has earned her media fame and a loyal following of fans from all walks of life. Her website features over 50 (often edgy) patterns, textiles, tools, all-in-one embroidery starter kits and entertaining, now-I-understand-it instructions to bring embroidery back to life for a new generation of needleworkers. Be sure to check out her shop. After you order your supplies and settle in to embroidery these belly dancers, you can listen to this belly dancing music and really get in the mood!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Illustration Friday - Prepare

If ever there was to be a time to prepare, this is it!

If you know someone who is busy preparing, she might appreciate a note from you to remind her to slow down and enjoy a lollipop now and then. This mom-to-be can be purchased as a set of hand-glittered note cards at Darcy's Pretty Girl shop.

Monday, January 9, 2012


When I was a kid we had this wonderful terrier named Dooley. He loved nothing more than to entertain us with his tricks of sitting up, rolling over, jumping through a hoop, and escaping out the back gate when we weren't looking.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Character studies

I thought I'd share a couple of sketches that I created while thinking about a future illustration project. I was hoping she looked a little bit French and a little bit American, since that is how she is described in the story I will be illustrating.